The Spark

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

Issue no. 790 — January 22 - February 5, 2007

Editorial:
Stop the “new course” in Iraq
– Stop this bloody war!

Jan 22, 2007

On January 10, Bush announced his long-awaited “new course” for Iraq. Even as he spoke, some of the 21,500 additional troops he said he would send to Iraq had already disembarked. Two aircraft carrier groups were steaming into the Gulf region, with their air wings made up of FA-18's, Hornets and Super Hornets, as well as guided missile cruisers and frigates, plus an undisclosed number of Marines attached to these ships. And this doesn’t count the 40,000 U.S. troops stationed in neighboring Persian Gulf countries, just waiting to be sent in.

“New course”? No, it’s the same old bloody course for this filthy war – with this difference: the war will be bloodier still. And its main victims will be those who have already suffered: the Iraqi people and the U.S. troops themselves.

Republican and Democratic senators alike immediately denounced Bush’s plan. The top generals, both active and retired, added their voices to the chorus, predicting new disasters. Hardly a politician could be found in Congress who would say openly that he or she supported Bush’s “new course.”

And yet, Congress did nothing. To be more exact, senators and representatives proposed to hold hearings. Hearings! Even while the Marines and other units were already setting down in Iraq, politicians were talking about hearings – with the usual deliberate foot-dragging for which Congress is famous.

Democratic leaders proposed to take a vote to register opposition to the war, a vote they hastened to add would be only “symbolic.” Well, the war is NOT symbolic, and neither is the agony suffered by the Iraqi people and the U.S. troops. In Iraq, it’s a matter of life or death.

The Democrats say there’s nothing they can do to stop the war. Bush is the president, they say, and he has all the power.

Rubbish! The Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress – and ONLY to Congress – and that means the power to stop war.

The 2004 election did not make Bush king. And the 2006 election repudiated Bush and his policies. By an overwhelming margin.

The Democrats control Congress today. And the 2006 election, which gave them control, gave them a mandate to stop the war. The Democrats have already shown they won’t act on that mandate.

In other words, they too support the war in their devious way. They may criticize Bush’s conduct of the war in order to put the blame for it on his head, but they have already made it crystal clear they won’t take a step to stop him or his war.

If the war is to be stopped, it will be stopped only by the population and by the troops themselves.

U.S. troops are already speaking out against this war – and not only those brave soldiers who dare to register their opposition with Congress. Already, half a million troops have spoken against this war by leaving it. Of the 1.4 million people who served in Iraq, 500,000 of them left the service when their time was up.

The population of this country has an obligation to back up those troops, to force the government to bring them home. We have an obligation to the Iraqi people, whose lives this war has shattered. Take the troops out of Iraq, leave Iraq to the Iraqis, and send them reparations for the catastrophe the U.S. has made of their country.

All U.S. troops OUT of Iraq, NOW!

Pages 2-3

Power outages
– not a “natural” product of winter storms

Jan 22, 2007

Recent winter storms around the country left almost a million people without power. In the Detroit area alone, more than 220,000 customers of DTE Energy and Consumers Energy lost power. Thousands of people were left in the dark and without heat for almost a week.

It was even worse in other parts of the country, like Missouri, where more than 300,000 households – meaning many more individuals – lost power. People in St. Louis went without power for the third time since July.

The utility companies pretend power failures like these are simply nature at work. No! Nature may provide the storms, but the utilities don’t hire the number of workers they need. The real cause is a utility system run in the interest of making the most profit, not in providing the best services.

In this connection, the New York State Public Service Commission just issued a scathing report on the nine-day blackout in Queens last July that caused 174,000 people to lose power. The report condemned Consolidated Edison for failing to “adequately maintain, operate and oversee its electrical network.” The report noted that Consolidated Edison’s network had failed many times in the previous two years and that the failures involved components that were 30 to 60 years old! Considering that the July blackout was less serious than the current ones, the recent outages are a real indictment of the nation’s power system.

There’s been a real cutback across the board in the number of workers the utility companies keep on hand as part of their regular workforce. When the inevitable problems arise as a result of wind, rain, and snow, it becomes obvious the utility companies do not have enough people to respond adequately. They need to have a big enough labor force who would regularly work making repairs to the decaying power grid and could be available to respond to the inevitable emergencies when they occur.

