Friday, August 10, 2007


I don't know about where you live, but its been hot as hell and humid as could be where I live for days and days. Currently our heat index here is 105 degrees, thank you.

Fortunately, like most of you, I have air conditioning.

Lots of people don't. They're mostly poor and elderly (except for the people who live next door to me who are just eccentric).

Now I know air conditioning contributes to global warming and I know that when I grew up we didn't have any (and I had to walk miles to school through snow drifts with only a hot potato to keep me warm in the winter).

Still, I'd be less then honest if I claimed I'd be getting rid of the AC this week.

That brings us to this timely class war story from out here in America.

Heat is the number one weather related killer in the United States. On average, 350 people die each year due to heat.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a thorough study of individual-level risk factors for heat wave victims, and they came up with a list of conditions of vulnerability: living alone, not leaving home daily, lacking access to transportation, being sick or bedridden, not having social contacts nearby, and of course not having an air conditioner.

Sound like elderly poor folks.

During that great Chicago heat wave a few years back some interesting facts emerged.

The actual death tolls for African Americans and whites were almost identical, but those numbers were misleading. There are far more elderly whites than elderly African Americans in Chicago, and when the Chicago Public Health Department considered the age differences, they found that the black/white mortality ratio was 1.5 to 1.

Most of the African American neighborhoods with high heat wave death rates had been abandoned—by employers, stores, and residents—in recent decades. The social ecology of abandonment, dispersion, and decay makes systems of social support exceedingly difficult to sustain.

Poor and African American and old!!!


Hundreds of Chicago residents died alone, behind locked doors and sealed windows, out of contact with friends, family, and neighbors, unassisted by public agencies or community groups. There's nothing natural about that.

The death toll was the result of distinct dangers in Chicago's social environment: an increased population of isolated seniors who live and die alone; the culture of fear that makes city dwellers reluctant to trust their neighbors or, sometimes, even leave their houses; the abandonment of neighborhoods by businesses, service providers, and most residents, leaving only the most precarious behind; and the isolation and insecurity of single room occupancy dwellings and other last-ditch low-income housing.

In addition, these neighborhoods had higher crime rates, creating a fear that prevented older people from leaving their homes or opening their windows.

Doesn't sound like rich folks or those out in the suburbs, does it?

During an interview with Eric Klinenberg author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Klineberg concluded:

We know that more heat waves are coming. Every major report on global warming—including the recent White House study—warns that an increase in severe heat waves is likely. The only way to prevent another heat disaster is to address the isolation, poverty, and fear that are prevalent in so many American cities today. Until we do, natural forces that are out of our control will continue to be uncontrollably dangerous.

But it isn't only Chicago and it isn't only the city and it isn't only African Americans.

In July 2006, daytime temperatures out in the farming areas of California consistently shot past 100º F for two weeks, with temperatures reaching 115º F for several consecutive days. The heat lead to the deaths of 50 people in the Central Valley. Most victims were elderly, migrant farm workers, outdoor laborers, and people living alone or in poor housing conditions. To the south, in the Imperial Valley, another heavily agricultural area, many of the dead were migrants living in tents or trailers, sometimes far from any town.

It is almost always the poor and the elderly, however.

In Canada this week Suzanne Young and Stanley Scott who lived adjacent to each other died of the heat. She was 49 and he was 58.

Guess what. Even though they weren't elderly or black, they had poverty and fear in common.

Sue Young and Stan Scott were social assistance recipients, and neither could afford the $50 monthly fee charged by building managers to cover the electricity cost of a window air conditioner. Young was on medication for mental illness. She was afraid of robbers, and kept her windows closed, a neighbour said, using a small fan as her only means to stay cool.

Scott had serious physical problems of his own and hadn't been feeling well. He, too, had only a fan, and told a reporter three days before his body was retrieved from the basement apartment that the heat was "the worst it's been

Anyway, think about it. Even the heat is conscious of class.

And it could be your momma.

By the way, did I mention the homeless...

