Senate Republican health plan could make deeper cuts to Medicaid than House version

By Kate Randall
20 June 2017

As the Senate Republican “working group” continues to craft its plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) behind closed doors, press reports suggest that in some respects the Senate bill will go even further than the House version in attacking working people and cutting health care for low income families.

Both the Senate bill and the American Health Care Act (ACHA) passed by the House would gut Medicaid, the health insurance program jointly administered by the federal government and the states. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the AHCA would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance by 2026, mainly because the House bill would effectively end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion for low-income adults.

The AHCA would cut $800 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, by both ending the expansion of the program and placing a per capita cap on Medicaid spending overall. This would mark the end of the program as a guaranteed social benefit based on need, forcing states to cut back benefits and throw people off the rolls.

The Hill, citing lobbyists and Senate aides, now reports that an option being considered by the 13-member Senate working group would make even deeper cuts to Medicaid by changing the way growth in per-patient spending is calculated. While the proposal would start with the growth rate for the cap on Medicaid spending at the same levels as the House bill, beginning in 2025 it would drop it to a lower growth rate, the Hill’s sources say.

The AHCA would cap Medicaid’s per-patient spending and adjust it upward each year based on the CPI-M, the consumer price index for urban consumer medical care. It would add an extra percentage point each year for spending for the elderly and disabled. The Senate plan would use the same system initially, but beginning in 2025 it would adjust per-enrollee spending using the standard CPI-U, or prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services.

The change is not simply one of bookkeeping. Due to the rising cost of medical care relative to other consumer goods, the change would cripple Medicaid even further by decreasing the already restrictive spending cap and growth rate. To put this into perspective, since 2000, the CPI-M has grown about 41 percentage points more than the CPI-U.

According to the Hill, the “plan has been described as a ‘consensus option’” and has already been sent to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis. The Office of the Chief Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently estimated that the change in the consumer price index used would slash an estimated $64 billion from Medicaid funding over a decade.

While Senate Republicans are in the final stages of drafting the bill, without any public hearings or even a pretense of consultation, Senate Democrats are engaged in a political stunt that will do nothing to stop passage of the reactionary legislation.

The Democrats planned to disrupt Senate business by holding the floor all Monday night to protest the Republicans’ secretive proceduring, using parliamentary tactics to disrupt the ordinary business of the chamber.

While making speeches on the virtues of Obamacare—the Democratic program to cut health care costs for corporations and the government—the Democrats are making only a token gesture against the even more reactionary pro-business replacement plan being drafted by the Republicans.

The Democrats can offer no way forward for the millions of Americans who are currently struggling to obtain health care and pay their bills under Obamacare, and will fare even worse under the Republican replacement. That is because the Democrats share the same class objectives as the Republicans, to boost the profits of insurance companies, drug companies, hospital chains and medical device companies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set a goal of pushing the legislation through before the July 4 recess, using the process known as “reconciliation,” which allows the bill to pass with a simple majority and exempts it from any filibuster. The main obstacle to passage is not any protest by the Democrats, which is only for public consumption, but differences within the Republican caucus in the Senate and between House and Senate Republicans.

Meanwhile, a new study also shows the potential ill effects of the House bill, the AHCA, on the US economy. The study by the Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University shows that while the economy would see a short-term boost from the repeal of the ACA’s taxes on the wealthy and corporations, in the long run the decrease in federal spending on health care would lead to the loss of almost 1 million jobs over a decade.

Credit: Business Insider • Source: The Commonwealth Fund

The study writes of the AHCA: “It initially raises the federal deficit when taxes are repealed, leading to 864,000 more jobs in 2018. In later years, reductions in support for health insurance cause negative economic effects. By 2026, 924,000 jobs would be lost, gross state products would be $93 billion lower, and business output would be $148 billion less. About three-quarters of jobs lost (725,000) would be in the health care sector.”

