May 31, 2010
Just before Memorial Day, a roadside bomb killed the 1,000th U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. A little more than half those deaths belong to Bush. The rest belong to Obama. The U.S. military that holds Afghanistan in their deadly grip doesn’t record the real number it kills. But hundreds of thousands, at least, have been killed or driven from their land.
Now, the U.S. military is gearing up to attack Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second biggest city, and the region around it. U.S. officials say it will be the largest military offensive since the U.S. invasion. U.S. officials say they intend to do what they did earlier this year in Marjah, but on a much bigger scale.
Last winter, thousands of U.S. troops swept in to Marjah, a region of farming communities, hamlets and markets. Under the pretext of driving out insurgents, U.S. troops expelled Afghan civilians from their homes and land, or imprisoned them. U.S. jets and helicopters attacked cars, trucks, farm houses, and women and children walking on the road, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Pretending it won a victory, the U.S. then airlifted in an entire state apparatus of Afghan officials and police – what U.S. officials call “government in a box.”
The Marjah operation was supposed to confirm the effectiveness of U.S. strategy under Obama and his military commander, Stanley McChrystal. But in the end, the U.S. attack only drove more civilians into the arms of the insurgency. U.S. officials admit the insurgents are again blending in with the rest of the population.
U.S. officials say the operation in Marjah was a dress rehearsal for its Kandahar offensive – but Kandahar will be on an incomparably larger scale. Thousands live in Marjah, while millions live in Kandahar.
Maybe all this talk is a big threat by the U.S. in order to gain a bargaining chip. Or maybe it really marks a huge new offensive in the war. But whatever the U.S. does, it will revolve around its closest ally in Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai. Ahmed Wali is the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai – and the biggest heroin and opium trafficker in the country. Since 2001, he has been bankrolled by the CIA to beef up his paramilitary forces to control the Afghan population in that region.
This is what the U.S. war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year, has come to.
Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to demonstrate U.S. imperial power after 9/11. The people of Afghanistan had the misfortune of being picked as the target, under the assumption they could quickly be beaten into submission. Nine years later, the beating down goes on. But rather than demonstrating U.S. strength, the continuing and expanding war has done nothing but provoke ever greater resistance.
Facing this disaster, Obama now says he has to finish the job. That only means U.S. imperialism has to show that it remains the one great superpower, the biggest bully on the block. This can only worsen the already disastrous situation of the Afghan people.
It can also only deepen the impact of this disaster on the U.S. working class. U.S. imperialism is using us and our children as pawns and cannon fodder – so that U.S. oil companies can extend their control and plunder, while the big military contractors and suppliers, like Haliburton, have an endless source of business and profit.
This war is a perfect picture of how rotten and destructive U.S. imperialism is.
May 31, 2010
Lead poisoning in the city is so bad, that the AVERAGE Detroit schoolchild has a blood lead level of 4.7. This was the conclusion of a study reported on by the Detroit Free Press. While there are NO safe levels of lead in children, a level 5.0 or higher is considered poisonous.
In another study, the higher the level of lead in the school child, the lower the MEAP test scores.
A Free Press map showed that the children with the highest lead levels live in the city’s past and present industrial zones.
Poisoned children are another “legacy cost” that corporations ring up, and then run out on.
May 31, 2010
The following article is translated from the April 6, 2010, issue of Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Workers Power), journal of UATCI, African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers.
Capitalist companies have been buying up agricultural land in a big way in Africa – the most fertile land.
In Sudan, investors from the United Arab Emirates bought 1.9 million acres, and South Korean businesses bought up 1.7 million acres. Saudi Arabia sealed a contract for 100,000 acres in one province. A well-known Saudi capitalist, Al-Amoudi, whose businesses are already growing wheat in Ethiopia, has plans to acquire 1.2 million more acres.
All told, 20 countries in North, East and West Africa sell or lease land to big agribusiness....
There’s nothing new in the fact that big companies grab fertile land to grow rubber, palm oil, bananas or other crops that return fat profits. This goes back to the colonial era when they began to cut down forests to get land. Sometimes the colonizers forced peasants to give up growing food crops, and to grow cotton or peanuts for export in place of food....
