The Spark

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

Issue no. 866 — March 29 - April 12, 2010

Attacks Dressed Up as Reforms

Mar 29, 2010

Having finally passed health care “reform,” President Obama proudly declared, “Tonight, we answered the call of history.

Fine words.

BUT for the first 14 months of its term in office, the Obama administration had openly continued all of the Bush administration’s basic policies. He handed out bigger and bigger gifts to the major banks and other companies, leaving taxpayers with a crushing bill of trillions and trillions of dollars.

The Obama administration gave billions to GM and Chrysler, and then extorted huge concessions from the auto workers, threatening to let the companies “fail” if the workers didn’t knuckle under.

The Obama administration continued Bush’s bloody war in Iraq, escalated the war in Afghanistan and even went into Pakistan.

The administration says there is an economic recovery. Yes, there is a recovery ... in corporate profits, mainly of banks, and in executive compensation.

But real unemployment is a disaster that continues to grow more grave, and millions more people are losing their homes.

In January, the Democrats began to pay for these open attacks on the working class. They lost Ted Kennedy’s old Massachusetts Senate seat to a Republican unknown, Scott Brown. More union members voted Republican than Democrat, according to the AFL-CIO, despite the union officials’ big efforts to get workers to vote Democratic.

Risking an electoral debacle in November, Democrats shifted public relations gears. They suddenly began to bombard us with announcements of “reform,” and still more “reform.”

The Obama administration announced it had passed a jobs bill – which consists of more tax breaks to big companies for hiring workers they would have hired anyway. It creates no jobs.

The Obama administration announced health care “reform” – which is nothing but a huge series of handouts to insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital companies. The day after the reform passed, the health care industry’s stock prices shot up.

Geithner and Bernanke, Obama’s two economic chiefs, swore up and down that there would never be another bank bailout – while they continue to buy up billions of dollars of toxic assets held by the banks.

The Obama administration promised an educational “reform” – handing over more public schools to private companies, while closing down more neighborhood schools, laying off more teachers, increasing class sizes and attacking teachers’ seniority and wages, and, incidentally, pushing more students to drop out. It’s like Bush’s educational “reform,” just more so.

Of course, no one should believe that just because no Republicans voted for this, they are any different. When they were in power, they did the exact same thing. Now they are out of power, they are appealing and encouraging the most reactionary prejudices and superstitions in their loyal service to the capitalist class.

Both Democrats and Republicans have done nothing but bail out banks and corporations and prosecute their imperial wars of conquest. Both parties are henchmen for the capitalist class.

Today, the Democrats disguise their attacks with talk of “reform.” They just want our votes. The Republicans pretend to be in opposition. They also want our votes.

Why would any workers give either party a single vote?

Pages 2-3

Chicago Schools:
Big Cuts Proposed

Mar 29, 2010

Mayor Daley’s hatchet man in charge of the schools, Ron Huberman, proposed a budget with 700 million dollars in cuts, citing the fiscal crisis as the reason. Programs cut would include sports team coaches and after school programs.

Mayor Daley and many politicians have said that one of the best ways to prevent violence is to have after school programs where kids can learn something. But that didn’t stop his man in charge of the schools from cutting these programs.

Education research has always shown that fewer students in classrooms makes it easier for children to learn. But this new plan will put as many as 37 kids in a classroom. And behind all these changes are new attacks on teachers – eliminating raises and lowering pensions for new teachers – making it harder for teachers to focus on teaching.

They claim there is no money. False. Huberman – like Arne Duncan before him – handed out multi-million dollar contracts for software systems that don’t work. Useless for students – good for the profits of the companies that drain money from the schools.

The city of Chicago itself continues to hand out big subsidies to business. United Airlines got 35 million dollars when it wanted to move its headquarters downtown. MillerCoors beer got 20 million dollars for its headquarters.

Over the last number of months there have been large protests in front of board of education meetings. A still larger and louder protest would be a good idea.

Few Jobs at Job Fairs

Mar 29, 2010

Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, two of the biggest amusement parks in Southern California, have cancelled their job fairs this year. They already have far more applications than the number of summer jobs they offer.

