Mar 5, 2012
We might actually be paying five dollars for a gallon of gasoline by this summer. That’s how fast gas prices have been rising.
In no way are these sudden price increases due to an energy shortage, as the news media and the so-called experts pretend. Even the U.S. Energy Department admits that both oil and gasoline inventories are at “their upper limits.”
No, gas prices are being driven up by the big banks and the oil companies.
The big banks never take possession of a drop of actual oil. They just speculate on it. They trade the rights to the same barrel of oil back and forth between each other dozens of times, boosting the price each time. To them, every scare story about a possible war or supply disruption is just another profit opportunity. Recently, oil traders have been playing the Iran scare story to the hilt and laughing all the way ... to the bank.
As for the oil companies, they thrive on higher prices. Last year, the five biggest oil companies – ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell – raised prices to their highest levels on record, up until that time. Even though they produced 4% less oil, they still raked in a record 137 billion dollars in profits – up 75% from 2010. High prices have allowed these five companies to make more than one trillion dollars in profits from 2001 to 2011.
These massive companies are squeezing ever bigger profits out of the working population. They just reach in and take it out of our pocket. It is exactly like a wage cut.
And the same goes for all the other basic necessities: food, electricity, gas, heating oil, clothing, health care, and housing costs, rent, mortgage payments, insurance. All these prices have been skyrocketing, as companies in every industry try to squeeze out still more profit for themselves.
Higher prices on necessities are driving down the standard of living of the entire working population. More families are being faced with impossible choices, what necessities to spend money on, and what to do without. It’s much worse for those on fixed incomes. Almost half the elderly who are living on their own can no longer afford some of the basic necessities. They have to choose between medicine and rent and electricity.
Stop this robbery! Wages and benefits should automatically be indexed to prices. Every time prices go up, wages and benefits should go up also – immediately.
Of course, workers can’t trust the government to tell us when prices go up. Government officials already falsify the Consumer Price Index, the official measure of inflation, so much that the cost-of-living allowance for Social Security benefits and government pensions has increased only once in the last three years. Government statistics are nothing but a cover-up for the thieves who rob us blind with higher prices.
We need a real indexing of wages to prices – direct and immediate. Working people, all the ordinary people could record the real price increases. After all, we know what’s going on. We go in the stores to buy food. We pay for the gasoline, the doctors’ visits, prescriptions, clothes, etc. We pay the utilities.
But recording the price increases isn’t enough – we already do that each in our own way today. We have to use the forces we have, bring ourselves together to impose our will on these thieves.
The wealthy capitalist class that raises prices today is the same wealthy capitalist class that tries to keep our wages down.
Enough of this. If the filthy rich capitalists raise prices – they must be made to raise our wages and pensions.
There is no other answer to inflation.
Mar 5, 2012
March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day celebrated around the world for more than 100 years. But it is seldom celebrated in the United States where the first Women’s Day took place in 1909. That celebration was called by the Socialist Party, to commemorate a strike of women textile workers in 1908.
At a 1910 conference of women from 17 countries preceding the Socialist Second International meeting, two German women proposed a strategy to promote equal rights for women, including suffrage. In 1911, International Women’s Day saw more than a million people throughout Europe demonstrating for women’s rights.
In a number of countries, women have managed to acquire the same formal rights as men. Yet everywhere in the world, women remain victims of violence and discrimination. For that reason, these rights remain laws on paper not carried out in fact or by the customs of a particular place.
In the U.S. women earn 77 cents on average for every dollar men earn, and the difference in pay tends to get worse in a recession. In this country, the right to an abortion and even to obtain birth control has come under worse and worse attack – to the point that, in most areas of the country, abortion is not in fact available, and birth control barely available.
In 2005, an average of three women were murdered every day by a husband or domestic partner. Women in the U.S. experience almost five million assaults and rapes every year. In 2006, that translated to more than 230,000 women sexually attacked – according to official reports. The actual number is much higher, because most assaults go unreported.