Pillage, poverty and exploitation have always been part of the functioning of capitalism. But in this period of capitalist crisis, the lust for profits drives companies and billionaires into a frenzy to buy up large amounts of agricultural land.
And today these big capitalists are taking over land currently occupied by peasants, driving them off their own land....
In addition to the problem of land grabs, there is the water question. In Ethiopia, this intensive agriculture gobbles up water. For example, in Awassa, a fertile region of this country, the capitalist Al-Amoudi farm consumes as much water in a year as 100,000 inhabitants....
Famine already stalks numerous regions in Africa. This situation will worsen in the period to come, as this capitalist system more and more strangles the populations of the poor countries. So long as it is not abolished, there is no hope that the situation of the vast majority of the populations will improve.
May 31, 2010
A congressional investigation recently found that the Center for Disease Control “knowingly used flawed data” in a study about lead in Washington, D.C.’s drinking water in 2004. The CDC had reported that “only” 315 D.C. children suffered from elevated levels of lead in their blood in 2002 and 2003.
They lied. The labs that conducted these blood tests had found that at least 949 D.C. children had elevated levels of lead in their blood – three times higher than the CDC claim.
In 2000, the D.C. WASA (Water and Sewer Authority) had switched the disinfectant it used to purify the water. Instead of making the water cleaner, as WASA claimed, this change corroded the city’s lead pipes at a faster rate. In 2002, tests of water flowing into homes from city pipes showed much higher levels of lead. In 2004, as pressure mounted, the CDC issued that lying report. Since then, many thousands more children have suffered damage, covered up by the CDC.
Lead in water is a poison, period. It can cause irreversible damage especially in the developing brains of babies and young children. It can lead to kidney damage for adults, and older people are vulnerable; in particular, their memory can be damaged as well as other cognitive abilities.
What is the response of the D.C. government to this supposedly “new” information, which the lab had for the last FIVE YEARS? Is the city offering free testing to all D.C. children? Is the city providing bottled water to all its residents? Is the city replacing the old pipes?
No, no, and no.
May 31, 2010
“People who don’t take advantage of the crisis to cross over to a new model are wasting the crisis.” So said the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, to The New York Times.
In so many words, she explained how she and her Republican predecessor used the ten-year economic collapse in Michigan to drastically lower public expectations about what services government provides and what quality of life the population can expect.
According to Granholm, the budget deficits of the last decade were useful to “press the reset button on our economy and our government.”
What might a future modeled after Michigan look like? School systems ripped apart, road quality destroyed, water systems left to rot, public safety underfunded and dental care and other medical procedures for the poor eliminated....
By holding up Michigan as the new model, the New York Times, this voice for the capitalist class, promotes economic collapse and human misery as a great way to reduce education, social programs and public services.
May 31, 2010
Washington, D.C.’s Metro board of directors recently approved the largest, most far-reaching fare increase in Metro’s history. Overall, fares will increase about 18%, including both bus and rail fares as well as MetroAccess, which is used by the disabled and the elderly, the people who can least afford fare increases.
Metro says it will have a 1.4-billion-dollar shortfall in its 2011 operating budget. Metro officials claim the gap is largely due to lower ridership, due to the recession and unemployment.
Even if that were true, so what? The point of a public transportation system is to provide transportation that is needed, no matter the circumstances. Modern cities collapse without it.
But the reality is that the big drain on Metro is from cuts in funding coming from D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the federal Government, which together are responsible for Metro. For the six budget years 2005 through 2010, they funded a total of 2.2 billion dollars. For the 14 budget years 2011 to 2124, they expect to fund only 1.3 billion dollars. In other words, there is the deficit.
Moreover, Metro has been trapped by the fancy financing the big Wall Street banks sold public authorities – financing which is just as deadly as the adjustable sub-prime mortgages.
So don’t pretend the deficit is caused by ridership when government cuts funding and the banks gobble up a big part of it.
