Friday, September 21, 2007

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT EL SALVADOR


The US has apparently decided that an El Salvador union leader is just too damn dangerous to come to this country to talk about the repression that goes on in the Central American country.

This comes only weeks after the arrest of 8 members of the executive board of the Trade Union of Nursing Workers of El Salvador, SIGEESAL, members of the Salvadoran Trade Union Front (Frente Sindical Salvadoreno).

As reported in Green Left Weekly (GLW) the union leaders were arrested in the city of Ahuchapan and Santa Ana, early in the morning of September 4 by members of the National Police. There are also arrest warrants issued against other union leaders as well.

The arrests, comments GLW, were a result of solidarity actions undertaken by SIGEESAL members in support of other union members in the Department of San Vicente. In San Vicente, the union had called for work stoppages in the administration of the National Hospital of Santa Gertrudis and other health units to protest against privatisation of health services and the acute shortages of medicines in public health clinics. The SIGEESAL union in San Vicente had also denounced embezzlement and misuse of funds on the part of the regional public health director, Manual Abarca. SIGEESAL branches throughout El Salvador participated in these protests.

These unionists were eventually released as a result of public pressure placed on the government.

IPS recently reported the head of the non-governmental penal affairs section of the Study Foundation for the Application of the Law, Nelson Flores, said that "El Salvador is a failed state in which authoritarianism predominates. Laws are being passed that instead of democratising the country, are causing greater repression and criminalising social protests."

Two weeks ago the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and its ally in congress, the Party of National Conciliation, approved reforms to the criminal code which punish persons convicted of creating public disorder with up to 10 years in prison.

"This does not favour the consolidation of democracy," Flores said.

And their are the Disappeared.

The president of the UN Working Group on Forced Disappearances, Santiago Corcuera, visited El Salvador this summer and stated flatly that “forced disappearances are a continued and permanent occurrence.” El Salvador’s human rights ombudswoman, Beatrice de Carrillo, and the Legal Assistance Office of the Archbishop of San Salvador have, in separate reports, echoed claims that “extermination groups” tied to “people with power” are operating in the country. President Tony Saca and Public Security Director Roberto Ávila have largely ignored these claims.

At about the same time Santiago Corcuera was visiting Salvadoran national police detained and imprisoned leaders of the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), a social organization which has worked since the 1980’s with over three hundred organized communities to advocate for their rights. Along with 10 community members, the leaders were placed in “preventative detention” for up to three months pending trial by special tribunal on charges of terrorism.

And how about one more example of what is going on in El Salvador.

This from the El Salvador 2009 Organizing Committee.

On July 2 a non-violent protest had been organized in Suchitoto by the Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), its regional branch in Suchitoto (PROGRESO), people in the rural communities in the area, the Union of Water Workers (SETA), and other social organizations. This protest was planned around the visit of President Antonio Saca and his cabinet to Suchitoto, to discuss plans for the privatization of water in El Salvador.

Four members of CRIPDES were arrested before they even reached the protest, when their vehicle was stopped by National Civilian Police
(PNC) several km outside Suchitoto: Marta Lorena Araujo (President of the CRIPDES National Directive Council), Rosa Valle Centeno (Vice-President), Maria Haydee Chicas (CRIPDES journalist and photographer), and Manual Antonio Rodriguez (driver). They were first taken to Suchitoto police station, and shortly after to Cojutepeque, the Cuscatlan capital, where they are currently being held.

Later, when news of the arrests spread, protestors in Suchitoto moved to the police station to demand information and the release of those arrested. The police then called in the Unit for Maintenance of Order (UMO), who dispersed the protestors with tear gas, rubber bullets, and wooden batons. Police also attacked other protestors outside Suchitoto, and fleeing community members were followed by police by land and air for more than 4 hours, with several arrests made. In all, 14 people were arrested (including the 4 CRIPDES members and 9 local community members), dozens injured by rubber bullets or tear gas, and many people beaten by police officers. These violent actions by the police reminded many of the worst moments of the armed conflict in El Salvador in the 1980s, during which tens of thousands of Salvadorans were murdered by right-wing death squads backed by the military.

But the Bush government would rather you not hear about any of this.

Big surprise.

The following is from CISPES.

Alert! US Embassy Declares Salv. Union’s Anti-Privatization Work “Dangerous” to U.S. Public
**Take Action to demand that the U.S. government stop denying visas to opposition voices!**

On Thursday 20, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador denied Salvadoran union leader Maria de los Angeles Pleitez Carcamo a visa to come on a speaking tour of the U.S. Pleitez is scheduled to participate in CISPES’s “We Are Not Terrorists, Organizing is Our Right!” tour from Oct 16-31. During the tour Pleitez will talk about her union’s work to stop the privatization of the public health care system and the increasing repression that social movement and union leaders are suffering from the Salvadoran government.

On the morning of September 20, Pleitez went to the U.S. Consulate in San Salvador and presented all of her documents, including proof of work, family ties, and over a dozen letters of invitation from Congressional Representatives and other community groups. In the visa interview, the U.S. consular representative questioned Pleitez about her ties to CISPES and her union work. The official rejection letter cited lack of “economic and social ties” to El Salvador, but the interviewing officer made it clear that the rejection was a political decision when he concluded the interview, saying “this is very delicate situation…you cannot travel because we need to protect U.S. security.”

Pleitez believes she was denied the visa because the U.S. government does not want people in the United States to know about repression against the social movement and union leaders in El Salvador. Pleitez is a national leader in the Salvadoran General Hospitals Union (SIGEESAL), and SIGEESAL has recently been targeted for its work to stop privatization. On September 4, eight SIGEESAL members were illegally arrested for participating in a demonstration against the privatization of the national health care system. A number of other organizations have also been attacked for their activism recently. In July, 14 people were arrested in Suchitoto for participating in a peaceful protest against the privatization of water. Those protesters are being charged with “terrorist acts” and face up to 60 years of prison. The SIGEESAL activists are being charged with public disorder and could also face years in prison.

The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador is contributing to the repression of the social movement and union organizing by denying this visa and not allowing Ms. Pleitez to tell their stories in the United States As long as the U.S. government is supporting this repression in El Salvador it is critical that communities in the U.S. be allowed to meet with people like Pleitez to share experiences and build common strategies. The only “danger” we face is allowing the government to keep us uninformed! Take action to demand that the U.S. Consulate grant Ms. Pleitez a visa immediately.

TAKE ACTION!

1. Write to the Consul General of the US Embassy in El Salvador to demand that Pleitez immediately be granted a visa. Write to Carl Cockburn, Consul General -Fax: 011(503)2278-5522, or e-mail to congensansal@state.gov This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it.

2. Report back on your discussion or send a copy of your message and any reply to the CISPES National Office: cispes@cispes.orgThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .

THE BATTLE OF FOREST HILL ROAD









This is a story about some ordinary Americans who are tired of no one listening to them about their own Macon, Georgia neighborhood. So they took to the streets and then directly confronted their elected officials head on. These folks were ticked off about the county plans for a street which runs right past where they live. It wasn't so much that they didn't think something needed to be done (at least early on) to improve the road, it was that no one seemed concerned with what they thought about it.

These folks have the tough luck of livening in a quiet neighborhood which now lies in between two busy streets, and transportation "experts" have decided those main roads need to be connected.

The current plan, which officials said has been altered three times from its original proposal, calls for the two-lane road to be widened into three- and four-lane sections based on Department of Transportation (DOT) traffic counts with data that has varied widely.

Opponents of the project have argued that if it is to be built it should be redesigned to lessen its impact on local neighborhoods. Some community activists also have said the project should include roundabouts, which they think would be safer than standard intersections. Residents feel that not only will the road make their neighborhood less cosy and destroy beautiful trees, but it also will create dangerous conditions for elementary school children.

Residents recently argued that the project should be abandoned because it isn't necessary anymore, given that its original intent was to help traffic flow more easily to Macon Mall, which they say is losing visitors.

They think the County Commission is wasting their money.

At a County Commission meeting where residents took on their elected officials, Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, trying to act like he cared, claimed the commisoners were "powerless" to do anything even after the County Attorney, Virgil Adams assured neighborhood resident Joe Allen that the Bibb County Commission always has the power to "change or stop" the Forest Hill Road projects.

On a web site dedicated to the debate, one person writes:



"I have watched this road project for a long time. If there ever was a time to re-think a road project this is it. The DOT has got to be responsive to the wants of the citizens. This is an incredible waste of taxpayer money. The chairman of the county commission apparently thinks any road project tossed our way is a good thing. Never mind the terrible cost to the city and county when whole sections of neighborhoods are destroyed, property values in all surrounding areas crash and people flee for surrounding counties. We can ill afford to lose anymore intact functional neighborhoods for the sake of a superhighway to nowhere. It is ok to change your mind Comm. Bishop. The citizens of this county would see you as a positive, forward thinking, neighborhood loving county commissioner who isn't afraid to re-evaluate a position when better ideas come along. It is not too late!"

