The Spark

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

Issue no. 919 — July 16 - 30, 2012

Editorial:
No Way to Cool Off?
Don’t Blame Nature!

Jul 16, 2012

Overnight, Friday, June 29, the eastern third of the country, running from Kentucky and Tennessee to the Atlantic Coast was hit by what the National Weather Service called a “derecho” storm. And two-thirds of the country was about to be ravaged by a 10-day super heat wave, unprecedented in length, this early in the summer.

The Friday night storm – a long-line of ferocious thunderstorms, producing a wide band of damaging winds, up to 90 miles per hour in some places – knocked out electrical service all up and down the East Coast. Amtrak service was suspended. Most airports had long delays. 911 service was shut down near D.C., and hospitals went onto emergency generators – taking only urgent cases. Millions of people lost electric service – in other words, their air conditioning and fans. A week later, some homes in the Baltimore-D.C. area were still without power.

And all of this as an oppressive heat wave began to break records. On Sunday, July 1, you could have driven from Denver to St. Louis to Washington, D.C., running into 100 degree plus temperatures everywhere. On Friday, July 6 more than 200 heat records were set in cities up and down the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. Saturday, that record was broken. St. Louis hit over 100 for ten straight days in a row.

Dozens of people died – no one even knows how many, since the Public Health Service, hit by “budget cuts” has eliminated much of its record keeping. Thousands more suffered illnesses caused by the heat.

None of that stopped businesses – where they had power – from working. Not so bad, if you worked in air-conditioning. But many offices were without, as authorities scrambled to “conserve” power. And factories, it goes without saying, were brutally hot – stealing how many days and weeks off each worker’s life just in that one hot stretch.

Heat, so they say, is a natural phenomenon. Nothing to be done about it, except live with it, grit your teeth and get through it. Not so!

Heat may be one of nature’s tricks – but nature is only one part of the problem, and the most benign part.

Summer heat, without a doubt, is a product of the natural environment, but yearly temperatures have been going up, decade after decade, and today are at their highest point since record-keeping began in the late 1800s – that is, about the point when human industrial activity began to help the globe heat up. Not only are temperatures going up, they are going up more rapidly now, than in the past.

Not that this activity necessarily would have created the hotbox we are now in. But left to their own devices, the captains of industry – capitalist to the core – pushed production to make the most profit possible, with the least expense for protecting the environment, not to mention for those who work.

The same ideology pervaded the electric companies, which have cut back and cut back on maintenance. When the storm hit, long-dead tree branches the companies no longer trimmed brought down the wires; workers the companies laid off were no longer there to make the repairs. When the heat shot up, outdated and overburdened generating equipment shut down. But boy, have the electric utilities made such a lot of profit setting us up for this calamity.

The same mentality pervades public officials who divert as much money as they can from public services, in order to give it to the capitalists who pull their strings. Air conditioning didn’t work on the subways and the buses – because maintenance had been cut back. Not enough pools and cooling centers were available, for the same reason. Who checked on the elderly who had no relatives nearby? The public health service doesn’t even keep a registry listing who those at-risk elderly are, and where they live.

Nature may have been playing a small trick on us – but capitalist organization of the whole society turned it into a catastrophe.

We don’t have to grit our teeth and bear that. This capitalist organization of the economy can be taken on, trumped, disposed of, replaced. Humanity – more exactly, the working class – has the power to do just that.

Pages 2-3

Penn State Coverup:
Big Business as Usual

Jul 16, 2012

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s report on the Penn State scandal stated clearly what everyone knew had to be true: University officials knew about Jerry Sandusky’s crimes from at least 1998; and at every level from the very top on down, they did nothing to put a stop to his abuse of young boys.

The list includes his boss, long-time football coach Joe Paterno, as well as athletic directors and top administrators at the college itself. Every one of them knew that crimes against young children were being perpetrated – and every one of them chose to allow them to keep happening for at least fourteen more years.

No one should be surprised that this could happen. In this society, sports are a big business – and college football is one of the biggest. Penn State’s football program has pulled in millions upon millions of dollars for the university, Paterno and everyone around him. Next to that, the lives of any number of helpless, young boys were expendable – the cost of doing business, or of making sure that the bucks kept rolling in. In this class society, these young victims were easy to ignore – they were poor; they and their families were all the more powerless, and their lives were all the more worthless to all of these moneyed men.

