Net Briefs – March 2009



Gaza

Action Palestine sent word in early February that over 200 University of Manchester students had occupied the John Owens Building (for administration staff) in solidarity with Gaza. The students issued a set of demands.

  1. The University of Manchester should issue a formal statement condemning Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, acknowledging the effect on educational institutions such as the bombing of the Gaza Islamic University and expressing concern about war crimes allegations
  2. Support a day of fundraising
  3. Designate all furniture & surplus supplies from university buildings being renovated to be sent to Gaza on the Viva Palestinian convoy
  4. Stop selling Israeli good on university premises
  5. Divest from all companies involved in the arms trade; end all research with these companies
  6. Publicize demands and information, and put pressure on the BBC to do the same

The students reported on the appalling Israeli action that killed over 1,300 Palestinians and injured thousands. Tens of thousands of civilians have been left homeless. Head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, John Ging, joined international calls for an investigation into the war crimes of the recent action, wherein Israel stands accused of using banned weapons such as phosphorus bombs, attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance workers in marked vehicles, and killing large numbers of police who had no military role, among other atrocious crimes.

Antiwar.com
reports that by a margin of 26-3, the Israeli Central Elections Committee decided to ban the Balad Party from running in the February election. By a margin of 21-8, they also banned the United Arab List-Ta’al (UAL-T). The two bans will prevent more than half of the current Arab members of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, from running for reelection. The Arab parties earned the ire of the most hawkish elements in the Israeli government by publicly opposing the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. Balad likewise made enemies by explicitly calling for equal rights for all citizens of Israel, regardless of national or ethnic identity, which the ruling Kadima Party said would "undermine Israel’s identity as a Jewish state."

A handful of Arabs will remain on the ballots across Israel, running for as-yet-unbanned Jewish majority parties. But with the general consensus among most voters that Israeli Arabs are traitors based purely on their ethnic background, they would seem to have an uphill battle. Many disillusioned Arab voters may not vote at all, now that the only significant Arab parties aren’t allowed on the ballot.

During the discussion, Balad chair Jamal Zahaika called the move to ban his party "a test for Israeli democracy" and asked Avigdor Lieberman, the driving force behind the ban, "Why are you afraid of democracy?" Lieberman declared Balad a terrorist organization and said "whoever values life" would understand the need to ban it.

Portside Moderator reports that International Women’s Day, March 8, 2009 will be dedicated to the women of Gaza. Women and men worldwide will commemorate the day by highlighting the plight of the women of Gaza and sending an international delegation to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. Palestinian women in Gaza have been devastated. There are agonizing pictures of wailing women digging through the rubble of their destroyed homes to look for their buried children.

The Israeli attack that began on December 27 left over 1,000 dead, including 412 children and 110 women; over were 5,000 injured (1,855 children and 795 women), according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. That attack came after 18 months of a crippling blockade that had left the Palestinian population hungry, sick, weak, and already suffering from what UN officials called a catastrophic situation.

Women now have to care for the physical and emotional wounds in their families and communities, while dealing with their own broken hearts. They have to attend to the physical needs of their families in the face of shortages of water, electricity, food, medicine, heat, fuel, and shelter. Some neighborhoods have been almost totally destroyed, with over 100,000 people displaced from their homes. The UN says that hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid are needed to help Gaza’s 1.4 million people and billions of dollars will be required to rebuild its shattered buildings and infrastructure.
 


Resisters

In early February, Gerry Condon sent work of U.S. war resister Cliff Cornell’s surrender to U.S. border police after being ordered to leave Canada. Cornell was promptly arrested for being AWOL from the U.S. Army and imprisoned at the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham, Washington, 20 miles south of the Canada border.

Cornell’s attorney and supporters expressed outrage at the arrest. "Clifford Cornell came back to the United States so that he could voluntarily return to his old unit at Fort Stewart," stated attorney James Branum. "He stated this intention to the Border Patrol, both verbally and in writing by way of a letter I drafted on his behalf…. This should not have happened."

Cornell is the second Iraq War resister to be held in the Whatcom County Jail. He follows Robin Long, who was deported from Canada in July and who is now serving a 15-month prison sentence.

"We want Bellingham to be a Sanctuary City for war resisters," said Gene Marx of Veterans For Peace, "not a way station for war resisters being sent to prison." Bellingham is known for being a progressive city, having passed two anti-war resolutions through its city council. A legal defense fund for Cliff Cornell is being established by Courage To Resist, a war resister support group, at www.couragetoresist.org.

