by Al Simpson

The strike by 70,000 auto plant workers in Matamoros, Mexico is now in its second week. They just held a “day without workers”, where the plants were idle, and production was completely halted. The strike has already cost the bosses $100 million and is slowing production at General Motors and Ford assembly plants. Photos on social media showed deserted factories and union bureaucrats struggling to keep production lines operating after workers put down their tools en masse. Over 50 factories have now stopped production as a result of the strike. The union bureaucrats and the bosses have been shown to be impotent.

After refusing to show up to work, the auto parts and electrical workers held a massive march through the city of 500,000, chanting “we will win this fight no matter what,” “the workers united will never be defeated,” and “empty plants, a day without workers!” The workers’ demands include:

  • A 20 percent wage increase.
  • $1,700 bonus payable immediately.
  • A shorter workweek.
  • A cut in union dues.

The workers understand that they are much stronger if they look beyond the national boundaries set up by the bosses. The rally began at the town square in Matamoros, but the workers decided to march to the border near Brownsville, Texas in order to appeal to American workers. Needless to say, there has been an almost complete news blackout of the strike and this march to the border. Nevertheless, workers in the United States and Canada have heard of the Mexican strike and are grateful for it, especially given all of the plant closures recently announced by GM and Ford.

The shortages at US plants because of the Mexican strike shows the international nature of capitalist production. Many auto manufacturers moved much of their operations to Mexico in order to save money on wages and break the strength of the auto workers’ unions. Meanwhile, despite Trump’s ranting against immigration, American agriculture depends on poorly paid Latin American immigrant labor, whose ability to organize is weakened by amti-immigrant terror. This strike demonstrates why fightbacks by the working class are much more powerful if international. Of course, the bosses and the union misleaders would fight such a prospect with all their might. But the workers can, by putting their trust in themselves and building rank and file strike committees, run strikes that would be international in nature, and would do a wonderful job of crippling the bosses.


by Ellen Isaacs

            There is one thing the now 30 day old government shutdown shows for sure – neither Donald Trump nor his opponents have any concern for poor U.S. workers, the biggest victims of this power game between the main wing of the ruling class and the usurpers of the on the right. 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (CNBC 1/9), and now 800,000 federal employees and hundreds of thousands of contractors, who are 40% of government personnel, are without one, whether or not they are being forced to work. To understand the devastation, we must know that 21.2% of U.S. families have no savings, including over 32% of Latin and 37% of black families. 40% of all families have less than $400 in available cash for emergencies, according to the Federal Reserve. What more proof need there be that workers cannot afford to live under this capitalist system?

            Native Americans living on federally funded land have been hardest hit. Snow covered roads are not being cleared, ambulances cannot run and medical care is devastated by a 60% unpaid healthcare workforce. Some of the other concrete effects of the shutdown, which disproportionately affects black and Latin workers, are:

            *food stamps, used by 38 million people, were given out early for February and will no longer be available;

            *federal cash welfare for $34 million is gone and being temporarily replaced by states; USDA loans and federal rent subsidies for low income rural dwellers will end by 2/1;

            *food inspections have markedly decreased;

            *approvals for opioid drug antagonists cannot be had.

If workers have not already died from these measures, they soon will, and it is certain that widespread effects of the stress and deprivation will continue long after the shutdown ends.

Why Make a Crisis out of Immigration?

            Trump pretends that there is an “immigration crisis,” but illegal border crossings have dropped from 851,000 in 2006 to approximately 62,000 in 2016, and both immigrants with legal status and undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate and have lower unemployment than the native born (NYT 1/11/19). Most illegally imported drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry. Given the falling fertility rates of native-born Americans, the U.S. would need to admit more than a million immigrants a year until 2050, more than double the current number, just to maintain current levels of production (NYT 1/15/19).

            What the maintenance of legal barriers to immigration does accomplish is to keep this large body of workers in a state of constant fear, drastically limiting their ability to demand higher wages or organize. By branding immigrant workers as dangerous and criminal, racist and nationalistic divisions are also sown between them and other poor workers, including blacks and legal immigrants or their descendants.

Why is This Happening Now?

            There may be no better explanation than that Trump is a bumbling politician, devoid of any stable advisors representing the usual ruling class forces. He sees himself as beholden to his most racist and reactionary base to fulfill a campaign promise to “build the wall” and earn his racist and nationalist stripes. However, there should be no illusions that the Democrats or liberals who oppose him have any interest in treating immigrants with humanity. Since a century ago, Presidents Wilson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, both Bush’s and Obama have set up draconian barriers to immigration and deported huge numbers, about 3 million by Obama alone, and all of them have divided families without mercy.

