Mar 21, 2005
In 2004, over one trillion dollars went into the pockets of the corporations in profit. That was almost 10% of all the goods and services produced in this country. According to the economists who record such things, this was the largest portion of the gross domestic product to be skimmed off in profit in 76 years. And this record was matched by another one: the portion of that same gross domestic product that went to wages and benefits was the lowest seen since 1929.
The capitalist class is engaging in wholesale robbery, and the workers are the ones being robbed.
Our wages are stretched to the breaking point. Some of us are forced to refinance our mortgage just to catch up on our monthly bills – putting even our homes at risk. Only 21% of workers today can count on having a regular pension when they retire, down from 38% 25 years ago. Only 56% of people employed by private industry have medical coverage, down from 69% 25 years ago. And for retirees, it's much worse. Only 36% of big companies offered medical coverage to retirees in 2004, down from 66% of those companies in 1998.
Why are things getting so much worse – and so quickly? Because the voraciousness of the capitalists for ever more profit has no limits.
We feel it in our bones at work, when each new month brings another demand for more work. Speed-up – we all know what it is, because we all face it, whether in factory or office, on the road or in a freight depot, in a mine or in a construction site.
We know it when we look at our children and ask, where will the jobs be when they come up? As bad as our jobs are, theirs will be worse, and pay less. They won't have medical coverage. They won't have pensions. And the hope that their education will let them get a better job is already proving to be only an illusion. Who's losing their jobs today faster than anyone else? All those people who went into computers.
It's an outrage when we see this mass of profit being stolen – only to listen to the head honcho at a company like General Motors tell us they can't afford to keep giving us medical coverage; or when we hear about a Kmart executive awarded 105 million dollars in bonuses for closing down more stores, laying off still more workers, and putting nothing back into the 401(k) pension plans Kmart workers lost in the bankruptcy. It's an outrage when five different members of the Walton family that owns Walmart are worth 97 billion dollars, while wages for most Walmart workers keep them living in poverty.
Yes, it's all an outrage – and there's no point complaining about it, because the capitalists don't take complaints. They're too busy figuring out how to squeeze us even harder to get still more profit from our labor. What makes them retreat is not reason, not complaints, not polite requests. What makes them retreat is force.
And force is what the working class has – but only when it mobilizes to use its numbers and its key position in the economy.
In 1974, the workers counted on their own forces: there were 424 major strikes in this country. In 2004, there were only 17. That tells the whole story. That explains why the capitalists feel so arrogant today that they can cancel contracts in the middle, go bankrupt while grabbing hold of billions of dollars from their companies, and pretend to be broke, even while they are wallowing in money. They haven't had to face the organized anger of the working class in years.
What would it take for the workers to mobilize their forces again? There is no magic formula, and when workers do fight, it might not always go well, especially at first.
But what is required is simple. Someone has to decide to fight, someone has to push the issue with their fellow workers. Someone has to take the first step forward. And those who start have to encourage the others.
Mar 21, 2005
The U.S. Senate just passed a bill to change bankruptcy rules. The bill still has to pass the House, but that's almost certain. In any case, it's a real attack on working people.
It's not surprising that the politicians waited until after the election to pass this bill. It's so obvious an attack on the population that they worried they might not get elected. And that was true of the Democrats as well as of the Republicans, since 18 Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, joined the Republicans in voting for it.
Supporters of this bill pretend that people who file for bankruptcy are just irresponsible spendthrifts who ran up too many debts. In reality, more than half the people who file for bankruptcy do so because they got sick and couldn't pay their medical bills. Or they lost their jobs and were out of work for too long to be able to climb out of debt.
What makes it worse is that once people reach a point that they can't pay, the credit card companies charge exorbitant interest rates and extra fees for exceeding credit limits. This system makes it so that people simply cannot climb out of debt.
Did the senators do anything to stop credit card companies from making it easy to get credit cards, or limit the interest rates they can charge? On the contrary, the Senate rejected an amendment to the bill that would have capped interest rates – at 30%!
Passage of the bill would mean credit card companies and banks could require bankruptcy filers making over a certain limit to set up repayment plans. The politicians want to say that the bill excludes lower income people, but for families with two incomes, it's not hard to be above the limit.
