Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rulings à la Court

By Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 ()], via Wikimedia Commons

A federal judge in Milwaukee struck down Wisconsin’s voter identification law April 29, declaring that a requirement that voters show a state-issued photo ID at the polls imposes an unfair burden on poor and minority voters.

A Circuit Court judge has resoundingly rejected Arkansas’ new photo ID restrictions on voting, declaring the law to be “null and void” and in violation of the state’s constitutional right to vote.

Tuesday’s decision could set a precedent for similar legal challenges in Texas, North Carolina and elsewhere. There are 31 states with laws requiring voters to show some form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven states have strict photo ID requirements similar to the one a state judge struck down in Arkansas last week; that decision has been appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Pennsylvania’s voter ID law has been put on hold because of court challenges.

The state of Texas, which has fought the federal government over several environmental regulations, lost a major battle Tuesday as well; U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled in a 6-2 vote to reinstate a regulation that aims to limit the effects of air pollution across state boundaries.

Texas was one of a number of states, joined by industry and labor groups, that had sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Cross-State Pollution Rule in 2011.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling means that Texas and 26 other “upwind” states in the South, Midwest and Appalachia will have to reduce some of their emissions that contribute to air pollution in East Coast states like New York. Coal plants are among those likely be the most affected, particularly as they are already dealing with new limits on their carbon dioxide emissions.

While our intention was to bring a much longer list, these are the examples we could find that give us a few silver linings to the dark clouds of court rulings we have seen lately. As we watch our country progress further into a oligarchy-plutocracy blend, we fear rulings that favor the human factor will decline.

Like a menu at your favorite diner, court rulings usually are stand-alone items that don’t add up to much until you start putting them together. The overwhelming decisions favoring corporations and the 1% could fill a book. At this rate, the humans in the equation will languish from want while the corporations and wealthy scoff the concern.

Would you like to see the dessert menu?

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World’s Most Endangered

Kawa Garmyani; a Kurdish journalist murdered in Iraq in December 2013. By Diyar se (Flickr: Kurdish Journalist_Kawa Garmyani) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Kawa Garmyani; a Kurdish journalist murdered in Iraq in December 2013. By Diyar se (Flickr: Kurdish Journalist_Kawa Garmyani) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In March of 2014, Swedish Radio correspondent Nils Horner was shot dead in broad daylight on a Kabul street. in a string of deadly attacks that marred the lead-up to the Afghanistan election, award-winning German photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed and veteran Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon was injured when a police commander assigned to protect them opened fire on their car in the eastern town of Khost on in April.

Pakistan is now considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Routinely shot by gangs, rebels and government forces, there seems to be little interest in stopping the problem.

Journalists are kidnapped and outlets attacked in the continuing fallout from Ukraine’s political crisis; kidnapped journalists are released after months of captivity in Syria; and, in the wake of revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, US director of intelligence, James Clapper, issues a directive making it a sackable offense for intelligence workers to have any unauthorized contact with the media, reports Aljazeera.

Since 2007, 540 journalists have been killed world wide.

But topping the list is the dangers faced by emerging Kurdish reporters and media in Iraq.In an extremely compelling article from Middle East Eye by Simona Sikimic, we learn “According to a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report published this week, many journalists in Kurdistan say they fear “impunity for anti-press attacks, including murder and arson and feel they “must self-censor on topics like religion, social inequality, and corruption associated with powerful officials.”

“Report author Namo Abdulla told Middle East Eye that “in Kurdistan, if you are a high-ranking official for one of the ruling parties or just hold some sort of strong tie to the ruling elite, you can absolutely be above the law and get away with doing almost anything you want.”

“You can kill a journalist. You can burn down a television station in the heart of the city. The court will still have difficulties to find enough proof to put you behind bars,” he added.”

“The Kurdish Journalist Rights Organization (Metro Center), which details abuses, says that there were 193 violations against Kurdish journalists last year. This is a significant drop from 2011, a particularly turbulent year, when 359 violations were reported, but a slight increase from 2012 when 132 instances were detailed.”