The PRNewswire-USNewswire reports that Ursuline Sister of Cleveland Diane Therese Pinchot was sentenced to 60 days in prison for misdemeanor trespassing onto the grounds of Fort Benning, Georgia, on November 23, 2008. She received no fine. She says she trespassed and risked arrest and a prison sentence "to raise awareness of the need to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)," formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), a military training school for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning.

On the weekend of her arrest, Sister Diane Therese joined more than 20,000 people at the gates of Fort Benning to call for closing SOA/WHINSEC. Since protests began 19 years ago, more than 225 "prisoners of conscience" have served sentences of up to two years for nonviolent civil disobedience.


Racial Profiling?

Southern Poverty Law Center has notified activists of the release of their new report showing the anti-immigration lobby’s racist roots. The three organizations most responsible for blocking comprehensive immigration reform—the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA—are all part of a single network of organizations conceived and founded by the architect of the anti-immigrant movement, John Tanton. Tanton’s flagship organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), has been designated a hate group by the SPLC (www.splcenter.org), which monitors racial extremism.

David Bacon reports of an Oakland, California rally in January protesting the killing of Oscar Grant, a young African American supermarket worker, by an officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit police. Protesters lay on the ground and shout out "Don’t Shoot!" to remind onlookers of the way Grant and other victims of police shootings have died.

The white former transit police officer accused of killing Grant (an unarmed black youth) on an Oakland train platform was arrested in Nevada on a warrant charging homicide, 12 days after the shooting that sparked violent street protests. Johannes Mehserle, 27, was being held without bail under a fugitive warrant issued from California, law enforcement officials said.

Witnesses say Mehserle fired into the back of 22-year-old Oscar Grant while the man was lying face down on a train platform. Grant and others had been pulled off a train after reports of fighting, as New Year’s Eve revelers were shuttling home after midnight. The shooting, captured on cell phone cameras and widely viewed on the Internet, inflamed long-running tensions between law enforcement authorities and many African-American residents and black community leaders. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, one rally spiraling into violence that resulted in more than 100 arrests and dozens of businesses damaged.


Latifundia Control

Portside Moderator writes that in January voters in Bolivia, one of the countries with the highest concentration of land ownership in the world, decided in a referendum to limit the size of large landed estates, or "latifundia," to 5,000 hectares. In Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, just 100 families own 25 million hectares, while 2 million campesinos (peasants) have access to only 5 million hectares, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). An estimated 60 percent of voters approved a new constitution rewritten under the government of Evo Morales.

Simultaneously, 70 percent voted in favor of a 5,000-hectare limit on privately-owned rural estates. Under the agrarian reform program and the new constitution, the authorities have the right to determine whether rural property is serving an economic and social function, or is unproductive and thus subject to expropriation—with fair compensation—and redistribution to poor families.

The mission is not an easy one, as demonstrated by the clash that occurred on the property owned by a U.S. rancher, Ronald Larsen from Montana, who has lived in Bolivia for four decades and owns 6,777 hectares in the eastern province of Santa Cruz.

When INRA officials attempted to carry out an inspection of his land in November, Larsen’s employees tried to keep them off the property, even engaging in skirmishes in which shots were allegedly fired at the government vehicle.


Extradition

Karen Lee Wald emailed this tidbit from the New York Times, January 23: "Venezuela will press the Obama administration in the coming days to extradite a former senior official in Venezuela’s secret intelligence police so that he can be tried for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, according to lawyers for the government here. The move will test the new Administration’s willingness to engage on a festering issue that has further strained America’s relations with Venezuela and Cuba. Both nations have depicted the case of Luis Posada Carriles, an elderly Cuban exile who is a naturalized Venezuelan and a former CIA operative, as an example of hypocrisy by Washington in its fight against terrorism. Posada, 80, is charged with masterminding the bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane as it flew above Barbados, killing all 73 people on board, including dozens of Cuban civilians and a 9-year-old Guyanese girl. It was the Western Hemisphere’s first act of midair terrorism, the bloodiest of a series of bombings aimed at weakening Fidel Castro’s government…. Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington, declined to comment on Venezuela’s extradition request.


No School for Girls?

News of the Pakistan Taliban banning girls from attending school came from the International Human Rights Organisation. The banning order means that tens of thousands of students in Pakistan’s troubled northwestern Swat valley face at least a year without classes. It seems a local Taliban commander threatened to kill any girls attending classes after January 15 and to blow up any schools where girls were enrolled. An education ministry official, Sher Afzal, said that up to 50,000 students could be affected.

