The Spark

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

Issue no. 980 — February 2 - 16, 2015

Editorial:
Wait for the Politicians?
Why?

Feb 2, 2015

President Obama’s State of the Union was filled with promises for working people and the poor. To parents with children struggling to make ends meet, Obama said he wanted to make “quality” universal child care more affordable. For the 44 million workers who don’t get any sick pay or maternity leave on the job, Obama said he wanted laws providing guaranteed sick days, recognizing the fact that the U.S. is the “only advanced country on earth” that doesn’t have this basic right. And for the millions of students from the working class, who finished high school and are struggling to pay for more education and job training, Obama called for making community college free.

Obama even proposed a few small increases in the taxes paid by the very wealthiest people, who today pay taxes at a lower rate than workers do.

There is zero chance that any of these measures will pass. And not just because the Republicans oppose them. So do the Democrats. When Obama and the Democrats swept into office in 2008 in a landslide, with big majorities in both houses of Congress, the Democrats had the votes to push through social programs for childcare, sick leave and maternity leave, and making community colleges free. But not only didn’t the Democrats try to get them passed, no one even proposed them.

Instead, Obama and the Democrats continued the same policies of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, to further enrich the capitalist class. Obama and the Democrats pushed through massive bailouts. They shoveled trillions of dollars to every sector of corporate enterprise, including banks, auto companies, military contractors, airlines, and insurance companies. They made permanent almost all the Bush tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

To pay for all this, Obama slashed programs vital for the working class and poor, and he carried out massive cuts to public sector jobs. Obama even justified these cuts in the same way as Bush had, by citing the huge budget deficits that their own policies in defense of the capitalist class had caused. In other words, Obama, like Bush, did at the governmental level what the capitalists themselves had been doing in the private sector. Together, they imposed an enormous transfer of wealth from the working class and poor to the capitalist class.

No wonder it’s been great times for the capitalists, with their record profits and record accumulation of wealth. It was all paid for by the working class, whose standard of living has been pushed lower and lower again.

All those promises Obama made will go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congress – and he knows it. But – he can hope – that his promises will create some illusions in the population for the Democrats, the same Democrats who never passed those measures when they could have.

It is the same old politician’s game that has been played countless times. All those great sounding promises are meant to make us forget how the politicians just stabbed us in the back.

Both parties play this game. The Democrats and Republicans sound different only because they appeal to different parts of the population for their votes.

Yes, working people need the things that Obama promised in his State of the Union, and lots more. And that starts with a job for everyone that pays decent wages and benefits.

But working people will get these things only when we push the politicians aside and fight for them on our own. Until then, we can forget it!

Pages 2-3

Medicaid Expansion “Success”?

Feb 2, 2015

The Obama administration is hailing the recent decision by Indiana’s Republican governor to expand Medicaid coverage in his state under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But this “expansion” is based on a lie.

Hundreds of thousands of poor people in Indiana will be offered Medicaid coverage for the first time. The administration says it hopes other Republican governors who up until now have resisted the expansion of Medicaid in their states will follow Indiana’s lead.

But the plan is not what it seems. Because as part of this “expansion”, the Obama administration is allowing Indiana to force current Medicaid enrollees to pay premiums for their dental and vision care – or lose those benefits. And Indiana is forcing all newly covered enrollees to pay premiums and co-pays for all their care – or be barred from any Medicaid coverage for up to six months.

This is not coverage! Especially for people who do not have the resources to pay: It is a way to “extend coverage” while continuing to block thousands from actually getting it.

It’s a fraud perpetrated by the Obama administration and Republican governors so they can all look good.

Los Angeles Politicians Want to Hand Out More to Big Business

Feb 2, 2015

The budget committee of the Los Angeles City Council approved a business tax cut proposed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. If the City Council also approves it, L.A. will drop the business tax by 16 per cent, from $5.07 for each $1000 of receipts to $4.25, by 2018.

