Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Religious Right

Photo By Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Roberts Court (2010-) - The Oyez Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Roberts Court (2010-) – The Oyez Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It will be the end of June before women in America know if their personal religious freedom and right to health care is subject to the religious beliefs of their employer. That is when the Supreme Court will deliver a decision in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases heard this last week, to allow employers to be exempt for coverage of certain contraceptives in ACA if they disagree on religious grounds.

SCOTUS is hearing this case in part because of the recent war on women. We’ve covered that issue, and will continue to do so. They are also hearing this case because of the conflicts created by the Citizens United decision, determining that corporations are individuals. There are few Americans born with umbilical cords attached that agree with this “opinion.”

By Dave Bullock from Derby, UK (Bible Original) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dave Bullock from Derby, UK (Bible Original) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hobby Lobby case exists because business owners believe their religious freedom is more important than any of their female employees. They apparently also believe that women are not intelligent enough to know the difference between emergency contraception, planned birth control and additional medical benefits from certain birth controls for other medical conditions. They seem to believe that women of faith are not strong enough in that faith to know their expected behavior and therefore need legislation to protect them from this weakness.

In an in-depth article published February 20, 2014, from Salon titled How the religious right is interfering in medicine and putting patients in danger, writer Valerie Tarico, Alternet, states “…in order to maintain their privilege in the healthcare system, Churches and Religious corporations fight legal battles that undermine human rights in society at large. They have argued that the conscience rights of institutions and corporations should be able to trump individual conscience. They have challenged anti-discrimination laws, and won, effectively establishing legal precedent that freedom from discrimination is not a constitutional right. They have argued that they should be exempt from labor organizing because giving workers the right to organize impinges on their sovereignty. Driven by dogma, lawyers find circuitous arguments and judges uphold “rights” that under any other light would look patently immoral.”

Photo By J. Troha (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By J. Troha (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Setting apart all arguments in the Hobby Lobby and war on women perspectives, I can’t help but ask more questions about the discussion of religious freedom in general. I’m quite confidant there would be an uproar if a religion believed that public beheading was the correct form of punishment for any and all crime. The point here is simple: Whose religion has priority if the views are not the same?

The Constitution’s First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

In this case, application of the First Amendment is almost too simple, which is also why it has reached this level in appeals. “Respecting an establishment of religion” means that to rule in favor of Hobby Lobby is to declare that respect to the religion of the business is established OVER the rights of the employees of that business. There are 300 recognized religious organizations in America. If all religious viewpoints were the same, would we need this many? Whose religious views are allowed to over rule others?  “Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” means that the business owner’s rights are not prohibited unless they personally are forced to do something in direct violation of their religious beliefs. They personally are not required to pay for the things they are objecting to nor are they required to use any form of birth control method they object to; they simply want to deny that coverage to the 15,000 plus employees they have in 600 stores across 41 states because they want those employees to be forced to live under their religious standards.

Pope Francis, March, 2013. Photo from presidencia.gov.ar [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis, March, 2013. Photo from presidencia.gov.ar [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It is amazing to me that there is no discussion about the religious freedoms of women who have been paying into insurance plans for years that have no restrictions on covering MEN’S reproductive health. Example: We were never asked how we felt about paying for impotence drugs, which in some religious views could be God’s way of saying the impotent person should stop procreating. If the argument is that it is for purposes other than procreation, is not that the argument used against women having the same coverage for reproductive health? Is this a double standard applied by the men who would not allow women to testify to the committees deciding these policies? Are these the same men that have a demonstrated lack of basic understanding of the facts and medical truths related to women’s health?

Another aspect that the bulk of commentators ignore is of the rights of individuals who choose freedom from religion, such as atheists. Contrary to the image that is extolled from clergy and religious groups, most atheists I have met are people that believe their destiny and life are theirs, not controlled or created through divine powers. They are committed to living in societies that treat people with dignity and respect, and strive to make the world a better place for all. These types of rulings discount their rights as Americans by having the Supreme Court decide that religious freedoms are established over that of non-religious human rights.

