Newsletter: Private Affluence, Public Squalor

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Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk of The Rules write in “Capitalism is Just a Story and Other Dangerous Thoughts” that our system of neo-liberal capitalism is one story that is told about the way the world works. In this story, natural resources are turned into commodities so they can be monetized. As in the feudal age, the wealthy few are taking more and more, cutting the rest of us off from the treasures we once shared and expanding the wealth divide so that more of us become ‘serfs’. 1neofeudalLadha and Kirk go on to say, “our only absolute limitation is our collective imagination, expressed through our will to change the mythologies that hold this house of cards together.” For once we see neo-liberalism and its related “isms” of colonialism, imperialism and racism for what they are and what they do, we are closer to being free of their grip and creating a new story.

Activists Bust Up Aquifer Exemption Workshop

Fracking protest in LA March 2015

We were twenty minutes into one of the most boring PowerPoint presentations I have ever seen. While we looked at “shaded areas of cross-sections of multiple productive zones of oil fields,” the regulator was droning on and on. You’d think I’d be nodding off. But no, my heart was beating and my palms were sweating. I was about to do one of the boldest actions I have done since becoming an activist three and a half years ago. Professionally dressed in a sedate gray dress and heels, I was seconds away from disrupting something called an “aquifer exemption workshop” led by DOOGR — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Regulation –the very state agency that recently had been exposed for illegally allowing oil companies to inject toxic fracking wastewater into 2500 wells near California aquifers. Arriving at the hotel two hours before the workshop was to begin, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well we activists had “cleaned up” dressed in our best professional business attire. It was decided that Susan, a local Long Beach resident, would be the first to interrupt by asking the innocent question: “What is this workshop all about?” And then the disarming zinger: “Is it to teach them how to continue to poison our water?” A few minutes later I would chime in. Right after that, Alicia would pull out two bottles of “frack water,” bring them to the regulators and ask them if they would drink it. Then Antonietta would shout out. “This must stop.” We would all stand up and echo her. . . .

SOA Watch Spring Action: Growing Stronger Together

SOA Watch protest at Ft. Benning, GA 2014

School of the Americas Watch is mobilizing this April for our Spring Days of Action (SDOA). Our 2015 SDOA theme is “Growing Stronger Together – Resisting the ‘Drug War’ Across the Americas”. Will you help us take the message to Washington, DC? Join us for actions in the streets and halls of Congress to hasten the end of the Drug War and its accompanying destruction. Part of social change is grassroots power, and we’ll be having a welcome party, congressional visits, critical mass bike ride, concert, movement strategy session, and more!

Women Walk For Peace In Korea

Korea women walk for peace image

In May 2015, in just under two months, 30 women from around the world will walk for peace in Korea. We are hoping to meet with North Korean women and learn about their hopes and aspirations for a reunited Korea free from war. We are also hoping to meet with South Korean women and learn about their hopes and aspirations for a reunited Korea free from war. As if that weren’t challenging enough, we hope to cross the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that divides them and millions of families. You can visit our website to learn more about who is walking and why we’re walking to reunite families and end the Korean War. As you can imagine, it is quite the epic journey that requires traveling through Beijing, obtaining visas, coordinating travel from a dozen different countries, and everything else that comes with such a major overseas trip. Most of our delegation of dedicated women peacemakers are paying their own way, but the reality is that it is a costly event. But the impact could be “game changing” as The Nation journalist, Tim Shorrock, tweeted last week.

Cost Of Incarceration In Baltimore's Poorest Neighborhoods

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Well, this is a significant issue for the state of Maryland and for the country as a whole, as you talked about. The amounts that we’re spending to lock people up in our cities and states around the country is extraordinary. In Maryland, we spend nearly $1 billion on the corrections agency–and just in Baltimore City, almost $300 million a year to lock people up. And so one of the things that we talk about from a policy perspective–and I used to run a corrections agency–is: what are we getting for that investment? Are our communities safer? And, unfortunately, the answer largely is no. And so what we did when there was some data available here in Baltimore, particularly, was look more closely at the data, particularly where people who are incarcerated live prior to their incarceration and what’s going on in those communities.

Oregonians Are ‘Mad as Hell’ About Trade Deals

Sen. Ron Wyden speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill. (AP / Harry Hamburg)

According to people I’ve talked to on the ground in Oregon, that may be something close to what many residents there are feeling right now. But instead of shouting out the window, Oregonians are petitioning and phoning their senator, Ron Wyden, to ask him to oppose granting so-called fast track authority to President Obama. Granting that authority would allow the president to speed two dangerous international trade pacts through Congress, and Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance, is a critically important figure whose support will be necessary for the passage of the agreements—known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.

[VIDEO] The Occupation Of The Mission Police Station

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On the anniversary of unarmed San Francisco resident Alex Nieto being shot 59 times, community members block the driveway at the Mission Police Station. Residents and supporters also detained a “tech bus” from Yahoo that was trespassing in the neighborhood. Protesters shut down the entire block of Valencia St. between 17th and 18th Streets for four hours and fifteen minutes: “415,” which is the police code for a “disturbance, and is also San Francisco’s area code. Community members gave speeches and spoken world performances accompanied by the Liberation Brass Orchestra and Bloco Loco. The four officers were tried in absentia by a Peoples Tribunal. After being found guilty, the Nieto’s smboloically ripped the officers badges to shreds and trampled them in the street.