Unfortunately few elected officials concern themselves all that much with some yokels who stand in the way of what they say is"progress."

Most of the time people just roll over, but these feisty southerners are to be commended for deciding they just aren't going to take it anymore. These are not a bunch of loonies. These are just folk with a little common sense who have offered numerous compromises of their own, who are tired of paying for projects they feel are wasteful, and being overridden time and again by experts and officials.

They want their opinions to matter.

Jack Castle who lives in the neighborhood went to that County Commission meeting the other night. He spoke for many when he wrote in a letter to the local paper:

"I have just come from the Bibb County Commission meeting. It is rare that I am disappointed as much as I am at this moment.

The blatant disregard these representatives of the people have for the people is very disheartening. The Forest Hill Road project has been around a long time, but so have the objections.

It is so sad that certain commissioners put their own egos ahead of the wishes of those who elected them (but won't the next time)."

Jack, we've all been there and we're all with you.

Hell, yes!

The following is from WMAZ in Macon, Georgia.

Protesters Slam Road Widening

Protesters of the Forest Hill Road expansion project gathered in front of the Bibb County Courthouse Tuesday evening to voice their concerns.

Some carried signs and shouted to drivers passing by, while others took a more extreme approach, dressing up to make their point.

Lindsay Holliday, whose father was killed on Forest Hill Road in a January accident, says he's not against making changes to the road. However, he does want the city and county to listen to what the people have to say instead of the state department of transportation.

Currently, the DOT wants to look over paperwork that outlines expansion of the road.

Holliday says he and other protesters want to preserve their neighborhood while improving traffic flow.

"This is a deciding issue," said Holliday. "The voters are infuriated that the city's wasting millions of dollars to destroy an established neighborhood instead of fixing the traffic problem on Forest Hill Road."

Many of the protesters then went inside the courthouse to attend a Bibb County Commission meeting on the Forest Hill Road expansion project.

They took turns speaking to the commission about why they thought widening the road would hurt their community.

Commissioner Joe Allen says he supports looking into alternative ways to improve traffic on the road rather than following the state DOT's proposal.

Chairman Charlie Bishop says he believes the DOT's $15 million expansion project will improve existing conditions and speed traffic to the new North Macon shopping areas.

One woman who spoke to both commissioners says she's proud of all the people who want to get involved in the Forest Hill Road debate.

"It makes me feel validated," said Susan Hanberry Martin, who lives in the Forest Hill neighborhood. "I think that we have a strong vibrant community and people are willing to fight for it."

Bibb County commissioners say they'll consider setting up a meeting with members of the Forest Hill Road community to discuss the proposed widening project in detail next week.

TEENS ORGANIZE PROTESTS OF THEIR OWN


Tens of thousands gathered in Jena, Louisiana yesterday and you can read all about it everywhere on the web so there is little reason for me to duplicate what so many others have done.

I've decided to go with a related story from Spartanburg, South Carolin where a Junior High kid decided he wanted to do something about injustice and went out and organized an interesting protest of his own.

The good news is this was one of many places around the country where young people organized themselves to express what they feel about the injustice in Jena.

Students in Ohio took to the street in front of Twinsburg High at the end of the school day Thursday all clad in black, to join the national day of protest for the Jena Six. The Twinsburg High students (some pictured here) marched with signs, chanting ''Free Jena Six.'' Motorists driving along the road honked their horns and a group of students in front of the Twinsburg middle school cheered as the high school students passed by.

Dorian Price, 18, told the Beacon Journal some people don't know what is going on in Jena.

''What is being done in Louisiana is not fair. It's not right. It's not just. I was taught that when you believe in something, you have to take a stand,'' said Dorian, who is black. ''There were people years ago who marched so that I could be here in a school with kids of different races. Now, I'm marching to say that there are still wrongs that need to be made right. If everybody takes a stand, they will have no other choice but to correct this injustice.''

The following is from the Herald-Journal Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Teen organizes peaceful protest at McCracken for Jena 6
'Hold your head up,' mother encourages 15-year-old
By Jessica L. De Vault

As thousands of people rallied Thursday in Jena, La., one student 735 miles away in Spartanburg organized a silent protest of his own with scores of his McCracken Junior High School classmates.

Christopher Gentry, a 15-year-old ninth-grader, and his peers participated in "Black Thursday." People across the country wore black clothing in support of the Jena 6, a group of six black teenagers accused of attacking a white classmate.

Christopher estimated that at least half of the students at McCracken were involved in the demonstration, showing up at school in black ensembles.

"It wasn't just a black people thing," he said. "We got everyone involved."

More than 60 percent of the school's 523 students are white and about 36 percent are black, according to the state Department of Education.

Christopher said he was moved when he first learned of the Jena 6 case. "I didn't think it was right that these kids were being tried as adults," he said.

When he told his mother, Vanessa Anderson, about his feelings about the case, she wanted him to be involved but driving to Jena was not an option. So Christopher invited his friends to wear black on the day of the rally in support of "Black Thursday."

Gathering momentum

"Once I told my closest friends, we spread it around the whole school," he said. "I put it on my MySpace page, put sticky notes on lockers and passed out notes."

Once Thursday came, Christopher was nervous about his decision. As a football player for Spartanburg High School, he was required to wear his jersey that day, and Anderson said getting in trouble was the last thing her son wanted.

"I told him, 'Hold your head up; you've done nothing wrong,' " Anderson said. "I love McCracken and am very supportive of it, but I'm also supportive of my child. I don't want his beliefs to be stifled."

Christopher's worries began to change when he saw students dressed in black begin to filter through the school's hallways.

Principal Jeff Stevens declined to allow a reporter or photographer on the school's premises to speak with students who had participated in the silent protest.

"We want to keep this separate from school and the educational learning environment," Stevens said. "But everything ran smooth and normal as it always does."

The peaceful end to the day made Christopher even prouder of his first organized protest, and he's glad his classmates participated.

"In the morning, we told folks that it's not about the rallying," Christopher said.

"Just by us wearing black, it's making a statement."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

THE NETHERWORLD OF AIRLINE TRAVEL


It came as no surprise.

Yesterday Karen was flying back home from Boston on the infamous Northworst Airlines. For reasons known only to the airline gods the flight, of course, took off late. When it landed in Detroit Karen had only a few minutes to make the next flight. No one at the gate offered her any information or, god forbid, offered to call ahead. She ran like the wind to her new departure gate. She arrived with the plane still sitting at the gate. Tough luck, said the gate attendant, we've closed the door and we're not opening it for just one person (how many persons are necessary, I wonder, but we'll save that for another day). Did Northworst offer any sort of apology? Hell no. Why would they. Shoot, this little incident was nothing to an airline happy to leave people trapped in their planes for hours on end.

Every hour of every day average American flyers are held hostages by the the numerous airlines who could give a hoot what happens to their customers. After all, what is the alternative, walk across the country?

Those same big airlines, of course, get millions of tax payers money for subsidies as they turn a blind eye to our complaints. Customer service is a concept that seems to have dropped out of the vocabulary of most American airlines (I must say I've had good luck with Midwest Airlines).

Of course the real corporate big shots don't have to worry about flight problems, they just hop on their private or corporate plane and off they go.

Most of us really can't do that, however. Oddly, we seem to think our time is just as important as theirs, but, of course, we are wrong.

Our time is worth nothing.

Now the airlines will blame it on increased passenger numbers and an over extended flight control system. You know what. I don't care. Fix it. And while your fixing it, at least show some respect to your passengers. Buy me dinner, give me a drink, do something to show you give a rip about me and millions like me.

But the truth is cutting back hard on customer service is what makes an airline most profitable?

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 2006 was the worst year in history for airline flight delays, and 2007 is on track to be even worse. In the first six months of this year, 27 percent of flights were late or canceled, the worst score since the government began tracking the data in 1995. Duh!

Ironically while Karen was being mistreated by Northworst, the Detroit Free Press reported Northwest Airlines employees will undergo intensive training to improve customer service, according to CEO Doug Steenland.

“It’s the largest training initiative in over a decade with a focus on customer experience,” Steenland said during a half-hour speech to industry executives.

“It’s an interdisciplinary program that makes sure they see travel experience through the eyes of customers,” he said.

I'll believe it when I see it.

Oh by the way, let's not think it's just the airline employees have all suddenly become uncaring out of the blue. Industry wide salary cuts of epic proportions, and (the worst sin of all) airlines canceling pension plans because they've robbed the fund of hundreds of millions have left them shell shocked, depressed, disillusioned and resentful.

In other words, they are not any happier then we are.

Airline executives on the other hand, well, they're not so unhappy.

After 20 months of restructuring Northwest Airlines has came out of bankruptcy and began to trade on the NYSE in late May 2007. Northwest's CEO Doug Steenland exited the bankruptcy with a big pay package. On top of Steenland's salary, reported at $516,384 dollars last year, he will get a total compensation package of more than $26.6 million in stock. That's $5.8 million in stock options and $20.8 million worth of restricted stocks that will vest over the next four years. Northwest workers bore the brunt of the restructuring — after a $1.4 billion a year cut in labor expenses — pilots and flight attendant wages were cut by between 20 and 40 percent.

