Friday, March 14, 2008



Thursday, March 13, 2008


Burkina Faso's trade unions and their allies have called for "march-rallies" this Saturday across the country, which is one of the world's poorest, to protest "against high prices, corruption and fraud."

Over recent weeks, prices of goods have risen between 10 and 65 percent in Burkina Faso. Chrizogome Zougmonré, president of the Burkinabé Movement for Human and People's Rights, a non-governmental organisation based in Ouagadougou notes that some citizens have resorted to desperate measures to survive, being “obliged to rummage in dustbins for food, to chase pigs (and) dogs around dustbins…”

Protests last month resulted in a violence and numerous arrests.

Those earlier protests erupted in Ouagadougou and the economic capital Bobo-Dioulasso and sparked similar unrest in other Burkinabe towns, including Banfora and Ouahigouya, which lasted for two days.

Attacks on public buildings, the barricading of roads with burning tires and stone throwing by protesters led to the closure of stores, markets, banks and offices.

In all, 184 persons were arrested during those protests. The blog Africa Flak reports one of those detained in Ouagadougou was Nana Thibaut, the leader of a small opposition party, who originally organized the one-day protests. Nana was accused of “sedition” for having called on the destruction of property, government spokesman Philipe Sawadogo said.

On March 3 the state-owned newspaper Sidwaya reported that 29 persons had already been sentenced to between three and 36 months in prison in Bobo-Dioulasso, less than two weeks after the strikes had occurred.

AFP reports today a court in Burkina Faso jailed 45 people, including Nana, for between one and three years for protests over the cost of living.

The trials have raised the concerns of human rights advocates and opposition politicians. It is alleged that amongst other abuses those charged were denied proper legal counsel.

"This is not normal," Philippe Ouédraogo, leader of the African Independence Party and head of the G14, which includes other opposition parties said. "Everybody's constitutional rights must be respected, above all by the state,"

Ouédraogo also accused the police forces of "exaggerating" the number of protesters and having arrested many people in the streets at random.

There were also reports of abuse of those who had been arrested.

"We were told a while ago that there would have been cases of torture amongst the persons detained after the damages of the 28th of February," Zougmonré told IPS.

"We have checked and it seems there were relatively serious abuses of certain detainees," he added.

The people, however, are apparently not cowed by the repression.

One of those groups helping to organize the Saturday march is The Organization of Democratic Youth of Burkina (ODJ). A statement from the group says the policy of "privatizing everything" is one of the reasons for the disastrous economic situation in the country. The group charges, in addition, that embezzlement, corruption, lack of justice, mismanagement and repression goes on day after day under the current government. It says that the country's youth experience illiteracy, lack of training and unemployment. "That is why the Organization of Democratic Youth of Burkina (ODJ), on the initiative of the central trade unions and independent unions in our country, has agreed to the formation of a national coalition against the high cost of living." ODJ has called on all the youth in Burkina, young workers, unemployed youth, peasants, students, and artists, to take to the streets on Saturday.

It'll take guts.

The following is taken from Relief Web.

Burkina Faso: New protests against high food prices planned

OUAGADOUGOU, 13 March 2008 (IRIN) - A newly formed coalition against the cost of living formed by workers' unions, consumer associations and human rights groups in Burkina Faso is planning to march in the capital Ouagadougou on 15 March.

The new coalition will also denounce corruption and fraud that its members say they believe are underlying massive price hikes for food in the country.

"We want to set up a larger front against these scourges and I think it will send a strong signal to the government," Laurent Ouédraogo, the chairman of the Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs du Burkina (CNTB) and a member of the coalition said.

"We want to appeal to the government over its role, the decisions it needs to take in this situation, and the attitude it must adopt in such an emergency moment," he said.

"The war against fraud, corruption, is now part of our fight because these are the reasons that prices have skyrocketed. Since 2001, we have drawn the government's attention on rampant corruption and I think the government is going to listen to us now", Ouédraogo added.

The coalition's announcement coincided with the sentencing on 13 March of another 45 people who turned out to protest hyperinflation in Burkina Faso in February to prison sentences, among them Thibault Nana the alleged mastermind of the protests.

The 44 protestors were sentenced to 12 months, while Nana, who is also chairman of the Rassemblement Démocratique et Populaire (RDP), a small opposition party, received three years. Nana had denied he was behind the violence for which he was arrested. Another 109 protesters were acquitted.

Some 29 people have also been sentenced from three to 36 months at Bobo Dioulasso, following violent protests on 20-21 February against high living costs.

Chrizogone Zougmonré, the secretary general of the Movement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP), the main human rights NGO in the country said the MBDHP "deplores the lack of fair justice" for the arrested people, arguing that the accused did not have a chance to retain lawyers.

He accused the government of having sentenced the demonstrators to intimidate others not to protest. "It is not in our role to lobby for light sentences but in this particular case, the justice has imposed a stiff sentence," he said.

Food prices have increased sharply in Burkina Faso this year, with bags of cereal twice as expensive this year as last according to regional food monitors.


On Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008, at the University of Massachusetts, two white men kick in a black students window, insult him, verbally threaten him, call him "nigger", and force their way into his building. They assault him and break his nose. Police arrest the black man.