May 31, 2010
Ralphs, one of California’s biggest supermarket chains, was caught lying about the weights of prepackaged items – which is a criminal offense. Between January 20 and March 9, Los Angeles County inspectors discovered 27 such violations at 14 different Ralphs stores.
It was no accident, in other words. And this is the third year in a row Ralphs has been caught doing this!
No wonder Ralphs keeps breaking the law – the “punishment” this giant corporation got was a $6,500 fine in 2008 and a $10,400 fine in 2009!
Authorities say that, this time, Ralphs and its parent company, Kroger, “could face fines of up to $256,000 each.” But that still would be about 0.1%, or one thousandth, of the profit Kroger reported in the last quarter of 2009 alone.
Measly fines like this are nothing but an encouragement for big companies to steal more.
May 31, 2010
Retired police commander Jon Burge is finally on trial in federal court in relation to his torture of men in the 1970s and ’80s. Federal prosecutors say that he and those under him tortured more than 100 men to get false confessions. They smothered the men with plastic bags over their head, gave them electric shocks and conducted mock executions.
The prosecutor called the torture on Chicago’s South Side a “dirty little secret.”
But the torture was no secret. It was long known in the black community.
And Burge was not the only official involved. Richard Daley, current mayor of Chicago and then state’s attorney, used the results of torture to get convictions.
Now there’s finally – after 30- some years – a trial, but only for “perjury” and “obstruction of justice.”
Conveniently, the statute of limitations on torture had expired. Once again, the police – or rather a scapegoat for the police and justice system – seem to be held to account in a way that denies justice.
May 31, 2010
BP, one of the largest and richest companies in the world, shaved on safety during its Deepwater Horizon drilling order to cut its costs. As one example: the standard practice in drilling in waters that are more than a mile deep is to use two pipes, one inside another, as an extra level of protection against dangerous gases escaping from the well. But since these pipes are long and expensive, BP decided to use only a single pipe.
By mid-April, BP had completed drilling the well. But until the company could complete plans to pump the oil out, it decided to plug the well up with cement and abandon it temporarily. To make sure that explosive gas was not escaping, either out the sides of the well or up into the drilling pipe, the well had to be completely sealed in cement – a job that was done by Haliburton – and then tested. But to save time and money, BP drastically reduced how much it tested for escaping gases.
Only hours before the explosion, technicians said that one test showed that gas was still leaking. But the top BP manager refused to do more extensive testing, and instead ordered the final work to prepare to abandon the well, including removing heavy fluid from the drilling pipe and substituting much lighter sea water. Many workers are reported to have challenged the rig manager, saying they feared this would allow gases to escape and cause an explosion.
And that’s what happened. After the drilling fluid was removed, gas began to rush out of the well. As a final fail safe, workers hit an emergency switch to activate the blowout preventer, an enormous 450 ton machine positioned near the sea floor that is supposed to cut the drilling pipe and seal the well. But the blowout preventer didn’t work. It turns out the blowout preventer was known to have had many problems, including a history of leaking hydraulics.
The escaping gases ignited and caused an enormous fire that killed 11 employees, and caused the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
BP was carrying out the same policy as every big company. Just look at the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and how Shell has poisoned the Niger delta in Nigeria. All these companies maximize their profits at the expense of their workforce, the people in the surrounding areas, and the environment.
May 31, 2010
Barack Obama has been speaking out against the company responsible for this catastrophe. He condemned BP for the lack of safety at its installations, and also condemned Transocean, the platform operator, and Haliburton, another contractor involved in the well on the eve of the explosion. Obama even questioned the federal government ... under Bush and his predecessors, of course. He said, “For too long, for ten years or more, a cozy relation was established between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill.”
But Obama followed that same cozy relationship by naming Ken Salazar, a man tied to the oil industry, as his Secretary of the Interior. One of the agencies that Salazar supervises, Minerals Management Service (MMS), continued to give drilling permits when the oil companies asked for them, without making them respect environmental regulations.
Since January 2009, when Obama took office, MMS delivered at least 349 drilling permits, including the one that led to the BP catastrophe, which killed 11 people and wounded 17.