In 2006, the Chairman and CEO of United Airlines, a certain Glenn Tilton, received $39.7 million in compensation. That was the year when United Airlines LOST $152 million and also terminated the pensions of its 120,000 workers. Tilton earns 1,000 times what a United flight attendant at the top of the scale takes home. They now earn an average salary of about $31,000. New hires make about half that, which means Tilton earns 2,000 times what newbies do.

During American's annual stockholder meeting, chief executive Gerard J. Arpey
said that the $160 million in stock awards given to top executives and managers was a motivational tool.

Again, I'd be happy if one day an airline that caused me to miss a connection coughed up a little of that motivational money and just said, "Hey, we'll buy you dinner and a drink while you wait for your new flight."

The following is from the ultra left Washington Times.

Plane passengers air their grievances
By Andrew Richards

Airline customers tired of flight delays, being stranded on runways and other problems with the industry came to the District yesterday to rally for a federal "passengers" bill of rights."

The Coalition for an Airline Passengers" Bill of Rights (CAPBOR) wants the House and Senate to pass legislation that would guarantee air passengers the right to exit a plane that has been sitting on the tarmac for more than 3 hours.

The dozens of passenger activists who converged on the Mall yesterday brought with them a portable mock-up of a smelly plane section — designed to simulate what passengers have to endure after nine-plus hours of sitting in a stagnant airplane.

"If we can"t get Congress to the tarmacs, then we"ll bring the tarmacs to Congress," said CAPBOR founder Kate Hanni. "Congress ought to have an opportunity to sit inside a jet. Since their time is very limited, if they could sit in here for five or 10 minutes, they would get the idea of how horrible this is because we re-created what it would be like."

Mrs. Hanni, a Napa, Calif., real-estate broker, became an activist after spending nine hours on a grounded plane in December.

She and her husband, Tim, and two sons were headed to Alabama on Dec. 29 but ended up being stuck on the runway in Austin, Texas.

Since then, she"s taken up the passenger cause full time, lobbying Congress and working with Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Mike Thompson, both California Democrats, on the bill of rights.

Some of the bill's language has already been adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA now requires that "a covered air carrier operating an aircraft in air transportation shall provide for the essential needs of passengers at all times during which the aircraft is on the ground in the event of a departure or arrival delay, including the needs of passengers for food and water."

Protester Melissa Wheeler, 23, an insurance agent, was also trapped in a plane that day in Austin — and for four hours longer than the Hannis.

The airline, she said, told her that the weather was the reason she was stuck in a plane for 13 hours. She said she now travels with a "big bag of food because I am scared to death it could happen again."

"No one should be held on a plane against their will. No one should suffer what these folks had to suffer," said Mr. Thompson. "The more you peel back the skin of an onion, the more tears come to your eyes. We found out this happens more and more and more. It wasn't that long ago when the airline industry promised Congress that they would take of these issues themselves, and we all know that promise didn't come to fruition."

WISCONSIN STUDENTS TAKE ON HALLIBURTON


The Career Day Fair really drew them in today at the University of Wiconsin (UW). However, students weren't looking for jobs, they were, to paraphrase a certain President, "on the hunt" for Halliburton.

Students organized by the UW chapter of the Campus Anti-War Network (CAN) sat in front of the company's booth, singing anti-war songs and blocking access to the company's four recruiters. The group had a noon rally at the top of Bascom Hill in the center of campus and then marched to the Engineering Centers Building, where the career fair was being held.

Protest organizer Chris Dohls estimated the crowd at 200 people. He stood in front of the Halliburton booth leading the crowd in song.

According to a local blog site police say the protesters can stay camped outside the Chancellors office where many of the protesters have moved until the building closes, at which point, the Chancellor’s office would have to make a decision along with UWPD as to what to do.

Earlier this month CAN leader, UW senior Chris Dols, is also hopeful to have a turnout in the hundreds, and said it is disappointing to see engineers working for a company like Halliburton.

“There are certain ethical standards engineers are supposed to uphold, and they make billions off this war,” Dols said. “I hope we make it impossible for them to recruit.”

Dols said, “Halliburton is not an engineering company that UW students are preparing to work for. We want to help people, not organize the infrastructure of a military occupation, which is what Halliburton has done in Iraq.”

The following is from the Capital Times (Wisconsin).

UW protesters sing against Halliburton at career fair

University of Wisconsin-Madison protesters pushed police and university officials hard today in a spirited protest against the Halliburton company, which was recruiting engineering students on campus.

Given a police escort that cleared University Avenue from Charter Street to Breese Terrace, more than 120 protesters marched shortly after noon from Bascom Hill to the Engineering Centers Building, the site of a career fair with some 100 recruiters from different organizations.

The leaders of the Campus Anti-war Network did their best to skirt rules laid down by administrators. They were allowed to enter the career fair but were told not to chant, so they sang. They were told to use conversational tones, but they did so with a bullhorn.

Protesters around the Halliburton booth sang: "I say from day to day, soldiers' lives are thrown away" and "Hey hey! Ho ho! This racist war has got to go!"

Halliburton is the target of protest because of the oil service company's ties to the war in Iraq and Vice President Dick Cheney, its former CEO. One of Halliburton's subsidiaries, KBR, has received several lucrative contracts from the U.S. government for work in Iraq, although the two companies are now formally separated.

The UW protesters made a point of comparing their demonstration with a famous clash in 1967 between anti-Vietnam War protesters and police over the recruitment of students by Dow Chemical Co., the maker of napalm.

"Dow was the worst profiteer in that war, and Hallibruton is in this one," Chris Dols, one of the protest leaders, said today.

Some engineering students said they resented the disruption of their career fair when they were trying to find jobs.

Renee Miller, a student trying to talk to recruiters said, "they're ruining our career day. I'm trying to get a job."

Mia McKinney, a freshman from Racine majoring in industrial engineering, said: "This is a wonderful example of free speech, but they should be protesting to Bush and Cheney. These people (the recruiters) have no control over whether our soldiers stay in Iraq."

UW police kept a wary watch on protesters in the career fair and officials made sure a pathway was clear for students who wanted to talk to Halliburton.

Halliburton recruiters would say little to the news media, but one of them, Gavin Bell, said "We want to recruit some talented individuals to work with us."

ANNOUNCEMENT: SUPPORT THE SAN FRANCISCO 8

The San Francisco 8 are headed back to court next Monday. If you are in the area, it would be a good time to come out and show your support to those caught up in this decades old case. For further information on the case go to http://www.freethesf8.org/

Support the San Francisco 8

Come to Court
Monday September 24 th
850 Bryant Street, SF
Demonstration 8:30 am

Rally with those who are out on bail!

Support the brothers still behind bars!

Courtroom hearing 9:30 am
Important motion to challenge double jeopardy and the use of evidence coerced through torture

BLACKWATER BLUES

The just in from old friend Bill Berkowitz on Blackwater USA. Makes good reading.

The following is taken from Talk To Action.

Blackwater Blues for Dead Iraqi Civilians
By Bill Berkowitz

Erik Prince, the founder and head of Blackwater USA, has contributed mega-bucks to Republican Party candidates and Christian right organizations and causes. Why is this advocate of "traditional family values" stonewalling the families of four Blackwater contractors killed in Fallujah in March 2004?

After an incident over the weekend that resulted in the murder of eight civilians and the wounding of thirteen others by private security forces in Iraq, the ministry of interior yesterday took the decision to expel Blackwater from the country.

According to The Guardian, US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, "apologized to the Iraqi government ... in an attempt to prevent the expulsion of all" Blackwater employees from Iraq.

Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, the son of conservative multi-millionaire, the late Edgar Prince, and the brother of Betsy DeVos, the wife of Dick DeVos, the son of Amway founder Richard DeVos.

Over the paast two decades, both the Prince and DeVos families have given millions of dollars to Republican Party candidates, and conservative Christian organizations and causes.


'The world's most powerful mercenary army'

In 1997, Erik Prince founded Blackwater USA, a company that grown into what journalist Jeremy Scahill terms "the world's most powerful mercenary army," in his recently released book titled "Blackwater."

Both Prince and his company prefer to avoid the spotlight.

In March 2004, however, four of Prince's Anerican contractors -- Jerry Zovko, Scott Helvenston, Michael Teague and Wesley Batalona -- were killed in Fallujah while escorting a convoy of empty trucks. They were ambushed, shot and overcome by an angry mob. The men were burnt in their vehicles and then their charred bodies were strung up from a bridge.

The horrific images of the dead Americans received worldwide media attention. That incident was soon followed by a massive U.S. assault on Fallujah, an attack that reportedly resulted in thousands of dead Iraqi civilians.

Erik Prince's Blackwater USA was no longer under the radar.