Other parks too. Universal Studios received 1,100 applications for 200 positions – just on the first day it began to accept applications! At a Saturday job fair for Six Flags Magic Mountain, 1,642 people stood in line – in the rain.

And it wasn’t the usual teenage crowd either. It was older people with a whole variety of job skills and experience applying for these summer jobs, which pay barely above minimum wage.

Politicians and government officials say we are coming out of the recession. The long lines of workers seeking low-pay jobs say the opposite.

Here We Go Again

Mar 29, 2010

Robert Bobb, the governor-appointed head of the Detroit Public Schools, has announced plans to close up to 44 additional schools after this year, and he already plans to close another 13 after next year. That’s after he closed 29 schools last year.

That will make more than 100 schools closed in the district since 2006.

Bobb expects enrollment to drop from 84,000 this year, to 56,000 by 2015, and says this “consolidation” of schools is necessary to accommodate that drop.

What crap! The closure of schools is a big part of what drives that drop! A number of families have gone through two school closings already; each time a new round of schools close, more families leave the district for neighboring districts or charter schools – or they just drop out and disappear from the records. With previous closings, many parents had no idea where their children were supposed to go to school – and even the district couldn’t tell them! Every time they close more schools, more students disappear.

In fact, Bobb flat-out plans to turn DPS students over to charter schools. The proof of that is that he also announced an agreement with charters – to bring 70 new schools to the city. That’s almost exactly the number he’s already closed or plans to close.

Last year Bobb pushed a 500-million-dollar bond initiative to renovate 22 specific schools, and Detroit residents passed it, believing it would keep those schools open. Lo and behold, a large number of those schools are now slated to be closed. It was a classic bait and switch!

Bobb says the district will still reconstruct and renovate 22 schools with that money – but will they just be closed only to be handed over to charters, just like others before them? All bought and paid for by Detroit taxpayers.

This is not just happening in Detroit – it’s part of a nationwide privatizing attack on the public schools. Just last week, the Kansas City school board announced plans to close nearly half of the schools in their district.

Somehow, Bobb says he aims to have an over 98% high school graduation rate by 2015. Apparently he plans to reach it by pushing students to drop out while they’re still in elementary school!

Two Months after the Quake, Hard Life in Haiti’s Camps

Mar 29, 2010

Militants of the Revolutionary Workers Organization (OTR) in Haiti have been able to restart their paper La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers Voice), despite considerable difficulties. It stopped publication after the January 12 earthquake. We reprint here parts of their articles about the situation in Port-au-Prince.

Since the evening of the earthquake, around two million people of the west and southwest regions have slept out in the open. Even those who have houses which aren’t apparently affected fear entering them. Others sleep in the open, due to fear that an aftershock could kill them. We have seen hundreds of thousands of people rush to occupy public places and empty land. The number of people in camps varies from 200 up to 60,000, depending on the area squatted on. At Delmas 40, around 70,000 people are living in a camp.

Famine knocks at the door of hundreds of thousands of disaster victims. Food aid is distributed bit by bit by local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The World Food Program of the U.N., the greatest provider of food aid, had several tons of out-of-date food they hadn’t distributed, despite the fact plenty of Haitians had died of hunger before the earthquake hit. An inventory carried out after January 12 revealed that Food for the Poor has several warehouses of food that was supposed to have been used to help the victims of hurricanes Ike and Anna in the city of Gona ves.

But in order to have the right to a kit or a food ration from any NGO, a person had to have a voucher, commonly called a card. There are no rules about the distribution of cards, because there was never a census done in the camps. So each NGO works in its corner, without any central coordination. Thus, a resourceful person, or even a swindler can have several cards, while a needy family doesn’t have any. Factory workers, who leave the camps at 5 AM and return home at 6 or 7 PM, have no chance to get a card, because these are generally distributed during the day. People are often found running like madmen vainly from one point to another seeking cards.