What happens when religious sects are allowed to influence governmental policy? Egypt comes to mind as a prime example. A leader of a religious sect was elected as President. It was not until the extreme policies of the Muslim Brotherhood were enacted on the people that the group was identified as terrorist and taken from power. Do we need that to happen in the United States before the foresight of our founding fathers is fully understood?

By Constitution_Pg1of4_AC.jpg: Constitutional Convention derivative work: Bluszczokrzew (Constitution_Pg1of4_AC.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Constitution_Pg1of4_AC.jpg: Constitutional Convention derivative work: Bluszczokrzew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

So how will SCOTUS rule? In 1990, Chief Justice Antonin Scalia wrote “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs [p879] excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940): Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities.” (Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute.)

That was then. This is now. If we are to believe the Supreme Court rules based on law rather than personal opinion, there would be no question on how they will decide. The fact that this case is even being heard by the Supreme Court is proof of something I did not want to see.

Gender Infographic
Courtesy of: 4th Estate Project
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de’ Nile of Justice

Anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir Squre in June, 2013. Morsi was removed from office in early July. Photo By Muhammad Mansour [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir Squre in June, 2013. Morsi was removed from office in early July. Photo By Muhammad Mansour [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This expression is perhaps the closest we can come to describing the turmoil in Egypt.

On March 24, a judge in Minya handed down 529 death sentences in what has been described as a “sham” and at best, a cursory trial, which lasted only two sessions and in which lawyers said they were denied the right to make their case or question witnesses.

On March 25, an additional 682 defendants started another mass trial on the same or similar charges.

On March 26, Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered two new mass trials for another 919 people on similar charges to those that were handed the death sentence on March 24.

“Egyptian authorities are holding a series of mass trials in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of Morsi since the military removed him in July, 2013. Around 16,000 people have been arrested over the past months, including most of the Brotherhood’s leadership,” reports The Guardian. “The new trials bring the total number of defendants in Minya along to 2,147 in four trials, including the trial in which the verdicts were issued on Monday.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization that, until August 2013, was seen as a major political influence with positions held in Egyptian government by some of its members. This all changed after former President Morsi was disposed following a military coup d’etat in July of 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood was blamed for a bombing that an al-Qaeda group claimed responsibility for, and the Egyptian government convinced most international observers that the Brotherhood was a terrorist organization operating within its borders.

Pro-Morsi supporters in Muslim Brotherhood rallying point outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, July 11, 2013. Photo By VOA/Sharon Behn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pro-Morsi supporters in Muslim Brotherhood rallying point outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, July 11, 2013. Photo By VOA/Sharon Behn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Between subsequent actions of the Muslim Brotherhood in the days and weeks that followed, and the aggressive retaliation for their protesting of Morsi’s removal, they quickly reduced themselves to earning the label placed on them by Egypt and those from the international community, including the United States.

But the question of these defendants’ guilt is a matter of law, and even Egypt has standards for legalities. Human rights, despite guilt, apply to all, not just non-terrorists if we as humanity, are to be civilized. There is reason to suspect the timing of these mass death sentences just prior to the elections, in which the general of Egypt’s military has just resigned in order to run for the highest office in the country. See General Who Led Takeover of Egypt to Run for President in the New York Times for more information.

“The imposition of the death penalty for 529 defendants after a two-day summary proceeding cannot be reconciled with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, and its implementation of these sentences … would be unconscionable,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a news briefing in Washington,” reports Reuters. “The death sentences on Monday and the start of the new mass trial on Tuesday “represent a flagrant disregard for basic standards of justice,” Harf said.”

We believe these mock trials and mass death sentences are politically motivated. We contend that when the majority of the defendants are not even detained, but names on a list from an arrest last July or August – what the Egyptian government is doing is issuing a blank execution order for all members they have the names for in an organization that opposes their agenda. We see this as a move toward a stratocracy. We reject any attempt to interfere in the elections within any nation by court-approved mass murder of the opposing side.

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It’s Time for Earth Hour!

March 29, 2014: Just one hour. That’s all. From 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM local time on Saturday, a global effort of awareness will unite people around the world that believe our planet is worth saving.

