Friday, November 02, 2007


The following came from The Black World Today.

Che in Africa
By Herb Boyd
Managing Editor, TBWT

New York City--To remember 1967 is to recall a time of chaos and sorrow. Death was everywhere. William Manchester published his book The Death of a President, which was about the assassination of JFK. “Death at an Early Age” was Jonathan Kozol’s bestseller on the deplorable education system in the ghettos of America.

In the spring of the year, May 22, Langston Hughes died. A few weeks later John Coltrane was gone on July 17. It wasn’t a week after Trane’s departure that the city of Detroit erupted, and when the five days of violence were quelled 43 people were dead. And then on October 9 Che Guevara was murdered in Bolivia by government soldiers abetted by the CIA. Che had gone there to ignite a socialist revolution.

On Monday, Nov. 5 at the Brecht Forum, a panel will examine a portion of Guevara’s remarkable life, mainly his days in the Congo. “Che in Africa,” is the brainchild of Joseph Harris and he will be joined by Elombe Brath, Rosemary Mealy, and Joan Gibbs as they analyze the successes and failures of Guevara’s ventures in Africa.

“We will explore the major contributions of Che to the African Revolution and his legacy there. A legacy that continues to this day with the ongoing medical/humanitarian missions Cuba continues to undertake,” said Joseph Harris.

The panel is one of several events commemorating the life and legacy of Che Guevara, the Argentinian-born doctor was played such an indispensable role in the Cuban revolution.

While Guevara’s daring exploits in Cuba are legendary, very little is known about his commitment to revolutionary change in Africa, particularly his harrowing stay in the Congo. This and other aspects of Guevara’s exciting life will be discussed by the well-known and well-informed panelists. The event will begin at 7pm and contact the numbers below for admission fees.

The Brecht Forum is located at 451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets, New York, NY 10014 Phone: (212) 242-4201 - Email: brechtforum at

Directions: A, C, E or L to 14th Street & 8th Ave, walk down 8th Ave. to Bethune, turn right, walk west to the River, turn left 1, 2, 3 or 9 to 14th Street & 7th Ave, get off at south end of station, walk west on 12th Street to 8th Ave. left to Bethune, turn right, walk west to the River, turn left.


Big talk.

Everyone is always talking about the importance of education. Everyone is always talking about convincing kids to stay in school or get back in school. Anti-crime activists tell us we have to get kids off the streets and in class.

Like so many other things, more often then not, it's just talk.

Unfortunately for them, students at an alternative school in Tucson took the talk seriously. They left the streets, went back to the classroom...and then they got locked out.


The company which owns their school building and its property managers first decided the students could study in a run down, dirty decrepit building. The students didn't think much of that idea so in the spirit of corporate America the landlord put chains up on the doors and told them they could take their business elsewhere.

Talk about "no child left behind."

Yesterday morning, students at César Chávez Middle School and Aztlán Academy in Tuscon, Arizona arrived at the school to find the doors had been chained shut. The alternative charter schools, which operate as part of César Chávez Learning Community Inc. began in 1999 and presently have about 165 students, aged 11-18 years. It's a charter school (often a problem).

The school is located in the middle of a down on its luck shopping center. Some Calif.-based property managers oversee the center for owners 88 Tampa LLC and HPSC I LLC, which bought it last year for $5.6 million. They plan to renovate the shopping center and make some money. The school be damned.

Anyway to continue the story when the students got to school yesterday bolt cutters had to be used to ensure that the students would be able to take their state-mandated AIMS testing, according to Veronica Antonio, the assistant director of the school.

The kids took their tests and later took to the street in protest of the lockout.

Officials at the school say they have had previous issues with the property including heating and cooling problems along with infestations of rats and mice.

Gee, that can't be a very good educational environment. The students know it. The staff knows it. The property owners could care less. It's a business.

The kids and the staff want out of the building more than anyone, but hey, they need a couple of months. They don't need to be evicted in the middle of the night.

Did I mention that nearly 90% of the students at the school are Latino?

"Every time we have made complaints, we get an eviction notice," Antonio said Thursday afternoon. "Just like them, we want out of here because it's not a good learning environment for the kids. But we need time, we cannot move 150 kids in 24 hours."

According to Antonio, an agreement was worked out so that the school would continue to operate at that location until Dec. 19 when winter vacation begins. From there they planned to place the students in portables on a property the school has acquired elsewhere.

In portables...that's the best we can do for kids who are trying to make it against all odds? They can try to learn with rats or they can head for the double wides. What a deal.

What's wrong with a nation that can spend billions on war machines, but can't find the means to give some kids the chance to learn.

But we talk a good game anyway. Hell, if these kids were in Iowa some politician of the liberal stripe would stop by for a photo op about how much they care...and some politician of the conservative stripe would stand out front to complain about illegal immigrants stealing our birthright.

That's what makes this country great.


The following is from KMSB in Tucson, Arizona.

Local students protest against school landlord

A battle between a local school and its landlord prompted more than 100 students to walk out of school in protest today.

They claim the school is rundown and a tough place to learn.

Students at Cesar Chavez Middle School and Aztlan Academy say they learn to fight for their rights.

When they got to school, the front doors had locks on them that had to be cut off. Students protested because they believe it was the landlord’s way of taking away their education.

Although it may seem unusual to see over 100 students stand along Sixth Avenue screaming, holding signs and playing their instruments, when you learn why they are doing it maybe you will understand.

“We haven’t had air conditioning in three years,” Sister Judy Bisignano, the school’s director, reveals. “There’s no heater in the winter. The mice run across the computer.”

Classrooms at Cesar Chavez Middle School and Aztlan Academy ended early so students could hold a protest.

Bisignano admits, “We march all the time for justice.”

They decided to do it today when students and staff got to school and the doors did not open.

“There were chains on the front door of the school,” Bisignano explains. She says the building’s landlord put the chains there because they want them off the property. The school has ongoing structural problems Bisignano says the landlord will not fix.

Nevertheless, students look beyond the problems every day. For many, they say it is better than the problems they face at home.

“These kids have all been on the streets,” Bisignano reveals. “They’ve returned to school.”

Students tell Fox 11 News they will do whatever it takes to get an education, even if it means missing school.

Gael Valdez, a student, explains, “It’s like a big family there. Everyone cares about each other.”

“They give you the best support,” Jovanka Gomez, another student, reveals. “They cheer you on to keep on coming to school.”

Bisignano admits, “Cesar Chavez taught people how to assert their rights in a non-violent way. What better way than to get the kids involved.”

Fox 11 News spoke to the landlords of the building tonight. They say they had nothing to do with the chains. Sister Judy disagrees.

Regardless of who is right, the school plans to move to a new location near 29th Street and Interstate 10 early next year.


"Targeting of women is not based on ethnicity, it's not based on's actually based on the fact that they are women."
— Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch

The civil war in Sierra Leone attracted some attention for some things, but little note was made of the use of rape as a weapon of war...against women.

"Violence against women was not just incidental to the conflict," Binaifer Nowrojee of the Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations told Africa Renewal a few years ago, "but was routinely used as a tool of war. Sexual violence was used in a widespread and systematic way as a weapon, and women were raped in extraordinarily brutal ways."

In fact one thing that united all the factions fighting in that war was their common assault on the women of their country. Every armed groups carried out human rights violations against women and girls. These included killing, rape and other sexual violence, sexual slavery, slave labour, abduction, assault, amputation, forced pregnancy, disembowelment of pregnant women, torture, trafficking, mutilation, theft and the destruction of property. The waring parties sought to dominate women and their communities by deliberately undermining cultural values and community relationships, destroying the ties that hold society together. Child combatants raped women who were old enough to be their grandmothers, rebels raped pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and fathers were forced to watch their daughters being raped.

Tens of thousands of women and girls who survived mass rapes, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other crimes of sexual violence continue to suffer as so-called "rebel wives," targeted for discrimination and exclusion and denied access to health care, jobs and schools, Amnesty International said today in a report just released.

But there is much more to the story.

The war ended. The violence against women continued unabated. Nearly six years after the end of civil conflict, violence against girls and women is still rampant.

And, of course, Sierra Leone is not some isolated case of the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Wherever there are men, wherever there are wars, sexual violence against women seems to be a well accepted tactic.

Recently the United Nations following reports of rape in conflict particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) denounced the use of rape as a weapon for war, urging nations to combat gender-based violence especially in armed conflicts and their aftermath.

"The woman's body has become a battleground and it seems to be taken for granted that this should continue," Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said at a press briefing at UN headquarters.

Briefing the Security Council last month after returning from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes reported that "brutal sexual violence is a particularly horrific feature of the DRC."

"For many victims, registering a case and speaking out means almost certain ostracism by their own family and community," he told the Council.