For the past three years, the families of the dead contractors have been trying to find out what really happened that March day in Fallujah. For three years they've been stonewalled by Prince.

The suit and countersuit

In February of this year, relatives of the four slain Blackwater USA contractors testified, at a House hearing in Washington -- held by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. -- on the company's operations. The families of the slain men, still unclear about what happened when their loved ones were killed, sued Blackwater USA "for wrongful death in the hope that their questions will be answered," the Associated Press reported in mid-June.

The lawsuit alleges that Blackwater sent the men on a job with inadequate equipment and protection.

According to the suit, AP pointed out, "the men should have been traveling in fully armored vehicles and should have had a guard in each vehicle acting as a rear gunner to protect them from attack."

The legal battle could have much broader implications. It "could prompt more government oversight of security contracting companies and determine the extent of their legal liability in the war zone," AP noted. It "is the most prominent [suit] in an emerging body of litigation surrounding the secretive world of private security contractors in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As details about security operations are revealed in the court cases, pressure has intensified in Congress to regulate how armed contractors operate."

Blackwater has assembled a high-profile well-connected legal team to combat the suit. They also filed a $10 million counterclaim. Blackwater's legal dream team -- which once included Fred Fielding, now White House counsel -- includes Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals during the Clinton administration.

Blackwater maintains that since it was working for the government, it was "subject to the same protections against lawsuits as the military, which cannot be sued for the deaths or injuries of its troops," AP reported. The company "argues that the four families' lawsuit `unconstitutionally intrudes on the exclusive authority of the military of the federal government to conduct military operations abroad.'"

In the two years since the families filed its suit, it has bounced between state and federal courts amid a jumble of claims and counterclaims. Last month U.S. District Judge James Fox in North Carolina ordered the families and Blackwater into arbitration, a non-public procedure that is designed to resolve disputes without a trial. While the families are protesting that decision, that is a desirable outcome for the company as it would continue to secrecy for its operations.

Blackwater USA

That we know as much as we do about Blackwater USA is in part due to the first-rate reporting of several journalists, including The Nation magazine's investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill. In his bestselling book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" (Nation Books, 2007), Scahill describes the company as "a sort of Praetorian Guard for the Bush Administration's `global war on terror.'"

He maintains that Prince
"has been in the thick of this right-wing effort to unite conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and neoconservatives in a common theoconservative holy war."



At the time the book was written Scahill pointed out that the Moyock, North Carolina-headquartered company had
"more than 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, including inside the United States. It maintainsa database of 21,000 former Special Forces troops, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents on whom it could call at a moment's notice. ... [It] has a private fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a surveillance blimp division."


In addition, Blackwater had
"train[ed] tens of thousands of federal and local law enforcement agents ... [as well as] troops from `friendly' foreign nations." Blackwater "operates its own intelligence division and counts among its executives senior ex-military and intelligence officials."

In addition to Prince, "A number of Blackwater executives are deeply conservative Christians, including corruption-smeared former Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, who is also a member of the Sovereign Order of Malta, which Scahill describes as `a Christian militia formed in the eleventh century [to defend] `territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Moslems,'" Chris Barsanti wote in a review of the book for In These Times.

Blackwater had a visible, and financially lucrative, presence in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the use of company contractors cost the American taxpayer $240,000 a day.

`Radical right wing Christian mega-millionaire'

Blackwater USA is the brainchild of Erik Prince -- a former Navy SEAL and son of Edgar Prince, a wealthy Michigan auto-parts supplier -- described by Scahill as a "radical right wing Christian mega-millionaire" who is a strong financial backer of President George W. Bush, as well as a donor to a host of conservative Christian political causes.

In the 1980s "the Prince family merged with one of the most venerable conservative families in the United States," when Erik's sister Betsy - nine years his senior -- married Dick DeVos, whose father Richard, founded the multilevel marketing firm Amway.

The two families exercized enormous political influence both inside and outside Michigan. "They were one of the greatest bankrollers of far-right causes in U.S. history, and with their money they propelled extremist Christian politicians and activists to positions of prominence," Scahill writes.

Prince, who keeps a relatively low profile, recently appeared at the North Carolina Technology Association's "Five Pillars" conference. There, he put in a plug for his company, saying that had the police had the kind of training that Blackwater provides, they could have dealt with situations such as the killings at Columbine and Virginia Tech much better.

"When I saw the Columbine tapes, I saw a lot of law enforcement officers with really nice gear, equipment and weapons, but they had never really trained together. They had never tested those assumptions," Prince said. "The same with Virginia Tech -- they had never really trained or planned for an active shooter."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ANTI-GAY ASSAULT AT MICHIGAN RESORT


According to the blog "Republic of M" Angie Potter was enjoying her stay at the Tawas Bay Beach Resort in Michigan (pictured here) during a women’s softball tournament the weekend of September 7. That is, until an anti-lesbian thug who was also staying at the hotel grabbed her throat, leaving marks, while Angie was trying to enjoy her evening.

Interviewed by the Michigan Messenger Potter said she and her friends decided to head down to the beach to play in the lake. They were there for about 15 minutes, when the four men appeared at the top of the beach and began shouting anti-gay slurs at the women. The men threatened to attack the women.

"My friend got nervous about it because she is conservative. She wanted to go to the lobby to complain," Potter said.

In order to get to the hotel lobby, the women had two choices, walk back up the beach and through the bar-passing the men-or to walk all the way around the building and to enter the lobby from the front of the building.

They chose the first route. As they were passing the men, Potter said they again hurled anti-gay slurs at them.

Potter said she faced them off. "I was like `What is your issue? We bought you drinks and you were pretty cool.'"

Potter said one of the men attacked her.

"I swear he looked like I killed his mother. He jumped up and got in my face," said Potter.

"You wish you were as hot as my wife," Potter said the assailant said to her and then he "grabbed me by my throat. It felt like an hour, but it was less than 5 minutes. I had his hand print around my throat. It just went away recently. "

The two fell to the ground, and the bartender and Potter's friend helped to pull the man off of her. Potter said she asked for the police to be called. The assistant manager, who Potter identified as Richard Webber, was called. She said Webber took her and her friend into the main restaurant and asked if the assailant was there.

Potter said he wasn't. Webber disappeared again, Potter said, assuring the women the police had been called.

Potter and her friends waited for the police to respond for about 45 minutes.

Finally, one of her friends went back up to the hotel room and got her cell phone and called the police. When officers arrive, Potter said, they explained the cell phone call was the first one they had received.

Potter filed a police report and a picture was taken of the bruises on her neck which were the result of the choking. She said officers were able to locate the suspect in a nearby bar, but no arrest was made.

The following morning, Potter said she saw the assailant in the hotel, and complained to management.

Pope said the Potter told her she spoke to a woman who identified herself as the owner or the owner's wife. The victim told Triangle her complaint was greeted with a claim the man was a paying customer just as she was, and if she felt unsafe she should leave.

East Tawas Police Chief Dennis Frank confirmed no arrest was made that night. "It is not a general practice to arrest a person in such a case, unless there is an immediate threat to the safety of the victim or of a chance the assaultive behavior would continue."

Frank said the case is still under investigation, but declined to identify the suspect. Asked if the situation was a hate crime, he responded, "There are some issues here that lend themselves to this being a hate crime."

In response to all this, Angie and the Triangle Foundation are holding a protest at the Tawas Bay Beach Resort, 300 E. Bay Street in East Tawas, from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. demanding that the hotel issue Angie a public apology and that they refund her money.

The Triangle Foundation is a statewide LBGT organization that monitors and reports on hate crimes in Michigan.

The following is from QueerTy.

Anti-Gay Attack At Michigan Resort
Activists Plan Protest

Michigan’s Tawas Bay Beach Resort’s about to see an influx of homos - and they won’t be gay. A former guest named Angela Potter alleges another guest attacked her during her stay. In the course of the attack, says Potter, who’s a lesbian, the man hurled some homophobic epithets.

Hoping to see the man in the clink, Potter asked the Resort to call the police. Staffers told her they had done so, but, in fact, had not. When Potter pressed the issue, staffers asked her to leave.

Now, Potter and Michigan’s Triangle Foundation are planning a good old fashion protest. On Saturday, Septemeber 22, from 11am-3pm, Potter and other activists will storm the Resort’s lobby looking for justice.

Potter says she’s not only acting to help herself, but raise awareness of anti-gay sentiments and inaction:

I’m doing it because I want other people to know that it’s still possible in Michigan to be physically attacked just because you’re a lesbian. And sadly it’s still possible for the people who are responsible for protecting us to ignore their responsibility.

Speaking of responsibility: coppers are finally on the case and treating it as a hate crime.

JUST A NOTE ON JENA 6 PROTEST


I've got to tell you that as I've been searching for news for the OD today, I've found literally dozens of sites telling of people boarding buses here, there, and everywhere for Jena. Keep your eyes on that one and a "right on" to all you folks who are on the way. The people in the photo here are from Atlanta and are waiting to board their bus.


I feel bad that I'm sitting here. Oh well...

