Net Briefs – May 2009
News from the RNC8 (arrested at the Republican National Convention in August 2008) is that Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner has dropped one count of Conspiracy to Commit Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property in Furtherance of Terrorism. Originally facing a single charge-Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism, Gaertner’s office added three additional charges against the eight defendants in December of last year. On March 28, supporters delivered a stack of over 3,000 petitions to Gaertner’s office urging her to drop all four charges. Among other statements, a resolution from the 17,000-member Duluth Central Labor Body in support of the RNC 8 was also delivered. Additionally, the broad-based RNC 8 Defense Committee applied the pressure that led to this reduction of charges. The next court date is scheduled for May 26. If Gaertner’s office doesn’t drop the charges, prognosticators expect a trial in September at the earliest.
Protests in the UK
The Christian Science Monitor sent an article April 1 "European Workers Rebel as G-20 Looms" by Jason Walsh. "The British arm of Visteon, which is a major supplier to Ford, announced that it was cutting almost 600 jobs across the United Kingdom, including 210 in Northern Ireland. Workers immediately occupied Visteon’s manufacturing facility in Belfast, seeking an enhanced layoff package, which they say should be financed by the factory’s former owner, Ford Motor Co."
Also in Ireland, fired workers at Waterford Crystal occupied the world-renowned glass-making factory after it was shut down. The occupation ended after almost 2 months with the announcement that 176 jobs had been saved for at least 6 months.
In Dundee, Scotland, staff at Prisme, a box manufacturer, were in the fifth week of an occupation and are reportedly planning to restart the business as a workers’ cooperative.
Protests in Strasbourg
Socialistworker.org reported April 11 that in Strasbourg, France thousands of demonstrators defied police repression and violence to stage mass protests against continuing aggression—especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. NATO was holding its 60th anniversary summit in the city. A key item on the agenda was drumming up more troops from NATO countries for the occupation of Afghanistan. Barack Obama had already pledged 21,000 more U.S. troops, while Gordon Brown promised an extra 1,000 British troops.
Costas, a student from Greece, commented, "We brought over 60 people from Greece to send a message to NATO that we won’t stand by and watch while life is made worse in Afghanistan…. We’ve just had general strikes in Greece," said Costas. "People are asking why is it that our jobs are being cut while there’s all this money for weapons."
Debates over tactics ran through the protests, as people considered how best to challenge the police and the state. Many Strasbourg residents showed solidarity with the protesters, leaning out of apartment windows to salute them with raised fists as they marched through the city. Local people also handed out free baguettes and water to protesters.
Eventually, police took hold of the city, setting up checkpoints and road blockades around its center and on many bridges and entrances to the campsite. But this only made the protesters more determined. It also meant people’s anger was directed at the police, as well as at representatives of the French state and the other NATO leaders.
Strike in French Colony
An email from socialistproject.ca tells of a 38-day general strike in the Caribbean colony of Martinique that ended March 14 with the signing of a protocol between the government and the February 5 Collective, a coalition of unions and other social movements named after the day the strike began. The agreement grants the coalition’s key demands. About 20,000 people celebrated the historic victory in a march through the streets.
On the day before, thousands had marched through the capital, Fort-de-France, chanting slogans directed at the wealthy white descendants of colonists and slave-owners who dominate Martinique’s economy. Most of the island’s population is descended from African slaves brought to work on its colonial-era sugar plantations.
The draft agreement, reached early in the morning of March 11, called for a $200 ($250 U.S.) monthly wage increase for 47,000 low-wage earners, with smaller increases for those with higher incomes. Michel Monrose, the head of the February 5 Collective, told AFP that the Collective "reserves the right to re-launch the strike if the accords are not respected."
Protests in the U.S.
From the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign comes news (April 10) that campus protests shut down a CIA recruitment event. The CIA Information Session held at the Business Instructional Facility on Thursday night was shut down before its proposed end time. Eight protesters assembled near the doorway holding posters reading "Extraordinary Rendition is just another name for Torture."
Eric Heim, a sophomore and spokesperson for the protest, said "We’re here because the CIA has no right to recruit on our campus, especially since our slogan is ‘Labor and Learning,’" he said. "The CIA is not here for labor or learning."
Shortly after the protest began, two police officers arrived. Campus police Sgt. Aaron Frederick said, "I’m not going to ask them to leave, because the students have a right to peaceably demonstrate."