"In any case, the chances of redress in a situation of virtually total impunity are close to zero", he said.

It's nice that the UN is speaking out now, but, unfortunately, the use of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war is nothing new.

Human Rights Watch wrote:

"Widely committed and seldom denounced, rape and sexual assault of women in situations of conflict have been viewed more as the spoils of war than as illegitimate acts that violate humanitarian law. As a consequence, women, whether combatants or civilians, have been targeted for rape while their attackers go without punishment. Not until the international outcry rose in response to reports of mass rape in the former Yugoslavia did the international community confront rape as a war crime and begin to take steps to punish those responsible for such abuse. Rape, nonetheless, has long been mischaracterized and dismissed by military and political leaders—those in a position to stop it—as a private crime, a sexual act, the ignoble act of the occasional soldier; worse still, it has been accepted precisely because it is so commonplace."

Rape is a form of torture. It attacks a woman's identity and personal integrity. Lepa Mladjenovic, a psychotherapist and Serbian feminist antiwar activist, stated that it renders a woman "homeless in her own body." Rape is a violation of a woman's power that degrades and seeks to destroy her.

Back in the year 2000, Christine Chinkin pointed out that the impact of the sexual violence does not end with the rape. She wrote in the European Journal of International Law:

"The pain, agony, and consequences of rape do not end with the attack of these victims. The effects often last for the rest of these women's lives. Those who survive risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, or becoming pregnant. Those who are forced to bear the child of an attacker are constantly reminded of the invasion of their community and of their person. Some have been so badly injured in attacks that they will never be able to bear children. Some societies have religious or cultural restrictions on those who are no longer virgins. These women may never be able to be a part of their families or communities. These women may never receive any professional help for the physical, psychological, and economic damage inflicted upon them. Many are unable to bear the pain and shame and take their own lives."

It is 2007 and nothing really has changed. Humanity should be ashamed.

The following is a press release from Amnesty International.

Mass Rally in Support of Survivors of Conflict's Sexual Violence

At a mass rally held in Makeni in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone today, Amnesty International members and hundreds of other local activists called on the newly elected government of Sierra Leone to commit to ensuring justice and full reparations for the tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean women who have been the victims of sexual violence.

The organization also released a 35-page report entitled "Getting Reparations Right for Survivors of Sexual Violence," revealing the extent to which women are still stigmatized and suffering the after-effects of the sexual violence perpetrated during the conflict in Sierra Leone.

"The unimaginable brutality of violations committed against up to one third of Sierra Leone's women and girls, although well-documented, has still not been fully addressed by the government," said Tania Bernath, Amnesty International's researcher on Sierra Leone.

"For the women of Sierra Leone, the story is not over. They need appropriate healthcare and access to justice, work, economic opportunities and educational opportunities to help them to begin to re-build their lives."

Under international law, those responsible for rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture must be brought to justice and the survivors must receive full and effective reparations. Reparations must, as far as possible, wipe out all consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation that would have, in all probability, existed had the act not been committed.

The Lomé Peace Accord, signed in 1999, provided for the establishment of a "Special Fund for War Victims" and for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite the government's obligation to establish such a fund and repeated calls from civil society, the fund has not been established.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also called for the establishment of a reparations process. This is now being set up, with the National Commission for Social Action taking the lead, but it will need the full support of the government to be effective.

"The delay in setting up a special fund for war victims of Sierra Leone's devastating conflict has undoubtedly resulted in further suffering -- especially for the women of Sierra Leone," said Bernath. "Survivors of sexual violence have been denied rehabilitation -- extending their suffering and compounding their physical and psychological problems."

"Implementing the reparations program recommended by the TRC is also crucial and it will be important for the government to get it right so the survivors of sexual violence do not miss out on the much needed reparations"

Amnesty International stressed in its report that the justice process is an important complement to other forms of reparations.

"A properly functioning justice system should enable survivors to describe what has happened to them in an environment that protects their dignity and helps to end impunity for the horrific crimes they have suffered -- holding the perpetrators to account and bringing them to justice."

"It is almost six years since the end of the devastating conflict that wracked Sierra Leone for years, causing immeasurable suffering to civilians in the country -- particularly women," said Bernath. "And yet, the suffering for women has not ended. The lack of justice and effective remedies has to a certain extent set the stage for further violence against women. "

Despite the passage of several women's rights bills, violations of women's rights in Sierra Leone continue unabated. Not only is violence against women and girls rampant, but efforts to prosecute perpetrators have been largely ineffective.

"Family mediation aimed at restoring 'peace' in rape cases contributes to impunity -- rather than furthering justice," said Bernath. "Such mediation facilitates the government evading its responsibility to ensure that all violence against women is prosecuted."


There has been little justice for survivors of war-related sexual violence in Sierra Leone. On 20 June 2007 the Special Court for Sierra Leone found three senior members of the AFRC guilty of 11 out of 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These included rape and outrages on personal dignity including sexual slavery. Remarkably, this was the first instance of anyone in Sierra Leone being held to account for war-related crimes. While this is a significant step forward in the fight against impunity, it is only a small and partial response to addressing impunity for these crimes, since thousands of others have escaped justice.

However an amnesty clause in the Lomé Accord bars prosecution of anyone accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes between 1991 and 1999. The amnesty also precludes victims from seeking reparations from perpetrators in Sierra Leone's national courts.

Amnesty International continues to call on the government of Sierra Leone to revoke its amnesty law as a matter of urgency and to prioritize rebuilding the justice system in order to effectively investigate all crimes committed during the conflict and prosecute those suspected to committing the crimes.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


The following call to action is from La Via Campesina.

Sygenta represses and murders rural workers!

Call to action for the 8th of November!

To: Organisations of Via Campesina, allies and friends
From: The International Coordinating Committee of Via Campesina (CCI)

In response to the events of the past 21st of October, where armed guards contracted by Syngenta, a Swiss transnational corporation which produces genetically modified crops and seeds, invaded the Tierra Libre campsite of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) which is affiliated to the Via Campesina in Parana, Brazil. The armed men entered and shot dead Valmir Mota de Oliviera, also known as Keno, a leader of the MST, injured several others, and made death threats against the other land workers present in the campsite.
We call:

On all organizations and movements to organize protest actions at Syngenta offices in the countries where they are based, and to hand deliver letters to the Brazilian and Swiss embassies, with the following demands:

1. The punishment of the material perpetrators and intellectual authors of this crime.
2. Expropriation of Syngenta lands, to be used for the production of native seeds, and that these lands be administered by rural peasants and farm workers.
3. The expulsion of Syngenta from Brazil.
4. That the Brazilian government headed by President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva adopt measures to ensure the physical integrity of the rural farm workers who are threatened by the armed men contracted by Syngenta.
5. That all organisations back up the initiatives of Amnesty International in their call to repudiate and condemn the actions of Syngenta.
6. That all organisations of Via Campesina in all countries organize days of action and protest in the Swiss and Brazilian Embassies, as well as at the offices of Syngenta this Thursday 8th November and on the 10th of December condemning this criminal act.
7. To send letters of protest to the following addresses:

Governador do Estado do Paraná
Exmo Governador do Estado do Paraná
Sr. Roberto Requião de Mello e Silva
Palácio Iguaçu
Praça Nossa Senhora de Salete, s/nº, 3º andar
Centro Cívico 80.530-909
Curitiba/PR - Brasil
Fax: + 55 41 3350 2935
Saudação: Vossa Excelência/ Your Excellency

Ministro da Justiça
Exmo Ministro da Justiça
Sr. Tarso Genro
Esplanada dos Ministérios, Bloco "T"
70712-902 - Brasília/DF - Brasil
Fax: + 55 61 3322-6817
Saudação: Vossa Excelência/ Your Excellency

Cópias para:
Secretaria Especial de Direitos Humanos
Exmo. Secretário Especial
Sr. Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi
Esplanada dos Ministérios - Bloco "T" - 4º andar
70.064-900 - Brasília/DF - Brasil
Fax: + 55 61 3226 7980
Saudação: Vossa Excelência/ Your Excellency


A group of women lashed out at Europeans charged with child trafficking who allegedly were trying to steal children and take them to France. The protesters (see picture) in the eastern town of Abeche accused France of being involved in the attempt to take the children from Chad, demanding that the Europeans be tried in a Chadian court.

Some members of the NGO Children Rescue/Arche de Zoe have been arrested for attempting to take the 21 girls and 82 boys - the youngest being about a year old and the oldest about 10 - out of Chad. The agency workers were French. Three journalists who were travelling with the volunteer workers and the Spanish crew who were to fly them back to France are also being held. In Chad's capital, N'Djamena, a prosecutor on Wednesday also charged Jacques Wilmart, a Belgian pilot involved in the affair, with "complicity in abduction", before sending him to jail.