If anyone has any doubt just how little all these administrators cared about the lives of the victims, they need only take a look at the latest news: In early 2011, just as Joe Paterno and other administrators at Penn State were learning that prosecutors were finally investigating Sandusky – that the secrets they all knew about and had helped to hide for years were soon going to come out – Paterno renegotiated his contract, a year early. And as the investigation went on, the university’s president reached an agreement with Paterno – to give him a RAISE!

It’s the disgusting logic of the capitalist system: where profits are involved, even the most vulnerable human lives will be damned, despised and destroyed.

Such a system deserves to die.

Student Loans:
Saving 6 Billion, Losing 18

Jul 16, 2012

President Obama recently signed into law a bill maintaining the government subsidy of new student loans for one more year. The interest rate on new student loans would otherwise have doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%.

During a big media blitz at the signing of the bill, Obama and Congressional leaders from both parties claimed the extension of the lower loan rates for another year was a good deal for the country’s college students. However, to pay for these lower rates the bill also will limit students to a maximum of six years of loans, whereas many students who must work nearly full-time to go to school take longer than this. And instead of having a six-month grace period after they graduate before they have to pay on their loans, students will now have to start paying immediately, job or no job. And if they go to graduate school, they will have to pay even while still in school.

This new deal will save American students a total of six billion dollars. But the permanent changes in the loan program will cost students 18 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

Not a good deal at all – but will the headlines fool people during the election campaign?

Underfunding Already Underfunded Pension Plans

Jul 16, 2012

New rules quietly approved by Congress and quietly signed into law by Obama will allow corporations to reduce the contributions they are supposed to make to fund their workers’ pensions.

Four of every five private pension plans are already underfunded. The average plan has only about 80% of the money it needs to cover its current pension obligations. Yet the changes just made in the pension rules will put pension plans more at risk. This year, for example, companies will have to contribute only 55 billion dollars of the 80 billion required under the old rules.

Even under the old rules, many companies weren’t making required payments. But this change in the rules, instead of reducing this problem, guarantees that even more of the plans will end up going bankrupt, leaving retired workers out in the cold.

It may be an election year, with the two parties rabidly attacking each other – but this doesn’t stop them from working together to do the capitalists’ bidding.

JPMorgan Chase Sucks Up the Wealth

Jul 16, 2012

JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest banks in the world, recently announced that they lost 5.8 billion dollars on botched trade deals last year.

Poor little JP! In the meantime, they reported second-quarter profits of a staggering five billion dollars! Five billion dollars profit in three months! That is incredible!

Where did all this money come from? Why, us, of course. This huge banking establishment takes in wealth produced from our daily sweat and labor, money stolen from underwater home owners, money gained from repossession of houses, interest money stolen from us on every credit card and loan transaction. They are like a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up all the wealth on the planet for their own fun and speculation.

Maybe we should go out and botch some trade deals too, and demand reimbursement on a scale of four to one!

24-Hour Shifts at 911 Call Center

Jul 16, 2012

A woman in Montgomery County, Maryland, recently called 911 when her husband had breathing trouble and turned blue. But then she listened horrified for six minutes as the dispatcher slept and snored. The dispatcher, an experienced uniformed firefighter, happened to be 17 hours into a 24-hour shift.

Fire and rescue dispatchers regularly work 24-hour shifts in that emergency call center. The fire chief defended the inhuman hours, claiming they make it easier for workers to plan daycare and travel. The vice president of the firefighters union that negotiated the long shifts even called them normal! And yes, dispatchers work 10 hours in Washington, D.C. and 12 hours in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Politicians impose policies like these killer shifts in order to get more work out of fewer public workers.

The man in Montgomery County survived. But who will it be next time?

Capitalist society needs crisis intervention!

30 Years Ago:
The Murder of Vincent Chin:
Racism Divides the Working Class

Jul 16, 2012

June 19th marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese-American draftsman, in Detroit, Michigan. He was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a supervisor from a Chrysler plant and his laid-off stepson. The two had earlier yelled racist insults at Chin and his friends. Thinking Chin was Japanese, they yelled, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.”