The number of people working in the health care sector has risen in recent years due to the greater access to health care by people newly insured under Obamacare or through the expansion of Medicaid, as well as the aging of the population. The study notes that under the AHCA, cuts to Medicaid and federal subsidies for people to access health insurance would lead to fewer people using medical care and fewer jobs in the health care sector.

In other words, the estimated 1 million job losses would be a direct result of people being denied access to needed medical care, and those who are insured would have less money to put back into the economy in the form of consumer spending. The job losses would vary by state, according to the study, with many losing tens of thousands of jobs (see map).

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/20/heal-j20.html

Cuba’s Formal Response to Trump’s Speech on Policy Changes

Posted on Jun 18, 2017

Havana. (Andrew Wragg / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Below is the full statement released Friday by the Cuban government.

On June 16, 2017, US President Donald Trump delivered a speech full of hostile anti-Cuban rhetoric reminiscent of the times of open confrontation with our country in a Miami theater. He announced his government’s Cuba policy, which rolls back the progress achieved over the last two years since December 17, 2014, when Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations and engage in a process towards the normalization of bilateral relations.

In what constitutes a setback in the relations between both countries, President Trump, gave a speech and signed a policy directive titled “National Security Presidential Memorandum”, which provides the elimination of private educational “people-to-people” exchanges and greater control over all travelers to Cuba, as well as the prohibition of business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and certain Cuban companies linked to the Armed Revolutionary Forces and the intelligence and security services, under the alleged objective of depriving us from income. The US president justified this policy with alleged concerns over the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce the US blockade laws, conditioning its lifting, as well as any improvements in US-Cuba bilateral relations to our country’s making changes inherent to its constitutional order.

Trump also abrogated Presidential Policy Directive “Normalization of Relations between the United States and Cuba”, issued by President Obama on October 14, 2016.  Although said Directive did not conceal the interventionist character of the US policy nor the fact that its main purpose was to advance US interests in order to bring about changes in the economic, political and social systems of our country, it did recognize Cuba’s independence, sovereignty and self-determination and the Cuban government as a legitimate and equal interlocutor, as well as the benefits that a civilized coexistence would have for both countries and peoples despite the great differences that exist between both governments.  The Directive also conceded that the blockade is an obsolete policy and that it should be lifted.

Once again, the US Government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection.

The measures announced impose additional obstacles to the already very limited opportunities that the US business sector had in order to trade with and invest in Cuba.

Likewise, those measures restrict even more the right of US citizens to visit our country, which was already limited due to the obligation of using discriminatory licenses, at a moment when the US Congress, echoing the feelings of broad sectors of that society, calls not only for an end to the travel ban, but also for the elimination of the restrictions on the trade with Cuba.

The measures announced by President Trump run counter to the majority support of the US public opinion, including the Cuban emigration in that country, to the total lifting of the blockade and the establishment of normal relations between Cuba and the United States.

Instead, the US President, who has been once again ill-advised, is taking decisions that favor the political interests of an irrational minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida which, out of petty motivations, does not give up its intent to punish Cuba and its people for exercising the legitimate and sovereign right of being free and having taken the reins of their own destiny.

Later on, we shall make a deeper analysis of the scope and implications of the announcement.

The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades.

The Government of Cuba rejects political manipulation and double standards in human rights. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms and can proudly show some achievements that are still a chimera for many countries of the world, including the United States, such as the right to health, education and social security; equal pay for equal work, children’s rights as well as the rights to food, peace and development. Cuba, with its modest resources, has also contributed to the improvement of the human rights situation in many countries of the world, despite the limitations inherent to its condition as a blockaded country.

The United States are not in the position to teach us lessons. We have serious concerns about the respect for and guarantees of human rights in that country, where there are numerous cases of murders, brutality and abuses by the police, particularly against the African-American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths caused by fire arms; child labor is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there is a threat to impose more restrictions on medical services, which will leave 23 million persons without health insurance; there is unequal pay between men and women; migrants and refugees, particularly those who come from Islamic countries, are marginalized; there is an attempt to put up walls that discriminate against and denigrate neighbor countries; and international commitments to preserve the environment and address climate change are abandoned.

