The Spark

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

Issue no. 987 — May 11 - 25, 2015

Editorial:
Pushing Women Back to the Age of the Coat Hanger

May 11, 2015

Women in Oklahoma now have to wait 72 hours after seeing a doctor before the doctor can perform an abortion. In Florida, women will wait 24 hours, then go to two separate appointments, one where they are forced to look at an ultrasound and another to listen to an unscientific lecture on fetal development, before they can have an abortion.

Do these restrictions seem just like small “nuisances”?

“Nuisances”? They are nothing but attempts to make abortion illegal without openly saying it. And sometimes it’s even said. Wisconsin legislators just proposed to impose a 42-month prison sentence on any doctor who performs an abortion after 20 weeks.

In the last four years alone, more than 200 pieces of legislation limiting access to abortion were enacted into the “law of the land.” This year, 300 more have been introduced into state legislatures, awaiting passage.

There are consequences. There are only half as many women’s clinics able to perform abortions in Texas as there were four years ago. In most Mountain and Plains states, and in many Southern states, so many clinics have closed that there are only one or two abortion providers for the whole state. In the country as a whole, 87% of all counties no longer have even one abortion provider.

In other words, a pregnant woman has to travel – often hundreds of miles – only to discover she must wait for 24 or even 72 hours. Either she pays for a hotel room, or travels all that distance back again. And if she can jump through those hoops, she discovers that women haters have devised still another restriction to prevent her from having what is, medically, a very simple procedure.

No one should ever pretend that to have an abortion is an easy choice for a woman. The potential of a human life, after all, is being terminated. But how dare these women haters think they have the right to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot do? It’s her body, her choice. Not theirs.

Let them get their filthy hands off women’s bodies. And let them choke on their own lies when they pretend that their restrictions have only one aim: “to safeguard the health of women,” as they say.

Safeguard the health? How? By forcing women once again to depend on back alley abortionists? By forcing women into a situation where they try to self-abort, using all the chemicals or mechanical means that women once used – and died from? The coat hanger was not just a myth. Thousands died before 1973, the year of Roe v Wade, when laws directly making abortion illegal were declared unconstitutional.

Working class women were the ones who died or gave birth to more babies than they could safely raise. Wealthy women always had access to abortion under safe, medically supervised, hygienic conditions.

Working class women are the ones who will die again. Are dying.

The attack on women’s right to control their own bodies is part of a much larger attack going on today, pushing all of society into the most backward, reactionary dead-ends. It is not simple coincidence that the organized right-wing forces pushing the attack on women’s access to abortion are the same forces that organize the attack on workers’ rights to organize a union or to strike, the same forces that pushed through all the laws used to criminalize whole generations of black youth.

These attacks on the population, and particularly the working class part of the population, are funded and organized by virulently reactionary billionaires. Peddling superstition, racism, disdain for women, religious obscurantism – they create an increasingly inhumane society.

Pages 2-3

$197 Ticket for Jay-Walking

May 11, 2015

A Los Angeles cop gave a ticket to Eduardo Lopez for stepping into a crosswalk after the red hand started flashing. The ticket was for $197. Eduardo is a student, works to support himself, his family and his siblings who live in a tough South Los Angeles neighborhood.

“A resident videotaped Eduardo getting the ticket, and in that video, a man in a business suit walks across the same intersection just one second ahead of Eduardo, committing the same infraction. The cop zooms past the businessman to single out Eduardo,” according to the Los Angeles Times. So, if you look or belong to the upper-class, you will be treated differently.

The base fine for Eduardo’s violation is $25, according to the California Vehicle Code. But, it does not end there. Surcharges and penalties for things like court construction, a DNA identification fund, emergency medical services, and other fees add on the base fine. Courts also get their cut. These additional fees are distributed among the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and the State of California.

If you make a mistake of stepping into a crosswalk a little bit late and look like a working class person, all types of state and city agencies jump on you demanding their share of the loot. After the dust settles, you may feel thankful that you have not yet lost your shirt, pants and other items in due course.

The City of Los Angeles gave more than 17,000 such tickets in four years to pedestrians in the downtown area.