Everywhere the struggle of women for the right not to be victimized is an ongoing and urgent fight.
Mar 5, 2012
Rush Limbaugh, radio mouthpiece for the worst right-wing propaganda, called a college law student a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
The Georgetown University law student had hoped to testify before Congress on the birth control coverage issue, but only men were allowed to testify.
The student then testified at a mock hearing in which she advocated that birth control should be paid for. She gave an example of a friend of hers who had serious health problems due to lack of birth control.
Limbaugh turned this argument into comments that she “must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.” He claimed the student told the congressional hearing that she was having so much sex, she was going broke buying contraceptives.
Lies. Of course the young women said no such thing. But truth has never been an obstacle for Limbaugh.
Mar 5, 2012
On February 8, in Hamtramck, Michigan, a young woman walked out of the home of a man she had dated. She walked out against his wishes. He fired shots at her and another woman as they drove away, grazing one of them in the head.
On February 28, the man demanded that the woman drop the charges she had filed against him. When she refused his offer of money, he kidnapped her and her roommate at gunpoint, firing a volley of shots at her stepfather. By March 4, the two young women were still missing.
Attacks on women’s rights fill hate radio. Broadcasters and candidates for president alike are allowed to spew unlimited venom against women independent enough to want to control their own bodies. This devaluation of women can only end in one extreme: a mentality that is ready to shoot and kill, if a woman simply disagrees with a man.
Two hundred years ago, women’s rights did not exist. A woman was considered to be owned by her husband, disposable at his will. The events in Hamtramck could only happen in a society in the grip of that kind of mentality.
It’s a fundamental measure of how far society is being thrown backward, as capitalism decays.
Mar 5, 2012
The non-profit group Food Research and Action Center just reported that almost 20% of people couldn’t always afford to feed everyone in their family during the past year. And according to a recent report from the group Wider Opportunities for Women, about 45% of all the people in a recent survey reported not being able to cover their basic living expenses such as food, shelter and transportation.
This, in the country that has long styled itself as the richest country in the world.
It is – for those very wealthy: the one% or the half of one% or even the tenth of one%!
Mar 5, 2012
Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works is issuing more than four million dollars in refunds to 38,000 Baltimore water customers who were overcharged. Another 17,000 customers were also owed refunds in Baltimore County.
Do city water officials not know about overcharging? Or about customers who get no bills? Or about estimated meter readings instead of real ones? Of course they know.
A Baltimore woman has spent the past five years publicizing all kinds of water overcharges, like $9,757 for a water bill in a park that has no working fountains!
Is this the reason the mayor of Baltimore has announced the city will replace the system’s water meters and the billing system? No, it is thanks to another woman who received two bills for $800 of water usage in three months, instead of the likely minimum of $134.
That woman happens to be the city comptroller, which explains why the city began the water audits!
Mar 5, 2012
Many hundreds of people recently waited hours on a cold morning in Washington, D.C. to apply for 160 apartments with subsidized rent. This past November people waited overnight in the rain in a three-block line for 100 apartments.
The city’s public housing waiting list is more than 36,000 families – around 14,000 of them homeless. Some have been on the list for 10 or 15 years.
It’s no mystery why so many people need affordable housing. Developers got rid of a third of the low-rent housing from 2000 to 2007 to make way for more expensive units. Rent for two-bedroom apartments in D.C. skyrocketed to an average of more than $1,400.
In addition, the city closed a third of its public housing units since 2000. Just as elsewhere in the country, local government has been replacing publicly owned housing complexes with voucher programs like Section 8. In that program people pay 30% of their income to a private landlord, and the government pays the rest of their outrageously high rent directly to the landlord.
Landlords and developers profit, but working people are left out in the cold!
Mar 5, 2012
At an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) hearing in December, the safety of a birth control pill made by pharmaceutical giant Bayer was reviewed. The public hearing was packed with surviving family members of women who died, and by those who were harmed by taking this medication.