Also a source of concern are the human rights violations by the United States in other countries, such as the arbitrary detention of tens of prisoners in the territory illegally occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, Cuba, where even torture has been applied;  extrajudicial executions and the death of civilians caused by drones; as well as the wars unleashed against countries like Iraq, under false pretenses like the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with disastrous consequences for the peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

It should be recalled that Cuba is a State Party to 44 international human rights instruments, while the US is only a State Party to 18.  Therefore, we have much to show, say and defend.

Upon confirming the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the United States ratified their intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter.  In its Declaration issued on July 1, 2015, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba reaffirmed that “these relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law”, as was established in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by the Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), at its second summit held in Havana.  Cuba has not renounced these principles, nor will it ever do so.

The Government of Cuba reiterates its will to continue a respectful and cooperative dialogue on topics of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of outstanding issues with the US Government.  During the last two years it has been evidenced that both countries, as was repeatedly expressed by the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the differences and promoting everything that benefits both nations and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to achieve that, Cuba would make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence, or accept preconditions of any sort.

Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, either through pressures and impositions or by using more subtle methods, shall be doomed to failure.

The changes that need to be made in Cuba, as those that have been made since 1959 and the ones that we are introducing now as part of the process to update our economic and social system, will continue to be sovereignly determined by the Cuban people.

Just as we have been doing since the triumph of the Revolution on January 1st, 1959, we will take on every risk and shall continue to advance steadfastly and confidently in the construction of a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation.

Havana, June 16, 2017.

 

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/statement_by_the_revolutionary_government_of_cuba_20170618

The sadism, compassion and sheer liberated joy of “Like a Rolling Stone”

How Bob Dylan took a “long piece of vomit about twenty pages long” and turned it into a six-minute masterpiece

The sadism, compassion and sheer liberated joy of "Like a Rolling Stone"
(Credit: AP/Bloomsbury Publishing/Salon)
Excerpted from “Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited” by Mark Polizzotti (Continuum, 2006). Reprinted with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing.

It has to be the most celebrated drumbeat in all of popular music. Often described in ballistic terms—a “rifle shot,” a “gunshot”—Bobby Gregg’s inaugural smack is indeed the shot heard ’round the world. “I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA,” Bruce Springsteen recalled twenty-four years after the fact, “and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.” Greil Marcus, in his penetrating if overwrought study of “Like a Rolling Stone,” contends that while many other songs use the same kick-off—including the Beatles’ “Any Time at All” from the previous year and Dylan’s own “From a Buick 6” further down Highway 61—“on no other record does the sound, or the act, so call attention to itself, as an absolute announcement that something new has begun.” This might be overstating the case somewhat: as Al Kooper reminded Marcus, it’s very common for the drummer to end a one-two-three-four count with a sharp thwack. Still, there is something about this particular beat that makes it more than simple timekeeping, that renders it more memorable. Somehow, a common device has turned itself into a signature. If you heard only this one second of “Like a Rolling Stone,” you could still identify the song.

This drumbeat has become so associated with the song, in fact, that its presence or absence directly inflects upon the character of the performance. “Like a Rolling Stone” was the invariable closer of Dylan’s 1966 world tour. One can almost gauge the degree of exasperation he felt on any given night over the catcalls that greeted his electric set by the emphasis that drummer Mickey Jones placed on his opening salvo. It echoes authoritatively in Edinburgh. It booms with smashing finality in the valedictory concert at Albert Hall, following a drawling introduction in which Dylan dedicates the song to “the Taj Mahawwwl.” And it positively deafens with scorn following the legendary “Judas!—You’re a LIAR” exchange between Dylan and disgruntled fan Keith Butler at the Manchester Free Trade Hall ten days earlier, which triggered Dylan’s exhortation to the band to “play fuckin’ loud.” Its absence in favor of a cranking instrumental build-up, in the version played at the Isle of Wight in 1969, was one of the reasons for that performance often being tagged as lifeless. (Oddly, the version played at the infamous Newport concert, only weeks after the studio version was recorded and with many of the same musicians, also foregoes the opening bang: it made enough of a statement as it was.) Among the many, many covers of the song, one by the band Drive-By Truckers is notable in that it begins with a similar drum shot, which then rests for a few bars, imbuing their entire rendition with a kind of we-know-you-know slyness.