The following is from Local 12 News in Cincinnati. It could be from most anywhere.

Cincinnati Could Have It's First Heat-Related Death

In the midst of a heat emergency, Cincinnati could have it's first heat-related death. A body was found around seven this morning at Third and Broadway in downtown Cincinnati.

The victims name hasn't been released, but officials say the man was homeless and living under one of the overpasses here. We'll have an official cause of death once an autopsy is completed. But again, officials believe the heat is to blame. Earlier today, we checked around area overpasses and didn't see any homeless, but we could see signs that, yes, people do stay here and sleep here.

There were boxes and blankets laid out as makeshift beds and a few personal effects were left out. Along the riverfront, Local 12's Lauren Bercarich spoke to a woman who told her that she manages to stay cool and seemed more concerned about the rain today. But, without shelter and cool air, the homeless are some of the most vulnerable to the summer heat.

Bercarich stopped by the drop-in-center in Over-The-Rhine today, and that's where some homeless are going to get a break from the heat. The building is air-conditioned, and for anyone looking for a little relief, all Cincinnati Recreation Centers are serving as cooling centers. Anyone is welcome to stop by and cool off.

During a heat emergency, make sure to drink plenty of water. You can use baths and showers to cool down. Keep your blinds closed to keep out sunlight and heat. Remember, cooling centers are also available throughout the region.


One very interesting way of getting down to earth news and reports from countries around the world is by checking out blog sites. There has been, of course, an explosion of blogs developed everywhere.

Where once it was relatively easy to quash free speech within national borders by closing down radio stations or seizing printing presses, the global reach of blogs, and the relative ease with which they can be restarted, mean that the flow of dissenting information is less easily stymied.

Generally, bloggers are better able to dodge restrictions because they can assume different identities online and are not tied to a particular location. "One of the reasons for the growth of blogging and online journalism is that it provides a space for dissent that is harder for governments to control," explains Steve Ballinger, media officer at Amnesty International.

It took some governments time to catch up with all this, but catch up is what they are doing.

In May, the Open Net Initiative (ONI), a transatlantic group of academics from Harvard, Toronto, Oxford and Cambridge universities, revealed that 25 countries now apply state-mandated content filtering to block access to particular websites, compared to just a couple of countries five years ago.

"States are frightened by the freedom implied by the internet," says Julien Pain, head of the internet freedom desk at Reporters Without Borders. "They are developing more and more technology to improve censorship, either by asking bloggers to register and pushing them to self-censure or by closing down their blogs.

In 2003, Iran became the first country to imprison a blogger: Sina Motallebi, sentenced to 23 days in solitary confinement.

Since then, 28 bloggers and online journalists have been jailed, including Arash Cigarchi, who was sentenced to 14 years. He initially faced the death penalty, but was eventually acquitted of "insulting the prophets".

In recent months, the Malaysian government's rhetoric on punishing "irresponsible" bloggers has been translated into reality. Websites and blogs have been targeted one after another, and on the flimsiest pretext. Then, on 25 July, De-facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz threatened to use against bloggers the Internal Security Act (ISA) - which allows for detention without trial – and the Sedition Act.

But don't cut out the US of A.

Last year, Josh Wolf, a 24-year-old blogger videoed an anti-globalisation protest in San Francisco during which a police officer was injured. He was ordered to hand over the film which was to be posted on his blog to the federal court but refused, arguing he was protected by the First Amendment. He was jailed for 226 days, and has now been released.

The ONI's regional overview of the US makes for even more astonishing reading. It reveals that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretaps are reported to have included "taps on major internet interconnect points and data-mining of internet communications. Tapping these points would give the government the ability to intercept every overseas and many domestic communications ...

"If the allegations prove to be true," warns the ONI, "they show that the US maintains the world's most sophisticated internet surveillance regime."

By the way, a whole lot of the information above came from Security Magazine.

And now back to Iran.

The following interview is from Global Voices.