Instead, when an outage occurs, the companies hire private contractors from the area or even bring in workers from other states. These workers are not familiar with the system they are functioning in, so repairs naturally take longer.

The millions of people affected by the latest series of power outages lost more than just their electricity. People missed work when their employers were closed. Food spoiled in people’s refrigerators. People were left shivering when they could not heat their homes. Several died attempting to use indoor fires and generators to keep from freezing.

These people were the direct victims of a society that cuts back on essential services to the population, all so that a tiny handful of wealthy owners can make still more money.

Martinez “Mart” Gomez:
An “ordinary hero” of the working class

Jan 22, 2007

A former worker at the Detroit Fort Street Post office, Mr. Alfred Martinez “Mart” Gomez, died at the age of 84 on December 20th. He had worked at the main branch of the Post Office for 30 years. In the 1970s, he became active with SPARK. But long before this, he fought for the right for himself and his fellow workers to be treated like human beings. Proud of his Black and Native American heritage, he opposed the racism of this society all his life.

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1922, he attended Central High School, where among other subjects, he studied art, and there developed his skill in capturing the likenesses and movement of animals, which he put to use later when working at the Post Office.

He was a superb athlete in his younger years – from swimming to the broad jump. But according to his family, after high school, he turned to his great love: boxing. As an amateur boxer, he won three gold medals, and the Golden Gloves and Diamond Belt titles.

Even after his own career and aspirations to become a pro boxer ended, he spent years at local Detroit gyms, helping and coaching many young people. He taught them boxing skills, yes, but he also taught them that they didn’t need to be aggressive. He himself was never one to pick a fight. But he also taught these young men that they should not back down when they found themselves under attack.

Post Office workers not only work “through snow and sleet.” Like all workers, they have to endure hard work, long hours and speed-up, as well as times when they could have to work as long as 15-day stretches without a day off.

And then there was management. Mart distinguished clearly between managers that he and his fellow workers thought were decent, and those who acted like the enemy. And so it was only those infamous supervisors who earned the most vivid and colorful animal names and pictures in the famous cartoons he drew: Bulldog, Rattlesnake, Police Dog, the Weasel, and the Sly Fox, among others.

Through humor, then, he helped to make work-life more bearable for himself and for his co-workers.

Even when he retired, Mart didn’t retire from the class struggle. He would go into work and onto the docks, and maintain ties with his fellow workers. The very year he retired, he stepped forward, with 25 other worker-candidates in Michigan, to join the political campaign, WORKERS AGAINST CONCESSIONS – organized to give workers in Michigan the choice to say “No!” to both the Democrats and Republicans, and to the corporations.

He will be remembered for his humor, his cartoons, his uncanny memory (especially when it came to numbers), his story-telling, his boxing stories, replete with the motions of his matches and those of famous boxers.

He was a fighter, literally, since he was a boxer. But he was also a fighter for his class. In fact, he was like the many workers in this society who are athletes, who are artists and musicians, who are writers and poets. They are everywhere among the people who do the essential work to make society run. They are the “ordinary heroes” so to speak, seldom recognized for their contributions to history and to social change.

We share in the joy of his memories, and the sorrow for his loss with his friends and family, including his nieces and great nephews, and especially his dear sister, Mrs. Bertha Jackson.

We remember Martinez Gomez, a fighter for his class, notable for the impact he left on many.

The murder of Cheryl Green:
Terrorism against black people in L.A.

Jan 22, 2007

On December 15, 14-year-old Cheryl Green was shot to death in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Cheryl and her three friends, who were wounded in the attack, were deliberately targeted, and for one reason only: being black. The two killers, whom the police and media described as “Latino gang members,” were looking for somebody – anybody – black, when they spotted the four teenagers.

As horrendous and disgusting this racist attack is, it is not an isolated incident. The killing of Cheryl came after at least a decade of harassment of black residents in Harbor Gateway. In fact, for almost two decades now, Mexican and Central American gangs have been harassing and attacking black residents in some of L.A.’s ethnically mixed, working-class neighborhoods, in a systematic effort to force them to leave.