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE



It's not often, in fact it's been like never, that I report on a meteorite, but this story is just too intriguing for me to pass up.

So X-File finds hold onto your hats.

Scores of people in Peru are reportedly ill after they went to look at a crater apparently made by a meteorite which crashed near Lake Titicaca. Locals that fell ill said that they began ailing after handling a luminous substance at the site that they thought might be valuable.

"Blood tests are being carried out on most of the patients to determine what they're suffering from," the ministry said. "Specialists in epidemiology and environmental health are already in the area to collect samples of the supposed meteorite for analysis."

Video reports from the remote Andean village of Carancas along Peru's border with Bolivia, revealed what appeared to be a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide), 20-foot-deep (6-meter-deep) impact crater with a bubbling pool of water at the bottom.

Agence France Presse quoted a local official, Marco Limache, as saying that "boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby."

Limache said the gases coming from the crater caused diarrhea, headaches,stomach pain and vomiting. The newspaper La Republica reported seven policemen became ill and were taken to a hospital.

Jorge López Tejada, the Regional Health Director for Puno, Peru, who is currently in Carancas, has confirmed that there are very strong odors coming from the supposed meteorite crash site. He has stated that despite the fact that masks are being worn, the odor causes throat irritation and nose itchiness.

Renan Ramirez, an engineer for the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute, said a team of scientists found no radiation at the crash site and confirmed that the crater was not created by a fallen satellite.

"If it had been the case, the strike would have let out radiation and contaminated the area," he said.

Residents also reported a change in behaviour among cattle and sheep that they said were "acting strangely and refuse to eat," the town of Puno's mayor said.

The following is from Living in Peru.


Peru: Doctors Aid in Rising Number of Illnesses after Meteorite Crash

Puno, Peru's Regional Health Directorate reported yesterday that doctors and nurses found it necessary to establish auxiliary medical tents near the health center in Carancas.

The medical tents were established so as to aid the rising number of people reporting to be sick after a meteorite landed in the area on Saturday afternoon.

According to Peru's La Republica newspaper, due to the high number of illnesses, district authorities are considering placing the town of Carancas, Puno, Peru in a state of emergency. It has been reported that at least 600 people have been affected by the meteorite.

Puno, Peru's Regional Health Director, Jorge López Tejada, reported yesterday that at least 150 people had been seen after having stated they had dermal injuries, were dizzy, nauseous or vomiting.

According to the townspeople, the illnesses began after the meteorite crashed and they began to touch the glowing rock believing it had some type of monetary value. Aside from the hundreds of townspeople that were affected, Tejada reported that 8 police officers had to be hospitalized after having taken samples of the meteorite.

Blood samples are being taken and there are several teams of specialists in the area.

Scientists confirmed yesterday that the meteorite that caused a 17 meter (55 foot) wide and 5 meter (16 foot) deep crater in Puno, Peru was a chondrite meteorite. The water in the crater is to be drained and several teams of scientists from different countries will take samples from the crater itself and from surrounding areas.

AN AWFUL JOKE


On September 5, during a visit to Khartoum by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, the Sudanese government nominated Ahmed Haroun (pictured here) to co-chair a committee which has been established to hear complaints of victims of abuses in Darfur.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant this spring for the arrest of Haroun. The ICC's pre-trial judges found "reasonable grounds to believe" that Haroun is responsible for persecuting, raping, attacking and killing civilians in four west Darfur villages in 2003 and 2004. Evidence indicates Haroun recruited, paid and supplied arms to the Janjaweed who carried out the attacks.

“Coming during Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Sudan, Haroun’s nomination is a stunning affront,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “It is an insult to the Darfur victims who filed complaints with the vain hope that the government would take them seriously.”

For some unknown reason there has been little reaction to Haroun's nomination by the international community.

"The silence of the international community has been deafening," said Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights. "The US and all other members of the UN Security Council must ensure that Haroun is arrested and delivered to The Hague immediately."

The following comes from Physicians for Human Rights and published in the Washington Post on September 19, 2007.

For Darfur, Accountability Before Peace
A Letter to the Editor of the Wahsington Post

Accountability for perpetrators and reparations for victims in Sudan's Darfur region are critical components missing from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's proposed solutions to the crisis ["What I Saw in Darfur; Untangling the Knots of a Complex Crisis," op-ed, Sept. 14].

While atrocities have been committed in the context of scarce resources, including water, these are certainly not the primary cause of the genocidal campaign waged by the Khartoum regime, which Mr. Ban failed to mention.

During Mr. Ban's recent trip to Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir named Ahmed Haroun, the Sudanese minister for humanitarian affairs, who is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes in Darfur, to co-chair an investigation into human rights violations there. Mr. Ban's silence about this outrageous appointment, as well as his failure to make justice a prerequisite for peace, is troubling.

The secretary general must pressure Sudan to arrest those accused of war crimes in Darfur, such as Mr. Haroun, and deliver them to The Hague. Upcoming peace talks will fail if reparations and accountability are not on the table.

The secretary general and the UN Security Council must put them there.

FRANK DONAGHUE

Chief Executive Officer

Physicians for Human Rights

Cambridge, Mass

CITY WANTS MONEY FROM "SANCTUARY" CHURCH FOR BEING PICKETED BY ANTI-IMMIGRANT KNUCLEHEADS


This is a follow up story to the article a couple of days ago about the church in Simi Valley which was targeted by dolts associated with the militant anti-immigrant group Save Our State.

Believe it or not the city is billing the church for $40,000 for the police who showed up there in response to the anti-immigrant protesters.

What's wrong with this picture?

Anyway, so that you'll have something sane to read here I'm printing a statement from Rev. Dr. June Goudey of the church released on the day the jerkheads showed up to protest.
"Good Morning, as Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Simi Valley (pictured here), I would like to say a few words about our church and today’s events.

Each Sunday, our community gathers peacefully on this site to celebrate our common life in Jesus and thank God for the blessings we receive. We also recommit ourselves
through song and prayer to show forth God’s love and compassion with courage and
conviction. This morning is no exception.

Our decision to offer prophetic hospitality to Liliana and her baby as part of the New Sanctuary Movement continues to be rooted in faith not fear. Our guiding principles and core values are inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus. In his name we affirm the basic rights of all people and actively seek to support those whose rights are threatened.

Those who choose to condemn our faith actions, and trivialize our call for a just
immigration policy appear to have all the answers and are more than willing to share
them. In choosing disruption over dialogue they seek to divide and conquer rather than unite and heal.

By appealing to the better angels of our nature, we choose to find common ground as
human beings and as citizens. Are we imperfect? Yes. Do we make mistakes, yes. Do we have all the answers, no!

What we have is a faith stronger than fear and a belief that doing justice is a high and holy calling.

We stand firm in our witness that love is stronger than hate and compassion more powerful than judgment. Whether you agree or disagree with our intention to err on the side of compassion is not the point. The point is can we rise above our differences?

Can we reason together no matter what our country of origin is and explore the deeper truths of the immigration impasse that confronts us all?

There is pain and confusion in every aspect of today’s legal illegal divide. Still we must move to higher ground—all who choose love and non-violence must lead the way, and light the path for hope to make a difference. To heal our common anguish will not be easy; even so it must become our shared calling.

There are many stories at work here today; ours is simply this: we gather in peace, we gather in prayer, we gather in the presence of One greater than ourselves whose wisdom we seek and in whose service we rejoice. Our hearts are open to all who would join us as we seek a more excellent way, the way of justice and the well-being of all.

Thank you for letting our story touch yours. May peace bless us all. Deo Gracias."


The following is from the Ventura County Star.

Church to be billed for costs of protest
Simi wants $40,000 for police presence at event
By Anna Bakalis

By the end of the week, a Simi Valley church will be billed almost $40,000 for police presence during a weekend protest against the church's sheltering of an illegal immigrant.

The city of Simi Valley is sending a $39,306 invoice to the United Church of Christ for costs incurred for police services at the protest.

The Sunday protest brought out about 125 anti-illegal immigration activists and counterprotesters. Simi officials said that by publicly announcing the decision to shelter an illegal immigrant, the church essentially provoked the protesters to come and create a possible disturbance — one that police had to monitor.

Mayor Paul Miller told the council Monday night that he's ready to send out the bill right away. He called church members irresponsible for "harboring an illegal immigrant."

"This City Council has the obligation to protect all citizens in the community against any potential violence as a result of these ill-conceived actions," Miller said.

But an immigration lawyer thinks charging the church for being the site of a protest is wrong.

"It just seems a little bit backward to charge the church," said Carl Shusterman, a lawyer based in Los Angeles. "It seems the city is pandering to popular opinion in the community.

"This sounds like something very unprecedented," he added.

Largest bill like this so far

City Manager Mike Sedell said the city rarely bills for police services after the fact. But when it does, it's typically for smaller-ticket items like too many calls to a bar or repeated noise complaints.

"The council believes it's appropriate," Sedell said. "But we've never had anything of this size."