Women bloggers targets for filtering in Iran
Friday, August 10th, 2007 @ 16:45 UTC
by Hamid Tehrani

Mehdi Mohseni’s blog Jomhour [Fa] (means Republic in Perisan) is a definitive source of information about social and political issues in Iran. If you “chase” Iranian blogs, you shouldn’t miss this one. Around 1000 people visit daily.

Q: Would you introduce yourself and your blog ?

My name is Mehdi Mohseni and I was born in 1980 in Qom. I studied civil engineering. I am a sort of independent journalist. I published my first blog in 2002.

Q:You are based in South-West Iran. Can we talk about local bloggers? I mean bloggers that just talk about their own towns?

As you know blogs are borderless media. Bloggers can write from any place in Iran and have an audience anywhere in the world. They can talk about anything. I think there are local blogs that just give information about their town or location in their blog, but in general this kind of local focused blogging is not taken much into consideration.

Women in the line of fire

Q: What is the main problem of Iranian bloggers besides filtering? Do hackers create any problems?

Bloggers, like others, faces several difficulties in Iran. Many Iranian websites in general, and political ones in particular, have been filtered. In the last two years filtering and censorship has become worse. Especially many blogs by women were filtered. It is not really important what you blog about. If you are a woman, there is a real risk that your blog will get filtered. Political sites and blogs written by reformists and nationalist-religious people are targeted too. But the blogs hit the worst by filtering, belong to civil society activists such as students, women, and worker activists.

Hacking has not really been a problem for bloggers. So far only official sites have been hacked. In general, people also suffer form slow internet connections, high costs, and low quality technical problems.

Beyond imagination

Q: How do you evaluate the evolution of Iranian blogs in these recent years?

I can express my own ideas based on personal observation rather than a scientific analysis. I think there is a lot of pressure on people in society, and blogging is a good instrument to help people to express themselves in society. This may be the reason so many women and girls are blogging. Recently many middle aged people have started to use blogs to express their opinions too.

Q: How you see the influence of blogs in society?

There is growing censorship in Iran and in the absence of journals and news websites, blogs accomplish something beyond imagination even though we can not trust all the information that we find in them. Bloggers can transform a topics into hot issues in society, and force government to react.


Germany currently is locked in a debate over the future of nuclear power in that country.

Some Germans though aren't interested in mere verbal pugilistics. A couple dozen of them were arrested yesterday trying to block the shipment of a transformer to a troubled nuclear plant in north Germany.

While in past years Germany began plans to shut down and phase out nuclear power. Things changed in the recent past (and then are maybe changing again).

Anyway, there are more than hints that many leading political figures in Germany want to expand not cut back on nuclear power. Nuclear power had received a tremendous boost since climate change had made Germans suddenly fearful about the future. Regional politicians like Baden-Wuerttemberg's state premier Guenther Oettinger, Roland Koch of Hesse and Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria, as well as CDU General Secretary Ronald Pofalla, have become increasingly vocal proponents of extending the shelf life of nuclear power plants.

Things seem to be rolling their way until thick clouds of smoke rolled over the nuclear power plant in Krümmel last month (see photo). Although authorities said there was no danger a follow up report startled many Germans with the news of technical failures, human error and corporate incompetence associated with the plant. Even worse, the plant operator's claim that a fire in the transformer had no effect on the reactor itself proved to be a lie.

We shall see what we shall see.

The following story interestingly is from IRNA (Iran).

25 anti-nuclear activists arrested in Germany for blocking transformator shipment

At least 25 people were arrested in the north German port city of Geesthacht on Thursday for briefly blocking the shipment of a nuclear power transformator bound for an atomic power plant in the northern town of Kruemmel.

Anti-nuclear protesters tried to skive off a lock overnight to stop the shipment of the transformator which was due to replace an other fire-damaged transformator at the Kruemmel nuclear power plant Demonstrators holding up banners called for the shutdown of the old Krueemel nuclear reactor.

