Monthly Archives: December 2013

TTIP: Pond Jumping has its pitfalls

Referred to as “an assault on democracy,” the counterpart to TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) positions the EU and the US to have their sovereignty and citizen’s democratic rights trampled. George Monbiot, in an article published in The Guardian (12-3-2013) discusses how TTIP includes a toxic mechanism called the investor-state dispute settlement. “Where this has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big corporations to sue governments before secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass domestic courts and override the will of parliaments,” he writes.

The questions are lengthier than the agreement itself. Who is writing this, for whom, and why? Why is it such a secretive document, if it is as “good” for the signing nations as is purported? And, as in TTP, why are corporations given access to the planning and negotiations, while governments are left in the dark? And why is the information to the general populace so guarded?

 

 

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TPP: Why You MUST Care

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an agreement currently being secretly put together by 11 nations around the Pacific rim. As more and more is learned about what this partnership agremeent would do, it becomes more obvious why we are not given access to the real details. But here is what we do know as facts:

* Of the 29 chapters in the agreement, only 5 actually discuss trade.

* Corporations are allowed to sue nations in tribunal courts if access to what they want is denied them, as TPP provides them protection for “expected earnings” from each of the signing countries.

* Members of Congress, after being denied the text for years, are now only provided limited access while during this time, more than 600 official corporate “trade advisors” have special access.

Public Citizen reports the following threats brought by TPP:

  • Offshore millions of American jobs
  • Roll back Wall Street reforms
  • Sneak in SOPA-like threats to Internet freedom
  • Ban Buy-American policies needed to create green jobs
  • Jack up the cost of medicines
  • Expose the U.S. to unsafe food and products
  • Empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards

We all need to become very educated and very vocal about our opposition to an agreement that will destroy most people’s way of life. The total disregard for anything but corporate profit and 1% greed is appalling.

We need your help. EVERYONE needs to be involved. This is no small matter, and absolutely no good can come from the passage of such an “agreement.”

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Biofuels – At What Cost?

Photo courtesy of I, Jlantzy [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of I, Jlantzy [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Our planet supports life beyond measure. How we use the resources and the conservation methods we utilize will have an impact overall. It is no longer tolerable to think “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” when it comes to how everything will impact everything else. Most recently, the US has pushed for “green power” by encouraging the development of biofuels, mainly corn ethanol. A recent article from the Associated Press takes an in-depth look at current trends in the production of corn and the environmental impact this causes, and is followed by the expected blow-back from the ethanol industry.

 

 

 

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Rape & Rape Culture

Image by WomanStats Project (http://www.womanstats.org) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by WomanStats Project (http://www.womanstats.org) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rape is a global problem. It is not going to disappear from all cultures and societies. It is a part of oppression meant to control, humiliate and destroy its victims.

Too many times, people who are entrusted with the care of vulnerable children or adults are the perpetrators of this crime. The priests in our churches, the police on our forces, the faculty at our schools and the leaders of service groups are all assumed to be people we can trust – yet we see over and over again how some individuals will slip through the cracks. When this happens, it is our children who suffer, most times with scars that will affect the individual the rest of their life. Until we start prosecuting each and every one of these people to the fullest extent possible with the harshest sentencing being the result, we will not see an improvement in our societies that creates the cycle of abuse and victimization for subsequent generations.

The Steubenville and Marysville rape cases has\ve brought national attention to the long awaited conversation needed in American society: the perpetuation of rape culture. Most recently, a Grand Jury indicted four adults associated with the case in Steubenville, while small towns across our nation continue the same reprehensible behavior demonstrated in Ohio. When will we focus seriously on a conversation that encourages us to actually enforce the law, as is finally being done in Steubenville?

Image courtesy of Ms. Foundation for Women

Image courtesy of Ms. Foundation for Women

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Right to Carry a Pregnancy to Full Term

In London, a mentally ill woman from Italy was declared incompetent, resulting in a “rare” court decision to force her to have a cesarean section birth and then placed the infant up for adoption, all against the mother’s will. As details of the case are revealed in a compelling report from Maria Cheng, it becomes apparent that women will always be subjected to governments, courts and other patriarchal authorities regardless of status or health.