            The Democrats today, representing the main finance wing of the ruling class, are anxious to weaken Trump, who is destroying years of policies that strengthened international military, political and financial alliances. They are horrified by his general undisciplined behavior and that he is withdrawing from Syria and Afghanistan, threatening to withdraw from NATO and risking precipitous armed conflicts by taunting Iran, North Korea and China, before large numbers of workers are ready to fight and support war. They also oppose his total destruction of environmental regulations, overt white supremacy, and destruction of “free trade,” all damaging to the reputation and sway of America’s large corporations and their relations with international cronies. The Democrat’s majority in the House gives them the clout to carry on with this game of chicken and perhaps bring impeachment closer or, at least, shake loose some Republican allies of Trump.

            Ultimately, workers must rise up collectively to defend themselves from both parties. Mass sickouts among airport workers are already happening and may spread. Although federal workers are legally banned from striking, job actions are needed to defend their very ability to survive as all the bosses ignore their needs. The government would not be able to fire all federal employees, like Nixon did the air traffic controllers in 1981 when they struck. Once again it is clear that capitalism cares naught for workers’ lives and that, if organized and united, workers could change this whole game, demonstrate their power to themselves and the politicians, and save themselves from want and hardship.


by Ellen Isaacs

The Women’s March, which will occur in many cities on January 19, 2019, began two years ago as Trump became President. It was in large part a response to his coarse and disparaging behavior toward women, and involved several million marchers in the U.S. and around the world. Issues included reproductive rights, criminal justice, defense of the environment and the rights of immigrants, Muslims, gay and transgender people and the disabled. Unfortunately, many of the slogans implied that workers would have been better off if Hillary had been elected. No leaders and scarcely any marchers related the problems of racism and sexism to capitalism.

To have any hope of improving the lives of the working class, ending war or saving the planet, workers must unite across all genders, nations and ethnicities to fight for a society run by and for themselves. That will take a revolutionary change, and to be strong enough to do that, we must stick together and avoid the false promises of liberal, even if well-intended, reformers.

This year’s March suffers from the same weaknesses as before, but has been further marred by accusations of anti-Semitism against the leaders. Two of the four have had some relationship with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, who is overtly and loudly anti-Semitic. Farrakhan has referred to Jews as termites and claims that they hold vast disproportionate amounts of power in the U.S. However, his views of blacks are just as distorted. Without any class analysis of racism, he simply asserts black separatism and aims for more blacks to become successful capitalists. He also, in a form of racism, blames the inferior social status of black people on their own bad behavior, as poor fathers or providers, rather than on the ravages of racism.  This was the theme of his famous Million Man March of 1995. Of course, there is no room for seeing that black and white workers are both hurt by the divisiveness of racism and must unite together to make reform or revolutionary change.

The two Women’s March leaders accused of anti-Semitism, Linda Sarsour and  Tamika Mallory, have repudiated this racist idea, especially Sarsour, who is a vocal supporter of anti-Zionism and Palestinian rights. She has also raised significant sums to support the victims of anti-Semitic attacks, as in Pittsburgh. In fact, most of those accusing her of anti-Semitism do so because she criticizes the brutal apartheid policies of Israel. Rather than being concerned about fighting racism, her detractors promote Israel’s debasement and murder of Palestinians. So bitter is this dispute that the march has been cancelled in Chicago and several other locations, and two competing marches scheduled in NYC.

However, none of the March leaders have made any criticism of nationalism per se, with reference to Farrakhan or in general, nor do they discuss capitalism as such. In fact, the Guiding Vision statement (https://www.womensmarch.com/mission/)  of the Women’s March movement states that it wishes to bring together people of all political affiliations in “shared resistance and self-determination.” They call for “accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling,[dismantling] the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system,… an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity,… and equal pay for equal work.” Even more radical is the call for “cessation to the direct and indirect aggression caused by the war economy and the concentration of power in the hands of a wealthy elite who use political, social, and economic systems to safeguard and expand their power.” However, the only means discussed to accomplish these goals are a new Constitutional amendment, adherence to UN Human Rights Declarations and maintaining the right to unionize. Change, presumably, will come via the ballot box.

