The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 799 — June 3 - 17, 2007

Bending the army, stopping the war!

Jun 3, 2007

“No more criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Behind all the military verbiage, this was the meaning of a new regulation transmitted to troops in mid-May. All letters and e-mail that even just mention the war must first go through the commanding officer. Otherwise, a soldier is open for discipline.

It’s obvious no commanding officer will wade through all the mail and e-mails that troops send home. This latest military regulation is simply a sword held over every soldier’s head. It’s the military’s perfect Catch-22, brought up to date. Soldiers who criticize the army or the war won’t be disciplined for criticizing – only for doing it without approval.

In other words, to put it bluntly, shut up! You’re there to do and die, not to reason why.

But the troops are reasoning. Some of them are coming back protesting. Many more are sending letters home, and those letters have sparked a strong response in the population, transforming the population’s attitude about the wars. There may not be large student demonstrations like those during the Viet Nam war, but the opposition in ordinary layers of the population seems deeper and wider today.

Expressing opposition with their feet, hundreds of thousands of troops have left service. Trying to counteract the flood of soldiers leaving, the Army alone paid out 735 million dollars in retention bonuses in 2006 – almost nine times what it paid in 2003 (85 million). And still the troops left. More than a third of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer in uniform. They got out as soon as they could. Most haven’t yet had the opportunity.

U.S. imperialism cannot impose its will over the world, it cannot use force and the threat of force to rob other countries of their wealth, when its army won’t fight.

The army is not yet at the point it is refusing to fight. It may not yet be “breaking” as it finally did in the Viet Nam war, when troops openly revolted, refusing orders to go out, attacking commanding officers, taking over stockades when they were sent there for desertion.

But the army in Iraq today is certainly bending. And those troops who are bending it need to be supported by everyone who wants an end to this war, this violent destruction of Iraq and the waste of a whole generation of young American people. The war must be opposed by everyone who wants the wealth of this country put into the needs of the population, instead of into the destruction of another country.

U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now!

Pages 2-3

The impasse of Israeli policy

Jun 3, 2007

During the night of May 22, the Israeli army carried out ten air raids on the Gaza Strip, causing more than ten civilian deaths and wounding several dozen more civilians. In the previous five days, Israeli bombs had killed another 31 Palestinians.

Israel also totally cordoned off the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, beginning on May 21 at midnight.

Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, justified this intensification of repression against Palestinians as a way to defend the Israeli population living near the Gaza Strip from Palestinian rockets.

Palestinian rockets killed a woman in Sderot, a city near the border with the Gaza Strip. These rocket launchings against the civilian Israeli population may be reprehensible. But attacks by this massively armed Israeli military on the Palestinian population are every bit as reprehensible – and much more widespread. Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed over the years by the Israeli army, always “in retaliation” for the refusal of Palestinians to accept Israeli occupation of their territory.

The Israeli population is forced to live in a permanent state of war, feeling itself constantly threatened, confined to a country that has become an armed camp. This is thanks to Israeli policy, carried out over decades, denying the elementary rights of the Palestinian population.

Even after the Israeli army withdrew from Gaza in the summer of 2005, it continued to carry out repeated incursions into Gaza, always under the pretext of preventing rocket attacks. It assassinated leaders of armed Palestinian groups and carried out extensive military operations, like those of last June, when attempting to get back an Israeli soldier taken prisoner.

After the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, Israel imposed an economic and financial blockade on the Gaza Strip, with tragic consequences for the population. Israel increased tensions which have led to civil war there, with Hamas and Fatah militants waging violent attacks against each other.

Referring to the Palestinian rockets fired against Israel, Israeli leaders ask, “what country could accept to live under such a threat?” But what country could accept to live for years under the heel of the Israeli army, as the Palestinians have done in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank?

Whether against the Gaza Strip or in Lebanon, the only policy of the Israeli government is a headlong rush toward repression. All this occurs with the complicity of the great powers, starting with the U.S., which share with Israel the responsibility for this bloody impasse.