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Right to Healthcare and Contraception Services

Michigan becomes the latest to join other states that are passing laws prohibiting a woman’s right to choose, right for contraception and right to privacy. Michigan passed a bill that requires women to purchase an insurance rider to cover abortions should they ever think they would want this service if they were to be impregnated by a rapist. Yes, we actually have to plan for rape and decide if the gamble is worth it. But realistically, only one out of every four women in America are raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetime. So, if you are feeling lucky and think you will fall into the 75% of woman that do not suffer at the hands of a male perpetrator, don’t waste your money. BUT – if you do not want to bare the child of a rapist that may be stalking you now, you best invest in the Rape Insurance rider option that states like Michigan are now passing. But wait – these same states are also passing laws making it illegal for this insurance option to be purchased by women in these states. In short, the laws don’t directly state abortion is illegal, they just make it impossible to get one by closing most clinics, disallowing insurance coverages and other such limiting measures.

We are also now seeing a move to make birth control of any kind impossible to get. Being pushed by extreme conservative special interest groups, “personhood” laws are now being written that make it illegal to prevent egg and sperm from meeting. Additionally, there are laws being passed that can even charge a woman with murder for having a miscarriage unless she can prove she did nothing to provoke the miscarriage. Since medical science can not always determine the cause for a naturally terminated pregnancy, it is hard to imagine how quickly we will fill prisons with mothers unable to carry a full term pregnancy through no fault of their own. We can only hope the woman does not already have young children at home, because they won’t have a mother anymore.

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The Role of Unions in Today’s Economic and Political Climate

By Gretschman for Occupy World Writes

Photo by David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My involvement in the Occupy movement became direct and personal when I married my wife, who was then involved in a local Occupy group. In addition to my liberal thinking, I am a drummer in a blues band and have been a member of a trade union for over 32 years. In 1979, I quit my job in a restaurant working for what was then $.20 more an hour than minimum wage. How do I remember what I made? Because I had to threaten to quit four times to get a nickel raise each time.

In 1980 I took a job as an electronics technician, which required that I join the I.B.E.W. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) under the “SPACE” agreement, an acronym for Sound, Public Address and Communication Employees. Today, this contract is called the “Limited Energy Agreement.” which covers the aforementioned disciplines as well as fire alarm, security and some CATV, broadband and voice & data employees.

During the years that my employer remained signatory to this collective bargaining agreement, I paid attention to the bargaining process but was not an active participant in the negotiating, only the voting, as there were close to 20 employers and 200+ employees in the bargaining unit. In the late 1980’s my employer learned that he could opt out of the SPACE agreement and have a stand alone agreement only covering his employees, which tipped the bargaining numbers in the favor of my employer, and for us as employees as well, since our main concern was regarding our work and our welfare.

Before I continue, let me explain why I believe so strongly in labor unions and the collective bargaining process.

My brother has lived in the south all of his adult life. He currently resides in Georgia, which is a “Right To Work” state, or more accurately described as a “Right To Work For Less” state. As what my brother did for a living was never covered under a union contract, if my brother’s employer found someone who was willing to do my brother’s job for less money, the employer could discharge my brother and give the other person the “right to work for less” pay. Under a union contract, there is wage protection and there has to be cause to be discharged from employment.

Also keeping with the theme of where my brother was employed, my brother had a co-worker named Luther. Luther was always paid one or two dollars less than his co-workers. Why? Because Luther was black. And in the south this blatant discrimination still takes place. Under a union contract, everyone has to paid at least the wage and benefits set forth in the contract, regardless of race or gender.

One of the other reasons that I believe in the collective bargaining process is that I have been told point blank by non-union employers that the only way they can keep their good employees is to pay them a wage competitive with union employers, or their employees will either leave or attempt to become unionized.

I have a friend who attended the University of St. Thomas. When I told her about negotiating a contract, she stated that she was taught by her business professor that collective bargaining doesn’t work, to which I replied, “For whom?”

I will now attempt to share what it was like to be a shop steward and after that, explain what negotiating a contract is like.