The raw satellite imagery shown in these images was obtain from NASA and/or the US Geological Survey. Post-processing and production by http://www.terraprints.com. Image By http://www.terraprints.com (http://www.terraprints.com) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The raw satellite imagery shown in these images was obtain from NASA and/or the US Geological Survey. Post-processing and production Terraprints.com. Image By http://www.terraprints.com [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Earth Hour is a simple idea that turned into a global phenomenon, with hundreds of millions of people coming together to display a commitment to protect the one thing that unites us all – our planet.

We only have one planet. You can help protect it. Earth Hour starts with a simple flick of the lights at 8:30 pm on March 29, 2014 in a collective display of commitment to create a better future for the planet. But Earth Hour is more than just this hour. Uniting behind a common purpose demonstrates that we can make a meaningful difference. Earth Hour is our chance to make our commitment to protecting our planet not just for one hour a year, but every day.

Be part of the world’s biggest and most engaging grassroots movement. To date, hundreds of thousands of businesses, governments and organizations have stepped forward to lead and commit to Earth Hour. Engage and inspire your employees, customers, suppliers, clients, industry and communities during Earth Hour and even beyond the hour.

Earth Hour’s mission is three-fold. To bring people together through a symbolic hour-long event. To galvanize people into taking action beyond the hour. And to create an interconnected global community sharing the mutual goal of creating a sustainable future for the planet.

Earth Hour has swept the globe, drawing together hundreds of millions of people in 152 countries and territories spanning every continent.

Andy Ridley is the CEO and Co-Founder of Earth Hour, the global environmental movement initiated in Sydney, Australia in 2007 as a campaign for action on climate change. It has grown to become the world’s largest mass participation event in history. From 1 to over 7,000 cities. From 1 country to 7 continents. From 2 million to hundreds of millions of people.

Earth Hour has been supported by hundreds of media organizations worldwide including international outlets such as TIME Magazine, CNN, the Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel to help spread Earth Hour’s message of hope and action for a better, healthier world to a global audience.

Earth Hour has also been lauded for its ingenuity, vision and reach, receiving MTV’s Good Karma Award, The Gold Banksia Award (Australia’s premier environmental honour) and the Cannes Titanium Lion, amongst a host of international accolades.

(Editors Note: The information in this article comes directly from the website of Earth Hour.)

Occupy World Writes supports Earth Hour and the ongoing mission to which it is committed. We believe that visionaries like Andy Ridley are people just like you and I, with a deep passion and driven determination to make a difference. They offer a challenge by refusing to acquiesce to the notion that there is nothing any one individual can do to change the course of the world.

What challenge can you offer?

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Take My Breath Away

By Rennett Stowe from USA (Coal-fired Power Plant  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Rennett Stowe from USA (Coal-fired Power Plant Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s been a concerted push by corporations and conservative lawmakers to create a “Damn the environment! Full speed ahead!” agenda as far as mining and energy goes.Two bills passed by the House of Representatives this month serve as prime examples of this dangerous mindset.

The first was H.R. 3826, which passed on March 6th along a mostly party line vote. Earthjustice summarized the bill in an article written before its passage: “The sponsors of this legislation might just have well have written ‘EPA can issue carbon pollution standards when pigs fly.’ ” The Democrats on the Committee on Energy and Commerce stated that H.R. 3826 “is a bill that would essentially prevent EPA from ever requiring coal-fired power plants to control carbon pollution at any significant level.”  They further state:

“The bill would 1) prohibit the EPA Administrator from issuing, implementing, or enforcing any rule under section 111 of the Clean Air Act establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new fossil fuel-fired power plants unless separate GHG emission standards were established for coal and natural gas plants, and 2) prohibit the Administrator from establishing emission standards for new coal-fired power plants unless the proposed standards have already been achieved for 12 continuous months by at least six U.S. power plants, located at different generating stations which collectively represent the operating characteristics of each power plant, and are each commercially operated for the entire 12-month period.

