Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Safest Ever Built?

Keystone XL protest, Washington D.C. 2013. By Jmcdaid (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Keystone XL protest, Washington D.C. 2013. By Jmcdaid (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On January 22, TransCanada started shipping oil through the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. That day, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a conference call with reporters: “Showing people that this isn’t an export pipeline, that it can be operated safely, should provide the base underpinning and evidence that the Keystone XL is at the end of the day just another piece of energy infrastructure… It’s just a pipeline and it can be built and operated safely.” He also said that the pipeline was the safest ever built.

Three days ago, on May 28, it became known that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) had quietly added two additional regulations after finding out about potentially dangerous defects in the same southern leg that was touted as the safest pipeline ever built. The first requires TransCanada to hire a third party contractor hired by the PHMSA to monitor the construction of the pipeline and make reports to the safety administration on whether the work is sound. The second requires TransCanada to adopt a quality management program to ensure that the pipeline is “built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors.”

Why the added regulations? In a letter to TransCanada from September 26, PHMSA said TransCanada had experienced a “high weld rejection rate,” with 72 percent of welds needing repair over the course of just one week. In another week, TransCanada had stopped welding work after 205 out of 425 welds required repairs. PHMSA also said that their inspectors had found that TransCanada wasn’t using approved welding procedures, and that the company had improperly tested the welders they hired – in other words, they weren’t qualified to do the job.

Another letter dated September 10 stated that inspectors discovered that parts of the pipeline had been laid without properly clearing rocks away from pipeline trenches. They also noticed that a corrosion-resistant coating had been damaged in numerous places by improper welding. This led to TransCanada digging up the pipeline in 97 different places to repair the coating. A November report found that TransCanada had dug up the pipeline 125 times to fix dents and sags. And, this is the safest pipeline ever built?

Over the last couple years, there’s been a groundswell of people across the globe raising awareness of the danger to climate and the environment from pipelines, fracking and the fossil fuel industry in general. On the other side, Big Oil and Big Coal have deep pockets and plenty of Congressthings to do their bidding and stop anything that might interfere with their profits.

Twenty years from now, 2014 will be seen as a defining point with how we deal with climate and the environment. It’s up to us to see that the good guys win; otherwise it’ll be known as the year we went past the point of no return.

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Separation Anxiety

“Life is what gets in the way while you are making other plans.”

Photo author's own work. ©2014 Occupy World Writes. Used by permission.

Photo author’s own work. ©2014 Occupy World Writes. Used by permission.

People move through life with expectations; the sun will come up tomorrow, the earth is round, the mail delivery will bring your bills and your vehicle will start when you turn the key. We also have expectations of others; your parents will always love you, your boss will reward you for a job well done, your friends will stand by you as well as protect you from yourself and your family will always be there in times of need.

Sometimes this flow of life gets interrupted. When this happens, the effects can be devastating. You can lose focus, motivation, drive and ambition in the same instant that an event occurs, even though you may not realize the consequences until further down the road. You can think you are prepared for any crisis, that nothing can deter you from your goals. But then it happens.

Everything changes.

Maybe it is through inconvenience of something not working, maybe a coworker or friend that lets you down. Perhaps it is the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the death of a family member or dear friend, even the death of a beloved pet is enough. Regardless the cause, the derailment is now before you, and you feel powerless to get things back to whatever “normal” might be.

Through a recent experience that has caused me to even be unable to write, I have learned something valuable. You will always benefit more when you take the time to allow the process of inner reflection to occur at its own pace. It teaches you to pause in life’s busy moments to appreciate things that otherwise would go unnoticed. It reminds you that everyone grieves their own way, in their own time and it is not for you to judge.

What does this have to do with Occupy World Writes and why is this post here? Because I am again reminded that until you have actually been in the shoes of those you are concerned for or about, you can not pass judgement on how you think they should act, feel or speak. Until you have suffered the same tragedy, been chased from your home by terrorists or war, been nearly starved to death, held in captivity against your will, suffered the burden of a corrupt government, or have been persecuted for your religious faith, do not judge those who have.

