The Spark

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

Issue no. 814 — January 21 - February 4, 2008

Editorial:
Stop the hand-outs to big business
– meet the population’s needs

Jan 21, 2008

In the face of an economy that is crumbling, the Bush administration proposed a so-called “stimulus” package. And the Democratic leadership in Congress already signed on “in principle.”

Under the cover of providing a very tiny rebate to the population, the administration plans on handing a great big gift to big business, reducing its taxes immediately.

Supposedly, gifts to big business will “trickle down” to the population, and the little rebates we all get will start the economic wheels turning again.

Bush pushed through this same “stimulus” scam at the beginning of the recession scarring his first term in office. Big business made out like a three-gun bandit. One third of the most profitable corporations paid no income tax at all.

Business had more money than ever in its pockets, but the number of people working in manufacturing continued to decline; the number working in decent-paying office jobs contracted. And the number working part-time, temporary, off the books, as contract workers or for low wages has skyrocketed.

Not only didn’t the big gifts to business trickle down, they were thrown into a vast speculative pool.

Some of the biggest businesses in the country took Bush’s gifts, using them to buy and sell – then buy again, only to resell again, driving up prices wildly. The price of commodities like oil or corn whistled overhead, doubling what we pay to drive or heat our homes, nearly doubling what we pay for milk for our children. The average selling price of a house in Los Angeles increased nearly three times in six years. In Washington DC, prices were two and a half times higher.

Working people were priced out of the market by this flood of money that poured into speculation – money handed over to the wealthy by the first Bush “stimulus” program. The only thing stimulated was speculation.

And it was that speculation that led, finally, to the collapse not only of the real-estate market, but with it, the crumbling of important parts of the financial system today.

We have come full circle. Having flooded money into the hands of the wealthy and of the biggest corporations and financial interests, only to have them throw it away in a vast wave of speculation, this government can do no more than hand over still more money to the very people who created this mess.

In that direction lies idiocy – and a further disaster for the working class.

To put our confidence in one more scheme like this is to damn ourselves to a new and worse period of excess for the wealthy and impoverishment for the rest of us.

The nation’s wealth needs to be put to meeting the needs of the population. The working class is the only force in modern society to have the capacity to enforce such a change as well as the reason to do it. So let’s begin.

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The injured and sick condemned to death
– by claim denials

Jan 21, 2008

Two out of every three people who apply for disability benefits from Social Security are rejected, forced to go to a hearing, according to a report by CBS news. The agency has a backlog of 750,000 cases. As a result, people wait 520 days on average for a hearing on their claims. Over 16,000 people have died in the last two years while fighting for benefits .

Denying people disability benefits is a way to force them back to work, where they will aggravate their condition or injury. It’s a conscious, contrived policy on the part of the politicians, who use their control over government agencies to deny people the rights provided by law. Those rights were won by social movements through years of struggle.

The politicians are too worried about being reelected to overthrow these rights legally, so they do it by systematic denials and delays. And it’s not just the Republicans who are responsible. Where are the Democrats saying they will clear the disability backlog within one month after they take office?

Yes, the Bush administration is disgusting, and so are the Democrats who offer no alternative.

Politicians know how to stop voters

Jan 21, 2008

In mid-January, the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, a Bush appointee, told Congress that his agency would need an average of 18 months to process petitions for citizenship. His agency used to take seven months per application.

It will take so much longer to become a citizen that most of those who already applied for citizenship won’t be able to vote in the 2008 election. Just a coincidence?

In recent elections, Latino immigrants have begun to turn more toward the Democratic Party. Apparently, the Republican administration has found the perfect way to prevent a few million more votes for their rivals in the coming elections.

But it’s hardly the first time the politicians have played around with who can vote. The methods by which the ruling class and its political spokesmen have prevented poorer people in the United States from voting are many and varied, and not restricted only to the Republicans.

The solid Democratic South, following the Civil War and Reconstruction, prevented black people and poor whites from voting. The Democratic Party put in place the Jim Crow laws, restricting many rights, among them the right to vote.