The Hobet mine 1984. By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hobet mine 1984.
By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Similar requirements are established under Section 2 of the Whitfield-Manchin bill for GHG emission standards for new units burning lignite coal, each of which are subject to separate GHG emission standards.  The Administrator may not rely on results of demonstration projects in establishing emission standards for lignite and non-lignite coal-fired power plants.  Furthermore, EPA is prevented from establishing any GHG emission standard for modified, reconstructed, or existing fossil fuel-fired power plants unless Congress passes a federal law implementing the standard.  The standard must be submitted in the form of a report to Congress including its text, projected economic impact, and projected GHG emissions reduction relative to overall GHG emissions.”

Section 4 repeals any EPA regulation in regard to GHG emissions and fossil fuel power plants that is currently on the books. Sounds pretty horrible, no? But of course, there’s more “good” news- the second bill.

The Hobet mine 2009. By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hobet mine 2009.
By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

H.R. 2824, which passed the House on March 25th, restores a law passed at the very end of the Bush years that had been overturned by the D.C. District Court that allows dumping of mining waste into streams and waterways, as well as permitting mountaintop removal mining. Once again, the voting mostly followed party lines. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) claimed “Republicans want to create an America that works, and that requires access to affordable energy. If we do not stop the administration from implementing its new coal regulation, thousands of Americans will be out of work and home heating costs for working middle class families will rise.” Never mind that the administration hadn’t put any new regulation in place yet…

Coal-fired power plants produce nearly half the electricity in the United States, which is what makes this such a big deal. Fortunately, neither of these will make it through the Senate, but what if the Senate flips in 2014? We’ve seen all too frequently what happens when corporations are allowed to write their own rules. From the Deepwater Horizon disaster to West, Texas to Mayflower, Arkansas to…  they’ve proven time and again that the only thing that they care about is profit, and not the lives and health of the people and environment around them.

Enough is enough…

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Bring Back “Common” Sense

Photo by Tim McCabe, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (USDA NRCS Photo Gallery: NRCSIA99536.tif) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Tim McCabe, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (USDA NRCS Photo Gallery: NRCSIA99536.tif) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Centuries ago, communities were formed by placing homes around an area referred to as the “commons;” a place where livestock was grazed, public meetings and gatherings were held and people worked together to protect and benefit from these “common” areas of value. The system was so successful it is used in some parts of the world to this day.

One of the principles America was founded on was the theory of the “commons” – that which belonged to all the citizens – was worth protection. Certain necessities were identified as being “common” for the security and stability of the country. As we grew, so did the things that were considered part of the “commons” belonging to the American people.

Clean water is one of those “common” things that Americans expect when they turn on a faucet to shower, cook, drink or bathe children and infants. We enacted the Clean Water Act as a way to specifically protect this “common”, and established the EPA to enforce regulations designed to further protect it.

As with many commodities in this country, Americans have an insatiable need for mass water usage in their lives. Above our daily survival needs, we play in it. We water lawns, crops, animals and city water features with it. We use it in manufacturing, medicine, food processing and energy production. We use it in mining, oil well drilling, fracking operations and coal ash ponds.

WHY DO WE HAVE THE EPA? This five-acre acid water, oil and sludge-filled pond was used as a dump site by commercial firms before being cleaned up under EPA supervision. It offered no protection to unwary animals. Sheep carcasses are seen in the foreground and at the left along with junked cars and other debris. Photo by Bruce McAllister, 1974, NARA Photographer, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

WHY DO WE HAVE THE EPA? This five-acre acid water, oil and sludge-filled pond was used as a dump site by commercial firms before being cleaned up under EPA supervision. It offered no protection to unwary animals. Sheep carcasses are seen in the foreground and at the left along with junked cars and other debris. Photo by Bruce McAllister, 1974, NARA Photographer, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Yet we seem to have no appetite or desire to continue keeping it clean. Recently, we have heard calls from congressional members to repeal the Clean Water Act and the EPA. Identified as “job killing regulations”, the theory here is to let corporations do whatever they want to produce however much of whatever they want, with total disregard toward consequences or responsibility. But their bottom lines would swell like water-filled balloons, and the bribery lobby money would benefit everyone involved.