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with all those who understand personal grief, overcoming adversity and learning growth through the penalty of loss. As individuals and members of society, we feel it is the right of every individual to learn from tragedy in such a way that their life will become enriched over time from the experience. We also understand the importance of offering your support to those who are handed a platter of life’s cruel food. The next time someone seems out of sorts, take the time to ask them if you can help them through something somehow, and then listen to them when they answer.

Sometimes the soft voices are the ones that carry the most impact.

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Defunding Reality

David McKinley. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

David McKinley. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In a post from earlier this month, I wrote about some of the most recent climate studies that have been released. I discussed the Lovejoy study, as well as the IPPC report and the National Climate Assessment. They all told the same story; that climate change is real, it’s happening now and that we are at least partly responsible for it. I also discussed Senator Marco Rubio’s denial of what the studies say.

In March, the Department of Defense released the 2014 version of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that highlights the threats posed to national security by ever-worsening global climate disruption. This is not a new position for the DoD, as they have stated on four separate occasions since 2008 that climate change will exacerbate tensions and conflicts. They said the same thing in the 2010 QDR as they did in the 2014 QDR ; in fact, they dedicated a whole section to climate change in the 2010 report. 

So, there’s been numerous reports sounding the alarm about climate change, and the Pentagon itself says it’s a grave national security issue. What did our Congressthings do when presented with the evidence?

Last Thursday (May 23), the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)  that “would prohibit defense spending on climate change research and the social cost of carbon analysis.”  The amendment, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) reads: “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.”

The amendment passed on an almost strictly party line vote, with 227 Republicans and four Democrats voting for it.

Occupy World Writes calls on our government to get its act together. We’ve seen one political party become the anti-science, anti-education party, and unfortunately they control one house of our government. It’s past time for them to pull their collective heads out of the sandand/or stop their political posturing, and face reality. The old adage of “If you ignore it, it will go away” isn’t going to work for climate change.

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Conflict Of Judgement

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

Scott Walker. By Gage Skidmore [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I wrote about my crazy neighbors across the river in Wisconsin. One of the “stars” of that piece was Governor Scott Walker. Scott’s had a rather interesting term as Governor; he’s survived a recall election and has had numerous investigations of his campaign and administration.

On May 6,  Judge Rudolph Randa of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ordered prosecutors to stop their investigation into the campaign spending and fundraising activities of Walker, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups immediately. The investigations were trying to discover if the Walker campaign and the conservative groups had illegally coordinated campaign strategies during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections in Wisconsin.

In his ruling, he told prosecutors to return all of the property seized during their investigation and to destroy copies of documents they obtained during their searches.The next day, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Randa’s order, ruling that he had overstepped his authority when he ordered the destruction of the documents. On May 8, Randa reissued his order, saying that the appeal was “frivolous” and at one point “the height of frivolousness.” The Circuit Court of Appeals responded by putting a stay on any destroying of documents.

On May 9, the Wisconsin State Journal disclosed that one of the judge’s assistants was married to a lawyer for the Walker campaign. Geoffrey Hazard, an expert on judicial ethics, stated that Randa wasn’t required to recuse himself from the case, “but it raises a question of prudence.”

Yesterday, the Center for Media and Democracy reported that Judge Randa attended privately-funded, all-expenses-paid judicial seminars put on by George Mason University in 200620082010 and 2012The seminars basically are privately-funded all-expenses paid trips for judges, with conference sponsors picking up the costs of a judge’s flights, hotel rooms, and meals.

The Charles G. Koch Foundation gave $350,000 to George Mason University in 2006, $2.78 million in 2008 and $4.7 million in 2010. In 2012, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation gave $5.5 million to the school. The Kochs are the money behind Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the main targets of the investigation. I think I see a pattern here…

The conflicts of interest are stunning. First the assistant married to a Walker campaign lawyer, and now this. But, this is business as usual in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. This will be one worth watching…

 

 

 

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What The Frack?