Being a shop steward is a thankless job. As such, you are responsible for taking any grievances to management and your union representative as well as being the liaison between the rank and file and your employer.

During my tenure as shop steward, the company I worked for had a change in ownership. I was informed on a Thursday afternoon that as of quitting time on Friday, we (the union employees) were all officially terminated and that we would have to apply for employment on Monday and, oh, by the way, the new owners had decided it would be a non-union shop. I replied that none of the union employees had any intention of applying for non-union positions on Monday. I was then told we had better turn in our company trucks because they would be needed on Monday. I responded that since we were all terminated on Friday, they needed to come and get their trucks.

This was before the days of cell phones and email. I spent a lot of hours on the phone that Thursday evening and Friday. When the “negotiating” for our jobs was done Friday afternoon, I had an agreement in place for the contract to be signed by the new owner’s representative to succeed the previous contract with no change in terms.

Usually contract negotiating is done by having the union negotiating committee sit down with management’s negotiating team 60 to 90 days prior to the expiration of an existing contract. Each side customarily brings a list of proposed modifications to the contract, and the negotiating is nothing more than give and take on these items. Once a proposed contract is hammered out, it is taken to the rank and file to be voted on. Simple majority rules. One simple rule of contract negotiating is this: language costs money.

My experiences from 32-plus years as a union member has given me an unique perspective. I know many people who do not understand that the labor union battles fought for decades have given way to the modern standard compensation package that includes a 40 hour, 5 day work week, overtime pay, paid vacation, sick time and health benefits for employees of even nonunion employers. Yet the attacks on labor unions have increased and legislation has brought 23 states to “Right To Work” status, taking the effectiveness and protection of union membership off the table for millions of employees.

The 2012 election cycle is a prime example of these latest attacks. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wanted to abolish the unions representing the state employees and enact “Right To Work” legislation. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder jammed “Right To Work” legislation through a lame duck session immediately following the election, giving the residents of Michigan an early Christmas gift they can not exchange for something they actually need. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney proclaimed in a speech that “when” elected, he would repeal the Davis-Bacon Act by executive order his first day in office. In its most simple terms, the Davis-Bacon Act is a method of ensuring that the wages and benefits paid by employers contracted to do work for the government or financed through a government agency are fair and what is considered reasonable, taking the job classification and geographic location into consideration.

From our politicians to the largest corporations, we see labor unions opposed through any means possible. In 2000, the meat cutters in the Jacksonville, Texas Walmart voted to unionize. Rather than bargain in good faith, Walmart eliminated their in-house meat cutting operations. The lockouts imposed on the striking workers at Crystal Sugar during their contract struggles another example of the model of “capitalism” that the 1% champions. But these examples of greed actually only champion the inequality between the 1% and the 99%, which stifles job growth and diminishes the effectiveness of the middle class in this country.

How this helps the 99% and our country, I don’t know. But I’m sure it plays well on Wall Street and with the 1%. In my estimation, the middle class of this country was built on skilled labor getting a fair wage and benefits. A lot of this was accomplished through the collective bargaining process that is a benefit of union membership. If you eliminate this process, the middle class will pay the price as a collective population and all the battles and work will have been for nothing.

 

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Solidarity Matters

We believe strength comes from standing together in Solidarity with others facing struggles which may or may not be similar to our own. By understanding we are all connected in the mind and spirit of bringing change for the betterment of the 99%, we agree that regardless of location, your cause is all our cause, your issue becomes all our issue, your struggle becomes all our struggle. Send us news stories pertaining to the issues you face so others can stand in Solidarity with you.