Such a call for anti-racism, anti-sexism and economic justice is not progressive when it is limited to a call for separate self-liberation of each oppressed group and to exercise one’s civil rights under capitalism. Instead, we need a unified and fighting working class. Whether we are using terms like the now-popular intersectionality or national liberation or identity politics, we are creating divisions based on ethnicity rather than class. In every identity group there are representatives and supporters of the capitalist elite, be it Barack Obama, Keith Ellison, Condoleeza Rice,  Robert Menendez or Chuck Schumer, to name a few. Instead, we need to unite as workers all and not allow ourselves to feel the lack of our common interests or be pitted against one another. Only a united working class, which includes the unemployed, the teacher, the welder, the nurse or the home aide – all who need to work for survival – has the power to bring about change, be it significant reforms or eventually, revolution. Although now couched as somehow progressive, identity based divisions and the false attribution of blame for social ills on “others” is what paves the road to fascism.

Despite an apparatus for voting which allows for a periodic (and often manipulated) choice between various members of the ruling class, there is no hope under capitalism to maximize the quality of workers’ lives – any workers.  Capitalism survives by making profits, that is by paying workers less than the value of what they produce and minimizing benefits and social expenditures. Capitalism inevitably leads to wars between competing capitalist nations and to the destruction of the environment, in order for short-range profits to be maintained. Racism and nationalism allow us to be recruited to fight these wars. So, in this time of dissatisfaction, let us expand our horizons and march together in multiracial unity and for an end to capitalism.


by Nayvin Gordon

     The scientific Public Health approach to preventing and controlling sexually transmitted diseases has been well established for some 70 years.  Why is it then that the HIV epidemic, which began in the US in 1981, has continued to infect over 38,000 people a year, declining only 8% from 2010-15? What was the role of the government as “guardians of the public interest”? The Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that there is a governmental and societal interest in preventing the spread of disease. The historical record demonstrates that the US Government has, for political and financial reason, not only refused to take the necessary well known steps to end the HIV epidemic, they have also cut funding to the major institutions responsible for bringing the epidemic to an end. 

            Today the HIV epidemic rages across the nation, disproportionately affecting black and Latin people. There are a total of 1.1 million victims of HIV/AIDS in the US, of whom 43% are black, and the rate of new infections for blacks is 8 times that of whites and 2.5 times that of Latins. Heterosexual contact is also a more common route of infection in black men than white men, 35% vs 14%, and is the most common mode of transmission among black women. Drug use accounts for only around 10% of cases.

            Within four years after the HIV epidemic began, a blood test was developed.  There is now effective treatment available for HIV, which not only reduces morbidity and mortality, but prevents transmission. Treatment should be administered as soon as the diagnosis is made, preferably as early as possible after infection. Nonetheless, 14% of those infected are unaware of their diagnosis – much higher in the young- and only 49% are effectively treated as of 2016. Once again, the rates are grossly racially skewed. HIV death rates (deaths for which HIV was indicated as the leading cause of death) are highest among blacks; in 2015, blacks had the highest age-adjusted HIV death rate of 7.9 per 100,000, compared to 1.1 per 100,000 whites. 

            A sustained medical prevention policy would include: universal screening, partner identification, treatment and prevention.  But a Public Health strategy also would require providing housing, substance abuse and mental health care, living wages and employment, which all help to prevent HIV.  Incarceration contributes to HIV as well by limiting the number of men in neighborhoods and narrowing the pool of partners. Criminalizing HIV transmission or outlawing gay sex creates enormous fear and shame, driving people away from testing and treatment. Strategies to address all these issues could have been put into effect if priorities and funding had allowed an expanded Public Health workforce to take the necessary actions to end the epidemic. Tragically this was not allowed to happen. 

    During the 1980’s, while the HIV epidemic accelerated, the administration under President Reagan was focused on making cutbacks in federal health spending. Huge cuts to the Public Health Services were made as extra billions of dollars were poured into a massive military buildup. In New York State activists had to fight for an HIV partner notification law (1999), a key component for eliminating sexually transmitted diseases and crucial to protecting the Public Health.  In 2008-9 cuts were made to public health funding as billions more were given to bail out banks and corporations. In 2018, there were $1.3 billion in cuts to Prevention and Public Health Funds as $1.5 trillion in tax cuts was given by the Trump Congress to bankers, corporations and the rich.