Governor Pat McCrory. By Hal Goodtree from Cary, North Carolina, USA (Pat McCrory) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Governor Pat McCrory. By Hal Goodtree from Cary, North Carolina, USA (Pat McCrory) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On May 22, the North Carolina Senate approved a bill that would lift the current moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state and offshore by July of next year. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, and if passed there, to Governor Pat McCrory.

Why is this news? Because the Senate bill also makes it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in fracking. Under the “Energy Modernization Act,” a state geologist would be the custodian of confidential information about fracking fluids. The information could be given to healthcare providers, local police and fire departments in case of an emergency.

Any other disclosure, and any disclosure by somebody other than the state geologist, would be a misdemeanor. It was originally going to be a mandatory felony charge, but the Senate reduced the penalty after objections from Democratic lawmakers in the North Carolina government, as well as national public outrage.

We have to wonder why North Carolina’s pushing fracking. There isn’t that much extractable gas in the state, and the natural gas industry’s showing little support for the bill. Why is the state pushing so hard to lift a ban on gas drilling before its Mining and Energy Commission even has a chance to draft and receive comment on the rules that would regulate fracking?

North Carolina has a horrible environmental record in the last few years; you only need to look at the Duke Energy/coal ash fiasco to be worried about how North Carolina will deal with the possible environmental impact of fracking. We’ve had evidence linking fracking to water pollution in at least four states. In McCrory, North Carolina has a governor who’s intervened in lawsuits against polluters, thus leaving them with minor slaps on the wrist and no real obligation to clean up their messes.

Once again, it seems that short term profits for a few trump the health and quality of life of the many. But, is there anything that can be done? In January, the EPA released requirements that companies fracking off the California coast must disclose the chemicals used as of March 1. This follows Governor Jerry Brown requiring companies fracking on land in California to disclose what chemicals they use.

Occupy World Writes calls for this to be the law nationwide. We hear all the time that drilling and the like are steps towards a brighter future. Without clean drinking water, we won’t have a future.

 

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The Ultimate Sacrifice

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg. Photo by Henryhartley at en.wikipedia Statue: Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg. Photo by Henryhartley at en.wikipedia Statue: Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On May 5, 1868, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans known as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), established Decoration Day. Copying a holiday called Confederate Memorial Day that had been celebrated in the South since 1866, he proclaimed Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. May 30 was set as the date, as flowers would be in bloom all over the country by then.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American Wars, and not just the Civil War.

Although most if not all states celebrated Memorial Day, it didn’t become a national holiday until 1971. The same act of Congress that made it a national holiday also made it the last Monday in May instead of May 30.

Confederate Memorial at the Alabama State Capitol. Photo by User:Spyder_Monkey (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Confederate Memorial at the Alabama State Capitol. Photo by User:Spyder_Monkey (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Many Southern states also have a holiday for honoring the Confederate dead other than Memorial Day.  Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.

With Memorial Day now being the last Monday in May, it seems to be looked at more as the start of summer and a three day weekend instead of what it was supposed to be for; honoring the dead. An old friend of mine has three sons who’ve served in Iraq or Afghanistan; his oldest son, who was wounded in Iraq, puts it better than I ever could:

For most people I know, Memorial Day weekend holds no more significance than just an extra day off to party. If that’s you, I don’t hold it against you because I know that unless you’ve been to war & lost friends in a combat zone, you can’t understand.”

We can do better than this; we can do our best to understand. We can take the time to reflect on what price those brave men and women paid for our benefit.

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Marching Against Monsanto Madness

Tami Canal, founder of March Against Monsanto. By SarahBethB1 (March Against Monsanto Salt Lake City, UT 5.25.13) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tami Canal, founder of March Against Monsanto. By SarahBethB1 (March Against Monsanto Salt Lake City, UT 5.25.13) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On November 6, 2012, Proposition 37 was rejected by California voters. The ballot measure would have required labeling of genetically engineered food (with some exceptions), and would have disallowed the labeling of genetically engineered food with the word “natural”. In response to that outcome, Tami Monroe Canal founded March Against Monsanto, believing that it was in her daughters’ best long term interests.

Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seed, as well as being the manufacturer of herbicides such as Roundup. The herbicides have been proven to cause health risks such as birth defects, cancer, organ damage and auto-immune conditions. The genetically engineered seed has been the centerpoint of numerous patent lawsuits here in the U.S., with the prime example being Bowman v Monsanto Corporation. In the Bowman case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Bowman, a farmer who had bought seed from a grain elevator, was guilty of patent infringement as the elevator had some Monsanto seed in it, and that he specifically bought from the elevator to skirt Monsanto’s  contract saying that a farmer cannot save seeds from previous crops and must buy new seed each year from Monsanto. 

Blister caused by Roundup exposure. By Tael (own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

Blister caused by Roundup exposure. By Tael (own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

Monsanto was also one of the two companies producing Agent Orange for the U.S. government; the other being Dow Chemical. The horrors of Agent Orange exposure are too lengthy to go into here; it’s been linked to numerous diseases, cancers and mutations, as well as being an ecological disaster for the countries it was used in.

The first March Against Monsanto was held on May 23, 2013 in over 350 cities, mostly in the U.S. The second was held on October 12. Yesterday, May 24, the third March Against Monsanto took place, with events happening in more than 50 countries and 400 cities around the globe. It’s hard to say how many people took part in yesterday’s events; last year over 2 million people marched in the protests,

March Against Monsanto May 2014, San Francisco. Photo by Occupy Monsanto via Facebook

March Against Monsanto May 2014, San Francisco. Photo by Occupy Monsanto via Facebook

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with yesterday’s marchers. We’ve seen how Monsanto, slowly but surely, is positioning itself to become the only player in town when it comes to providing seed for the crops we eat. We’ve seen the devastation their herbicides, pesticides and defoliants create. And, crop diseases and pests who eat the crops are mutating to become herbicide and pesticide resistant.

The time to stop Monsanto’s madness is now.

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More Empty Promises

Winona laDuke (Honor the Earth). By Eclectek (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

Winona laDuke (Honor the Earth). By Eclectek (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

Back in March, I talked about Enbridge Energy’s proposed pipeline projects in northern Minnesota, One of them, the Sandpiper pipeline, is an all new pipeline from western North Dakota to Superior, part of it along new routes from past lines, which would be mostly to handle oil from the Bakken oil fields.

Honor the Earth, a Native American nonprofit organization, argued in hearings before Judge Eric Lipman on May 7 that 10 treaties signed between 1825 and 1864 by Minnesota Native American tribes give the tribes a say in where to build crude oil pipelines. They said that the pipeline would produce “inevitable oil spills and environmental degradation” on ceded lands. Spills could endanger Rice Lake near McGregor and Sandy Lake in ­Aitkin County where the Chippewa tribe harvest wild rice, as well as hunt and fish. They proposed a different route running south of the current proposed route as an alternative.

But, on May 20, Judge Lipman ruled that an 1855 treaty does not bar the later acqusition of a route. In his ruling, he stated: “The treaty does not forbid creation of new rights of way on the land that was sold in 1855.” Lipman further went on to say that evidence presented so far does not support the claim that treaty rights will be harmed, but If Chippewa property rights were impaired by the pipeline, the remedy would be to compensate the Indians.

Image via Facebook

Image via Facebook

Peter Erlinder of the International Humanitarian Law Institute and co-counsel for Honor the Earth in the suit, responded: “For a long time, in the analysis of these treaties, they have been treated like documents from outer space that somehow existed apart from regular law. They are just plain, regular contracts.”

The fight isn’t over. While Lipman’s ruling may have some impact in the final decision, that decision will be made by the Public Utilities Commission, and there’s a good chance that the PUC’s decision will end up being appealed in federal court no matter which way they decide.

We’ve seen the same thing happening everywhere with pipeline projects; the governments deciding that the treaties they signed with the original residents of the land are null and void when it comes to allowing the oil companies to make a profit. Alberta, British Columbia, Nebraska, Minnesota – the list of broken promises continues to grow.