Detroit Teachers Protest

May 11, 2015

Steve Conn, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, organized about 250 Detroit teachers to go to Lansing to protest Snyder’s plan for the Detroit schools. They chanted things like, “Fifty-five is the speed limit, not a class size!” The protest caused the school district to close 18 schools for the day.

Everyone from the DPS emergency manager, to the local media and state legislators raised a huge hue and cry about how the teachers were “only hurting the kids” by causing the schools to close for one day.

What a bunch of total hypocrites! The DPS emergency manager has closed so many schools that Detroit students are often jammed 55 to a classroom, then he yells when the teachers protest.

Who’s really hurting the kids?

Michigan:
Another Cynical Rick Snyder Scheme

May 11, 2015

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder wants to split the Detroit Public Schools financially into two separate financial districts, similar to the way General Motors was split into a “new” and an “old” company to protect itself during bankruptcy.

Snyder proposed to create one “old district” that would take on all of DPS’s current debt and to take Detroit tax money to pay off the debt. This is money that was by law supposed to go directly to the schools, but instead would go to the banks, under this plan.

The second part of Snyder’s plan is to take 72 million dollars from the state School Aid Fund, money that would otherwise go to school districts around the state and to give it who knows where? He says the money would go to a second “new” Detroit school district, but that’s no guarantee.

In fact it’s nothing but a cynical way to put the blame for cuts to other districts on Detroit, counterposing Detroit against other school districts, and take Detroit tax money earmarked for Detroit schools, all to insure the banks get a steady stream of money for “servicing the debt.”

Snyder is just the latest in a long line of politicians from both parties, at the state, city, and school district level to push the public schools in Detroit and other cities, into greater and greater debt to the banks.

There is money to pay for the schools, but it’s in the hands of the big corporations and the banks. And it will have to be taken from them.

Chicago Public Schools:
Banks First, Kids Last

May 11, 2015

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner both say the Chicago Public Schools have a big budget crisis. They both agree that this crisis is caused by the unreasonably high pay of Chicago teachers and their underfunded pensions. And they both lie.

The Chicago Public Schools has a budget crisis because the politicians have set up a system that drains the schools of money, to give that money to the big corporations, starting with the banks.

In its budget for 2015, the Chicago Board of Education says it will pay 604 million dollars to the banks for “debt service.” That is more than 10 percent of the total budget. On top of this, the banks stand to suck another potential 228 million in “penalty” payments out of the schools through “swap” loan scams.

Even without the “penalty,” the Chicago Public Schools will give almost as much to the banks as the 688 million that the system owes to the teacher’s pension fund this year. But the system owes that big amount to the pension system because it has underpaid into the pensions for decades.

Chicago Public Schools has NEVER underpaid the banks. No, in this capitalist system the banks’ money is sacred.

Chicago Schools CEO Scandal

May 11, 2015

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was forced to take paid leave in April when a corruption investigation came out in the press. Big surprise – she was using her personal position to make money for her friends. In fact, almost the first thing she did when she got hired in 2012 was to give a no-bid 21 million dollar contract to her former bosses at SUPES Academy for “leadership training” for principals. The owner of that company got Byrd-Bennett her job in the first place.

Principals described this training as “a waste of time,” and “prepackaged, underdeveloped, and often irrelevant.” In a SUPES session titled “Marketing Your School,” the principals were told that “perception is more important than reality.” They were supposed to focus on changing how their school was perceived, rather than actually improving education!

Whatever is behind this scandal getting leaked, whether it’s a fight between two sections of the machine or just some intrepid reporter, the fact is, Byrd-Bennett was corrupt from the moment she got here. If there was no big outcry from the beginning, though Emanuel and all his cronies have known about this deal for three years, it’s because Byrd-Bennett was doing what they all do. And by the way – when are these corrupt operators at SUPES going to be forced to give the money back?

The banks, the custodial contractors, the textbook and testing companies, bottom feeders like Barbara Byrd-Bennett – all these leeches see the schools as just a big pile of money that they can suck wealth out of.

Michigan:
It Felt Good to Say NO!

May 11, 2015

Now that Proposal 1 to raise taxes on the population has been defeated, the issue of fixing the roads is still here. There is no dispute that roads DO need to be fixed and more money IS needed for public transportation.

