Internet News Items
Ruling on Human Egg As A Person
Barbara Santee ([email protected]) reports that on April 30, 2012 the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down a decision on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized human egg as a person. The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights had filed a protest with the Supreme Court on behalf of several Oklahoma doctors and residents.
The measure would have had far-reaching implications that would have trumped the rights of women. The Supreme Court’s decision says the proposal “is clearly unconstitutional,” citing a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right to an abortion. The ruling by the nine-member court was unanimous.
Change.org is urging the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to stop discriminating against gay scouts and leaders. In March, BSA removed Jennifer Tyrrell as a den leader, after nearly a year of exemplary service. BSA implied that she had taught “young people about sex or sexual orientation…. Our focus is on delivering the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training,” said Deron Smith, BSA’s Director of Public Relations. “Our mission does not include teaching young people about sex or sexual orientation, and we do not believe it is scouting’s role to introduce this topic in our youth development program.”
Tyrrel responded that, “The Boy Scouts are supposed to have a platform of tolerance, acceptance, and support—values that drew my son Cruz to be a scout and that drew me to want to be a den leader,” said Tyrrell. “Yet by continuing to dismiss gay youth and gay leaders from their organization, the Boy Scouts of America is failing these values, harming families and communities by sending a message that all are not welcome.”
Www.inthesetimes.com emailed an article by Rebecca Burns that describes how in the U.S. a new wave of squatters is moving into vacant foreclosed properties in cities like Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis. For example, after three years of staying in her sister’s living room, Tene Smith decided to move her family into a vacant home on Chicago’s South Side with the help of Liberate the South Side, a Chicago-based organization that targets vacant homes for re-occupation.
With more than 1 billion people worldwide now living in informal settlements, squatters’ communities are among the primary creators of housing in the developing world. In Spain, for example, established squatters’ networks have converged with the M-15 movement of “indignados.”
“Squatting is more connected to radical politics and autonomist movements in Spain,” explains Miguel Angel Mart’nez, a sociologist at Madrid’s Complutense University, “but it was adopted by M-15 because they experienced the tragedy of so many people attending the assemblies and asking for help while they were living on the streets or under threat of being put there.” An estimated 350,000 evictions have taken place in Spain since 2007. The collaboration between experienced squatters and M-15 activists has produced, among other things, highly functional “squatting offices” in major cities that coordinate information on empty buildings and offer consultations to people who wish to squat.
In Ireland, squatters linked to the Occupy movement have begun taking over the thousands of properties that speculators handed to the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA), a national bank created to buy up bad property development loans after the housing market crash. In Cork, activists occupied a NAMA building in January and converted it into a community resource center with a library and free counseling services.
[email protected] forwarded news from Larry Pinckney that in the early hours of Thursday, April 5, the Black Cultural Center at Ohio State University was vandalized with the spray painted words, “Long Live Zimmerman”—a clear reference to George Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin on February 26. The vandalism at the OSU Black Cultural Center occurred after a peaceful vigil held on the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death. Students and concerned individuals from the wider community gathered to reflect on the recent racial hatred and terror, which included anti-black and anti-Muslim violence.
There have been several collective efforts to process and respond to what occurred at OSU. Students, faculty, staff, and community activists gathered at the Frank W. Hale Black Cultural Center and held a rally in solidarity with the Center. They also marched to a Board of Trustees meeting to express their outrage and staged a sit-in at the Student Union. They have been reclaiming the phrase “Stand Your Ground” to posit the need to stand their ground against hate and intimidation. They have three minimum requirements as first steps towards protecting their community and promoting a culture of inclusion at OSU:
1) We demand the university establish and implement institutionalized hate crime alerts to raise awareness and discourage future bigoted incidents.
2) If it is true that the university values diversity, it should demonstrate its commitment by actively recruiting students, faculty, and staff that represent the face of America. Therefore, we demand that the university administration commit itself to the goal of having OSU become proportionally representative of the racial and ethnic national composition.
