Monday, October 28, 2013

Fwd: SEP Newsletter: Wealth and poverty in America

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From: Socialist Equality Party <>
Date: Sat, Oct 26, 2013 at 8:39 AM
Subject: SEP Newsletter: Wealth and poverty in America
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World Socialist Web Site

Socialist Equality Party Newsletter

Join the Socialist Equality Party! Take up the fight for socialism!

Dear SEP Supporters,
There are many signs of a growing spirit of resistance and opposition in the working class in the United States and internationally. Over the past couple weeks, we have seen a second strike by Bay Area transit workers and a sickout of bus workers in Detroit (see below). Social inequality in America has soared to record levels, with corporate CEOs pulling in incomes of hundreds of millions amidst mass poverty and unemployment.
As the perspective below explains, "The very crisis of the capitalist system is creating the conditions for its overthrow. Millions of people view the current state of affairs with mounting anger. They are looking for an alternative. But the anger of working people must assume a political form. It must be organized and given conscious articulation and direction. For this, a party is required--a leadership based on a historically grounded revolutionary and socialist perspective."
As the experience of the BART strike demonstrates, the interests of the working class can be defended and its struggles given a conscious form only through the building of a socialist leadership, in opposition to the trade unions, the Democratic Party and the entire political establishment. Now is the time to become involved! Join the Socialist Equality Party and the International Youth and Students for Social Equality! For more information, click here.


Wealth and poverty in America

25 October 2013
Five years after the financial crash of 2008, in the midst of growing poverty and social misery, the US ruling class is amassing unparalleled levels of wealth.
The top ten highest-paid CEOs in the United States each received over $100 million last year, according to a survey released Tuesday by GMI Ratings. Two chief executives alone took in over $1 billion apiece, and the combined pay of the top ten was $4.7 billion--in one year .
To put these figures in perspective, the CEOs' combined payout is 50 percent larger than next year's federal budget for home heating assistance. It is 12 times larger than the entire budget deficit of Detroit, which is being used as the justification for slashing the pensions and health benefits of c ity workers and selling off art treasures from one of the world's great museums, the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The 2012 income of the highest-paid of the CEO's, Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg ($2.27 billion), would be enough to pay the salaries of all 2,300 transit workers in the Bay Area (where Zuckerberg lives) for more than 16 years. Yet in the midst of the four-day strike that just ended, it was the transit workers who were denounced by the media and politicians as selfish and overpaid!
The CEO pay report followed the release last month of the Forbes 400 list, which showed that the combined wealth of the 400 richest people in the US increased by 17 percent over last year's figure, rising from $1.7 trillion to over $2 trillion. The wealth of these 400 individuals is more than twice the amount necessary to cover the federal budget deficit, which is being used as the pretext for slashing food stamps, education, housing assistance and retirement and health care programs.
Side by side with the obscene self-enrichment of the financial aristocracy, poverty continues to swell. A study released earlier this month by the Southern Education Foundation found that nearly half of all public school children in the United States were in poverty in the school year that ended in 2011. Of the world's 45 wealthiest countries, the United States has the second-highest level of child poverty, exceeded only by Romania.
A report that came out yesterday, based on figures provided by the US Department of Education, found that over 1.1 million children enrolled in public schools were homeless at some point in 2011-2012, up 10 percent from 2010-2011 and 72 percent higher than before the onset of the economic crisis. Even these figures underestimate the actual number of school children without a home.