But the big news was the so-called “conflict of interest” on the committee. The FDA had barred a doctor on its drug safety committee, Sidney Wolfe, a consumer protection advocate, from voting due to an “intellectual conflict of interest.”
Here’s the “conflict.” You be the judge.
In a Ralph Nader style consumer guide that Dr. Wolfe edits, Worst Pills, Best Pills News, he explained that an ingredient in the pill under consideration has been linked to heart attacks, blood clots and dozens of deaths that have already been reported to the FDA.
The controversy does not end there. While the FDA took away Dr. Wolfe’s right to vote, they ALLOWED votes by five panel members who have been paid financially by the company that produced the pill, Bayer.
Surprise, surprise – all of these conflicted panelists voted that the drug is safe enough to stay on the market. If THEY had been barred for financial conflict of interest, the vote to allow the drug would not have carried.
What can the public conclude from the FDA’s actions? If you fight publicly for drug safety, that’s an “intellectual conflict of interest” – no doubt, with drug makers’ profits!
But if you take big amounts of money from pharmaceutical companies, THAT conflict of interest makes you the kind of person the FDA – and drug makers – want on their “safety panel.”
Safety be damned – that about sums it up!
Mar 5, 2012
Remember A.I.G.? The giant insurance company that lost its rear playing in the subprime mortgage casino in 2008? Remember the giant bailout of 182 BILLION DOLLARS of taxpayer money given to A.I.G. by the U.S. Treasury, to cover A.I.G.’s losses?
Along with that bailout was a second unreported bailout! The Treasury also gave A.I.G. an exemption from tax laws that apply to bankrupted and bailed-out companies.
This exemption means that A.I.G. can, for tax purposes, pretend the bailout never happened. A.I.G. can claim net losses of more than 25 billion dollars, and can use those losses as tax credits for years and years into the future.
Taxpayers will lose another 25 billion dollars or more, while A.I.G. executives and shareholders make out like bandits. Which, of course, is what they are, with the U.S. Treasury as their inside man.
Mar 5, 2012
In Afghanistan, a week of mass demonstrations throughout the country began on February 21. Angry protesters, armed with rocks, pistols and wooden sticks, took to the streets and battled U.S. and Afghan security forces.
The demonstrations had been set off, according to the U.S. news media, by reports of U.S. troops burning Korans. If anything, that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the 11-year U.S. war and occupation, outrage has been heaped on outrage. U.S. special operations forces break into Afghan homes regularly in night raids; U.S. “kill teams” hunt and assassinate Afghan civilians; U.S. air strikes repeatedly take lives and wreak destruction. On February 8, two weeks before the first mass demonstrations, U.S. bombs slaughtered eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, in Kapsia Province in northern Afghanistan.
By the end of the week of protest, U.S. and Afghan security forces had killed 30 protesters and wounded hundreds more. But the U.S. also suffered casualties, often committed by Afghan security forces who were supposedly working with the U.S. military. After U.S. troops killed two protesters during demonstrations outside a small American base near the Pakistan border, an Afghan soldier shot and killed two American soldiers and then escaped into the crowd of demonstrators.
No base or office is secure for U.S. troops. On February 25, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and a major in Kabul were shot in the back of the head while working in the command and control center of the Afghan Interior Ministry, an area of restricted access for only an elite group of Afghan officers using a special code. Immediately afterward, the U.S. and NATO responded by pulling all advisers out of Afghan ministries. When the Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak called Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to offer his condolences, “Secretary Panetta ... urged the Afghan government to take decisive action to protect coalition forces and curtail the violence,” said Panetta’s press secretary.
The futility of such a plea was illustrated on March 1. At a joint Afghan-NATO base in Kandahar province, an Afghan platoon leader and a literacy instructor at the base killed a tower guard and attacked a barracks with gunfire and a rocket, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding four others.
For the past 11 years, the U.S. military has spent tens of billions of dollars arming and training Afghan security forces. But, as the New York Times put it, these attacks are “a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.” Even before the latest attacks, 70 U.S. and other coalition members had been killed and 110 wounded since 2007, in 45 separate episodes involving Afghan security forces or private Afghan security contractors. Seventy-five% of the attacks have occurred in the past two years.