The most disgusting aspect of the bill is that it does not touch wealthy people who shelter their assets in trusts. It also does nothing about stopping big corporations, like Enron, WorldCom or Kmart from dumping pension plans and medical benefits through bankruptcy.
The politicians can say all they want about making people "financially responsible." This bill shows who they are being financially responsible to – the wealthy class they serve!
Mar 21, 2005
At the end of February, the Maryland legislature turned down the request of the mayor of Bel Air, a small town in the state. He proposed to group together all the households in the area in order to try to get bids from suppliers of electricity. He was trying to get his town's residents a better price than the increases that residential customers have been paying the last few years from Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE).
When the power utilities argued for deregulation starting more than a decade ago, they claimed that it would allow competition, which would bring down prices. We know we don't have lower prices. Bills have gone up about 50% over three years. And that's a year before the cap on electricity prices comes off altogether. And now we see they didn't really want competition.
The BGE press releases talk over and over again about how "Competition means savings." Right, savings for the big boys.
Mar 21, 2005
On March 14 and 15, news reports prominently featured an anthrax bioterrorism contamination in the Washington, D.C. area.
The Pentagon closed down one of its shipping centers and issued an alert. The U.S. Postal Service closed down the post office that served the shipping center. Employees were told they should take antibiotics. Reporters were called. The public heard another scare story about bioterrorism.
On March 16, the scare was traced – not to terrorists, but to a private contractor running a testing laboratory for the government. The lab had evidently allowed some of its anthrax to get loose and to contaminate the item being tested.
Did the lab's germs escape or was there a danger? No one knows because few details came out in the media. In any case, what danger there was did not come from terrorists. The danger came from the tests and procedures of the very people who claim to be fighting terrorism!
It's a mirror of the entire "war on terror." We are put more in danger from those who are administering the war, than from anyone they might label a terrorist.
Mar 21, 2005
Does any worker in the USA believe they can pay their bills with the same paycheck they were getting eight years ago? Yet that's exactly what almost three million workers, who earn the minimum wage in the richest country in the world, are forced to do. And, thanks to the wealthy gentlemen and 14 ladies, who make up the millionaires' club called the U.S. Senate, they will continue to do so.
The Senate just voted down a modest proposal to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. It will remain at $5.15 an hour – where it has been since 1997.
A full-time worker (one out of four workers making minimum wage works full-time) earns $10,700 a year – way below the poverty level of $15,700 for a family of three.
During the congressional debate, one congressman opposed to a raise argued that young people who work at minimum wage use their money on iPods, not food and rent. (So iPods are only for middle class and rich kids?) What a myth that people at minimum wage work only for "pin money." In fact, some are heads of households; some help support older or infirm parents; some are people whose Social Security payment is so pitifully low they have to work – and at these abysmal wages. But young, middle-aged or old, whatever their circumstances, the average minimum wage worker provides a bit over half of the family's earnings. Keeping the minimum wage at $5.15 is a sure-ticket for families of the working poor to live in abject poverty.
Mar 21, 2005
For 15 years, Terri Schiavo has lain in a total coma in Florida, kept alive artificially under court order. After doctors determined 15 years ago that Terri could never recover from severe brain damage, her husband Michael said that Terri's wishes were never to be kept alive like a vegetable. But when he finally gave doctors permission to remove her from life support, her parents went to court to prevent it. For five years since, the case was pushed from court to court as Terri Schiavo continued in a vegetative state, with eyes open seeing nothing.
It was tragic enough that the family lost a wife and daughter. It was more tragic still that the family found no way to decide things for themselves, without going to outside authorities. But it was a bitter tragedy indeed when politicians and religious fanatics found a way to worm their way into this matter. They might as well have paraded her body around the country, the way they used her life and death to prove so-called "family values." Preachers and politicians – giving Terri Schiavo no choice – used her to appeal for votes from the fundamentalist, religious parts of the population – to fire them up with a "cause," paralleling the anti-abortion cause. The more elections that came and went with Terri still on life support, the more useful was her body to those politicians, including Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the majority of the Florida State Legislature, who were showing the voters their "family values" by interfering in what should have been a personal choice.