Less than a month before the explosion, Obama announced his intention to open up drilling zones in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska – zones that had been protected by a moratorium on oil drilling for the last 20 years. He justified this vast expansion by claiming it was needed to protect national security and energy independence; to get the economy moving and create jobs; and even to create clean energy! And he bragged about how safe this drilling had become: “Under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, we’ll employ new technologies to reduce the impact of oil exploration. We’ll protect areas vital to tourism, the environment and our national security.”
The words were hardly out of Obama’s mouth when BP’s “new technology” platform exploded.
Today, Obama says he wants to make those responsible for the catastrophe pay the costs, and to change the law which limits their liability to 75 million dollars, by raising the level to 10 billion dollars.
That’s only a pittance of the damage done, and nothing but a smokescreen besides.
The role of government – whether under Bush or Obama – has been to justify and enable the capitalists’ uncontrolled exploitation of people and nature.
May 31, 2010
Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, transferred an extra one billion dollars in dividends to its shareholders on May 14, several weeks after the start of the oil spill, as the question of its liability for the spill was still under investigation.
Both BP and Transocean are immensely profitable companies. BP’s first quarter profits went up 135%, more than double, compared to a year ago, from 2.4 billion dollars to 5.7 billion dollars. Transocean made 677 million dollars in profits for the first quarter. The company also boldly announced that it expects to make a 270-million-dollar profit from insurance on the rig – because it was insured for more than it was worth!
These huge profits are blood money made off the deaths of 11 workers who died in the rig explosion, and the lost livelihoods of countless thousands more around the Gulf. Haliburton managed to get its hands in the bloody till as well.
May 31, 2010
For 41 days, oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a massive, wide-ranging disaster. Environmental and fishing groups in Louisiana say prolonged exposure to the oil in the form of tiny airborne particles as well as dispersants are wreaking devastating damage to public health. A consultant to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) said: “Every time the wind blows from south-east to the shore, people are being made sick. It causes severe headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, burning eyes and sore throats.” Long term effects can well include neurological disorders and cancer.
There is even more risk to those laying booms and skimming crude oil off the surface of the water because of their close proximity to the crude oil. They are repeatedly exposed to air drops of chemical dispersant. EPA tests indicate that the combined effect of dispersant and crude oil is even more toxic than individually.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are undersea plumes of oil stretching out over 22 miles. These undersea plumes are endangering deep coral reefs and bottom dwelling organisms as well as tuna and snapper. On top of the toxic effect of the oil, the plumes are causing oxygen levels in the Gulf to plunge. Bacteria that are rapidly reproducing as they consume the oil, are using up the oxygen and other nutrients in the Gulf. The dispersants used to break up the oil are toxic. More than 800,000 gallons have been used so far. One fisherman asked, “Why are they using dispersants that are illegal in other countries?”
The fragile wetlands are under serious threat as thick oil reaches the coast. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, more than 100 miles of shoreline has now been affected by the oil. Wetlands are nurseries for many fish, shrimp, and provide a haven for migratory birds. Wetlands are also important because they buffer the shore from Gulf hurricanes. The head of Plaquemines parish said, “Twenty-four miles of Plaquemines parish is destroyed. Everything in it is dead.”
Oil kills birds by coating their feathers, impeding their ability to keep warm and to fly. The birds ingest the oil by trying to clean the oil off their feathers, leading to kidney and liver damage. Most birds exposed to crude oil die without human intervention. Marine mammals exposed to crude oil are affected in similar ways as birds. Oil coats their fur, the animal can’t keep warm and dies of hypothermia. So far 622 birds, turtles and dolphins have been found dead.
As of May 25, the area closed to fishing encompasses 54,096 square miles – an area roughly the size of France, representing almost a quarter of the federal fishing waters in the Gulf. This oil spill has killed the livelihoods of Gulf sea fishermen.
And what is the government’s response to this catastrophe? Let BP handle it!
Why let the people who created this devastation call the shots? It’s obvious BP is not doing everything possible to stop and clean up the spill. Just as obvious, the government has the immense resources needed to go in immediately, the way it rushed to war with “shock and awe.” Certainly, no one is able to undo the tremendous damage already done. But it could limit future damage much more than BP is limiting it.