Meanwhile, Americans would face more headlines like we’ve seen recently; Galveston Bay has an oil spill in it; Lake Michigan has oil in it from a refinery that is ramping up to double its production; the Dan River in NC has coal ash waste flowing downstream while Duke Energy employees are filmed pumping more of the sludge directly into the river; Keystone XL approval could poison the largest fresh water aquifer in the nation; and PolyMet, who has never operated a mine before, is demanding that Minnesota open the North Shore for copper/sulfide mining which would drain into Lake Superior. PolyMet’s main financial backer (Glencore Xtrata) has hired Tony Hayward as CEO – Hayward is the same guy you recall from the Deepwater Horizon disaster crying to the media that he wanted his life back.

We see attempts to allow drilling, mining and oil exploration in our national parks and reserves – 12 parks already have drilling in them, while an additional 30 parks could see drilling under existing mineral rights. On March 26, the House heard a bill that would abolish the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has protected some of America’s most sensitive and endangered monuments.

The rich everyday colours of a sari-clad rural women fetching water from the village tank. Water supply is a major problem throughout India and many rural areas lack clean water and supply to the home forcing women to fetch and carry water daily. Most villages lack the resources to invest and ensure a clean supply to each home. Photo by McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The rich everyday colours of a sari-clad rural women fetching water from the village tank. Water supply is a major problem throughout India and many rural areas lack clean water and supply to the home forcing women to fetch and carry water daily. Most villages lack the resources to invest and ensure a clean supply to each home. Photo by McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What are our priorities? Climate change has brought drought to California, Texas and other areas of the southwest, freezing weather in the deep south, the Great Lakes are locked in ice, Alaska’s permafrost is melting at a rate far faster than ever anticipated and areas that have been ideal cropland are either flooding or unable to get sufficient water to grow crops. These pressures will bear economic impact and will continue to manifest and worsen in the coming years.

And what is happening here in America is nothing compared to the struggles taking place around the world in the struggle for enough water to survive just by drinking and cooking. Diseases from unclean conditions are free to exert their atrocities on human life as we brace for more drought and famine in areas that have been fertile in the past. Some regions have not been as affected by climate change yet, but refugees are running for their lives and are not in the areas they normally would be in order to plant the spring crops. Cattle herds that are not wiped out by disease or starvation become targets in the terrorism that plagues remote areas of the globe.

We found an organization that looks at the need for clean water from a much, much larger perspective than America’s water problem. We introduce you to Charity:Water.org. This will not solve the overall problem, but it is clearly a step in the right direction.

How important is clean water? How long can you live with no water, but all the cheap oil you want? How important is LIFE?

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Pocket Change or Social Change?

By Pineapple XVI [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Pineapple XVI [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Rockford, IL – Churches can no longer provide homeless people shelter, they are “no longer permitted to act as a temporary warming center and homeless shelter because they do not have the adequate zoning permits.”

Raleigh, NC – Arrest threatened for providing free food and hot coffee to homeless people.

An Indiana restaurant was forced to end its practice of serving up free meals every Thursday by the city after neighboring businesses complained about the presence of poor people nearby.

New York City – Cuomo refuses to consider striking rent subsidy language in the state budget which would allow the city to offer alternatives to a surging homeless population, according  to a report in Long Island’s NewsDay. “The number of people in the city shelter system had risen 7 percent between January 2013 and last January, reaching 53,615, the highest level ever recorded.”

By C. G. P. Grey ([1]) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By C. G. P. Grey ([1]) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

These are just a few of the “latest example of a growing trend in municipalities across the country: the criminalization of homelessness as opposed to taking steps to address the fundamental problems that lead to it. Cities have shown a willingness to jail their homeless population rather than provide things like housing even though it is more expensive (to let them remain on the streets), while others have made it nearly impossible for outside groups to provide services for the poor that remain on the streets,” says Think Progress.

As many as 3.5 million Americans are homeless each year. Of these, more than 1 million are children and on any given night, more than 300,000 children are homeless. Homelessness is, in fact, caused by tragic life occurrences like the loss of loved ones, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes. Other impairments such as depression, untreated mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, and physical disabilities are also responsible for a large portion of the homeless.  Many factors push people into living on the street. Acknowledging these can help facilitate the end of homelessness in America.

