Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Home Worth Saving

Photo by USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory from Beltsville, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory from Beltsville, USA [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Basic education in America includes lessons in civics: specifically the formation, purpose and operation of the government. We are taught that our Constitution provides for three branches of government to serve as a system a checks and balances so that one ideology or platform does not have dominance over all others; so that unjust laws can be changed; so that the people have redress for their grievances.

The three branches, executive, legislative and judicial, are designed to provide stability to the democracy of the nation, much as a 3-legged stool provides more stability than a stool of two or four legs. This is what children are taught across the country, unquestionably one of the most expected lessons they will learn during their education. It becomes part of the “religion” of being American to understand this function in its design and purpose.

America has seen this stool become weak. It is being attacked by termites. Piece by piece, we are watching the deterioration of our solid stool, and with it goes the faith in our country and our patriotism as a collective.

What are the termites, you ask? The influx of money within all three branches has caused a deeper polarization of the divides between and within political parties, elected officials and even filtering down to large sections of our populace.

Examples can be clearly seen in any news account. Listen to the rhetoric of protesters on the southern border. Compare Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks about how Israel is justified in their actions while the international community is horrified at the deaths of over 90 children and the injuring of more than 600 additional innocent kids within the Gaza Strip. Consider SCOTUS rulings that first, through Citizens United and then through Hobby Lobby, have shown the court to be biased and irresponsible in the application of their duties.

And then we can talk about the austerity measures being brought about through a do-nothing congress, state houses that reward corporations while citizens go without clean, running water and/or electricity and a tightening of the food assistance programs around the waists of the nation’s children. We are privatizing schools, police forces, city administrations and hospitals in such a way that we no longer can offer reasonable protections to the most vulnerable of our country’s population.

If there is one way to strike fear in the heart of any homeowner, it is to tell them their house is infested with termites. The response will be immediate, the cost will not be prohibitive, and the results will be expected or the process will be repeated.

Why is our country not worth the same protection?

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Don’t Disabled Workers Deserve the Minimun?

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

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

Harold and Sheila Leigland are blind. They live in Great Falls, Montana, where 66-year-old Harold, a former massage therapist with a college degree, hangs clothes at the Goodwill store for $5.46 per hour. Last summer, Sheila was forced to quit her position at Goodwill doing the same job as Harold when her wage was dropped from $3.50 to $2.75 per hour following knee surgery.

Every six months, Harold is subjected to time studies to determine if his wage can be lowered or raised. Sheila explains that this was the most humiliating and stressful part of her previous position at Goodwill. She felt that the tests are made more difficult to justify lowering wages, despite consistencies workers show in job performance.

They actually have it quite good in Great Falls at the Goodwill store. Some states pay their disabled workers as little as .22 cents and hour, with one state reporting wages as low as ONE CENT per hour. In case you think (or hope) there must be a law being broken here, sadly we must inform you that this is entirely legal. Due to a 1938 loophole in the law which has never been corrected, modernized or abolished altogether, employers can hire disabled workers for less than minimum wage. Currently, estimates are that over 216,000 workers are affected.

Section 14(c) of the FLSA authorizes employers, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay special minimum wages wages less than the Federal minimum wage to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed. “A worker who has disabilities for the job being performed is one whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those relating to age or injury. Disabilities which may affect productive capacity include blindness, mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, alcoholism and drug addiction.”

FOH Chapter 64, Employment of Workers with Disabilities at Special Minimum Wages under Section 14(c), provides general guidance on the administration and enforcement of this program. It is over 100 pages in length.

Goodwill is not the only employer to use this loophole to pay less than federal minimum wage to disabled workers. Most employers taking advantage of the loophole are charitable organizations, where CEO earnings are often upward of a half million dollars.

Mental illness includes depression, panic disorder and PTSD. So for all practical purposes, it is completely legal for a veteran to return from service and finally find employment while attempting to adjust back to civilian life, only to be paid as little as the employer determines to pay. If a victim of a car accident survives the injuries but remains disabled for life, they can look forward to never being able to earn even the federal minimum wage. If an aging worker wants to continue working, the employer can reduce the wage to an unsustainable level, forcing the worker to quit.