3) We hope that the university administration will actively participate in these conversations with us as we move forward together to create, in the words of our illustrious president, “one university.”
Mike Ludwig (Truthout.org) writes that two people were killed when an unknown number of subjects in camouflage clothing armed with rifles ambushed a truck carrying 20 to 30 undocumented immigrants near the southern Arizona town of Eloy. The attack came as the Arizona legislature was considering a bill that would create a volunteer, state-sponsored, and fully-armed militia to aid the Border Patrol along the United States-Mexico border. Militia members would be able to pursue, arrest, and detain individuals.
Stand Your Ground
[email protected] forwarded an article by John F. Timoney on Florida’s disastrous self-defense law. The very public controversy surrounding the killing on February 26 of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a crime watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was predictable. Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like “stand your ground” give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster. At the time the Florida law was working its way through the Legislature, proponents argued that a homeowner should have the absolute right to defend him or herself and his/her home against an intruder and should not have to worry about the legal consequences if he killed someone. Proponents also maintained that there should be no judicial review of such a shooting. The second part of the law—“stand your ground”—is the most problematic.
Until 2005, in all 50 states, the law on the use of force for civilians was pretty simple. If you found yourself in a situation where you felt threatened but could safely retreat, you had the duty to do so. (A police officer does not have the duty to retreat; that is the distinction between a sworn police officer and the average citizen regarding use of force.)
As Florida police chiefs predicted in 2005, the law has been used to justify killings ranging from drug dealers’ turf battles to road rage incidents. Homicides categorized as justifiable have nearly tripled since the law went into effect. Back in 2005, the National Rifle Association identified about two dozen states as fertile ground for the passage of laws just like this one. Florida was the first state to pass such a law. At least 20 other states followed suit.
France, et al.
Edward S. Herman sent an article by Diana Johnstone who writes that in the recent French election, the choice of François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy was an extreme case of the lesser of two evils. Seldom has a winning candidate inspired so little enthusiasm. Considering how unpopular Sarkozy was, according to polls, the final vote of 51.6 percent for Hollande to 48.4 percent for Sarkozy was surprisingly close. Voting for the bland and inoffensive Hollande was finally the only way to get rid of the agitated Sarkozy, aggressively pretending to be president of France.
In any case, Johnstone points out that there is no more real president of France. The leader who is elected to occupy the Elysée Palace no longer lays down the policy direction to be taken by the nation. That role has been largely taken over by the European Union Commission in Brussels. With his modest manner, François Hollande is more suitable to be non-president of France. Not that it promises to be an easy job.
The financial powers that run the world are pushing him to break the news to the French that they can no longer have the policies they want, but only the policies dictated by “the markets.” In fact, the French are already aware of this. Exactly what it entails and how people react remain to be seen.
Like all 27 EU member states, and especially the 17 who have adopted the euro as their common currency, France is now under what European Commission chair Jose Manuel Barroso calls “the new European system of governance.”
Last year, in response to the deepening crises in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, the EU adopted draconian measures requiring member states to decrease their budget deficits and public debt; if they failed to do so, they could be punished by huge fines: a measure that could be compared in its logic to the old practice of locking up debtors in the poor house.
France is under specific orders to deepen pension reform (meaning pension reduction, one way or another), reduce or eliminate job security, limit minimum wage increases, shift taxes from income to consumption and further deregulate professional and commercial activities. These anti-egalitarian, pro-capital, anti-labor measures leave virtually no leeway for the “Socialist” president to do anything significant in favor of economically disadvantaged segments of the population.
Www.stopthewall.org tells of a 1:30 AM raid on the offices of Stop the Wall in Ramallah by ten armored jeeps of the Israeli Occupation Forces who stole two laptops, three hard drives, and ten memory cards containing files and photos as well as archive material. These stolen items all related to the work that the organization does in opposition to Israel’s apartheid wall and to its attack on Palestinian human rights that the wall and the settlements represent. Stop the Wall is one of the most vibrant organizations of human rights defenders in Palestine, and has been promoting, for almost ten years, civil resistance and advocacy campaigns against the Wall and in defense of Palestinian rights to self-determination. Human Rights Defenders are internationally recognized as an essential element in political processes and their repression further underlines Israeli unwillingness to achieve a just peace.
