The Spark

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

Issue no. 856 — October 26 - November 9, 2009

Editorial:
Stop Wall Street from Producing a New Crash!

Oct 26, 2009

Wall Street is blowing bubbles again.

The Dow-Jones index crossed the 10,000 mark. The last time it hit 10,000 was a year ago, going the other way, when stock markets were plunging.

The big investment banks, like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, announced billions of dollars in profits for the last three months.

Wall Street’s executives and high flyers are getting record bonuses this year, estimated to be 140 billion dollars or more – higher than in 2007, just before the last bubble collapsed.

So, is there a recovery? Yes – for some people: the big bankers, the big money investors and all those other predators, the very people who brought the financial system down last year with their preposterous financial deals.

Last October, the government justified the bailouts, claiming they would get the economy moving again, stimulate investment and loans, create jobs.

A year later, what are those banks doing? They are NOT getting the economy going again. They are NOT providing money to all those companies that hire people and produce the goods and services that make the productive economy run. The money they took is NOT going to create jobs.

The big Wall Street banks are speculating. And they’re doing it with the trillions of dollars handed over to them in the government bailout, which was started by the Bush administration and is continuing under the Obama administration.

What’s behind the big jump in the Wall Street indexes? The big banks and investment houses, the big money speculators. They’re buying and selling stocks, and buying and selling them again – within a few minutes of each other sometimes, making more money with each sale, so long as the market keeps going up. And they are pushing money into the market to keep it going up.

It’s the beginning of a new bubble – not of a recovery!

The big industrial companies are acting just like the banks. They’re speculating – draining money out of production, increasing the exploitation of workers in order to speculate.

Instead of hiring people, they lay off people, push the workers who remain to work faster. They cut wages and benefits, or replace higher-wage workers with lower-wage workers. They are doing the very thing that is keeping the whole productive economy in the swamp.

The big bankers and the industrialists are making more money, but they’re not paying more taxes. No, they come back demanding still more handouts, still more tax breaks for themselves.

And government, at every level, under both political parties, is giving them handouts, adding to budget deficits, reducing social programs, destroying public services.

The bankers and the industrialists are part of the same capitalist class – and all of them are feeding off this society, driving it to ruin.

The current crisis and its catastrophic consequences for working people shows that this capitalist class running society today is incapable of making the economy run correctly. They steal still more wealth for their tiny super-wealthy class by closing factories, leaving the machinery and all the human beings with skills and abilities that exist in those factories to founder. The capitalists create poverty as the consequence of their grab for wealth.

There is no answer to this increasingly disastrous situation until the working class begins to fight, putting forward its own demands and policies.

No one’s ready to fight today? In fact, that never is exactly true. There’s always someone fighting back, and today it seems like a few more. Perhaps the working class in large numbers isn’t ready. But there are signs of resistance here and there, and a large reservoir of resentment in the population that can explode at any moment.

In any case, the only perspective for the working class, the only one that opens up possibilities, is to fight back.

Pages 2-3

Swine Flu:
The Super-Business Super-Virus

Oct 26, 2009

The H1N1 virus or swine flu first showed up in Mexico, where it led to an epidemic of viral respiratory disease in the Veracruz region, near a giant industrial hog feedlot.

In fact, one the characteristics of flu viruses is that they infect people, hogs and certain birds (the bird flu of 2004). And hogs and birds are real melting pots recombining different flu viruses. This means it’s extremely important that there be strict hygienic conditions when birds and hogs are raised. There can’t be overcrowding, in order to avoid any eventual transmission to people.

The people living near the Mexican hog farm came down with many respiratory diseases and asked for a health investigation. Instead, the Mexican authorities convicted them of defamation and slapped heavy fines on them. Then, an investigation finally was carried out, showing that the pigs were being raised under outrageously unsanitary conditions. Mass graves of hogs clearly dead from the flu were found. The virus could have been detected when it still was confined to hogs, and its passage to humans could have been avoided. But nothing was done! Company executives stonewalled, denying any connection between their livestock factory and the epidemic, despite all the evidence.