Goodwill includes in their mission statement that it is their goal “to eliminate barriers to opportunity and help people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” We do not believe that should include exploitation of disabled workers, and call on individuals to make a personal choice to boycott Goodwill until all employees are paid the same federal minimum wage, regardless of disabilities.

Occupy World Writes calls on legislators in Washington to correct this stain on America’s spirit of fairness and non-discrimination in her employment laws. We encourage those who agree that Section 14(c) of the FLSA needs to be abolished join with other voices by signing the petition at the link below. We also strongly suggest writing or calling your representative or congressional member and ask them to correct this wrong.

Disabled Rights are Civil Rights. Civil Rights are Human Rights.

Click here to sign the petition!

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Silencing Truth

Ayman Mohyeldin. Photo By Abdo26 (Own work by Ayman) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ayman Mohyeldin. Photo By Abdo26 (Own work by Ayman) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On the afternoon of July 16, Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC News correspondent specializing in covering the Gaza Strip crisis, spent some time on the on the way back to his hotel, where he kicked a ball around with a group of Palestinian boys, age 9 to 11, all from the same family. He then proceeded to his hotel and the boys left the sidestreet and proceeded to the beach across the street from the hotel. Moments later, he witnessed an Israeli gunboat approach the beach and launch an attack. Instinctively, the frightened boys ran, and were gunned down on the beach.  Four of them died.

We aren’t going to go into Israel’s insistence that they are specifically targeting only military targets. We want to mention that the media center was one of the first targets in Gaza City when the latest incursion began. But what we want to really focus on here is what happened with this correspondent following his recounting of the event he witnessed. He was instrumental, both in social media and on the air, in conveying to the world the visceral horror of the attack.

Ayman Mohyeldin is an Egyptian-American who speaks Arabic, integral to successfully reporting on the Middle East. He is highly respected and known for his accuracy. He has covered dozens of major Middle East events in the last decade for CNN, NBC and Al Jazeera English.

NBC has silenced him. Strangely missing, with the only excuse given as “security concerns,” he has been instructed to leave Gaza immediately. Is NBC protecting him from the Israeli decision to launch a ground offensive? If that were so, why would they turn around and send in Richard Engel, with a less experienced cameraman who speaks no Arabic, to report from within Gaza?

CNN correspondent Diana Magnay was re-assigned to Moscow after she referred to a group of Israelis who cheered the bombing of Gaza on Thursday as “scum” after a group of them threatened to burn her vehicle if she reported something they disapproved of. The comment was delivered via her Twitter post, not on the air. It has since been removed.

Al Jazeera staff and journalists have been sentenced to 7 and 10 years in Egypt for their coverage of both sides of the story. We hear reports, when they can get published, of other journalists that are held hostage and others that are killed. It appears that journalism has become a very dangerous profession.

Not telling a story does not change truth. History has proven that truth always surfaces over time. Those who choose to attempt suppression of the truth wish not to live in an enlightened world, but rather in darkness and atrocity. When there is justification for actions, the human tendency is tell everyone of the accomplishment.

What are you afraid of? Will silencing the messenger change the truth?

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What Have We Learned?

Photo By User:Hohum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By User:Hohum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On June 28th 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot to death by Gavrio Princip in Sarajevo. The alliances between the European countries at that time made armed conflict inevitable. On July 28th 1914 the first shots of World War One were fired. During this war of tactical stalemate, modern weapons of mass destruction were invented, deployed and perfected.

Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, China in July of 1937, and portions of Vietnam in 1940. Germany invaded Poland on September 1st 1939 which started the war that would become World War Two. On June 25th 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. In October of 1961 the United States invaded Cuba. In 1964 the North Vietnamese fired on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin escalating the Vietnam War. In 1967 the Israeli’s launched surprise attacks against Egypt, Jordan and Syria in what became known as the Six-Day War. On December 27th 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan. The list is seemingly endless.  Invasions and wars in Lebanon, The Falklands, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq (again), Afghanistan (again), and in 2014 Crimea and Ukraine.