Justice for Jason blog gets more detailed:

"At approximately 4am on Sunday February 3rd two young women students visited Jason Vassell a fellow resident of MacKimmie in his dormitory room. Upon entering and finding the room “stuffy” one of the young women crossed to the window and raised the shades. She was astonished to find the face of “a large white man” pressed against the window and staring back at her. Asked by Jason to explain his presence outside his window the man (John Bowes) launched into a loud tirade of racial invectives and violent threats directed at Jason. Another man was observed outside the room and he joined in the abuse. Told to go away, the man became more enraged and kicked in the window. Understandably frightened, the two young women then left the room, and the police were called."

While awaiting the arrival of the police, Jason, feeling outnumbered and at risk, called a friend from a neighboring dorm for support. When his friend arrived Jason went to the lobby and not seeing his tormentors, opened the outside door. As his friend was entering the two intruders appeared from the side and entered the lobby. The big intruder assaulted Jason and broke his nose. In the ensuing skirmish both intruders were stabbed. The cops arrived, disarmed, restrained, and handcuffed Jason."

"The victim, Jason Vassell, sees that the beating will not stop unless he defends himself in some way. He uses the only thing he has on him tht might prevent them from killing him. Though he acted in self-defence, he is the first one to be arrested and now Jason Vassell is on trial for attempted murder."

Say what?

That's what several hundred students, faculty and others asked who turned out yesterday in protest of the assault on and the subsequent arrest of Vassell.

The chants of, 'Hate crimes have got to go! Hey-hey, ho-ho!,' 'What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!' and 'Justice for Jason! Justice for Jason!,' permeated over the UMass campus and garnered attention as the group marched.

Jason W. Vassell, 23, has pleaded innocent to two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a knife) and two counts of armed assault with intent to murder, officials said, and is scheduled to appear in Eastern Hampshire District Court tomorrow in Belchertown for a pre-trial conference.

Police later charged John Bowes, 20, of Hancock, N.H., one of those white guys with civil rights violation with injury, assault and battery to intimidate with bodily injury, and disorderly conduct in connection. The other guy, Jonathan Bosse, has not been charged with anything.

The Committee for Justice for Jason said that Vassell was doing nothing more than defending himself and this crime is just part of a larger racial issue on campus.

"This could have happened to anyone," said Tracy M. Kelley, a senior and organizer of the rally. Kelley is Vassell's partner. Vassell has had to withdraw from the university, she said.

The rally also wanted to send the message "we do not tolerate hate crimes," she said.

Zane Barlow Coleman, a professor of biology at UMass who taught and knew Vassell said, "He (Vassell) is a survivor of a hate crime and a violent assault, who is being further traumatized by being isolated; from his partner, his friends, his academic studies, his community, the legal system and the excessive charges against him."

"I find that unacceptable. I find it appalling," she added.

Michael Thelwell, professor in the African American studies department said, "What took place here that evening at this University is something in which issues of justice, issues of fairness, issues of decency and the values in which we espouse as a community are threatened."

While the attack on Jason Vassell was the specific reason for the march and rally, it wasn't the only thing on people's minds.

"The hate crimes, the violence on campus, the ignorance and the lack of education around the issues of race, homophobia and sexual assault - need to stop," Student Government Association president-elect Malcolm Chu said.

Note: There is an on line petition you can sign demanding justice for Jason at

The following is from

Protesters: Black Student's Charges Unfair

Faculty and students at the University of Massachusetts rallied Wednesday in support of a black biology student who faces attempted murder charges after a white man allegedly taunted him with racial epithets, broke his nose and smashed his dormitory window.

About 200 people gathered on the steps of the student union in support of Jason Vassell, who authorities said stabbed two non-students after he was provoked into an argument at his dormitory early the morning of Feb. 3.

The two men, John Bowes, 20, and Jonathan Bosse, 19, survived the stabbings and were not immediately charged in the fight -- something supporters of Vassell, 23, note when they complain prosecutors were influenced by race in bringing the charges.

Vassell, who does not have a criminal or violent history, according to friends and faculty, was charged with two counts of armed assault with intent to murder and two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Five days later, Bowes was summoned to court to face civil rights violations, as well as disorderly conduct and assault and battery charges. Bosse has not been charged.

"The behavior of the prosecutors would have been different if these two guys had been African-American," said Michael Thelwell, an Afro-American studies professor at the flagship state university campus.

Assistant District Attorney Frank Flannery said the charges are brought "based on the evidence we have" and said he could not comment further on the pending case.

Bowes' attorney, Alfred Chamberland, did not immediately return a call Wednesday. A message left at Bowes' home in Hancock was not immediately returned. A man who identified himself as Jonathan Bosse's father said his son would not comment.

Supporters of Vassell have created a committee and a Web site to raise money for his defense. They plan more rallies to keep up pressure on authorities to review the charges against Vassell, who has withdrawn from school and is living at his mother's home in Boston with electronic monitoring and a 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.

"Jason does not represent a danger or a threat to anyone," said his lawyer, David Hoose.

Hoose said since the fight, more information has come to light. He would not elaborate.