And Other Dangerous Thoughts, Part II

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All we lack is the confidence to see beyond the constraints of the present story. And we start by asking the hard questions we have been told not to ask. People around the world are beginning to do just this. They are rising up in response to our civilization’s crisis – from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, from protests in Brazil to the Chilean Winter, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the student uprising in Quebec, from the Idle No More Indigenous People’s movement to Transition Towns around the world. These are all expressions of a new world that is possible. They are signs of great hope for us all. The world is beginning to heal, but we can take it farther, faster.

NYPD Is Slowing Down With Stop-And-Frisks

NYPD (Photo: Dave Hosford)

While he predicts that the number of cops on the streets of New York is going to increase this year, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says that the number of stop-and-frisks are going to decline. Bratton told the New York Daily News that the NYPD will have one million fewer interactions with the public “based primarily on dramatic drops in stop-and-frisks, summonses and marijuana busts.” The drop in activity has not led to a spike in crime; in fact, the city currently faces a 10% drop in crime. Bratton hopes that the move will improve relations with communities of color, who are disproportionately targeted by stop-and-frisk.

University Protests Around The World: Fighting Commercialisation

‘Graduate students should be guaranteed a minimum amount of funding that sits above the poverty line.’ Photograph: Lennart Maschmeyer

Students at University of the Arts, London, took over their university’s reception area last Thursday to protest against proposed cuts to some of its course programmes. This makes UAL one of the latest institutions around the world to be hit by occupations and strikes by staff and students. The causes of such protests vary: some are concerned about working conditions facing graduate students, others point to a lack of transparency about how universities are run. A key issue is the commercialisation of higher education, which many feel has led university leaders to prioritise financial goals over the needs of staff and students. We speak to academics and students in Canada, the Netherlands and the UK to find out why they’re taking a stand.

Putin: Western Intel Services Aiming To Destabilize Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks before officials of the Federal Security Service in Moscow, March 26, 2015.

President Vladimir Putin said Western intelligence services have set it as their goal to destabilize Russia especially during upcoming elections, according to the Kremlin’s website. In a speech Thursday in Moscow before top officials of the Federal Security Service, he said non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and politicized groups will take the lead in this effort. “[We are seeing that] to attain their goals, Western intelligence services are unceasingly using civic non-governmental organizations and politicized associations, above all to discredit the government and destabilize the domestic situation in Russia, whereby operations are already planned for the upcoming 2016-2018 election campaigns,” Putin told officials of the KGB successor agency, according to a transcript of his speech posted by the Kremlin.

Feminist Heroes To Teach Kids Their ABCs In New Picturebook

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Why just learn your ABCs when you can be empowered by them? A new illustrated children’s book from iconic City Lights press, Rad American Women A-Z, offers kids the chance to educate themselves on women’s history and the alphabet at the same time. Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, the book was inspired by Schatz’s two-year-old daughter. As the writer told Mic, the book was created to fill the “feminist-shaped hole in children’s literature,” and goes from A (for Angela Davis) to Z (Zora Neale Hurston). Rad American Women A-Z strays from both traditional children’s and history books in more ways than one, featuring an equal proportion of women of color, as well as several members of the LGBT community.

Protests At Cooper Union On Tuition, NY Atty Gnrl Investigating

Cooper Union's $111M academic building in Cooper Square (Flickr user Structures NYC)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will probe the financial decisions made by the school that led to its reported insolvency, including a $175 million loan to build new facilities, potentially inaccurate numbers on the school’s website, a bonus awarded to the president preceding the current administration, and the handling of the the land underneath the Chrysler Building, which belongs to the school and reportedly netted it $7 million annually. The AG’s office will also investigate the school’s decision to charge tuition. The school is currently in the midst of a lawsuit levied by a group of professors, alumni and students who claim the Board of Trustees could have avoided charging tuition—$20K per semester, starting with this school year’s freshman class—if it weren’t for a number of poor financial decisions.

Pennsylvania Groups Demand Voice In Oil & Gas Decisions

Oil pumps and drilling equipment in an oil field in Kern County, where the majority of California's oil and gas production is centered. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Residents living in the shale fields and public interest groups are outraged at the latest comments from the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA). Last week, Kevin Moody from PIOGA stated at public hearings with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that public interest considerations “have no place” on oil and gas oversight bodies. In response to PIOGA, residents in the shale fields and public interest groups are renewing their calls for full public participation in the changing oil and gas regulations. “They finally said it out loud,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director of the Clean Air Council. “This confirms that the industry wants to be regulated only by itself.

Detroit Water Shutoff Crisis: Water Brigade Grows

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Last September, as Detroit residents were still in the midst of 80-degree summer weather, the city’s water department went to court. Its issue was the 27,000-some customers who were getting Detroit water but weren’t paying their bills. As of March 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) was missing about $175 million in water payments, almost $100,000 of that from residential customers who had lost their jobs or couldn’t afford the hefty water bill last summer. Residents were already paying an average of $64 per month water access. With an 8.7 percent increase in June, many unemployed residents and individuals on Social Security Income checks couldn’t afford water for cooking, washing and basic needs.