The details of individual incidents are alarming. Even worse, we watch in stunned horror as the atrocities against the Kurdish people continue. What more are a people expected to endure, and why is telling the truth about their plight seen as punishable by death?

To report the truth is not a crime; reporting it is worthy of international protection and prosecution when journalists are detained or killed.

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Arm or Be Armed

NRA Headquarters. By Bjoertvedt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

NRA Headquarters. By Bjoertvedt (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This last week, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held their annual convention in Indianapolis, IN. Attended by thousands and featuring speeches from the likes of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. While we at Occupy World Writes think the dynamic four should be called a therapy group, we understand they drew substantial support from the crowds.

This follows Georgia’s new gun laws, the most liberal in the country, being signed into law this week. The new law, dubbed “the guns everywhere” law, places the burden of restriction inside public places such as bars and churches on the individual business, does not require the gun owner to carry permit papers with them, and even prevents police from inquiring about a permit unless the gun carrier has committed a crime.

10,000 children are injured or killed every year in this country by the same thing. We should be outraged. If it were a corporation doing this, we would demand laws and criminal processing. If it were a terrorist group, we would demand the almighty forces of our military be used to utterly destroy the enemy. If it were a disease, we would demand the CDC and other government agencies pool their resources and stop at nothing until it could be halted in its tracks.

Flowers for those who died in the Sandy Hook shootings. By VOA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWCnbZaqP40) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers for those who died in the Sandy Hook shootings. By VOA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWCnbZaqP40) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But since it is because of gun violence, we can’t even talk about it. America has passed no federal gun restriction laws since 1993, when President Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law. Since then, we have had a few executive orders signed, the most recent by Pres. Obama in January of 2013 following the Newtown shootings. But there has been no congressional action on this issue, despite studies and reports proving the statistic of our children being slaughtered by 10,000 per year.

I am not an advocate of those who subscribe to the notion that all guns are bad. I hunt, I grew up with firearms and I understand the traditions most Americans cherish in that regard. But I also believe that parents should be able to send their children to school without wondering if they will come home that day. They should not hope someone starts making bullet-proof clothing for children. They should be able to count on their elected officials to respond when the nation faces the loss of our greatest national treasure.

Join Occupy World Writes in our support of Americans For Responsible Solutions. It is worth your time to at least explore and consider the topics presented on their website.

Go ahead – pull the trigger.

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Twenty Eight Years Later

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

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

On April 26, 1986 at 1:23 AM local time, Reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, exploded during a reactor systems test. Two workers died within hours of non-radiological causes, and 40 hours later, the 50,000 people residents of the town were told to evacuate the area. Shortly, the 14,000 residents of Chernobyl itself were told to evacuate. In total, 115,000 people were evacuated from the area in 1986, with another 220,000 being evacuated in subsequent years.

The explosion and the fire that raged for ten days afterwards discharged many radioactive substances. The amount of isotopes released was 300 times greater than the Hiroshima explosion, and in some places, the level of radiation was almost 77,000 times higher than the average background norm and 40 times the maximum permissible.

While Ukraine, Belarus and Russia saw the most contamination, Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Romania and Sweden saw contamination as well. The fallout even made it across the ocean to the North American continent. The total death toll is uncertain. The official death toll is 4,000 including the firemen and plant workers at the site as well as radiation burn victims. However, Greenpeace estimates the death toll to be over 200,000 for the population of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and up to 6 million people globally.

Sign near the control point of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign near the control point of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

These days, Chernobyl, Pripyat and the surrounding area make up the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation, commonly known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Created shortly after the disaster, it’s grown to cover 1000 square miles around the plant. It’s estimated that less than 200 people live within the zone, with another 3000 working on containment and studies. The workers work either 4 days on and 3 days off, or 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re monitored for exposure to radiation.