By Matty1378 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Matty1378 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A dear friend of mine drove a route to deliver a city newspaper regularly. She noticed the same people on the same corners every day, and realized both through their appearance and the signs they held pleading for help that homelessness was part of her city and community. Struggling in her own finances, she was unable to offer funds – but she also refused to turn a blind eye. She would offer them sandwiches and a bottle of water, which they were appreciative of. Some she knew by face, others by name. Now that she has lost her own battle with cancer and has died, I often wonder if any one else has noticed the people in her town.

I wonder if you might have driven by one of them. Did you think about how you could help, or did you want the light to change so you didn’t have to see that your city has homeless people in it? Did you think about how your city and state regulators are influencing how these people are even able to have charitable organizations help them?

Society is best judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. Are you ready for judgement?

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Send in the Drones!

Photo by Rakrist08 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Rakrist08 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Drones are the newest technology developed for the purpose of surveillance. A large part of their development was done through the military, which is funded through the American tax payers. These drones can operate far longer than humans, cost less to maintain and operate once deployed, and can focus with pin-point accuracy the details of a license plate or printing on a sheet of paper.

Our country is having a conversation about national security and privacy. Drones are being tested in metropolitan areas as a means of keeping an eye on activities of citizens.

Meanwhile, we have watched Congress defund every federal agency charged with protecting our air, water and food supply. There have been bills introduced to abolish the EPA. Minnesota’s House introduced a bill that would make EPA regulations unenforceable throughout the entire state. Our air, water, soil and food supply continue to be sacrificed for the sake of corporate profits, and no one is held accountable. The fines for violations are cheaper to pay than the cost of compliance.

You may have heard of Duke Energy, the mega-coal giant in North Carolina that was filmed pumping coal ash pond water waste directly into the Dan River – their 14th violation this month alone. Or maybe you heard about Mayflower, AR, where a 50-year old pipeline most residents were not even aware of, ruptured and flooded the town with millions of gallons of crude oil. If not, maybe you heard about the train derailments near Casselton, North Dakota; an explosive collision and loss or spilling of 400,000 gallons of crude oil.

We, the citizens of the United States, have paid for the technology that is now being used to invade our privacy instead of protect our commons. Shouldn’t we be able to demand that this technology be used to survey any corporation that operates within our borders for compliance with laws and regulations, either federal or state, that have been passed to ensure public safety?

By wabeggs (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Coal ash on water surface. Photo by wabeggs (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a drone placed to monitor every coal ash pond in existence. Any illegal dumping or pumping, as well as leaks detected by drops in the levels of the ponds would be detected.

Imagine permits for pipelines requiring installation of the high-tech developments that detect early leaking – and companies that do not comply (citing costs) are required to deposit DOUBLE the cost of the entire project plus a percentage of profits gained through the use of the pipeline into a clean-up super-fund, which the company does not get back until that pipeline has been taken permanently out of service. The only way they get it back is if the pipeline does not leak and no cleanup is ever needed. Drones would make sure cover ups are not possible.

This is not rocket science, folks (even though we pay for that too). It is common sense. It is a way to advance for the good of the people instead of the good of corporations.

  • Whose money paid for it?
  • Whose air does it protect?
  • Who uses the water for survival?
  • Whose food supply is it?

Unless that radical of a change frightens you.

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Alaska’s Big Red Herring

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker after it had run aground. Source:NOAA via Wikimedia Commons.

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker after it had run aground. Source:NOAA via Wikimedia Commons.

March 24, 1989: Prince William Sound, Alaska – The Exxon Valdez runs aground Bligh Reef under the supervision of the third mate, while her captain was below deck indulging in liberal libations. Spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil, the disaster was the largest oil spill in American history until the Deep Water Horizon explosion and leak in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

In 1995, this writer examined Exxon Mobil’s response to the disaster while in college, presenting a paper documenting the accident in Prince William Sound as also the biggest public relations debacle of its day. When asking Exxon Mobil for their statement, the company provided me with beautiful pictures of Alaska and stated the cleanup was complete with no long term effects to the environment.

Birds killed as a result of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill. Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council via Wikimedia Commons.