By ev ery measure--household income, poverty, unemployment--the conditions of life for a large majority of the population have suffered a historic decline, the impact of which will be felt for decades. Older workers are finding it impossible to retire, with pensions and health care under attack. The future held out for youth is one of permanent economic dislocation, poverty, indebtedness and unemployment.
Far from being chastened by disaster it has unleashed and the monstrous growth of poverty and inequality, the US ruling class is intensifying its plunder of society and its war against the working class. With the Obama administration's nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve, the White House is making clear that the Fed's more than $1 trillion yearly cash handout to the financial markets will continue. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the government shutdown, the administration and Congress are conspiring to slash hundreds of billion s of dollars from Medicare and Social Security.
Growing inequality is the overriding and omnipresent social reality in America, but it is not unique to the United States. Since 2008, the plutocracy that controls the mechanisms of economic and political power has engineered an unprecedented global transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. In countries such as Greece and Spain, poverty and unemployment have become the norm, as the banks dictate austerity measures to extract from working people every possible penny for the repayment of debts. The rest of the world is not far behind.
Society cannot afford a decent standard of living for workers, it is claimed. It cannot afford to provide young people with an education, or provide health care to the sick and elderly. There are discussions in ruling circles about the great problem of people living too long and draining resources that could otherwise go into t he vaults of the richest 1 percent.
Two points must be made about the claims that "there is no money" to meet basic social needs. First is their obvious absurdity amidst the accumulation of personal wealth on a scale never before seen in human history. The lie that there are no resources is not rendered more believable by being endlessly repeated.
Second, in implicitly acknowledging that the preservation of capitalism requires that the broad mass of the population give up everything that has been gained in the past, the representatives of the ruling class render a devastating judgment on their own economic system. The relentless drive to slash workers' wages, benefits, social services and public infrastructure constitutes a de facto admission that capitalism is a failed system that has long outlived any historical justification.
In reality, it is the rich that society cannot afford. Society cannot afford their voracious appetites and the appalling and irrational squandering of resources to satisfy their insatiable greed. The working class cannot afford to have all its rights and interests subordinated to their ever-greater accumulation of personal wealth.
It is not a matter of appealing to the ruling class and its political representatives for reforms. The fact that the looting of society is an international phenomenon that continues despite its catastrophic consequences for the human race reflects the fact that it is objectively embedded in the nature of the capitalist system.
The historic task is to put an end to this system. The only way to end the social inequality, poverty and social misery that dominate American society is to expropriate the massive wealth commanded by the financial oligarchy and use these resources to meet social needs.
The very crisis of the capitalist system is creating the conditions for its overthrow. Millions of people view the current state of affairs with mounting anger. They are looking for an alternative. But the anger of working people must assume a political form. It must be organized and given conscious articulation and direction. For this, a party is required--a leadership based on a historically grounded revolutionary and socialist perspective.
We call on workers and young people to study the program of the Socialist Equality Party and join the fight to build a socialist movement of the working class.
Andre Damon