Not surprisingly, Chernobyl’s also become a tourist destination. The background radiation’s fallen to a much lower level (most of the radiation emitted right after the disaster was from short lived isotopes), and tourists as well as researchers are becoming more and more common.

Have we as a global society learned anything from the Chernobyl disaster? In the case of Europe, Chernobyl brought environmental and clean energy issues front and center as political issues in Germany and other European countries, as it did in the former Soviet bloc. I feel this was a primary motivation behind the solar energy explosion we’ve seen over the last few years in Germany, for example.

power-reactors-map-smBut, then there’s the other side. The current unrest in Ukraine is endangering the cleanup efforts at Chernobyl. We saw first hand what devastation a nuclear accident could cause, yet we still have nuclear power plants built on flood plains operating here in the U.S. We still have nuclear reactors on fault lines. We have many reactors operating near or past their original service life span estimates. And, we can’t forget the ongoing disaster at Fukushima.

When will we ever learn?

 

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Wipe The Tiers Away

By Federal Communications Commission (FCC Website Vectorized by Hazmat2) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Federal Communications Commission (FCC Website Vectorized by Hazmat2) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On April 24th, the FCC proposed new regulations to replace the net neutrality rules that were overturned in Verizon v FCC. I covered that decision and the possible consequences of it in an earlier post. So, what does the proposal cover, and should we be worried about it?

I’ll answer the second question first – yes, we should be worried. As for the first question, while the proposed rules specifically state that they won’t allow the ISPs to slow down access, they also would allow the larger ISPs to charge content providers such as Netflix premium fees for the ability to deliver their content faster. The problems with this should be self evident; there’s a finite amount of bandwidth available, and the smaller ISPs and content providers won’t be able to afford to stay in the game for very long.

A New York Times article reports Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman, as saying that speculation that the F.C.C. was “gutting the open Internet rule” is “flat out wrong,” and that the new rules will provide for net neutrality yet “follow the roadmap established by the court as to how to enforce rules of the road that protect an open Internet.” He further states that the new proposal would prevent them from acting “in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.” Personally, I can’t see how any tiering at all could be considered enforcing neutrality.

Is this the end of the road? Fortunately, not quite yet. The FCC should vote on introducing the proposed rules for public comment on May 15th. Before and during the public comment period, you can contact your Congressthing and let it know that this is not a good plan. Sign the new White House petition, and tell your friends and neighbors why they should sign it, too.

Net neutrality’s still not dead, but it still smells funny…

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They’re Fracking Wrong!

Bob and Lisa Parr with daughter Emma, on their wedding day outside the custom-built home on the 40 acre farm they purchased before any fracking in the area occurred. Photo courtesy TXSharon.

Bob and Lisa Parr with daughter Emma, on their wedding day outside the custom-built home on the 40 acre farm they purchased before any fracking in the area occurred. Photo courtesy TXSharon.

In the country’s first fracking lawsuit that actually made it to trial, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Bob and Lisa Parr, and awarded them $3 million in damages. Aruba Petroleum, the defendants in the case, plan to appeal the ruling to a higher Texas court that has already been bought and paid for by big oil money.

“Aruba argued that it had complied with air quality and drilling safety guidelines set by the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TDECQ). Aruba told jurors the Parrs’ can’t prove it was one of Aruba’s wells that caused them to get sick because the gas wells it drilled, eight within a mile of the Parr land and 14 within two miles, are all over a landscape which features several dozens of other drilling rig operations,” states the Parrs’ attorney’s remarks on the legal firm’s website.

The Parrs filed suit after realizing Lisa’s sudden strange illnesses coincided exactly with when the fracking operations began on the 22 injection wells surrounding their property. Thinking they had purchased a piece of paradise became a nightmare as the health of their livestock and themselves deteriorated quickly. Water tests showed their wells were poisoned with fracking chemicals. Lisa suffered from breathing difficulties, nausea and rashes that left her scarred with pock-marks. She had biopsies of the oozing welts on her scalp and the 4 ping-pong-ball-sized lumps on her neck. Testing showed drilling chemicals in Lisa’s blood and lungs that match chemicals detected by the state in air testing outside her home.