Oceans and borders won’t stop desperate immigrants

Jun 3, 2007

On May 5, a 30-foot boat filled with at least 160 Haitians capsized as it was towed by the police of the Caribbean islands Turks and Caicos, a British colony. Only 78 survived, leaving 82 dead, some eaten by sharks. Since 2001, more than 400 people have been lost at sea as they tried to sail from Haiti or the Dominican Republic to reach the United States.

On May 28 in another part of the world, fishermen from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea pulled in the sole survivor of a shipwrecked boat that contained clandestine immigrants to Europe. The next day, 26 survivors of another shipwreck were pulled from the sea by an Italian boat. Another 27 people were rescued by a Spanish trawler from another boat mishap. Since no country wanted to receive them, those rescued had to stay on the boat, without food, clothing or a place to sleep. Without the slightest concern, a minister from Malta stated that the survivors, “were found in a Libyan fishing zone and were rescued by a Spanish ship. We don’t have any obligation to aid them under international law.”

Each year on days good for sailing, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of men, sometimes accompanied by their families, take an enormous risk. They leave from the poor islands of the Caribbean, and from the poor countries of Africa, trying to reach a rich country. They try to cross the sea. They travel on dilapidated boats that are completely overcrowded, lacking experienced crews, without food and only a small amount of water.

The rich countries increase sea patrols with military cruisers, with radar. They write new laws and sign agreements between their police forces, but it all serves for nothing. Even when governments give their officers the right to toss illegal migrants overboard, which some have done, it doesn’t discourage illegal entry. For no barriers the rich countries can invent will be more horrible than the misery created by imperialism in the Caribbean, in Africa and in other poor areas of the globe. This misery pushes some to take a terrible risk, as they hope to reach the shores of the richer countries.

Democrats don’t oppose the war:
They provide 100 billion more

Jun 3, 2007

Done playing their little “anti-war” game, the Democrats in Congress gave Bush the money he wanted to continue the war in Iraq.

For months, the Democrats have been dancing a tango with Bush over the issue. Pretended to oppose the war they passed a spending bill with a meaningless time line for troop withdrawal attached to it.

When Bush threatened to veto, the Democratic leadership negotiated a compromise with him agreeing to a spending bill with NO time line attached. To cover their butts, the majority of Democrats voted against the bill, while enough Democrats voted for it so that it could pass the House easily, 280-142. The vote in the Senate was even more lopsided, 80-14. The bill gives Bush 100 billion dollars to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and he’s already said he’ll want 145 billion more next year.

The Democrats say they couldn’t do anything more, since they lack the votes to override Bush’s veto.

It’s amazing how helpless the Democrats can be – in the face of one man.

The Democrats have the means to end the war now – they just don’t use them. They are the majority in Congress. They could refuse to pass any spending for the war. And if Bush accused them of refusing to support the troops, the Democrats would have a solid argument – supporting the troops means taking away Bush’s ability to pay for the war – forcing him to bring them home. The Democrats could also impeach Bush – for any number of reasons. They could even call people out into the streets to demand an end to the war, tying up the business of government.

They don’t do it? Then they don’t want an end to the war.

If we keep waiting on the Democrats to change things, this electoral farce will continue – and, what’s much worse, so will this bloody war.

An explosive situation

Jun 3, 2007

Once again, civil war seems close to flaring up in Lebanon, following the intervention of the Lebanese army on May 20 against the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared, in northern Lebanon.

Officially, the army sought to arrest members of the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam, accused of an attack on two minibuses in a Beirut suburb in February. But faced with this group’s resistance, the army simply bombed the Palestinian camp where the group was installed.