Zoe's Ark says it wanted to rescue children from Darfur, but French officials and UN aid workers say they believe many were from Chad and were not orphans.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) called the attempt to separate the more than 100 young Chadian children from their parents and then take them to France for adoption an "illegal and totally irresponsible move." The UN said the children had family in the country.

"They are not orphans and they were not sitting alone in the desert in Chad, they were living with their families in communities," Annette Rehrl of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told Reuters in Abeche.

UNICEF spokesperson Veronique Taveau told journalists in Geneva that what happened had violated international rules, such as The Hague Convention on international adoption and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Taveau said the case was not an isolated incident but one that was highly visible because of the size of the group of children.

L'Express reports the Europeans offered sweets and biscuits to encourage the children to leave their homes.

"My parents had gone to work in the fields. As we were playing some Chadians came and said here are some sweets, why don't you follow us to Adre and then we'll take you home. We were taken to the hospital in Adre," said a young boy who gave his name as Osman. Adre is a town on the Chad-Sudan border.

"We spent seven days in Adre and I've been here in Abeche for more than one month. We were well fed by the whites, there was always food. I would like to go back to find my parents," he told reporters at the Abeche orphanage where the children are being cared for by local and international aid workers.

Ten-year-old Mariam, who was one of the group along with her younger sister, said their mother was dead but their father was still alive. "A car came with two whites and one black man who spoke Arabic. The driver said come with me, I'll give you some money and biscuits and then I'll take you home," she said. "We were taken to the white people's house and they gave us medicine - small white tablets. I was not ill. All the children were given pills. They told us that we would no longer be able to go home," Mariam said.

Radio Netherlands says Paris is at a loss as to what to do about the arrest in Chad of French citizens and how to deal with lots of unanswered questions about what's become known as the 'Zoé's Ark affair'.

The French government has condemned the abduction, yet its own role in the affair is far from clear.

There had been doubts about this charitable organisation, set up by French firefighter Eric Breteau, for some time.

Because of the incident authorities in the Republic of Congo have suspended the international adoption of children to ensure the interests of such children are protected.

The following comes from AFP via Sudan at Note: I think the use of the word "mob" in the article belows title to describe the women protesters is a bit much.

Chadian mob hits out at European Slave traffickers

Hundreds of Chadian women Wednesday hurled abuse at 16 Europeans charged over a French charity's plan to airlift 103 children it called war orphans from the Darfur border, accusing them of "child trafficking".

Protestors threw stones at foreign journalists in the desert nation's main eastern town of Abeche, yelled slogans accusing the former colonial power of a role in an alleged bid to abduct children to France, and demanded the Europeans face Chadian justice.

"No to the slave trade! No trafficking in children!" they chanted. "We want those responsible to be tried in Abeche!" one woman shouted out.

Nine French nationals -- six members of the charity Zoe's Ark and three journalists -- face a forced labour sentence on charges of kidnapping and extortion, while seven Spanish flight crew are charged with complicity.

In Chad's capital, N'Djamena, a prosecutor on Wednesday charged a Belgian pilot involved in the affair, Jacques Wilmart, of "complicity in abduction" and sent him to the city jail.

The charity says it hoped to save children from Sudan's Darfur region but French officials and UN aid workers say they believe many were from Chad and were not orphans.

Wilmart, 75, made several flights ferrying the children between Adre on the Sudan-Chad border and the eastern town of Abeche. Before his arrest on Sunday, he told AFP the children were "in very bad shape".

The retired pilot from Belgian's former flagship Sabena, also told legal sources while still in police custody that Zoe's Ark had contacted him for a "humanitarian mission" and he had agreed to do it voluntarily.

Would-be foster parents in France had paid several thousand dollars each to receive a child and some have expressed anger at the child trafficking charges, hurt at the outrage and hope that any trial will take place in France.

The government is in the firing line for failing to prevent the operation after it emerged the French army provided the charity members, who include a doctor and volunteer firefighters, with assistance in Chad.

Apart from the 17 Europeans, a Chadian deputy district administrator and a community chief have been arrested and charged with complicity in alleged abductions.

The case ignited tension with Paris, which is about to take the helm of a European peacekeeping force in Chad to protect hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees and Chadians displaced by rebel insurgency and ethnic strife.

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, a regional power broker close to Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno, offered to mediate, but the French foreign ministry declined "his willingness to help".

President Nicolas Sarkozy said there was currently "no question" of accepting, since he was in direct contact with Deby.

Sarkozy repeated he "unambiguously" condemned the operation but suggested he would seek to have the members of Zoe's Ark -- which is under investigation in France for illegal adoption -- tried in France.

"I think that by clearly putting the Chadians and the French around the table, since the investigation was first opened in France... well you can imagine what my preference would be," he told reporters in Corsica.

Sarkozy also said he would ask Deby to acknowledge the "presumption of innocence" of the French nationals, "especially the journalists whom I would like to see returned -- those at any rate whom we know did not apparently partipate in the activites of the association."

Deby's cabinet director, Mahamat Hissene, told French RFI radio the location of the trial had yet to be decided "and we have no fixed position on the matter."

A French diplomat said negotiations in hand were "about discussion, not about making demands, which could cause tensions."

Spain is also seeking the release of its nationals, the crew of the aircraft chartered for the operation, who are accused of complicity.


What does it take to get some attention if your just little people in a small town in upstate New York. It takes the wherewithal to just keep on plugging away. That is exactly what Kurt Jones of the Broom County town of Endecott has been doing. Jones a former IBM employee has every reason to believe that he and others have an increased risk of cancer thanks to their former employer IBM. Jones is doing his best just to get OSHA to upgrade ridiculous standards.

Even as Jones and friends donned Halloween costumes as part of a protest (see picture) technicians using hydraulic equipment have begun covering a new area in the nearby town of Union in an ongoing search for hazardous chemicals possibly lingering in the ground for decades. That scene is being repeated on or near streets or walkways at more than 50 sites in the commercial and industrial neighborhood, including gas stations, repair shops, auto dealers and dry cleaners.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation decided to test it as a after previous investigations found TCE pollution has tainted more than 500 properties in Endicott and the Town of Union. The chemical compound trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chlorinated hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent.

That is what Jones is talking about.

The Press and Sun reports a subterranean plume of TCE was found pushing through foundations and contaminating indoor air in hundreds of buildings south of the former IBM plant in the heart of the village in 2003. Since then, technicians working for the DEC have found pollution affecting more than 22 properties outside of the IBM area. They have widened their search to include any area that might be tainted by TCE, an industrial solvent once used liberally in applications ranging from electronics manufacturing to dry cleaning.

TCE is heavier than water and tends to sink through the water table, leaving residual contamination along the way. But it also gives off gases that rise through the soil and work their way into buildings through a process called vapor intrusion.

TCE exposure is associated with illnesses ranging from cancer to brain damage.

I ask you how many times do we have to go through this sort of thing. We all know that the worst that ever seems to happen to companies responsible is maybe a fine.

People should be going to prison for a long time for killing people.

When Johanna Hasak's husband died suddenly from cancer in 1979, she never imagined it could be related to his workplace... IBM Endicott.

"I didn't connect my own situation with all the things I had read about now, it's just one of those things that hangs on you. You just want to know," says Hasak.

She joined with some others and got their representative in Congress, Maurice Hinchey interested...finally. He says IBM has not released reports on how much TCE was once used, and how close workers came to the chemical.

And it isn't just IBM employees who should be and are concerned. Residents and advocates don't want authorities to forget a polluted neighborhood to the south where excessive rates of cancers and birth defects have already been documented.

Residents are asking for a follow-up study that would give more clues about whether the illnesses are caused by exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) flowing from under the former IBM plant on North Street, now owned by Huron Real Estate Associates.

And it isn't just IBM that is at fault and it isn't just Endecott and Union either. The Ithaca Journal recently reported that TCE from the former Morse Industrial site may have found its ways into a tributary of Cayuga Lake. According to the report, an Ithaca company, Wallace Steel, Inc., processed scrap metal from Morse Industrial that may have contained oils laced with TCE, which was used as a degreaser prior to being discovered as a carcinogenic chemical. The paper also documents the leaching of oils from the scrap metal location into the ground at the facility on the banks of the Cayuga Inlet.

In a letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis last May, Congressman Maurice Hinchey also expressed his strong concerns about health threats to residents who live downhill from the Morse Industrial site. Prior to being banned as a degreaser in 1983, TCE was not collected after use and presumably flushed into the sewer system. Local records indicate that waste oil from the site also drained into sewers and creeks.