Lessons of the Bay Area transit strike

23 October 2013
The four-day strike by 2,300 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers in Northern California was called off on Monday night and the nation's fifth largest public transportation system was back in operation yesterday.
While the unions involved--the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)--have not released details of the agreement, what has been reported makes clear that it accepts all of the basic demands of BART management, including concessions on pensions and health care and changes in work rules to further undermine working conditions. The new contract follows one in 2009 that included $100 million in concessions and a four-year pay freeze.
It was entirely predictable that the unions would end the strike on management's terms. They followed a script that has been repeated countless times over the past thirty y ears.
A strike is called that the union has no intention of winning. Rather, it is called to let off steam in order to make it easier to push through concessions. Nothing is done to mobilize broader popular support. The workers are left isolated while the media engages in a slander campaign. The strike is called off as soon as the union deems it feasible, with nothing won and workers ordered back to work before they can read, let alone vote on, the new contract.
The unions are reportedly holding mass meetings and conducting a vote on the contract as early as today, with the aim of giving workers as little time as possible to review what they are voting on. There is widespread opposition among the workers, and with good reason. Many are no doubt asking, if this is the outcome, what was the purpose of the strike?
That the pattern in the BART strike has been repeated again and agai n points to the fact that the experience of BART workers is part of a broader process. What is involved is not simply a conflict with one institution or a problem with one set of corrupt union officials. To carry forward the struggle, it is necessary to carefully consider the lessons of what has happened.
The BART strike, like every social conflict that erupts in the United States, quickly exposed the violence of class relations in America and the essentially political character of the struggle. In seeking to defend their rights, the transit workers encountered the furious opposition of the state and its institutions. Politicians, both Democratic and Republican, attacked the workers, along with their allies in the media.
Workers who make about $60,000 a year were denounced as overpaid and greedy. This in a region where the cost of living is among the highest in the country and where some of the wealt hiest people in the world reside. Corporations are making record profits, the stock market is soaring, and it is assumed as a matter of course that CEOs and Wall Street investors should be wealthier than ever. But for workers to attempt to maintain a decent standard of living is considered an outrage.
There were immediate calls for direct state action against the strikers. Democrats and Republicans demanded legislation to make transit strikes illegal. The supposedly liberal San Francisco Chronicle led the way. An editorial published after the conclusion of the strike fumed, "Why should workers in a service so essential to Bay Area life and safety even be allowed to strike?" It would be better to make any form of social resistance illegal.
These threats were echoed in the comments of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom--the former mayor of San Francisco and favorite of "left" Democrats--when h e said at the press conference announcing the agreement: "We won't let this happen again."
The determination of the ruling class and its political representatives to defeat the strike led to the killing of two maintenance workers over the weekend. BART first claimed the train that hit the workers was being operated by an experienced manager, but it has since emerged that the train was being driven by a strikebreaker with little or no experience who was being prepped for the possibility of a lengthy strike.
The ruling class sees the attack on transit workers as a critical component of an overall class policy. Every right of the working class is under attack. Anything that does not contribute to the accumulation of greater personal wealth for the rich must go--health care, pensions, public education, decent wages. In the aftermath of the US government shutdown, the Obama administration is in discussions with con gressional Republicans and Democrats over plans to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare and Social Security.
The struggle of transit workers in defense of their rights is embedded in this broader social and political framework. The working class faces the necessity of counterposing to the worked-out strategy of the ruling class its own worked-out strategy, based on its own interests.
The unions function not as instruments of struggle, but as instruments for the suppression of struggle. Their first aim is to prevent any opposition from emerging. Over the past thirty years, strikes, once a constant feature of American life, have largely disappeared, even as social inequality has grown to levels that rival the period before the Great Depression.
When strikes do erupt, the unions work to isolate and defeat them. This has been the case in every struggle since the 1980s, without exception. It is impossible to point to a single example during this period of these organizations--upheld today by phony "left" groups as the only legitimate representatives of the working class--leading a struggle to victory.
The bankruptcy of the unions is determined by their social and political relationship to the profit system. The unions, representing the privileged upper-middle class executives that control them, accept and defend the framework of capitalism, expressed politically in their alliance with the Democratic Party. They base themselves on everything the working class is being driven into struggle against.
The agreement that the unions have reached with management must still be voted on, and the Socialist Equality Party urges workers to reject the sellout.
However, this is only the first step. New organizations o f struggle must be built. The task of constructing a new leadership must be initiated, among BART workers and in every section of the working class, throughout the country and internationally. This leadership must be forged in opposition to the Democratic and Republican parties, the trade unions and all of the institutions of the ruling class.
In order to fight, it is necessary to understand what one is fighting against. The defense of every basic right of working people involves a conflict with the ruling class, its state, and the capitalist system. The growing radicalization of broad sections of the population must be given an anti-capitalist and socialist orientation, directed at building a mass movement of the working class to take political power and reorganize society on the basis of social need, not private profit.
Joseph Kishore

Driver sickout halts bus service in Detroit

By Shannon Jones
22 October 2013
Bus service in Detroit came to a halt Monday as drivers called in sick or took vacation days to protest intolerable conditions, including assaults on drivers, deteriorating service, overwork as well as cuts to wages, pensions and health care.
Transit service in Detroit, already massively underfunded, has been impacted by severe cuts, including the elimination of 24-hour service, cuts to weekend service and the curtailment of routes. There are some 470 drivers employed by the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), with about 300 drivers daily carrying some 100,000 passengers.
One of the catalysts for the protest was the recent stabbing of two on-duty DDOT drivers; however, the grievances of drivers span a wide array of issues.
One veteran driver told the WSWS that friction between riders and passengers had escalated due to massive budget cut s. "The people are mad because they have cut so much service. It is insanity."