Photo by John Campbell (Verizon Camera phone) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by John Campbell (Verizon Camera phone) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

And this is just what we know of the Parrs, who were strong enough to withstand intimidation and private settlement pressures with the oil company. We do not know how many people have been sickened, nor will we ever know for certain. Yet, for the sake of profit, regulators look the other way and pollution standards are weakened so more profit can be made in the fastest possible time.

There are two things wrong with the current approach: we are allowing the creation of a false “shale oil bubble” in our economy and secondly, we now know these wells that are supposed to produce for 30 to 40 years give out the bulk of their production in the first three to five years. Without bringing in compressors and re-injecting these wells, they lose their productivity. Some have given out completely in as little as three years, and leave the poison and damage to the environment and landscape when they are taken out of service.

The “shale oil bubble” means we are being sold another trunk of junk, like the housing bubble, that promises investors to become independently wealthy very quickly. We are given false promises by the gas and oil companies that lead us to believe the faster we get this stuff out of the ground, the cheaper the gas at the pump will be. Consumers don’t understand that speculators and the oil companies themselves are what drives the gas price at the pump, and they could change that tomorrow if they really wanted to. They have gotten really good at raising our gas prices when someone in the middle east sneezes. One can only wonder if the incredible rush comes from a sense of urgency based on the public not discovering the true hazards until they have done their damage and reaped their rewards.

Occupy World Writes predicts the higher court in Texas will rule in favor of Aruba. We also hope this will then be appealed to the Supreme Court. We hope more than anything else that others will take inspiration from this case and start using the legal system to stop the killing of America for the profits of corporations.

Happy Earth Week!

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Black Eagle: Recognize Your Visitors

Photo by Mark Hefflinger / Bold Nebraska

Photo by Mark Hefflinger / Bold Nebraska

On Tuesday, April 22, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance rode into Washington, DC, and set up their teepees on the mall for a week-long protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Affiliates from Bold Nebraska, landowners, ranchers, Native Americans from several tribes and concerned citizens joined the entourage. The event’s schedule can be found on Bold Nebraska’s website.

In a story dated April 23rd, Rolling Stone Magazine stated that inside sources at the White House revealed that President Obama has indicated he plans to reject the controversial pipeline. While many may breath a sigh of relief upon reading the report, Occupy World Writes is cautiously optimistic that the administration will follow through, and will not relent our appeal to reject this project until an official announcement has been made.

Photo by Mark Hefflinger / Bold Nebraska

Photo by Mark Hefflinger / Bold Nebraska

As a freshman senator campaigning for president in May of 2008, Barack Obama made a stop on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, where he became part of a new family. Hartford and Mary Black Eagle formally adopted Obama as their son during a private traditional Native American ceremony, giving him a new name – Barack Black Eagle – and making him an honorary member of the tribe.

In the history of treaties, agreements and understandings between the American government and Native Americans, the government has a clear track record of disregard and breaking their word whenever conditions would favor them. As a result, Native Americans have acted with great restraint in most all matters, holding their part of the bargain by honoring their sacred word. Perhaps Americans, as a culture, do not understand the significance of something “SACRED,” or perhaps they don’t think giving your word should mean anything now days.

We call on Barack Black Eagle to recognize the encampment on the Washington Mall and acknowledge the sacred concerns of the Native Americans and their contingent. We also think walking through the encampment with his family would allow Malia and Sasha a perspective unlike any other.

Mr. President, THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!

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Human Need vs. Human Greed

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

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

“They paved paradise and they put up a parking lot…” — Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

I remember as a child the fight my grandfather had when an interstate highway was routed through his farmland. Southeastern Minnesota was rich in agriculture at that time, and the planned route would cut directly through his best acreage for crops. It was not pastureland, as the reports the highway department filed stated, so the eminent domain fight began. By the time it was over, my grandfather was paid less than his land was worth. The route was not changed, and it was not long after that time that my grandfather’s farm was no longer viable.