In fact, the famous drumbeat is actually two beats, the resounding snap of the snare followed by the almost subliminally faint echo of a kick-drum, which makes the whole thing take a half-step back and gives it an extra push of forward momentum: not ONE-(pause)-TWO, but ONE-two-THREE. Marcus, again, tends to oversell when he likens “the empty split-second that follows” the initial beat (but that’s just it: it’s not empty) to both “a house tumbling over a cliff ” and the Oklahoma Land Rush. What he’s missing in his own rush to hyperbole is the way that half-heard second beat pulls in, eases in, the onslaught of guitar, piano, organ, bass, and drum that henceforth sends the song—and the album it starts off with a literal bang—charging forward.

“Like a Rolling Stone” is also no doubt the most famous song ever written out of sheer boredom. Dylan had spent April and May 1965 in England, for what would be his last fully acoustic tour. Both the performances and the time surrounding them, captured in D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Dont Look Back (the title’s lack of apostrophe mirroring Dylan’s idiosyncratic approach to punctuation), show a man barely going through the motions. Dylan is in control of his material and his audience, but there is no spontaneity and little verve. Even supposedly off-the-cuff remarks (“This one is called ‘It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding’—ho ho ho” [audience laughs]) have been rehearsed many times before. By the time he returned to the States at the beginning of June, he was considering giving up performing altogether. “I was very drained,” he explained [in a Playboy interview] several months later. “I was playing a lot of songs I didn’t want to play. I was singing words I didn’t really want to sing.… It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you.”

What changed his mind, he said, was the new musical vista opened by “Rolling Stone.” “I’d literally quit singing and playing,” he told Martin Bronstein of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “and I found myself writing this song, this story, this long piece of vomit about twenty pages long, and out of it I took ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and made it as a single. And I’d never written anything like that before.” As he described it to Jules Siegel, the “vomit” began as simple prose ramblings: “It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper… I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, ‘How does it feel?’ in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion following something.”

Dylan’s interviews are notoriously unreliable sources of information, more like theatrical performances than communication sessions, and perhaps none more so than the ones he gave around the release of Highway 61. But what emerges consistently from his remarks about “Rolling Stone,” in addition to his pleasure at having written it—“the best song I wrote,” he told Gleason—is the sense of spontaneity regained, of an elusive but thrilling encounter with the muse. “It’s like a ghost is writing a song like that,” he recalled in 2004, with a note of wistfulness as if speaking of a long time gone. “It gives you the song and it goes away, it goes away. You don’t know what it means. Except the ghost picked me to write the song.” To television commentator Ed Bradley that same year, he described the songs of this period as having come from “a place of magic.”

In this case, the magic seems to have been triggered precisely by the creative stagnation Dylan had been feeling (and that his records had been showing) over the previous two years. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is well-crafted but resolutely downbeat, more like medicine than entertainment, while Another Side, despite a few stand-outs, just sounds bored. Little wonder that by the time Dylan returned from his all-acoustic British tour, he’d decided to give it all up—or that the inspiration of “Rolling Stone” seemed such a godsend. It ushered in a creative outpouring that is almost unrivaled in Dylan’s career (let alone anyone else’s), and that over the following half-year resulted in many of the songs on which his reputation still stands.