The feedlot operator is Smithfield Foods, one the biggest U.S. agribusiness companies, and the biggest hog producer in the world. The corporation wasn’t bothered by either the conditions under which it raised the hogs, the quality of the meat produced or the health of the people affected. The only thing that counted was profitability.

Insurance:
Mandated to Cover You, but NOT to Pay for Care

Oct 26, 2009

As 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan lay dying of leukemia at the UCLA Medical Center, the insurance company, Cigna, denied her the one thing her doctors said would save her life, a liver transplant. Sarkisyan’s family and friends, along with supporters from the California Nurses Association, marched in protest on the company headquarters in Glendale, California.

Facing bad publicity, Cigna reversed itself and agreed to authorize the liver transplant. But it was too late. That night, December 20, 2007, Nataline Sarkisyan died.

Ten months later, the Sarkisyan family suffered a second reversal, when a Los Angeles judge threw out their wrongful death suit against Cigna, saying that a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling shields employer-paid plans from damages when their actions harm someone, or even cost them their lives. This ruling affects 132 million people who get insurance through their employers.

As Wendell Potter, a Cigna spokesman who quit in disgust after handling the publicity surrounding the Sarkisyan case, explained, “HMOs and insurers are largely free to deny access to care without fear of reprisal or financial consequences.”

The major healthcare bills winding their way through Congress do not change this, leaving a huge loophole for the insurance companies to exploit. So even though the so-called reforms mandate the insurance companies to cover everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, the insurance companies will still be free to deny care to whomever they want. And the patients will still not have the legal right to challenge these denials, even in life and death cases.

Insurance companies, in their drive to maximize profit, murder thousands of people every year by denying them vital care, while the government and the courts aid and abet them.

Their Recovery, on Our Backs!

Oct 26, 2009

All of a sudden, the big banks that were in so much trouble a year ago are claiming big profits now. But the profits they’re declaring are nothing compared to the bailout money they got.

US BanCorp declared 583 million in third quarter profits; but it received 6.6 billion from the government bailout. Morgan Stanley declared 757 million in third quarter profits; but it got 10 billion in bailout money.

Wells Fargo says it made 3.2 billion, and JP Morgan Chase says it made 3.6 billion in the 3rd quarter; but they each got more than 25 billion dollars in government bailout money.

Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan also got bailout money as payments from AIG: anywhere from half a billion to 1.5 billion dollars.

Goldman Sachs says it made more than three billion in profits in the third quarter – but it got 10 billion in the first bailout and another 19 billion of government money through the bailout for AIG!

All these banks have unlimited access to hundreds of billions more through the borrowing window set up by the Federal Reserve – at near 0% interest.

You figure it out. Who paid for the profits Goldman Sachs and the other banks declared? We did – with our taxes, through the government bailouts!

Attack against D.C. Schools

Oct 26, 2009

DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty laid off 338 DC public school employees, including 229 classroom teachers. This 6% lay off happened eight weeks into the school year.

Students saw their teacher escorted out of the classroom by DC cops – no goodbyes, no explanations. The teachers were told they could come back Saturday to collect their personal belongings. Even if you don’t like your teacher you are going to sympathize.

At the end of the day at one high school, students gathered outside the school to protest the lay offs. And the DC police, behaving like police, pepper sprayed students, arrested a student after she hit her head on the sidewalk and arrested a parent trying to defend the students’ right to protest.

Students at other schools followed suit. There were protests every day for a week. They carried signs saying things like: “Every Child Left Behind,” “R.I.P. My Education,” “You Have Failed Us” – with a picture of School Chancellor Rhee on the poster,

Chancellor Rhee and Mayor Fenty claim there is a “budget shortfall.” But the fiscal 2010 budget has 15 million dollars more than fiscal 2009. The budget “shortfall” is nothing but an excuse to cut the amount of money spent on teachers.

Rhee hired 900 new teachers over the summer, that is teachers who don’t have experience – and who are paid less. Many of the teachers laid off were tenured. A long-time chemistry teacher, was one of the laid off teachers. This is a teacher who has won awards and always received good reviews. Who is going to teach her chemistry class?