Jeff Leys co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) reports that 14 peace and social justice activists were arrested on April 9 at the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The arrests occurred during a ten-day vigil at the Creech gates. The base is home to members of the Air Force who "pilot" the Predator and Reaper drones used in the Afghanistan-Pakistan war. When Air Force security personnel ordered the 14 to leave the base, they sat down and informed the Air Force that they intended to remain. The Nevada State Highway Patrol was called to the scene, as was the Las Vegas Metro Police. The Creech 14 were offered a deal in which, if they agreed to walk off the base, they would be issued a citation and released on the spot. All 14 declined and were subsequently transported to the Clark County Detention Facility. Earlier that week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he would seek funding to build and sustain an additional 50 Predator and Reaper aerial vehicles.
Bailoutpeople.org reported that 1,000 people defied a torrential downpour to rally on Wall Street on Friday, April 3 in response to a national call. The central demands of the demonstration were: (1) a real jobs program; and 2) an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. Participants included unions, community groups, youth and students from Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and dozens of organizing centers throughout the country. Speakers repeatedly denounced the $10 trillion that has been given to banks over the past year. One speaker, New York City Council Member Charles Barron, said that the crooks who have received $10 trillion that has been given to banks over the past year "should be looking for bail money to get out of jail."
Following the rally, the Bail Out the People Movement took their message directly to the banks, marching to AIG, which has received a total of $170 billion in bailout money, chanting "Jobs for All" and "Jail ‘Em, Don’t Bail ‘Em." Protesters marched through the narrow streets of the financial district, confronting financial giants like Citigroup, Fidelity, AIG, American Express, the Federal Reserve, and the New York Stock Exchange.
Further actions are scheduled for May Day in NYC, LA, and other cities across the U.S.
From penpetition.blogspot.com and kingwenclas.blogspot.com comes the news that PEN American Center in New York, an organization to protect and defend dissenting, outcast, and marginalized writers, has virtually shut out impoverished writers. The centerpiece of the PEN American Center is its gala, which occurs every year in late April. The funds are raised by wealthy attendees—$766,625 gross receipts in 2007. (Tickets are usually in the neighborhood of $1,000 a head.) The expense to hold this swanky aristocratic affair was $247,773 in 2007. PEN holds other literary affairs every year—such as the International Writers Festival, staged at the mind-boggling expense of $536,005. PEN promotes its festival as an "answer to American cultural insularity." Of the $111,000 monetary awards to individual writers in 2007, the top three were: $40,000 to Philip Roth, who’s published by both Houghton-Mifflin and Random House; $35,000 to Columbia professor Janna Levin, published by Alfred Knopf; $10,000 to James Carroll, published by Houghton-Mifflin. By giving grants to authors who should be fully paid by their giant publishers, PEN American Center is in effect subsidizing billion-dollar book conglomerates. Various writers are petitioning PEN, asking people to sign the following:
"We the undersigned petition PEN American Center in New York to democratize their organization by appointing, as Trustees, not solely writers who are entwined with book companies owned by media monopolies. This includes writers who’ve dissented against the established U.S. literary mainstream. We ask all writers, from all backgrounds, to sign this Petition, including current PEN members and Trustees, in the interest of realizing the PEN mission, voiced by PEN’s Larry Siems, of ‘bridging intellectual chasms and cultural divides’."
Bolivian Land Transfers
According to nytimes.com/reuters, reporting on March 14, 2009, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales transferred ownership of around 94,000 acres of lands confiscated from five big ranches in Bolivia’s wealthy eastern lowlands, a stronghold of his conservative political opponents. The ranchers have been accused of employing workers in conditions of semi-slavery. "Private property will always be respected, but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency," said Morales, flanked by military and police personnel. The land transfer came six weeks after Morales celebrated the approval of a new leftist constitution that aims to give Bolivia’s indigenous majority more power, lets him run for re-election, and hands him tighter control over the economy.
"It is not that these lands were not in production, but that they were the site of human rights violations against the Guarani, who will now be their new owners," Morales said.
No Clear Direction???
According to thaindian.com U.S. congressional auditors have reported that nearly 87,000 weapons, including rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, shotguns and mortars, were missing. The weapons are among about 240,000 small arms and other items, including 2,410 highly prized night vision devices, which were given to the Afghan security forces by the U.S. military. The report prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also said the U.S. military has failed to keep records on about 135,000 weapons donated by U.S. allies to the Afghan security forces. The U.S. effort to train and equip Afghan security forces so far has cost $16.5 billion and will cost another $5.7 billion this year, according to U.S. officials. The GAO said the security lapses were due to "a lack of clear direction" from the defense department "and staffing shortages" at the headquarters of the U.S. Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan that is responsible for training and equipping Afghan security forces.