The real issue is WHO is going to pay for it. Why should our taxes go up, while businesses have their taxes go down?

You can bet the politicians will come back with another scheme to get working people and the population to pay. Because for them democracy is just a word. “Let the people speak?” Maybe, but the politicians are too busy spending our money to listen. Something stronger than a vote is needed!

Maryland:
Prison Meals Privatized

May 11, 2015

Two companies are fighting over contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to feed Maryland prisoners held in the Baltimore jail complex.

In January local upstart Crystal Enterprises underbid the previous contractor, Trinity Services, which feeds nearly 300,000 prisoners in 33 states and is owned by a multi-billion dollar private equity firm. But less than a month into the contract Crystal Enterprises suddenly announced its budget assumed there would be more than 3,000 more prisoners, and unless the state coughed up more than six million dollars, the company would stop all food service at the jail immediately. State officials obediently cut the check, then promised to “investigate” as Trinity complained.

Having more people to feed, and then letting private companies serve the meals, creates a terrible incentive. The companies profit more if the state locks up more people.

This dispute is about getting rich off of human captives.

Gas Price Yo-Yo

May 11, 2015

The average cost for a gallon of regular gas in California hit $3.83 on May 2, a 70 cents per gallon increase in 18 days. Something similar is happening in every state.

Experts blame the labor strike in one refinery and the explosion in another for this price increase, according to the Los Angeles Times. In other words, workers and mother nature caused this price hoarding. What hogwash!

If you “follow the money,” you will find the oil companies and rich laughing at us all the way to the bank.

Pages 4-5

Thugs?
No!

May 11, 2015

The six cops who killed Freddie Gray in Baltimore have been charged.

Freddie Gray isn’t the first person that cops put in the back of a van, expressly to injure him. No seat belt, hands cuffed behind his back, feet shackled, he was left to bounce off the van’s walls. Others have been gravely injured, even paralyzed. And Freddie Gray is not the first man to die in Baltimore like this.

And yet, this is the first time any Baltimore cop has been charged for the crime.

Isn’t it obvious? If young people hadn’t gone out into the streets on Monday night, the cops would not have been charged.

And yet, Maryland’s governor, Baltimore’s mayor and the President of the United States all called these young people “thugs.”

These hypocrites preside over a system in which cops have killed poor young people on the street with no consequence. Let the hypocrites call the young people what they will.

“Thugs”? No! The young people of Baltimore know what they are – and they are NOT thugs. They revolted with good reason. They are denied an education and a job. They are penned in by the police, rounded up for standing on the streets where they live. Many have been railroaded into prison. Some have been shot. Most know someone who was killed. Why shouldn’t they erupt in rage?

They are revolting against a society that has made conscious decisions to toss them on a scrap heap before they even have a chance to live.

And those young people who revolted know why the murdering cops were charged – because of the young people’s revolt.

No one should believe, just because six murderous cops were charged, that “justice” will be done. Not in Baltimore, not elsewhere. The problems are much bigger than just the cops. The police are only enforcers of a system built on exploitation, unemployment and racist oppression.

The confrontations in the streets of Baltimore Monday night won’t change all that. But the knowledge those young people gained in confronting the cops may well serve them in the future fights that remain to be made. The whole working class needs to pay attention.

SPARK Meeting in Baltimore

May 11, 2015

The following is a SPARK presentation given at a public meeting on May 3 in Baltimore:

On April 12th Freddie Gray was arrested without probable cause. He died a week later on April 19th after having his spinal cord in his neck 80% severed. They broke his neck! How and why did this happen? What the police say is damning enough. Why did they arrest Gray? They say because Freddie ran after making eye contact with the cops. So if you look a cop right in the eye they will arrest you?! He ran away – I guess so. You might run too, if you thought the police would kill you. And they did kill him! Brutally.