On March 18, the last legal maneuvers appeared to have played out, and Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. But not before President Bush and many members of the U.S. Congress arranged a flurry of last-minute dramatic bills and statements about her "right to life." These moves had nothing to do with her actual right to life, of course, a life which ended 15 years ago, but everything to do with the life of a political current which seeks to invade personal privacy and personal choice – to remove from the individual the right to make basic decisions about one's own body, one's own life and one's own death.
If there is a lesson in the long agony of the Schiavo family, it is that unless the population rejects the reactionary, backward political current represented by people such as George Bush and the anti-abortion fundamentalists, any one of us could become the next Terri Schiavo.
Mar 21, 2005
In Maryland, the number of "working poor" is about 55,000. The majority work at minimum wage jobs and are helping to support their families.
In early March, the state Senate passed a bill with a very small $1.00 an hour increase in the minimum wage, bringing it up to $6.15 an hour. If it passes both Houses, it would take effect this coming October.
But an amendment attached to the bill has been kept on the "QT." It would allow businesses offering health benefits to deduct the amount spent on those benefits from their employees' wages, down to $5.15 an hour.
Of course, the politicians made a big fuss that they were concerned about the "plight of the poor." The Senate president claimed, "$5.15 an hour is an embarrassment. No one should have to work for that wage."
That sure takes the prize in hypocrisy!
Mar 21, 2005
Protesters have been following California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wherever he goes – and not just in California.
At the upscale 21 Club in Manhattan, where Arnold was dining with big donors, a California firefighter confronted the "governator" about his plans to end the pensions of California state employees. Earlier, about 100 demonstrators had forced Arnold to enter the restaurant through a service door.
When Arnold arrived at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C. the next day for another reception with top donors, he was greeted by a crowd of protesters again. And, again, Hollywood's muscle man took a side entrance to the building.
Besides firemen, nurses make up a large part of the protesters. For good reason: last fall, Arnold suspended California's nurse-to-patient law which limits the number of patients that can be treated by one nurse.
The protesters' chants aren't falling on deaf ears. Many of the protesters in New York and Washington were joined by local nurses and firemen who said that if Arnold gets away with his attacks, their own states' governors will follow in his footsteps. A New York policeman who escorted the protesting firefighter out of 21 Club shook his hand and said, "Thanks for doing what you did."
Mar 21, 2005
During the election campaign, virtually nothing was heard about the minimum wage. Of course, the Democrats buried a line about it in their platform. But when there was the chance to make it a major issue, they did nothing. If the Democrats had pushed the issue before the election, proposing bills in Congress, it would have put the Republicans in both the House and the Senate in a corner, forcing some of those in tight races to vote for it. Raising it before the election would have made it difficult for Bush to veto it. But pushing it then raised the possibility that an increase might actually be passed – which the Democrats certainly weren't ready to do.
Today, the Democrats bring the issue to a vote, and they are quickly outvoted. It is purely symbolic. No one should fall for it!
Mar 21, 2005
The 2004 "Report Card on World Social Progress" came out with the yearly figures on how the world's populations are doing, according to the statistics published in each country or from world agencies like the World Bank.
The study concluded that "The last decade has seen a sharp deterioration in overall life quality for vast segments of the world's population, especially for people living in the poorest nations of Africa and Asia."
If the growing world poverty isn't shocking enough, the U.S. is getting poorer faster than other nations, since it went down from 18th place to 27th in just one year! "Chronic poverty" threatens the lives of some 36 million people in the U.S. The world's wealthiest country, the United States, is in 27th place of nations when measured by such social statistics as infant mortality, literacy of women, safe drinking water, income, wars and political expression.
27th place?! These facts put the U.S. on a social level comparable to Poland and Slovenia.
Poland and Slovenia! The economies of these two countries together are only one thirtieth the size of the ten trillion dollar U.S. economy. The American ruling class may not provide decent medical care and pensions for everyone, or good schools and adequate education. But there's one thing the capitalists in the U.S. excel at – squeezing profit out of the increasing misery of the population.