The explanation given for the bombing was that the Lebanese army had agreed with the Arab countries and the Palestinian authorities that it wouldn’t enter refugee camps. So it had to bomb the camp! As a result of this action, begun supposedly to stop some suspects in a bank robbery, 31 militiamen of the Islamist group have been killed, 38 Lebanese soldiers and at least 34 Palestinian civilians living in the camp were also killed by the bombing and shooting. Meanwhile, bombs exploded in Beirut, one in a Christian neighborhood and another in a Muslim neighborhood.

This event reminds us that there are still hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees stuck in Lebanon. They barely survive in the camps with U.N. subsidies. Lebanese laws keep them out of a great number of occupations from which they could earn a living. They live a precarious existence, in overcrowded neighborhoods lacking the most basic necessities, without the perspective of some day getting out of this situation. They are surrounded by the scorn of the majority of the Lebanese political forces, when they aren’t simply bombed by Israel or by the Lebanese army, as just occurred.

It’s not surprising that this situation made it easy for various fundamentalist groups to recruit. In this case, the Islamist group in question seems to be generally tied to al-Qaeda and to include others in addition to Palestinians. The attacks that it organized seem to indicate the entry of al-Qaeda onto the Lebanese political scene, already particularly tense.

In fact, for months the political situation has meant confrontations between Hezbollah, which came out reinforced from the summer 2006 war with Israel, and the leaders of the “March 14th” regroupment, the privileged allies of the Western powers, especially the U.S. and France. The head of the government, Fouad Siniora, with his allies Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, as well as Western leaders, regularly accuse Syria of responsibility for all the country’s problems and of manipulating their opponents.

These forces made the same charges this time, saying the Syrian government manipulated the Islamist group. Supposedly Syria caused a diversion when the U.N. Security Council was establishing an International Court to judge those responsible for the murder of Rafik Hariri, assassinated in February 2005. The court is supposed to be looking at those close to the Syrian regime.

All this goes to show that the foreign interference in Lebanon doesn’t come only from neighboring Syria, which French imperialism cut off from Lebanon in a typical colonial manner, to better dominate it. Foreign interference also comes from the Western powers, particularly France, which continues to consider its ex-colony as its privileged territory. France maintains close relations with Lebanese financial clans like Hariri’s ... even lending an apartment to outgoing French President Jacques Chirac when he leaves office!

All these maneuvers to divide the peoples of the region, punctuated by successive military interventions, have made not only Lebanon but the whole Middle East a field of more and more inextricable conflicts. It’s reached the point that not only Iraq but also Lebanon seem again on the verge of civil war.

If things are ever to be settled in Lebanon, the best thing would be for Western leaders to stop their maneuvers, their pressure and in particular their support for the business clans that continue to impose themselves at the head of Lebanon.

Pages 4-5

DCX announces sale of Chrysler, while crying poverty

Jun 3, 2007

The DaimlerChrysler (DCX) decision to sell 80% of Chrysler Group to a private equity company called Cerberus Capital was the signal for a huge wave of talk from the news media. Supposed auto industry “experts” and financial magnates bemoaned how bad things are for Chrysler, how much money it is supposedly losing.

Nothing but a bunch of lies! In most of the years since Daimler bought Chrysler, it was Chrysler that kept DCX afloat. Up until last year, Chrysler had made profits in 12 straight quarters. And it only began to show losses after DCX Chairman Dieter Zetsche openly complained that Chrysler’s profits had kept the company from getting similar cuts in wages and benefits like the ones GM and Ford got from their workforces. Only then, “miraculously,” did losses suddenly appear at Chrysler.

Even when DCX did announce losses, most of that was clearly phony. Take DCX’s most recent statement that Chrysler lost two billion dollars in the first quarter of this year. Even the company’s own financial statements show that more than half that loss, 1.2 billion dollars, was for what they call “restructuring,” that is, the company’s estimate of the future cost for laying off thousands of workers, closing plants, etc. In other words, in the process of wreaking misery on untold numbers of workers’ families and communities, Chrysler dares complain about how much these attacks may one day cost... its rich stockholders!