What is really behind this layoff? Not the budget, not bad teachers (even if some were). It is certainly NOT about improving DC schools. And everyone knows it. Cutting experienced teachers while bringing in new teachers without experience will lower the quality of the teaching, not to mention disrupt schools. And it’s led to larger class sizes.

They are cutting at the expense of students – so they can spend more on privately run charter schools. The consequence of these lay offs is that the 45,000 students attending public schools get cheated out of decent education.

Took the Money and Ran

Oct 26, 2009

The security company that provided 300 guards to the 127 DC public schools went bankrupt out of the blue. So what happened to all the money Hawk One got from the DC public school system? This was public money funneled into private hands to enrich a private company which apparently took the money and ran. Talk about taking candy from a baby – this takes much needed funds out of educating our children!

DC Libraries Cut

Oct 26, 2009

DC public schools aren’t the only thing under attack. The public libraries’ hours are being slashed as well. So the goal here is to what? Eliminate learning and reading?

California Tax Increases

Oct 26, 2009

Starting November 1, the state government will take an extra 10% withholding from our paychecks. That is a free loan from us to Sacramento.

Sacramento also increased the income tax, cut back on some deductions, slashed the dependent credit that will cost taxpayers $200 more per dependent. On top of that, they doubled the vehicle license fee and boosted the sales tax by one%.

Add it all up, and many of us are paying thousands of dollars more in state taxes every year.

Of course, not everyone is paying more in taxes. This year Sacramento also cut corporate taxes by several billion dollars. Our loss is their gain.

Chicago:
$3 Each Way on the CTA?

Oct 26, 2009

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is talking about raising the cost of an El ride to $3.

We live in a city that gives out money to United Airlines to move from Elk Grove Village to downtown, and to MillerCoors Beer when it decided to set up headquarters here. Stop subsidizing business and there will be plenty of money for the CTA.

Pages 4-5

October 1929:
The “Great Depression” Began

Oct 26, 2009

If economic crises were measured on a Richter scale, like earthquakes, the crisis of 1929 would be a ten. It traumatized the bourgeoisie for several generations. It shook the financial system of the entire planet for decades. Hundreds of bankers went bankrupt, even if there were fewer jumping out of windows than most people think. It took until 1950 for trading on Wall Street to recover to its pre-crash level. The stock market crash of 1929 set off the most profound economic depression in the history of capitalism. And it took the military spending connected to World War II to revive the economy.

So what set off the crisis of 1929, and what does it have in common with today’s crisis?

“Overproduction” and Insane Speculation

Before the 1929 crash, there was a period of euphoria in stocks and finance similar to that of the last few years.

Starting in 1921-22, the American economy underwent spectacular growth. Economists of the time said that America had entered into a “new economy.” The director of the New York Stock Exchange said, “We are done with the cyclical economic crises that we have seen up to this point.”

This economic growth was spurred by investments that were massive for the time. Automobile production was one of the locomotives of this “new economy.” In 1929, five million cars rolled off the Ford and General Motors assembly lines. Auto manufacturers’ profits skyrocketed, as did the prices of their stocks on the stock market. General Motors was thus able to buy up Vauxhall, in the United Kingdom, and Opel in Germany.

Auto manufacturers needed steel, tires and oil, which they got from Carnegie and Morgan’s U.S. Steel and Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Building construction, which was booming, also needed steel. The United States produced half the world’s steel, and pumped two thirds of the planet’s oil. Profits exploded.

A few companies already dominated heavy industry, but this was not yet the case in new sectors like auto. Wall Street pushed mergers and acquisitions, just as in the 2000’s.

Credit was the other motor of economic expansion during the 1920s. It became a magic wand for increasing the size of the market, pulling in poorer and poorer layers of the population. There were more than 1.4 billion dollars in auto loans in the United States when the crisis broke out. Credit increased the sale of household appliances. The main manufacturer of radio sets, RCA, experienced rising stock prices comparable to those seen with Amazon or Yahoo between 1999 and 2001. The price of its stock increased seven-fold during 1929 alone.

The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, lowered its interest rates in 1927. The banks could now borrow money much more easily from the Fed, and in turn gave out a lot more loans.