The officials who want to give this 45-million-dollar gift to business are the same officials who say the city has a 242-million-dollar budget shortfall, and demand cuts from city workers. In ongoing negotiations, the city is demanding that the workers pay 10 percent toward their health insurance costs. City officials have also targeted city workers’ pensions. In 2012, the city council unilaterally reduced the pensions of its civilian workers – a move that was ruled illegal by the Employee Relations Board. Officials complain that the city’s pension funds are short by billions of dollars; but that’s only because, year after year, they themselves did not put the city’s contributions into the funds!

In recent years, city officials laid off workers, cut back on services, and increased the sales tax. They also increased the penalties on parking tickets – which is another tax and, like sales tax, is one that burdens the working class and poor but not the wealthy.

At the same time, the City of L.A. pays hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to Wall Street banks every year – $204 million in 2013 alone, more than what the city spent on needed road repairs that same year.

So city officials cut city workers’ pay and benefits; they cut services the city provides; they increase the taxes on working people – all so that they can hand more money to big companies and banks!

Michigan Utility:
Rob-from-the-Poor-Give-to-the-Rich

Feb 2, 2015

If the Michigan Public Service Commission approves, electric rates could drop by 4 percent for industrial and business customers, including manufacturers, hospitals, malls, steel companies and large office buildings, according to Gerry Anderson, chairman and CEO of DTE, Michigan’s electric utility. Electric rates could also drop by 1 percent for smaller businesses, retail stores, restaurants and small offices.

But residential customers could pay 3.2 percent MORE for THEIR electricity.

In other words, DTE wants to give to business and commercial users and take from workers and retirees!

Cops Use Black Men as Target Practice

Feb 2, 2015

A group of Army National Guard members discovered last month that the North Miami Beach Police snipers had been using actual mug shots of young black men as targets at a shooting range. Six head photos were filled with bullet holes on the range. One National Guard member recognized her brother among the photos.

Is any more evidence needed that police forces are trained to treat every young black man they see as a criminal and a target?!

North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis said, in effect – whoops, but no big deal.

“Our policies were not violated,” Dennis said. “There is no discipline forthcoming.”

Residents of the city saw things differently, and packed a City Council meeting with angry protesters. Lo and behold – after two hours confronted with this protest, the City Council discovered IT was outraged, and banned the practice for its police force in the future.

Super Bowl Investment Not Looking So Super!

Feb 2, 2015

Neither the NFL, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, nor the Arizona Cardinals offered a Super Bowl ticket to Jerry Weiers, the mayor of Glendale, Arizona which is hosting this year’s game. It seems they didn’t consider Weiers a “team player” because he spoke out against the city spending two million dollars for Super Bowl security, while many of the related events are being held in downtown Phoenix and in Scottsdale.

The mayor has plenty of reason to not be so gung-ho on sports investment. The city lost 2.2 million dollars hosting the 2008 Super Bowl, and the mayor expects to lose two million more this year.

The city also paid out more than 140 million dollars, two-thirds of the cost, for the construction of a hockey arena for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, The Coyotes soon went bankrupt, and the city got stuck paying 50 million dollars to manage the arena and 225 million dollars to cover the arena’s operating costs for 15 years!

No matter who comes out victorious in the Super Bowl, it unfortunately looks like the biggest loser promises to be the city of Glendale and its residents.

Thousands Pack Detroit’s Cobo Hall Seeking Foreclosure Relief

Feb 2, 2015

Almost 1,000 people showed up at Cobo Hall on the first day of hearings for Detroit residents to “show cause” why they shouldn’t lose their homes to foreclosure. Wayne County plans to hold six more days of hearings in order to handle the more than 14,000 homeowners expected to show up. The county chose to use Cobo Hall as a courthouse because there are simply too many cases for any actual courthouse to handle.

The homes aren’t slated for foreclosure because their owners haven’t paid their mortgages, but because of unpaid property taxes. There are 60,000 homes at risk of foreclosure this year in Wayne County, the vast majority of them in Detroit. As many as 70,000 homes have already been foreclosed on since 2009.

The number of tax foreclosures is increasing because county treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz decided this year to go after residents with smaller yearly tax bills than previously. Another reason is that the county has been gouging homeowners with an 18 per cent interest rate on what they owe!