The new Kruemmel transformator was taken from another nuclear power plant in the northern city of Brunsbuettel which was also shut down because of safety problems in the wake of the June 28 fire incident at Krueemel.

It remains still unclear when Kruemmel and Brunsbuettel will be operational again.

Earlier this month, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel cited "considerable security deficits" in some of the country's 17 nuclear reactors following a series of recent incidents and technical mishaps.

Gabriel said his ministry's investigation discovered "considerable deficits in the security culture" of nuclear power plant operators.

The minister urged the creation of a "modernized security management system" at all German atomic plants within a year which would be able to cope in emergency situations.

Any longer delays to install such a security system are no longer tolerable, stressed Gabriel following a special parliamentary probe on the June 28 fire at the Kruemmel atomic power plant.

The official said while the exact cause of the Kruemmel incident was still unclear, he pointed to a combination of "technical problems and human error" as reason for the fire.

The German government has already asked the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review all security and technical supervisory aspects of its nuclear program.

A team of 12 IAEA inspectors will assess the strength and weaknesses of the country's nuclear program over a two-week period.

Germany's nuclear power plants reported 944 incidents between the period of early 2000 and late 2006, press reports quoted statistics released recently by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS).

Meanwhile the number of registered breakdowns in German nuclear power plants since 1993 stand at 1,945.

The latest figures point to the high number of incidents in especially older nuclear power plants.

Topping the list are two nuclear power facilities, Brunsbuettel and Neckarwestheim both of which were built in 1976.

Brunsbuettel reported 437 and Neckarwestheim 1 registered 408 mishaps.

One-third of German atomic reactors are reportedly shut down because of either technical problems, repair work or system check-ups.

German nuclear power plants account still for 26 percent of the nation's energy consumption.

Faced with a gradual phase-out by 2021, Germany's nuclear reactors are still working at full strength, having raised their electricity production in 2006.

German atomic power plants generated 167.4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity last year, up from 163 billion kilowatt hours in 2005.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Okay, this is a class war story, but largely not about the working class. This one has more to do with the war between small businesses and the Wal-Marts of the world.

Perhaps, this is not a politically correct subject for a so-called left wing blog. But you know I remember the war my father had to wage to keep his little shoe store alive as shopping malls arrived on the scene decades ago. He worked night and day, six days a week, and eventually was reduced to largely employing his family to make a go of it. Somehow he saved enough money to be able to get out of business around 1980 and then live another 14 years (much of that time working part time for others), while providing his family a decent life. Still, it was a struggle for a man who I remember was so proud when he could stop working for others finally in 1959 and own his own shop literally on Main Street in Kansas City.

But that is, after all, how capitalism works. The big drive out the little. It's the nature of the beast.

The effect of the big, national box stores on the small town are too obvious to ignore.

Sandy Wilbur in a commentary entitled "Buying Local VS Sending Your Assets South" pointed out rather effectively:

Local businesses suffer from the competition, often to the point of going under. For example, one study by an Iowa State University economist found that five years after the opening of a superstore, locally owned small businesses within a 20 mile radius had experienced a 19% decline in sales [quoted by 1000 Friends of Iowa].

·Downtown areas suffer because business is pulled away to the outskirts of town, where the chain stores usually establish themselves.

·Money that used to circulate within the local community - helping to keep the area's economic base healthy and diversified - now goes to national or international corporate headquarters elsewhere. The suggestion that the large chains help local communities by donating great amounts of money to local causes seems largely unfounded. For example, it has been reported that Wal-Mart donated $163 million in 1999, but that is "the equivalent of someone who makes $40,000 a year giving $40 to charity" . A 1991 Oregon State University study of 182 businesses suggested that small employers - the kind that the "big boxes" are most likely to put out of business - are much more likely to support local causes and charities than are larger ones. In that one example, companies with fewer than 100 employees gave an average per employee of almost $800; companies of over 500 employees had an average giving level of less than $350 per employee [Home Town Advantage Bulletin].