One such neighborhood is Highland Park, which recently came under media spotlight because of the trial of four gang members. According to testimony at this trial, racist attacks in Highland Park between 1995 and 2001 included: two murders, one of a black visitor looking for a parking space, one of a black resident who filed a police report for continuous harassment; the shooting of a 15-year-old boy riding his bike; the assault on a jogger and knocking a woman off her bike; drawing outlines of human bodies in chalk on a family’s driveway – incidents eerily reminiscent of Klan terror black people have faced in this country in the past.

Racist, anti-black attitudes certainly exist among immigrants, who either pick up the deep-seated racism of American society against its black citizens or bring it with them from their own countries. Undoubtedly, such attitudes feed into the racist violence we see in L.A. neighborhoods.

But there is something beyond the obvious racism in this situation. It’s not clear what exactly is behind the attacks in Harbor Gateway, but there is a range of possibilities, one of which is that the local gang may be linked to the Mexican Mafia. During the investigation of the Highland Park murders, an informant told the FBI that the Mexican Mafia had ordered those attacks. In their territorial rivalry for drug trafficking, the only competitors for the Mexican Mafia were black gangs also involved in drug trafficking. The Mexican drug gangs have openly attacked black people to get rid of black neighborhoods.

Another possible link is real estate interests, who could be using these thugs to clear an area for development. In one such incident in L.A.’s history, the largely Mexican-American population of Chavez Ravine was driven out to make room for the Dodgers Stadium in the 1950s.

One thing is certain: these attacks are part of the never-ending terrorism that black people have faced throughout this country’s history. And, just as in the past, there is only one way this terrorism will stop – by black people organizing to defend themselves, to shut down racist violence with the force necessary.

The majority of Mexican-Americans, or Hispanic people in general – as people of other ethnicities – are certainly appalled by these racist attacks. But few of them are coming forward to denounce these attacks. Maybe they themselves feel terrorized by the thugs. But it’s important for Hispanic workers to take a stand against these racist hoodlums who come from their own community and whose terror, in the end, will be directed at everybody in the community.

Pages 4-5

General Motors in Strasbourg, France:
A massive strike for a 100 euro increase

Jan 22, 2007

The following article comes from the January 12 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the French revolutionary group of the same name.

On January 11, the overwhelming majority of 700 production workers at the General Motors plant in Strasbourg, France went out on strike. Workers struck after management proposed to count as personal time off the days that the plant was shut down, thus forcing workers to use up personal days. Also management proposed to reduce their sick pay. And the proposals on wages were very skimpy – less than a one% increase.

The strike was initiated by the CGT union (General Confederation of Workers). On Wednesday, January 10th, the union held a meeting during break time. The hundred workers who attended decided to meet again the next day at the time when salary negotiations were taking place. Since nothing was coming out of these negotiations, the workers let the delegates know they should leave the meetings. The workers had already stopped work!

With the delegates, workers went into the workshops to call out other workers to join their strike. In the foundry, some workers responded, "As soon as we finish this production cycle, we will stop." In the end, they had brought out some 240 workers, almost everyone in production on the morning shift. At a general meeting, they voted for two demands: an increase in pay of 100 euros a month (about $130) for everyone, and the payment for the days they are on strike. The demand of a 100 euro a month increase came from a poll taken by the CGT before the wage negotiations began. When the afternoon shift was greeted by the day shift, the overwhelming majority joined the strike.

A number of the foremen and lower level managers showed no hostility toward the strikers, some indicating they thought the directors of the plant had gone too far. A number of technicians from the GM research center refused to replace the striking assembly workers.

The following Monday, there were even more strikers, since some office workers and foremen joined the strike. The plant management then went through every section of the plant from maintenance, to tooling, to measurement and the technical bureau, trying to force these employees to replace the strikers on the assembly lines. A large number simply refused, saying they were in solidarity with the strikers. Then on Tuesday, January 16th, they went out on strike themselves, saying that they would not be used as strike breakers.

On the assembly lines, there was practically no one working except for a few foremen or supervisors, including the head of production" who tried to get out some production. Very little production came out as a result!

The former plant manager was told by GM headquarters to stay in Strasbourg on Monday to head the negotiations. First management pulled back on the issue of the personal days and reducing sick pay. Next they proposed a 35 euro increase, then a 50 euro increase, then a 75 euro increase. Each time the strikers said "No!" They want 100 euros and the payment for the days on strike.