"Police made an initial decision on what they saw that morning, but now after talking to witnesses and seeing surveillance video, a fuller picture has emerged of what happened," he said.

Vassell was reacting in self-defense after Bowes and Bosse smashed his dorm-room window and called him racist names, said Tracy Kelley, who is Vassell's girlfriend. She said she did not witness the attack.

Vassell told supporters the altercation began when he noticed the two men outside his ground-floor window, Thelwell said, adding that witnesses have corroborated Vassell's account. The men began to taunt Vassell and broke the window. Vassell, feeling threatened, called a friend from a neighboring dorm for help. When he opened the lobby door, Bowes and Bosse entered, and a fight broke out.

Vassell suffered a broken nose and was treated at a hospital and released.

University police would not comment on why Bowes and Bosse were on campus.

Kelley said authorities are missing the big picture.

"When someone can threaten your well-being and safety and you can't defend yourself, you're skipping over something," Kelley said.

Graduate student Anthony Ratcliff, who spoke at Wednesday's rally, said the incident was indicative of wider societal problems where blacks are automatically assumed to be the perpetrators.

He recalled the Jena Six case in which six black Louisiana high school students initially charged with attempted murder after a 2006 assault on a white student. Charges were reduced, but the original counts caused complaints of harsh, racially motivated prosecution that led to 20,000 people marching in the town of Jena.

"This is not isolated or out of the blue," Ratcliff said. "There are similar incidents that happen all over the country," he said.

University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said while he could not comment on Vassell's case specifically that the administration is "concerned with all episodes of violence on campus."

Vassell was scheduled to appear in Eastern Hampshire District Court on Friday. Hoose said he will ask a judge to change the conditions of Vassell's release.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


This is long, but since Che is about my favorite person ever (and because I control this blog) I'm posting it anyway. You can skip it and move on to today's news if you want, but this is pretty interesting reading.

The following was taken from the Red Pepper.

Searching for Che

What is the significance of Che Guevara’s legacy for contemporary Latin America? Nick Buxton travelled to the place of his death in Vallegrande, Bolivia, to find out

There he was at my first political event in Latin America. The famous blacked out graphic image of a handsome face on endless flags, T-shirts, banners. Che Guevara, the most loved and remembered revolutionary of Latin America. And he has accompanied me ever since, most of all in Bolivia. At political meetings, next to the altar in the front of a church once, on the wall of many MAS government politicians (including of President Evo Morales), in lyrics of songs played in cafes and bars. Outside Latin America, he also continues to flourish not just on scuffed student walls but even on the body of Prince Harry and the albums of Madonna.

Meanwhile, for me, born five years after Che Guevara died in a backwater of Bolivia, Che has remained an illusive hero, a mythical figure that I have never fully identified with. Curiosity has driven me to read and enjoy the motorcycle diaries, to scan most of a long biography by Jon Anderson one summer, and to brave his rather depressing diaries in Spanish recounting his final days as a guerilla in Bolivia.

I identified with the traveller and the internationalist. I admired the rebel and his commitment to live out his principles. I liked some of his quotes, such as ‘Any person who on seeing injustice trembles with indignation is a comrade.’ But I have still failed to understand the Che Guevara myth. Why does one man have such an impact and remain such a model for social movements today?

So, on the 40th anniversary of his death, I headed to Che Guevara’s deathplace in Bolivia to try to understand his abiding appeal.


En route, I decided it was time to read more about his ideas, so delved into the famous Notes for the Study of Man and Socialism in Cuba written, perhaps, on the back of an envelope whilst in Africa. The attempt to place greater emphasis on individuals’ consciousness for creating a revolutionary and just society as opposed to watching the playing out of immoveable historical forces was a more attractive reading of Marx for me. However large parts of the essay, especially those that referred to the role of vanguard parties and movements guiding the masses, failed to connect and seemed arrogant. Most of all there was nothing that referred to the indigenous worldviews so important in Bolivia, or which even obliquely addressed the environmental crisis or over-consumption. In fact, Che was clearly an unadulterated admirer of development and industrialisation without limits.

It is obviously rather too much to expect past revolutionaries, even Che, to predict and address the future with his proposals. But a similar disconnect seemed to take place when Che Guevara was in Bolivia in 1967. For a known writer on guerilla warfare tactics, his guerilla fight was spectacularly badly managed and carried out in a region unlikely to become the springboard for a revolution. This became apparent arriving in Vallegrande even today.

Vallegrande is a small sleepy conservative town, off the main road with little traffic, cobbled streets and unlike many Bolivian cities apparently unmarred by crime. Many houses, which occasionally gave peeks of courtyards decked with flowers, had their doors open or covered by a simple latch. According to German Urquidi, a Vallegrandino (as they are known), people in the town still use antiquated Spanish for some expressions, sounding like figures in a Cervantes novel.

On the tourist map

Arriving at our hotel off the central square, the amiable mother-like Doña Ignacia sported a good range of Che posters in the reception. She said like everyone in the town that she had seen Che’s body when it was shown in the hospital laundry. But when I asked if she admired Che, she said not really but that she was grateful to him because ‘Che put Vallegrande on the tourist map. Thanks to his death, lots of people come to visit and I get an income.’