This is not the first time Stop the Wall has been the target of Israeli repression. In September 2009, Stop the Wall youth coordinator was arrested and the Stop the Wall coordinator, Jamal Juma, was arrested a few months later, in December 2009. The Israeli authorities were not able to formulate any accusations against either of them and after a sustained international campaign that saw the active involvement of the diplomatic missions in Palestine and European foreign ministries as well as countless human rights organizations around the world, both had to be freed in January 2010.
This attack was followed only a few months later by an extensive office raid by the Israeli military on February 8, 2010 and mass arrests of grassroots human rights defenders in the villages most actively protesting against the Wall.
From Truthout.org comes interesting information from Ellen Brown on Social Security. It seems that Congress has removed nearly every consumer protection from student loans, including not only standard bankruptcy protections, statutes of limitations and truth in lending requirements, but protection from usury (excessive interest). Lenders can vary the interest rates and some borrowers are reporting rates as high as 18-20 percent. At 20 percent, debt doubles in just three and a half years and in seven years, it quadruples. Congress has also given lenders draconian collection powers to extort not just the original principal and interest on student loans, but huge sums in penalties, fees, and collection costs.
The majority of these debts are being imposed on young people, who have a potential 40 years of gainful employment ahead of them to pay the debt off. But a sizeable chunk of U.S. student loan debt is held by senior citizens, many of whom are not only unemployed, but unemployable. According to the New York Federal Reserve, two million U.S. seniors age 60 and over have student loan debt on which they owe a collective $36.5 billion and 11.2 percent of this debt is in default. Almost a third of all student loan debt is held by people aged 40 and over and 4.2 percent is held by people over the age of 60. The total student debt is over $1 trillion, more than credit card debt.
Congress cannot agree on $6 billion to save the students, yet they managed to agree in a matter of days in September 2008 to come up with $700 billion to save the banks; and the Federal Reserve found many trillions more. Estimates are that tuition could be provided free to students for a mere $30 billion annually. The government has the power to find $30 billion—or $300 billion or $3 trillion—in the same place the Federal Reserve found it, it can simply issue the money.
Congress is empowered by the Constitution to “coin money” and “regulate the value thereof,” and no limit is set on the face amount of the coins it creates. It could issue a few one-billion dollar coins, deposit them in an account and start writing checks.
This wouldn’t be inflationary as the Fed’s own figures show that the money supply has shrunk by $3 trillion since 2008. That sum could be added back into the economy without inflating prices. Gas and food are going up today, but the whole range of prices must be considered in order to determine whether price inflation is occurring.
Housing and wages are significantly larger components of the price structure than commodities and they remain severely depressed.
There is another way the government could find needed funds without raising taxes, slashing services or going further into debt. Congress could refinance the federal debt through the Federal Reserve, interest free. Canada did this from 1939 to 1974, keeping its national debt low and sustainable while funding massive programs, including seaways, roadways, pensions, and national health care.
The national debt shot up only when the government switched from borrowing from its own central bank to borrowing from private lenders at interest. The rationale was that borrowing bank-created money from the government’s own central bank inflated the money supply, while borrowing existing funds from private banks did not. But even the Federal Reserve acknowledges that private banks create the money they lend on their books, just as central banks do.
U.S. taxpayers now pay nearly half a trillion dollars annually to finance our federal debt. The cumulative figure comes to $8.2 trillion paid in interest just in the last 24 years. By financing the debt itself rather than paying interest to private parties, the government could divert what it would have paid in interest into tuition, jobs, infrastructure and social services, allowing us to keep the social contract while at the same time stimulating the economy.