Only last summer, President Obama in a national address cynically declared that the U.S. occupation had accomplished its main goals and “the tide of war is receding.” He then used that supposed “success” to justify keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan until at least 2014.
The events of the past weeks show that almost all of Afghan society is rising up against the U.S. occupation.
U.S. Troops Out Immediately!
Mar 5, 2012
Reunion is an island in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of southern Africa with 800,000 people. It is an overseas department (roughly a state) of France. The following account is translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
On the night of February 21st, riots broke out in several cities on the island of Reunion, ending a movement started by some Reunion bosses. After an increase in the price of petroleum products, the trucking company bosses of the island decided to block roads to get a 25 cent cut per liter in the price of diesel fuel. Following mediation by the prefect (a city official), the General Council gave them a fuel oil cut, also giving it to artisans, traders and farmers, at a so-called “professional” price, which was still high.
After launching their movement, the truckers, to gain support from the population, demanded lower prices for consumers. On February 21st in the city of Le Port, their trucks blocked access to the Reunion Oil Products Company, an affiliate of the giant oil companies Shell and Total, to demand a cut of 25 cents. But they weren’t the only ones there. Two hundred inhabitants were also there, demanding that everyone get the cut and that it be extended to the necessities of life.
Faced with angry inhabitants, the head of the truckers association decided the trucks should leave, on the pretext that the prefect had agreed to a new meeting on February 24th.
But the residents of Le Port, who could no longer put up with an exploding cost of living while their incomes were frozen, didn’t intend to let the trucks leave. They cursed at the leader of the truckers association and blocked the trucks.
Later that night, the anger spread, not only to Le Port but to the neighborhood of Chaudron, in the capital of Saint Denis, where groups attacked the big stores, showing the exasperation felt by a great part of the poor population, exploited by the local and national bosses, condemned to unemployment and bled dry to fill the wallets of the import-export bosses.
The trucking bosses are ready to compromise with the prefecture because they already got a cut in the price of diesel fuel. But the poor population of Reunion rightly thinks that nothing has been done for it, and it is beginning to demonstrate on its own behalf.
Mar 5, 2012
The militants of Spark deeply feel the death of Gérard Séné as one of our own. Gérard was a revolutionary communist militant from the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. We are reproducing below a translation of the tribute that appeared in the newspaper of his own organization, Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight).
Our comrade Gérard Séné died on February 3rd, at 68 years of age in Montpellier, France. He was buried on February 16th in the Goyave cemetery in Guadeloupe.
He had to go to Montpellier in 2011 to fight cancer, a process lasting a year before the disease conquered him.
Our comrade was born on July 31, 1943 and grew up in Guadeloupe. His parents died when he was very young and he was raised by an aunt.
In 1963, Gérard left for France to study at the university, because the islands had no higher education back then. But soon his militant engagement and politics occupied all his time, energy and preoccupations.
Our comrade was one of the main founders of our political organization, Combat Ouvrier, in Guadeloupe and Martinique. In November 1965, in Paris, a core of West Indian students, with Gérard as the main leader and organizer, launched the “Manifesto of the West Indian League of Communist Workers” in a little mimeographed paper called Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle). One of the main articles was “The Flag of the Masses Will Be the Red Flag,” which insisted on the need to build a revolutionary communist workers party in the so-called French West Indies. This text condemned the nationalism extolled by the independence movement at that time; it insisted on the need for the proletariat of Guadeloupe and Martinique to be organizationally and politically independent in the revolutionary tradition of the October 1917 Russian revolution, that of Lenin and Trotsky; it opposed Stalinism, which had infected the majority of the Communist parties and large parts of the working class.