"These activities have left a situation that is just unacceptable for local residents and raise legitimate concerns about the quality of indoor air due to vapor intrusion," Hinchey said. "As you may know, I aggressively pushed your predecessor to investigate this threat but was disappointed by the previous administration’s inability to determine the extent of this contamination. It is my sincere hope that you will do everything possible to ensure that all appropriate testing occurs -- at the plant and in surrounding neighborhoods -- and that adequate remediation takes place to safeguard the health of residents living in this area."

Keep in mind that more than two years ago the Ithica Journal wrote, "For decades we've let this situation to linger. Emerson (another contaminated town), which didn't make the mess, has done what's been demanded to clean it up. They have even promised to try new methods and test new areas to fight the TCE contamination. State agencies, at times lagging behind Emerson's effort, have done what the political winds demanded, which translated into precious little until recent years.

This crap goes on and has gone on all over everywhere and about the biggest thing we've all gotten out of it is a movie about Erin Brockovich.

It's time company CEOs got a chance to spend some time in "The Big House" instead of living in their own big houses, don't you think?

The following is from TWEAN News in Syracuse, New York.

Former IBM employees protest at costume party

BROOME COUNTY, N.Y. -- On the surface, it looks like your normal Halloween costume party: scary music playing and plenty of candy to go around. But all it takes is one closer look at the costumes to realize there's a purpose behind the party.

"I'm dressed up as a law suit," Kurt Jones said.

"A clean room worker. I'm a former IBM employee," James Little said. He was an employee with IBM for 19 years.

What they're dressed up for is an environmental protest taking place across the street from the former IBM, where they say TCE negatively affected their health.

"I would like to see some legislation to get the standards strengthened for OSHA," Little said.

"We definitely need national attention here in Endicott. We need Mr. Spitzer to come down here to Endicott," said Mark Bacon, the organizer of the protest.

This costume party is the latest attempt by Bacon to make the TCE issue in Endicott a national one. Previously, he had written a message on his wall to Governor Spitzer. And you can't see it from the ground, but if you look at the top of his building, it's very clear where he thinks he lives. It says "IBM's toxic plume" with an arrow pointing across the street.

"It seems like I'm the criminal here, because when I do these things people come after me and tell me to stop. And I'm not the criminal," Bacon said.

In fact, Bacon and many of the other protesters believe they and their families are victims of the TCE contamination and they're hoping the government will take steps to prevent it from happening again.

"The situation here is also a very scary one," Jones said.

Which is why they say it fits in perfectly with Halloween.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is already conducting a study to examine cancer rates among former IBM employees. Mark Bacon says he hopes protests like the one he held last night will promote a study on residents who live near the former plant.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of a Westminster Marine who was killed in Iraq, today won his case in a Baltimore federal court against members of Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church who protested at his son's funeral last year.

The jury of five women and four men awarded Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages. The amount of punitive damages to be awarded has not yet been decided. The jury deliberated for about two hours yesterday and much of today.

The jury was to begin deliberating the size of punitive damages after receiving further instructions, although U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted the size of the compensatory award “far exceeds the net worth of the defendants,” according to financial statements filed with the court.

All I can say is hip hip hooray and I hope they really do have to pay.

The following is from 49 ABC News (Kansas).

Jury orders Westboro Baptist to pay millions to father of fallen Marine

The father of a fallen Marine has been awarded $2.9 million by a jury that found leaders of a fundamentalist church had invaded the family's privacy when they picketed the Marine's funeral.

The protesters from Topeka-based Westboro Baptist church at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder carried signs with messages like "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers." They say the deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality.

In an opening statement Tuesday, Shirley Phelps-Roper compared members church members to biblical prophets who sought to save doomed nations that had strayed from God.

Phelps-Rogers is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, which was being sued by Albert Snyder, of York, Pa., over a protest at the funeral of his son in Maryland.

Snyder's doctor says he has health problems and trouble sleeping.

His son, Matthew Snyder of Westminster, was killed fighting with the Marines in Iraq.

After the Westboro Baptist Church protested at his son's funeral, Snyder filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the church. He was also seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The church says it's exercising its free speech rights.


Chris Spens, Environmental Manager for Cascade Creek LLC whose headquarters are in Bellingham, Washington thought the project made sense.

The city of Bellingham decided it wanted to purchase only green power. The Swan Lake project would offset a whale of a lot of diesel fuel every year. Sounds pretty cool.

Well, not to the slightly more than 3,000 residents of Petersburg, Alaska (pictured here) where the green power would originate in a to be built hydroelectric plant at a pristine lake near town. Unfortunately, no one thought to ask them what they thought about the whole idea.

Keep in mind, as you continue reading, there is no local need for the additional power in their area.

The Petersburg Pilot reports local residents are having a difficult time finding any benefits for residents of Petersburg, who often use the Thomas Bay area for recreation and sustenance activities. Several local businesses also use the scenic spot to attract tourists during summer months.

Writes the Pilot:

"Concerns have also mounted over the negative effects that could stem from developing Thomas Bay. Several members of Alaska Department of Fish and Game have stated their concerns over the detrimental effect the projects could have on the area’s fish and wildlife populations."

“It is possible that there may be profound impacts on well-established shellfish fisheries in Thomas Bay and Fredrick Sound,” Theresa Stolpe, a Fish and Wildlife Technician recently told local residents. She mentioned a study performed in the mid-80s that noted the increased amount of fresh water entering Thomas Bay from hydro facilities could impact larval and juvenile crab and shrimp. Doug Fleming, Sport Fish Area Biologist, raised concerns over the water levels being reduced in areas surrounding the projects. Reduced levels of water, according to Fleming, could mean that trout and salmon populations would dwindle due to a change in their spawning areas.

Some area residents have expressed fear of the use of eminent domain to seize their properties.

There are also concerns with the company which is developing the project. At a local meeting much time was taken up with just trying to figure out who in the hell they were. Again from the Pilot:

Although the company holds pre-application licensing for the Thomas Bay area, Thom Fischer, the company’s director, introduced a member of Kake Tribal Corporation and mentioned that they were interested in purchasing the project. Concerns were raised over the fact that Cascade Creek is a sister company to Whitewater Engineering, a company that was pardoned by former Alaska State Governor Murkowski after being charged with criminally negligent homicide for the death of a worker. “I guess ethics don’t play any role in this process,” said one audience member, “but I don’t understand how your company can come back to Alaska and do business.”

Maybe some of these issues can be worked out, maybe not. But the kicker remains that until a couple of weeks ago no one even bothered with talking to residents of the area.. Isn't that too often the case when dealing with government or big corporations. They just look out for themselves, residents be damned.

That kind of attitude is especially not appreciated in the state of Alaska where citizens expect to have control over their lives and their property.

Martha Smith addressed a recent council meeting which took up the issue. She stated that she would like the city to respond to the proposed projects. “Lots of questions and concerns were raised,” she informed the council, “and we were responded to with evasion, incomplete and incorrect information, as well as disdain for our perspectives. It was, however, made clear that Cascade Creek, LLC has big plans for big profits.”

"Big Plans for Big Profits" would make a good replacement for "In God We Trust."

The following is from the Bellingham Herald (Washington).

Power project creates uproar
County Council hearing from town in Alaska

Residents of Petersburg, Alaska, are hammering local officials’ e-mail inboxes about a proposed hydroelectric power project in their mostly pristine area.

They’re not happy, and neither are some Whatcom County Council members.

Petersburg locals want to stop Whatcom County and a private company from looking into the potential of harnessing the power of a high-elevation lake 15 miles north of their city.

County Executive Pete Kremen and his staff asked the federal government for permission to explore the project, which may have the potential to transport power south to Whatcom County.

“This proposed project has caused uproar in our town of 3,000 individuals,” Petersburg resident Becky Knight wrote to Whatcom County Council members in an email.

Knight, whose children attend Western Washington University, said in a phone interview there is near-consensus in the small town — referred to as “Alaska’s Little Norway” on the city’s Web site — that the project should be killed.

The Swan Lake project is one of three various projects in the proposed Thomas Bay Energy Development being sought by Cascade Creek LLC, a subsidiary of Whatcom County-based Tollhouse Energy, which is owned by Thom Fischer. Whatcom County is only involved in the Swan Lake proposal.

A hole would be drilled in the lake bed and water sent down a pipe into a powerhouse from the high-elevation lake. The pressure is so great, Fischer previously said, that the amount of energy produced is equivalent to one turbine on a dam like the Snake River, which generally has more like six turbines on it, but with far less water flowing through.

The amount of energy produced would offset about 15 million gallons of diesel fuel per year, Fischer said.