Besides the NGOs, the city halls also carry out the distributions of food aid by means of cards. The situation is no better. Two individuals, one of whom the population suspects is a policeman from Carrefour Vincent, got a hundred cards from the mayor’s office of Cité Soleil, one of the largest shantytowns. They distributed part of these cards to their relatives and sold the rest for up to 250 Haitian gourdes apiece.

In certain cases, people can get a food ration without a card, through an improvised or, sometimes, an announced distribution. But in both cases, the beneficiaries have to line up. The lack of food staples, hunger and the great number of applicants pushes people to give up sleep, lining up early in the morning, sometimes at 1 or 3 AM, waiting until the middle of the day to be served.

Smaller camps, with hundreds of people, are often forgotten. The distribution of food aid ignores the existence of those people who are scattered during the day and who have no place to sleep but the pavement.

Depending on charity is a truly backward way to deal with a situation like this.

Pages 4-5

Medical Care “Reform”
– Attacking the Population to Benefit the Medical Care Industry

Mar 29, 2010

After weeks of pretending to fight the Republicans, the Democrats finally passed and Obama signed the so-called medical insurance “reform.” Obama called it a “historic reform” – on the scale of Social Security, passed in the 1930s and Medicare passed in the 1960s.

It’s historic alright – a historic rip-off of the population it claims to serve!

Today’s uninsured will be forced to buy insurance they can’t afford, insurance that has been shown to be practically useless, from private insurance companies, whose main aim is to make profit.

Nothing in the law prevents drug companies and hospitals from raising their prices – Obama had already last summer cut a deal with them, promising no attempt to control prices for the next ten years! And those prices will be passed through in higher insurance premiums – with a little extra tacked on for the insurance companies!

Very little in the law interferes with the way the private medical insurance industry functions. There are no controls on prices. As for “administrative expenses” – which today gobble up nearly half a trillion dollars due to the waste built into a private, for-profit system – they will go up as new layers of bureaucracy build up in all these private insurers. There isn’t even a “government option,” which might have offered a tiny bit of competition, forcing the private companies to keep prices a little lower.

But Obama says an insurance company can’t charge you more if you develop medical problems. No, but it can charge you more every year, as you get older. Given that most illnesses occur as you age, insurance companies will simply charge you more for your older age – including even when you don’t get sicker!

Obama says they can’t deny you coverage for a pre-existing condition – no, but for the next four years you can get that coverage only from a high-risk, very high-premium pool – like those that already exist in most states! After that no one knows, because the “regulations” haven’t been written yet!

Penalizing People for Not Buying Insurance

What happens if you don’t buy the insurance? You will have to pay a penalty, a penalty which will get bigger year after year. In other words, you won’t have insurance, but you will pay!

What about the so-called subsidy you’re supposed to get if you can’t afford insurance? It will cover only the part of the insurance that exceeds 9.5% of your income – if your income is $50,000, you will pay nearly $5,000 in insurance premiums, plus two or three thousand dollars in “deductible” charges each year before the insurance kicks in, plus a 10 or 20% co-pay on services, etc. etc. etc.

In reality the subsidy will be enough only to let you buy so-called “catastrophic” coverage, which covers no regular medical expenses – no drugs, no doctor’s visits, no exams, no clinical tests, etc. – only hospitalization.

Yes, if your income is low enough you can qualify for Medicaid – which doesn’t mean you can see a doctor. Two years ago already, only 1/3 of family doctors and 1/3 of gynecologists would take Medicaid patients – and that was before states instituted all the cuts in Medicaid payments over these past two years. Some states have even cut out CHIP – the government program insuring children of the working poor.

Add insult to injury – the very same “reform” bill supposedly extending Medicaid has established a “commission” to look for ways to cut Medicaid!

“Reform”? No this is an outright attack on the very people it pretends to serve.

And Who Else Will Pay?

Under the guise of paying for this “reform,” the government will tax insurance policies provided by employers. A 40% tax will be tacked onto so-called “Cadillac” plans, a tax that will be passed on to those who have insurance in the form of higher co-payments, higher premiums and reduced services. Half of all health benefits provided under union contract fall into this category. And two thirds of big employers, when surveyed, have already said they intend to cut benefits as the result of this reform.