I am not sure Che Guevara would have been happy that his death had become an opportunity for private profit. However her views were probably shared by the mayor, who was conspicuously absent from the Che Guevara celebrations, no doubt because he is a representative of Podemos, the right-wing party fiercely opposed to Evo Morales and the MAS government. Che’s very visible legacy had clearly failed to radicalise this town.

Heading out for the dusty bumpy ride into the mountains to La Higuera confirmed the impression. Beyond the plethora of Che Guevara busts and grafitti in the centre of the village, campesinos were working as usual on the anniversary of Che’s death, walking with donkeys laden with potatoes back from the fields. A few watched impassively as international Chetistas emotionally held a ceremony to mark Che Guevara’s death. Their lack of engagement seemed a reflection of the hostility and suspicion that Che Guevara wrote about in his diaries forty years ago.

The pertinent question my partner raised was: ‘Do you think these campesinos need liberation?’ For, strangely, Che Guevara had chosen a region in Bolivia where there was little inequality of land distribution and where campesinos had calmly worked the soil for thousands of years regardless of regimes in power. When the CIA-trained soldiers came in 1967 to hunt down Che and told the campesinos that Cubans were invading the country and wanted to take away their land, it is not surprising that no one responded to Che Guevara’s call. Nor that a campesino from La Higuera spotting the guerillas one early dawn morning as he watered his potatoes would head to the garrison near La Higuera and become the Judas of the Guevara gospel.

Ethically pure

Back in Vallegrande at the Second International Meeting for Che Guevara there were no such doubts. Bolivians along with people from all over the continent had gathered to listen to stories about Che, commemorate his life and discuss his ideas. The meeting with Leonard Tamayo (nicknamed Urbano), a short stout Cuban guerilla who fought with Che in Bolivia, was packed with people sitting on the floor beside some lurid painted portraits of Che.

The speech suggested too much military training full of dates and routes. But there was the occasional anecdote to enliven the crowd, such as the story of how Urbano mistakenly took the wrong flight to Bolivia and ended up in transit via New York. When he confessed his mistake Che laughed it off, saying ‘in the empire it seems that even an elephant in disguise can get past’.

What Urbano and fellow guerilla Rogelio Acevedo held up as Che’s special qualities were his passion, his ability to lead by example and his sacrifice. In tough times, they no doubt had seen his weak and egotistical sides but, in remembering, their words were only ones of praise. Urbano even went as far as to say that Che was ‘ethically totally pure, a paradigm of what a revolutionary should be like. If he had any faults it was that he was too humane.’

The idea of the perfect sinless man also seems to have infiltrated the otherwise conservative town. Doña Ignacia suggested talking to two elderly sisters who she said were great fans of Che. Knocking on the door I was soon invited into a spotless living room in an old adobe house, our conversation overlooked by a photo of Che on one wall and a cutesy image of Jesus with lambs on the other.

Face of Christ

As they recounted seeing his dead body and their growing interest in Che, the sisters, Anna and Lehia bickered with the familiarity and love built from years together. They couldn’t agree on the colour of his boots and trousers, but they both agreed that he didn’t look dead when they saw him. Anna said he had the ‘face of Christ’ and that she imagined him as her son; Lehia that his legs were untouched by insects despite months in the jungle.

Both had been impacted by the experience and started to find out more about why he died. Lehia showed a well-fingered book of texts by Che with a list of words she had carefully written out and admitted she didn’t fully understand: multilaterality, sectarianism, alienation … They admired his stand against inequality, poverty and injustice and the way he lived what he preached. They were among the first to go to his grave on his fifth anniversary. On the 30th they helped organise a big gathering.
They talked of many houses where a picture of Che was on the altar and prayed to. Forty years on they were getting too old to attend all the events, but celebrated the growing interest in Che and the fact that he chose Vallegrande, ‘the most beautiful region of Bolivia’, to fight his last days.
Yet, while intriguing, none of these encounters made me feel closer to understanding the Che phenomenon. In fact turning him into a secular saint made him feel more unreal.

Guevaristas and revolutionaries

That afternoon, I headed to the airfield where his body was finally uncovered in 1997, 30 years after his death. With a strong wind streaming against the Guevara banners and flags, a mixture of campesinos, indigenous people and international activists gathered to listen to various speakers, including President Evo Morales. In the run-up to the anniversary, there had been strong criticism from the right and some in the army for glorifying an invader who killed Bolivians. Morales, a coca-growing leader who faced years of repression from the state and US-backed forces, was unabashed in his defence of Che. To big cheers, he declared: ‘We are not ashamed or have anything to hide. We are guevaristas and we are revolutionaries.’

It is not clear what Che would have made of Morales’ projects that he proclaimed as legacies of Che’s spirit. Morales’ nationalisation has not meant throwing out multinational companies but negotiating better deals. His land reform has only included distribution of unproductive land, leaving large tracts still in the hands of rich landowners.

Yet it was becoming clear by now that Che’s power was not in the application of his ideas but the symbolism of his example in a continent that remains besieged by injustice and US domination. Morales’ party includes several people who were imprisoned for guerilla activity including the vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera. Across the continent most social movements have embraced Che for his example of fighting relentlessly against injustice and imperialism.