“I don’t know if this is part of an election stunt or not, but no one here in Petersburg knew about Whatcom County’s involvement,” Knight said, pointing out that County Executive Kremen is seeking re-election. “We’re fired up.”

Kremen did not return a call seeking comment about the reaction from Petersburg, instead asking a Puget Sound Energy spokesman to call The Herald. PSE has nothing to do with the Swan Lake project.

Kremen also had his administrative assistant forward several e-mails to a reporter pointing out the benefits of the proposed project.

County Councilwoman Barbara Brenner said she’s angry that Whatcom County officials never contacted the Alaskan residents about the project, nor did they inform council members, who learned of the project from Alaskan media.

Cascade Creek did have a public hearing in the town recently that is required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which governs such projects.

“I think it’s so rude that nobody who was applying even contacted — nobody from the county — even contacted them,” Brenner said. “I think it’s so disrespectful.”

Other council members said they wished they knew earlier, but they will wait to hear more since the process is in a preliminary stage.

Petersburg residents don’t think the project is green at all, said Mayor Al Dwyer, who also contacted County Council members via e-mail.

“There’s nothing in it for Petersburg, and it’s going to destroy a pristine area,” he said by phone.

Project coordinators and county administrators caution that the applications to FERC are preliminary and do not mean anything will happen. If it does, said project manager Chris Spens, a former senior environmental planner for the city of Bellingham, it’s years away.

Spens told County Council members during a recent information presentation on the proposed project that he believed the public’s concerns would be answered before anything happens.

Petersburg is working on a letter to send to FERC, Dwyer said.

That city generates twice as much power as it needs, and a plan is already in place to send its additional power to Ketchikan, Alaska. In 40 to 50 years, if more power is needed in Petersburg, he said, there are several sources other than the Swan Lake proposal that can be looked at.

“I appreciate their concern,” he said of County Council members. “They seem to be sympathetic to our position.”


You don't want farm raised salmon. Sure it's usually sold cheaper than wild salmon, but it isn't good for you for for the salmon either.

Halloween protesters in Scotland were in the streets today to address the problem of farm raised salmon. They were participating in a little covered global week of activity on the issue. The Pure Salmon Campaign sponsors the week of protest activity in countries around the world.

The organisation says that its second annual Global Week of Action, taking place this week, will focus attention on "how current aquaculture practices continue to damage the marine environment and pose other dangers to human health and workers’ safety".

It says that campaign partner groups and allies in Australia, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Norway, Russia, Scotland, and the United States will be raising public awareness and holding events throughout the week.

Events scheduled include a gathering today outside a McDonald’s branch in Oslo city centre and a ‘Trick or Treat’ event in various locations in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

The Pure Salmon Campaign is a global project of the National Environmental Trust. It has partners in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Chile which it says are all working to improve the way salmon is produced.

According to the Salmon Farm Monitor:
Farm salmon are exposed to artificial processes to increase
their growth rate rapidly marketable size. As smolts they are transported to sea in well-boats, or slung in containers beneath a helicopter. According to the Scottish Executive a farm salmon can be distinguished from a wild salmon by deformities: ragged fins, foreshortened head and damage to gill covers.

The life span of a standard farmed salmon ranges from 18 months to 2 years, and up to 2 to 3 years for a so-called organic salmon. By slaughter-time farm fish weigh approximately 6lb and measure upwards of 24 inches in length. Wild salmon of the same age are still in their natal stream and weigh only a few ounces.

Farm salmon lead lazy lives; food delivered to their mouths, little danger of being attacked by predators. The result is that a farm salmon’s flesh can be flabby. A wild
salmon’s flesh is firmer because of its natural life-style. Fat lines on a
farmed salmon are whiter and wider than those on a wild salmon.

During their lives wild salmon swim thousands of miles from the streams that gave them birth to their Greenland feeding grounds. Only the fittest survive this
hazardous journey and return to spawn. Farm salmon remain in cages that can
contain more than 70,000 fish.

Diseases and parasites such as sea-lice and escapes of farmed salmon have damaged wild salmon and sea-trout populations in the West Highlands and Island of Scotland.

According to figures released by the Fisheries Research Services, an arm of the Scottish Executive, during 2005 less than 600 wild sea-trout were caught in the West Highlands. Prior to the advent of factory-salmon farming Loch Maree alone produced
upwards of 1,500 sea-trout each season, whilst other West Highland lochs such as Eilt, Shiel and Stack could each produce upwards of 1,000. There are few fish left in these waters now because ... of the impact of fish farm sea-lice.

In the same area, prior to the arrival of fish farms, rivers such as the Dionard, Laxford, Inver, Kirkaig, Ewe and other West Highland streams accounted for nearly 10,000 salmon and grilse each season. Because of the impact of fish farm sea-lice, fewer than 2,000 are taken today.

Each year hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon escape from their cages. These farmed fish compete with wild salmon for a finite food and spawning resource. Scientific research has shown that in a few generations escaped farm salmon will out compete andreplace wild salmon.

Sea-lice occur naturally in the sea where they are not a problem for wild salmon. Sea lice that have attached themselves to a wild fish die when the host fish enters fresh water. Farmed salmon, however, never enter fresh water. After smolting they are confined in the sea for the whole of their lives. A salmon farm site may hold twenty cages containing more that 1 million fish.

Salmon farm cages act as a magnet for sea lice and they breed there in their billions. Sea lice are free-swimming and move on tidal currents. Therefore, as wild fish pass by the cages they are confronted with clouds of sea lice which then attach themselves to the wild fish. More than 12/15 sea lice can kill a wild fish.

Sea-trout are at greater risk because, unlike salmon, they do not migrate vast distances, but generally remain close to the shore and near to the rivers that gave them birth. As such, they are exposed to more constant sea lice attack, not only from cages at the mouths of their rivers, but also from other salmon farms in the vicinity.

It would be appropriate to refer to these fish factories as sea lice farms, rather
than salmon farms. However, in spite of scientific evidence which shows that sea
lice kill wild fish, the industry and the Scottish Executive refuses to accept
that this. In my view, sea lice from fish farms are a primary cause of the
collapse in wild salmonid populations in the West Highlands and
Islands of Scotland.

Throughout their life, from birth to slaughter, farmed salmon are treated with a range of chemicals to protect them from disease and to make them more attractive to consumers. The flesh of wild salmon is naturally pink, because of the food they eat in the wild. Factory-farmed salmon flesh, however, is muddy grey in colour. Most farm salmon are fed a manufactured colourant in their food to make their flesh colour more appealing to consumers.

Common diseases on Scottish fish farms include Infectious Salmon
Anaemia, Bacterial Kidney Disease and Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis, all of
which can be fatal to caged salmon. Because of the numbers of fish stocked into
each cage, disease spreads rapidly and is as quickly transferred to adjacent
cages in the same sea loch.

Factory-farmed salmon have been identified by scientists as containing potentially harmful levels of PCB’s and dioxins. A recent report advised people to limit the quantity of farmed salmon they ate to no more than four meals a year.

Much of the contamination in farmed salmon comes from the concentrated food fed to these fish. This is sourced from small, base-of-the-food-chain species that have accumulated high levels of contaminants from where the live; sandeels, Norwegian pout and capelin, for instance, from the polluted waters of the North Sea.

These PCB’s and dioxins are thus passed on to farm salmon. Wild salmon may also have levels of PCB’s and dioxins, but because of the wide range of their feeding grounds, these levels are lower than they are in farm salmon.

Industrial fishing also has an adverse impact on other species. Cod, mackerel and herring predate on sandeels, as do wild salmon and sea-trout and a wide range of sea birds. In recent years cod stocks in particular are so depleted than scientists advise a complete ban of commercial fishing for that species. There have been wide-spread breeding failures of sea birds because there is nothing for parent birds to feed to their young.

The small fish are mashed up to provide protein to be fed to farm
animals and farm salmon. Research suggests that it takes three tonnes of these
small fish to produce one tonne of farmed salmon.

"We think it's important for people who eat salmon to know that farmed salmon have higher levels of toxins than wild salmon from the open ocean," said Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs Distinguished Professor Ronald Hites, who led a comprehensive study a couple of years ago.

The following is from

Salmon farm campaigners in Halloween protest
The Halloween-themed protesters gathered in Edinburgh

DRACULA, Frankenstein and other Halloween-themed protesters took to the streets of Edinburgh today to highlight to consumers the "many environmental and social problems" associated with farmed salmon.

The events, part of the Pure Salmon Campaign's second annual Global Week of Action, aim to focus attention on how current fish farming practices are claimed to "damage the marine environment and pose other dangers to human health and workers' safety".

Commenting, director of the Pure Salmon Campaign, Andrea Kavanagh, said: “Contaminants in farmed salmon make this fish a scary choice for consumers. With the toxic brew of chemicals often used in the production of farmed salmon, it is hard to tell if you are getting a trick or a treat.”