Also rare for a chart-topping pop hit, the lyrics focused not on love but its opposite. It was “all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest,” Dylan told Siegel, immediately amending that to: “In the end it wasn’t hatred, it was telling someone something they didn’t know, telling them they were lucky. Revenge, that’s a better word… It was like swimming in lava. In your eyesight, you see your victim swimming in lava. Hanging by their arms from a birch tree.” Lucky in lava is not the same as lucky in love, but the contradiction is very much in keeping with the spirit of “Like a Rolling Stone,” a song that manages to balance sadism, compassion, and sheer liberated joy in a six-minute display of pure bravado.

The politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the progressive path forward

Blairites and Clintonites must bring themselves to admit that “third way” centrism is a relic of the past

Sorry, centrist liberals, the politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the progressive path forward

Jeremy Corbyn; Bernie Sanders (Credit: AP/Frank Augstein/Jae C. Hong)

It has been over a week since the U.K. election that left the political establishment reeling in Britain and around the world. And though Prime Minister Theresa May will remain in office — for now — Jeremy Corbyn was correct when he said last week that the election had “changed the face of British politics.”

The snap election that was supposed to have crushed Corbyn — and the Labour Party — once and for all has instead re-energized the British left, while throwing serious doubt on the Conservative Party’s future. When Theresa May arrogantly called the election in April, polls indicated that her Conservative Party would win by a historic landslide, and the British press — which has been fiercely against Corbyn since he was elected as leader of the Labour Party two years ago — ran giddy headlines predicting the death of his party. There was no doubt whether May and the Tories would win a majority; it was only a matter of how massive that majority would be.

But if we have learned anything over the past year, with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the “Brexit” referendum result last summer, it is that absolutely nothing is certain in this populist age. May was expected to “Crush the Saboteurs,” as the Daily Mail’s front page read after her announcement in April, but instead she ended up crushing her own party, which lost its majority in the House of Commons after leading by more than 20 points just a month earlier.

Meanwhile, the unconventional and “unelectable” Corbyn, who has been smeared and misrepresented by the British media for the past two years — and who has faced repeated mutinies within his own party — generated the highest turnout for a U.K. election since 1997 and won a larger share of the popular vote than Tony Blair did in 2005. It was an even bigger upset than last year’s Brexit shocker.

Even Labour Party members and Corbynites had been resigned to the Tories winning back their majority; their goal had been simply to keep that majority as slim as possible and to not be completely humiliated. But Theresa May was the only one humiliated on election day, while the leftist Labour leader was clearly vindicated after years of abuse.

And Corbyn’s political success will be felt far beyond the shores of Great Britain. For weeks and months to come pundits and political strategists will continue to ask themselves how this happened, and many will no doubt try to spin and distort what happened last week. But the answer is simple: The old-school socialist triumphed because he ran an effective grassroots campaign with a compelling message that offered principled leadership and a progressive platform to galvanize the working-class and young people of Britain. Though Labour clearly benefited from May’s poorly run campaign, there is little doubt that Labour’s progressive manifesto was essential to its parliamentary gains.

Before the election, Corbyn’s approval ratings were in the gutter after years of his being maligned by the British press. An analysis of 2016 by The Independent found that more than 75 percent of press coverage had misrepresented Corbyn (and his views), while more than half of the (purportedly neutral) news articles were “critical or antagonistic in tone, compared to two thirds of all editorials and opinion pieces.”

By contrast, the British public was broadly supportive of Corbyn’s actual policies. According to a poll by The Independent, along with a May survey by ComRes for the Daily Mirror, the major policies featured in Labour’s general election manifesto earned strong support from the British public, while the right-wing Tory manifesto was widely rejected. It is not surprising then that the candidates’ approval ratings changed places during the election, as their policies were publicized. According to the latest polling by YouGov, May’s approval ratings have plummeted to Corbyn’s pre-election levels, while the Labour leader’s ratings have surged.

It is already quite clear how last week’s election has changed politics in the U.K., but its outcome has also been felt across the Atlantic.