            Globally close to 38 million people live with HIV, primarily in sub Saharan Africa, due to limited access to care, poverty, and homelessness.  Large numbers of children (1.8 million) live with HIV/AIDS acquired through childbirth and breastfeeding. In 2017, 940,000 people died, a actual decline in mortality due to funding for testing and medications from PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, and the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria, and TB. Activists around the world have demanded housing, low cost, generic medication, and debt relief in countries where the International Monetary Fund demanded loan repayment that pulled funding from education and health care. They also organized against policies that attack sex workers and people who are LGBT. 

            The grim reality is that for 30 years HIV has been infecting thousands of new victims every year, and to this date, a complete public health prevention strategy for combating HIV has not been introduced as a comprehensive national program or international program.  The Institute of Medicine declared in 1988 that the American Public Health System had fallen into disarray. Another way to conceptualize these failures is to understand that the global economic system has been shown to place corporate profits and war above protecting the public from disease, especially the most vulnerable.  It is time to think about an economic system that puts the people’s health first.    











Dr. Nayvin Gordon is a California Family Physician.  He can be reached at gordonnayvin@yahoo.com



Desert Storm

by Ellen Isaacs

            The first George Bush (Bush I),President from 1988-1992 and dead on November 30, 2018, has since been lionized by the same media and politicians that endlessly deride and mock Donald Trump. But Bush I was ever so much more successful at wreaking death and suffering around the world and on poor black and Latin Americans than Trump will ever be. They call him a statesman, for which we can read efficient imperialist; humble, for which we might substitute sinister and deceptive; and heroic, which we might recast as brutal assassin. The real lesson is that the U.S. ruling class wishes its murderous actors to carry out their roles with finesse, rather than bumbling ineptness, like Trump. Bush committed mass murder in the name of spreading democracy, as do all U.S. presidents since the beginning of the American enterprise. It matters not whether we assess liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican presidents – they all kill and conquer the workers of the world in order to preserve power and resources. It is the imperative of the capitalist/imperialist system.

            By no means a self-made man, Bush was born to two wealthy parents with deep ruling class connections. His father, Prescott Bush, had ties to Standard Oil, did business with Nazi Germany before World War II and continued to sell arms to Hitler through 1942. His grandfather, George Herbert Walker was a wealthy international banker descended from slave traders.

            As a college student at Yale, Bush I belonged to one of the secret societies for wealthy white Christian men, from which the CIA did much of its recruiting. After graduating in 1948, Bush I went into the oil business in Texas and began his covert association with the CIA, using his business ventures as cover. His Zapata drilling company, ironically named after the Mexican freedom fighter, was involved in the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected left-leaning Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. It was also implicated in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, where Walker-Bush family sugar holdings had been seized by Fidel Castro.

            Bush I became a Congressman in 1966 and soon afterwards traveled to Vietnam with a CIA official to examine the Phoenix Program, a massive U.S. terror and death squad operation that tortured and killed 25,000-50,000 insurgents. He also became involved in Operation Condor, a program enabling right wing dictators in Latin America, as in Chile and Argentina, to brutally kill tens of thousands of dissidents. Later, when Bush was running the CIA from 1976-7, a CIA asset with the Chilean secret police blew up a Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier, and his aide in Washington, D.C. Bush deliberately misled the FBI investigation, away from the killer.

            In 1980, Bush became Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Jimmy Carter had lost his bid for re-election largely because 52 Americans taken hostage in Iran after the overthrow of the U.S.-supported Shah in 1979 had not been freed. Since the hostages were released the day after Reagan’s inauguration, it is strongly suspected that Bush had made a secret deal with the Iranians to insure Reagan’s victory. Sound familiar?

            Once in office, the Reagan-Bush team began a long sequence of secret and nefarious actions in Central America. Somoza, the dictator of Nicaragua installed by the U.S. in the 1930s, had been overthrown by the Sandanistas in 1979. Hoping to reverse this revolution, the U.S. trained death squads and torturers, the Contras, at the School of the Americas in Georgia and supplied them with arms. After Congress passed an amendment in 1984 banning aid to the Contras, Bush, together with his National Security Advisor Donald Gregg from the Phoenix Program and CIA head William Casey, began a secret arms plan to supply them with weapons. It was financed by illegally selling arms to Iran and cocaine in the poor, mostly black areas of American cities (the Iran-Contra affair). This influx of drugs became an excuse for the subsequent War on Drugs and mass incarceration.

             When running for President in 1987, Bush’s most successful tactic was a viciously racist ad featuring a convicted black murderer, Willie Horton, who was on a weekend furlough from prison when he committed another crime. Bush used this rare event to smear his opponent as soft on crime and, by implication, not sufficiently wary of violent black men.