In Mississippi in the 1870s, more than 70% of all adult males, black and white, had voted. And most voted Republican, the party of Lincoln. But by the early 20th century, the voting population had dwindled to 15%. The Southern Democrats had found a way to stay in power.

The Northern Republicans also found ways to restrict voting. After bitter working class struggles in the recession of the 1870s, Republicans pushed through laws to limit voting rights. They restricted so-called “vagrants” or “paupers” from voting. New York state put through a law to restrict voting by means of a literacy requirement.

So both parties have found ways to prevent the poor from voting, even though it is a right in this so-called democracy. Today voting is restricted by requiring more and more paper work to prove one’s identity. Such documentation is hardest on the poorest voters.

Restrictions on citizenship prevent some people from voting, even though they work and pay taxes. Other voting restrictions are placed on those who have completely finished serving their time in prison and on parole.

In the U.S. political system, winner takes all – so long as the winner – whether Democrat or Republican – doesn’t represent the interests of the laboring population.

Private equity:
Burying a company in debt to enrich a few speculators

Jan 21, 2008

Almost as soon as Cerberus, the private equity company, bought Chrysler last summer, it rushed to take out big loans – in Chrysler’s name.

But it ran into big problems. Chrysler’s bankers, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, have been trying to sell the first eight billion dollars in Chrysler debt that Cerberus wanted to float. But they have yet to find any takers.

Last August, when Cerberus completed the purchase of 80% of Chrysler Motors from its old parent, Daimler-Benz, it was part of the biggest corporate merger and buyout boom in history. From 2004 to mid-2007, deals worth more than 13 trillion dollars were struck, the equivalent of the annual U.S. gross domestic product, the total production and services of the single biggest economy in the world.

Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of this corporate buyout boom were the private equity companies like Cerberus, which snapped up one company after another. To buy up the companies, they relied on money they borrowed from big commercial and investment banks. But responsibility for repaying these loans did not rest with the private equity companies like Cerberus, but with the companies they bought up, like Chrysler.

They then borrowed even more money, in order to cover what they called a “special dividend.” This “special dividend” was nothing but an instant profit that private equity companies paid out to their biggest investors and their own officials. According to Standard and Poor’s, the volume of these special dividends increased from 3.9 billion in 2002 to 40.5 billion in 2005.

All this was financed by an explosion in debt. Commercial and investment banks made enormous amounts of money not only by providing the financing for the corporate takeovers, in the form of loans and bonds, but by then bundling and distributing these loans to investors, and then speculating on these loans.

In other words, the banks and financial houses financed the corporate takeover boom, just as they financed the real estate boom and the creation of subprime mortgages.

Then, last July, the whole financial house of cards began to tremble. The fall in real estate prices led to mushrooming defaults in home mortgages. As financial markets worldwide began to report big losses, financial markets for other forms of loans suddenly froze up. This included funding for corporate takeovers.

Cerberus’s purchase of Chrysler was one of the last big deals to go through. But even then, the three big banks that had signed contracts to market 60 billion dollars in bonds for Cerberus, couldn’t sell most of these bonds.

Chrysler management has taken it out on the workforce, first of all, by imposing a new contract filled with enormous concessions on its unionized workforce. At the same time, the company has cut 23,000 positions – cutting production and outsourcing more and more of its work to slash wages.

And for what are all these sacrifices? To bail out a bunch of money mad speculators who buried the company in debt in order to funnel even more money into their own pockets and add to their own already outrageous fortunes.

Democratic primary campaign:
The politics of false hope

Jan 21, 2008

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the front runners for the Democratic nomination for president, claim they want to change things.

Obama’s autobiography is titled “The Audacity of Hope – Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.”

Clinton says that she is for change, too, and has the experience necessary to make it happen.

But for changes that benefit working people, some of the wealth the big corporations and banks have been taking from working people is going to have to be taken back. The increasing robbery of the working class and the war in Iraq are the main reasons the situation of working people is worse and worse.