Mar 21, 2005
Each year Forbes magazine totals up the biggest fortunes in the world. Anyone with over a billion dollars is included in this hit parade. This year there are 114 more billionaires than the year before, a sign that things are going good for the super rich. Their combined wealth is 2.2 trillion dollars, an increase of 300 billion dollars or 16% over the past year.
Among the new billionaires at the head of the list is Lakshmi Mittal from India with 25 billion dollars. He just bought up International Steel Group, which owns Bethlehem Steel among other U.S. mills, and merged it with his European and other mills, making the largest steel company in the world. And Carlos Slim of Mexico, who made his fortune from cell phones among other things, is worth 24 billion dollars. But the poor population of India and Mexico have plunged still further into misery. That doesn't interest Forbes.
New billionaires made the list for the first time coming from Poland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The dismantling of the Soviet Union threw the workers into poverty but greatly enriched the privileged few there too.
But the U.S. leads this pack of thieves, and by far, with almost half the billionaires in the world – 341.
The source of all this wealth are the millions of workers exploited by these super rich capitalists to produce their profits. In the last year the capitalists continued to force through concessions and hold down wages and benefits, reducing the number of workers and increasing the amount of work done.
Mar 21, 2005
A Chinese human rights organization recently exposed the December deaths of five teenage girls aged 14 to 17. They were found dead in particularly atrocious conditions in the Lihua Textile Factory, in a village near Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hubei province in the northeast of China.
For two years, the boss of Lihua Textile had employed hundreds of teenagers from the countryside. They slept in a crowded dormitory, where the five dead girls were poisoned by charcoal fumes.
The human rights organization accused the boss of not calling a doctor when he discovered the young workers unconscious. Instead he had them sent directly to the crematorium. An employee of the crematorium doubted the girls were dead since there was no doctor's certificate, so he refused to accept the bodies. The textile boss and his managers got a medical aide (who in the Chinese countryside sometimes substitutes for a doctor) to testify that the girls were dead. Then they were placed in coffins before being incinerated.
The girls' families heard what happened and insisted on seeing the bodies, but were refused. They were offered compensation of 15,000 yuan (about $1,800) to stop insisting. Finally four days later, the boss and the authorities gave in to the families' demands and the bodies were seen. It appears that two of them were still alive in their coffins when they were going to be burnt!
On December 29, there was a rally of the families of 70 young workers in front of the bodies. The rally was dispersed by the arrival of hundreds of police, and the families of the young workers were held in custody overnight.
After that, the local government put pressure on the families to accept "compensation" of 70,000 yuan (about $8,400) and they were allowed to carry off their children's bodies.
According to the human rights organization which denounced the scandal, the local authorities ignore the existence of a hundred other textile factories where children work in similar conditions to Lihua Textile. Fourteen-year-olds work 12 hours a day, from noon to midnight. They suffer from such exhaustion that they light their charcoal braziers, but then collapse from exhaustion onto their bunks, while the deadly fumes build up.
Mar 21, 2005
On Thursday, March 10 there were strikes and demonstrations throughout France. This day of protest called by the three main union federations challenged the government's attempts to lengthen the work week and demanded higher wages. According to the police, 570,000 workers demonstrated throughout France. The press said there were 150,000 workers in a march in Paris, including large numbers of metal workers. The strikes affected the subways, commuter trains and the national railway network. There were postal workers, teachers, electric power and hospital workers on strike. There were thousands of work stoppages of various lengths in the private sector, especially at car-maker Renault, at Nestlé, at the rubber company Michelin, and the oil companies BP and Total.
The following is a translation of the editorial from the March 18 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the French revolutionary workers organization of that name.
Acknowledging the success of the day of demonstrations and strikes of March 10, Prime Minister Raffarin proposed, "the opening of negotiations in the civil service." In the private sector: "a revival of participation and profit sharing by the workers," "sharing the fruits of growth."