The scenic valley of snow-capped mountains, once a popular tourist resort, has been rocked by a violent campaign for Islamic Sharia law being waged by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has links to Pakistan’s Taliban movement. His followers have already blown up 168 schools, including 104 for girls, since security forces launched an operation against militants in the region in 2007, Afzal said. Information Minister Sherry Rehman said the government would not tolerate violence against women.

Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban organization in a statement Friday distanced itself from the threat from the local commander, saying it was not against the education of boys or girls. "We do not agree with the ban on education in Swat," Maulvi Omar, a spokesperson for Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, said in a statement.


Labor

Lindsay Beyerstein writes in the Washington Independent that one in five union activists gets illegally fired in the run-up to unionization elections, according to economist Dean Baker. His estimate is based on data compiled by the National Labor Relations Board and analyzed by Baker’s colleagues at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)—an economic policy think tank in Washington. The statistic is central to the progressive case for the Employee Free Choice Act, proposed legislation that would allow workers to bypass formal unionization elections in favor of an informal signup process known as a card check. Big business lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce oppose the EFCA because the law would make union organizing much easier. But instead of arguing that less unionization is better, EFCA opponents claim that card check is undemocratic because it could mean workers can unionize without a secret ballot.

A provision in the bill would allow workers to form a union without going through a formal National Labor Relations Board election. Instead, under a so-called card check system, workers sign cards to indicate that they want to unionize. If a majority signs up, the union is on its way to official recognition. Card check is already a legal way to form a union as long as the employer accepts the results and agrees to recognize the union. Often employers demand an NLRB election in the face of a card check majority, to buy time to change workers’ minds.

Under the NLRB election system, between the time an election is announced and the day of the vote, employees are vulnerable to coercion by management, Baker says, due to fundamental power imbalance: bosses can fire organizers, but organizers can’t fire the bosses.

Baker argues that the level of risk is chilling unionization. Workers who want to be in a union are afraid to speak out, he says. The EFCA card check provision would protect workers’ ability to freely choose whether they want a union, he maintains.


Complicit

A recent report names 30 Bush administration officials complicit in torture, according to afterdowningstreet.org. President Bush and his aides repeatedly ignored warnings that their torture plans were illegal from high State Department officials as well as the nation’s top uniformed legal officers, the Judge Advocates General of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, a new published report states.

A preliminary report by the Steering Committee of the Justice Robert H. Jackson Conference on Planning for the Prosecution of High Level American War Criminals seeking federal prosecution of American officials "who ordered, authorized, approved or committed war crimes," released January 9, 2009, says they are guilty of "wholesale" violations of statutes that include Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the Federal War Crimes Act, the Convention Against Torture, plus numerous other violations of U.S. and international laws. The Report said prisoners were subjected to savage beatings, sleep deprivation, slow drowning, hanging by chains, being slammed head-first into concrete walls, temperature extremes, food deprivation, burial alive in coffin-like boxes for extended periods, and threats against their families.

Among other things, the Report charges the General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), knowingly approved of at least 117 renditions to torture and that such renditions were "personally encouraged by President George W. Bush."

In addition to President Bush, those named for prosecution by the Steering Committee include: Vice President Dick Cheney and his former chief of staff and legal counsel David Addington, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor Colin Powell, former Attorneys-General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his aide Alice Fisher, former deputy assistant Attorney General, and Tim Flanigan, a deputy White House attorney.

Also named by the Steering Committee is I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby, former assistant to President Bush. Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to Federal investigators in the Valerie Plame affair. President Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence. Additionally: Douglas Feith, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone, General Michael Dunlavey, and Major General Geoffrey Miller, former commander of Guantanamo prison, Cuba.

CIA officials cited in the Report are former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet; Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center; James Pavitt, former CIA Deputy Director for Operations; General Counsel Scott Muller; Acting General Counsel John Rizzo; David Becker; contract officer James Mitchell, and an unidentified woman that formerly headed the CIA’s Al Qaeda unit and also briefed President Bush.

Among the lawyers guilty of war crimes are former Assistant Attorneys General Jay Bybee and John Yoo; Defense Department chief legal officer Jim Haynes; Robert Delahunty, special counsel with Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice; Patrick Philbin, deputy assistant Attorney General; Steven Bradbury, head of the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel; Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a former Staff Judge at Guantanamo; Mary Walker, General Counsel of the Air Force; and Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice.