Retired people on Medicare will pay. The Congressional Budget Office just estimated that the government will save 427 billion dollars on Medicare as the result of this “reform.”

Workers and retired people are not paying to insure the uninsured. They are paying so the government can cut down on its budget deficit – a deficit produced by the bank bail-outs.

A Profit-making Scam? Dressed up as a Social “Reform”

Obama says his “reform” is comparable to the big social reforms of the last century: Social Security and Medicare.

Obama lies! Both of these programs were socially organized and funded, with workers and their employers paying into a central fund, held and disbursed by the federal government. The organization of Social Security and Medicare effectively excluded private profit-makers from putting their hands deeply into the pie – it’s what has made them so much more efficient and less costly than anything else.

The new medical care “reform” is not a socially organized program. It doesn’t touch the profits of these big companies that grow fat off the misery of a population badly served by medical care.

It is simply one more rip-off of the population to pump up the profits of big financial interests and their friends.

Health Care Bill:
More Attacks on Women

Mar 29, 2010

Bart Stupak, leader of the anti-abortion Democrats, was invited to a White House event on March 21, where Obama issued an executive order stating, “The Act maintains current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges.”

In fact, the Senate version of the health care bill already said no federal funds could pay for abortions. But by re-stating the restrictions, Obama clearly appealed to every politician willing to attack women who need an abortion but cannot afford to pay for one. And he appealed to the reactionary parts of the population.

Wealthy women never have problems getting abortions. The Hyde Amendment has always been a method to attack poor and working class women, making it virtually impossible for them to get an abortion. Already by 2000, eight out of nine counties in the U.S. had no doctors who would perform abortions, thanks to all the legal restrictions in place. These restrictions are voted on every year, by Democrats and Republicans, as an attachment to the annual budget bill. The Hyde Amendment has been reauthorized every year since it was first passed in 1976.

Obama coldly calculated how to gain votes on the misery women face. And the anti-abortion killers of doctors will understand they have support for their outrageous attacks on women’s doctors and clinics – support going right back to the White House.

Women can make their own calculations about politicians who attack them.

Playing on Popular Anger, the Republicans Stoke Reactionary Fires

Mar 29, 2010

Many people have reasons to fear this “reform” – people without insurance, forced to buy it; people without insurance fined for not having any; people with insurance who will see their insurance taxed; people on Medicare who will see it reduced; people on Medicaid who won’t be able to see a doctor.

A perfect chance for the Republicans to try to erase popular distrust of their party for what they have done. And after eight years of Bush, the Republican had a lot to cover over.

So here they come, pretending to oppose this “reform.”

The Republicans said No, but they weren’t opposing anything. They knew the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies and hospital companies were going to get their big new expensive “reform” – the Democrats were running things, and they had to give the capitalist class what it wanted.

So the Republican could pretend to be in opposition – but only to divert people’s anger into reactionary roads. Attacking immigrants. Playing on racist views. Playing on attitudes hostile to women’s right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. Trying to make those who had some insurance think that they were going to have to pay for those who didn’t have any.

Vile, reactionary attacks.

The working class has every reason to oppose this reform pushed through by the Democrats – and not a single reason to trust the Republicans.

Pages 6-7

When the Police Are the Gang to Fear

Mar 29, 2010

The people who packed the Board of Police Commissioners meeting described what took place on their block as a “night of terror” – the gang was “getting out of hand.”

But they weren’t there to testify about a gang of young thugs terrorizing their neighborhood. They were there to witness against the Detroit Police Gang Squad.

Last week’s meeting came in the wake of a March 18th incident, when two members of the Gang Squad approached the grandfather of an 8-year-old whose 911 call reporting the murder of her mother had made headlines the week before. According to the man, Gerald Evans, they asked him what he was doing, and “then, for no reason, they put me in handcuffs and started beating me.” He went on to detail his beating. And then his son testified about how he was beaten after asking why they were beating his father.