But the workers won't be content with hollow words, for the demonstrations of March 10 expressed a real and profound discontent. For years "sharing the fruits of growth" meant the bosses and stockholders got everything, the workers got nothing. Worse: Gigantic profits, which the bosses of the big companies brag about to their stockholders, are made on the backs of the workers by a worsening exploitation. Workers feel it in their muscles, in their nerves, by the decline in their health, by the fatigue of days that are too long. They also see it when looking at their pay checks. If profits are up, it is because the bosses more and more crush the world of labor, because wages are too low, even when a worker has a stable job; because the hours of work have been made flexible and are imposed at the convenience of market fluctuations; because stable jobs are replaced by insecure temporary and part-time jobs.
This is true for the private sector and more and more true for the public sector. Even in the civil service, job security is a lie brandished to divide the workers and to set workers in the public sector against workers in the private sector.
The fundamental problems are the same for every worker: the threat of unemployment, insecurity and insufficient wages. The objectives of the struggles must also be the same for everyone.
On the evening of March 10, Raffarin said that he was "attentive to the concern expressed." But it isn't the concern of the workers which will make him give in, it is their anger....
What the bosses and the government fear above all is that the movement will grow. A growing movement is also the way to show the union leaders that the workers won't let their vital demands be abandoned for small increases during negotiations....
A sweeping movement threatening to go beyond all boundaries is necessary. It is necessary that all of the workers get together around clear objectives: no mass layoff, no insecurity, a decently paid job for everyone, a general increase in wages!
Mar 21, 2005
A political crisis has been building in Lebanon. It was set off on February 14, when an enormous bomb exploded, assassinating the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who was also a billionaire property tycoon.
Who was behind the bombing and assassination? The Lebanese authorities have done little or nothing to find out. The authorities cannot even say whether the bomb was a car bomb, or whether it had been buried in the street. The police had compromised the investigation by pulling the six vehicles linked to Hariri from the bomb site only hours after the explosion. Neither did the authorities bother to find out who had been killed in the blast, ignoring the entreaties of several families who told them of missing relatives.
In fact, a whole host of governments, spy agencies, terrorist organizations or business rivals could have been behind the assassination of Hariri. And a small and weak Lebanese government was not about to take on any of them.
But that did not stop the Bush administration from immediately charging the Syrian government, the same government that Bush had been threatening since the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with being responsible for the bombing. This blame was then echoed around the world by most other governments and the news media. The United Nations also fell into step, passing a U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning Syria.
Of course, the Bush administration had its own obvious reasons for using the bombing to jump all over the Syrian government. Syria shares a large border with Iraq, and the U.S. wanted to put Syria on notice that not only should it not meddle in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but that it should act "responsibly" by helping the U.S. to keep order there. At the same time, the U.S. used the incident to pressure the Syrian government to withdraw its 16,000 troops that had been occupying Lebanon for almost 30 years.
In making these demands, the Bush administration – again, echoed by the news media – acted horrified that Syria had been occupying Lebanon. Did any of the media notice that this same Bush administration is mired in bloody occupations of two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan!
What was also conveniently forgotten was that Syria had been occupying Lebanon since 1976, not only with approval from the U.S. and the rest of the major imperialist countries, but at their behest. At the time that Syria first started this occupation, Lebanon was being torn apart by a bloody civil war, a civil war that threatened to spread to other countries. When the Syrian military marched into Lebanon, it concentrated most of its attacks against the Palestinian refugee camps and what was called the Lebanese left, essentially the poor of Lebanon. In the following years, even after the long civil war in Lebanon finally burnt out, the U.S. continued to tolerate the Syrian military's occupation of Lebanon because Syria acted as the guarantor of order as a new Lebanese military and state apparatus were built up.
Syria's domination of Lebanon was extremely oppressive – as Bush said. But Syria's oppression of the people of Lebanon was carried out in the long-term interests of imperialism. And Bush well knows it.
Many of the same competing forces that fought each other in the previous civil war, are lining up against each other in a new competition to see who will dominate the government.
This escalation of competition and tension was behind the big demonstrations of the past month. The first demonstrations, mainly of the more privileged Maronite Christian minority, gained a lot of attention in the U.S. news media, especially since they seemed to be in line with what Bush was saying. But the leaders of the other factions and cliques – the Shiites, Sunnis and Druze – also looked for a way to show the size of their following. The most impressive of these demonstrations were led by the Shiite fundamentalist party, Hezbollah. In answer to that, the Druze, Sunni and Maronite Christian factions, united for an equally big demonstration in Beirut. But the Druze and Maronites are hardly allies – and even now show signs of attacking each other. Syria's statement that it would pull out only pushed these antagonisms into the open.