             But Bush I was responsible for far more extensive death and deception when he became President. Soon after, he invaded Panama, ostensibly to arrest the dictator Noreiga for drug trafficking, although Noriega had been a CIA asset for years and had allowed the Contras to ship drugs from Panama. Over 24,000 troops invaded this tiny country and killed at least 3,000 people, mostly civilians. This invasion was meant in part to overcome the embarrassment of the American failure in Vietnam, to re-establish U.S. supremacy in the hemisphere and to get rid of Noriega, whose drug-running had become too well publicized. It was, of course, touted as an exercise in “restoring democracy.”

            But this was just a rehearsal for the horror that Bush I was to unleash on Iraq, Operation Desert Storm, as well as setting the stage for his son’s wholesale invasion in 2003. The U.S. had soured on its erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein, who sat on the world’s second largest pot of oil, was threatening to begin selling it for euros instead of dollars, and might even pose a threat to Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration appeared to give Saddam permission to enter Kuwait via its ambassador and then, in order to justify attacking the invaders, publicized a completely fake story about babies being murdered in a hospital nursery by Iraqi soldiers.  As the Iraqis retreated, Bush I told his soldiers to “put some hate in your heart” and attacked the fleeing troops mercilessly on what became the Highway of Death, as well as bombing Baghdad, including targeting 400 people in an air raid shelter. The hoped for overthrow of Saddam did not materialize, nor did the short war that was supposed to demonstrate the infallibility of new high-tech American weaponry forestall further wars.

            Domestically, Bush also left a legacy of death and discrimination. The HIV epidemic was in full flower in the 90s, and 70,000 mostly gay men died during his presidency. Funding for AIDS research was cut, while Bush repeatedly urged people to change their behavior and criticized Act Up, the main organization advocating for AIDS victims, for using “excessive free speech.” When the Supreme Court seat of Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights icon, became vacant, Bush replaced him with Clarence Thomas. A black man, Thomas was extremely conservative, a denier of the role of racism in American life, and was credibly accused of numerous episodes of sexual harassment by Anita Hill and others. But there he sits,today.

            The legacy of that great “statesman” Bush I is massive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are still unresolved, millions of deaths in those countries, the rise of Islamic extremism, thousands of American soldiers dead or maimed, millions of American workers dead or disabled by disease, drugs, or incarceration, and an increase in racism and xenophobia. Let us vote for no more “great politicians” who ruin our lives, but organize ourselves to fight in our own interests.


George H.W. Bush,Icon of the WASP Establishment—and of Brutal US Repression in the Third World,Greg Grandin, The Nation, 12/4/18




George H. W. Bush’s Presidency Erased People with AIDS. So Did the Tributes to Him, Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, 12/7/18


police_brutality_rallyby Ellen Isaacs

For three years, a multiracial group of young public health workers and students have been fighting to pass a resolution condemning police violence as a public health problem (www.endingpoliceviolence.com), and this year it was adopted in a rousing anti-racist victory. A summary of the proposal says that:

Physical and psychological violence that is structurally-mediated by the system of law enforcement results in deaths, injuries, trauma, and stress which disproportionately affect marginalized populations (e.g., people of color, immigrants, individuals experiencing houselessness, people with disabilities, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community, individuals with mental illness, people who use drugs, and sex workers). Among other factors, the misuse of policies intended to protect law enforcement agencies have enabled limited accountability for these harms. Further, certain regulations (e.g., anti-immigrant legislation, policies associated with the war on drugs, and the criminalization of sex work and activities associated with houselessness) have promoted and intensified violence by law enforcement toward marginalized populations. While interventions for improving policing quality to reduce violence (e.g., community-oriented policing, training, body/dashboard-mounted cameras, and conducted electrical weapons) have been implemented, empirical evidence suggests notable limitations. Importantly, these approaches also lack an upstream, primary prevention public health frame. A public health strategy that centers community safety and prevents law enforcement violence should favor community-built and community-based solutions.

The APHA is the largest public health organization in the country and is purported to be liberal or even progressive, although the leadership aims to ally itself with the Democratic Party. The battle over this resolution has clearly shown what liberal means in reality. For two years, the policy board rejected the resolution, always demanding this or that small change. The larger voting body, the Governing Council (GC), also rejected it, raising concerns about criticizing the police or their supporters despite the well known statistic of 1000 racist police killings a year. Two years ago, in order to avoid a floor debate and a vote, the leadership suspended their own rules (an unheard of maneuver) and agreed to instate the policy for one year. They hoped it would just die a quiet death, but that was not to be.