This was the beginning of insane speculation in stock prices. Buyers no longer waited to receive their dividends at the end of the year. They now bought stocks in order to sell them at a higher price. Prices on the stock market took off and soon had no connection with the real value of the companies, just as in 2004 to 2007. Industrial corporations followed the bankers and traders by speculating with their treasuries. Industrial capital surpassed banking capital in speculation in September, 1929. Capital poured in, including from Europe.

Traders borrowed money from the banks to buy stocks. The rising amount of these loans drove up prices on the stock market even more quickly.

Financiers created new stock investment companies, and then listed these companies’ shares on the stock exchange, which drove up prices further!

The Crash

The bubble had to burst. Every speculator knew this, but no one wanted to be the first one out, because no one wanted to lose out on profits while the market was going up. An economist in 1929 said, “stock prices have attained what appears to be a permanent high plateau,” to reassure those in doubt.

But the plateau collapsed. The crash came at the end of October. Investment companies, deeply in debt to the banks, sold huge amounts of their stock holdings in order to raise cash. Most of them went bankrupt anyway, weakening the banks, which then went bankrupt themselves. The banks froze credit to companies, then withdrew their investments from Europe – especially from Germany. The crisis started on the stock market, spread to the banks and then to production.

In reality, the stock market crash only revealed a much more profound crisis. The economic recession had already started before the stock market crash.

Markets too Small for Capital

The consequences of the First World War marked the world economy at the end of the 1920’s. France and England emerged from the war weaker, despite their victory over Germany. A big part of their industrial plants was destroyed or needed to be renewed. Farmers couldn’t get chemical fertilizers or machinery; mine owners did not replace machines. Germany was in even worse shape.

European currencies were devalued because their governments printed too many bills. The British and French governments reduced imports and sought to export more at low prices.

Well before the crisis, this policy pushed the European powers to lean on their colonial empires, where they intensified exploitation.

The expanding U.S. industrial sector could no longer count on the European market for its excess production. Its vast interior market was not infinite.

The financial speculation that led to the crash was a way to use capital that couldn’t be used in production. Just as in the current period, development in finance and speculation was brought on by limitations in the size of the market.

A Deep and Long Depression

Over the next four years, U.S. production fell by half. In 1933, there were 15 million unemployed in the United States – one worker out of five! The big auto companies laid off two-thirds of their workers.

In textile and steel more than half the factories shut down. Those that kept their job were working only a few days a week.

Thousands of tons of wheat and fruit were destroyed, livestock was slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands, all in order to push up the prices of agricultural goods. And at the very same time, thousands died of hunger in the United States. Steinbeck wrote about the millions of small farmers: how they had borrowed from the banks to modernize their farms, and how the banks then threw them off their land when the farmers couldn’t pay their mortgages.

Just as today, the crisis eliminated the weakest and least profitable businesses. The great trusts in steel, oil and chemicals reinforced their already very strong position despite the fact that their business slowed considerably. Concentration sped up in auto. The two biggest auto companies, Ford and GM, absorbed many of the independent manufacturers.

Banks were hit the worst. Nearly a thousand went bankrupt.

The crisis extended from the United States to Germany, whose economy bled out when the U.S. capitalists took their capital back to Wall Street. It hit the rest of Europe two years later. Unemployment lines and other signs of public poverty appeared in France and then in Great Britain.

The crisis hit every country. In Brazil, trainloads of coffee beans were burned in Brazil because the price went too low.

Protectionism had already been strong before the crisis. It became much stronger on both sides of the Atlantic. World trade collapsed. Every bourgeoisie fell back on its own domestic market or those of its colonies. The United States passed high tariffs in 1930.

The New Deal’s “Stimulus”

Franklin Roosevelt replaced Hoover as president a few years into the depression. Roosevelt has gone down in history for setting the “New Deal” in motion when he took office in the spring of 1933.

The New Deal is presented as if its “stimulus” plan jumpstarted the economy, putting millions of the unemployed back to work.

But the New Deal’s aim was not to reduce unemployment, nor assuage the dire poverty of the working class. Roosevelt’s first priority was to get business going again for the American bourgeoisie, at the expense of the working class.