SYRIA
Syrian rebels launch fierce offensive against al Qaeda fighters
Barrel bombs ‘kill 517 in Aleppo since 15 December’
Syria misses deadline to remove chemical weapons
Syria government air strikes kill dozens in Aleppo
Desperate Syrian rebels turn homes into weapons factories
UN makes record funding appeal for Syria
UKRAINE
Fresh Ukraine protests draw thousands onto Kiev streets
Ukraine’s capital Kiev gripped by huge pro-EU demonstration
Russia deal saved Ukraine from bankruptcy – PM Azarov
EGYPT
Egypt in 2014: More demonstrations to come
Egypt crisis: Al-Jazeera journalists arrested in Cairo
Mohammed Morsi faces Egypt terrorism charges
GERMANY

Photo: DPA

Hundreds injured in Hamburg riots
Amazon workers in Germany strike as Christmas orders peak
THAILAND
Thai protester shot dead amid rising tensions in Bangkok
In Thailand, Standing Up for Less Democracy (The 1% Protests)
NORTH KOREA
Execution prompts surprise, fear inside North Korea
GREECE
Greece assumes EU presidency as anger towards Brussels grows
Greece leaving the euro could be the spring surprise
Greece Eases Protection on Troubled Mortgages
SPAIN
Spain vows to block Catalonia’s drive for independence as referendum announced
CAMBODIA
Cambodian Opposition Leaders Go Into Hiding Amid Protest Crackdown

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How Much Is Enough?

 

Image by Emmanuel Saez [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Emmanuel Saez [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

How much is enough? Who decides what can be “owned” versus what belongs to humanity as a collective? In the US, we have seen our federal minimum wage increase 3 times over a 25 year time span, during which time Congress was able to raise their own salary 13 times. While our income level at the bottom percentile of our workers has risen 4% since 2008, we have witnessed the salaries of top CEO and hedge fund managers grow by over 400%. What happens when these polar opposites continue at their current rate? How long before we reach a tipping point that is not survivable by the majority of those at the bottom?

I am not on expert on the economy, nor am I versed in banking and financing philosophies. But I am a member of the 99%, meaning we have a very large group in our boat. The problems in America regarding income inequality are somewhat benign in comparison to what many countries face.  The following articles discuss some of the issues we need to consider in a much more educated, researched and validated study than I could ever do on my own.
Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
Americans Are Terrible at Estimating Income Inequality
Editorial: So damned unfair: Income inequality threatens the American dream

Obviously, this discussion has barely began. What can you contribute that helps us comprehend the magnitude of this issue from your perspective?

 

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The Amazing Human Spirit

By Gretschman for Occupy World Writes

Photo by Kelley Kossan, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

Photo by Kelley Kossan, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

The human spirit is an amazing thing.
It allows us to be malleable , yet strong in will and purpose.
I grew up in a household headed by a World War II veteran who had a service-connected disability that was rated at 80%, or in other words, he was considered to have the “ability” to work, play and live at 20% of the capacity of an “able bodied” person.
In fact, he had two service-related disabilities, one of which carried the 80% rating and the other of which carried a 40% rating.
But disabilities are not considered ‘cumulative” in the eyes of those who sit in judgement of these matters. You are given the ‘highest” of your ratings and told to go about your life.

it didn’t seem odd to us growing up that dad had scars on his leg and his back. it didn’t seem odd to us that you could watch dad’s heart beat through the t-shirt he wore to cover the gaping hole in his chest. it didn’t seem odd that dad’s neck was skewed towards one shoulder and away from the other.
It wasn’t until we were old enough to understand the answers to the questions about why his body looked like it did that we were able to understand that it was his own fortitude and human spirit that had allowed him to survive the surgeries that gave him his altered appearance and the will to deal with the daily pain to be able to “go about his life”.
As an adult, i live in a household where my spouse lives with the consequences of a traumatic brain injury. She, like my father, uses her fortitude and human spirit to get by day to day and “go about her life”
From my father and my spouse I have learned that “disability” does not equal “unable,” ‘disability’ DOES equal “different abilities.”

No matter what our abilities are, we all deserve to be treated equally. We all deserve the right to be treated fairly. We all deserve the right to be treated justly.
it is my beliefs in these tenants that had led me to the Occupy movement and to stand in solidarity with those who fight for the 99%.
It is this amazing human spirit that the 1% cannot take away, no matter what they try to take from the 99% to leave us in perpetual servitude to their whims and desires. This human spirit is what will drive us to stand up in the face of tyranny and oppression. This human spirit is what will drive us to fight to make this world better for our children, our children’s children and the generations that will follow them.

Occupied and in Solidarity,
Gretschman

 

 

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