Right now, the U.S. is trying to work with the different Lebanese factions to channel this competition into May elections. If the confrontation taking shape in Lebanon gets sharper, some of those who today yell and scream against Syria may quickly call for it once again to step in and bail them out. On March 15, Bush made public overtures to the leaders of Hezbollah, even though he had just condemned that organization as "terrorist." This is nothing but a recognition that if Syria pulls out, the U.S. needs another military force to hold the population in check.
For the moment, all these maneuvers are bringing to the surface a confrontation halted – but not gone – at the end of the civil war. Unfortunately, today more than in the 1970s, ethnic and religious divisions could overwhelm Lebanon.
This crisis shows the huge gulf between the poor majority and the rich Lebanese businessmen, of whom the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the symbol. The working class is now in great part made up of immigrant Syrian workers, who are the object of scorn, insults, and even aggression from the Lebanese middle class which targets them and holds them responsible for Syrian policy.
It is certainly very difficult to go beyond the religious divisions imposed by the Christian and Druze parties, but also by the Shiite Hezbollah. However, that is the only way to unite the Lebanese and Syrian workers, and the poor masses of the two countries, around their social and political demands. It is the only way to break the straight jacket constituted by artificial divisions inherited from colonialism and the intrigues of different powers who fight for influence in the entire region.
Mar 21, 2005
Mercury is a known toxin, especially damaging to pregnant women, fetuses and young children. "We know that for every six women of childbearing age in the U.S., one of them has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk," said the executive director of the Sierra Club. But rather than protect the population from this deadly contaminant, the Environmental Protection Agency just announced new rules to allow mercury contamination to continue.
What is the largest source of mercury contaminants? The nation's power plants. They have been given a free ride NOT to cut back on the mercury they spew out into the air. In fact, they are allowed by the EPA's new regulation to trade "pollution" credits among the utilities. A plant which has met its limit could sell the right to produce an extra amount of pollution to a utility that is not meeting the limits set.
The EPA's own studies in 2000 and 2001 proposed the opposite of the regulation adopted in March. The EPA staff argued that it was possible to demand reduction in mercury emissions that would cut this pollutant by 90% in three years using existing technology.
Instead the new ruling requires only half the current amount of mercury to be cut – and that not for another 15 years!
Congress votes to continue pollution, and the EPA claims to administer a "Clean Air Act." Jon Stewart wants these clowns for an act on Comedy Central.
Mar 21, 2005
Delphi Corporation, the spin-off parts division of General Motors, announced that it would stop paying for salaried retirees' health insurance in 2007.
Delphi said that it will set up private "Medigap" insurance accounts that retirees will have to buy if they are to cover the difference between their current benefits and the low Medicare benefits.
As companies always do, Delphi said health insurance was costing them too much money.
But why target the year 2007? Is it just a coincidence that 2007 is a contract year for the UAW at the big automakers? Delphi is setting the stage for the automakers to claim that UAW hourly retirees have to take the same cuts as the salaried workers.
If any retiree in auto has believed that their medical benefits are guaranteed for life, Delphi just put up a big red warning flag.
And here is the second warning flag for retirees of the auto companies: the UAW International has not counterattacked the Delphi proposal. Union leaders have not sent out the alarm to the union membership. No exposure of the companies' game. No call on the union's membership to get ready, to prepare for the necessary battles ahead.
It's this second warning flag that retirees, and all those who hope one day to become retirees, must take seriously. If the union fails to respond today – including by allying with salaried workers – it will only encourage all the companies to carry out this attack.
Mar 21, 2005
The Detroit Public Schools spent more than two million dollars over two years – to carry out a public relations campaign to keep school enrollment up and involve parents. $600,000 went to one company, run by a former critic of the school board, to pass out flyers. And the brother of a school official was paid over $87,000 to design flyers and banners.
Keep enrollment up? Involve parents? How about providing services students and their parents need!