The cops say he was OK when they put him in the back of the van. OK. So something happened to him in the van. The police admit they did not buckle him in – which they say they are supposed to do. They repeatedly failed to buckle him in – since every time (four times) they stopped they had an opportunity to correct their “mistake.” And they didn’t. They repeatedly failed to get him medical attention. They admit Gray’s hands were cuffed behind his back so he couldn’t buckle himself in, nor could he stop himself from rolling and slamming around in the back of the van. At some point they stopped the van to put leg irons on him. This action would have made him less able to balance himself in the van. Gray was totally vulnerable – by police admission.

Cops Give Many Rough Rides

This is not the first time a black man has died in police custody. It’s not even the first time someone was paralyzed or killed for not being buckled in, in the back of a police van. So the cops knew what could happen on this “rough ride” as it is known by Baltimore City cops. They are not admitting that they gave him the “rough ride” with the customary deliberate hard stops and starts and so forth. But look, a man is arrested with no broken neck and then he comes out of the van with a broken neck, not breathing, no pulse – something is very, very wrong here.

This should have been treated as a criminal case from the get go – which it was not. The cops should have been charged immediately – as any ordinary person would have been for doing something similar.

All the cops who were involved were complicit in Gray’s death. All were responsible. They should all be in jail and tried for murder – instead of given a paid vacation! Even now, after they were arrested and charged, they are out on bail. Out immediately!

The mayor is telling people to be peaceful. Peaceful? The police aren’t peaceful. They are targeting young black men EVERY DAY. If you look at the cops “wrong” or too long, they will chase you down. If you run from them, they will shoot you in the back eight times. Sell cigarettes on the sidewalk, they will choke hold you and suffocate you so you can’t breathe. Walk down a flight of stairs with your girlfriend because the elevator doesn’t work – they’ll shoot you. Hands up – they shoot; Hands down … driving a car. Doesn’t matter. They’ll shoot you. Because they are gunning for YOU.

David Simon, the journalist who produced the TV show “The Wire,” based on Baltimore, explained the cops’ attitude this way:

“Probable cause was destroyed by the war on drugs.... There was a joke [told by police] about, ‘you know what probable cause is on Edmondson Avenue? You roll by in your radio car and the guy looks at you for two seconds too long.’ Probable cause was whatever you thought you could safely lie about when you got into district court.”

This is why people are angry. This is why people are in the streets. The protestors who looted – yes – little things. How about the big looters? How about how capitalism has robbed people of decent paying jobs, of jobs, period? Robbed young people of a decent education. Of their very lives.

Tanya Peacher, a 36-year-old Baltimore resident, said she’d never attended a protest in the city before, but watching a video of Gray’s arrest motivated her.

“I looked at my son,” she said, “and thought 'that is my son.' ”

Wearing a sign around his neck that said “I am Freddie Gray,” 33-year-old Dante Acree joined thousands of others outside City Hall. Acree said he came out to the protest because “it could have been one of my kids. It could have been my brother, my father,” he said. “I'd want the same support.”

A Policy of the Ruling Class

It’s not just Freddie Gray. It’s not just Baltimore. This is a conscious policy of the ruling class.

Why? THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH JOBS.

Black people – black men in particular – are the hardest hit with unemployment. After the urban uprisings in hundreds of cities across the country in the 60s and early 70s, after the social movements ended, better paying factory jobs started disappearing in the big cities that had been struck by revolts. Not just here in Baltimore but all over. Young black men couldn’t get a job where their father worked. Factories were laying people off; closing down; the bosses weren’t hiring. Then crack was flooded into the cities while jobs moved to the far-out suburbs or small towns.

This is when the deliberate policy of the ruling class began – in the 1980s, when starting with Reagan and on through Clinton, the Bushes, right on down to Obama – they instituted a war on young black men, code named “the war on drugs.”

What do politicians do with millions of unemployed black people that the capitalist class doesn’t want to hire?

What do they do with millions of unemployed black people who have a history of fighting back, of making themselves ungovernable, of making urban rebellions, and of changing the atmosphere in the factories they entered, facing down brutal foremen, tearing up unreasonable rules?

The ruling class has disappeared young black men – that’s what they did. Criminalize them. Target them. Imprison them. Create generations of young black men who can’t get jobs because they have a record. Can’t vote. Then maybe the ruling class has tied black people’s hands behind their backs and they won’t be able to make trouble and fight for jobs that capitalism IS NOT and CANNOT provide.