During the depths of recession in 1982, plant closings, layoffs, and big concessions were blamed on Japanese imports by the media, politicians, and companies. These lies were also spouted by UAW officials. Some union officials organized workers to smash Japanese cars with sledge hammers in PR events, and the UAW distributed racist bumper stickers.

The murder of Vincent Chin was a kind of lynching, for which the UAW had laid the groundwork. Most workers did not go out and murder someone they thought was Japanese. But the propaganda directed auto workers to place blame for lost jobs on a nationality, rather than the policies of the corporations’ drive for profits.

But most of the jobs were lost to speed-up and outsourcing inside the U.S. Much of the work that used to be done by Ford, Chrysler and GM workers is now being done by companies like Penske, CEVA, OmniChem, Bridgewater, Johnson Controls, etc. where workers are making $11 or $12 or $15 an hour, rather than $28.

So today, faced with another economic crisis, the bosses are again using anti-transplant, anti-Chinese, anti-Mexican and anti-Japanese propaganda to divert workers’ anger about the loss of jobs and decent wages and benefits. They are trying to focus our anger against the wrong people, but that only works if we let them do it to us.

Consumer Price Index Tricks of the Trade

Jul 16, 2012

The news media has been announcing what they call good news about the consumer price index. They say that prices actually decreased in May, and only increased slightly (1.7% before seasonal adjustment) over the last 12 months. They say that indexes for natural gas and fuel oil declined. But they admit to a rise in electricity. Really?!

Are we supposed to celebrate? They say that in June, price rises in food were relatively flat. Yes – because they were already sky-high!

They should tell us something we don’t know about. These experts, advisors, adjusters and educators certainly can’t be doing the shopping every week. Hamburger helper boxes are flying off the shelf as the price of meat climbs. And if you break into a sweat about it, don’t expect to be able to cool off because the air conditioner runs off of what? Electricity!

Pages 4-5

EMS:
A Dictatorship against Detroit Teachers and Students

Jul 16, 2012

The Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts, has imposed a new contract on the district’s teachers. It attacks the teachers – and it hurts the students.

Among other things, the new contract continues a 10% wage cut imposed on the teachers last year; it takes away a sick pay cash-out on retirement and pay for teachers who have been assaulted; and cuts unpaid maternity leave to the legal minimum of 12 weeks. It lowers life insurance pay-outs and raises dental care co-pays from 10 to 20%.

No negotiations took place; this contract was imposed on the teachers a day after their previous 3-year contract expired on June 30.

But worst of all is what the contract does to the DPS students. As if conditions in classrooms weren’t bad enough – now class sizes will grow much bigger. In grades K-3, the class size could grow to 41 before school officials will need to take action to level them out; in grades 4-5, it would take 46 students in a class. And for grades 6-12, it would take a whopping 61 students in a class before action must be taken to level class sizes out!

Steve Wasko, DPS spokesman, tried to play down the numbers, saying “the district does not intend to have classes at those sizes listed.” But then he couldn’t explain why those numbers would be there in the first place!

One teacher said it well: “I don’t think there would be any teaching going on. It would be babysitting.”

That’s it in a nutshell: Roy Roberts, and the money powers behind him, could care less about teaching Detroit’s children. They just want to shove the kids into a locked-down school for 12 years. The mayor wants them off the streets!

There Should Be a Right to Read!

Jul 16, 2012

The ACLU has filed suit against the Highland Park Schools and the State of Michigan for failing to educate its students. The ACLU says that these students have a right to be able to read, and that this right is being violated.

They’re absolutely right – and it couldn’t be more clear: Highland Park is a poor city completely surrounded by Detroit. Three quarters of Highland Park students lack basic literacy skills to meet grade level.

One Highland Park parent put it this way: “I want my children to have the same highest level of education as Governor Rick Snyder’s children have.”

No matter what eventually happens with this lawsuit, we can be sure it will not change things for poor students in Highland Park and across the state.

If laws changed things, we’d all have an equally excellent education.

After all, Michigan law already recognizes – on paper – a right to be educated properly, and to be able to read. The law reads, in part, “a pupil who does not score satisfactorily ... shall be provided special assistance reasonably expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months.”