Some parents have taken their children out of the district because the schools provide no latchkey program that would allow them to drop off their children before they go to work and pick them up after work.
If the district had used that two million to establish a latchkey program, for example, they almost surely would have gotten more parental involvement and higher enrollment.
But if they'd done that, nobody's friends or relatives would have gotten big bucks! And a critic might have started yelling again!
Mar 21, 2005
Prozac, an anti-depressant drug, has been a gold mine for Eli Lilly, with almost three billion dollars in sales each year. A very profitable business. But it has now come out that 15 years ago the company minimized and even hid medical data about the risks of using this drug.
The British Medical Journal obtained internal documents from Eli Lilly showing that in 1988 it knew Prozac had an important side effect in common with other anti-depressants. While alleviating depression, it could hurl the user in the opposite direction, sometimes leading to violent acts against others or the user. But Eli Lilly marketed the drug as if it had almost no side effects, pushing for the widest possible use. It called Prozac the "happiness pill." It certainly was happy for the company in terms of the profits brought in.
In 1994, Eli Lilly was brought into court after a Prozac user killed eight people and wounded a dozen others before committing suicide. The families of the victims sued Eli Lilly, saying it was responsible for the deaths due to the dangerous drug it marketed. The company won the lawsuit – on the grounds that the Federal Drug Administration had said the drug was safe in 1991. But it later came out that Eli Lilly secretly agreed during the trial to pay off the victims if they promised never to appeal the verdict. In order to keep selling the "happiness pill," the company didn't mind spending a few million.
The other big pharmaceutical companies launched competing products for this profitable anti-depressant market. And, in order to make still greater profits, they indicated that children could use these products. Pfizer, which makes Zoloft, is today being sued in the case of a teenager who used it and then killed his grandparents. Another company, GlaxoSmithKline, is accused of hiding five clinical studies on Deroxat, which revealed the risk of suicide among youth using this anti-depressant drug.
These revelations about Prozac and other anti-depressants add to what the recent revelations about Vioxx and anti-cholesterol drugs have shown. Anything is allowable in pursuit of profit: false advertising, hiding scientific information, and deception in the court room. For the heads of the pharmaceutical companies, medicine is good primarily because it brings in profits.
Mar 21, 2005
Since October 2002, over 6,000 soldiers have officially been counted as deserters.
They aren't the only ones who are trying to get out of service in Iraq, though. There are reports of a large number of soldiers using a variety of ways to avoid being sent – or sent back – to Iraq. These ways include shooting themselves, fleeing to Canada, declaring conscientious objector status, taking drugs to fail a drug test, claiming back injuries and becoming pregnant. There are no numbers given for soldiers in these categories.
These men and women all volunteered for military service. And yet, some at least have turned their back on it.
One conscientious objector described the pressure placed on soldiers: "What I've seen is that soldiers are more afraid to make a stand for themselves than they are to go into combat." Up until now, that's been true. But the number now trying to get out of service is a signal of a much larger problem spreading through the U.S. armed forces in Iraq.
A soldier who fled to Canada explained the change he went through: "The thing is, yes, I did sign up for this. And, when I did, I had this vision that I'd be a good guy and defend my country. But killing people for something I don't believe in just to fulfill a contract just didn't seem right to me either."
Another conscientious objector summed it up this way: "I spent six months over there, and I came back and thought about it. What I know is that it's inhumane. It's turning 18-year-old men and women into soulless people."
Mar 21, 2005
Gunner Palace, a documentary about the Iraq war, is being screened in a small number of theaters in a few cities. One of the directors of the movie, Michael Tucker, spent two one-month stints in 2003 and 2004 with an artillery unit (gunners) who lived in a mansion in Baghdad used by Saddam Hussein's son Uday – hence the film's title.
Both Tucker and the soldiers shown in the movie make the point that there is a real war going on in Baghdad – contrary to George Bush's May 2003 declaration that "major combat" was over. The palace is under attack on a regular basis, by mortar and by grenades thrown over the wall. We see the soldiers' anxiety when they patrol Baghdad's crowded streets, in constant danger of being attacked. With bitter humor, the GIs recall their fear, and relief, caused by a suspected roadside bomb which turns out to be a bag of garbage. The soldiers, many of whom are still teenagers, try to ease the stress of the war with humor and music.