And as of today, July 17th,  2014, we learn that Israel has invaded the Gaza Strip which was part of the territory it fought over in 1967. In yesterday’s post we read about the horrors of DIME munitions and White Phosphorous. One of the horrors of World War One was Phosgene gas.  While not related to White Phosphorous, the pattern of using chemical weapons against an enemy has only gotten more refined in the last 100 years.

With today’s advances in weaponry making war more impersonal and the ravages of war more heinous, we ask the question, “What have we learned?”

We have learned that in the past 100 years, sadly, we CAN’T all get along. And that wars and conflicts will be waged for the same reasons that they were waged in 1914. Munitions makers will gladly provide weaponry to whichever side can afford it. Genocide is still attempted. Mechanized warfare is even more impersonal if much more deadly than ever before.

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with the true losers in these conflicts. Innocent civilians whose lives and livelihoods are disrupted or ended tragically by the ravages of war.

 

 

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Brother, Can You Spare a DIME?

In 2006, the United States Air Force developed a new brand of weaponry. The idea was to create a large explosion in a more compacted area than traditional munitions currently delivered. The weapon, according to the military magazine “Defence Tech”, is called DIME which means “Dense Inert Metal Explosive”. It is a carbon shell, that after discharge breaks into small splinters. At the same time, there is the explosion of a charge which shoots a blade of tungsten dust charged with energy which burns and destroys everything in the radius of four meters with a really precise slant. Tungsten is reported to be a cancer causing agent.

By mid-October of 2006, reports began to surface from the Gaza Strip from doctors and medics treating injuries from weaponry unlike anything they were familiar with. ” According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the weapon was launched from drones in the summer of 2006, most of them in July, and led to “abnormally serious” physical injuries. Physicians in the Gaza Strip noted the pattern of wounds they were treating were unusual, with severed legs that showed signs of severe heat at the point of amputation but no metal shrapnel,” reports an article from Global Security.

On January 14, 2009, Democracy Now published an article, “White Phosphorous and Dense Inert Metal Explosives: Is Israel Using Banned and Experimental Munitions in Gaza?” The report began, “Israel is coming under increasing criticism for its possible use of banned and experimental munitions. Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of illegally firing white phosphorous, which causes horrific burns if it comes in contact with the skin, over crowded refugee camps in Gaza. Medics and human rights groups are also reporting that they are seeing injuries distinctive of another controversial weapon, Dense Inert Metal Explosive, known as DIME, that was designed by the US Air Force in 2006. Those struck by the weapon who survive suffer severe mutilations and internal injuries.”

Forward to July 15, 2014, when Rania Khalek writes an article published on WilliamBowles.info, “Israel Firing Experimental Weapons At Gaza’s Civilians, Say Doctors.” Again, the major news outlets remain silent on the issue. Coverage includes the low to absent inventories of emergency supplies at the hospitals, and the fact that many of the doctors and medics have gone either unpaid or drastically reduced earnings as the government of the Gaza Strip struggles to move forward. The coverage has managed to garnish international support for the civilians of the Gaza Strip, while causing a division in support of Israel’s policies toward the region.

Occupy World Writes calls on Israel to re-think the use of DIME weaponry in the Gaza Strip. We reject the notion that civilians can be used as lab rats in the testing of new weaponry, be it developed by Israel or one of her allies. We feel the Israeli people must ask their government if the treatment of Palestinian civilians in a manner reflective of their own past persecution should be the best way to settle differences with one’s neighbor.

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By Their Deeds Shall Ye Know Them

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Discrimination takes many forms. Perhaps its most dangerous form is when the person or group discriminating does it in the name of religion or national security. Populism and social identity have a tendency to be the loudest voices in the room, and few others can get a word in edgewise.

By now, you are completely aware of the border crisis taking place in Texas and Arizona. While I watch the news reports, see the people with their home made signs, and hear the vitriol spewing from the mouths of “Americans”, there are a few questions that come to my mind.

Did you notice this was not a crisis until the extreme right wing began protesting the policy they claim is Obama’s, when in fact Bush was the one that signed the bill that started all of this in the first place?