Phony also are the claims that DCX is getting much less for Chrysler today (7.4 billion dollars) than what it paid nine years ago (36 billion dollars). As DCX’s Dieter Zetsche recently told Bloomberg News, “The 1998 merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler, valued at 36 billion dollars, did not destroy that much cash because Daimler only used shares to buy Chrysler.

These transactions are incredibly complex and complicated, and what these companies tell the news media mainly depends on how they want the deal to look for public relations purposes. Or in the words of David Cole, speaking about this deal, “In business, lying is one of the things you do all the time.” Cole should know. The son of GM’s president from 1967 to 1974, he currently heads an auto industry research organization.

Lying? For sure. Just listen to all the talk about the cost of health care benefits, especially for retirees – so huge, it is supposed to be pulling the company down like an enormous anchor. This is complete garbage. These companies are supposed to put aside the money to pay for pensions and health care for retirees week by week during all the years worked by every single worker. It is a part of the wage and benefit package. In the past, workers often accepted lower wages in return for higher pension and health care benefits later. If suddenly they can’t find that money, an amount they say is in the range of 18 billion dollars, it is because the company intends to take that money away from the retirees in order to give it to its stockholders.

It is the workers’ money, and the company and its stockholders owe it to the workers and retirees, no matter what.

Yes, they want everyone to believe that the auto companies are doing so horribly! Yet, on the very day that the Chrysler sale was announced, not only did DCX stock go up – all the other auto stocks went up. In fact, auto stocks have been rising steadily for the last year. DCX shares are up by 56%, Ford by 23% and GM by 17%.

Obviously, the auto companies are today crying poverty in order to prepare an enormous attack on the auto workers in the coming months. Already, Wall Street financiers are licking their chops in anticipation of what they expect to take from the auto workers.

Of course, the auto workers could very easily spoil the bosses’ plans, by refusing to give up what is rightfully theirs, by organizing a very big fight.


Jun 3, 2007

If the sale of Chrysler to Cerberus goes through, it will add to Cerberus’ growing portfolio in auto companies. It already owns several auto parts companies, including Tower Automotive and Peguform in Germany. On top of that Cerberus has a 51% stake in GM’s huge financing arm, GMAC.

Cerberus also owns a lot of other companies. Among them are Mervyn’s Department stores, Albertson’s supermarkets, several rent-a-car companies, Aegis Mortgage, and important stakes in big banks in Japan, Austria and Israel, which help provide Cerberus with ready supplies of capital to buy even more companies.

Cerberus is also a completely private company. So as opposed to companies like GM or Ford, it doesn’t even have to issue faked-up reports to stockholders, and no federal or state agency pretends to regulate it. So it operates under even greater secrecy than those other companies do.

Of course, Cerberus claims that this allows it to invest for the long term without interference from “troublesome” stockholders. But in fact, it also opens up more possibilities to loot what the workers produce for wealthy private investors under the cover of secrecy.

Among those wealthy investors happen to be former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who bought into Cerberus early on and former Vice-president Dan Quayle, who was put in charge of the company’s foreign operations – former political figures not exactly known for their honesty.

Cerberus doesn’t actually produce anything. Nor does it provide any services. In fact, Cerberus exists for only one purpose: to buy and sell. In other words, Cerberus is a financial company which does nothing but suck ever more wealth from what the workers produce in other companies, for the benefit of a handful of very, very wealthy people.

Auto workers can stop the retreat cold

Jun 3, 2007

The sale of Chrysler to Cerberus hangs over the auto workers’ heads like a threat, warning workers they better go along with company demands or else.

All three companies – GM, Ford and Cerberus/Chrysler – have already issued their demands for the upcoming contract negotiations.

The companies want, number one, reduction or elimination of their responsibility for retiree medical care.

GM and Ford had already moved in this direction with the contract re-opener pushed through in 2005, which reduced medical coverage for retirees.

That re-opener was only the beginning. It didn’t involve big cuts for the retirees. BUT it did establish the principle that benefits promised to active workers FOR LIFE could be taken away from them after they retired.