Couldn’t the government bill BP for the cost of this operation – not to mention for all the damage? Couldn’t it strip BP of its profits? And even all its holdings, if needed to pay for a massive operation?
Yes, it could. And this is what the government would do if its aim were to control as much of the damage as possible.
But the only damage control the government is doing is political – to save the image of the Obama administration. If there’s anything that shows how much government under Republicans or Democrats is run in the interests of big corporations like BP, it’s this tepid reaction to BP’s created catastrophe.
May 31, 2010
On May 27, Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned as head of the MMS (Minerals Management Service), which oversees oil and gas operations on federal lands and the outer continental shelf.
From the time it was created in 1982, the MMS has functioned not as a watchdog over the offshore oil and gas industry, but as a cover for it. MMS doesn’t write its own safety regulations. It quickly delegated this authority to the American Petroleum Institute – an oil industry trade group! Safety training for oil rig workers was turned over to another industry group about a decade ago.
The results of having the oil industry oversee itself behind the cover of the MMS have been deadly: MMS’s own records show that from 2001 to 2007, there were 1,443 serious offshore oil drilling accidents that caused 41 deaths, 302 injuries and 356 oil spills.
This situation is not unique to the oil industry. Most of the top officials who have led the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration have been former mining company managers, executives, lawyers or lobbyists. In the banking industry, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are headed by the bankers they are supposed to oversee.
Government “oversight” of the oil and gas industry, like government oversight of other industries, is only a smoke and mirrors illusion.
May 31, 2010
On May 24, dozens of workers – almost everyone in the building – marched a protest picket line in front of the St. Clair County office of Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS). This was the fifth local protest by DHS workers in five months.
The ranks of state employees have already been cut to the bone. DHS caseworkers’ average load is now 700 cases per worker.
The Michigan economy is so bad that one in four Michigan residents now gets some form of public assistance. DHS workers are expected to handle them all.
What do state government officials propose? They have the same “solution” for every problem: cut the budget, cut workers’ pay and benefits, don’t hire more workers.
State of Michigan workers refuse to keep quiet about problems getting worse for themselves and for clients they serve. They demand that politicians come up with some money.
Throughout history, politicians have always “found” money when they felt a determined and organized population refusing to accept more ridiculous cuts.
One of the picket signs at this demonstration said it all: “We are the front line, not the bottom line!”
May 31, 2010
In May, Bob King, a UAW vice-president and the anointed president-to-be, spoke to a Federal Reserve Bank audience in Detroit. He declared that workers should share in the recovery, as the auto companies recover.
This was not in King’s game plan last November, when he and his staff put full pressure on Ford workers to accept new long-term concessions, based on those imposed on GM and Chrysler workers. Under his direction, UAW staffers flooded into Ford plants with threats that workers had to accept the concessions “pattern,” or their plants could not get new work. Local officers, reps and appointees were threatened with retaliation if they did not push the concessions through.
But Ford workers rebelled. They booed King off a company stage at the Dearborn Truck Plant, and then shouted him down at a local union meeting in Kansas City, and shouted down president Gettelfinger in Louisville. They voted down the concessions pushed by King – 72%, NO.
The Ford workers’ vote was the strongest expression so far of deep dissatisfaction in the ranks of the UAW. Ford responded to this discontent by offering a sop – a special “profit-sharing” bonus of $450 for each worker.
Auto workers have a lot to be discontented about. Ford and the top UAW leadership have broken promises to auto retirees of full lifelong medical coverage. They agreed to divide the union into top, middle, and bottom wage and benefit tiers. They agreed to tear up the idea of seniority, keeping workers for years in temp and part-time status. This year, the UAW leadership signed off on GM and Delphi opening new plants, related to electric vehicles, as non-union! And top UAW leaders helped push concessions on Michigan state workers and Blue Cross workers – also members of the UAW.
In mid-June, UAW leaders will come into a convention where some of this discontent will be displayed. And THAT explains Bob King’s new-found “militancy.”