Alvin Bell
Alvin Bell, a DDOT driver with 11 years said, "How do they want us to take a pay cut when we are picking up more people than ever?
"On the Woodward bus, you go one mile and the bus is already full, standing room only. You pass up people in wheelchairs, everybody. How are you going to pick up 50 people at every major street? I got chased down by a passenger with a gun."
"How do you expect conditions to get better when there is a lack of service and a lack of drivers? The service is inappropriate. On any major street buses are at full capacity. The driver does not have time to go to the bathroom. There is no lunch stop, no 15-minute breaks."
Drivers recently rejected a concessions contract proposed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr that would have maintained concessions surrendered by their union--the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 26--in 2010 and on top of that would have slashed wages and benefits by a total of 20 percent.
Meanwhile, Orr, who is acting as an unelected financial dictator, is threatening to privatize city services, including DDOT, which is already operating under the direction of a private management company. In addition, Orr recently announced he was ending city-paid medical coverage for about 20,000 retired city workers, including transit workers. Retirees under 65 will be forced to buy private insurance under the health exchanges set up by the Obama administration while those over 65 are being forced onto Medicare.

Bus drivers protest in downtown Detroit
More than 200 drivers and their supporters attended a Monday morning rally outside of the City-County building in downtown Detroit. The majority of transit workers saw the need to link their struggle to the broader issues facing the working class in Detroit, and many carried hand-held signs appealing to passengers and calling for expanded service.
While the struggle by transit workers has the potential to win broad sympathy, the Amalgamated Transit Union is advancing as its sole demand the call for police on buses, in effect pitting drivers against passengers. The ATU has disavowed responsibility for the sickout, setting drivers up for victimization, and has rejected any a ttempt to mobilize transit riders behind the drivers or link the protest to issues of pensions or wages or demands for more funding for transit.
In line with union demands for cops on buses, ATU Local 26 President Fred Westbrook set up an afternoon meeting with Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Kevyn Orr's Chief Operating Officer and former city councilman Gary Brown.
The ATU demand for police on the buses dovetails with the reactionary campaign by the unions to elect Democratic Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who is running as the law-and-order candidate in the Detroit mayoral election.
In contrast to the ATU, drivers at Monday's rally identified with the plight of the city's transit passengers and spoke about fighting to expand city services and opposing the looting of the city by Orr and the big banks.

David Brown
David Brown, a driver with 18 years, was carrying a sign saying "no more long waits." He said, "Our benefits are being stripped so rapidly it is hard to keep up. They say they are broke. How are they hiring someone [Orr] and paying him more than $200,000 a year and we can't get our $2 raise back that we gave up in 2010? The starting wage here is around $10 an hour, just above minimum wage. Some people have been here three years and not made it to maximum pay. There is money, but they are hiding it from us.
"We want 24-hour service back. We have people who work late night. We provided that service and they appreciated it. Some have kids at home so they have to work late at night. You have to work the shift you are able to work. Public tra nsportation is needed in this city."
Scherita Joseph, with eight years seniority, said, "I think Orr is here illegally. Detroit does not qualify for bankruptcy. They are here to do as they please." Referring to the former Detroit mayor who was recently convicted on corruption charges, she said, "They are doing what Kwame Kilpatrick did, but only now it is out in the open.
"We are in contract negotiations now with Kevyn Orr. We just voted down a contact that would cut our pay and benefits. They are making it hard for anyone to raise their families. We will no longer be able to afford to live in the city."