When did we abandon the motto that rests on Ellis Island in New York, at the universal symbol of freedom and democracy known the world over as the Statue of Liberty; ““Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”? When did we decide as a nation to no longer be a melting pot?

How many of our ancestors came here generations ago for the very same reasons that people seek to come here today; to escape starvation, persecution, social inequality, discrimination, freedom from and for religion, education opportunity and the chance to work hard enough to have a good life?

When did we decide to treat children as criminals and animals, where they are hunted, herded, transported and fed with less respect than a Texan rancher gives his cattle herd? And when did we decide that children running for their lives should not deserve protection?

When did we become concerned with ONLY our southern border, considering that significant numbers of illegal drugs and immigrants pour over the northern border on a daily basis? And the only terrorists arrested for entering the US illegally crossed the northern border. Oh – is that because those immigrants have white skin, the drugs are cocaine and opium instead of marijuana, and since it covers such a larger area, we just can’t deal with it?

And my last question is the one that I think is the most important of them all. Before I ask the question, let me share a little back story. Last June, leading Republicans insisted that America’s leaders must do more to defend Christian values at home and abroad. “Those of us inspired by Judeo-Christian values…have an obligation to our country and to our fellow man to use our positions of influence to highlight those values,” Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio said at a conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group led by long-time Christian political activist Ralph Reed. And his pal, Ted Cruz, is no better. “U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — whose father is Rafael Cruz, a rabid right-wing Christian preacher, is rooted in a radical Christian ideology known as Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism. This ideology calls on anointed “Christian” leaders to take over the state and make the goals and laws of the nation “biblical.”

When I was a little girl growing up in rural America, I went to church on Sundays, where we sang a children’s song that stayed with me all my life. “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red or yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” One of my favorite biblical passages tells us how to live: “And whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6)

After hearing the language that is contained in proposed bills and acts to resolve the border crisis, it is clear that these children are thought of as despised freeloaders, terror babies, criminals and filthy animals. How then, does this support the agenda stated last June calling for “defending Christian values at home and abroad?” Would Jesus be on the line stopping buses and demanding children be sent back where their return would mean certain death? Would He be asking for ankle bracelets and deportation within 72 hours? Or maybe if He came back today and walked across the southern US border, would you treat Jesus the same way these children are being treated?

Children’s Rights are Human Rights.

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Legislation They Can Bank On

Looking West-Northwest at Citigroup Center, New-York. Photo by Johan Burati [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking West-Northwest at Citigroup Center, New-York. Photo by Johan Burati [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We have all heard of Bernie Madoff and his now infamous ponzi scheme which bilked millions of dollars in assets from unsuspecting investors, most of whom lost their life savings and security as they entered their “golden” retirement years. The fallout from the crime still reaches into society today. Americans are tired of not seeing justice brought to those responsible. But Bernie’s in prison, so everything is as it should be again, right?

Not so fast, and not so easy. Remember that JP Morgan Chase was fined $13 billion by the US government for their part in practices leading to the financial crisis. And how are they connected to Madoff? Madoff ran his bogus investments through accounts at JP Morgan Chase, which led to an account manager noticing unusual activity.  JPMorgan filed a report with U.K. regulators in October 2008 that famously described Madoff’s returns as “too good to be true.” But JPMorgan never filed a corresponding report with U.S. regulators.  In January, 2014, JP Morgan Chase reached a $1.7 billion dollar settlement to resolve the criminal charges related to Madoff.

Monday, July 14, Citibank followed the tradition, with a Department of Justice settlement of a $7 billion fine, the result of an investigation into Citi’s defrauding of investors with mortgage securities leading up to the financial crisis. Yet, as we may feel some small degree of an ah-ha moment by knowing Citi was fined, one must remember they also posted their earning reports the same day which showed higher than expected returns for the cycle. By posting the same day as the fine is announced, Citi is preempting the need for damage control by inferring assurances that not even these fines can damper their profitable way of doing business.

To his credit, US Attorney General Eric Holder stated that this settlement in no way releases the parties from possible future criminal prosecutions. We wonder how long we will wait to see if he will make good on his inference of justice to be served.

