Peace & Justice News is a collection of news items collected by Bloomington Alternative contributor Linda Greene. Today's edition includes:
- Chinese labor leader Li Wangyang: suicide or murder?
- Antiwar feelings high among vets of recent wars
- Victory for reproductive justice in the House of Representatives
- U.S. military patrolling American streets
- A win for Brooklyn Bridge arrestees filing a class action suit
- Drones used over U.S. to be weaponized
- TIAA-CREF’s role in the Israeli occupation
- Working Families Party victorious in Oregon primary
- Lawsuit against State of California for use of solitary confinement
- Arson at Miami travel agency that arranges trips to Cuba
Read the Peace & Justice News archive on The Bloomington Alternative.
Chinese labor leader Li Wangyang: suicide or murder?
Li Wangyang, Chinese labor leader for more than 30 years, was found dead in a hospital in Shaoyang City, Hunan Province, People’s Republic of China, two days after the June 4 anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre, according to a June 13 email from LabourStart.
Claiming the death was a suicide, the police removed Li’s body, and the Chinese government cremated it.
Li’s family is demanding an investigation of the death. Tens of thousands of supporters demonstrated in Hong Kong on June 10.
The only large, legal, independent Chinese union, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, with more than 170,000 members and 90 affiliates, is calling for a worldwide campaign to demand an accounting for Li’s death and is asking people to sign a petition.
“Just a few days before his mysterious death, Li gave an interview to a Hong Kong television station, publicly criticizing the Chinese government for oppressing dissidents," The post says. "Many believe that his death could be retaliation by the authorities. Li Wangyang's fate is shared by many dissidents in China. The Chinese government has a long tradition of outlawing labour activists and brutally cracking down on their actions. According to the ITUC/GUF Hong Kong Liaison Office's information, at least 36 labour activists are imprisoned, due to their involvement in organising strikes, protests or independent workers' organisations. This figure is just the tip of the iceberg, as many of them are detained without any legal proceeding or simply cracked down by the police.”
Antiwar feelings high among vets of recent wars
Of enlisted veterans polled about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 33 percent said they weren’t “worth the cost,” according to a Pew Research Center study.
“What this means,” says retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, who resigned from a State Department post in 2006 over U.S. policies in Iraq, “is that there is a widening gap between the government, military policies and the soldiers that carry them out,” according to the post.
According to the Pew study, only about 0.5 percent of Americans have participated in the armed forces in the last 10 years. And the pressures on the troops have increased.
“In order to meet troop-level requirements, many soldiers have been deployed as many as six times – a level unheard-of prior to the all-volunteer military, points out Mike Hanie, an Air Force veteran and founder and executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.,” the post says.
Vets returning home confront possible redeployment, cutbacks in benefits and a dearth of jobs. The suicide rate among post-9/11 vets is about 18 deaths a day.
According to the post, “Our troops are over there risking their lives, and the Afghan people and government don’t even like us,” says Dr. Harry Croft, a former Army psychiatrist who’s assessed more than 7,000 veterans for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder. “Our troops are facing suicide bombers and IEDs knowing that today might be their last day, but for what?”
Victory for reproductive justice in the House of Representatives
On May 31, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PreNDA), says a June 6 email from the National Women’s Health Network.
Though purporting to prohibit abortion on the basis of the fetus’s sex and requiring health providers to report a woman to the authorities if they thought she was seeking an abortion for that reason, the bill would have threatened women’s access to reproductive care.
“PreNDA, and other legislation like it that has been introduced in the states,” the email states, “is part of a larger anti-choice strategy to divide women along racial lines, with anti-choice organizations imposing paternalistic solutions on communities of color. In [the] latest issue of The Women’s Health Activist, Shaniqua Seth and Malika Redmond describe how last year’s anti-choice billboard attacks in major cities across the United States, against both black and Latina women, had a similar goal as PreNDA, ‘to distort the facts about abortion in order to promote [an] anti-choice agenda and shame women of color from utilizing abortion services.’”
U.S. military patrolling American streets
The U.S. military might soon be patrolling American streets although the Posse Comitatis Act, Section 1385, indicates that only under “circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress” can the military operate inside the country, according to a post on The Real Truth Behind the News website.
The intention of Posse Comitatis was “to limit the powers of local governments and law enforcement agencies in using federal military personnel to enforce the laws of the land,” according to another post on the website.