On Tuesday, another meeting took place, this time with the new plant director, a Canadian who had been head of a facility in Poland, and who barely speaks French. As he gave his speech in English, he blurted out, "If you continue your strike and cars ordered by the customers cannot be delivered, you are going to get what you ask for," threatening to shut them down like a GM plant in the United States. But when this statement was translated for the workers, it produced a large outburst of laughter and an encouragement to continue the strike. So nothing came out of this meeting and the strike continues – until the workers get 100 euros!

Delphi:
So broke, they don’t need a measly 1.3 billion

Jan 22, 2007

Delphi Corporation, GM’s parts division that was spun off into a phony “bankruptcy,” just rejected a 4.7 billion-dollar buy-out bid from Highland Capital private equity fund. Delphi said it was doing quite well with the 3.4 billion-dollar offer from the Appaloosa and Cerberus funds.

Does this sound like a desperately bankrupt company, turning its back on 1.3 billion extra dollars? No? Well, you’re right. It was never desperately bankrupt. But to break the workers’ wages and benefits down to non-union levels, GM put Delphi through this long bankruptcy charade.

As for those funds – Cerberus happens to be the same fund that holds an option on buying GMAC, the hugely profitable GM finance arm that books most of GM’s official profits. When Delphi rejects a rival fund’s extra billion-plus dollars, management is simply revealing its ongoing plan to keep all the GM assets under some form of GM control.

In this game, only the workers are supposed to lose.

Volkswagen in Belgium:
Return to work, but nothing is settled

Jan 22, 2007

The following article concerns a strike at a Volkswagen plant in Brussels, Belgium, appearing in the Jan. 12 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

In November, VW announced that 4,000 jobs would be cut at the Brussels factory. The workers there went out on strike. On January 8th, they finally went back to work as a result of some maneuvers between the company and the union leaders, maneuvers that might sound familiar to workers in the U.S. under similar pressure to give up their jobs or accept worse conditions.

On January 5th, the three unions representing workers at the VW plant in Brussels, Belgium organized a referendum so workers could vote whether or not to "continue the strike movement." Out of 4800 at the plant, 2000 workers voted. Despite the pressure from the union leaders to give in, 46% voted to continue the strike.

One problem related to the workforce in Belgium is its division into three parts, speaking three different languages: French, Flemish and Walloon. The metal workers' union even allowed itself to be divided into three "wings," using an excuse going back decades. The French-speaking union leaders argued that a Flemish-speaking union leader had been in an extreme right wing group – which he had at age 16! This kind of division based on ethnic background kept some workers apart during the strike.

At the January 5th meeting, when the leaders of the union defended their agreement with VW management, they were coolly received by the workers. A strong minority booed them. Many of these workers had already opposed the union officials by maintaining a picket line in front of the factory for seven weeks.

When a delegate from another union spoke against the agreement and proposed to vote against a return to work, he was applauded. Unfortunately, he spoke in French, so the majority could not understand what he said. It had been the custom to translate so that everyone knew what was being said. Another union leader who had helped negotiate the agreement with VW jumped on this, accusing the French-speaking official of having no respect for the Flemish majority. In that way, he deflected criticisms away from what he had helped negotiate. The real problem was not one of language but the contents of the agreement.

When the results of the vote were announced, 150 workers were still picketing in front of the plant. Almost all of them were French-speaking. And many of them hope to go back on strike as quickly as possible.

In effect, nothing is settled – 2200 will continue working at the Brussels plant, but they don't know what the conditions of work will be, nor even, how much they will make. About 900 workers are close to retirement. They could lose 20% of their wages and they are put in a position where they have to accept any kind of "reasonable" job demanded of them – or else. The VW workers are the first victims of this new global "buyout" agreement.

One thousand nine hundred workers were pressured into accepting the supposed "voluntary" buyout. About 200 of them have asked to rescind their choice, which they made when management tried to stampede them. Some of these workers went into the plant on January 8th because they didn't even know if management had agreed to the terms of the buyout. They are not even sure if VW will allow some of them to leave.

Finally, there are the contract workers in the plant. They neither receive a bonus nor anything else, and many expect to get laid off. Some didn't return to work on January 8th.

Those wishing to continue the strike have every reason to do so. But they cannot allow themselves to be divided by what region they come from or what language they speak. They cannot accept the divisions that have been introduced through the demagogy of the union apparatus.