Much has already been said about the obvious parallels between Corbyn’s Labour Party success and the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and what the British election means for American politics. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders was seen by the commentariat as a fringe socialist kook who was completely unelectable — and like Corbyn, he created a mass movement that appealed to working people and young voters in particular. Sanders was by far the most popular candidate among millennials in the 2016 election, while Corbyn’s Labour Party won 63 percent of aged 18 to 34 and increased voter turnout for 18- to 25-year-olds from 45 percent in 2015 to about  72 percent last week, according to exit polls from Sky data. Similar to the scenario in the U.K., the majority of Americans tend to support Sanders’ social democratic policies, including his support for Medicare for all and raising taxes on the rich.

Of course, there’s at least one obvious difference between the two progressive politicians: While Corbyn has been personally unpopular in his country, Sanders continues to rank as the most popular politician in the United States. Moreover, Sanders consistently outperformed Hillary Clinton in the polls against Donald Trump last year and would have likely defeated the Republican billionaire handily — barring a major spoiler candidate like Michael Bloomberg.

This reality continues to infuriate many establishment Democrats, who have inevitably tried to dismiss and downplay Corbyn’s success in Britain, noting that Labour still didn’t win a majority of its own. If a centrist Blairite were leading the party, they insist (with no empirical basis whatsoever), then he or she would have been elected prime minister, say centrist Democrats. The same people who were gloating about Labour’s anticipated ruin just a month ago — and using it as evidence that a populist shift to the left would be disastrous for the Democratic Party — are now spinning Labour’s historic accomplishment to fit their narrative. Clearly there is a lot of denial going on here. The Blairites and Clintonites cannot bring themselves to admit that “third way” centrism is a relic of the neoliberal 1990s. They refuse to see the writing on the wall, even as it stares at them directly.

In a column for The New York Times on Tuesday, Sen. Sanders wrote that the British election “should be a lesson for the Democratic Party” to stop clinging to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology.”

He wrote, “There is never one reason elections are won or lost,” adding, “but there is widespread agreement that momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers. . . . The  [Democratic] party’s main thrust must be to make politics relevant to those who have given up on democracy and bring millions of new voters into the political process.”

A few days earlier at the People’s Summit in Chicago, Sanders discussed the U.K. election during aspeech, noting that Labour “won those seats not by moving to the right” but by “standing up to the ruling class of the U.K.” He also reiterated that “Trump didn’t win the election, the Democratic Party lost the election.” It seems clear that if the Democratic Party wants to start winning elections again, it should pay careful attention to what is currently happening in Britain.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on

Corporate mass murder in London

17 June 2017

Shock and horror has boiled over into raw anger and fury. Thousands protested in London Friday to demand justice and the punishment of those responsible for mass murder in the worst housing fire in modern British history.

Hundreds chanting “We want justice” for the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno surrounded Kensington Town Hall, London to demand answers from council officials who had barricaded themselves in the building.

Prime Minister Theresa May while visiting Kensington was forced to remain in a church and was then chased away—surrounded by a heavy security detail—with protesters booing and shouting “shame on you” and “coward.”

This sentiment finds its echo throughout Britain and worldwide.

Millions are horrified by the loss of at least 100 and as many as 150 lives of working class residents in Wednesday’s fire.

Most shocking of all, this took place in Kensington and Chelsea, Britain’s richest borough in one of the richest cities in the world. But like so many other areas of the capital, extreme wealth exists side-by-side with extreme deprivation.

Kensington and Chelsea is one of the most socially divided areas of London, with those living on the Lancaster West Estate, where Grenfell Tower is located, in clear view of the homes of multi-millionaires and billionaires. The most expensive street in the country, Victoria Road in Kensington, has an average house price of £8 million.

This imparts a politically explosive dynamic to unfolding events—which is why, incredibly, the police and council officials have stonewalled the appeals of resident’s families and friends and have still refused to admit the real death toll.

Grenfell is not only an appalling tragedy. It is a crime. Those whose lives were taken were murdered just as surely as if a torch had been applied to the building.