The auto companies also want, number two, a lower wage rate for new hires, a permanent two-tier arrangement, though which workers hired in the future will never make as much as workers currently working.

Here again, they’ve already established the principle. After pushing older workers out the door into early retirements or buyouts, the companies then hired thousands of temporary workers – whose wages and benefits will never come up to those of the other workers.

Third, the companies want elimination of work rules that require overtime pay for longer hours in a day; elimination of work rules that require standards be set when work is added to a job; elimination of work rules that prevents someone from being forced to cover two jobs at once, etc.

In this case, Chrysler has already led the way. Pushing through so-called Competitive Operating Agreements in one local after another, it eliminated protections long built into the national contract.

Finally, the companies also want to get rid of protections for workers who are laid off – either directly eliminating the jobs bank, or by establishing such impossible requirements that no one can benefit from it.

Not even bothering to wait for negotiations, top UAW leaders have already signaled they are ready to provide the companies with concessions.

Was anyone surprised? They shouldn’t be. UAW leaders were the ones who pushed through all these first nibbles at the workers’ pocketbooks. They’re the ones who today insist that workers have to help bail out their companies – as though companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars need bailing out.

Here’s something else that shouldn’t surprise anyone. The rank and file has already shown that the companies don’t always get their way, that union leaders who push the companies’ interests can be ignored and even pushed aside.

Delphi workers’ resistance not only forced the company and union to proceed more slowly with their cuts. The resistance also sent a message to Ford, which quietly decided not to play that particular game with its Visteon division.

The strongest demonstration of workers’ possibilities came when the UAW put the retiree cutbacks to a vote. With surprise and hurry-up tactics at GM, they got it passed, but even then some GM workers began to oppose it and to spread their opposition. They uncovered more of the small print. And they told other workers. When the voting came to Ford, workers were more prepared. Even the official count – handled by officials ready to miscount in their own favor! – passed the cuts by less than 100 votes.

If workers had been ready to guarantee a strictly accurate vote and count, a different voting result might have been seen. As it was, the opposition to retiree cuts rose high enough among auto workers that their officials dared not come to Chrysler for a vote.

The workers’ opposition may not have been publicly displayed or highly organized. Even so, the rank and file had made up its mind, and the companies and the union leaders who support them had to back off.

Coming into the contract this fall, auto workers have already shown they are unwilling to roll over and play dead. If they build on that, they will have more than enough forces to stop every concession demand.

It’s a matter of not allowing anything to get in their way. Not illusions. Not false hopes. And not false promises.

Strike of German telephone workers

Jun 3, 2007

The strike, begun in Germany on May 11 by a part of the workers of Deutsche Telekom, continues as of May 30. This is the first important strike at what was formerly a state-run enterprise. Today it employs 180,000 workers, compared to 280,000 at the time it was privatized in 1995.

In the name of reducing costs, the directors of the company want to transfer some 50,000 workers in service departments (call centers, technical services, etc.) into new affiliate companies by July 1. These workers face a pay cut of 9% and an increase in their work week from 34 to 38 hours. Taking all the changes into account, according to the union, new hires will earn 40% less.

To justify these changes, Deutsche Telekom complains about a 43% decline in net profits in 2005. This “poor” profit still reached more than 4 billion dollars.

The workers tried work stoppages for a number of weeks; they participated in worthless negotiations to maintain current salary levels. Finally the union carried out a vote in which more than 96% of the union workers voted for an unlimited strike. This vote covered 22,000 workers.

Right from the beginning, the directors of Deutsche Telekom tried to break the strike. They threatened to fire all apprentices who joined the strike, even though their participation is legal. They tried to bribe workers not to strike by offering them a 300 to 500 euro bonus. They tried to use about 1000 state workers as strike breakers; they hired temporary workers to replace the strikers, which is illegal according to the union contract. The bosses even tapped the mobile phones of the workers to listen in on how the strike would be organized. The company also sent out letters to hundreds of workers assigning them to “emergency service.”