This is not the first or second incident of the Gang Squad acting like thugs against the communities they supposedly are there to protect. The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, headed by Ron Scott, has documented these attacks one after the other.

The Gang Squad is the most vicious gang in Detroit.

Page 8

Super Rich Double Rich

Mar 29, 2010

According to the IRS, in 2007 the average income of the 400 richest taxpayers – an incredible 357 million dollars – was five times higher than it was in 1995. This fantastic enrichment of the biggest bourgeoisie came from blazing exploitation of the working class.

On top of that, the government lowered the tax rate on the very rich. In 1995, the richest 400 paid 30% of their income in taxes, while by 2007 they paid only 17%, cut almost in half. This bonanza for the rich was instituted by both political parties, the Democrats under Clinton and the Republicans under Bush. It makes this tax season all the more bitter.

No Taxes for the Multimillionaire McCourts

Mar 29, 2010

Frank and Jamie McCourt, the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as large commercial real estate holdings, admitted to earning 108 million dollars from 2004 through 2009. Yet, they paid absolutely no federal and state taxes.

And it was all perfectly legal. The McCourts’ high priced accountants and lawyers simply took advantage of the myriad tax breaks available to wealthy business owners – most of which we never hear about. But because the McCourts are involved in a messy divorce, their tax documents were filed with the court.

These tax breaks helped subsidize the McCourts’ fabulous lifestyle. It helped them pay for eight houses, including four in exclusive Holmby Hills and Malibu. They also used the business and the tax breaks to pay for meals in the most expensive restaurants, floral arrangements for home and office, country club dues, personal travel on the Dodgers plane, etc. As Jamie McCourt explained in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, “Why have a family business but to support the family life style?”

No, tax breaks for the wealthy don’t “encourage” investment and the growth of jobs. They are just used to fatten the bank accounts of the wealthiest even more.

International Monetary Fund Shows Its True Colors

Mar 29, 2010

John Lipsky, the deputy director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), responded to the crisis by discussing austerity measures. But this time, the IMF was proposing austerity for the rich countries, known as the G7.

This deputy for the IMF, the financial organization in service to the great powers, declared, “The developed countries with high budget deficits [are invited] to start today to prepare their public opinion for austerity measures which will be necessary starting next year.” These measures “must be undertaken now by all countries which need a budget adjustment.”

Perhaps Germany and Canada might not need such measures, according to Lipsky. Meanwhile, he thinks the governments of all the G7 should continue their support of the capitalists – with such gifts as low interest loans, subsidies, and tax exemptions. So, rapid austerity measures will be needed to make up for the deficits of the other five countries: France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the U.S.!

Lipsky recommends drastically reducing benefits from government run health and retirement systems. He recommends forcing workers to stay on the job longer in order to get a normal pension. He recommends raising taxes and reducing public expenditures.

The IMF always intervenes to support the policy of state aid to capitalists and banks, along with attacks on the working population. The Bush and then the Obama administrations have already started down this path.

Gas Prices Skyrocket while Demand Drops

Mar 29, 2010

Gasoline prices are skyrocketing again, up 87.5 cents in Michigan compared with one year ago. In California, the price is nearly $1 a gallon higher than a year ago.

This seems to fly in the face of the old notion of supply and demand, since demand for gasoline is down due to the economic downturn and people have been shifting to more fuel efficient vehicles.

In fact, the big oil companies have their own ideas about supply and demand. Since there is very little competition left in the oil industry, the oil companies are simply responding to a drop in demand by cutting back on the supply of gasoline. They are closing refineries in order to keep gas prices higher.

Chevron put a refinery up for sale and is considering selling another. Sunoco shut down one refinery permanently and sold another. Valero Energy Corp. closed a refinery in Delaware last year. And Royal Dutch Shell is reviewing its refinery operations and plans to keep only those that expect to produce the most profits.

The oil companies are pushing up gasoline prices in the middle of a deep economic crisis – drastically reducing many people’s ability to pay.

The oil companies demand that we supply – their profits!