Among them were Gentil Chauto from the Landless Movement in Brazil, who had travelled three days by land to get to Vallegrande. He said Che was a symbol for the movement of the ‘kind of person we need to follow’. Gentil’s disappointment with President Lula of Brazil reminded me that cutting short Che Guevara’s life enabled him to become the faultless hero because there was no time in which he either made unacceptable compromises, such as Lula, went to extremes, such as Mao and Stalin, or got the mixed reaction that Cuba and Fidel receive even from those on the left.

The importance of Che

But perhaps the most striking example of the symbolic power of Che was evident in the very hospital of Vallegrande where Che’s body was laid out to view. Just behind it today is a clinic now populated by 26 Cuban staff providing free health care to the community. The health programme was supported in a Bolivarian initiative and accord between Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia. What Che was unable to do as a guerilla was now being carried out peacefully, it seemed.

Carmen, a Cuban nurse, certainly felt that Che’s dream was being realised. ‘Just imagine if he saw this. It shows his death was not in vain.’ Working seven days a week with hardly a break and far from her family, she said she gets her ‘force from the Comandante’.

Her two Cuban companions, Julio and Norma from Santa Clara in Cuba, a city Che famously liberated, added: ‘Che said you should give yourself to others, that is what we are doing, living out the legacy of Che.’ I couldn’t help feeling the force that his example had in driving their visible personal commitment to working for the health of Bolivians thousands of miles from their home.

I left Vallegrande aware of the importance of Che Guevara as a symbol and an inspiration in social movements fighting in different ways for a just society. But it was a week later that the image of Che really struck home.

I was accompanying a march to the US embassy in La Paz led by families of 67 people killed as a result of orders by ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003. Suddenly a group of residents from El Alto came down with a coffin of Eulogio Samo, who had died the previous day as a result of injuries suffered in 2003. The anger was palpable as they stormed up to the gates and doors and shouted ‘Justicia, Justicia’. The US embassy, a Stalinist-looking building, stood cold and silent – as does the US administration, which has refused to support the extradition of Goni and protects him from justice.

It brought home to me the continued and very real presence of US imperialism in Latin America and its grooming of leaders like Goni, who grew up in the US and went to the infamously neoliberal Chicago University. The US supported his policies of privatisation and has since offered him protection, giving him refuge in Maryland when the Bolivian people rose up and kicked him out of government. In the background of the march, I saw a flag of Che waving. Away from words, discourse and semi-religious worship, but instead witnessing a current struggle against imperialism, Che suddenly made sense.


British police raided undisclosed locations in York two nights ago and arrested two individuals on charges of harassment. This has been labelled as a terrorist activity due to their membership in York Action for Animals (YAFA). The cops have linked YAFA to the radical Animal Liberation Front thus their use of the terror label.

YAFA has succeeded in taking fois grois off the menu in York. As they report:

"In October 2007 we were aware of 6 places in York with foie-gras on their main menu, now there are none - the majority of these places stopped selling foie gras after polite emails or conversations - their management were friendly and professional and were able to talk and discuss concerns - there was one notable exception, which will be kept under surveillance."

After the YAFA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Europe staged demonstrations in the York, its city council voted last fall to stop all future sales of culinary product.

Yet, despite the ban, it became known that the restaurant at the Blue Bicycle although the dish had gone from its main menu, it was still available on the specials board and for outside catering contracts. So YAFA directed a campaign at them (see article below).

As you know foie grois is the swollen liver of ducks that have been force-fed with metal pipes- this force feeding causes severe excruciating pain for the poor birds as their livers swell up to 10 times their natural size and they suffer from a medical condition which a veterinarian would call 'hepatic lipidosis'.

After the ban was passed in York, Councilor Paul Blanchard said York could help spur a nationwide effort against foie grois.

"The process which leads to the production of foie grois is cruel and should be banned," he said. "It is so cruel it is banned in 15 countries."

"This motion will be a start and it will raise awareness of this intolerable cruelty," he added. "This could genuinely be the end for foie grois in this country."

The following is from The Press (Great Britain).

Animal rights pair held

TWO animal rights campaigners thought to be involved in protests against a York restaurant have been arrested on suspicion of harassment.

North Yorkshire Police said today that a number of items were also seized as part of an investigation.

A spokeswoman said that the two people who were arrested were a 40-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman.

They were suspected of harassment "relating to an incident connected to a restaurant in York".

She said both had been released on police bail while inquiries continued.

A number of allegations have been made on the Animal Liberation Front's (ALF) website about police officers' alleged conduct during the arrests.

The website carries a request for supporters to email North Yorkshire Police's professional standards.

Postings on the site claim the arrests related to the sustained campaign by YAFA (York Action for Animals) against the sale of foie gras by the Blue Bicycle restaurant in Fossgate.

YAFA organised a series of demonstrations outside the restaurant, which it said was the last in York to sell the controversial paté.

Earlier this month, it claimed victory, saying foie gras had been dropped from the menu.

But the Blue Bicycle said although the dish had gone from its main menu, it was still available on the specials board and for outside catering contracts, and it could reappear on the main menu in the future.