The strike seems to be supported by many workers – even in the private sector – since there is very little of the usual grumbling about state workers. Many workers can see that if Deutsche Telekom wins, it will open a new door encouraging all the bosses to go on the offensive to reduce the cost of labor. A victory for workers of Deutsche Telekom will be a victory for all.

Pages 6-7

Democrats pass minimum wage raise:
It’s still starvation wages

Jun 3, 2007

Attached to the 100-billion-dollar Iraq war spending bill was a provision raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour today, to $7.25 – over two years.

Don’t celebrate too much! A worker supporting a family of four today would have to earn $9.62 an hour (and work 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year) just to stay above the official poverty level. $7.25 an hour doesn’t even come close.

And workers earning minimum wage have to wait two years even for that?!

If Congress passed this increase – after nine years of freezing the minimum wage – it’s only because the result of the election worried them. But not enough to give workers an adequate wage. To get that, we’ll have to do more than vote.

Workers have always had more power in the streets than in the ballot box. Shutting down production, flooding into the streets is registered much more loudly than all those quiet votes.

Detroit bus drivers
– No shows!

Jun 3, 2007

850 City of Detroit bus drivers didn’t show up for work on Wednesday May 23 to protest a lack of security on the buses. That shut down bus service for the entire day. Many businesses and government offices barely limped along.

Detroit police stopped providing protection on the buses two years ago. Since then, attacks on drivers and passengers have skyrocketed. Two bus drivers were attacked and beaten in just the two days before the walkout.

Detroit’s City Council had dragged their feet for months on a proposal to pay 12 million dollars for Wayne County sheriff deputies to ride the buses, and voted it down on May 9 in a squabble with the county over money. Within 24 hours of the drivers’ walkout, the Council met again – and this time voted FOR the proposal.

Officials and bosses always say they can’t come up with the money to solve a problem workers confront; but they CAN, and quickly – if they’re forced.

If the bus drivers could successfully fight on that issue, they can do it on all the problems they face. And so could other workers.

Immigration bill:
An open attack on ALL workers

Jun 3, 2007

Senate negotiators announced on May 17 they had reached an agreement on an immigration bill.

Ted Kennedy, a main sponsor of the bill, declared, “For each of us who crafted it, there are elements that we strongly support and elements we believe could be improved. No one believes this is a perfect bill.” But he called it “strong, realistic, and fair.”

Fair? The bill is set up in such a way that all those people who supposedly are given a “legal” status will in reality be chained to their bosses, under constant threat of deportation for many years.

The bill requires immigrants without papers to register with the Department of Homeland Security. This starts six months after the bill is passed. The department estimates that between 15 and 20% of these immigrants would be disqualified. People who do not register within one year will be ineligible for “legal” status.

Once immigrants register, they would be on “probation.” They could be deported if they do not maintain continuous full-time employment or school attendance. They would not be allowed to travel outside the United States.

Nothing else goes into effect until government agencies “certify” they have “closed” the borders. This can happen only after the Border Patrol hires 14,000 agents and installs 370 miles of border fences and 200 miles of vehicle barriers. The Department of Homeland Security would have to create a “fraud-proof” database for employers to use to verify the “legal status” of all job applicants. Department officials estimate that this step would take at least 18 months more.

Only after that can the immigrants and family members who are already here apply for a special new visa called a “Z visa.” At that point, they must pay fines and fees that add up to $4,500 for a family of four. They would have to renew their Z visas every four years, paying fines once again.

They would not be allowed to bring family members here who are not already here.

During all this time these immigrants must continuously hold a job. That means if they strike, oppose their bosses, ask for higher wages or just refuse an order they risk losing their legal status. Essentially, they are chained to their boss.