The protest was organized by an anti-illegal immigration group called Save Our State, which came with the hopes of making a citizen's arrest of an illegal immigrant staying at the church.

The church has been sheltering Liliana, an illegal immigrant from Oxnard, and her U.S.-born infant son for several weeks. Wanted for deportation, the woman is living in the church's former parsonage as part of a national New Sanctuary Movement aimed at keeping families of illegal immigrants together.

Church didn't call for police

The church didn't call for the heightened police presence on Sunday. The Rev. June Goudey and her 80-member congregation had hoped the protest would be peaceful, without counterprotesters. Goudey did not return calls for comment on the police bill.

Miller and Councilwoman Michelle Foster met with Goudey in August and advised her against taking in Liliana, who previously was sheltered at a church in Long Beach.

The city wants the church to pay for services provided by the Simi Valley Police Department and mutual aid from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Police Chief Mike Lewis said there were four to 15 officers on site throughout the rally, which ran from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. He said two Sheriff's Department tactical response teams were on standby.

No arrests were made — citizen or otherwise — but Naui Huitzilopochtli of Westminster, an immigration advocate, was writhing in pain after being sprayed in the face with a chemical agent, allegedly by an opposing protester. He was taken by ambulance to Simi Valley Hospital. Police said the incident is being investigated.

Cost breakdown

Lewis said the preliminary cost estimate includes more than 500 police staff hours at $35,744; 47 hours of Public Works staff, at $1,271; 22 hours of transportation, at $647; and about $1,654 for items like food and water for staff.

One local religious official said the city sending an invoice "is absurd."

"What the city is doing is giving legal license to racism, and they are attacking the victim," said Rabbi John Sherwood, chairman of the interfaith ministerial association, based in Ventura and Oxnard.

"If people want to demonstrate, requiring the police to be there, let the demonstrators be the ones who pay."

Save Our State leaders disagreed.

"I think the mayor is right," said Chelene Nightingale, a spokeswoman for Save Our State. "The city has a responsibility to its citizens, and the church made the decision to harbor a criminal, regardless of the crime."

The City Council made it clear it doesn't want Liliana in a Simi Valley church.

"This city is not going to be known as sanctuary city,'" Miller said.

At the council meeting, Miller said he sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, requesting immigration officials take custody of Liliana.

LET THEM DRINK CRAP






How many Americans if asked would consider manure in their water to be "a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant?" I would venture to guess just about everyone.

Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO)and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-ARK) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) along with 23 of their closest Senate pals, however, beg to differ. They seem to curry to the notion of drinking "shitty" water. I say let them bottle some of the stuff for themselves, and let the rest of us have clean water.

Sen. Lincoln who sponsored the bill to amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, I guess so that she could share her "shitty" water with everyone, does happen to come from the home state of Tyson Foods. Ah, any connection?

Tyson and other companies like it run these huge concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which have proliferated in recent years, now totaling about 19,000 across the country.

These CAFOs may contain thousands of hogs or hundreds of thousands of chickens. Their waste, often spread on the land, can flow into streams and lakes, causing growth of harmful algae and contamination by bacteria, pesticides and hormones, posing serious threats to health.

That would be your health and mine and millions of other everyday Americanos.

Oklahoma Attorney General W.A. Drew Edmondson voiced concern at a recent Senate hearing on the proposed superfund amendment, saying it would eliminate an important tool in remedying the effects of pollution caused by “industrial-scale” animal feeding operations in Oklahoma and throughout the country.

Congressional Quarterly reports Edmondson said the once-pristine Illinois River watershed — a million acres straddling the Arkansas-Oklahoma border — had been seriously impaired by the waste disposal practices of poultry companies with millions of chickens and turkeys that generated hundreds of thousands of tons of waste.

Efforts to weaken superfund by exempting all animal waste or anything that might be commingled with it “are a transparent attempt to protect the industrial-scale animal feeding operation practice of dumping animal waste in an environmentally damaging manner,” he said.

Tom Bonacquisti, testifying on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, said that providing a blanket exemption for manure from the requirements of superfund could damage the quality of drinking water for millions.

The witness, who is water quality program manager at the Loudoun County, Va., Sanitation Authority, said several toxins frequently found in waste emissions from CAFOs were regulated as hazardous substances under superfund, including phosphorus, nitrates, ammonia and even arsenic.

I mean how many brain cells do these bought off Senators think we've lost. Of course filling our lakes and streams with crap is not a good idea.

Oh, but wait, these big companies have a hell of a lot more dough than the average hard working American. And that is what counts.

As animal agriculture has grown in size, some groups have used Superfund to take farms to court for their pollution. For instance, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) filed suit against Arkansas poultry companies in 2005 for dumping waste in Oklahoma’s Illinois River watershed and leaving a lake in the northeastern part of the state 70 percent oxygen dead.

The farm state Senators thus are just looking out after their constituents (if huge corperate farms can be called constituents).

As for real farmers - current laws protect responsible farmers who use livestock manure as fertilizer to grow crops.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe its not about corporate America after all.

Sen. Bond says actions like those of the Oklahoma Attorney General must be stopped. Such actions, he says, "...could create a litigation gridlock — and yes, it would apply to rodeos and parades."

Rodeos and parades...that's a good one, Senator.

The following commentary comes from the Joplin Independent (Missouri).

Tyson's dirty water bail-out bill

Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) is on the list, at least as of August 26, 2007, of 25 co-sponsors of S.807, a bill introduced last spring by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Tysonville) that would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 to provide that manure shall not be considered a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. She is joined by other senators from heavily CAFO-ridden states. The list probably has someone you voted for on it.

Lincoln, who says she's from a seventh-generation Arkansas farm family, was re-elected in 2004 after a landslide victory with 580,000 votes, the highest total cast for a candidate to the U.S. Senate. Apparently, she's convinced her constituents that she's there for working families and, as her website suggests, as a "leading voice on national priorities like health care..."

Has she asked herself why health care has become such a priority? However, run-off from manure into the groundwater doesn't add to any health issue. It's not a source of contamination, she says.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmonson disagreed when he filed a lawsuit against 14 Arkansas poultry companies claiming that run-off from their improper land application methods and storage of hundreds of thousands of tons of poultry waste have polluted the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller, eventually affecting more than 20 Oklahoma public water supplies.

"This waste can also contain high levels of arsenic, zinc and copper, Edmonson reported. "It creates high phosphorus levels that cause excessive algae growth and eventually can cause high levels of carcinogens in drinking water. We are extremely concerned about the impact this waste could have on human health.”

So, have these Congressmen invested their PAC contributions in the stock of bottled water companies? Phosphorus, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are substances associated with livestock waste. Are these supporters suggesting that putting more vast quantities of these chemicals in the water is okay?

Those opposed to Lincoln's bill and H.R. 1398, a similar bill proposed in the House by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and 122 scary co-supporters like Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), believe that when factory farms pollute rivers or drinking water supplies with their waste, they should have to pay the cost to clean up the mess, not cities, states and drinking water suppliers that pass the cost along to you and me. And without the penalties, they say, there would be no incentive for factory farms to manage their waste properly and keep it out of our drinking water supply.

Did you think this type of bill was dead in the water (no pun intended)? This type of legislation won't be dead as long as politicians finance themselves with PAC money and business donations. It won't be dead as long as people turn their backs on the issues or are blind-sighted by political doublespeak.

Commentary by Belleann Dumont, Joplin

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

HEALTH DISASTER IN THE CARIBBEAN


The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique face a health disaster, with one man in two likely to suffer prostate cancer as a result of prolonged use of illegal pesticides (including chlordecone) on banana plantations, the French parliament was told yesterday.

"It is not too much to say that there has been a real poisoning of Martinique and Guadeloupe," Prof. Dominique Belpomme, President of the French Association for Research on Treatments Against Cancer (ARTAC), told the daily Le Parisien yesterday.

Both Martinique and Guadeloupe have many banana farms, but Belpomme said only banana skins are affected by the pesticides, while the fruit inside is not contaminated.

The pesticide chlordecone has been used in the French Antilles as recently as 2002, despite being banned in the United States since 1976 and in France since 1991. Although the scandal over its use broke five years ago, the most damning details were kept quiet for economic reasons.

The following is from Caribbean Net News.

Pesticide blamed for 'health disaster' in French Caribbean

The French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique face a "health disaster" with soaring cancer and infertility rates because of the massive use of banned pesticides on banana plantations, a top cancer specialist warned Monday.

Martinique and Guadeloupe are currently facing "an extremely serious crisis linked to the massive use of pesticides for a great many years," Professor Dominique Belpomme said in a report obtained by AFP Monday.

On Tuesday Belpomme is to submit his findings to the French National Assembly, highlighting the dangers posed by the long-term use of chlordecone, also known as kepone, on banana crops.

Chlordecone, which kills weevils, was banned in France's Caribbean territories in 1993, but it was used illegally -- often sprayed by aeroplanes -- up to 2002.