Ruthless cost-cutting with no concern for public safety laid the basis for the Grenfell deaths and ensured the devastating, rapid spread of the fire from its initial source in just a single apartment.

The fire spread so rapidly due to the cladding on the building bursting into flames. It was added last year in a “refurbishment.” On Friday, what many already suspected was confirmed when it was revealed that the insulating material used was combustible. It was chosen because it was £2 per square metre cheaper than a “fire resistant” alternative. The saving made amounted to just £5,000.

This and other equally life-threatening decisions were taken or authorised by the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, who ran Grenfell Tower on its behalf. The tower block had no central fire alarm system, no sprinklers in place and just one exit stairwell. The authorities ignored repeated warnings from a tenants group and residents over many years who insisted that Grenfell was unsafe and a “death trap.”

Such flagrant criminality has deeper causes. The essential fact is that the Grenfell deaths are the product of class society and the “normal” workings of the capitalist system.

London is a world centre of speculation and financial parasitism. And the property market is a vital element of this global web of corruption. Land and housing in the capital have become one of the most lucrative commodities in the world. It is not only that London is home to 80 billionaires, but the fact that fully 60 percent of its skyscrapers and vast numbers of luxury houses and flats are owned by overseas companies or wealthy residents who rarely or never set foot in them.

Catering to this market demands the social cleansing of council estates of their poor residents, especially when they are located in a desirable area. This has become so routine that residents of the Lancaster West Estate are correct to insist that the failure to invest in Grenfell Tower was a deliberate effort to drive them out.

Similar equally anti-social decisions are made every single day by the money-mad oligarchy and their political flunkeys who determine every aspect of people’s lives to ruinous effect. Homes and schools are rendered unsafe. Hospitals closed, beds lost, vital social services withdrawn because someone, somewhere decides they are an unacceptable drain on profit—which must be maintained at whatever cost.

Forty years after Margaret Thatcher declared, “There is no such thing as society,” in order to justify the gutting of social services, privatisation and deregulation, the social conditions facing the working class have been reduced to levels once associated with the so called “third world.” This testifies to the immense class divide and social inequality that now exist in all capitalist countries.

On Thursday in the face of mounting public anger, May ordered a public inquiry into the Grenfell fire. This is aimed at ensuring a cover-up and the protection of those responsible—above all within her own government.

Those responsible for these deaths must be arrested and face criminal proceedings with the truth to come out in trials. Among these should be the former London mayor Boris Johnson, who is responsible for the slashing of London’s fire service and mass deregulation, and Kensington and Chelsea council leader Nick Paget-Brown.

But while leading Tory figures such as Johnson were responsible for the last wave of ultra-gentrification in the service of the super-rich, all the bourgeois parties, including Labour, which runs many of London’s councils, are equally culpable. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan must answer for his role in allowing this situation to continue unchallenged since he took office promising to remedy London’s housing crisis.

It should be stressed that the death toll from Grenfell is expected to exceed the combined total resulting from every terrorist attack in the UK since the beginning of the so-called war on terror in 2001.

Whenever a terrorist attack has taken place in Britain over the last decade, the full force of the state has been brought to bear. Police have carried out raids on every person who is linked, even in the most innocuous way, to the individual terrorist. They have been immediately arrested and hauled off to be detained and grilled for days on end. In response to the Grenfell fire, not a single person in any responsible position has yet been arrested, let alone charged.

Instead we are promised a toothless inquiry!

Whatever the outcome of ongoing police investigations and public inquiry, neither will uncover the essential cause of the corporate mass murder at Grenfell because it is rooted in the failed capitalist system, which is reaping untold misery, and death and destruction against the vast majority of the planet’s population.

The appalling loss of life in London demonstrates the urgent necessity for the mobilisation of the working class behind a socialist programme and putting an end to the subordination of every aspect of social policy to the interests of the financial swindlers and parasites.

Robert Stevens

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/17/pers-j17.html