In addition, the city of Detroit started tacking delinquent water bills from June 2011 to May 2012 onto people’s property tax bills. So people are in danger of losing their homes because they can’t pay their water bills!

The politicians pretend to be sympathetic. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently signed legislation allowing the county to lower the interest rates to “just” 6 per cent. And Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is crowing about lowering property tax assessments on many homes for the second straight year, this year by 5 to 20 percent.

Of course, no politician is proposing to forgive anyone’s back taxes or apply any interest rate or assessment reductions retroactively. They’re simply offering people a chance to go on a payment plan, while at the same time sending people through entire neighborhoods with foreclosure notices.

The only real solution is a fight to push back the ongoing attacks by the wealthy, the banks and the corporations to take everything they can from the working class.

Aging Infrastructure Puts All Our Lives at Risk

Feb 2, 2015

A man and his wife are forced awake by a loud noise and water rushing into their basement apartment. As the water rises to Darwin Mendoza’s shins, he frantically grabs his three young children and runs to his car. As they back out of their driveway to escape danger, the car begins tilting and sinking. The family manages to get out just as their car sinks underwater.

A scene from the next made for TV movie? No. This was the scene last week in a Washington, D.C. suburb. This dramatic and harrowing story was not due to natural causes or a “freak” accident. The water main that broke was 90 years old. “The pipe broke along the length of the pipe, blew out debris, asphalt, road,” according to a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) spokesman. The water had nowhere to go except peoples’ basements.

“We are fixing 55 miles of water main per year. We have 5,500 miles of pipe in the ground, so it is a 100-year replacement cycle,” reported the spokesman for WSSC. Clearly, 55 miles per year is not nearly enough! They can’t hire more people?

A county council member representing the neighborhood responded to the disaster by saying that it was “unfortunate” that the infrastructure is old.

This is not an “unfortunate” situation! This is a deliberate choice made by politicians like this county council member: Give taxpayer money to the wealthy in the form of tax breaks and subsidies for businesses and corporations, rather than use it to replace aging infrastructure. The choice they made puts us ALL at risk.

Pages 4-5

Greece:
After the Elections, Workers Will Have to Continue to Fight

Feb 2, 2015

On January 25th, Syriza, the Coalition of Left political parties, won the Greek election. The following was an editorial in the January 30th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union wanted to discourage Greek voters from voting for Syriza, claiming, “If Syriza wins, Greece will leave the euro, financial aid will stop and chaos will break out.” The blackmail failed. The Greek people weren’t impressed. By voting massively for the radical left, they rejected austerity and sacrifices. They can be proud of that.

Since 2009, the Greeks have seen their living conditions collapse. Unemployment has tripled; wages and pensions have been cut by 10, 20 and 30 percent. Thousands of small businesses have failed. The health system has basically been demolished. Thousands of public workers were laid off.

Except for some hundreds of families tied to the owners of big shipping companies and large capital in retail and construction, the entire population was hit. Engineers, management, workers and those in public employment have suffered layoffs, pay cuts and the withholding of the pay they earned. Their lives have been shattered since they couldn’t meet daily expenses.

Families have become used to living without electricity. Some get medical care at charities. Others eat in soup kitchens. Bailout plans gave the bankers the guarantees they wanted, but Greece was turned into a Third World country.

After five years of a descent into a living hell, the population isn’t resigned to sacrifice. This is a lesson for all of us and a good omen for the future.

Today, hopes are turned toward Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras. But is it enough to trust those who have climbed to power promising all kinds of good things? Definitely not!

We are well placed, here in France, to know that workers have paid a high price for such illusions. In the past, French workers had hopes in Socialist Party leaders Mitterrand, Jospin and Hollande. This gave rise to demoralization, depoliticization and the current success of far right-wing demagogues among working people.

In Greece, workers also have had bitter experience of this. In 2009, Papandreou, the leader of the Socialist Party, promised to “break with the dictatorship of financial markets.” Once in power, he saw to it that the bankers were paid on time, whatever it cost the workers.

History doesn’t repeat itself identically, but we have to guard ourselves from repeating past errors. Workers don’t need hope, but consciousness.