And why are these banks so self-assured that they are untouchable?

In May of 2013, the New York Times reported lobbyists activities in Washington that showed CitiGroup lobbyists directly involved in the actual drafting of legislation that oversees banking regulations. “In a sign of Wall Street’s resurgent influence in Washington, Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill. Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word. (Lawmakers changed two words to make them plural.)” states a report in DealBook,

So what we have here are people who choose to disregard laws and regulations in pursuit of huge profits and mega bonuses. When laws and inconvenient factors such as the Department of Justice gets in their way, they simply go to Washington and draft new rules that they bribe lobby Congressional members to pass as law. When the American public first caught wind of what was going on, they convinced the Supreme Court that they had rights as corporations, because they are people too. SCOTUS agreed with them in the Citizens United ruling, which has opened the floodgate to the demise of democracy and the birth of plutocracy.

When the fox is left in charge of the hen house, it is a matter of time
before the chickens are all devoured.

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How Sweet It Isn’t

The sugar hopper where Jano Salinas was buried alive. Photo courtesy OSHA

The sugar hopper where Jano Salinas was buried alive. Photo courtesy OSHA

On February 25, 2013, Janio Salinas, a 50-year-old temp worker, was buried alive in a sugar hopper at a CSC Sugar plant in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania while clearing a clog in the bottom of the hopper. A fellow worker had seen Salinas digging in the hopper, and when he looked again, all that remained was a shovel buried up to its handle. When someone looked up from underneath the hopper, they noticed something that looked like jeans- it was Salinas.

When federal safety investigators reviewed the accident, they discovered that a safety device that would have prevented Salinas’ death was removed 13 days before the accident. Why was it removed? The plant manager believed it was slowing down production.

Unfortunately, scenes like this are becoming all too common in the post-recession economy. More and more companies are hiring temp workers: so much so that the temp industry now employs 2.9 million workers. In the CSC case, every warehouse employee, including the warehouse manager, was a temp worker.

In a ProPublica analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims show that temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees. For example, here in Minnesota, temps have a 72% greater chance of being injured on the job than regular employees do. In Florida, temps were about twice as likely as regular workers to suffer crushing injuries, dislocations, lacerations, fractures and punctures. Furthermore, in Florida and the three other states for which records were available, temps were about three times as likely to suffer amputations.

Why such a high accident rate? Temps are often poorly trained or not trained at all before doing hazardous jobs. The companies and temp agencies usually claim that the other was supposed to do the training, and, needless to say, nobody gets trained. There’s also a language barrier in a lot of companies.

Add to that management’s willful ignoring of workplace hazards. When the warehouse manager first asked the management at CSC to install a safety device in the hopper, he was told “we can’t do that” because of monetary constraints. After many complaints to upper management, a screen was finally installed, only to be removed by the manager as stated above. The manager then claimed to OSHA that he didn’t know the screen had been removed. OSHA investigators wrote in their report: “However, statements by employees indicated he had directed its removal.” 

And, finally there’s the limits on what OSHA can do. The agency doesn’t have the ability to shut down businesses and has limited criminal enforcement provisions. In the case of CSC, the company was fined $25,855 following the accident. However, after installation of a safety guard and putting new procedures in place the fine was dropped to $18,098. And, even though it removed a safety device and had received previous warnings to train its temp workers, OSHA didn’t find the company “willfully in violation,” which would have resulted in bigger fines. A bill known as the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which would raise fines and criminal penalties for OSHA violations, has been proposed in every Congress since 2004 but has never made it out of committee.

Last Thursday, the head of the U.S. Senate’s workplace safety subcommittee, Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania,  wrote a letter to OSHA director David Michaels in which he said: “While I appreciate that OSHA has limited jurisdiction in prosecuting workplace accidents, the growing number of accidents and fatalities involving temporary workers is clearly unacceptable.”  Casey was also concerned about “possible regulatory or legislative impediments to OSHA’s ability to ensure safe and healthful workplaces for temporary workers.”