Auto concessions:
Don’t fall for any more rich men’s lies

Jan 22, 2007

Going into a big game, what coach would tell his players to prepare to lose? Worse yet, what coach would tell his players that they would be better off if the other team won?

That’s exactly what the leadership of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is telling its team, in these months before the new September 2007 contract.

While Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally is saying, “The only thing I care about is the competitiveness of Ford,” a UAW vice-president, Bob King, only echoes him: “I’m bullish on Ford. We have had to go through these horrible things – the massive buyouts – but we end up with a better product and company.” In other words, King just told his team that it has to lose so the other team can win!

For whatever reasons, the top union leadership has chosen to focus workers’ attention on the very things the companies want: sacrifices. Not on how to avoid making sacrifices! But only on what sacrifices will be made. The intent is to form a mind-set among the workers that sacrifices are inevitable in the 2007 contract and nothing can be done about it. It’s just too bad, they say – but the companies are in trouble.

The companies are not in trouble. The companies are rich as can be.

Take General Motors, which during 2005 and early 2006 declared far and wide that it was nearly bankrupt because of underfunded health care programs for retirees. Bankrupt! Ten billion dollars in the hole! About to go under! Months and months of such orchestrated public-relations baloney.

But a funny thing happened after they got what they wanted from the retirees. Suddenly the public relations blitz disappeared, the ten billion dollars in the hole was forgotten, and their stock began to climb. In 2006, GM’s stock was the best performing of all the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average! And at the Detroit Auto Show Bob Lutz said, “We won’t be satisfied with just a few billion in profits.” They were going after everything they could get.

Or how about Chrysler? The Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler (DCX) showed three years of profits. Twelve straight quarters of profits! But when workers were not in the mood to agree to the same retiree health cuts and dollar-an-hour wage cuts that were nearly voted down by GM workers, and even more nearly by Ford workers, CEO Dieter Zetsche complained, “It’s a very strange position that we should first lose 10 billion dollars before we have the same [concessions] as Ford and GM.... We will not stop before we get the results we need.”

The very next quarter, Chrysler’s books showed a very unexpected 1.2 billion-dollar loss! And the UAW promised to “re-examine” the concessions! Even though Chrysler Group’s sales for 2006 actually ROSE compared to 2005!

Or take Ford. Ford’s Executive Vice President Mark Fields had his weekend “commute” paid by the company – exclusive use of the company plane to fly from Detroit to his family in south Florida every weekend! The cost was estimated at about $70,000 per weekend, or some $3,500,000 per year. When Field’s list of luxury perks made the news, he gave up the plane. If Ford had been in all the trouble management claimed it was in, he would have given up the plane long before!

It’s the same for all the companies. Their executives sacrifice nothing, their banks sacrifice nothing, their largest shareholders do nothing but rake in the dividends.

These huge companies can change their books one quarter and change them back the next quarter. They can recruit their allied companies, banks and brokerages to join in the scheme. Steve Miller said of the Delphi bankruptcy, it was “well planned, well structured and well financed.”

The news media always quotes an auto “analyst” who is the son of a previous GM CEO. And not to be forgotten is the episode a few years ago, when GM pulled a whole three months of its advertising budget from a California newspaper that was examining GM’s affairs a little too “critically.”

They carry out their scams to rob the workers like public relations campaigns. Ford Motor Company retained marketers from University of Michigan to conduct studies on how best to persuade workers to take early buy-outs. They approached it no differently than figuring how to sell the latest model car: how to create the necessary illusions to persuade the “customer” to bite.

The corporate lies are endless. UAW leaders who go along with these lies betray the workers.

When workers give back concessions to the companies, they get no guarantees. No! Just the opposite. Concessions encourage management to come back for still more concessions. When you give up wages to save jobs, they take your jobs, too.

The workers’ only real protection is to see the corporate swindles for what they are, and act on it. Refuse the concessions – each and every one of them!

Pages 6-7

Book review:
Blacklist by Sara Paretsky

Jan 22, 2007

In this detective novel, private detective Victoria Warshawski investigates a murder in Chicago’s ultra-rich community of mansions, class privilege – and skeletons in many closets.