But what’s a speech worth? Workers can compare it to the long series of concessions King backed, contract after contract, regardless of whether the auto companies declared a loss – or profits.
There are quite a few workers, and doubtless some delegates as well, who won’t fall for a pretty speech or two by someone who has always put the company’s interests first.
May 31, 2010
Workers with long memories know what Bob King’s promises are worth. At the beginning of the Detroit Newspaper strike of 1995-1997, King spoke of solidarity and brought UAW workers to reinforce the lines.
But when the strikers and other workers massed in numbers large enough not only to stop the newspaper trucks but to push back the Sterling Heights police as well, King & Co. pulled the plug on mass picketing.
A strike that might have been won in a few weeks decayed into a two-year battle of attrition, with the companies holding most of the cards.
May 31, 2010
Lena Horne has died at the age of 92.
In the period when Jim Crow was blatant and legally enforced, Horne became one of this country’s most important jazz singers, beginning in the 1930s and continuing into the 1990s. She both experienced racism and used the position she staked out for herself to denounce it.
Horne first became known for her singing and dancing as a teenager, when she landed a spot in the dance chorus at the Cotton Club in Harlem. She later performed on Broadway where her talents won her roles in a number of movies in the 1940s. She became best known for her performance of the title song in the movie “Stormy Weather,” which became a signature piece for her and a jazz standard.
Though her relatively light skin opened some doors to her, Horne later recalled that her early movie roles were generally limited to a song or two that could easily be cut from the films when they played in the South, in order not to provoke racist opposition to a black actress in something other than a subservient role.
From nearly the beginning, she was known as someone ready to speak out for what she believed in. As a performer in the USO during World War II, she noticed the racist treatment of black soldiers and spoke out against it.
During the McCarthy period, when her film and television appearances were sharply curtailed, she refused to turn her back on her friendships with black communists like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois.
She became an active participant in the Civil Rights movement, taking part in numerous marches and protests. She later took a stance in favor of militant self-defense by black people.
In the 1960s, things opened up a bit for Horne, as the black mobilization pushed open doors in the society. She was able to land a couple of larger parts in film, and had additional success as a singer, recording for several record labels and putting a one-woman show on Broadway that ran for 14 years.
Even at the age of 80, Horne remained outspoken, saying, “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me and I’m like nobody else.”
May 31, 2010
Accompanying Through African Eyes, at the start of the exhibit, there is an 11-minute documentary about the life and films of African director Ousmane Sembene. It is a wonderful introduction to his films that humorously depict the life and struggles of ordinary people in Senegal. His films are available at libraries and through Netflix.
May 31, 2010
The Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) has organized a new African Art exhibit that is amazing. A walk through the exhibit moves the emotions, interests the brain and tickles the imagination.
The curator who put the exhibit together, Nii Quarcoopome, born in Ghana, worked on it and thought about it for 10 years. His devotion and enthusiasm shines through. He wanted to organize the exhibit to inspire visitors to think in new ways. He succeeded.
The exhibit looks at two cultures – African and European – and how African artists viewed their “relationship” over time.
There are magnificent works from different African countries. The time period each work came from is explained.
The descriptions that accompany the roughly 100 pieces of art are enlightening. It is important to read them to fully appreciate the exhibit. The descriptions get the viewer thinking and questioning, comparing the past to today.
The human relationships between Africans and Europeans and between different social classes within Africa are explained.
The beginning of the exhibit shows a period of beneficial exchanges between two cultures. The exhibit then goes on to expose the slave trade, colonial oppression, then modern day imperialism.
The exhibit is at its best when demonstrating art created for dual purposes – subtly mocking those in power while offering a beautiful piece for sale to a wealthy buyer. The exhibit has many pieces like this. Some will make you laugh.
The art brings us up to recent history, with a very political piece ridiculing the education system under Apartheid in South Africa.
Walking through the exhibit, viewing through African eyes – most will feel changed by the experience.
The exhibit will be in Detroit until August 8, 2010. After that it will be in Kansas City, MO.
An exhibit as wonderful as this should not be missed!