Or so the politicians thought, so they hoped.

This is the policy that has been carried out since the 1980s. And for the most part it has worked … up until now. It has enforced a bitter calm on the big cities. Up until … Baltimore.

Capitalism is in trouble. The bosses are pushing the trouble onto us to keep THEIR system afloat. Lay-offs, speed-up, pay and benefit cuts.

Their policy targets the heart of the working class. White workers are deformed by racism, trained to fear black men. White workers have been told in a hundred ways that black men are dangerous criminals.

But white workers have been caught up by the policy of criminalizing those who can’t find a job, too. White workers are laid off. White workers are in prisons, also caught up in the so-called “war on drugs.” There are white workers who are so blinded by racism that they can’t see how they’ve been manipulated by the powers that be. They can’t see how this divides us, weakens us. They can’t see how this division is used to keep us all down, to control us.

But what happens is NOT up to those who succumb to racism.

Angry Protests Show a Way

What happens now, even just in the city of Baltimore, depends first on the demonstrators continuing their angry protests – not letting up because charges were made against the six cops. But making a mess, stopping the Orioles game, shutting the city down, challenging police power … while a good start, all this is not enough. Charges are not convictions. And even with convictions, the police would still be enforcing the ruling class crack-down on young black men and others unable to find a job. Because there still are NO JOBS.

To deal with that will require a revolt against all of capitalist society. An overturn of existing structures. A revolution, which must mean building a new society that works for everyone.

Pages 6-7

How the Massacre of Armenians Began

May 11, 2015

This article is excerpted from the April 3rd, 2015 issue of Sinif Mucadelesi (Class Struggle), published by the revolutionary group of the same name in Turkey.

While leaders of Turkey still argue against the use of the term “genocide,” the massacre of Armenians in 1915 shows what level of savagery bourgeois nationalist politics can lead to.

The massacres began with decisions taken by Talaat Bey, the Minister of the Interior for the Ottoman government led by the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) Party, known as the “Young Turks.”

In the summer of 1914, the CUP sent a message to the congress of the Armenian Dashnak party and demanded that, in the coming war, the Dashnaks remain loyal to the Ottoman Empire, fight against the Russians in the Caucasus and call on Russian Armenians to side with the Ottoman Empire against Russia. The Dashnaks responded by reassuring the Ottoman state of their loyalty, but they said that they would pursue a policy independent of the CUP government.

In November 1914, four months after World War I began, the Ottoman navy attacked Russian ships and ports. In retaliation, the Russian army invaded Ottoman territory in eastern Turkey. Turkish history books say that the decision to “relocate” Armenians was imposed on the government by the events of the war. But the violence – attacks on villages, incidents of plunder and rape – had already begun before the war.

For the war, the government had drafted Armenian men ages 20 to 45 into the army. But then, under the pretext of road construction, Armenians ages 15 to 20 and 45 to 60 were also drafted. Later, in December 1914, the government declared an earlier treaty that guaranteed the rights of Armenian citizens null and void.

A month later, in January 1915, the Russian army scored a victory in Sarikamish and began to march forward. In February, using this as an excuse, the Ottoman government disarmed the Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army in Gallipoli and other fronts.

Armenian uprisings ensued in two eastern provinces in April 1915. Talaat Bey countered with the “decrees of April 24,” which ordered the closure of Armenian organizations and arrest of their leaders.

Even before these decrees, in Constantinople, which was far from the battle fronts, 235 Armenians – including members of the National Assembly, writers, journalists, artists, clergy and businessmen – were arrested and subsequently murdered. Within a few weeks, the number of arrests reached 2,345. In the following months, Armenians living in Anatolia were rounded up and forced to march toward camps set up in Deir ez-Zor in the Syrian desert. Most of the people died on the way.

On May 27, 1915, the government granted local authorities the power to relocate anyone as they saw fit. A second government decree three days later extended deportations indefinitely. On June 10, a “decree on the land, goods and property of Armenians and measures to be taken” was issued, saying that vacated properties would be given to refugees, and Armenians would be compensated for them. Of course, none of this happened.