The authors rewrote the resolution, answering all the criticisms, and reintroduced it again. They leafleted, spoke up at sessions or created their own, organized a well-attended off-site half-day meeting about police violence, and held a demonstration before the vote. This year it passed by 87%. Unlike most resolutions, which quickly fade from public view, this one was publicized in The Guardian (11/15/18) and on social media. It will now be used to support the struggles against forced incarceration of psychologically troubled homeless people in San Francisco, against police responding to calls about the mentally ill in crisis in New York City (New Yorkers can sign the petition at https://chn.ge/2RPLmeb), and many others.

The long fight to pass the resolution gave rise to many discussions and debates. Some of the authors feel that it is possible to abolish the police or prisons in this society. This view fails to recognize that the police play a pivotal role in controlling and intimidating the most oppressed members of society, as they have since the days of the slave patrols. Police harassment functions to suppress the anger of the victims of racism and builds racism by attributing disproportionate arrests of non-whites to faults of the victims. Police protect the rich from the poor by siding with the bosses during labor disputes or insulating those in power from large protests. Police attack desperate immigrants, driven from their homes by US imperialist policies, with tear gas and threaten lethal force. As economic hardship grows – which it will given the declining power of the US in the world, as climate disasters increase, and looming war necessitates a draft, the police will be an important part of suppressing an ever angrier working class. (See articles on Mass Incarceration, The Decline of US Imperialism, Immigration and Fascism on this blog). Mass incarceration of over two million people, 59% of whom are black, will continue to create a huge body of people unable to find jobs or housing or vote.

Other discussions raised were whether racism hurts everyone, or only those who are directly affected. The widely held ideas of “identity politics” and “white skin privilege,” encourage the view that all whites benefit from racism, even those that earn only marginally higher wages or have slightly better social benefits than their black, Latin or immigrant co-workers. The counterargument was made that racism hurts all of us, except the corporate class, by lowering the general scale of wages and social services and dividing us against one another. Only a multiracial movement can have the breadth and strength to fight for the quality of life we need and reverse war and economic or climate disaster.

Thus the battle to win passage of this resolution raised the consciousness of the authors about the need to fight racism, raised the issue of the police as an instrument of racist state suppression to the general membership, and forced a large liberal organization to adapt a policy far to the left of their comfort zone. We encourage others to come to the APHA next year in Philadelphia and wage similar battles in other organizations.


by Al Simpsonbars image

The Domestic War on Black Workers

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan officially announced the start of the War on Drugs. This was rather interesting timing because drug use in the United States was declining at that time.[i] Within a few years after the War on Drugs was announced, the scourge of crack-cocaine was spreading rapidly across the country. We will show that the transport and sale of vast quantities of cocaine was, in fact, carried out simultaneously by the very same government that was supposedly responsible for the War on Drugs. While dollars from the sale of crack were used to finance reactionary foreign policies, the repression justified by drug usage was used to imprison and impoverish poor black workers. Today, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate of 773 per 100,000 people. Compared to 118 in China, 655 in Russia, and 193 in Brazil.[ii] In 1980 the number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in the in the U.S. was about 41,000, and by 2010 it had zoomed up to about half a million people. People of color were especially targeted for incarceration by a variety of methods.

First, Some History. Meet Klaus Barbie, Criminal of World War II – and Beyond

Klaus Barbie, a Nazi war criminal, committed many horrible crimes. He persecuted resistance fighters in Holland, massacred Slavs and Jews on the Eastern Front and headed the Gestapo in Lyons for two years, where he tortured to death resistance fighters and Jews. Barbie participated in the Nazi killing frenzy before the Allies moved in,[iii] which included sending children from a Jewish orphanage to concentration camps to meet their certain death. The list of horrible crimes goes on and on, for which he was known as the Butcher of Lyons –for good reason.

Barbie was recruited and protected by the US Army Counterintelligence Corps after the war, even though he was one of the most wanted criminals in the world. The reason for his hire was to provide information on interrogation methods, to obtain the names of SS men who might be recruited, and to learn about methods of torture. In 1951 he and his family were given a crash course in Spanish, $8000 and a new identity, Klaus Altmann-mechanic. Barbie and his family were then sent to Bolivia, where It turned out that the CIA had a lot of work for him.