Neither Clinton nor Obama proposes to either stop the war or end the robbery.

Clinton says that on her first day as president she would begin the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. However, she also says the withdrawal process won’t be completed until 2013. Then she says that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will have to remain in the country! Her plan for ending the war is not significantly different from Bush’s plan.

Obama says he voted against the resolution to invade Iraq. It’s true, he wasn’t in the Senate. But, ever since, he has voted repeatedly for the money used to pay for it. And he says the problem with the war is that it detracts from other wars the U.S. needs to expand – in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama is an admirer of the late Republican president Ronald Reagan: “I think he (Reagan) just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want... a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

But “dynamism and entrepreneurship” meant that Reagan attacked social programs for working people. He attacked workers who dared to strike to defend their jobs and working conditions. Reagan gave tax cuts and other subsidies to corporations.

Today, under the guise of more tax cuts and subsidies to the corporations so that they will create jobs, Obama proposes the same thing. Clinton does, too. Her platform calls for more tax breaks for corporate research, for telecommunications companies, the auto industry, electrical power companies and agribusinesses.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that both Clinton and Obama are backed to the hilt by big corporations, banks and super-wealthy people. Most big businesses and the wealthy have clearly decided that one or the other of these Democrats would best represent their interests. At the end of September (the last date that campaign finance figures were released), Clinton led the pack of all candidates in total contributions – almost 91 million dollars. Barack Obama was second with over 80 million dollars. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate with the largest war chest, had about 63 million dollars and a significant part of it was his own money!

Most of Clinton’s and Obama’s money is from big contributors. Obama had the largest number of contributions over $200, Clinton was second. Clinton got the most money from commercial banks; Obama was second; all the Republicans were far behind. Clinton got the most from securities and investment firms; Republican Rudy Giuliani and Obama were tied for second; all others were far behind. Clinton got the most from the drug and health products companies; Obama and Republican Mitt Romney were tied for second; all others were far behind. Obama got the most from computer and internet companies; Clinton was a close second; all others were far behind.

Whoever wins, we get a government dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of the big corporations, the banks and their owners. The policies of both Clinton and Obama would continue and deepen the attacks on working people. Their campaigns are designed to hide this and create false hopes for “change.”

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Kenya’s elections lead to a bloodbath

Jan 21, 2008

Kenya has been shaken by anti-government riots following the presidential elections on December 27.

The president-dictator, Mwai Kibaki, in fact lost the elections. But he declared himself the winner, imposing a kind of coup. Like a match set to gunpowder, his announcement set off a wave of anger in the poor population of the shantytowns of the capital, Nairobi. The one who benefitted most was Raila Odinga, a former minister in Kibaki’s government. Odinga became the opposition candidate as head of the Orange Democratic Movement.

The revolt spread to villages in other provinces outside the capital. The population’s response to this massive fraud orchestrated by the government was street demonstrations, attacks on stores, and confrontations with the forces of “order.” Police repression killed at least 600 people and caused some 250,000 to flee their homes.

The Unity Party of Kibaki has ruled Kenya for decades. Those in the upper echelons of the regime control and divide the profits from the tourist industry, Kenya’s main, if not only, economic wealth. Corruption is everywhere, most notably at the top of the power structure.

Kibaki’s regime was finally discredited in the eyes of the population by two cases of corruption in which hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen from the Kenyan treasury. This scandal allowed the former minister Odinga to appear as the man for change in the eyes of the poor masses.

In 2006, the Kenyan population learned about millions of dollars spent on the purchase of luxury cars for those at the top of the regime. The sum spent could have paid for the education of 25,000 children for a dozen years! In Kenya, the population packed into the shantytowns of the large cities lives with NO water or electricity; these Kenyans living on a dollar a day have also confronted the daily upward spiral of prices on basic necessities.