Those immigrants who made it through all these years of this new indentured slavery can apply for permanent legal residence, but only after the current backlog of applications is cleared. This is expected to take at least eight years, but that’s only an estimate, and undoubtedly a very low one.

Heads of household would have to return to their country of origin, a considerable expense, in order to file the application for permanent residence.

They would then have to pay an additional $4,000 fine and show they speak English.

They would still have to wait many years before they could become U.S. citizens and have full legal rights. It is estimated that this would take at least 13 to 18 years in total. In fact, it will take more if we judge by what happened after the 1986 so-called “amnesty.” Close to 200,000 people who applied for permanent status then are still waiting.

Later immigrants will be even more chained to their bosses. Workers arriving after January 1, 2007 will have to apply for temporary guest worker status. They can remain in the U.S. for only three stints of two years each, and have to leave for a year between each stint. They can apply to become permanent residents only through a separate “merit” program, one requirement for which is a good temporary employment record.

This bill is an attack on immigrant workers – and on every worker. It’s obviously aimed at keeping immigrant workers in a status where their bosses can force them to work for lower wages. And this weighs on the wages of everyone else. When part of the working class is under attack, every worker is under attack.

Every worker has an interest in full legalization of everyone who works – and their families! If the bosses can put you to work – they can give full legal rights to you and to all who are dependent on you.

It is not even clear that this bill will pass because of all the games being played – just like before. What is certain is that each version of the bill gets worse.

Stop this attack on immigrant workers – and the entire working class! Full, legal rights for all immigrant workers and their families.

Food hazards grow

Jun 3, 2007

Worrisome headlines pointed out tainted pet food killed 16 pets in March. In May the media talked of tainted toothpaste endangering people. We have been told our health is in danger because standards are not met in the food industry in China.

Yes, our health is in danger. But the problem lies right here in the USA.

Some ten billion dollars worth of food and animal feed is imported every year. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged, after all the scare headlines, that it inspects far LESS than one% of these imports.

But it inspects even less of domestically produced food. Overall, the FDA makes less than 8,000 inspections per year. There are so few inspections that each food supplier might face an inspection once every 10 years, if that.

Even when the FDA does inspect, it does little. The FDA knew about salmonella contamination of peanut butter at a ConAgra factory since 2005. It did nothing – until people died last summer.

The FDA also had known about E. coli-contaminated spinach in California’s Salinas Valley since 1995. It did nothing until after three deaths last winter.

The media, with blazing headlines about China, somehow fails to mention that more than 5,000 PEOPLE die every year in this country from food-borne illnesses; an additional 350,000 people are hospitalized, and millions more are sickened by foods, according to the Center for Disease Control.

China didn’t kill or harm these people. Big U.S. agribusiness – with the complicity of the FDA – did.

Page 8

Los Angeles:
Reverse Robin Hoods raise transit fares

Jun 3, 2007

On May 24, the MTA Board of Directors voted to raise bus and train fares throughout Los Angeles County. The $3 daily pass will go up to $5 on July 1, then to $6 in two years. The $52 monthly pass will go to $62, then $75.

Needless to say, these sharp fare hikes will hit mainly the poorest residents of L.A. According to the MTA, the median household income is $12,000 for bus riders and $22,000 for passengers of the rail system.

The politicians on the MTA board didn’t deny this. In fact, they shamelessly declare themselves the defenders of the poor. The L.A. mayor and five county supervisors on the MTA board pretended to “reach a compromise” with MTA management, giving it less than it asked for.

These six politicians could easily have blocked any fare increase, which needs 9 of the 13 votes to pass. But, they say, the MTA needs more cash to cover an expected 100-million-dollar deficit next year. That deficit is less than the 360 million dollars the MTA will pay this year on its debts.

The MTA built up a huge 4.7 billion dollar debt by funneling money to contractors who grossly overcharge for construction: one mile of light rail has been costing the MTA 150 million dollars, one mile of subway 280 million! Not to mention the 26-story MTA headquarters, dubbed “Taj Mahal”, which cost 300 million dollars when it was built a decade ago!