Ross Minett, Campaigns Director, Advocates for Animals said: “I doubt that most consumers are yet fully aware of the suffering endured by salmon on these underwater factory farms. Shockingly high mortality levels would not be tolerated in any other form of animal farming. With high stocking densities, overcrowding is commonplace in these forgotten factory farms under the sea. Fish are crammed into underwater pens with little or no concern for their welfare. In these highly intensive conditions the fish can suffer from a shockingly wide range of diseases. They can also suffer from sea lice infestation and skeletal deformities.

“I am sure many people will be astounded that companies which operate salmon farms around the Scottish coast use equipment which can be damaged by seals, a natural resident in our waters. The hundreds of thousands of fish that are allowed to escape each year from such intensive farms can suffer and die as they are not equipped to survive in the wild. Those that do survive can breed with wild salmon and weaken their gene pool. In addition, by allowing seals to damage their nets, these fish farms view seals as a threat to their profits which must be lethally controlled. Thousands of seals are thought to be shot or drowned each year by fish farms and fishermen. We have internationally important populations in our waters and a moral and legal obligation to protect them. Surely if fish farms are not to provide proper barriers to protect their own fish, then they should be forced to do so by the Government.”

The Edinburgh protest began outside the castle at 12.30pm. Campaigners were asked to move on and rallied outside Edinburgh Dungeon at 1pm. They then planned to move to Marks & Spencer on Princes Street and Sainsbury's on Rose Street.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


"We're all disturbed! And, if not, why not?! Doesn't this blend of blindness and blandness wanna make you do something crazy?! Then, why not do something crazy?! It makes a Hell of a lot more sense than blowing your fucking brains out. You know, go nuts, go crazy, get creative. You got problems? You just chuck 'em--nuke 'em! They think you're moody, make 'em think you're crazy. Make 'em think you might snap! They think you got attitude? You show 'em some real attitude!"
-Mark Hunter, from the movie "Pump Up The Volume"

When you grow up, your heart dies.
-Allison from the movie "The Breakfast Club"

I know I've done a Halloween story already, but this one will come from a different direction. You'll also note that somewhere further down this article seems to have taken off in a totally different direction from where it begin.

Maybe it did and maybe it didn't. I'll leave you to judge that. But really who cares?

I remember as a kid Halloween was about the most fun night of all. You got to roam the neighborhood, free as a bird, dressed up as who knows what, playing out some fantasy, getting lots of candy, pulling off a few tricks on some local grouch, and generally having a ball.

In fact, back then there were lots of things you got to go do that what were fun that have gone by the wayside.

Today everyone is afraid of everyone else. The government has decided that virtually anything a kid might do is dangerous. The schools have decided to be politically correct and not offend anyone and to make sure only serious studies go on there (hell, even beloved recess is almost, if not entirely, gone). All forms of play is now organized. Mom drives you to it. There is an adult in charge. There are coaches.

What has happened to letting kids be kids? What's happened to imagination? Why is everyone sitting on their asses playing video games? How come we even wonder about childhood obesity? I mean between the supersized fast foods and the lack of real outdoor play, what do y'a think is gonna result?

I don't want to come off like every other "older generation" lamenting about how great it used to be compared to today. That's not my beef at all.

I'm just saying isn't growing up supposed to be about imagination, challenge, getting away with stuff, taking some chances, super highs and super lows, love lost, sneaking out? Aren't little kids supposed to play and have fun?

At least, in the inner city some kids still go out and shoot hoops. Out in the suburbs, if anyone gets out at all, it's all about soccer practice and other organized after school activities designed by adults seemingly to insure that their children stay safe and don't have a good time.

And then there is our attempt to force teenage kids into being...something other than what they might be.

In the schools, especially the high schools, there are more rules than ever. Most of them are stupid. Most of them are designed to stop teenagers from being teenagers...god forbid.

Don't want a kid "acting out."

Don't want a kid to be different then everyone else.

And the kids that defy all those dumb ass rules are promptly labeled as freaks, sluts, and troublemakers.

Thank god for those freaks, sluts, and troublemakers.

Maybe if more kids got to blow off some steam on their own, less kids would turn inward and assault their school. Think about it.

Oh, and by the way, it was from that pool of so-called freaks, sluts, and troublemakers that later rebels were born.

And without some rebellion, I mean, like man, dude what is there anyway?

The following is from
New West Post. It's a little more tame.

Of Halloweens Past
By Joan McCarter, 10-30-07

My older sister took to school like a fading, B-list movie-of-the-week actor takes to “Dancing with the Stars.” Growing up on our ranch, 10 miles from anywhere (and that particular anywhere being pretty damned sparse itself) she had a lonely young existence, with a little brother who was distinctly uninterested in being what she wanted of him--her personal doll--and me as a baby sister whose luster didn’t really last. School for those first few months was a revelation and a wonder and the best thing ever.

And then she found out about Halloween.

Mom still laughs about the indignation she faced late one October afternoon when my sister got off the school bus, marched up to her, and demanded to know precisely why she had spent the first six years of her life completely in the dark about something as incredible as Halloween. You could actually walk up to people’s front door, demand candy, and get it. Better yet, you got to dress up in disguise to do it! Could there be anything cooler? And how in the world could our mother justify withholding this critical fact from her?

So the gig was up, and that confrontation ushered in a new era for Mom. She spent every October 31st loading various and sundry kids from our end of the county in the station wagon and hauling us into town for trick-or-treat. (Mom always had Halloween duty. Dad took on the winter task of tracking the school bus down when it slid off the road and getting us all to or from school.) We’d don our hard plastic masks (the ones with eye holes that you could never quite see out of, that got hot and uncomfortable because you couldn’t breathe through those tiny nose holes, and that the elastic always broke on), pillowcases in hand, and troop through Fairfield’s dozen streets demanding our booty. Mom followed behind, heater running full blast, so that every few houses we could jump in the car to thaw out before soldiering on.

The first snowfall of the season almost always happened on Halloween, which of course meant that whatever really cool costumes we had devised for the year would have to be covered up by our winter coats. It got to the point where the default choice for Halloween night was “hobo,” because we could just layer up with Dad’s old clothes and an old coat and not face the ridiculous prospect of having to be a princess or a gypsy or a pirate in a parka.

The real costume, then, had to shine in all its glory at school. We would spend weeks planning for what we would go as, the excitement of Halloween tinged with the knowing that this was just the beginning of the really fun part of school. The Halloween party we had in each classroom (one of the mothers who didn’t have to drive her progeny all over the county that night) would bring cupcakes and apple cider. We’d bob for apples, play suitcase relay and vote on best costumes. The Halloween party at school marked the big kick-off for the holiday season, when you would start the lookout for the Sears toy catalog and the weekly art sessions would be comprised of making ever more inventive “gifts” out of seeds and macaroni and gold spray paint.

Sadly, that’s not Halloween any more, at least not in Idaho’s Treasure Valley schools.

There is a growing murmur about the quality of public education in this country, and people at every level are looking at what can be sacrificed to make learning more efficient and effective. Halloween was an easy choice. Costumes and candy distract from the ultimate mission of school — education.

That mission has never changed, but society has. In an increasingly global culture driven by competition, there is a lot more pressure for kids to perform. No Child Left Behind has altered curriculums and academic schedules accordingly, requiring teachers to change the way they teach.

“You have children in school for such a short period of time that you have to make sure that time isn’t wasted,” said Allison Westfall, public information officer for Nampa School District.

She said Nampa schools decide individually how to deal with issues like Halloween, but most opt to scale it back in favor of after-school festivities that “protect instructional time."…

“The academic rigor is a lot higher than it has ever been,” echoed Tricia Stone, principal of Lincoln Elementary in Caldwell. “We don’t have time to stop over many hours to give a day to a holiday like that."…

“We’re answerable to the taxpayers. We want to make sure that we are making the best use of our time at school and making it as full of instruction as we can,” said Nelda Reed, school counselor at West Canyon Elementary in the Vallivue district. “We do have a time for kids to dress up, but they’re supposed to dress up as a character from a book that they’ve read and have that book in hand as part of their costume. The focus again is trying to tie Halloween into literature and reading but still allowing a little fun.”

I’m thinking maybe we lost sense of what “fun” is somewhere down the line. Ok, granted, I was the kind of dorky kid who would have loved dressing up as a character from my favorite book, but turning Halloween into an assignment?

All in pursuit of cramming as much into kids’ brains as they can to pass the federally mandated exams so the schools can continue to get funding so that they can continue to cram information for the next exam into the next bunch of kids’ brains. All for a program, No Child Left Behind, that has seemed to make no real progress, and might even have set back student performance, according to at least one peer-reviewed study.