The recent Kenyan elections, both presidential and legislative, were carried out in a very tense social and political climate, with the regime largely discredited. The electoral campaign itself led to 70 deaths as a result of confrontations between supporters and opponents of Kibaki. The legislative elections allowed the population to vote out some corrupt ministers. At least 20 ministers were voted out, replaced by the candidates of the opposition, who took over three-quarters of the seats that were up for election. The presidential election looked like it might turn into a rout for Kibaki. The partial results from 183 out of 210 districts gave the victory to Raila Odinga. Nonetheless, Kibaki dramatically proclaimed himself the winner.

To assure his election, Kibaki had his supporters stuff the ballot boxes. He ordered a total black-out on information, cutting off radio and television transmissions, and using the military to expel journalists from the conference center where they were covering the election results. He deployed massive forces of repression – the police, the presidential guard, the special forces and the regular armed forces, even prison guards – in order to damp down the revolt developing in the streets. The army fired live ammunition on the demonstrators in cities and towns, particularly in the slums that are known as bastions of opposition. The number of victims climbed from 300 to 600 – officially. But such numbers are certainly understated.

The press, the regime in power and even the opposition have presented the recent confrontations in Kenya as if they were a conflict of ethnicities: between the Luo, the ethnic group to which the opposition candidate Odinga belongs, and the Kikuyu ethnic group of President Kibaki. This explanation was offered after a massacre of dozens of villagers, burnt alive in a church by some Kikuyus. Certainly different political groupings have played on ethnic loyalties – and this has added to the conflict.

But such an explanation for events in Kenya means closing one’s eyes to reality.

The appearance of democracy, with a multi-party facade, was put in place in Kenya to attract foreign investors. The facade has crumbled under the firepower of the military and the police. To maintain themselves in power, such forces put an end to the electoral farce with a bloodbath.

Colombia:
Behind guerilla warfare lies state terrorism

Jan 21, 2008

On January 10, two hostages held for three years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were released in a deal brokered by Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. The repatriation was taking place in a country in the midst of civil war.

Sixty years of civil war

Contrary to what the press pretends, the FARC is far from being the sole or even the main party responsible for violence in Colombia. For a very long time, two bourgeois parties took turns in power in Colombia. One was the Conservative Party, made up of cattle ranchers and then of businessmen; the other was the Liberal Party. Sometimes one of the parties won an election, sometimes they strong-armed their way to power.

In 1948, a dissident of the Liberal Party, Jorge Gaitan, had sought the support of workers and peasants against the landed oligarchy. Gaitan was assassinated by killers from the Conservative Party to prevent his being elected president. Thus began a civil war, referred to in Colombia as “the violence,” which continued into the 1950s, leaving 300,000 people dead.

The politicians not only killed each other, but more significantly they also eliminated communist militants or anyone suspected of being one. The landlords waged war against the peasants, chasing them off their lands, in order to create huge domains for raising cattle. Peasants resisted by forming self-defense groups. Manuel Marulanda, the founder of FARC, got his start in such a group, which only appeared in reaction to the threats against poor peasants perpetrated by landlords.

The FARC, born in 1964, is currently estimated to have 20,000 fighters. Another Colombian militant group is the ELN (National Liberation Army), which appeared in 1962 and which still has 4,000 members.

The FARC depends on the peasantry and is linked to it. In the regions under its control, it levies taxes on the peasants and assure them a certain social protection. The 1970's brought a “boom” of coca production, which is used to make cocaine, and then of opium poppies, the basis for heroin. Peasants changed over to these crops which permitted them to escape their abject poverty. The FARC put up with this, since the taxes they could levy gave them the means to equip their army.

On the other hand, the manufacture and delivery of drugs to the U.S. and Europe depended on the drug lords, the “cartels” of Medellin or Cali. Relations between the guerillas and the drug traffickers worsened when the traffickers laundered their fortune by buying up land, thus joining the landed bourgeoisie.