But the GIs are not the only ones in fear. In compelling scenes, the film shows night raids into homes. We see the soldiers busting doors down and lining up entire families in their pajamas and night gowns. We see a middle-aged woman, kneeling down, trying to plead with the gun-toting soldiers in broken English, saying repeatedly, "Thank you," and "I love America." We see angry, indignant men being handcuffed and led away – to Abu Ghraib, the prison which became infamous for the well-publicized incidents of torture.
The soldiers interviewed in the movie don't try to defend the occupation. (The only one to do so is the Lt. Colonel in charge of the unit.) One young GI says, "I don't feel like I am defending my country any more." Another soldier, assigned to training Iraqi recruits, says: "They are here now because of the money; who knows where they will be after we leave."
Gunner Palace offers a glimpse into one small section of the U.S. military operations in Iraq, for a short period of time. But it does it in a simple, straightforward manner, letting the soldiers speak. The result is a simple, straightforward message, which could be summarized in the words of a 19-year-old soldier quoted at the end of the movie: "We are not making Iraq a better place; we are just trying to stay alive."
Mar 21, 2005
On March 18, 19 and 20, demonstrations, marches, rallies and other protests marking the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, took place throughout the world. Thousands marched in protest of this war in London, Istanbul, Athens and Rome, to name just a few cities. The largest of these demonstrations appears to have been the one in London that attracted between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
In the U.S., there was no single big demonstration – rather at least 765 local protests that drew in people from cities and towns in all 50 states. This more than doubled the 319 protests of a year ago.
Many of these local protests also had a somewhat different character than earlier ones. In Detroit, for example, some workers who were active in or supported the Detroit newspaper strike several years ago attended and helped organize a protest. At this rally, an Iraq war veteran – just released from prison for his opposition to the war – was one of the featured speakers.
At other rallies and events around the country, veterans and families of active service men and women attended and, in some cases, helped to organize the protests. Several thousand protesters marched from Harlem to Central Park – one of a number of protests in New York City. Several thousand others marched in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, the home of the 82nd Airborne Division and many of the Special Forces units fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2,000 people including veterans and families of service members rallied against the war.
Bush might hope that opposition to U.S. wars in the Middle East would stop. But the spread of protests to so many more places shows that, in fact, opposition is growing. And the involvement of union activists, veterans and the families of service people shows this opposition is stronger and becoming more organized within the working class.
This is where the question of these wars can be settled. Workers pay the price for these wars doubly – in the deaths of young men and women, as well as in reduced public services, social programs and education. But the working class is also the class that can bring this war to an end.
Mar 21, 2005
Army and Navy officials recently admitted that 26 detainees have "probably" been murdered by U.S. personnel since 2002 in Afghanistan and Iraq. This clearly contradicts what the Pentagon had been saying all along, including less than a week before. For example, the Pentagon had been claiming that abuse of prisoners was infrequent and had been perpetrated by only a few bad apples, mostly at the Abu Ghraib prison. It claimed that only six prisoners had died as the result of criminal homicide by their U.S. captors. It absolved high-level U.S. military and civilian officials of any responsibility for the abuse.
Of course, no one should believe now that only 26 prisoners have been murdered, any more than we should have believed the earlier lies. But the latest information shows the military brass has covered up the murder of prisoners. It shows the abuse was not confined to just Abu Ghraib prison. In Afghanistan, at least one detainee was killed by a CIA agent, while two others were killed at Bagram Control Point. In Iraq, some of the killings took place in the field immediately after a prisoner had been captured, such as a wounded Iraqi teenager who was killed in Sadr City in Baghdad. Others were killed in prisons other than Abu Ghraib.
And widespread murder of detainees was not the only problem. Other information recently released shows the brass made an agreement with the CIA to hide "ghost detainees" for them. It shows there have been hundreds of cases of beatings, rape and torture that did not result in death. At Abu Ghraib, children as young as 11 years old have been imprisoned and abused.
All these murders and abuse show that the problem is systemic. And this means that officials from the bottom to the top of the military and civilian hierarchy are responsible.