"The situation is extremely serious. The tests we carried out on pesticides show there is a health disaster in the Caribbean. The word is not too strong. Martinique and Guadeloupe have literally been poisoned," Belpomme told the capital's Le Parisien newspaper.

"The poisoning affects both land and water. Chlordecone establishes itself in the clay and stays there for up to a century. As a result the food chain is contaminated, and especially water. In Martinique most water sources are polluted," he said.

According to the cancer specialist, the impact on health will be "more serious than the tainted blood" scandal -- in which some 4,000 French people were infected with blood contaminated with the HIV virus in the 1980s.

"The rate of prostate cancer is major. The French Caribbean is second in the world ranking.

Extrapolations show that nearly one male in two will be a risk of developing prostate cancer," he said.

"In addition the rate of congenital malformation is increasing in the islands. And women are having fewer children than 15 years ago. The standard theory is that this is because of the pill, but I think it is linked to pesticides," he said.

Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said the situation was "very serious" and promised to "treat the question of chlordecone with the greatest openness."

But Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot sought to play down the report, saying it "raises questions" but "brings no formal response".

"These concerns need to be confirmed by high quality scientific research," she said.

Christian Choupin, head of the Martinique and Guadeloupe Banana Producers' Association also said Belpomme's report was unscientific.

"One has the impression that people are dying like flies in the French Caribbean, which is far from the reality," he said.

The French islands produce 260,000 tonnes of bananas a year, worth some 220 million euros (305 million dollars). The industry, which employs 15,000 people, also receives 130 million euros in EU aid.

In August Hurricane Dean destroyed all the crop in Martinique and some 50 percent in Guadeloupe. Barnier said this represented an opportunity to rebuild the banana plantations "with zero pesticides." Belpomme said chlordecone does not affect the fruit itself because the contamination "is confined to the skin".

SHORTED


Okay, you go to work, punch a time card (or however your operation does it) and expect to get paid for your hours. It may not be much, but it's what you count on. Well, maybe you're getting screwed. Maybe you notice something is wrong and you complain about it but the operation says, "you're crazy."

Well, city bus drivers in Sante Fe, New Mexico weren't crazy...and fortunately they've, at least, got a union that can bring some clout to the table. Of course, the union complained a year ago and still nothing happened, so you might wonder just how stand up the union was about all this.

Have you ever noticed how things like this seem to never work in your favor? Your boss never loses money, your utility company errors never go your way, the mistake on your credit card never helped you out.

How strange.

And, of course, the company is always ready to fire anyone who tampers with their time card Another case (which led to a law suit) which also occured down in New Mexico highlights the above rather well.

On Dec. 31, 2002, Debbie Chavez punched the time card at the Wal-Mart where she worked, but the clock failed to record her sign in, and she was not paid for her work that day, the lawsuit said.
Chavez told her employer that she had indeed worked on Dec. 31, a claim verified by a co-worker. Chavez’s manager told her to prepare a ‘‘time adjustment request’’ to recover the time not recorded by the time clock. Chavez was later paid for the time, the lawsuit stated.

About two weeks later according to the Sante Fe New Mexican , Chavez was confronted by a “loss prevention representative,’’ who said she was guilty of ‘‘time theft’’ and would have to pay Wal-Mart back.

The representative also said Wal-Mart had security videotapes proving she hadn’t worked the day in question.

Fearing for her job, Chavez agreed to return the money and also to sign an agreement that she had not worked on the disputed day in return for a promise she wouldn’t be fired, the lawsuit said.

But Chavez was terminated two weeks later as a ‘‘seasonal layoff,’’ the lawsuit said. “In fact, Wal-Mart has long had a policy of terminating employees for specious disciplinary reasons in an effort to avoid what it perceives as negative implications of layoffs”’

Later, as part of an unemployment claim, Daniel M. Jacobs, an administrative law judge, reviewed Wal-Mart’s videotape purportedly showing Chavez had not worked on the day in question and determined that the tape, in fact, showed the opposite: Chavez had worked on that day, the lawsuit said.

As a result of that dishonesty, ‘‘not only did Wal-Mart destroy plaintiff’s livelihood in a knowingly false basis, but it forced Ms. Chavez to enter the Albuquerque labor market with a termination for theft on her resume,” the lawsuit alleged.

Chavez, who had worked at Wal-Mart for three years and was earning $11.24 per hour, meant nothing to Wal-Mart.

And workers getting shorted is not in the least uncommon.

For example, just last month Arizona State University officials admitted a glitch affected workers pay. More than 700 of the university's workers received less money than they should have, including some people who didn't receive any pay at all. Notice that once again the glitch benefited the employer.

Now when the error does happen to go the other way, I can guarantee you that the bosses go all out to make sure they get their money back. You may not have known your pay was in error and you may have spent the money, but that's your tough luck.

And that's just the way of things...
Oh, one last thing, the bosses don't have to worry about these problems themselves. They don't punch in.

The following is from the Sante Fe New Mexican.

City admits time cards altered
Bus drivers’ hours were changed, but the challenge now is to find out why

City bus driver have been shorted money on their paychecks by a systematic changing of time cards that went on for months and possibly years, a city administrator admits.

It remains to be seen how much will be paid in retroactive wages to Santa Fe Trails employees to make up for the changes and whether new time-management systems now in place will be a successful solution.

In early June, the city’s labor union filed a formal grievance alleging that time-clock data was routinely altered by line supervisors under the direction of higher managers, according to Lawrence Vigil, a steward for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3999.

When the union presented Transit Division Director Jon Bulthuis with evidence of the practice, he said, he immediately ordered everyone in the division to stop making the changes.

A report he received a week later from the contractor who produces the time-clock software showed a troublesome trend: From March 10 to June 1, or six pay periods, punch-in and punch-out times were altered approximately 10,000 times for 57 transit operators.

Bulthuis, who took over as director in May 2006, said no one previously brought the practice to his attention. He is several managerial levels away from the supervisors who were changing the time records, he said. “I didn’t understand that these edits were happening,” he said.

Asked how pervasive or long-lasting the problem was, Bulthuis said he’s waiting for the results of a city Finance Department review.

“At this point, we are definitely looking back in time to try to discover that and find the places in the past where trends may have changed, the extent or origin of which we don’t have a good handle on,” he said.

Union leaders say they filed a similar grievance about the Transit Division last year and don’t think it’s possible Bulthuis just learned of the situation.

“This has been going on for a number of years. ... If you are messing with people’s times, you are breaking the law,” said Adrian Dalton, a bus driver who also is a union steward. Dalton said the changes have not affected him because he does not work overtime, but he’s heard complaints from several other drivers.

Larry Kinart is one of them. Kinart said Thursday that the new policies, in place for about a month, have not stopped time-card changing or incorrect paychecks. For example, drivers’ shifts are supposed to include time for pre- and post-trip inspections to ensure vehicle safety. Kinart said he is not paid for the inspection time, up to an hour a week. He also said new forms that let bus drivers review time records before payroll processing are ignored.

“Two paydays ago, I took it to them. I made the corrections, and when I got paid, I got the same as what was on the sheet without the corrections; it’s just an ongoing thing,” he said last week.

The city’s human-resources director, Kristine Kuebli, said not every instance of time-card changing on the report indicates an employee was shorted. For example, in some cases, employees appear to have worked more than eight hours one day, then left early by the same amount of time the next day.

Also included in the changes are instances in which employees worked a fraction of a quarter-hour and were rounded up or down to the closest quarter-hour.

The city Finance Department is reviewing six months’ worth of time-clock and payroll data and might review more records if warranted, Bulthuis said.

“If we find that we have not paid employees for hours worked, we will get after that,” he said. “I feel badly that the practice that had been in place was going on because it leads to the potential that we are not paying people for the hours they have worked, which is clearly not the environment that I want to lead. We definitely have taken steps to make sure that does not happen in the future and to make the employees whole.”

Meanwhile, individual employees wait for the bureaucracy to churn out a result.

Several were turned away by the state’s labor department, now called the Department of Workforce Development. Spokesman Carlos Castaneda said the department does not have jurisdiction in the matter, and a Santa Fe department representative referred people to the U.S. Department of Labor, he said.

A spokeswoman at the federal agency said she was not permitted to verify whether complaints about Santa Fe Trails have been received. She said the agency typically reveals only whether a particular employer is being investigated. She did not confirm by press time the status of any case regarding Santa Fe Trails.

Union stewards Dalton and Vigil say the city is not acting to hold anyone accountable for the situation. They declined to release documents detailing the grievances, citing as reasons both employee confidentiality and possible future litigation.

Monday, September 17, 2007

RACISTS TURN UP AT CHURCH TO PROTEST SANCTUARY POLICY



Racist dolts with nothing better to do picketed outside a California church on Sunday trying to make what they called a citizens arrested of a young women and her son who had been granted sanctuary there. The anti-immigrant group Save Our State (pictured here during an earlier protest)* was met by supporters of the women.