Paramilitaries, the military arm of the rich

From then on, civil war opposed the FARC to the narco-landlords, who created “death squads,” to eliminate the guerillas or those poor peasants whose land they wished to steal. At the beginning of the 1980's, the guerillas kidnapped narco-landlords. In reaction, the Cali cartel created a group of killers called “Death to the Kidnappers.” In the following years hundreds of paramilitary groups appeared, sponsored by politicians, businessmen, cattle ranchers and foreign companies.

In 1985, the Colombian president proposed a cease- fire to the FARC. The latter created a legal political party, the Patriotic Union, and took part in the elections. But the agreement was broken in 1986 by the next president. Then the paramilitaries began assassinating all oppositionists – 3,000 militants of the Patriotic Union, its top cadres, hundreds of its elected officials and two candidates for the presidency.

What Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina experienced under military dictatorships, Colombia lived through those 25 years due to the paramilitaries. The balance sheet is frightful: three to four million displaced people, 70,000 people assassinated including guerillas, poor peasants, competing drug traffickers, non-corrupt politicians and anyone who continued the struggle, even when they didn’t support the guerillas.

In the regions under their control, the right-wing paramilitaries massacred entire villages, assassinated militants of Indian minorities or the women’s movement, also killing several thousand unionists.

A situation maintained by the power

Organizations like Amnesty International published reports of the civil war in Colombia: 70% of the acts of violence were caused by paramilitaries, 15% were due to the official army and the rest could be attributed to the guerillas. In fact, the majority of kidnappings for ransom were the work of criminals. These reports don’t prevent the majority of journalists from pretending that the kidnappings are the work of the guerillas alone.

President Uribe, who claims he wants to end the guerilla war, has in fact tried to legalize the paramilitaries. A commission was supposed to demobilize them, but scandals have revealed their role in corruption and in crimes too heinous to pardon, making their legalization difficult.

Uribe is unlikely to favor appeasing the FARC, since conflicts between the guerillas and the paramilitary have tended to enrich the wealthy. The presence of the guerillas has more than once served as a pretext for the expropriation of poor peasants. For these reasons, a political settlement of the conflict with the guerillas is far off.

Turkey:
The truth about the war in Iraq

Jan 21, 2008

The following two articles appeared in the January 4 issue of Sinif Mücadelesi (Class Struggle), the publication of a revolutionary workers group active in Turkey. It was written while the Turkish army was carrying out attacks on Kurdish guerilla positions inside northern Iraq.

Prime Minister Erdogan prides himself on the fact that for the first time military operations in the north of Iraq against the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) had the support of the United States and the European Union.

Since 1984, 40,000 people have been killed, the great majority of Kurdish origin, and over 10 billion dollars spent in the struggle against the PKK, or more exactly, against the Kurdish people who demand their national rights and who revolt against Turkish repression.

Over the last 20 years, there were 24 military operations in the north of Iraq with the goal of finishing off the PKK. One time the attack involved 35,000 soldiers. But they haven’t succeeded.

Turkish workers have no reason to support the Turkish army in attacking the Kurds. It means supporting our enemies: the state, the army brass, and the bosses responsible for all the unemployment that workers endure.

Prices have risen sharply in recent weeks, especially for public transportation. Electricity rose by 15%, heating gas by 7.4% and gasoline went up yet again. Next they plan to increase the price of food and staples. The government plans a campaign to justify the price increases and other attacks already planned against what social benefits we have.

The press and television channels mouth these lies, claiming “a difficult year awaits Turkey.” They hope workers will accept belt-tightening as a way to defend the country, while the bosses’ profits continue to climb!

The bosses and their government use different pretexts to claim the economy is blocked by problems like the PKK or “terrorism,” in order to get workers to pay – even though we are not the ones responsible for it.

If workers want to defend their interests and their rights, they must fight together, whatever their origin, Turks or Kurds, without falling into the trap of division.

Will the year 2008 will be a difficult one for the workers? If the working class uses its force, then it will be the bosses and their parasites who have a difficult year!