Tsipras promised to make the richest pay more, including the shipping company owners and the Orthodox church. He also promised to renegotiate the terms of debt with the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union). When everyone admits that this debt can no longer be paid and that austerity treatments do more harm than good, maybe the creditors will loosen their grip. And with some ten billion euros, maybe Tsipras can ease the situation of the most helpless.

But this won’t let Greeks escape misery and unemployment. Neither in Greece nor elsewhere can jobs be created and wages and pensions increased – without questioning the capitalists’ profits.

In order to guarantee the public services of decent health care and education, the richest have to be forced to pay.

There can’t be a miracle. People can’t end austerity without pulling up its roots: exploitation, profit and the capitalists’ power. By setting as the only objective the fight against the abuses of certain rogue and criminal capitalists, Syriza pulls the working class into powerlessness.

In order to recover living conditions worthy of the 21st century, a merciless struggle will have to be led against the power of the bourgeoisie and the financiers.

To be victorious, this struggle must engage the collective force of the workers and their conscious action: for only they have the power to reorganize society in accord with the interests of the greatest number.

This isn’t Syriza’s objective, but it must be that of the Greek workers. They don’t have to wait for elections to put forward their demands. Several times they have shown their combativeness and their determination to fight for their living conditions. ALL that we can hope for them is that they continue.

If the elections allow an opinion to be expressed, they don’t permit a change in the relation of forces with the capitalists. For that, the only arms Greek and French workers have are those of the class struggle, mobilizations and strikes. It is there, and not with Syriza, that their future well-being will come.

Iraq-Syria:
Imperialism Wages War

Feb 2, 2015

Twenty-one countries involved in the U.S.-led imperialist coalition against the Islamic State met on January 22nd and said that the war would be “long and difficult.” The British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said that it would take at least two or three years to push the Islamic State out of Iraq. The U.S. leaders said there was a lot to do to weaken it. This is quite a change from Obama’s declaration on September 10th that said, “We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL.”

Besides the U.S. bombing, soldiers are present on the ground in Iraq. Officially, 3,000 U.S. soldiers are there. But there are also 35,000 mercenaries in Iraq, hired by private contractors to the U.S. government; the 17,000 employees at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad; and a large number of advisors and trainers working with the Iraqi army. Even after the official departure of U.S. troops in 2011, the U.S. never stopped being militarily involved in the area.

But, six months after the start of bombing, the Islamic State hasn’t been destroyed. The media were pleased on January 27th when Kurdish fighters took Kobani, on the border between Syria and Turkey. But half of Syria and a third of Iraq remains under the control of the Islamic State, directly or through militias allied with it.

The Islamic State imposes a ferocious dictatorship in the region it controls. A U.S. expert observed, “In Mosul, the population doesn’t have the right to leave the city. If despite this someone wants to leave, members of their family are taken hostage, and if the people leaving don’t return in a few days or a week, the Islamic State threatens to kill the hostages.” Not far from Kirkuk, fundamentalists hold prisoner dozens of families displaced due to violence.

Today, the population finds itself trapped between fundamentalist militias and the imperialist armies’ bombing, which are certainly not surgical strikes. And each bombing brings new recruits to the militias, who appear as enemies of the imperialist countries.

This war gives rise to a still greater barbarism that the civilian population is suffering. No to imperialist war in the Middle East!

Guantanamo:
Welcome to Barbarism

Feb 2, 2015

The Guantanamo Memoirs of a prisoner has just been published in twenty countries. Government authorities seized this book, classified it as a military secret and locked it up for six years in a secure Washington, D.C. basement. Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a 44-year-old Mauritanian. His government took him and turned him over to the U.S. Army in 2001, wrongly suspecting him of taking part in a thwarted attack in Los Angeles in 2000. He was sent to Guantanamo in 2002.

His Memoirs recount the hell of daily interrogations to extract false information and force him to admit imaginary plots. He relates physical and mental torture inflicted on a daily basis during his first years of detention: blows and insults, baths of iced and boiling water, being forced to drink salt water, and deprived of sleep and the chance to clean up, deafening music, sexual humiliation, the threat to imprison his mother in Mauritania and make her disappear.