Of what value are we as a society if we can’t keep our word?

 

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Killing In The Name Of Your God

Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On May 15, a Sudanese court sentenced Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, a pregnant Christian mother married to a Christian man, to death for “apostasy.” According to Islamic law, apostasy is defined as a number of actions including  conversion to another religion, denying the existence of God, rejecting the prophets, mocking God or the prophets, idol worship, rejecting the sharia, or permitting behavior that is forbidden by the sharia, such as adultery or the eating of forbidden foods or drinking of alcoholic beverages.

As her father was a Muslim (he abandoned the family when Mariam was young), she was considered by the court to be Muslim and thus guilty, even though she had been raised by her mother, who is an Orthodox Christian. She was also convicted of adultery, as the court doesn’t recognize her three year old marriage to a Christian, and was sentenced to 100 lashes for that in addition to the death sentence.

The judge had given her a four day grace period to recant her Christian faith to escape the death penalty. She refused, telling the judge“I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.,” The sentence is stayed for two years so that her child may be born and weaned. She also has her 20 month old son in jail with her.

For obvious reasons, the international community is up in arms over this. Both the Dutch and United Kingdom Ministries of Foreign Affairs have had meetings with their respective Sudanese ambassadors over the matter. Amnesty International says that “…Mariam is a prisoner of conscience,” and also states that: “Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all. It is flagrant breach of international human rights law,” According to Al Jazeera, Sudan Change Now, a Sudanese youth movement, released a statement denouncing the case as a violation of her human and civil rights, an invasion of her privacy and spotlights the Sudan government as continuing “crimes of social discrimination against women, social groups, and [the] religious sects to which Mariam belongs.”

For their part, the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C. issued a bizarre press release claiming that Mariam had never changed her name, her mother was not Christian as she claims and that Mariam was arrested after her family had filed a missing persons report. They further claim that the issue is strictly legal and not religious. Personally, I think that killing somebody for changing religions is about as religious as it gets, but I digress…

Occupy World Writes calls on the Sudanese government to drop all charges and release Meriam and her son immediately. We furthermore call on all governments, religions, churches and people to stop discriminating against, hating, prosecuting and/or killing people who are different from you in the name of whatever God you claim to believe in. We’re pretty sure that’s not what He or She wants…

 

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One Way To Fight Rape Culture

Photo by Atomic Grill via Facebook

Photo by Atomic Grill via Facebook

Rape culture is one of the biggest human rights issues facing us. It’s a global problem, and we see stories in the news every day where rape culture and the sexism that fosters it bring tragedy into women’s lives. MNgranny’s written numerous articles about it and the impact on society, and sometimes we despair of ever having good news in the war on those attitudes. But, today we have one piece of good news.

Atomic Grill is a barbecue restaurant in Morgantown, West Virginia. Recently, a customer had left a review on UrbanSpoon requesting that the staff “show more skin.” The review singled out one server in particular and “got a little obsessive, a little creepy,” to the point where coworkers would escort her out to her car when she left work, according to Daniel McCawley, Atomic Grill’s owner.  “I’m a father and a husband, I’ve got five sisters,” he said. “So this sort of thing hit home especially hard for me.”

Daniel’s response was brilliant, and hopefully will serve as a model for others. From now through the Memorial day weekend, Atomic Grill will be featuring a $7 potato skins special, asking customers to “Come out and help Atomic show our skins! Potato skins, that is!” 

All of the profits from the special will be donated to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services. McCawley explains that the organization does much for women’s rights in West Virginia, and said; “We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is.” 

The response has been overwhelming, with support coming in from all over the world. For example, one lady in Oregon has donated money so that the staff could hand out potato skins to whoever walked in.

Occupy World Writes applauds Mr. McCawley for his concern for his employees, and for his brilliant response to a boorish customer. We also encourage you to like Atomic Grill on Facebook. We hope that both his feelings and his actions inspire others to stand up to sexism and rape culture in their communities.

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