There are a few things being lost in this “academically rigorous” approach to educating our grade schoolers. Of course unstructured, unscripted fun has gone out the window; the fun of socializing in new and different ways with classmates, “playing hooky” while still in school, and actually having a good time, making school a place that kids actually look forward to going to. The larger and sadder loss is the imagination and the creativity--for the teachers as well as the students--that comes from creating and having an hour or two off at school to play act, to play games, to just be a kid with all the other kids that they’re spending 6 to 8 hours a day with.

Call me nostalgic, call me old-fashioned, or call me a fogey. But I’m firmly in the “it was better in my day” camp when it comes to Halloween. It’s the one day in the year when kids really get to rule and let their kid selves run free as whatever they can imagine themselves as being. I say let the kids have Halloween.

Editor's note: Joan McCarter's weekly blogs are part of a new feature on NewWest.Net/Politics called "Diary of a Mad Voter," a group blog, published in partnership with the Denver Post's Politics West intended give a glimpse into the hearts and minds of several independent-minded voters and thinkers in the Rocky Mountain West in the '08 election cycle.


Bhairavi Desai (pictured here at a rally earlier this month) is the founding member of the Taxi Workers Alliance in New York and its current executive director. She works long hours, sometimes without pay, to improve the conditions of taxi drivers. She was born in India, and came to the US with her parents at the age of 6. Daughter of working class immigrant parents, she has a degree in Women's Studies from Rutgers University, and worked for Manavi, the South Asian women's organization in New Jersey.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (TWA) supports nonunionized drivers in the New York City taxi industry. They work against issues such as the rising cost of taxi medallions, the economic exploitation of drivers, ethnic discrimination, and targeting by the city police.

Last week Desai and TWA struck for twenty four hours to protest a demand by the city that drivers install devices that let customers pay with credit cards and allow drivers' employers to track them with GPS. The drivers say the technology is a costly invasion of cabbies' privacy and works erratically at best.

"A passenger may swipe it and jump out of the cab ... but then three minutes later the message comes on the screen that the credit card was declined," Desai said at a news conference. "Who's going to compensate the drivers?"

And who is going to pay for the devices and their installation?

At a rally in lower Manhattan which drew more than 1000 drivers and their supporters, the People's Weekly World reports Ed Ott, executive director of the Central Labor Council, told the crowd, “You represent a new era of the labor movement in this city. Your fight is our fight.”

Cabbie Billy Acquaire rallied the crowd by reminding drivers of the corruption and cronyism behind the GPS deal. “Everybody knows about the ‘GPS insider’s club,’” said Acquaire. “Ron Sherman, president of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, is also a GPS vendor.” Drivers in the crowd went wild when Acquaire challenged TLC Chairman Matthew Daus to come down from his office to explain the insider contract.

The Taxi Workers Alliance says it will not rule out another strike.

The following is from City Limits Weekly.

By Anne Noyes Saini

To some it may have been a strange sight on a recent Friday evening outside the Delta arrivals terminal at LaGuardia Airport. In the adjacent taxi lot, a petite young woman wearing a flowing white tunic over dark jeans could be seen slowly making her way among rows upon rows of idling taxis waiting to pick up those landing in New York.

For Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a worker’s rights group representing about one-fifth of the city’s taxi drivers, it was just a typical evening of work. Another taxi strike—the second in as many months—was fast approaching, and Desai was at LaGuardia to drum up support among drivers.

To most observers, last Monday’s strike seemed even less successful than the alliance’s previous work stoppage in mid-September. On Oct. 22, taxis seemed plentiful on most Manhattan streets, and the city Office of Emergency Management announced the number of cabs out on the streets had not dropped significantly. But Bhairavi Desai (pronounced BEAR-uvi Des-EYE) claimed a large portion of the city’s 13,000 cabs had stayed home.

This most recent strike was part of the alliance’s ongoing fight against the requirement of the city Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) that drivers install GPS systems in their cabs by Jan. 31, 2008. Desai and her colleagues argue that the equipment is prone to malfunctions and is an unnecessary, extra expense for drivers—who struggle to make a profit as it is.

The commission says the systems, which display interactive maps for passengers and provide a credit card payment option, provide better customer service. The systems are also expected to generate millions of dollars of advertising revenue for the city each year. After two work stoppages, city taxi policy remains unchanged.

On the streets last week, the latest strike drew mixed reactions from cab drivers. Muhammad Saleem, who joined the two-day strike back in September, but ignored last week’s, said he was disappointed after the first strike failed to generate any tangible benefits for drivers. “Last time we got no response from the TLC,” he said. “Bhairavi was doing a good job, but she can do much better than this.”

But two cars down from where Saleem had stopped for his evening break, another driver praised the alliance’s efforts. “They’re doing good. They are demanding health care and pensions and they are explaining these issues to the public,” said the driver, who didn’t give his name. “Bhairavi is a good leader and she is fighting a lot against this wrong decision.”

Drivers may have been split, but others in the taxi industry seemed united in their criticism of the strike.

“Striking only hurts the people that support us—our passengers. You’re not hurting City Hall or TLC,” said Vincent Sapone, managing director of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners, a longstanding drivers’ group representing 3,400 medallion owners and livery cab drivers. “Ms. Desai is very intelligent, and she’s a nice person. But this was done in the wrong manner.”

At Winners Garage in Woodside, Queens, manager Daniel Selane also thought the strike had done more harm than good: “I think all they are doing is making people angry.”

Desai, Selane added, should have worked more aggressively to keep GPS devices out of taxis back in 2004, when the idea was first introduced. “She missed the ball,” he said. “Now the drivers are on top of her, asking for results. In order to keep her job and keep the drivers happy, the only way out is to strike to show them that she is doing something for them.”

One labor expert who has closely followed the alliance’s anti-GPS campaign defended Desai’s tactics. “Numbers in the organization have increased dramatically during the GPS campaign,” said Jeanette Gabriel, a researcher at CUNY’s Murphy Center for Labor, Community and Policy Studies. “Their ability to educate and mobilize these drivers is incredible. From my point of view, that is a success, regardless of whether or not they keep GPS out of taxis.”

Gabriel also praised Desai and her colleagues at the alliance for the creative organizing methods they used to unite a diverse constituency of drivers behind their cause.

“The public sees Bhairavi all the time, but they fail to see the network of leadership that’s been built up in the organization. Representatives of many ethnic groups are sitting on the board and they are able to mobilize people within those groups,” Gabriel explained. “That’s how they overcome those ethnic divisions—they organize along ethnic lines and then unite everyone behind their cause. It’s earth-shattering for the New York City labor movement that they are able to actually organize different ethnic groups.”
Desai, 34, co-founded the New York Taxi Workers Alliance almost a decade ago, just a few years after she finished her undergraduate degree in women’s studies at Rutgers University.

After college, Desai spent two years doing community outreach for Manavi, a New Jersey-based organization that helps South Asian women escape domestic violence.

Even then, Desai showed promise as an activist. “She’s a good organizer. She did community outreach very well,” says Manavi co-founder Shamita Das Dasgupta. “She had a focus on helping people whose voices were not being heard.”

Throughout the 1990s, South Asian immigrants poured into New York City, where many found their way into the taxi industry. By 1996, it had become apparent that other labor organizations were ignoring these new immigrant workers. Desai, whose family emigrated from the state of Gujarat in India to New Jersey when she was 6 years old, wanted to help.

She left Manavi and joined the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, where she was assigned the task of organizing immigrant taxi drivers.

It was Desai’s first exposure to the New York City taxi industry, and her strategy for making her way in this new world was total immersion. “I used to spend 90 hours a week just outside on the street,” she recalls. “Some days I would come to the airport [taxi lots] from 10 in the morning until eight or nine at night, then go back to the office, and then go to the restaurants at one in the morning and stay there until four in the morning.”

Although Desai had never driven a taxi and initially knew little about the industry, she immediately felt at home among the drivers. “I had such a sense of belonging every time I’d go to a restaurant or a taxi garage or the airport,” says Desai, whose mother worked in a steel plating factory and father ran a grocery store when she was growing up in Harrison, N.J. “I felt this comfort. I grew up working-class.”

Now, despite her youthful smile, Desai is a battle-worn veteran of the New York City taxi scene. In a business with its share of sexism and inter-ethnic hostilities, Desai has had to fight to be taken seriously by drivers and taxi industry officials alike.

“Bhairvai had a really big struggle initially,” says Biju Mathew, also from India, who co-founded the alliance with Desai. “There was enormous sexism. The process of taking her seriously and trusting her was very difficult. For male drivers, this was a very unusual situation to have to think about a young woman in a predominantly male industry as the organizer.”