·The jobs created locally seldom live up to expectations. Many turn out to be part-time positions, with average pay and limited or no extra benefits.

But let's face it, people, even those who would tell you they hate these big stores (and in my dad's day those suburban malls), most of them go to them to shop because it's simple, they've got multiple products (you see on TV), and they seem (even though they may not be) cheaper - and dad gummit they provide parking.

Anyway, this is a story about one women's attempt to save her small town downtown from extinction at the hands of the regional big box stores. It's a nice idea, but let's face it, in the end it is doomed to fail.

St. Anthony, Idaho is a town of less then 4,000 which voted more than four to one for Mr. Bush. The people of St. Anthony no doubt believe the GOP to be the only party that cares about the small businessman. Of course, Bush could give a rat's ass about some shop owner in Podunk, USA. But the perception is that this good ole boy - who just likes to clear some brush on his ranch - really does care about the little guy (or, at the very least, it used to be the perception anyway).

The sad truth though is the Democrats could care less either. In fact, the only one who even appears to stand up for the little people is John Edwards (and the little people don't trust him cuz he's a rich lawyer - as if all the politicians aren't rich something or others).

And us good ole leftie activists, well, when was the last time you actually hung with the regular folk down at the local saloon, or church, or drive in or bake sale or...or...either.

Be honest!

PS - One of the many things I loved about my friend Carol who died last year was she could answer "YES" to that question. She did hang, live with, play and understand the very folks the rest of us as talk about, theorize and mythologize. She didn't just work at the auto plant as some sort of "left work", she went to the quilting bees, truck pulls, dated, and lived with working poor Americans. And you know what, those folks trusted her as a result.

The following is from the Idaho News.

Economist aims to save small-town businesses

ST. ANTHONY -- Fremont County Economic Specialist Cathy Koon wants to start a revolution.

She's declaring war on out-of-town shopping in order to protect St. Anthony businesses, the victims when consumers drive to Rexburg or Idaho Falls to buy items.

Her battle plan is simple: Develop a community store that can meet residents' needs and keep business in town. The maneuver could help consumers while boosting the economy Koon's watched struggle for years. But so far, she's having trouble rallying the troops.

Only 20 people have enlisted in the plan Koon has been promoting since April. She's making a last-ditch effort at a town meeting tonight to gain more support but likely will retreat if she can't get it.

"Whether people show up or not on Thursday might make or break this," she said. "If the community doesn't want this, I'm wasting my time."

She doesn't think she has been.

Although the idea is slow to catch on in St. Anthony, small towns across the nation are showing interest in community stores that can compete with big-box stores. The stores are owned by town residents who purchase shares to fund the upstart and supply items residents need.

One example is the Powell Mercantile in Powell, Wyo.

Manager Paul Ramos fields calls daily about the store and has heard from every state but Hawaii and Alaska. The five-year-old mercantile, which has been featured on National Public Radio, CBS News and Smithsonian Magazine, has carved a niche by supplying the community with all sorts of clothing items -- from name brands to prom dresses.

Ramos said the store gives people a reason to shop in town and other local businesses reap the benefits. Customers coming into the mercantile are carrying bags from nearby hardware and office supply stores, he said.

"It's wonderful for not only the store, but downtown Powell," he said.

That is Koon's vision for St. Anthony.

She thinks a clothing store similar to Powell's would fill a need in St. Anthony without competing with established businesses. A community poll would decide what items to sell.

The products would have to draw people from St. Anthony and surrounding communities such as Ashton and Rexburg -- a must for the store to work, Ramos said. Though Powell has only 5,300 residents, surrounding communities give it a 15,000 customer pool to draw from.

Plano resident Lynne Byrne has done some of her shopping in St. Anthony in the past, but usually goes to Rexburg because of the variety.

The proposed store would be an advantage for those who don't want to travel, she said, but it would have to offer unique bargains to compete with Wal-Mart and K-Mart roughly 15 miles away.

But Koon believes they could do that and still make

it work -- if they can get the support.