Soon after 9/11, detective Warshawski is hired by a wealthy man to find out why lights keep appearing in his mother’s unused mansion. She stumbles upon a body in the mansion’s pool and begins to unravel a most complicated case – made far more complicated by the ability of those with wealth and power to evade the laws and hide even their worst scandals beneath their false fronts of respectability.

The body in the pool turns out to be that of a respected black author who, as Warshawski soon discovers, was researching a book on a dancer’s life in the 1950s, including her activism for social justice, her relationship with the Communist Party, and her job loss due to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In those days of political witch-hunting, only a word, perhaps merely a hint, from HUAC to an employer, was enough to have a person fired from their job without cause.

It so happened that an occasional wealthy person would in those days support organizations for peace, or labor organizing, or social justice, or civil rights and equality, in which Communists were also active. When the HUAC persecutions started to hit these wealthy ones, they had the means to escape the consequences – as long as certain scandals could be kept covered up. The body in the pond leads Warshawski back through these scandals to the tense, complicated and vicious history of the McCarthy Period of the 1950s.

But what of the mysterious lights in the mansion? When Warshawski works on this problem, she uncovers a modern case of blacklisting, prejudice and denial of personal rights and civil liberties. It’s after 9/11, and an innocent young Muslim is hiding out after being branded as a potential terrorist. An idealistic wealthy teenager is helping him hide out in the old mansion. And when Warshawski helps hide him, she finds that the FBI and police can bug her phone, invade her office without a warrant, and force a library to divulge everything she requested – thanks to the Patriot Act.

Blacklist not only journeys through these parallel social histories fifty years apart. It keeps the exciting who-done-it action flowing, with a large cast of believable characters. Also very worthwhile is the way the author not only approaches those haughty closed mansion doors, but ushers us inside. The expensive refined elegance of the wealthy properties is contrasted with wealthy lives of pettiness, scheming, snobbery and – yes – getting away with murder.

Tillie Olsen:
Chronicler of working class life

Jan 22, 2007

Tillie Olsen, social activist and writer, died January 1st, aged 94. She became well-known in the 1960s after her books about the lives of working class women were published.

Olsen’s parents were poor Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her father was active in the Nebraska Socialist Party. Born in 1913, Olsen joined the Young Communist League in the 1930s. She began working and organizing among meat packers before she fell ill with one of the diseases of poverty, tuberculosis. In 1932, she participated in the San Francisco general strike and wrote a description of it for left-wing magazines. There she met her husband and fellow activist, Jack Olsen, with whom she had four daughters.

Although she wrote occasionally, her busy life did not allow her to become a published writer until her children were grown. In 1961 she published four short stories, including the memorable Tell Me a Riddle. One of those stories, “I Stand Here Ironing,” was made into a movie.

Olsen continued to chronicle the difficult lives of mothers with social consciences, very little money, no education and too much to do. Her second book, Yonnodio, is a brutal story of poverty in a mining family, told from the view of the mother and the oldest child. This daughter Maisie would like to get an education to avoid her mother’s fate.

Olsen describes hell “choreographed by Beedo, [the speed-up system of the 1920s] ...Music by rasp crash screech knock steamhiss thud machinedrum. Abandon self, all ye who enter here. Become component part, geared, meshed, timed controlled.

Hell. Figures half-seen through hissing vapor, live steam cloud from great scalding vats. Hogs dangling, dancing along the convey, 300, 350 an hour; Mary running running along the rickety platform to keep up, stamping, stamping the hides...”

In fact, the book doesn’t end the story of this miserable family starving on what the father makes at the packing house. Instead Olsen adds a note that the book was set aside for 40 years by a young writer who had no time herself to pick it up again. So we don’t know if the children ever got some education and escaped their parents’ hell.

Olsen’s understanding of poverty among women in this society made her a favorite of the women’s movement.

She remained active in various causes and as a teacher and writer into her 80s. Her books are worth another look in this new century as well.

Page 8

A country club attitude toward working class lives

Jan 22, 2007

In an interview on “The News Hour,” George W. Bush was asked whether more people should be asked to sacrifice for the Iraq war. He said: “A lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”

Incredible! You can just see Bush standing at the country club with his wealthy friends, talking about how much they’re “sacrificing” because they watch the war on TV!