When you are on this highway traveling east on the area that used to be his farm, it now looks barren. It used to have hay and alfalfa fields that secured the soil and prevented erosion. We used to hunt these fields for pheasant in the fall, and deer would graze in them.

What is a national park worth? Clean water? Breathable air? Trees, birds, fish, abundant wildlife, nature’s glory? To many like myself, they are worth more than a corporation’s profits or a politician’s re-election. They are the future for our world, just as our children. And just as our children, they are equally fragile and our responsibility to protect.

When it comes to environment against corporations, landowners against developers, the winner is almost always someone’s bottom line. Corporations choose where they want to build, cities accommodate their requests by condemning homes or city parks. Arizona was attempting to push through bills to allow mining in the Grand Canyon before public outrage caused them to retract them. Imagine this in every national or state park across the country.

Photo by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the 22nd of April, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. In 1990, the observation became an international movement. Since that time, the rest of the world has embraced Earth Day annually. Although many in the US talk environmentalism on this day, the rest of the year is spent watching Congress try to abolish the EPA, repeal legislation that promotes alternative energy and reject climate change science as fact, instead clinging to “job-killing regulations” claims to justify corporate plundering of our natural resources.

Does your high school have a conservation or gardening class? Have you thought about how big your carbon foot print is? How can you reduce it? Does your employer recycle? How many high rise upscale apartment buildings do we need to build? Why are we not refurbishing old buildings and abandoned factories instead of increasing the seizure of green space in our cities and countrysides? Is your state willing to build a sports stadium before tackling the homeless problem? Do you wait until just that one day each year to think about these things?

If you do not think of every day of the year as earth day, there will one day come a time you will wonder what on earth happened to the earth.

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Going Postal

By Tim1965 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim1965 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the United States Postal Service is in fiscal hot water, and has been for quite a while. However, you may not know the reasons why this is the case, and why what happens with the USPS is important to all of us. To understand it all, we need to review the recent history of the postal service in this country.

On March 18, 1970, New York postal workers went on strike against the U.S. government over wages and working conditions- at that time, the postal service in this country was a cabinet level department known as the Post Office. While the strike gained support nationwide, the workers didn’t win any immediate concessions, it did lead to the forming of unions and an eventual negotiation with the government over contracts.

Later the same year, President Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act, which disbanded the Post Office and created an independent entity, the United States Postal Service, which took effect in July of 1971. This made the Postal Service a government-run corporation instead of an actual government department. This also meant it was self-supporting, with no public money to help support it.

Then came the Reagan years, and like so many other things we’ve discussed recently, they didn’t bode well for the Postal Service. His administration’s report from 1988, Privatization: Toward More Effective Governmentrecommended that the Postal Service more actively pursue contracting out opportunities in all of its functions. At the same time, the Postal Service released the USPS Procurement Manualwhich made it easier for management to outsource without worrying about “full and open competition.” 

The Postal Service had $12 billion in outside contracts in 2010, with the largest being FedEx (those FedEx boxes outside the post office? Yep- that was part of the outsourcing due to the new procurement manual). And, because it’s outsourced so many of its functions, the quality of the service has suffered; the classic “too many cooks” syndrome.

By Amtrakfan4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Amtrakfan4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, the icing on the cake. In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This law requires the Postal Service to prefund parts of their employee pension fund for seventy five years into the future; something that neither any government entity or privately held corporation needs to do. This, of course, has led to budget shortfalls and the Postal Service losing money. The proposed solution? In 2011, the Postmaster General stated that the Postal Service will close half of its 32,000 post offices over the next few years, selling off the old buildings. He also proposed stopping Saturday mail delivery as a necessary cost reduction.