Klaus Barbie sold coca paste, weapons, and participated in at least three coup d’états. He also assisted in the murder of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in October 1967. During a coup in 1970, he helped place rightist Hugo Banzer Suarez in power. In true Nazi fashion, thousands of leftists and union leaders were interrogated and “disappeared.” Banzer was so pleased with Barbie’s work that he made him an honorary colonel and a paid consultant to the Bolivian Interior Ministry, where he assisted in counterinsurgency work. Barbie also provided the CIA with the names of suspected Soviet and Cuban agents in South America. He assisted in the construction of concentration camps for political prisoners, taught methods of torture and made a fortune selling weapons to the Bolivian military, paid for mostly by the US government.

The Rise of the Drug Cartels

By the mid-1970s the Bolivian economy was in a shambles. Banzer ordered that cotton plantations be devoted to the raising of coca, and from 1974 – 1980 production of coca tripled. This tremendous supply of cocaine was exported from Bolivia and was instrumental in the rise of the Columbian drug cartels. In 1975 the street price of cocaine was $1500 per gram, which fell to $100 to $125 by 1986.[iv][v]

There was an election of a liberal government in Bolivia in 1979, despite massive voter fraud and intimidation by rightwing parties. This was a setup for yet another overthrow, the Cocaine Coup on July 17, 1980, in which Klaus Barbie once again assisted. Leftist newspapers were bombed, and many opposition leaders were arrested, tortured and murdered. The amount of cocaine produced in Bolivia increased from 35,00 metric tons (1 metric ton = 2,205 lbs) in 1980 to more than 60,000 metric tons by the late 1980s, almost all of it intended for sale in the United States.[vi]

The CIA’s Effort to Support the Nicaraguan Contras with Money Made by Selling Cocaine in America’s Ghettos

In Nicaragua in 1979 the Sandinistas (Sandinista National Liberation Front), overthrew the U.S. supported dictator Anastasio Somoza. Presidents Jimmy Carter and then Ronald Reagan created the Contras, an organization which operated out of Honduras and whose purpose was to overthrow the Sandinistas. However, this plan was deeply unpopular in Congress, and the Defense Appropriations Bill for 1983, prohibited the CIA from spending any money for “overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.” That year the CIA budget was reduced to about a quarter of what the Reagan administration claimed would be enough for a properly equipped fighting force. So the administration arranged to receive $1 million a month from Saudi Arabia, funds from South Africa, and to acquire major funding through the sale of drugs.

In 1984 the CIA mined the Harbors of Nicaragua. The political uproar that ensued caused Congress to pass an amendment to limit monies for the Contras even further, so that “no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency of entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group organization, movement or individual.” As a result, the year 1985 was the peak year of drug sales to support the Contras, as the Reagan Administration decided that no matter what Congress did the Contras had to be kept together “body and soul”. Operatives running or selling drugs for the support of the Contras lived a charmed life. Every time they would be caught, they would magically be released without charge. After the expiration of the amendment mentioned above in 1986, the CIA budget allocated to the Contras rose to $100 million.

The Contras Got Lots of Money

Drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon testified that the CIA-supported ring sold almost a ton of cocaine in the United States in 1981, $54 million worth. It was not clear how much of the money found its way back to the CIA’s army, but Blandon testified that “whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going for the Contra revolution.”[vii] The police knew about Blandon for a long time: “Danilo Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in Southern California,” L.A. County sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Gordon said in 1986. “The monies gained from the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo, who is a high-ranking officer of a chain of banks in Florida named Government Securities Corporation. From this bank the monies are filtered to the Contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua.”[viii] Blandon was never arrested, nor was another dealer, Norwin Meneses, until he had been shipping cocaine out of Honduras for 15 years under the eyes of and for the profit of the CIA.

Much of the cocaine was sold in Los Angeles at very low prices, after being transported by the cartels through Columbia, Mexico, and Honduras, all abetted by the Contras and the CIA. The streets of Los Angeles were flooded with crack-cocaine.

Exposé of the Origin of the Crack-Cocaine

In August, 1996 the San Jose Mercury News published three articles entitled “Dark Alliance,” subtitled “The Story Behind the Crack Explosion,” written by Gary Webb, a reporter for the Mercury’s Sacramento bureau. The series strong lead paragraph went as follows: “For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the CIA.”[ix] The series got the attention of many black Americans who were angered and outraged by the victimization of black communities by the government. It forced the CIA to publish furious denials and then, later, to start a campaign of non-stop vilification against Gary Webb. Webb was effectively driven from the newspaper industry and died on December 10, 2004, of, get this, “multiple gunshot suicide.”