To Bush and his friends at the country clubs, everybody has their proper role in a war: the role of workers is to go to war to be maimed and killed, while the role of the wealthy is to stand back and watch.

And reap the profits, of course.

Gratitude?!

Jan 22, 2007

When asked in an interview on “60 Minutes” whether he owed the Iraqi people an apology, Bush retorted, “the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude.” He didn’t think that the Iraqi people were grateful enough for all the U.S. had done. Bush wanted the Iraqi people to show more gratitude.

Gratitude? Gratitude?! For what, exactly? For the 655,000 who have died since the U.S. invasion, and the more than two million refugees with no place to live? For all the schools, homes and hospitals that have been bombed into oblivion all over the country? For the electricity cutting out for 18 hours of every day in the city of Baghdad? For the lack of any adequate water treatment throughout the country, causing children to die of kidney failure and diarrhea?

Just what planet is Bush from, that that kind of treatment should create gratitude?

Active duty soldiers present petition to Congress:
Get out of Iraq now!

Jan 22, 2007

Active duty soldiers presented a petition to Congress, calling for the swift withdrawal of all troops in Iraq. The petition was signed by more than 1,000 other active duty, reserve and National Guard troops.

A group of soldiers led by Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, an Iraq war veteran, presented the petition to Congress on January 15, Martin Luther King Day. It was signed by 1,080 soldiers at the time. Names continue to be gathered; by Saturday, January 20, the number had grown to 1,192.

The soldiers who have attached their names to this petition are taking great risks: They risk prosecution and prison, certainly; and they risk their lives with the possibility of the military retaliating by sending them on the most dangerous missions day after day after day.

For this growing number of soldiers to take this risk, shows that they rest on a much larger number of soldiers who feel exactly the same way they do. It may be “only” 1,192 soldiers who have signed the petition at this point; but they are the reflection of a deep-seated feeling throughout the military today: that the U.S. needs to get out of Iraq NOW!

A soldier is prosecuted for telling the truth

Jan 22, 2007

A military judge has ruled that Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the first soldier to be court-martialed for refusing deployment to Iraq, can also be charged with “conduct unbecoming an officer” – for publicly criticizing George W. Bush and questioning the war’s legality.

The judge, Lieutenant Colonel John Head, said that “contemptuous speech by an officer directed at the president” is grounds for prosecution under military law.

What did Watada say that amounted to a crime? In one interview, he spoke about the “deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war.” At the Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle last August, Watada said, “Today, I speak with you about a radical idea: That to stop an illegal and unjust war, soldiers can choose to stop fighting it...”

In other words, Watada has said publicly what everyone knows. And he has taken a position supported by the big majority of the American population – that the soldiers need to stop fighting in Iraq.

But Watada’s position is also finding support among the majority of the soldiers themselves. And that’s just what the military brass can’t allow! That’s why they’re throwing the book at Watada to make an example of him!

Just as during the Viet Nam War, such a prosecution may only produce yet more opposition to the war.

California healthcare “reform:
” Bigger profits, worse health care

Jan 22, 2007

Arnold Schwarzenegger began his second term as governor with a “comprehensive plan to reform California’s broken health care system.

Today 6.5 million Californians, or one fifth of the state’s population, are uninsured, most of them workers and their families. And everybody knows why: health insurance is so expensive, no worker whose employer doesn’t offer health benefits can afford to buy it.

So does Arnold propose putting a cap on insurance premiums and the astronomical prices that hospitals and drug companies charge? Does he suggest forcing every boss to provide health benefits?

No, none of that. Companies with less than 10 employees will have no obligation whatsoever. Only those with more than 10 employees who do not provide coverage will pay a “penalty” of four% of their payroll. But since that is only about half the amount companies today spend on average on employee health benefits, not only will most of them opt for this “penalty,” many companies that have coverage may even drop it!

In the meantime, every worker will have to buy health insurance – and probably at higher rates too, since insurance companies are likely to raise their premiums and deductibles under the pretext that they can no longer reject anybody. As for the financial aid Arnold promises for low-income households, guess who’ll pay for it – taxpayers, of course, that is, workers themselves.

In short, if Arnold’s plan comes true, it will bring insurers more profit, save bosses money, and workers will end up paying for all that while still not getting the health care they need.

So just like with education or Social Security before, when you hear politicians talking about health care “reform,” run the other way!