Whole districts, in poor and working class cities, have students not receiving a satisfactory education. But instead of providing special assistance, the State of Michigan does the opposite: it demands that schools in poor districts cut their budgets, close schools and lay off employees. It appoints Emergency Managers to hand schools and whole districts to private interests. After Governor Snyder appointed an Emergency Manager of the district, Highland Park became one of two school districts in Michigan that plan to turn over all of their schools to a for-profit charter school company next year.

Plans to privatize districts with charters drain even more money out of poor school districts – exactly the opposite of what should be done: put MORE resources into the schools.

A right to read? In modern-day society, it’s a necessity. But it’s a necessity systematically denied to poor and working class children throughout a society organized to serve the capitalists.

The children of the poor and working class will get the education they need, only when workers take things in hand to impose their own needs.

Scranton Mayor Needs a Reality Check

Jul 16, 2012

The mayor of Pennsylvania’s sixth largest city cut the pay of all city workers to $7.25 an hour – the minimum wage – and sent paychecks out to the workers’ houses at that reduced rate. Brave or crazy? Maybe both!

Of course, the mayor had a dozen reasons: structural deficits, unpaid bills, banks unwilling to lend money; city council refusing to make payment on debts; resignations.... None of these has anything to do with the workers’ rate of pay.

He ignored everybody; the unions, a court injunction, and the workers and did what he wanted to do: “MAKE THE WORKERS PAY!”

He did what he wanted – the workers can do the same. He expects the city to run? The workers can make HIM run. He would look good picking up the garbage himself while working overtime driving a bus. And of course, there is NO OVERTIME COMPENSATION! Let him and the Scranton bosses take THAT to the bank!

Municipal Bankruptcy:
Used Against Stockton City Workers

Jul 16, 2012

After the city of Stockton California declared bankruptcy, becoming the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, city officials announced they were immediately cutting retiree health benefits.

Despite all the propaganda, pension costs did not cause Stockton’s bankruptcy. Debt to the banks did. Less than a decade ago, the city‘s finances went deep in debt to redevelop the downtown river front area. It floated municipal bonds to pay for the construction of a gleaming new 10,000 seat indoor sports arena, a 5,000 seat minor league ballpark, a 650-space parking garage, and a 66-slip marina ... to the great profit of the banks, construction companies, real estate developers, and professional sports teams.

The banks and city officials assured the public that the debt would be financed by growing property tax revenues. After all, wasn’t there a homebuilding boom? That boom was fueled by the very, very profitable subprime mortgages. When the housing bubble collapsed in 2008, it left Stockton with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, an unemployment rate that is twice as high as the national average ... and plunging property tax revenues.

To continue to make its debt payments over the last four years, city officials slashed services to the bone, while laying off 43% of most job categories. Now, under bankruptcy, city officials are seeking to take even more.

Stockton is obviously not alone. Since Stockton declared bankruptcy at the end of June, two more California cities, Mammoth Lakes and San Bernardino, also filed for bankruptcy, with similar calls to slash employment and pension benefits. Detroit and Benton Harbor, Michigan, have imposed cuts, threatening bankruptcy.

Municipal governments are using bankruptcy to mount new attacks on their workforce, just like private companies in steel, auto, and airlines have done for decades.

And yet all of these scare mongers give away vast sums of money to the banks and other big owners of capital. The amazing and rotten capitalist system at work!

California:
Pay Cut, Whether or Not You Agree!

Jul 16, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, talking about budget deficits, pushed through a new pay cut on California State workers: 12 unpaid “furlough” days over the next year – one a month, amounting to a 4.6% pay cut.

This pay cut will make a big dent in state workers’ pocket books – especially since it comes on top of a 14% cut in 2009 under then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

SEIU Local 1000, which represents 93,000 California state workers – about half of the state’s unionized work force – announced that its members accepted the cuts by a two to one margin.

The vote was nothing but a show and workers knew it. Union leaders had already said the vote was non-binding, because the furlough deal was a “side-letter” agreement they had made with the governor and it didn’t need ratification. They told workers that, even if they voted no, the state would impose furloughs on them anyway. And, sure enough, Brown, the Democrat, backed by a Democratic legislature, imposed furloughs on the 11,600 workers in the two unions that had refused to go along.