It is claimed on the ALF site that a property was raided by police under a search warrant issued in relation to unproven allegations of a "harrassing" phone call made on New Years Eve.

It is also claimed that items removed from the property included computers, mobile phones, a video camera and magazines and that cars were also searched.

Another posting on the website contains information on how to avoid "sensitive" information - for example about an "upcoming illegal project" - being obtained from computers when raided by the authorities.

The police spokeswoman said because two arrests had been made, the force would be unable to make any further comment.

A spokeswoman for the Blue Bicycle declined to comment.

Alan Swain, spokesperson for YAFA, said today that news of the arrests had come as a shock.

"YAFA is a peaceful, law-abiding organisation committed to bringing about change through the democratic process," he said. "We exercise our right of peaceful protest, and have worked very closely with North Yorkshire Police throughout our demonstrations to keep them fully appraised of our plans. We have developed a positive working relationship with the police and are proud that our demonstrations have always passed without incident.

"We have been made aware that two of our members have been arrested in correction with a complaint of harassment.

"We understand that these complaints do not relate to our demonstrations, and the two individuals deny any wrongdoing," he said.


You think the big banks give any thought to the people they made lousy loans to and then foreclosed upon. Nah, I doubt it too.

In Boston some of those who have been tossed out of their homes are trying to force the bankers to see them as people and to stop the foreclosures. They gathered in front of Deutsche Bank to air out their grievances.

This is not the first time Boston residents have fought back. Just last month a crowd of about 75 protesters caused a bank to back off from the planned eviction of Melonie Griffiths-Evans and her 3 children.

Community Labor United says the results of the foreclosure fiasco are all too real for Boston's working families. Government and local assistance programs are unable to handle the volume and the depth of need across the city.

"Each day we get calls from tenants and owners who are facing evictions from their homes and neighborhoods. The only clear way to stop the crisis is for the Deutsche Bank to stop evicting our neighbors," said Steve Meacham of the group City Life/Vida Urbana said.

In 2007, Mass foreclosures show Deutsche Bank in the lead with 4652 petitions in 2007, followed by Wells Fargo (3404) and US Bank (2918) and the Blackstone Group made about $750 million in rental income and gave nothing back to the City of Boston.

"Both of these companies need to take responsibility for the cities that they do business in; they can't expect to simply to profit from the good times and then turn their back on when times get bad," says Kalila Barnett of Community Labor United.

Of course, that is exactly what banks expect and, in point of fact, operating within the laws of capitalism why shouldn't they.

Capitalism isn't about us, it's about their profits. I keep wondering when more people won't get that already.

Meanwhile, people nationwide need to learn another lesson and that is that no one will save them except themselves and those like themselves. You can't wait on the politicians - who might get around to you sometime in the not to near future.

In Cleveland, last week, angry citizens targeted the home of Mike Garmone — a regional vice president at Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender. They were organized by an in-your-face activist group called the East Side Organizing Project, with a paid staff then of just two, who were mobilizing to battle Cleveland's mortgage "loan sharks."

It's happening nationwide now and it's happening without much help from the radical left either.

Last Thursday in front of the Ingham County courthouse on Kalamazoo Street in downtown Lansing, Michigan, City Pulse reports a small group of activists from Community Defense Against Poverty gathered to speak out in favor of people who lost their homes as a result of foreclosure (see picture). The activists held a large hand-painted sign demanding a stop to eviction foreclosures and quietly passed out fliers advertising an upcoming informational session about housing issues.

“This dream of becoming a homeowner has turned into a nightmare,” said activist Chris Alexander, an x-ray technician by day. “We’re making known the predators, … and we demand that the government enact moratoriums (on outstanding mortgages).”

Ah, the American dream. They sold it to us and now they want it back.

On top of all this in many places, like Lansing and Kansas City, property taxes are going up while housing values are going down. It seems absurd but that is just what happened to a friend of mine lately who can no longer afford to live in her house but also can't afford to sell it. What is she and her children supposed to do?

There are a myriad of ways your property taxes can go up while house values are going down. One obvious scenario is what has happened in Chicago which is basing it's taxes on assessments done in 2006. Unfortunately, it isn't 2006 anymore. Even the Mayor is pissed off.

By the way, where property taxes do reflect the falling prices, city or county services end up the victims.

What a deal.

Take the streets folks...for yourselves, for your friends, for your neighbors, for justice.

The following is from WCDV-TV in Boston.

Homeowners Served With Evictions Rally In Boston

BOSTON -- Bay State residents who have been evicted as part of the ongoing foreclosure crisis say they are fed up and many of them took their message straight to the bank during a midday rally through Downtown Crossing Tuesday.

NewsCenter 5's Shiba Russell reported that the group marched through the city shopping district carrying placards and chanting as part of a protest against banks that have been foreclosing on properties.

"They really need to see the faces of this money that they're passing back and forth. This is real life. This is real people that this is happening to and it's got to stop," Deborah Williams, of Roxbury, said.

Several said they are fighting to keep their homes.

"They come in here and give out all this money and then they give you those balloon mortgages knowing ... knowing ... that you wouldn't be able to afford that increase," Dorchester's Hildreth Brewington said.