The congregation of the Simi Valley United Church of Christ church, backed by numerous other congregations in the county, has provided an unused parsonage to house a 29-year-old woman, who has a 5-month-old son and two other young children who are all U.S. citizens. She is married to a U.S. citizen, who has two jobs and is a homeowner. Liliana, who was born in the state of Michoacan, was caught trying to cross the border illegally from Tijuana to San Diego about nine years ago, after she said she was turned down for a student visa. She crossed again later and moved to Oxnard.

The Ventura County Star reports Immigration and Customs Enforcement people know where she is and an attorney is working to help her gain legal residency. During this time, the 80-member Simi Valley congregation is providing financial and spiritual support.

The New Sanctuary Movement launched in May, states at its web site that it "will enable congregations to publicly provide hospitality and protection to a limited number of immigrant families whose legal cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system while working to support legislation that would change their situation."

Daniel Smallwood, one of the counter-protesters at Sunday’s rally, accused the anti-illegal immigration activists of racism and said members of his group joined the rally because they didn't want their ideological opponents "to get all the attention."

During the confrontation, one immigrant-rights advocate was reportedly injured with a chemical spray. Police Capt. John McGinty said police were investigating allegations that an opposing protester was responsible.

Save Our State has been identified as a race-based hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A report from the Center read:


"Anti-immigration activist Joe Turner may be one of the best things to happen to the Southern California white power community in years — a man whose group is seen as a "Trojan horse" allowing radical infiltration of mainstream politics.

Turner, a Ventura, Calif., man who founded the immigrant-bashing Save Our State organization in late 2004, insists that he's no racist, even though his self-described "aggressive activism" includes claims that undocumented Mexican workers are turning California into "a third world cesspool" and his Web site vilifies a variety of prominent Hispanic officials in a "Racialist Hall of Fame."

But neo-Nazis have found in Turner a tolerant master of ceremonies. In rally after rally this year, Turner and other SOS officials have failed to turn away racist Skinheads and likeminded white supremacists who have joined their protests."

Turner says he isn't a racist and it isn't his fault white supremacist seem to hang around with him and his group.

By the way, isn't that the same thing the Minutemen say?



* There has been some question raised about the picture which accompanies this article. The question raised is whether or not these people are from Save Our State. I took the picture from a Southern Poverty Law Center report on the group. The caption reads "Sieg-heiling Skinheads and other white supremacists joined a July 30 Save Our State anti-immigration rally outside a day laborer center in Laguna Beach, Calif.(www.sandiego.indymedia.org)" . So maybe these people just joined the SOS rally. Maybe they don't carry SOS membership cards. You'll have to ask SPLC and San Diego Indymedia that question. To tell you the truth since that is the defense groups like SOS and the Minutemen always have - "we're not racists and we can't help it if racists hang out with us"- I don't much care. There is a reason why white supremacists are drawn to these groups. I wonder if you can figure out why.

The following is from the Ventura County Star (California).

Protesters target Simi church
Group sought citizen's arrest of illegal immigrant inside

Dozens of angry, loud people stood on each side of a Simi Valley church's driveway using bullhorns and overworked vocal cords to hurl insults at each other in an immigration protest Sunday.

They faced off at the United Church of Christ, where a congregation of about 80 people is sheltering an illegal immigrant from Oxnard and her U.S.-born infant son. Wanted for deportation, the woman is living in the church's former parsonage as part of a national New Sanctuary Movement aimed at keeping families together.

The protest was organized by an anti-illegal immigration group called Save Our State that came with the hopes of making a citizen's arrest. Members were met by a small but loud group of counterprotesters calling for amnesty and the end of deportation raids.

Adding to the dynamic were about nine skinheads who tried to join the Save Our State group but were rejected and then directed by police to their own swath of sidewalk. They quietly waved American flags and signs protesting illegal immigration.

No arrests were made — citizen or otherwise — but Naui Huitzilopochtli of Westminster, an immigration advocate, was writhing in pain after being sprayed in the face with a chemical agent, allegedly by an opposing protester. He was taken by ambulance to Simi Valley Hospital. Simi Valley Police Capt. John McGinty confirmed the incident and said it was being investigated.

Some church members watched the demonstration from the driveway but stayed out of the direct fire and even tried unsuccessfully to convince immigration advocates not to stage a counterprotest.

The Rev. June Goudey wouldn't answer questions but said in a statement that the church would continue to provide shelter to Liliana, the Oxnard woman who won't give her last name.

"What we have is a faith stronger than fear and a belief that doing justice is a high and holy calling," Goudey said.

About 120 people came to the protest, many of them from outside Ventura County. United Church of Christ members seemed to be the only ones holding their tongues. Protesters calling for Liliana's deportation carried signs with slogans like "Mothers Against Illegal Aliens" and "Don't Attend this Law Breaker Church."

They alternated between pleas for Liliana to give herself up, and loud, sometimes profane exchanges with counterprotesters.

"We're frustrated Americans," said Save Our State spokeswoman Chelene Nightingale, "and we represent all of the millions of Americans that were calling on Congress to stop amnesty. We're here to let other Americans know that we're here fighting for our nation and for our children."

They wanted to do more than shout. Nightingale said Save Our State members wanted to make a citizen's arrest but realized during the protest they weren't going to get anywhere near Liliana.

So she asked group members to call a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hotline and demand Liliana's arrest.

Closely watched by about 15 police officers, the protesters ranged in age from an 18-year-old community college student from Simi Valley to 80-year-old Dee Barrow of Upland, who wore a wide-brimmed hat as protection against the sun.

"I'm here because I'm for the movement for the illegals to go home," said Barrow.

The counterprotesters carried signs that read "No to Minuteman Terrorism in Ventura County." Though they didn't have bullhorns, the counterprotesters also were loud and profane. They chanted about what they perceive as the driving motivation behind the anti-illegal immigration movement.

"We're opposing racism in all forms," said Daniel Smallwood of Ventura, part of a group called the Anti-Fascist Coalition.

"Basically, we knew the press was going to be here. We didn't want the Minutemen to get all the attention."

Nightingale said her group is multiracial and does not want to be affiliated with any organization that espouses racism.

As for Liliana, a church official said she attended the Sunday morning service held as the rally raged outside. She had no comment on the protest.

IT ISN'T EASY BEING A SIKH IN AFGHANISTAN


Angry Sikhs marched in Kabul protesting attempts by local Muslims to disrupt a funeral because they opposed a planned cremation. Muslims regard the cremation of the dead as a sacrilege.

Reuters reports the protesters said Muslims had beaten them as they tried to bury community elder Lachman Singh.

"Aren't we human? Isn't God created for us as well? If God is only for Muslims, go ahead and kill us all or hand us over to the U.N.," Autaar Singh, parliament's Sikh representative, told Reuters.

"We want our rights and freedom," he said. "We weren't even stopped performing our religious ceremonies by the Taliban."

"We have owned this land for more than 120 years to perform our sacraments, but it is the first time we were stopped and beaten by the people," said Autaar Singh.

"Even the Taliban did not oppress us as we are oppressed by the people and government right now."

Sikh Sangat News reports in the Taliban's birthplace, the southern city of Kandahar, Sikh children cannot go to school and locals stone or spit on the men in the streets, who mostly try to hide in the narrow alleys of the mud-brick older quarter of the city.

''We don't want to stay in Afghanistan,'' says 40-year-old Balwant Singh. ''The locals tell us 'You are not from Afghanistan, go back to India'. Sometimes, they throw stones at us, the children. We feel we have to hide.

''I am even afraid to go to parts of the city.''

After living in Afghanistan for more than two centuries, fear and economic hardship is pushing many in the country's dwindling Sikh community to emigrate to India, their spiritual homeland.

There are 20,000 Afghan Sikh migrants in India, and after years of hardship, they and their families are now settling down. Many of them have taken up petty businesses. Despite their struggle to settle in a new country, they have not forgotten their traditions and customs.

The following is from Sify News (India).

Afghan Sikhs protest after Muslims stop cremation

Kabul: More than 100 Afghan Sikhs, the country's smallest religious group, marched through Kabul with a corpse on Monday to protest attempts by Muslim villagers to stop them from cremating the body.

Police later detained six of the Muslim villagers who had tried to prevent the cremation, a police officer said.

One of the Sikh protesters, Diah Singh Anjan, said dozens of villagers had issued threats as the cremation was being prepared at a temple in the south of the city.

"The villagers tried to stop us and threatened us with death," he said.

This prompted about 100 men to march into the city centre, first to the presidential palace and then to the United Nations compound.

Police escorted them back to the temple, which is inside a walled compound. "The police came and detained six of them and we performed our ceremony," Anjan said in front of the burning pyre.

"The villagers who have grabbed the land around us now say we can't perform our ceremonies here. They say we should stop cremating our dead here," Anjan added. Muslims bury their dead.

Afghanistan's Sikh community, said to number several thousand people in major cities, have lived in overwhelmingly Islamic Afghanistan for generations.

During the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, they were forced to wear yellow arm bands to distinguish them from Muslims.