So everyone finally had their pay cut. But some workers at least refused to stab themselves in the back. Better than helping the hit man bury you!

Detroit:
Consent “Board” Used to Impose Drastic Cuts on City Workers

Jul 16, 2012

The cuts demanded of Detroit city workers by the city’s “consent agreement” with the State of Michigan are about to be imposed.

The cuts include a 10% across-the-board wage cut, higher health care costs, 2600 new layoffs coming on top of the 2400 cut in the last three years – and changes in work rules that will let the city dump the work of those cut onto the workers who are left. The plan also reduces pension and overtime pay, and cuts vacation time in half.

These cuts to workers’ livelihood can only have dire consequences for the city’s population. The cuts will result in more closings of rec centers and parks; more elimination of garbage pickup, public lighting, and police and fire protection.

The only ones celebrating are the big companies and the banks. The money wrung from the workers will help continue the huge tax breaks and subsidies given to GM, Ford, Compuware, Quicken Loans and Blue Cross, among others. The big developers, including those connected with the gentrifying area around Orchestra Hall, will gain more support for pushing workers out of large areas of the city – the center of the city running up five miles or so from the river, and running a somewhat smaller stretch going east along the river.

In order to hand out the tax breaks, the city went deeply in debt – which is why the single biggest item in the budget last year went to pay the banks to service city debts – more than 600 million dollars. That doesn’t count the money the city lost in a complicated gamble on interest rates it made with the banks, which was supposed to save the city money, but instead caused it to cough up hundreds of millions more to the banks.

The city pays even more because the credit rating agencies like Moody’s – closely tied to the banks – lowered Detroit’s rating, pushing up the interest it must pay.

Those credit ratings are the supposed “neutral” measure, to be used to impose still more cuts on city workers for at least the next three years – if not longer.

The city and state brought out their biggest guns, hoping to terrify workers, to convince them there is nothing they can do about the cuts.

Not true! Yes, there is nothing workers can do, if they keep playing by the rules the city, the state, the big companies and the banks set. But those rules are stacked against the workers.

Who says workers have to give the city the work it wants – not under slave labor conditions. No, no, no!

City workers have certainly shown determination up until now, voting down concessions demands, refusing in some cases to reopen contracts. A few leaders of the city’s unions, like John Riehl of AFSCME Local 207, have tried to organize a wider opposition. Neighborhood groups and other organizations have made it downright uncomfortable for the mayor and the governor.

There is a real opening to make a fight. If city workers do decide to mobilize, they can create enormous problems. And they could pull other workers and the city’s population right behind them – making this a very hot summer indeed for those who think they can trample all over us.

The ball is now in the workers’ court! Time to slam it back in officialdom’s face!

Pages 6-7

General Motors, Strasbourg, France:
Demonstration against the Sale of Factory

Jul 16, 2012

This article is translated from the July 6th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers organization of that name active in France.

On June 30th, more than 700 people demonstrated in the streets of Strasbourg France against General Motors, which was putting its factory up for sale. The march included more than 500 GM workers who came with their families and friends. Workers from other factories that are threatened with closure joined them. Some of them came from the Peugeot auto company’s factories in Mulhouse and Aulnay, in the Paris area.

On June 12th, general assemblies of 760 workers out of the 990 Strasbourg workers decided on the demonstration.

In his speech at the demonstration, a leader of the CGT (General Confederation of Labor ) union brought up the four demands voted on by the workers in general assemblies, including the guarantee of jobs and wages for everyone and the investment of the 300 million dollars promised in 2010 for new production in Strasbourg.

General Motors is a corporation that made 7.6 billion dollars in profits in 2011, and the Strasbourg factory had 129 million dollars in profits in 2010 and 2011 combined. So there’s plenty of money to maintain the 900 jobs at the factory. Over the past two months, production has increased, going from 850 to 1,200 transmissions a day, while many workers were laid off. GM received 5.5 million dollars out of public funds for these laid-off workers.

The demonstrators warmly applauded the CGT union leader of the Peugeot Aulnay plant. After saying that Peugeot closed factories while throwing a heavier work load on other factories, he emphasized that the bosses must be forced to divide the work among all the workers, without any pay cuts. The government has the power to impose that on rich billionaire bosses like the Peugeot family.