A federal judge ordered his freedom in 2010. But the Obama Administration appealed: Slahi is still a prisoner.

In January 2009 Obama promised to close Guantanamo within a year. But it is still open with 130 prisoners like Slahi who continue to rot in this camp.

Movie Review:
American Sniper

Feb 2, 2015

The new Clint Eastwood movie American Sniper is breaking box office records for a January opening. This movie takes place during the Iraq War, a war that many people in the United States don’t want to acknowledge. But American Sniper is apparently appealing to people.

This movie does not question the Iraq War’s causes. It is based on the autobiography by Chris Kyle, and it engages the war through the soldiers like Chris, the main character.

The movie shows Iraqi towns which have been turned into ghost towns. Houses are poor, dilapidated and hammered by the war. Only a few people are hurriedly wandering on the streets. Doors and shops are closed. Most homes are empty, deserted because of the war.

The U.S. Army ravages through these towns, with their equipment and clothing from another world, banging on and bashing down doors, terrifying a few remaining residents, children, women and old people trapped by the war.

The movie starts with a scene where a heavily armed U.S. Army unit is advancing in an Iraqi town. A woman and her child appear from a house. The woman hands over a grenade to her young son and directs him to advance toward the U.S. soldiers. Chris targets the child and remembers his childhood, when his father explained to Chris and his brother that they have a right to respond when they are bullied. And then Chris kills the child.

This is his first human kill.

Then, the woman picks up the grenade, and Chris kills the woman.

This is his second kill.

Kyle does not talk about killing this child in his autobiography.

Chris has a counterpart: an Iraqi sniper, who competed in the Olympics before the war. Like Chris, the Iraqi sniper has a beautiful wife and a newborn child, and is an equally efficient killer. Both snipers have nothing else to do in this society at war besides killing others.

People around Chris question this war. His wife asks again and again why he is returning back to Iraq for tour after tour. His demoralized soldier brother, who had also been sent to Iraq, tells him there is nothing there. His soldier friend Marc tells Chris that if the evil in Iraq is the reason why they are there, it is not only in Iraq but everywhere in this world, and he is not sure about what they are doing in Iraq.

During his fourth tour of duty, Chris, a tough and confident looking man, eventually breaks down in the midst of a skirmish, calls his wife and tells her that he is coming home. But later, at his home, his wife catches Chris staring at a blank television in one moment and getting ready to beat his dog in the next. Other cars on the roads remind Chris of insurgents’ cars ambushing his vehicle on the Iraqi roads.

The movie is problematic. It is a patriotic movie, presenting to the viewer a “hero” who remains patriotic and never questions his role despite the horrors he helps to unleash.

At the same time, American Sniper displays anti-war sentiments and shows some of the real feelings and experiences of the people who fought – and are still fighting – this war, and some of the human consequences of the war.

The rich men’s wars take their toll. This movie gives a particular window into that toll.

Pages 6-7

A Sneeze is More than a Sneeze:
Sick Pay in the U.S.

Feb 2, 2015

President Obama recently gave a talk promoting paid sick time. It would be great if workers actually had some guaranteed paid sick time in this country. But that’s not really what Obama proposed.

According to a 2009 report called appropriately “Contagion Nation,” only six out of every 10 workers in the private sector have paid time off; and among part-time workers, only one in four has paid time off. That leaves at least 40 million workers in the U.S. needing to work while they are sick!

And the U.S., along with Canada and Japan, is one of the few wealthy countries that has no guaranteed sick time or paid leave, paid vacations, etc. Even in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Britain, all of which suffered severe economic downturns in the last recession, there is paid sick time off.

In these countries, 75% of workers wages are paid during sick time; other countries require at least $100 per week for sick time.

What Obama proposed would not be extra sick time. It would mean sick time used against future benefits, so the employee would have less sick time in the future if it was used in the present. So if you got sick now, you couldn’t get sick in the future!

One more example of politician double-speak: raising real problems, but giving no solutions.