The understanding of such a program was facilitated by contact with comrades of the Trotskyist group Voix Ouvrière (Workers Voice), a part of the Internationalist Communist Union, today Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the organization of Arlette Laguiller and Nathalie Artaud. The theoretical aid of those comrades who already had a longer political and militant experience was valuable despite the fact that they were only a small group at that time.
Gérard, through his contacts and discussions with the comrades of Voix Ouvrière, was able to more effectively convince the little group of West Indian students of the correctness of the revolutionary communist program – Leninist and Trotskyist. Notably, he led the political and ideological struggle against nationalism, Third Worldism and Castroism inside the General Association of Guadeloupian Students and the General Association of West Indian and Guyanese Workers. The group animated by Gérard had to fight against the program of the GONG (Group of the National Organization of Guadeloupe) to put forth the specific interests of the working class, facing people who objectively represented the interests of the petty bourgeoisie.
The little group with its paper Lutte Ouvrière and its workplace newsletter Gro-ka, both denouncing the exploitation of the workers, campaigned for several years among West Indian emigrants in France. Gro-ka was written in the Creole language spoken by the West Indian people, and was distributed mainly to workers in the Post Office and hospitals.
In 1971, the group decided to return to Guadeloupe, and then to Martinique. Gérard continued his role as organizer, educator, militant, adviser and leader alongside his comrades until hit by cancer in the beginning of 2010.
In particular, he had the opportunity to become personally involved in several strikes of banana workers in the region of Capesterre. Also, he was the candidate of Combat Ouvrier in local and legislative elections several times.
At the same time, Gérard also contributed to the building of groups of our international tendency, the Internationalist Communist Union, in the African emigration in France with UATCI (the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers) and with the OTR (Revolutionary Workers Organization) in Haiti. He also was able to make several trips to Latin America to discuss with other groups and organizations of the Trotskyist movement.
Gérard devoted his life to revolutionary communism, to the struggle to build an organization able to embody and defend these ideas. He did it with remarkable devotion and work. He had great capacities as a speaker and especially as a debater and polemicist.
Gérard loved life, good food and music, especially jazz. Passionate, very cultivated and curious about everything, he had a thirst for knowledge that always pushed him to try to go further, to read, to endlessly gather information.
On February 16th, his family and his comrades of Guadeloupe and Martinique paid homage to him, as he wished it, in simplicity and discretion, concluding with a vigorous singing of the Internationale, the song of the workers, the song of the communists.
Mar 5, 2012
Caterpillar is going to build its new tractor and excavator plant in Athens, Georgia. The company said it will invest 200 million dollars, and the plant will have 1,400 workers. State and local governments will give Caterpillar 78 million dollars in incentives and tax credits. Caterpillar pitted 100 cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico against one another to see who would give the most. This company doesn’t want to pay taxes, yet expects taxpayers to pay big bucks for its plants.
What a parasite!
Mar 5, 2012
Tim Cook, Apple CEO, recently claimed, “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain.” Yes – we can see exactly how the Steve Jobs-founded company cares.
Apple contracts out work to dozens of firms who assemble Apple computers, the iPhone and the iPad, especially in Asia, where even skilled manpower costs a lot less than in the U.S. and is more flexible.
In China, almost 700,000 workers work in assembly plants for Apple contractors, in different stages of production, for a wage of $15 a day, six days a week, 12 hours a day. Their working conditions are very hard, to the extent that in some cases, “their legs swell until they can hardly walk.”
A large number of the workers live within company buildings, packed in collective dormitories, in order to be available if needed. For example, one night due to a sudden modification in an assembly line, 8,000 workers were awakened in the middle of the night, given just a cookie and a cup of tea, and were sent to assemble glass screens on phones. There are banners on a factory wall saying, “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”
The biggest Apple contractor is the Taiwanese company Foxconn, which makes 40% of all electronics in the world. Foxconn has many factories where it assembles the iPhone. Each of these factories is a virtual city, with 230,000 workers. In Foxconn factories, vapors from chemicals have poisoned workers. Explosions due to aluminum dust released when the phones were polished killed workers and wounded hundreds. In 2010, a wave of suicides led to large, angry demonstrations.