The demonstration boosted the morale of the participants. The unions called for a work stoppage on July 5th to plan what actions will come next.

Book Review:
Autoworkers Under the Gun

Jul 16, 2012

A new book, Autoworkers Under the Gun, by UAW member Gregg Shotwell, uses some of Shotwell’s shop-floor newsletters (167 and counting) to explain the inner workings of the Delphi bankruptcy. Delphi was General Motors’ plot against workers, from 1999 to 2007, when GM spun off parts plants into the legal fiction it called “Delphi” – and used Delphi’s bankruptcy to beat workers down.

Already in March 1999, Shotwell wrote about GM’s proposed scheme, “Is it the beginning of a calculated dismemberment of the union?” Of course the answer turned out to be a bigger “yes” than any worker imagined at the time.

Delphi and its spinoff clones – Visteon and ACH at Ford – were designed to fail. They were designed to fail in such a way that they could declare or threaten bankruptcy – but a certain type of bankruptcy: bankruptcy used by the corporations to dump retiree obligations, to reduce wage scales, to eliminate many thousands of jobs, to destroy established worker rights and protections. All of this while preserving assets, production, and profits for the corporations who planned it all.

Gregg Shotwell was among those militants who fought them all the way. Year after year, Shotwell counter-attacked against the concessions, the lies, and the betrayals. His Live Bait & Ammo newsletters became well known among workers opposing the concessions and used by them. Workers enjoyed his acid and accurate dismemberment of the con artists who were fleecing the workers – con artists of both management and union varieties.

Regarding those union officials who act as “partners” with the bosses: “When the bear comes for your lunch, you don’t have to unwrap it for him, heat it up, put it in a clean bowl, and spoon-feed him with a smile.” “When you roll over again and again, management takes you for a punk, not a partner.”

Shotwell operated a Bodine machining tool, making fuel injectors near Grand Rapids, Michigan, first for GM, then for Delphi. In 2005, when CEO Steve Miller was overseeing the Delphi bankruptcy sham, Gregg organized a series of meetings at different Delphi parts locations, to allow workers to express their opposition. From these meetings a larger protest, 400 strong, was organized at the Detroit Auto Show in January of 2006. A rank and file organization called SOS, “Soldiers of Solidarity,” took shape.

Gregg’s newsletters, travels, and encouragement were the glue that held the organization together. It picketed Delphi headquarters and Steve Miller’s various public speeches. “Miller Ain’t Worth A Buck” was a favorite sign. SOS also advocated in-plant tactics such as “work to rule.” If we follow the bosses’ orders exactly and precisely, and do nothing else, then things will be totally screwed up in no time flat! “Show the boss who’s boss,” said SOS.

GM/Delphi put pressure on Shotwell. He was visited by the law – U.S. marshals and even the FBI – hinting that he was threatening bodily harm to the CEOs he ridiculed. Shotwell wrote it up. He told the world he had no more deadly weapon than a high-caliber ballpoint pen. He exposed GM’s goon-squad tactics, and he didn’t quit.

The Michigan newspapers and TV commentators attacked Shotwell, claiming he was single-handedly scaring employers, and therefore jobs, out of Michigan.

His co-workers defended him. The day that the Grand Rapids TV attacked Shotwell, he went in to work his night shift and found that his machine was down. “Go sit down,” said the repairman. “You’re not going to work tonight.” Since Gregg ran the final assembly Bodine, the whole line shut down. Delphi lost tens of thousands of dollars in lost production – plus had to pay everyone in the department to sit and wait all night. Workers defended their own.

Gregg Shotwell’s book shows well how he devoted himself to the workers’ cause. He did his utmost to strengthen the auto workers’ understanding of their situation, and to build up workers’ sense of solidarity and militancy. He understood that in the end, the welfare of one depends on the welfare of all. Unlike others, he has not faded or wavered from that principle.

The working class needs more militants like Gregg Shotwell.

Page 8

Afghanistan:
Ally Status Cloaks Brutality against Women

Jul 16, 2012

In a recent announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. government commits to what is called a “major non-NATO ally status” for Afghanistan. According to Clinton, this is a commitment to stick by Afghanistan and its people’s future. She speaks of never “abandoning” Afghanistan.