According to British sources, more than one million Armenians were deported and 600,000 of them died. Turkish sources put the number of deaths at 413,067. After World War I, 120 people were put on trial for the massacres and all of them were acquitted. And thus, the massacre of Armenians in 1915 entered the list of crimes against peoples throughout the whole world that remain unpunished.

Page 8

California:
Destruction of the Water Supply

May 11, 2015

More than one million California residents who live in mostly rural communities do not have reliable access to safe drinking water.

How is that possible in California, which has the most highly developed infrastructure to transport water in the world, including thousands of dams, along with entire networks of canals, tunnels and pumps?

The reason for this has nothing to do with the severe drought. Instead, the supply of water that these rural communities depend on has been polluted by corporate-run farms that use huge amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals leach into the soil and contaminate the underground water table. So does the waste material generated by huge feed lots for dairy, cattle and pigs.

Adding to this toxic mix in other communities is the oil industry. Oil companies have been injecting millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals left over from the fracking process back into the deep underground. Despite assurances from public officials and the oil industry about how safe this was supposed to be, the chemicals are now making their way into the water supply of surrounding communities.

So, not only can’t one million people drink the water, they often can’t even bathe in it, or use it to flush their toilets, without risking their health. This means that just to survive, families are forced to spend more than 10 per cent of their income on potable water, and under conditions comparable to those of the poor countries of the Third World.

This threat goes way beyond the one million people living in impoverished rural communities.

Ordinarily, more than half the water that is used in the state of California comes from underground aquifers. That amount can be as high as two-thirds of the water used in the state during dry years. Not only do 16 million people in the state depend on it for drinking water, but also underground water is considered by the state government as “the single most important resource contributing to the state economy.”

Everything depends on it.

And yet, important parts of that resource are being degraded and destroyed by industry and agriculture, in their mad rush to increase their profits and wealth.

California Drought:
Another Excuse to Increase Water Bills

May 11, 2015

Big restrictions on water use in California supposedly because of the drought are hitting working class communities the hardest. As it is, average household water bills have more than doubled over the last decade – even though average household water consumption is already much lower because of previous cuts and conservation efforts.

Now the drought is being used as a pretext to tack on even more surcharges. People can take shorter showers, take less time to brush their teeth, or do less laundry – and their bills are still going up.

There has also been a big propaganda assault on people’s lawns. Ending the watering won’t just kill lawns, it will also kill neighborhood trees, which depend on the water run-off from the lawns. And that means hotter, more miserable summers. Grass traps dust, smoke particles and carbon dioxide. It cools temperatures and becomes a sort of air conditioner while saving energy. It even absorbs noise. And if trees, which are already stressed by the drought, are left to die, there goes the much needed shade.

And for what? Agribusiness uses ten times as much water as all 38 million people in the state combined! And Governor Brown has already made it clear that he will not restrict water consumption for agribusiness. This just means that all the water that working people don’t use will be consumed by agribusiness. And all the extra money that working people pay for water – supposedly because of the drought – will just be pocketed by the capitalist class.

Debt:
Explosive Pile-Up

May 11, 2015

Eight years after the world’s debt mountain nearly brought down the whole financial system in 2007, you might expect that the world’s debt would have been cut to size. But it hasn’t been.

Current estimates show that, over these eight years, the planetary debt mountain has increased by 57 trillion dollars – that is, more than three times the annual GDP of the United States. For every dollar of wealth produced on the planet in a year, there is $2.86 worth of outstanding debt!

This reflects different things, though. For instance, the 7.5 trillion dollar increase in household debt is not due to a shopping frenzy, but to the general fall in living standards. By contrast, the 26 trillion dollar increase in corporate debt does not mean that businesses invest more – in fact, they invest less – but that they borrow, either to speculate, to buy up their rivals, or just to increase dividends, but in any case, not for anything socially useful.

As for government debt, worldwide it’s increased by 35 trillion dollars. Nine trillion of this comes from the U.S., where the government borrowed so much in order to bail out the banks that the national debt has doubled since 2007, to 18 trillion dollars.

In other words, the capitalists are using debt to line their own pockets. But by the same token, they’re stoking up the explosive ingredients for yet another financial crisis!