Detroit's Rosa Parks terminal
Mike James, a driv er with two decades of experience, said, "Can you imagine being a retiree? Look at what they are trying to ram down their throats. We need to do what goes on in Europe--a mass strike. Look at San Francisco, at the BART strike, where two workers were killed. There was a report that the train that hit them was being run by a computer. We are all involved in this. We need a general strike with all the county workers involved too."
When a WSWS reporter explained that the unions were seeking to block any united action by city workers against the attacks of the emergency manager Mike replied, "The unions have been transformed into a business, no doubt about it."
Another DDOT driver said, "Good luck trying to find drivers who will do this job for no benefits and no money. They need to keep the economy bad, so we'll work for nothing."
"You're passing 20 people you can't even pick up at every stop. All day the same problem is happening. 'I've been out here for hours', the passengers say to us.
"They cut most of the services and we are the ones taking the blame."
"We don't have the equipment, manpower, and it's going to get worse."

Megan Owens
Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, an advocacy group for public transportation, spoke about the impact of recent cuts to service. "This is an impossible situation. The city slashed service in recent years, leading to dramatic overcrowding on buses. A friend of mine waited for 2 and a half hours and the buses never showed up. A woman in a wheelchair was passed up by three different buses in a row. It is outrageous, especially when they are providing an essential service. 100,000 people a day rely on the buses to get to school, to work and to doctors. Those 100,000 people have no choice. There is nothing they can do."
Michael Cunningham, who described himself as transportation "activist," said, "At every terminal there are 100 buses that are broken down. One-half of the fleet is down. They need parts. People are being made late to court, to school, to work. The drivers and the passengers are upset. It is like lighter fluid and a match. It is combustible."
A city worker with eight years said he had come to support the drivers. "Everybody needs to be united together. That way they wouldn't be able to railroad us. If every union stuck together we would be better off. The whole city needs to strike together, everybody."
Lemarr, a retired Det roit firefighter, also came out to support the drivers. "We need some solidarity down here. One piece here and one piece there will not do it.
He explained what was happening to city retirees. "They have tagged us very badly on health care. I've got to go into the health exchanges. They are giving you a stipend. You have to pay for your own dental and optical. My wife works for the city, but they will not let me go on her health coverage."