Where we go from here

Jan 21, 2008

So far, no one is explaining to Turkish workers why they must oppose the bombing of Kurds in northern Iraq. Instead the Turkish leaders instill nationalism and hatred of Kurds, always presented as “a handful of terrorists.”

So far, no one has raised their voices against the anti-Kurdish campaign in the media. While the left and certain union leaders speak about how the military expense weighs on wages, all they say is “there, they bomb, here they increase prices.” Others say vaguely, we must “put the accent on peace.”

Even if the war and bombing take place far from us, in the mountains of northern Iraq, they affect us profoundly. Since this summer, tens of thousands of soldiers, who are young workers, children or fathers, are compelled to live in the mountains, under tents or in makeshift huts for months, fearing death at any moment, suffering heat and cold in difficult conditions.

Such conditions destroy soldiers’ mental and physical well-being. When thousands of these young soldiers return to their work in the cities, how will they adapt to society?

The war hurts not only the PKK and the Kurds, it rots the entire society from within. This war, which has lasted for more than 20 years, has allowed nationalism to poison the society. The government, applying austerity measures for the bosses, can clear themselves of any responsibility by blaming everything on PKK “terrorists.”

The Turkish bourgeoisie and its political leaders don’t recognize the economic, social and cultural rights of the Kurdish people. The interests and conditions of existence of Kurdish and Turkish workers are closely linked. We must affirm the solidarity of all workers.

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The best justice money can buy

Jan 21, 2008

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard finally disqualified himself from a case against the coal company Massey Energy because of his personal friendship with Massey’s chief executive.

He did so only after hemming and hawing about photos showing him having dinner with Massey’s CEO, Arthur Blanksenship, in Monte Carlo in July 2006. The two joined up in Monte Carlo right during the time that Judge Maynard was considering Massey’s appeal of a 50- million-dollar jury verdict against the company.

What will happen now that Massey’s boy isn’t on the court to protect the company’s interests? A second justice involved in the case, Brent Benjamin, will stay on the case. He just happens to have received more than three million dollars from the Massey CEO for his election campaign.

The wheels of American justice may turn – but only to grind up the workers’ interests in their gears.

New buyouts:
GM stacks the deck for itself

Jan 21, 2008

General Motors fired another round, in hopes of clearing out older workers and converting entirely to half-price labor.

On January 17, CEO Rick Wagoner said GM would offer early-retirement deals to 46,000 qualifying workers, and also offer a cash incentive program for other workers who would agree to quit the company.

In the same breath, Wagoner again claimed GM is in financial difficulty, and predicted widespread layoffs to come, due to falling sales.

Behind this carrot-and-stick game is the usual motive: corporate greed. The 2007 UAW contracts allow the auto companies to pay new workers about $14.50 per hour, and provide very few benefits to them. The companies are frothing at the mouth over this chance to slash their labor costs in half. GM is the first to announce their program; the others will not be far behind.

But workers who look closely at their options may decide that they are not donkeys to be moved by either carrots or sticks!

Even in the best case, GM’s early-retirement offer is, after taxes, worth less than two years’ pay. How many workers have enough savings to maintain a reasonable life after the cash bonus is used up? How many early-retired workers will be able to pay their added medical costs, due to the new contract charges and the upcoming VEBA problems?

GM knows that workers make these kinds of calculations. That’s why Wagoner is quick to puff up the fearsome outlook of layoffs and plant closings. He hopes that workers can be stampeded into seeking steadier work someplace else. Especially if GM offers a little grubstake, to send them on their way.

But can he make workers forget what they know about the auto industry? Workers know that it’s a cyclical business. Layoffs and call-backs are the way of life. That’s why workers long ago fought to put protections such as supplemental unemployment pay, seniority call-back rights, and jobs banks as part of UAW contracts.

Even though the jobs banks were drastically cut back in the 2007 contract, they still offer at least two years’ income protection to eligible workers. GM is very eager to close out its job bank by paying off and eliminating everyone who would be able to take advantage of it!