Justifying the War on Drugs

In 1985, the Reagan administration began a huge campaign to publicize the emergence of crack. There were multiple stories about crack whores, crack babies born to addicted mothers, crack dealers and crack houses. The New York Times even had a picture of a crack house on its front page. The Washington Post ran 1,565 such articles between October 1988 and October 1989.[x] True to form, the worst, most retrograde, stereotypes of urban life were repeatedly portrayed in a racist fashion. The success of the media campaign permitted a big expansion of the War on Drugs, as there was now a rationale for it.

But what happened to the people in the poor black areas of America into whose neighborhoods the drugs were being transported? Mass addiction to powerful, addictive, drugs like crack-cocaine or heroin brings social decay, disease and death. That’s bad enough, but there were also changes in law enforcement procedures and sentencing that ensured that black people, especially black men, would be incarcerated by the millions. The stigma of having a having been a felon and having served time would affect them for the rest of their lives, making it difficult or impossible to obtain a job or even a place to live. This awful situation would not allow them to rehabilitate themselves with work and would deprive them of a meaningful support system. It’s no wonder that it would often lead them back to prison.

The Growth of the American Prison System

Much of the United States was de-industrialized during the late 1970s and 80s. Between 1973 and 1980, over four million jobs disappeared in the United States when American companies moved their operations outside the country. New York City alone lost 40,000 to 50,000 jobs in the apparel and textile industries. Corporations increasingly divested their profits from US-based subsidiaries and reinvested in operations abroad. In the 1970s, over thirty million total jobs were eliminated through factory closings, relocations, and then phased elimination of operations.

The shrinking of U.S.-based industries had a deep impact on labor unions, as the percentage of union members within the American labor force decreased by half in only two decades. Hardest hit were African American blue-collar workers, because in 1983, over 40 percent of all black men in the U.S. labor force were union members, while only 14.4 percent are today.xx Many workers were forced to accept “service jobs” that paid a lot less than the unionized industrial jobs they formerly had. Some of the new manufacturing jobs that opened between 1970 and 1987 were in the suburbs. This forced persons who lived in the inner cities areas to travel by car to the new jobs, because of the unavailability of public transportation. A study on black fathers found that only 28 percent had cars and the rate fell to just 18 percent for those who lived in ghetto areas[xi]. Black women did somewhat better. They were able to get work in social service jobs that were opening as the industrial jobs were vanishing.[xii] As a result of the relentless shrinkage of jobs, there was an increase in crime.

It then became fashionable for politicians to be “tough on crime.” The racist depiction of the effects of crack-cocaine was a bonanza for law and order politicians, who don’t care about the daily crimes against working people: poor health care, bad schools, broken down infrastructure, desolate neighborhoods and so on. Some people complained that the frenzy over crack distracted attention from the real ills in society, but this view was seldom heard. The war on drugs was very popular with racist whites as they could make anti-drug and anti-crime remarks regarding blacks that masked their racist intent. It also provided a cover for the militarization of police forces.


The Cancer Grows

Because drugs suddenly were said to be a threat to national security, the military was permitted to ignore the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that forbids the use of military for civilian policing. There were transfers of military equipment, intelligence and training to local police forces. Along with this, there were strong financial incentives in the form of federal aid to local police forces that gave a premium to every drug arrest but made no such incentive for arrests involving other types of crimes, causing local police forces to become very aggressive in enforcing drug laws. As if this wasn’t enough, state and local police departments were authorized to keep, for their own use, most of the money and other assets they seized when making drug arrests. Suispicion of drug possession or trafficking was sufficient to allow the seizure of cash, cars, homes, jewelry and other valuables. The rules were so heavily weighted in the favor of law enforcement that more than 80 percent of the forfeitures went uncontested. This gave local and state police departments a tremendous boost in funding, so that the local and state police departments became advocates for the so-called war on drugs – not on winning it – but for its permanent perpetuation. The cops became addicted to the war on drugs.

Laws were enacted to place heavy penalties on the sale and distribution of drugs. To ensure long sentences for possession or distribution of drugs, many of the penalties were mandatory – that is, not modifiable by a judge or jury. As mentioned earlier, it is enough for a person to have committed a felony to be stigmatized for life with very limited employment or housing opportunities. In 1972 there were fewer than 350,000 persons in prison, today there are 2.3 million. Here is a graph that depicts the enormous growth in incarceration, especially after 1980.