One of the accomplishments that my father was most proud of was his participation in the meetings in Washington that led to the creation of OSHA. Having at that time recently finished a stint as plant manager of a 3M plant in the Chicago area, he was acutely aware of employee safety and what needed to be done to ensure it. He would be absolutely horrified by how much OSHA has been hamstrung over the years, and that tragedies like the one at CSC could happen with no real consequences for the company management and the company itself.

What can you do? Contact your Congressthing, and let it know that the Protecting America’s Workers Act is necessary. Let it know that it’s not OK that employers can go on injuring and in some instances killing their employees through unsafe practices without facing serious legal consequences.

We need to reinforce the simple fact that profits do not trump basic human rights. People over profits.

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An Ethical Stand

We at Occupy World Writes don’t write very often about religious organizations. We report abuses by various governments and groups who claim to be guided by religious principles, but it’s very seldom that we write about an actual religious organization. It’s not that we’re anti-religion (we definitely aren’t that); we just feel that it’s not our place to comment. Today’s post is one of those rare exceptions.

WCClogo_colour_ENGOn July 10, the World Council of Churches, a global coalition of 345 churches representing over half a billion Christians, announced that they would pull all of their investments out of fossil fuels, saying that those investments were no longer ethical. The Council’s finance committee report stated:  “The committee discussed the ethical investment criteria, and considered that the list of sectors in which the WCC does not invest should be extended to include fossil fuels.”

 

350.org founder Bill McKibben made a statement applauding the move, saying: “The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves–and that there’s no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels. This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today ‘this far and no further.’”

The WCC is just the latest religious organization to divest themselves of fossil fuel investments. The United Church of Christ passed a fossil fuel divestment strategy in June of last year, and both New York City’s Union Theological Seminary and the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to do the same last month.

It’s not clear if Thursday’s decision only applies to the finance committee or to the member churches as well. For example, the Church of England said it could not yet comment on what the decision meant for its own investments.

Occupy World Writes applauds the WCC and other religious organizations that have taken this step. By recognizing the ethical conflict implicit in those investments, these organizations have proven that they can change and adapt to the times while preserving their moral character. When the Union Theological Seminary’s decision was published, the seminary’s president, Serene Jones, said: “Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole.  Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”

Amen to that…

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Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq, 2004. Photo by Master Sgt. Michael E. Best (Public Domain)

A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq, 2004. Photo by Master Sgt. Michael E. Best (Public Domain)

One of the perennial bad apples of American foreign policy is making a splash in the news again; a company formerly named Blackwater, and now known as Constellis Holdings. We’ve discussed Blackwater before and their alleged involvement in the Ukraine conflict under what was their name at the time we wrote the article (Academi). This week marked the fifth week in the second trial of four Blackwater contractors charged with murdering 14 iraqi citizens in Baghdad in 2007.

In the first trial in 2009, five Blackwater security guards were indicted on manslaughter and weapons charges, and a sixth entered a plea deal to testify against his former colleagues. However, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington ruled that the government’s mishandling of the case “requires dismissal of the indictment against all the defendants.”

After the statute of limitations had expired on one of the defendants for the manslaughter charge, the government recharged four of the guards on murder charges, which have no statute of limitations but carry a much higher burden of proof. But, I digress.

According to State Department documents released for the first time during the trial, Blackwater’s top manager in Iraq threatened to kill a State Department investigator who was a member of a team investigating Blackwater’s operations in Iraq just before the incident with the Iraqi civilians. He went on to say that  “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” The investigator reported the incident to the American Embassy.

So, how did Embassy officials respond? They sided with Blackwater, and told the investigators to leave the country, claiming that the investigators had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor. After returning to Washington, the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote a blistering report documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees. He also warned that lax oversight of the company had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

So, what did the State Department do? They gave Blackwater more contracts, of course. Since that time, the State Department’s awarded over $1 billion in contracts to Blackwater/Xe/Academi/Constellis.

We don’t find the fact that the State Department’s still hiring these thugs to be surprising at all, to be honest. Besides supplying training and “security” for such things as our embassies, Blackwater/Xe/Academi/Constellis has always given the government a well trained private army that they can deny any responsibility for. This behavior on our government’s part is inexcusable, and it has to stop.

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