But how many workers can look at today’s conditions and believe they know where their next job is coming from, if they leave the job they have? Even two years from now?

GM’s deal is just another ploy. It’s another scheme to trick workers out of pay, benefits and security they have earned.

It’s another corporate scheme to destroy every trace of jobs that pay livable wages.

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Big capitalists and L.A. politicians:
A perfect partnership

Jan 21, 2008

Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants to pass a new telephone utility tax by ballot measure on February 5. And he has a big supporter in this effort – a company called AEG. The president of AEG has sent a letter to other big companies, urging them each to donate $100,000 for the campaign to pass the new tax.

AEG’s top executives are certainly tight with the mayor – in 2005, he supported a deal to give AEG 270 million dollars in tax breaks for a 1,000-room hotel that the company is building in downtown L.A.

As it so happens, that’s about the same amount of money the city expects to collect in a year from telephone users with the proposed new tax.

Take the last hard-earned penny from every working person and hand it out to some fat cat – that’s what the bosses’ politicians do in capitalist society.

Stealing from the poor
– California style

Jan 21, 2008

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he intends to cut the state’s spending by 10% across the board. He said that his only other option was to raise taxes.

That’s two lies in as many sentences. First, what the governor proposes is anything but “across the board” – his cuts target services and programs that workers and poor benefit from, while big corporations and wealthy individuals will continue to feed at the huge trough of state subsidies and tax breaks. And secondly, he IS actually proposing to raise taxes, but under other names – home insurance and car registration fees, for example.

Every public service is under attack. The governor wants to cut school spending by three billion dollars. That would be in violation of voter-approved ballot measures, which Arnold wants the state assembly to suspend.

Forty-eight state parks are supposed to be closed For the parks that will still be open, entrance fees are supposed to be increased, or new fees introduced – that is, more taxes.

The cuts will hit the poorest and most vulnerable especially hard. Grants for tens of thousands of poor children are to be eliminated. So are cost-of-living increases for the elderly, blind and disabled. So are food stamps for tens of thousands of needy people. And dental and eye treatment visits for the poor. “Healthy Families,” a program that provides medical coverage for children from low-income families, would be hit with premium increases. Foster care grants would be reduced. Money for child development and before- and after-school programs would be cut down.

Some state politicians, especially Democrats, play their usual game, saying that cutting public programs is wrong. Instead, they propose even more taxes – on working people.

These same politicians have been passing and expanding huge tax breaks for big corporations and the rich year after year. The tax cuts that they have passed since 1993 are costing the state about 10 billion dollars a year, which is more than two-thirds of the supposed budget deficit this year. On top of that, there are all kinds of subsidies, deductions and tax credits given to businesses. In fact, many big, highly profitable corporations don’t even pay any taxes in California. In 2001, the last year for which exact figures are available, 46 corporations, which showed more than one billion dollars income and a profit, paid no more than $800 in taxes – the minimum franchise tax every business has to pay under state law.

This is nothing but highway robbery in broad daylight.

Chicago transit crisis solved at workers’ expense

Jan 21, 2008

On January 17, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that the governor signed raising the sales tax to pay for public transit.

The sales tax will go up by a quarter of a% in Chicago – where it is already 9%, one of the very highest rates in the country – and will be increased by half a% in the suburbs. The sales tax is extremely regressive, falling heaviest on the poorest people.

This ended an ongoing melodrama, during which the Chicago Transit Authority and the suburban bus systems repeatedly threatened a massive reduction in service, big fare increases and the layoff of thousands of transit workers if they didn’t get a large amount of new money. Many of the hundreds of thousands of daily commuters were worried about how they could get to work and how they would pay the increased fares.

Three times the state legislature and the governor let the threat of massive transit cutbacks be a couple of days from going into effect, only to bail out the system at the last moment. In fact, it was nothing but a new kind of reality show, aimed at getting acceptance for the sales tax increases they intended to pass at the end of this “amazing race.”