Birds killed as a result of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill. Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council via Wikimedia Commons.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Scientists are still discovering the full impact of this disaster. 25 years later, Prince William Sound is still not even close to being the “pristine” environment it once was. In a comprehensive report from NPR, long term effects are being studied revealing alterations in the hearts of fish, reduced survival of marine organisms and disrupted life cycles of sea otters, killer whales and other larger species.

And, 25 years later, the oil industry is no better prepared to deal with the impact of oil spilling ships, ruptured pipelines or other means of transporting crude oil to the market place. The rush is to get the oil out of the ground while drilling the next productive well, raking in billions of profits while investing virtually nothing toward disaster response and cleanup. When all else fails, the oil industry bribes lobbies government representatives and stalls any court settlements through appeals.

During the first few days of the spill, heavy sheens of oil, such as the sheen visible in this photograph, covered large areas of the surface of Prince William Sound. NOAA photo and text (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

During the first few days of the spill, heavy sheens of oil, such as the sheen visible in this photograph, covered large areas of the surface of Prince William Sound. NOAA photo and text (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t be discouraged – Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest corporation. They are strategically positioning themselves to continue to swell the size of their profits through an agreement with the Russian oil industry to drill in the oil-rich areas of the arctic. Once those reserves have been depleted, we predict Exxon will force their way back into the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by using international agreements such as TPP and TTIP. That is why these agreements are being so vigorously rushed before publics like you and I can object to them.

After all, this is the same corporation that brought us the Mayflower, Arkansas pipeline rupture.

U.S. Navy Mechanized Landing Craft (LCMs) are anchored along the shoreline as Navy and civilian personnel position hoses during oil clean-up efforts on Smith island. Photo by PH2 POCHE [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Navy Mechanized Landing Craft (LCMs) are anchored along the shoreline as Navy and civilian personnel position hoses during oil clean-up efforts on Smith island. Photo by PH2 POCHE [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

25 years ago, the oil industry assured the American public that environmental safety and protection were top priorities. They said they would always clean up any spills, even though they claimed the possibility of those spills were not significant or likely. The Exxon Valdez taught us how negligent these promises were in actual application. When the disaster occurred, most ships used for cleanup were either out of service for maintenance or were totally encased in ice. Supplies and equipment were flown in from Arizona and Texas, since nothing was available in any area close to the spill. The best technologies offered were booms, skimming and shovels or paper towel dabbing on the beaches where oil had soaked the shorelines.

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. A Coast Guard MH-65C dolphin rescue helicopter and crew document the fire while searching for survivors. Multiple Coast Guard helicopters, planes and cutters responded to rescue the Deepwater Horizon's 126 person crew. Photo courtesy US Coast Guard (public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. A Coast Guard MH-65C dolphin rescue helicopter and crew document the fire while searching for survivors. Multiple Coast Guard helicopters, planes and cutters responded to rescue the Deepwater Horizon’s 126 person crew. Photo courtesy US Coast Guard (public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

25 years later, the best technology for cleaning up spills consists of booms, skimming and shovels or paper towel dabbing on the beaches where oil has soaked the shoreline. Disaster plans presented by all oil companies seeking drilling in the Gulf contained references to protection of wildlife species, such as walruses, needing protection in the Caribbean.

There is not a problem when these corporate giants invest billions into developing better drilling technologies, pipeline building shortcuts and expedition, or lobbying to open public land, national parks and wildlife preserves for oil exploitation. They think nothing of investing funds to secure government inspectors to look the other way while they violate regulations. They have funded the push to abolish the EPA, deregulate the industry and give unrestricted access to federal land.

How can we hold oil and energy companies accountable? When will they take safety seriously? When it impacts their bottom line. When we have the will to pass laws that require these corporations that place our land and water at risk to deposit double the value of their shipments into a superfund used for cleanup – they get it back only after shipments are delivered safely – they might pay closer attention. If they deposit double the cost of a new drill or pipeline project that is held until that well or pipeline is taken out of service, they might care more about leaks and spills.

Until that day arrives, it is cheaper for them to pay insignificant fines and stall litigation than it is for them to act with social and environmental responsibility.

Excited scientists are looking for a species of Caribbean walruses, still undiscovered to this day.