Reports document US slaughter of civilians in drone strikes

By Barry Grey
23 October 2013
A series of reports released over the past several days document the killing of thousands of people, including hundreds of non-combatant civilians, in US drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries. The reports, issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Tuesday and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions last Friday, expose as lies the claims of President Obama and administration officials that the drone strikes are "surgical" attacks that kill few civilians.
All three reports suggest that the United States is concealing the extent of the carnage caused by its program of extrajudicial executions and is in violation of international humanitarian law. The reports were timed to coincide with a United Nations General Assembly debate on drone attacks to take place this Friday.
Amnesty International devoted its report, "Will I be Next?" US Drone Strikes in Pakistan, to the results of an on-the-spot investigation into nine of the 45 reported strikes that occurred in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency, which borders Afghanistan, between January 2012 and August 2013. The report's executive summary begins:
In October 2012, 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed in front of her grandchildren while gathering vegetables in her family's large, vacant fields. She was blasted into pieces by a drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her. A year has passed, but the US government has not acknowledged Mamana Bibi's death, let alone provided justice or compensation for it ...
The US appears to be exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the local region to evade accountability for violations of the right to life.
"The killing of Mamana Bibi appears to be a clear case of extrajudicial execution," said Mustafa Qadri, the report's author, in an interview. "It is extremely difficult to see how she could have been mistaken for a militant, let alone an imminent threat to the US."
Exposing US claims to scrupulously avoid civilian casualties, Amnesty provided evidence of indiscriminate attacks that could not but kill and injure noncombatants. "Amnesty International documented many cases in which residents came to the scene of an initial drone strike only to be struck in follow-up strikes," it wrote.
It cited as an example a double drone strike in July 2012 in the village of Zowi Sidgi, which killed 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, and seriously injured 22 villagers, including an eight-year-old gi rl. The report states:
Missiles first struck a tent in which men had gathered for an evening meal, killing eight people. Villagers rushed to the tent to search for survivors. They carried stretchers, blankets and water. Then, a few minutes later, the drones fired another set of missiles. Witnesses described a macabre scene of body parts and blood, panic and terror, as US drones continued to hover overhead.
Amnesty quoted one resident as saying, "Some people lost their hands. Others had their heads cut off. Some lost their legs. Human body parts were scattered everywhere."
The report cites NGO and Pakistan government sources who estimate that the US carried out 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013. The sources say that between 400 and 900 civilians have been killed in the attacks and at least 600 people seriously inju red. Pakistani officials have previously put the civilian death toll in the thousands.
Amnesty reports that as of the publication of its report, the US government had not responded to its "repeated requests for comment."
The Human Rights Watch report, "Between a Drone and Al Qaeda ": The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen, examines six of an estimated 80 targeted killings carried out in Yemen since 2006. It begins:
On the evening of August 29, 2012, five men gathered in a grove of date palms behind the local Mosque in Khashamir, a village in southeast Yemen. Moments later, US remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones, launched three Hellfire missiles at the group.
The strike killed four of the men instantly, hurling their body parts across the grounds. The blast of a fourth missile hit the fifth man as he crawled away, pinning him lifeless to a wall.
Yemen's Defense Ministry described three of the men as members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The other two were not connected.
The report cites a December 2009 strike in the hamlet of al-Majalah that killed 14 alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and at least 41 local civilians, including nine women and 21 children. The attack used Tomahawk cruise missiles armed with cluster munitions.
It also singles out a September 2012 air strike in the village of Sarar that blew up a minibus, killing 12 passengers, including three children and a pregnant woman.
Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 57 of the 82 people killed in the attacks it investigat ed were civilians. It notes: "US authorities have not revealed the number of strikes, the number of civilians and alleged combatants killed or wounded, or, with few exceptions, the target of the strikes."
The attacks in Pakistan are carried out by the CIA. Those in Yemen are carried by both the CIA and the military's US Joint Special Operations Command. The Obama administration refuses to provide figures for dead and wounded, explain the legal rationale for individual attacks, or, generally, the identities of those targeted.
The report by UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson focuses mainly on drone strikes in Afghanistan, but also covers Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Somalia. Emmerson cites data from the US Air Force that shows the number of aerial drone strikes in Afghanistan rose from 294 in 2011 to 447 in the first 11 mont hs of 2012. Emmerson concludes that the United States is in violation of international law, in the first instance by refusing to provide information on its targeted killing program.
His report states: "The modern concept of human rights is based on the fundamental principle that those responsible for violations must be held to account. A failure to investigate and, where applicable, punish those responsible for violations of the right to life in itself constitutes a violation of that right."
In its article on the US drone strike reports, the New York Times on Tuesday focused on the city of Miram Shah in Pakistan's North Waziristan agency, noting that it has suffered at least 13 drone strikes since 2008, with an additional 25 in nearby districts--"more than any other urban settlement in the world."
The Times states that the strikes on Miram Shah "mostly occu r in densely populated neighborhoods," having thus far hit a bakery, a closed girls school and a money changers' market. The newspaper describes the devastating impact on the population of living with the constant fear of sudden death, in a place where "buzzing drones hover day and night." Calling it "a fearful and paranoid town," the Times speaks of a "crushing psychological burden for many residents."
These reports make clear that the drone-based targeted killing program is a calculated effort to terrorize and intimidate entire populations into accepting either direct US occupation or domination via client regimes. It is driven not by a "war on terrorism," but a determination to secure US imperialist hegemony over the oil-rich and strategically vital Middle East and Central Asia.
Obama personally devotes much of his time to overseeing the drawing up of "kill lists" and selecting targets, including US citizens, for extrajudicial execution. The information in the newly published reports shatters the claims he made in his speech last May at the National Defense University to use drone strikes only against people who pose a "continuing, imminent threat" to the United States and only in cases where the avoidance of civilian casualties is "a near certainty."
At a news briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney arrogantly dismissed the series of damning reports, saying "we would strongly disagree" that the US has violated international laws. Without addressing any of the charges or evidence contained in the reports, he declared, "US counterterrorism actions are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective."
The reports, in fact, provide prima facie evidence for a future war crimes tribunal whose defendants would include Obama and top officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon , the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.