The New Deal was a series of laws passed by Congress in the first one-hundred days of Roosevelt’s presidency. He restored the banking system by guaranteeing the banks’ loans and by reorganizing and taking control of banks that were near failure. The government bought up their shoddy loans. They would use this measure again!

Roosevelt pushed through a law to subsidize farmers so they would cut production, which would bring up prices. This law strengthened the biggest farmers. A law limited competition in industry and fixed wages at low levels and prices at high ones. The biggest companies divided up sectors and markets.

The New Deal is known for its big public works. Dams, tunnels, thousands of bridges and miles of highways were built, whole regions got electricity – all this was progress. But the goal was not to give work to the unemployed. It was to open markets to the construction companies. Wages were kept at a minimum to push up profits, and working conditions on these projects were such that people spoke of “groups of federal slaves.”

The bourgeoisie faced a social explosion in 1934. More than one and a half million workers in different sectors went on strike. Strikes intensified in 1935 and 1936, often taking on a political character by occupying the factories. These strikes bypassed the old union bureaucracies.

Roosevelt pushed a minimum retirement and unemployment insurance in response to the strike wave. Another law allowed unions to get recognition from the National Labor Relations Board – on condition that they confine workers’ mobilization to a very restrictive process.

But another recession broke out in 1937, plunging the economy into the “second dip” of the Great Depression.

“Recovery” – Based on War

Production would not recover until orders for war goods poured in, prepared by state intervention in the economy.

Germany was the state with the most interventionist policy between 1930 and 1945. This policy started in 1930 under the Bruning government, which decreed the reduction of wages and prices and reduced unemployment benefits. Hitler and the Nazis intensified this policy. The Hitler regime launched a program of huge public works. It was able to restart the economy thanks to its ferocious dictatorship, which had eliminated all workers organizations and militarized the workers in the factories. The big capitalists supported Hitler, who imposed regulation on the economy. He centralized industry and the distribution of raw materials in order to boost their profits. Extreme protectionism allowed German imperialism to return.

Every other industrialized country that fought in World War II, including the U.S., militarized its economy. War was the capitalists’ only “solution” for the crisis.

The bourgeoisie began to make profits again, but government imposed control over production and froze wages. General Electric made millions producing electrical goods for both sides in the war. GM got rich making tanks. GM and Ford drew profits from their investments in Germany during World War II up to the time the U.S. entered the war.

Humanity paid a huge price for the capitalist crisis during the 1930's. First, by the suffering endured everywhere during the depression. Then with the tens of millions killed, the massive destruction and additional suffering brought on by the Second World War.

Pages 6-7

Ford Workers Shout “No!”

Oct 26, 2009

On October 13, the UAW’s Ford Council was called together to approve re-opening negotiations with Ford, to give Ford even more concessions.

The local presidents were to meet to vote at 11:00. But at 10:30, Ford and the UAW announced an agreement already, before negotiations were even authorized. And the Highlights summary for the membership had already been printed!

In the Ford Council meeting, only Gary Walkowicz, a Bargaining Committeeman from Local 600’s Dearborn Truck Plant, stood up to argue against making concessions. Others were silent, but not necessarily happy. Later on, some of those others came out in their own locals against the deal.

There is plenty to be against! In the first place, workers already voted last March to give up wages and benefits worth about 500 million dollars a year, because Ford was supposed to be hurting. Today, analysts expect Ford to show a “surprising” third quarter profit, close to half a billion dollars, and its executive ranks are still “good where they’re at,” as CEO Alan Mulally told Congress regarding his 21-million-dollar compensation.

Yet Ford demands that it be allowed unlimited hiring of entry-level, second-tier workers who stay at the same low pay until 2015; that skilled tradesmen accept drastic job-cutting team reorganizations; and worst of all, that workers accept a no-strike agreement that de facto freezes their wages for six years, at the new lower levels set last March.

The top UAW leadership argues that if workers don’t accept the deal, then Ford will be at a “disadvantage” in the marketplace compared to GM and Chrysler, and jobs will be lost.