Brewington and his sister are legally blind and are facing an eviction from their home after a bank foreclosed.

"We want the evictions stopped. There's no reason to disrupt Boston's neighborhoods. Here you have thousands of families willing to pay rent and the banks won't take it. That's ridiculous," City Life's Steve Meachem said.

The protesters delivered a giant eviction notice to Deutsche Bank on behalf of foreclosed families, even rallying inside the lobby of the Franklin Street building where the bank leases space. Boston police asked them to leave and the protest continued outside, despite the group's lack of a permit.

The residents said they just want banks to listen to them.

"They refuse to help us out, to work with us so we can keep our homes. So now, they want to throw me out," Donna Scott said.

"They forced us into getting these loans and I'm left with nothing today," Norma Graham said.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Chidanand Rajghatta writes in the Times of India today that hundreds of Indian workers caught in a human trafficking racket have asked the Indian government to protect their families in India from vengeful recruiters even as they filed a class action anti-racketeering lawsuit in the US against their American employer.

More than 100 the Indian guest workers at Signal International quit their jobs Thursday along the gulf coast, in protest and despair. It's been a year since hundreds of workers protested outside the offices of Signal International about the conditions they faced. Nothing changed.

Sometime in 2006, scores of welders and pipefitters from India responded to a series of advertisement placed by a recruiting company run by Mumbai-based Sachin Dewan promising green cards and permanent residency in the US. Over 600 workers from all around India and some from the Gulf paid Dewan up to Rs 10 lakh (about $ 25,000 in today’s rates), often selling their homes and raising loans, for the promised “American dream”.

When they arrived in US, they discovered that there were no green cards. Instead, the workers found themselves working for Signal International, a major marine construction company, on ten-month “H-2B’’ visa that bonded them to work for it.

The Ministry Of Overseas Indian Affairs has in response initiated an inquiry against two agents who had recruited workers for the Signal International shipyard in the US after the laborers quit the firm accusing it of exploiting them.

“We will present evidence that Signal International and recruiters in both countries conspired to exploit hundreds of Indians in a labor trafficking scheme,” said Sabulal Vijayan, a former employee of Signal and one of the rebelling workers' leaders, in a press release issued by Stephen Boykewich of New Orleans Worker Justice Coalition (NOWJC). “We also want (Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar) Ravi to direct Dewan (Dewan Consultants of Mumbai) and his associates to refrain from contacting the workers' families in India and intimidating them,” Vijayan added.

The workers are mainly welders and pipe fitters from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi.

About 100 workers, supported by NOWJC, quit their jobs in Mississippi last Wednesday to protest their abysmal living conditions. Some 200 other Indians are still working under similar conditions at the Pascagoula shipyard. “They perhaps don't want to risk leaving at this stage, but will be welcome to join the action that other workers are planning,” Boykewich said.

Saket Soni, director of the NOWJC said the Indian workers lived “like pigs in a cage” in a company-run “work camp.”

One of the workers, Rajan Pazhambalakode, added, “I’ve been a guest worker all my life. I've never seen these kinds of conditions. We stayed 24 people to a room, for which the company deducted $1,050 a month from our pay cheques.”

The nature of their visas prevented them from working for any other company, leaving the constant threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

The workers were recruited by Dewan Consultants of Mumbai, and brought by Signal to the US over a year ago and made to live and work in abysmal conditions. “The workers demand the US to prosecute Signal for human trafficking and the Indian government to punish recruiter Sachin Dewan,” Soni, told the Indian media.

The NOWJC says by some estimates, close to 100,000 new migrant workers--Latino, African-American, Asian, Native-American, and Anglo workers either recruited to the reconstruction zones or searching on their own for better economic opportunities-- arrived in the Gulf Coast region after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. NOWJC says those who came to help rebuild New Orleans like those in Mississippi got the shaft.

"Instead of being validated and rewarded for their role in this city's renewal, they find themselves locked into states of marginalization and transience. Across the city, workers are living in abandoned cars, working in toxic conditions, chasing after a web of subcontractors for their wages, and running from police and immigration authorities who have intensified their enforcement efforts while labor law enforcement is lax."

You can't tell me this is something most ordinary Americans ever even hear about. They would be outraged if they did. Those Americans want to be proud of their country, but come on, this is the sort of thing that takes away from their pride.

The Rush Limbaughs of the world would probably somehow make this into an anti-immigrant story instead of the corporate greed one which it obviously is.

But forget those anti-immigrant extremist for now. You tell me, do you believe hard working Americans think what happened to David Kurien is defensible.

Kurien, who hails from Kochi, was working in the Gulf when he saw newspaper advertisements from the recruitment firm.

He realised he was cheated when he reached the U.S. in 2006. He had been issued a H2B visa, which had only a 10-month validity. The visa, issued to “guest workers,” also bound him to the terms set by his employer.

Kurien said that for two years he has shared a 28-square meter room with 25 others. “If one of us caught fever, every one else had it in no time.” The workers had no access to health care and had to spend for medicines from their own pocket.

Food was bad and toilet facilities were inadequate. “To report for work at 6 a.m., I had to stand in queue before the toilet at least by 4 a.m. There were only two toilets for 30 people,” he said.