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Pain in Spain falls mainly on the Plain

Image via Twitter

Image via Twitter

March 22, 2014: The Marches for Dignity M-22, a protest against austerity, turned violent resulting in 88 being injured and 29 arrested in Madrid, according to a report in RT. The demonstrators are demanding an end to the so-called Troika-style cuts in Spain, more jobs and affordable housing.

The protest was scheduled by demonstrators objecting to austerity. Hoisting banners reading “no more cuts!” and similar messages, the protesters called for an end to the government’s “empty promises.” Spain’s current unemployment rate is 26%. Hundreds of people are evicted from their homes every day. The General Council of the Judiciary reported that 49,984 forced evictions had been carried out across the country last year, which averages about 185 a day. The conditions left many Spanish citizens with nowhere to turn. This is reflected in the growing number of suicides in the country, with the country’s National Institute of Statistics estimating that at least 8 people take their lives every day in the country.

Image via Twitter

Image via Twitter

Using tactics including teargas and baton beatings, riot police blocked the protestors from breaking through a barrier. The Spanish authorities have deployed 1,650 riot police to keep the situation under control.

“The mass rally was coming to an an end when reportedly a group of younger protesters, who had masks on their faces, started throwing rocks at the police. Police tried to push them away from the parameter that they organized around this area,” RT’s Egor Piskunov reported from Madrid.

“They (police) tried to push them (protesters) away from these police fences and then we started seeing firecrackers being thrown at police and reportedly authorities started firing rubber bullets at the protesters. As a result, there are injuries on both sides and several people have been arrested as well.”

Image via Twitter

Image via Twitter

Six “columns” of trains, cars and buses, as well as bands of pedestrians have travelled from Extremadura, Andalusia, Valencia, Murcia, Asturias, Galicia and Aragon, among other Spanish regions, to converge on Madrid in mass protest this Saturday,” the report adds.

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with those in Madrid and throughout Spain who seek a peaceful resolution to the austerity that is oppressing them. We call on all governments to address the basic human rights and needs of their people in expeditious measures that result in progress and growth.

The Spanish Spring has arrived!

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Gobbling Up Twitter

Image via Facebook.

Image via Facebook.

In response to leaks of possible corruption in Recep Tayyit Erdogan’s regime, the Prime Minister of Turkey has banned Twitter. In a speech on March 20, he stated the social media network is “immoral” and the “protection measure” was needed to prevent civilians from being harmed from its influences.

He also has threatened to shut down access to Facebook and YouTube, among other social media sites that remain outside of the control of the Turkish government system. Erdogan’s government already controls all media and broadcasting within the country. Turkey also has imprisoned 61 journalists within its borders, all of whom wrote independent articles, departing from the state approved news allowed to be published.

It all started a few weeks ago when tweets started circling that reportedly were phone conversations and videos of Erdogan planning corrupt acts to secure both his upcoming election and his financial affairs through taking of public money. The leaks enraged Erdogan and brought about a heavy handed reaction from the government. Turkish president, Abdullah Gul had dismissed the threats of banning internet, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Erdogan blames supporters of Fethullah Gülen of infiltrating police and the judiciary and of engaging in “espionage,” saying that the group even listened in on his encrypted telephone lines. The Gülen movement denies involvement, reports The Guardian. “The disruption sparked a virtual uproar with many comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls to take to the street to protest, although some users equally called for calm, the report said.

Taking a play from Putin’s book of “blame the west for everything,” Erdogan stated “The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

Ironically, he sent the message of closing down the social network via Twitter.

In response, the good people of Turkey quickly compensated for the loss by using #TwitterisblockedinTurkey texts from cell phones to get the word out. The message went viral and quickly moved among the top trending globally. Tweeting has actually risen in the country by 138% since the ban was enacted.

THAT is how powerful the citizens of Turkey are.

Let us hope they remember their power on election day.

Further reading on issues related:
Erdoğan Running Amok: Turkey and the Politics of Polarization by Umut Özkırımlı, Professor of Contemporary Turkey Studies at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, published March 21, 2014 in The World Report, a partnership of The Huffington Post and Bergguen Institute on Governance

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