Any humane and reasonable society would take from the profits of companies in order to subsidize services that its population needs. L.A. politicians, just like other elected officials in local, state and federal governments, do the exact opposite: they rob the poor to feed the insatiable greed of the wealthy.

New excuse for high cost of gas

Jun 3, 2007

The ever-inventive oil industry has a new excuse for why it cannot expand oil refinery capacity, keeping pressure on consumers with the highest gas prices in U.S. history.

The latest excuse: biofuels. Congress has very lightly raised the idea of subsidizing biofuels, transportation fuels now made from corn. At the end of May, the president of Shell Oil said this move by Congress gives oil companies a “disincentive,” so that they would have even less reason than they have had over the last 30 years to increase refinery capacity in the U.S.

A disincentive? As if the oil companies, which have “declined” to spend any of their fabulous profits on building new oil refineries, need another excuse.

For more than 30 years, these companies built no new refineries. From 1993 to 2004, oil companies closed eight major oil refineries, leaving only 11 large ones in the entire country. The oil companies also eliminated 103 medium-sized refineries in the same period.

And the results, up to 2006: the oil companies have the largest profits in history. ExxonMobil by itself had 143 billion dollars in PROFITS from 2002 to 2006. What is 143 billion dollars in profit? It is almost $500 just in PROFIT from every man, woman and child in the U.S. And that’s just the part they admit is profit, not even considering how they juggle their accounting.

What are those lying scumbags in Washington doing, the politicians who pretend to be concerned about high gas prices – because an election is coming up next year? Playing politics while pretending to be unable to stop the price increases.

A few angry demonstrations surrounding oil company headquarters or Congress would do more to change this than all the letters to Congress.

Utilities on the attack

Jun 3, 2007

On June 1, electricity rates went up 50% for more than a million customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) throughout Maryland. Added to last year’s rate increase, this totals 72% more that customers are paying.

BGE claims it must raise rates because in 1999 it agreed to a rate cap as part of deregulation. It pretends that it lacked sufficient money, thanks to the rate cap, to increase its capacity.

We can’t see BGE’s real account books. But we do know that deregulation has, in every city and state, been used to hit customers over the head with rate increases. Companies always claim their expenses are up and profits are down.

Lies, nothing but lies! Over the seven years of the rate cap, the parent company of BGE – Constellation Energy – collected more than 500 million extra dollars from customers. They gave it a fancy name and claimed they needed it to invest in plants to provide more capacity – plants they have yet to build or renovate.

The division of the utility into a company that produces energy – Constellation – and one that delivers it – BGE – was a fantastic scam, allowing both companies to place their costs and income anywhere they chose. It is hardly an accident that BGE claims it needs more money while Constellation’s profits were up 94% in the last 12 months.

Deregulation hasn’t changed this basic fact of capitalist life: markets are monopolized by big companies, which determine how much we pay and how little we get.

We see what capitalism gives us in the utility industry: the likelihood of poor people dying from too much heat or too much cold.

Push these thieves out of our pockets and out of our lives!

New Orleans:
Without basic necessities

Jun 3, 2007

Pictures on the news lately showed erosion on one of New Orleans’ rebuilt levees. But that is nothing compared to basic services for working-class people. Those services have not even been rebuilt to be eroded!

What kind of government lets two years go by and still leaves 58,000 families with no place to go but a FEMA trailer?

What kind of government lets two years go by and has done nothing to restore education for Katrina’s victims? Nothing, except to divide the school system into two parts, the wealthy and the not wealthy. Test results released in early May showed that two-thirds of the not-wealthy high schoolers fail the standard math test.

Someone wrote to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “At some of the other schools in Orleans Parish, the students never received books or supplies that were needed. How could anyone expect for students to pass a test that they were not prepared for in the first place!

New Orleans suffers the same neglect as working people in every city, large and small. Other cities just haven’t had their hurricanes yet.

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