Double Tragedy in Michigan

Feb 2, 2015

A 24-year-old mother named Angela Alexie has been the subject of news headlines in Southwest Michigan. Alexie self-delivered a child in the unheated garage of a home in Eastpoint, Michigan, unattended and with no help from anyone. Subsequently, the newborn baby’s body was found at a recycling facility in Macomb County with the umbilical cord still attached.

While the mother has said that the baby was dead on delivery, the press has focused on sensational speculation. Headlines like “Baby Died Cold and Alone” were front page news. The press has focused on the baby’s body being found in a dump to insinuate that the young woman had no remorse and would not even give permission for the baby’s body to be buried, which was flat-out false.

They have put this young woman forward as a cold-blooded killer who callously allowed her baby to die of neglect and who then threw the body in the dump. None of these speculations has been substantiated.

And the authorities are calling for blood as well. Alexie has been charged with felony murder and first degree child abuse and her bond set at a million dollars, when it is obvious that she was not fit to make decisions or be on her own.

According to witnesses, this young woman was unbalanced, bipolar and suffering from depression.

Court records indicate the same thing. Alexie had three other children, the last of whom was also kept secret and self-delivered by the mother. The state Child Protective Services records verify previous psychological and support problems that resulted in Alexie’s children being taken from her.

But the tragedy of a young woman who has given up three children and twice felt forced to self-deliver children never made the headlines. One authority blamed the victim by saying that the mother could have just given the baby to any authority available after childbirth (assuming the baby survived childbirth). This is a very cool, detached perspective from someone who has probably never self-delivered a child, living or dead, in a cold garage.

How many situations like this are happening today as the right-wing politicians and authorities move to eliminate abortion rights and even birth control rights of women? How many women are facing unwanted pregnancies with no help in sight, unable to afford hospitalization, unable to afford to raise a child? It is complete rubbish to say that a woman can just deliver a baby and hand it over for adoption.

Meanwhile, those who shut millions out of their for-profit health care system continue to make their billions. And those who attack women’s right to control pregnancy are left unaccountable for the horrible price being paid for unsupportable pregnancies by women and their children.

Who wants to self-deliver a baby in a cold garage? Nobody! But increasingly, the ill and the poor are being forced into making horrible choices. Those who run the system are to blame for the tragedies that occur as a result.

Supreme Court:
Liberals & Conservatives against Retirees

Feb 2, 2015

The Supreme Court just ruled – 9 - 0 – that a company could make cuts in retirees’ lifetime medical benefits. In the case of Point Pleasant Polyester in Apple Grove, West Virginia, the United Steelworkers won retiree health care in the 1990s. Then the company was sold to an Italian company in 2000, which decided to cut the retiree health benefit the employees had won.

All four liberal justices sided with the conservative justices against the retirees. This follows their taking the side of the reactionary justices a couple of weeks before, giving Amazon the right to force workers to wait a long time in a security line unpaid.

Before presidential elections, workers are told a Democrat must be elected to prevent a conservative from being appointed to the Supreme Court. On certain issues, the liberals may vote differently than the conservatives. But on issues involving workers versus bosses, all the justices are solidly on the bosses’ side.

Page 8

Who Is Ed Hershey?

Feb 2, 2015

Ed Hershey, who calls for a working class fight based on a working class policy, is running for Alderman in the 25th Ward of Chicago. The election is on February 24th.

He has been a teacher for nine years in the Chicago public schools, seeing first hand the destruction of the schools that serve the children of the working class. He has been active in his union, a leader at his own school during the 2012 teachers’ strike, active against the rash of school closings that hit Chicago working class neighborhoods, almost all black. And he has been a conscious socialist his whole adult life.

Along with two other teachers – Zerlina Smith and Maureen Sullivan – he was endorsed by his union, the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU), at a boisterous CTU House of Delegates meeting on January 14, in which many of the activists opposed some of the leadership of the union who had wanted to endorse Democrats and other “safe” candidates. For an account of that meeting see secondcityteachers.blogspot.com

One of Ed’s leaflets is reprinted on this page. More information on his campaign and what he has done can be found at the independent website: workingclassfight.com.

Search This Site