This announcement, following on the heels of more than 11 years of war by U.S. and other NATO aligned powers, is cynical enough. But to highlight the real status of affairs in Afghanistan, a video revealed the recent execution of a woman on grounds of adultery within an area controlled by U.S. forces not far from Kabul, the capital.

This execution was no exception to the rule, unfortunately. According to the British Human Rights Organization Oxfam, 87% of Afghan women interviewed say they had suffered physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

The declaration of the U.S. government is nothing more than a calculated publicity stunt: to maintain the status quo of war by easing even further the flow of U.S. military weapons and equipment into Afghanistan and in the meantime to appear to be an ally of the Afghan people. And the talk about eliminating the brutalities committed against women is a blatant and cynical lie.

New Banking Scandal:
The LIBOR

Jul 16, 2012

For the last few weeks, the world’s leading banks have been at the center of a new scandal.

The scandal broke when the Wall Street Journal covered a number of irregularities in the calculation of the LIBOR rate, that is, the rate at which banks charge each other. The investigation has resulted in a fine of 365 million dollars imposed on the British bank Barclay’s. Other banks will likely follow – including the two largest British banks, HSBC and RBS as well as CitiGroup in the U.S., the German Deutsche Bank, UBS in Switzerland and perhaps a number of others, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.

Between 2005 and 2008, all these banks collectively put pressure to play with the LIBOR rate, providing false statements – and filling their own pockets as the result. Afterwards, even following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a number of the banks like Barclay’s used distorted LIBOR rates to lead others to believe they were healthier than they really were, adding to the madness that reigned in the financial markets at the time. All this was known, at the time, to the New York Federal Reserve Bank – headed in 2008 by one Timothy Geithner – until he became Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury. He stood by and watched.

This new proof of the irresponsibility of these giant banks created another shock. So we can be sure there will be a new “investigation,” new reports, new committees set up to look into the matter – meanwhile, the banks go on their merry way, skimming off the top, and shooting craps with the wealth produced by society.

Mexico:
Presidential Election
– Institutional Revolutionary Party Returns to Power

Jul 16, 2012

On July 1st, more than 79 million Mexican voters elected the president of the Republic, and also 500 Representatives, 128 Senators, six governors and the Mayor of Mexico City. Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won the presidency with 38% of the vote, against 31% for Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) of the center left. Josefina Vazquez Mota, the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), the right-wing party of the president for the past dozen years, was easily beaten.

The devastating economic and social situation is one of the reasons the voters rejected the PAN. Almost half of all Mexicans live on less than two dollars a day.

The NAFTA Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico may have increased the prosperity of the rich classes. It certainly did for Carlos Slim, who made his fortune through cell phones and is considered the richest man in the world. But it further tied the Mexican economy to that of the U.S. The U.S. recession of 2008-2009 dealt Mexico a heavy blow, causing the rate of economic growth to collapse and increasing unemployment.

The other scourge striking Mexico is the weight of the drug cartels and the violence they unleash. The change of the party in power in 2000 put an end to the status quo that existed between the PRI and the cartels. The PAN, following the suggestion of the U.S., attempted to reduce the influence of the gangs by armed repression. The result has been a failure. Not only have the cartels extended their influence, but their acts of barbarism have combined with the brutality of the police and army. A part of the population today sees the mafias and the military as being similar.

So what can Mexican workers expect from the PRI? It had ruled without interruption from 1929 to 2000. For a long time it maintained vague references to the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917. It nationalized the oil companies in the 1930s, led by President Lázaro Cárdenas, but his successors in the1990s privatized all kinds of things. The PRI was authoritarian, corrupt and maintained a vast patronage system.

The PRI candidate, like the other two main candidates, proposed that the way to get the country out of the economic crisis was to attack workers’ legal protections to facilitate layoffs; to cut taxes on the rich; and to begin the dismantling of the state oil company, Pemex. This will contribute to widening the gap further between the rich and the poor.

As for the problem of violence, despite the vague promise to reduce police corruption, the new president is basically going to continue the PAN policy. No wonder some of the PAN leaders joined the PRI. In other words, this election has done nothing to attack the problems of Mexican society.