Ecology

Culturechange.org posted an article by David Adams from the Guardian, December 8, 2008, with the headline: "Too Late? Why Scientists Say We Should Expect the Worst." At a high-level academic conference on global warming at Exeter University last summer, climate scientist Kevin Anderson pointed out that carbon emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than anyone thought possible, driven mainly by the coal-fueled economic boom in the developing world. So much extra pollution is being pumped out, he said, that most of the climate targets debated by politicians and campaigners are fanciful at best and "dangerously misguided" at worst.

In the jargon used to count the steady accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s thin layer of atmosphere, he said it was "improbable" that levels could now be restricted to 650 parts per million (ppm). The CO2 level is currently over 380 ppm, up from 280 ppm at the time of the industrial revolution and it rises by more than 2 ppm each year. The government’s official position is that the world should aim to cap this rise at 450ppm.

At 650 ppm the world would face a catastrophic 4c average rise. And even that bleak future, Anderson said, could only be achieved if rich countries adopted "draconian emission reductions within a decade."

The escalating scale of human emissions could not have come at a worst time, as scientists have discovered that the Earth’s forests and oceans could be losing their ability to soak up carbon pollution. Most climate projections assume that about half of all carbon emissions are reabsorbed in these natural sinks.

Soils could also be giving up their carbon stores: evidence emerged in 2005 that a vast expanse of western Siberia was undergoing an unprecedented thaw.

The region, the largest frozen peat bog in the world, had begun to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago. Scientists believe the bog could begin to release billions of tons of methane locked up in the soils, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Earlier this year, Jim Hansen, senior climate scientist with NASA, published a paper that said the world’s carbon targets needed to be urgently revised because of the risk of feedbacks in the climate system. He used reconstructions of the Earth’s past climate to show that a target of 350 ppm, significantly below where we are today, is needed to "preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted."


Shoes & Sheriff

The following item was sent from Istanbul. The maker of the shoes that an Iraqi journalist hurled at President George W. Bush has had to take on 100 extra staff to cope with a surge in demand for his footwear. "Between the day of the incident and 1:00 PM today, we have received orders totaling 370,000 pairs," Istanbul-based Serkan Turk, head of sales at Baydan Shoes, told AFP.

Normally the firm sold only 15,000 pairs a year of the model that Muntazer al-Zaidi threw at the U.S. president at a press conference in Baghdad on December 14 to become an instant hero across the Arab world. Turk said orders had initially flooded in from Iraq, followed by other Middle East countries, and finally from the rest of the world, including orders for 19,000 pairs from the United States. Formerly prosaically dubbed Model 271, the black polyurethane-soled shoes have been renamed Bush Shoes.

Turk insisted the company was not profiting from the soaring demand to up the factory price from $27 (19.30 euros) it had been charging, while adding that it was "delighted from all points of view" at its unexpected success.

Alternet.org posted this item: "Smile, You’re Under Arrest"— that’s the name of a new reality TV show starring Sheriff Joe Arpaio of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Yet Maricopa County citizens aren’t smiling as Arpaio’s tactics have wreaked havoc and fought little crime. Arpaio has transformed his police department into an immigration-enforcement agency, gaining notoriety in the process. Armed with a 287 (g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a mandate to enforce immigration law, Arpaio has taken the pursuit of undocumented immigrants to "unconstitutional extremes." Voices from across the political spectrum—elected officials, media outlets, religious leaders, and community leaders—have been critical of Sheriff Joe, his tactics, and his impact.

A July 2008 East Valley Tribune series of articles chronicling its investigation of MCSO found that immigration-enforcement activities have been expensive, resulting in few key arrests and drawing law enforcement personnel away from investigating non-immigration-related crimes.

The Sheriff’s Office created a $1.3 million deficit in just three months, much of it due to overtime. To staff the immigration team, Arpaio pulled deputies off patrol beats and used them to run the human-smuggling unit. Tactics include racial profiling, sweeps of Hispanic neighborhoods, and stops for minor traffic offenses.

Building on the East Valley Tribune investigation, the Goldwater Institute found that, though MCSO’s budget has increased at four times the rate of the county’s population, violent crimes increased nearly 70 percent, and homicides increased 166 percent between 2004 and 2007.

Z 


NET BRIEFS are culled from urgent press releases, important news items, and organizational findings that are emailed to Z. Email your items of interest to [email protected].