But workers say that they do not want their hands tied with a no-strike pledge! They point out that from the year 2000 up to now, Ford was at no disadvantage, and they still cut 59,000 jobs. They point out that Ford has not lived up to previous commitments on jobs, and without the power to strike there is no way to force them to honor any commitments at all.

The clearest expression of the workers’ anger was during an attempt by UAW VP Bob King to speak to a shift at the Dearborn Truck Plant. Ford shut down the assembly line and told workers to go listen to King. The gathered workers began to chant NO, NO – and the speaker was silenced before he began. Workers on other shifts were upset ... because King did not come to their shifts, giving them a chance to shout their “No”s at “Boo” King – his new nickname.

Soon after the Ford Council, signed leaflets appeared in the Ford Rouge complex opposing the new concessions. These began to spread, picked up by workers in other plants, who used them to mobilize the opposition. Signs, leaflets, posters, buttons, even T-shirts began to appear. Workers posted their sentiments at their work stations. In fact, workers were publicly voting NO even before the balloting. At the same time, many said they doubted that the “No” votes would be fairly counted and reported.

Only a few results were in at our press time. The first two votes reported were “Yes.” But one was from Cleveland, where one Brook Park engine plant had been scheduled to close and will supposedly get a “reprieve” if this deal passes. The other was from Wayne Assembly, and it was very suggestive. Wayne had voted 78% “Yes” for the March concessions, but this time the “Yes” was only 50.3% – and the Stamping plant in the Wayne local voted a majority “No.” Then came the Sheldon Road parts plant, which had voted 64% “No” in March, and voted 81% “No” this time. And then Livonia Transmission voted it down.

No reason has been given by the UAW for its unusually long-drawn-out voting, but workers can read between the lines. The strongest NO plants were put last: Saline ACH and Dearborn Truck. Saline voted 76% “No” in March. The Dearborn Truck Plant has been the most influential center of opposition for the last few years. The DTP unit president, vice-president, and five elected reps signed a letter to their membership rejecting the concessions and urging a “No” vote. Votes at these plants would certainly encourage more opposition if the votes were taken and made known early on.

A new layer of Ford workers created a wave of activity to clearly express themselves. They moved the battle forward. The struggle now is to insure that officials dare not record a different decision than what the workers have already made.

Workers can loudly and clearly let their local officers know that they will be held accountable if the vote they report does not accord with what the workers already know. A fair count or out the very next election.

Workers can organize to monitor the election process. And they can demand their right to examine and verify the lists of those who voted. No extra ballots!

The ferment in the Ford plants is important not only for Ford workers alone. Workers in Detroit and other cities have a growing feeling that someone should do something – something about the continual job cuts, wage cuts, foreclosures, and public service cutbacks, while the elite at the top do nothing but protect their riches. A struggle that breaks out somewhere can pull other struggles afterward.

Ford-UAW Concessions Contract:
Profit Addicts Want More

Oct 26, 2009

Even as Ford UAW workers are being pressured to accept another concessions contract, Wall Street announced that Ford could report a surprise third quarter profit! (After reporting a 1st quarter profit of 2.8 billion dollars and a 2nd quarter profit of 2.3 billion!)

Profits? Yes, profits.

So don’t come telling that lie that Ford is in bad shape.

But whether good shape or bad, Ford drains wealth from the workers’ labor.

Here is a company owned for all practical purposes by 50 people with the last name of Ford. This one family has controlling interest in the company, owning 70.85 million shares of Class B stock, so even if they get a dividend of only a penny a share, each makes $170,000 a pop. Three times what we make in one year!

Here is a company that has made billions and billions of profit off the labor of Ford workers and has used those billions to extend their empire which includes 90 plants on six continents, not counting its financial operations and real estate holdings.

Here is a company that even in the years it reported profit losses by its creative accounting maneuvers, paid huge dividends to its stockholders and bought up other companies. In 2006, supposedly their record-loss year, it paid one man, CEO Alan Mulally, 39 million dollars for four months of work!