But, you might ask, why all this focus on the Postal Service. The answer’s simple- the Postal Workers Union. The Postal Service is the third largest employer in the nation after the Federal government and WalMart, and it’s the largest unionized employer. Breaking the union’s always been the main goal behind all this focus.

Which brings us to now. Earlier this year, Staples and the USPS announced a deal, where postal service offices would be placed in selected Staples locations, and if successful, would spread to more locations. The catch? The locations would be staffed by Staples employees, and not Postal Service employees. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t sit well with the union.

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with the American Postal Workers Union. We call on Staples to respect the union and its members, and we call on Congress to stop imposing the undue and unique hardship that the pension funding requirements places on the USPS. We categorically reject any further moves towards privatization of the Postal Service. The postal service in this country was once a model for the whole world; its duties are even defined in the Constitution. But these days, we and Somalia are the only countries where the postal system isn’t underwritten by the government; the Founding Fathers would be screaming bloody murder over what we’ve done to it.

We can do better than this…

 

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Our Rivers Run Through It

These stones are often walked across by visitors to the place the Mississippi begins. Photo By Mark Evans from Orange City, USA (MN18) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

These stones are often walked across by visitors to the place the Mississippi begins. Photo By Mark Evans from Orange City, USA (MN18) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Itasca State Park is the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi, America’s longest river. When you visit this park in Minnesota, you are in an area of the state seemingly untouched by industry and urbanization. You see only wildlife, hear only birds and the water is crystal clear and ice cold as it trickles over rocks in areas you can literally step across or straddle the river as it begins it journey through the state.

The Mississippi reaches the Twin Cities after winding its way through northern Minnesota; remote farmland and wooded countrysides. By the time it reaches St. Paul, the water has a distinct stench to it, and is not suitable for wading or swimming. By the time it reaches Winona, before leaving its home state, it smells putrid and one must be desperate to consider fishing it for food consumption. Fish are not healthy. The last time I fished this portion of the river, the fish were so contaminated their flesh mushed in my hand when I was attempting to take them off the hook. That was in 1996.

On April 9, 2014, American Rivers Conservation released their “America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report… a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.”

San Joaquin River in California. Photo By Dave Gatley (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

San Joaquin River in California. Photo By Dave Gatley (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Topping the list this year is the San Joaquin River in California. Drought and poor water management policies have threatened wildlife and the water supply of the four million people living in the watershed. The river and its tributaries support some of the most productive and profitable agriculture in the world, irrigating more than two million acres of arid land. Without immediate action, all this is endangered.

To see the complete list of 10 rivers named, click here.

Instead of further consideration of defunding, if not totally abolishing, the EPA and other agencies protecting public health and resources, Congress needs to step up and understand saving rivers saves jobs and stabilizes local economies along their banks.

What jobs? Recreation and fishing industries provide jobs and millions of dollars to local economies annually. Agriculture does not exist without water for irrigation of crops. This affects food supplies of grains and feed for livestock. Toxic water makes people sick, contributing to worsened health conditions and illnesses.

Increased industrialization and development of gas and oil drilling will contribute to these serious problems. From the increased traffic of heavy trucks along the banks of these rivers to the toxic runoff and water discharges from drilling and fracking operations, the problem will only increase without intervention. And let’s not forget about the Dan River in North Carolina, polluted with coal ash thanks to Duke Energy, or Freedom Industries’ contribution to the polluted waters of the Elk River in West Virginia.

Congress, while responsible to the public, receives large sums of money from lobbyists in order to allow for more policies favoring corporations, regardless. The mantra of “job-killing regulations” does not translate to what this really means to most Americans – and media is shirking their responsibility to report the problem in its full impacting consequences.

As a result, we will one day wake up and realize all our rivers are poisoned, our fish and birds are dead, we are unable to grow crops, our tap water lights on fire with a match and our cancer rates are skyrocketing. We will ask why, and the government will commission a three year study at tax payer expense to come back and say it is too late to save the environment, but they set up contracts with several corporations to import fresh clean water from China.

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