According to Air Force Reserve Command, “New authority in this year's Defense Department authorization act allows reservists in Air Force Department Reserve Command and other reserve components to be called to duty in response to natural disasters or emergencies in the homeland. The law also permits mobilizations for extended periods to support theater security missions around the world.”
In the past, the reserves have been prohibited from responding to a disaster on American soil except for a crisis involving a weapon of mass destruction, the post says. However, state governors can call on the National Guard for help if a natural disaster is too large for the state to deal with, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina.
During what was billed as a “routine practice drill,” U.S. National Guardsmen recently patrolled a residential neighborhood in Crookston, Minn. The guardsmen were deployed from the Crookston Armory.
The key word here is emergencies. With the increasing militarization of dissent in American society, social justice activists fear that reservists could be called in to quell domestic protests.
“Domestic emergency deployment may be ‘just the first example of a series of expansions in presidential and military authority,’ or even an increase in domestic surveillance," said Anna Christensen of the ACLU’s National Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of “a creeping militarization of the Department of Homeland Security,” according to occupycorporatism.com.
A win for Brooklyn Bridge arrestees filing a class action suit
In an opinion issued on June 7, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that a class action lawsuit against the New York Police Department over the Oct. 1 arrests on the Brooklyn Bride at the start of the Occupy movement can proceed, according to an email from the ANSWER Coalition.
"This is a major victory in the fight for justice and vindication for the 700 people falsely arrested by the NYPD," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which filed the class action lawsuit a few days after the arrests. "This is a clear message in defense of free speech. The Court's ruling means that scores of NYPD officers are potentially liable to hundreds of arrestees who were mass arrested in a peaceful protest in a blatant violation of their constitutional rights."
The suit alleges that the police officers should be held accountable for the false arrests. The plaintiffs contend that police actions misled them into thinking that walking on the roadway was permissible. The plaintiffs possess a video documenting that they were unable to hear the police instructions not to walk on the roadway and that the officers appeared to lead the protestors onto it, according to the post.
The ruling opened as follows: "What a huge debt this nation owes to its 'troublemakers.' From Thomas Paine to Martin Luther King, Jr., they have forced us to focus on problems we would prefer to downplay or ignore. Yet it is often only with hindsight that we can distinguish those troublemakers who brought us to our senses from those who were simply … troublemakers. Prudence, and respect for the constitutional rights to free speech and free association, therefore dictate that the legal system cut all non-violent protesters a fair amount of slack. These observations are prompted by the instant lawsuit, in which a putative class of some 700 or so 'Occupy Wall Street' protesters contend they were unlawfully arrested while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011."
Drones used over U.S. to be weaponized
Drones armed with rubber rounds, Tasers and tear gas might soon be in the arsenal of American police officers, according to a post on the RT website.
Opponents of the scheme, including the ACLU, argue that “an officer operating an armed drone from afar would simply not have the same understanding of a situation that an officer on location would have. So judgment on the use of force would be limited by this narrowness of observation,” the post says.
The ACLU is also concerned about the increasingly pervasive surveillance in the U.S., and weaponized drones would exacerbate the situation.
Though the drones would be armed with supposedly nonlethal weapons, victims of Taser use have been known to die afterward.
“The prospect of people out in public being Tased or targeted by force by flying drones where no officer is physically present on the scene raises the prospect of unconstitutional force being used on individuals,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney at the ACLU.”
Recently, the post says, the FAA ruled that police and fire departments could use drones domestically with fewer restrictions. Now drones weighing up to 25.3 pounds are permissible for use by such public safety agencies without prior FAA approval.
“The step moves forward a campaign for broader use of drones in America, which was launched by Congress in mid-February,” the post says.
TIAA-CREF’s role in the Israeli occupation
TIAA-CREF, which has invested more than $1 billion in Caterpillar, hasn’t responded to calls to divest $2.3 billion from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, according to a June 13 email from wedivest.org.
“Caterpillar’s gross violations of human rights are not a matter of contest,” the post says. “In fact, just last month Friends Fiduciary, which serves over 250 Quaker Friends meetings, schools, organizations, trusts and endowments and has over $200 million in assets, decided to divest from Caterpillar. About their important moral stand, Friends Fiduciary said that they have a ‘zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components,’ and that they ‘are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock.’"
It is Caterpillar bulldozers, for instance, that uproot olive trees and demolish Palestinians’ houses. Caterpillar is thereby involved in the construction of Jewish-only settlements and the apartheid wall and in the killing and injuring of nonviolent protestors, including American Rachel Corrie.