Apple may pretend to know nothing about this. But the workers laboring for Apple in China will remember how the corporation treats them right up to the day their anger explodes.
Mar 5, 2012
Last July, a Georgia report indicated widespread cheating on student curriculum tests in the Atlanta Public Schools.
For ten years, APS administrators – from the Superintendent on down through school principals – pressured their teachers to change student answers on the tests in order to show great gains year-to-year. Teachers were threatened with firing if they didn’t change the scores or with lawsuits if they tried to blow the whistle on the practice.
Needless to say, some teachers felt they had no choice but to go along for the sake of keeping their jobs. Meanwhile, the Superintendent, Dr. Beverly Hall, was showered with praise for her “miracle work” in the APS.
Now that her work is exposed as fraud, who is being made to pay? The teachers.
Last week the district, led by new Superintendent Erroll Davis, gave 120 educators a choice: resign within 24 hours, or be fired.
Davis is blaming the lowest rung of the totem pole for practices forced on them from the top!
Not only that, but this cheating is no surprise. It’s practically been forced on every school district in the country by George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law, passed, hmm, 10 years ago, mandating yearly progress toward 100% proficiency by 2013. An impossible goal, even for the best schools!
If schools don’t meet the goals, they can be shut down, gutted of all their employees, or turned into charter schools. And, of course, the government is not giving the poorest school districts any extra resources so that they can even try to meet those goals.
Of COURSE school districts across the country have been discovered cheating! The whole education “reform” is a fraud from top to bottom!
Mar 5, 2012
Officials of the California community college system said last week that they will have to cut more classes and jobs – for the third time during the current school year!
Since 2008, community college system officials have cut classes, eliminated entire summer sessions, laid off teachers and other workers, and raised fees – by nearly 40% this year alone.
Officials justify these latest cuts by referring to a budget gap, amounting to 149 million dollars. Officials say the deficit exists because too many students are receiving financial aid – in the form of fee waivers – to attend classes.
Yes there were fee waivers. California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. And bosses continue to take advantage of the high unemployment by cutting workers’ pay. The fee waivers were the politicians’ promise to students that help was available in the midst of the crisis.
But these waivers are not the basic cause of the budget gap. That was the result of cuts the state of California made in the budget of its community colleges since 2008 – 809 million dollars, five times the budget gap.
Every cut in community college funding was money poured into the greedy hands of big business through tax cuts and subsidies. So get it back from big business!
Mar 5, 2012
Who else has been caught in school cheating scandals? None other than Michelle Rhee.
Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools until she was kicked out by voters in 2010, had been the poster child for the drastic education “reform” pushed by the Bush and Obama administrations – including school take-overs, teacher firings, and multiple charter schools.
Rhee was supposed to be the proof that the ridiculous Bush-Obama “reform” goals were attainable. Even after D.C. parents got rid of her, the Obama administration has been pushing and praising her. Just recently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan shared a stage with her at an education conference. He opened his remarks by saying, “This is an amazing panel, so I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
But since last summer, she’s been investigated for inflating student test scores through cheating.
In other words, her success is a lie, and the poster child is a fraud. That’s what Arne Duncan is pushing!
Mar 5, 2012
On Thursday, March 1, demonstrations took place across the country against cuts to higher education.
In California, these protests were the biggest: thousands of students, educators and supporters demonstrated at more than 30 college campuses across the state to protest rising tuition and drastic funding cuts to California state schools. Students even forced one school to close down for the day.
Students and teachers are absolutely right to protest! Across the country, governments are cutting their funding to public colleges and universities. These schools then turn around and jack up their tuition by up to 20% every year – making sure that the students who attend these schools are either rich enough to be able to afford the outrageous costs, or so in debt that they will never, ever be able to pay those debts back. The schools and the states are helping to enslave these students to the banks for the rest of their working lives. What a gift to the banks!
The demonstrators are right: ALL education should be free to ALL!