Feb. 4 — Yes, it was January, and cold weather was to be expected in much of the United States. In addition, the forecasters had warned for days that an arctic blast was about to hit much of the country.
There was plenty of time to prepare for it — to provide the means for all the people of this very rich capitalist country to be protected from the “polar vortex” to come.
Protecting the people: Isn’t that the excuse given for the hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on “national defense”?
But at least 21 individuals are reported to have died directly from the cold. Most of them were homeless, trying to survive in tents and even cardboard boxes.
One community of homeless people living in tents in Chicago had their little propane stoves confiscated by the police because of “fire danger.” Did that make them any safer, when the temperature dipped far below zero degrees Fahrenheit?
A report issued in December 2018 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that last year about 553,000 people were homeless on an average day in the U.S. Of those, about two-thirds were living in shelters of some kind, leaving almost 200,000 living “rough.”
Another shocking fact is that millions of houses are standing empty. In February 2014, even as approximately 600,000 people were homeless, there were roughly 18,600,000 vacant homes in the U.S. (National Alliance to End Homelessness)
This during a period when the economy is supposedly strong and the two richest people in the world, both of them in the U.S. — Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Bill Gates of Microsoft — have a combined net worth of more than $267 billion!
In jail and freezing
It’s bad enough trying to survive on the street. How about when you’re locked up behind bars without warm clothing or blankets and the temperatures in the jail drop below freezing?
Hundreds of inmates at a federal jail in New York City are still, days after the icy blast ended, without adequate heat and electricity. The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn — across the river from the Wall Street financial hub where enormous sums of money are traded daily — has been cold and dark for more than a week. A breakdown in the heating system has not been fully repaired and a lockdown means the prisoners can’t even call their loved ones.
Word of the freezing conditions inside finally leaked out, leading to a demonstration outside the jail on Feb. 3. Desperate prisoners pounded on barred windows in response to chants from their relatives and supporters. When some relatives tried to enter the building, they were pepper sprayed by jail police.
This federal prison is owned and operated by the U.S. government, whose president keeps demanding billions of dollars to build a racist wall on the Mexican border, but has no word to spare for homeless people within the U.S., and only bigoted words for the refugee and migrant families seeking shelter from chaos engineered by U.S. capitalism.
Growing crisis of climate change
Meanwhile, the climate is changing and the infrastructure is crumbling in ways that leave more and more people vulnerable to extreme weather events.
Scientists have known for decades that the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was leading to climate change. They have pleaded with politicians to take action. It is not ignorance that is responsible for the growing disasters.
We live in an age of supercomputers and nuclear power, an age of not only material abundance but actual overproduction of goods. What is preventing the development of a plan to reorient human economic activity in order to head off and protect us from the climate disasters unfolding around the world?
Don’t look for answers in the capitalist media. But the clues are there — in the financial pages. Oil continues to be the most fought-over commodity by capitalist countries. For generations it has provided fortunes and political power to a few super-rich families, whose oil and banking empires continue to run the U.S.
Think about all the prominent “trouble spots” where the U.S. government has intervened politically and militarily in recent decades to protect and expand the interests of the ruling class here. Libya, Iraq, Iran and Venezuela are among the most prominent — all major oil producers. Meanwhile, the “liberal” capitalist media provide phony excuses for these imperialist wars and efforts at “regime change.”
The burning of oil and coal is the biggest contributor to a warming planet and climate change. Yet the U.S. has torpedoed the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which was weak but better than nothing. This didn’t happen just because of Trump, as bad as he is. It is what was wanted by the ruling class that helped put him into power.
The workers of this country have the ability to change all this and pull down the exploiters who are ruining the world. The workers have the collective strength to paralyze “business as usual” and take the power away from the super-rich.
But first, workers have to be able to cut through the torrent of daily propaganda and recognize who the enemy is — who is really responsible for impoverished people suffering lonely and painful deaths inside cardboard boxes, even as millionaires become billionaires.