To pressure TIAA-CREF, wedivest.org is asking people to write to William Mostyn III, senior vice president and corporate secretary of TIAA-CREF, before the company’s annual stockholders’ meeting in July.
“We hope,” the post says, “we will hear reports there of any quiet actions that have taken place this past year and plans to engage more publicly in the coming year with any of the companies profiting from Israeli occupation, including Caterpillar.”
Working Families Party victorious in Oregon primary
In Oregon’s May 15 primary, the progressive Jeff Reardon, who ran on the Working Families Party ticket, won a 2 to 1 victory over five-term Oregon Assembly Democrat Mike Schaufler, according to a post on the Talking Union website.
Reardon’s win depended on support from the party, backed by labor and a coalition of environmentalists, MoveON and unions. The state AFL-CIO and some of its affiliates supported the incumbent.
“For the Oregon WFP, Schaufler represented both an obstacle and an opportunity,” the post says. “Schaufler had repeatedly sided with the GOP on key votes, including opposing banking regulations, environmental protections, and the establishment of a state health insurance exchange. The partisan split in the legislature – 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans – heightened the impact of those defections. [WFP State Director Steve] Hughes charges that Schaufler was also ‘the guy that sits in the [Democratic] caucus meeting, and then goes out and tells the corporate lobbyists what the plans are.’”
The WFP had been seeking a chance to participate in the electoral process as a way to show that a third party can be influential in an election.
The party called Reardon’s victory a national model. “Winning a race like this in the face of someone that’s funded by the lobbyists as [Mike Schaufler] was, sends a message that we can hold these people accountable,” Hughes said.
Lawsuit against State of California for use of solitary confinement
California’s Pelican Bay State Prison is the most restrictive prison in the state and one of the country’s harshest “super-max” prisons.
On May 31, the Center for Constitutional Rights, as noted in its email action alert of that date, filed a suit against the State of California for its use of long-term solitary confinement in the prison.
More than 78 Pelican Bay prisoners have experienced solitary confinement for more than 20 years. More than 500 have been in solitary for over 10 years.
In 2011, prisoners around the state, including numerous plaintiffs in the lawsuit, participated in two hunger strikes to protest the conditions in Pelican Bay.
The lawsuit, the post says, “is a federal class action suit challenging prolonged solitary confinement and deprivation of due process at the Pelican Bay SHU, based on the rights guaranteed under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The case challenges inhumane, unconstitutional conditions under which thousands of prisoners live for decades at a time. Ruiz reasserts the importance of fundamental human rights and the Constitution’s guarantee that no one may be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and that all are entitled to the due process of law. The class action suit is being jointly filed by CCR and several advocacy and legal organizations in California.”
An op-ed by Pelican Bay prisoner Gabriel Reyes notes that he spends at least 22 ½ hours each day completely isolated in a small, windowless cell.
“Unless you have lived it, you cannot imagine what it feels like to be by yourself, between four cold walls, with little concept of time, no one to confide in, and only a pillow for comfort – for years on end. It is a living tomb," he said. "I eat alone and exercise alone in a small, dank, cement enclosure known as the ‘dog-pen.’ I am not allowed telephone calls, nor can my family visit me very often; the prison is hundreds of miles from the nearest city. I have not been allowed physical contact with any of my loved ones since 1995. I have developed severe insomnia, I suffer frequent headaches, and I feel helpless and hopeless. In short, I am being psychologically tortured.”
Among the prisoners’ demands are ending group punishment, obtaining adequate food, expanding programming and privileges, and ending prolonged solitary confinement and alleviating the conditions under segregation, including obtaining “regular and meaningful social contact, adequate health care and access to sunlight.”
CCR is asking supporters to request the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to honor the prisoners’ demands through its website.
Arson at Miami travel agency that arranges trips to Cuba
Arson at a Miami travel agency that arranges trips to Cuba occurred on April 27, according to a May 24 email from the Latin America Working Group.
The agency, the post says, had organized a trip for 300 people who traveled to Cuba with Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski for a visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
According to the Coral Gables fire department, the post says, someone used a piece of concrete to break an office window and then tossed in an incendiary device.
Though an FBI report hadn’t been issued as of May 24, “the presence of the FBI South Florida counter-terrorism task force says enough, and unofficial agencies present at the scene have said that this attack was ‘deliberate,’” the post says.
A serious investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators is essential, the post says, yet no member of Congress from Florida or any other state has condemned the attack.
LAWG is urging supporters to write their members of Congress asking them to make public statements denouncing this “terrorist attack within our country’s borders.”
Linda Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.