On most days there was no work on account of poor weather. When there was no work, there was no pay.

The company charged each worker Rs. 1,500 every day for frugal rice-based meals. The food lacked protein, which was essential for surviving in the cold clime, he said.

When workers complained about the food, a company official said the fare “was good enough for Indians.”

The situation was so despairing that many workers contemplated suicide, while one slashed his wrists. The conditions in the camp were “jail like and there was no freedom,” Kuren said.

Most Americans think this sort of thing ended back in the late 1800s.

Believe it or not Signal International is still recruiting Indians for work through another agent in Mumbai.

Signal International, LLC, is one of the largest marine and fabrication companies in the Gulf of Mexico providing repair, upgrade, new construction and fabrication services to the offshore and marine industry. Headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, Signal currently employs over 3,000 workers in its six production facilities, two in Mississippi and four in Texas.

The company denies all the allegations and says everything is just fine.

And while you're digesting all this keep in mind all those proponents of guest worker programs across the political spectrum. Pretty much every politicians votes and stances regarding the "guest worker program" have been anything but clear.

President Bush thinks guest worker programs are swell. His plan would actually loosen regulation of the program.

Hillary Clinton opposes a guest worker program and Barack Obama supports one (as does John McCain). I'm sure Obama's idea of a guest worker program are different from McCain's or that of President Bush.

But whatever, the case may be, any guest worker program had better include clear guidelines for the treatment of those who get to be our guests. What is happening today along the gulf coast is not something unusual.

As SPLC Immigrant Justice Project Director Mary Bauer points out,"Guestworkers are usually poor people who are lured here by the promise of decent jobs. But all too often, their dreams are based on lies, their hopes shattered by the reality of a system that treats them as commodities. They're the disposable workers of the global economy."

The following is from the Houston Chronicle.

Firm Accused of Violating Worker Rights

NEW ORLEANS — A group of workers from India who claim they were duped into taking jobs at Gulf Coast shipyards and subjected to abusive living conditions are suing the company that hired them in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

A class-action lawsuit filed last Friday in federal court accuses Signal International, an oil rig construction and repair company, of exploiting and defrauding more than 500 Indian nationals who worked at its facilities in Pascagoula, Miss., and Orange, Texas.

Several dozen former workers staged a protest Monday outside the New Orleans office of a lawyer who allegedly helped recruit them to work for Pascagoula-based Signal as welders, pipefitters and other jobs through a federal guest worker program.

The workers claim they were lured here by the false promise of green cards and permanent U.S. residency. Some say they didn't know their work visas would last less than a year until after they paid thousands of dollars on travel and other expenses.

In their lawsuit, the workers also accuse Signal of subjecting them to "psychological coercion," threats of deportation and overcrowded living quarters.

"These workers mortgaged their futures for the American dream and instead incurred substantial debt, were forced to live in squalid living conditions and were threatened with (deportation) when they tried to stand up for their rights," said Jennifer Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In an unsigned statement, the company denied the workers' allegations as "baseless and unfounded" and said most guest workers have been satisfied with their employment and living conditions.

Federal officials have reviewed Signal's employment practices, inspected its facilities and deemed them fully compliant with the law, the company added.

"Signal respects the right of its former employees to demonstrate but maintains that the allegations being made against Signal, its employment practices and housing complex conditions are simply untrue," the company said.

Sabulal Vijayan, one of 12 former workers named as plaintiffs in the suit, said he gave up a job in the United Arab Emirates to work for Signal and didn't know his work visa would expire 10 months after his arrival in December 2006.

Vijayan says he attempted suicide after Signal allegedly threatened to deport him in retaliation for complaining about the working conditions in Pascagoula.

"We are saying this is ... modern-day slavery," said Vijayan, a native of the Indian state of Kerala.

Rosenbaum said a shortage of skilled labor after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 has left many Gulf Coast companies relying on guest workers. Some use the program to "undercut job quality and exploit foreign labor," she alleged.

Some of the same lawyers who represent the Indian workers also filed suit in August 2006 against Decatur Hotels, accusing the New Orleans hotel chain of violating the rights of guest workers from Bolivia, Peru and the Dominican Republic, whom it hired after Katrina.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement that the congressman is "monitoring the situation in Mississippi."

Lawyers for the workers are asking a federal judge in New Orleans to certify the lawsuit as a class action. The suit accuses Signal and its recruiters of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.

Also named as a defendant in the suit is New Orleans lawyer Malvern Burnett, who is identified as a "legal facilitator" for Signal. More than 50 protesters gathered outside Burnett's office Monday, chanting and holding signs that said, "Dignity" and "I Am a Man."

Malvern didn't immediately respond to a message left at his office.


This just in to the OD news center. My sister's new puppy is now officially named CORBY.

Corby's was the name of our dad's shoe store way back when. Often customers called my mom and dad, Mr. and Mrs. Corby...and me...Little Corby (I worked there some over the years, although I'm not sure my dad would have described what I did as "work).

Of course, no one in our family was named Corby. That was the name of the store when my father bought it in 1959 and so it stayed. Who the original Corby was, we'll never know, but all of us wish to welcome the new CORBY (pictured here) on the scene.