Even now, having won much recognition for her work with the alliance, Desai doesn’t take her position for granted. “Whatever trust exists, I feel like I still have to do my best to keep earning it,” she says. “You see somebody who’s been driving 25 or 30 years and for them to have faith in me is just so gracious.”

Desai and Mathew built the Taxi Workers Alliance from the ground up. They broke off from the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and started the group in 1998 with 700 members. In May of that year, as a fledgling group, they made history with a series of strikes that kept more than 90 percent of the city’s taxis off the streets in protest against a spate of new taxi rules proposed by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Now, less than a decade later, the alliance claims to represent about 10,400 of the city’s 44,000 licensed drivers. For a $75 per year membership fee, a driver receives legal help and advocacy on issues including garage relations, tickets, collisions and more. Membership fees supply funds enough for TWA projects as well as salaries for three fulltime staffers—including Desai—and allow the alliance to keep up with rent and utilities for its one-room office on East 28th Street. When money runs short or special projects require extra expenditures, they apply for grants.

“She’s a damn good organizer. She’s a natural,” Mathew says, crediting Desai’s role in the alliance’s growth. “These people work 12-hour days and usually work seven days a week. That hardly leaves any time for working with TWA. It’s Bhairavi’s capacity to bring people together and to keep them involved that helps TWA grow.”
At LaGuardia, dusk turned to night, and a cold wind whipped across the taxi lot as the cabs inched forward in line to collect their next fares. Desai was on the move, greeting drivers with a warm smile and pressing flyers into hands extended through cab windows.

“Strike on the 22nd. No taxis on the street or at airports,” she said, peering into taxi after taxi, greeting those she recognized by name. Others she called “brother,” or, if they were older, “sir.”

Spotting a GPS device already installed in one man’s cab, Desai offered her personal assurance of help: “Don’t worry, we’ll get it out of your car.”

“Good luck, Bhairavi!” several drivers called out as they rolled by. Many thanked her for her work and shouted their support for the coming strike: “Don’t worry, we are all ready!” and: “It’s on! It’s on!” or: “I’ll be there!”

One man braked just long enough to thrust two paper cups filled with steaming hot pakoras and spiced chickpeas into her hands. Another urged Desai, who was wearing open sandals and a thin cardigan sweater over her lightweight tunic, to stay warm in the chilly night air. “You need a jacket—you’re gonna catch cold!” he scolded.

At one point, several drivers who had parked their cars gathered around Desai to ask questions and share their complaints and concerns. They greeted her warmly—often as “Miss Bhairavi”—before moving swiftly into the dense jargon of shop talk about garages, industry officials, and equipment.

Rahil Mulla, a young driver from Jackson Heights, complained that one
GPS company had charged him a $65 fee and then soon after gone bankrupt. He wanted to know how to get his money back. “Who will hold them accountable?” he asked.

Desai assured him the union was aware of the situation and would press for drivers’ refunds.

Other drivers demanded that the union strike for a full week—instead of one day, as planned. Desai calmly explained that first they needed to build up a strike fund to help support drivers who would have to go a week without pay. Around her, heads nodded in silent agreement.

Bob Chu, one of the older drivers in the group, reported problems with the credit card machines he’d been practicing with at his garage in Flushing. “It takes five to six minutes to get approval and get the customer’s signature,” he said. “You’ll get a ticket for stopping in traffic that long.”

Desai listened and nodded knowingly, but before she could respond a horn beeped near the front of the line, sending Chu dashing back to his cab and off on his next fare.

It’s not just in the company of drivers that Desai rates as a local celebrity of sorts. And with good reason—over the years, she has learned to run press conferences with flair and finesse. She presents a poised and articulate public front for drivers and isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with politicians and city officials.

But Desai, who grew up around the workaday realities of unionizing—her mother is a longtime member of the Teamsters—still feels most at home among the drivers. For her, spending a Friday evening handing out flyers at LaGuardia is utterly ordinary.

“I come occasionally just to hang out. It’s actually fun,” she says. “I used to come out here for 12 hours a day. I would just stand out here, go from car to car talking to each person.”

Desai has remained single over the years, living on her own in Jersey City. Recently she moved back home to Harrison, N.J. to be closer to her family. “I hardly get to see them,” she says.

Aside from her long days and late nights working for the alliance, Desai indulges in a few simple pleasures: time with family and friends, good books, Bollywood movies and late-night TV reruns.

She also tries to keep up with developments in some of the other social justice movements she’s been involved with over the years—for women’s rights and racial equality in South Africa, to name two.

But taxi organizing continues to exert the strongest pull in her life. Despite ups and downs over her past decade with the alliance, Desai remains deeply committed to helping drivers. Her TWA cofounder Biju Mathew says she loves people and wants to see the drivers' lives change. “She just sees herself as a person who is working in this particular domain to try to do everything she can,” says Mathew.

Or—as Desai told more than one driver that Friday night, while marching up and down the shifting rows of yellow cabs in the LaGuardia lot: “We gotta keep up the pressure. We gotta keep fighting. You know, it takes time.”


Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah received a lavish welcome from Queen Elizabeth II Tuesday at the start of a state visit. He got a different type of welcome from protesters who lashed out at his regime's middle ages social policies.

Scores of protesters shouted "murderers", "torturers", and "shame on you" at Abdullah as he passed by in a gilded horse-drawn coach on the second day of a visit that has attracted widespread criticism of the Saudi human rights record.

Hilary Evans, a teacher from Twickenham, said: "I'm shocked that we are honouring one of the world's nastiest dictators. I don't think they should be feted in this way."

Mary Holmes, 65, a retired district nurse from Twickenham, southwest London, said torture was a “state policy” in Saudi Arabia and Britain should not trade with such a “disgraceful regime”. She said: “A lot of people think that the arms industry is central to the British economy but only 2 per cent of our exports come from the arms industry. It’s really just a global trade now so people are mistaken in thinking BAe is a British firm.”

Symon Hill, of the Campaign Against The Arms Trade, told the Times: “I think the visit sends the message that the UK Government isn’t concerned about human rights in Saudi Arabia. It also sends the message that the Government will put the arms trade and BAe ahead of human rights.”

BAE Systems (BAe) is a British defence and aerospace company headquartered at Farnborough, England.

HIll criticized Prime Minister Gordon Brown for condemning human rights abuses in Burma and Zimbabwe, but saying nothing about the Saudis. He said: “It’s hard to think Britain can have an influence in the world criticising Mugabe’s despotism if the Saudi dictator is welcomed to a banquet at Buckingham Palace.”

Amnesty International published a dossier to coincide with the visit highlighting the "bleak" situation in Saudi Arabia over public beheadings, torture, court-ordered floggings and violence and discrimination against women.

Kate Allen, British director of Amnesty, said that the Prime Minister should use the visit to address human rights issues. "Gordon Brown should use this meeting with the Saudi King to make absolutely clear that the extent and severity of human rights abuses in King Abdullah's country are totally unacceptable," she said. "Mr Brown's message should be: reforms need to come, and they need to come quickly."
Mr. Brown like Mr. Bush seem to find the King and his family wonderful pals. Maybe its the beards, I don't know. What do you think?

The following is from The Guardian (Great Britain).

Demo as Queen welcomes Saudi king

The Queen welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to Britain on Tuesday night as protesters jeered the Middle Eastern ruler during his controversial state visit.

About 100 human rights and anti-arms trade activists shouted "Shame on you" at the Muslim leader as he made his way to Buckingham Palace in a royal carriage procession.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh greeted the "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" amid pomp and ceremony on Horse Guards Parade in central London for what is the first state visit to the UK by a Saudi king for 20 years. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells joined dignitaries on the dais for the official welcome.

Saudi human rights records and the King's recent remarks about the July 7 terror attacks have heightened tensions surrounding the trip.

Demonstrators called on the government to take a more critical approach to the country's regime. There were also claims last night that groups linked to the Saudi regime have been distributing hate literature from British mosques.

An investigation by think-tank the Policy Exchange found extremist material advocating action such as murdering gays was available at a quarter of mosques. Most of it was sourced from the Middle Eastern kingdom, it claimed.

Liberal Democrat acting leader Vince Cable is boycotting the visit, which is being marked at the Palace on Tuesday night with a banquet hosted by the Queen.

More than 170 people will gather in the ballroom for the grand celebration where both monarchs will give speeches.

King Abdullah will hold talks at Downing Street on Wednesday, ahead of travelling to Clarence House for a meeting with the Prince of Wales about The Prince's Trust.

The Foreign Office was forced to rebut his remarks that the Saudi authorities had provided information which could have averted the suicide bombings of July 7.