Here is a company that came in March, less than seven months ago, to exact another round of concessions (on top of the 2005 and 2007 contracts) that cost each worker about $15,000 each, bragging that it had saved 500 million dollars. And then turned around and announced it was investing nearly 500 million dollars to build a third Ford car assembly plant in China!

Ford demands that workers must sacrifice when times are bad, and when times are good. Workers have every reason to refuse – good times or bad!

Page 8

Afghanistan:
A Hidden Army in Britain’s Prisons

Oct 26, 2009

This is reprinted from the October issue of Workers Fight, the publication of a revolutionary workers group active in Great Britain.

The numbers of servicemen killed and wounded in Blair’s and Brown’s wars tells only half the story. A probation officers’ report reveals that in addition to 12,000 former servicemen on probation or parole, 8,500 are in prison. This is almost equal to the number of troops currently in Afghanistan and accounts for nearly one in 10 of the prison population. In fact the numbers of jailed ex-servicemen has increased by 30% over the past five years, as the Afghan war intensified.

Nearly half suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder or depression, often coupled with chronic alcohol and drug abuse. A former head of traumatic stress services in London said: “If we ask people to do appalling things, regular firefights and hand-to-hand combat, you get to the point where it desensitizes them to violence.”

Yes, wars can damage soldiers for life in more than one way. Young men are not born to be killing machines nor living targets. And when they are used and abused in this way by governments, to serve their great power games, when they lose their buddies in the fighting and come back with images of civilians killed and maimed gratuitously under their eyes, it can be hard for them to find a place in “normal” life. In that sense, these wars have been wars against all populations, Iraqi and Afghan, but also British.

A Fake Debate over War Strategy

Oct 26, 2009

The top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, publicly said that he needs 40,000 more troops for the war. Secretary of State Robert Gates – again publicly – responded, saying that a decision to send more troops would not be made until a “legitimate” government is in place in Afghanistan.

War chiefs discussing how many troops to send to war? Sure they would – but in public? There is every reason to think that this open “debate” about war strategy is a show – intended to lead Americans, grown weary of this war, to think that the Obama administration is considering changes in its war policy.

But actions speak louder than words. The Obama administration continues to spend billions of dollars to expand military bases in Afghanistan – proving it has every intention to continue the war for years to come!

The U.S. ruling class wants this war for its own purposes – to control more parts of the world. But American workers have no interest in this war, in which they sacrifice their lives and limbs – and foot the war’s huge bill too.

Afghan Election:
The Farce Continues

Oct 26, 2009

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has caved in to U.S. pressure and accepted a United Nations audit, which found that he had NOT won more than 50% of the vote in the presidential election two months ago. Thus he announced a run-off election on November 7 between him and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

A run-off? The audit found that ONE-THIRD of Karzai’s votes were fake. If that’s true, then Karzai should not only be barred from running again, but stand trial for corruption!

And not only Karzai. The same U.N. audit indicts Abdullah for vote fraud too. Not surprisingly, the fraudulent vote counts that favor Abdullah came from Northern Afghanistan, where warlords allied with him are in charge – while the false counts favoring Karzai are from the South, where Karzai’s henchmen run the show!

The Obama administration and the media had trumpeted this election as an important step towards “democracy” in Afghanistan. How can “democracy” co-exist with a war that is devastating the country? What does a vote mean in a country controlled by warlords and invading U.S., British and French armies?

Even before this vote-counting scandal, everyone knew the election was a complete sham, nothing but a propaganda ploy – not intended for Afghan people, who know the political realities of their country all too well. No, this show is intended for domestic consumption in countries that have troops in Afghanistan – countries where popular opposition against the war has been growing steadily, along with the casualties of war.

Homeless in America

Oct 26, 2009

A 97-year-old woman with a pacemaker and her two sons are homeless and living out of their car in Los Angeles County. After raising 11 children and working in a factory into her 60's, she collects only $375 a month in Social Security benefits and can’t make ends meet. One son worked in construction and the other was a cook, but both are in their 60's and can no longer work due to health problems. The LA Times reported that one son has a $637 disability payment, the other a $300 food stamp allocation. In LA County, it’s not enough for the three to find a place to live.

How is it in a country as wealthy as this, a family of three who worked all their lives is homeless?