She said it would take 18 months and about $400,000 (sold in $500 shares) to get the store up and running. Many of the details still need to be worked out, but she hopes residents will catch the vision and start making suggestions.

"This isn't the answer to everything, but it's a start to turning things around," she said. "I hold out hope that this is a good thing for St. Anthony."

If you go

What: town meeting to discuss a community-owned store


7 p.m. today

Where: the Veterans' Hall in St. Anthony


Guatemalans are preparing to choose a new president on September 9th, in a climate marred by an increase in politically motivated violence.

Gunmen have attacked candidates and an activist for Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu's political party three times in the last week in Guatemala's bloodiest election race since a civil war ended a decade ago.

Armed men attacked the house of a congressional candidate from Menchu's party on Tuesday, seriously injuring her two teen-age girls. Olga Lucas' 17-year-old daughter was hospitalized in intensive care, said Armando Sanchez, another congressional hopeful from the Encuentro Por Guatemala Party, which is running Menchu for president. Lucas' other daughter, aged 20, suffered minor injuries.

In another shooting on the same day, three armed men fired at a former guerrilla commander, now an activist for Menchu, injuring his bodyguard and his mechanic.

"This was an assassination attempt," said Cesar Montes, a leader of the leftist insurgency during the country's 1960-1996 civil war. Montes said he shot back at his assailants.

So far, in the campaigning leading up to the elections on Sept. 9, the authorities have reported 61 violent attacks on candidates and political activists. The death toll stands at 26, including seven national congressmen and numerous other office seekers.

Much of the bloodletting has been attributed to right wing paramilitaries and narcotics traffickers and their allies. Political scientist Francisco Garcia says, "The violent paramilitary forces that fought during the war weren't disarmed ... They were just recycled and put to use by organized criminals."

Alvaro Colom's National Unity for Hope party, or UNE, which leads polls, has seen 18 of its candidates and party activists murdered in the campaign, including one congressman shot in front of party headquarters in April.

Colom says his party has been targeted because of his zero tolerance approach to organized crime gangs in the ranks.

However, rival candidates say Colom, running for president for the third time, let criminals infiltrate the party as he struggled for funds in the last election campaign in 2003. "Drug traffickers are embedded in the UNE," Menchu told Reuters. "They opened the doors to an ominous element."

But the politicians are the lesser worry as far as the killings go.

IPS reported early this year civilian violence was already costing Guatemala half its national budget, as well as countless human lives and social breakdown, while corruption and impunity walk hand in hand.

Among the main economic consequences of this violence are: more resources spent on health services, loss of social capital, legal costs, worker absenteeism, investment in private security and a decline in productivity.

The violence is having a devastating impact on Guatemala, which despite having the largest economy in Central America with a GDP of 32.6 billion dollars, is ranked 118th on the UNDP Human Development Index, below countries with lower per capita incomes such as Bolivia, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Meanwhile, Prensa Latina reports Maya Waqib Kej National Convergence, a coalition of 25 indigenous organizations, has ruled out giving electoral support to any of the traditonal parties.

"This stance does not mean a call to abstention, but to reflect on the vote so that it is granted to local groups that may benefit our peoples," said Domingo Hernandez, a leader of the movement.

He considered it a positive that indigenous people are candidates, including Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu, but criticized the programs of the major parties.

"It is important for our brothers and sisters to be able to vie for public posts, including the presidency of the Republic, but the parties nominating them have failed to include in their plans the most pressing needs of our communities," he noted.

The indigenous are not alone.

Lack of interest in the elections among young people, who represent 43 percent of the electoral register, reached 60 percent, according to a recent poll by the Vox Latina pollster.

Observers attribute that apathy to lack of leadership among the candidates, and of concrete proposals to solve the country's structural problems.

The following is from MISNA.


An endless string of attacks have been carried out since Sunday by unknown gunmen against members of the left-wing ‘Encuentro por Guatemala’ (EG) party of Nobel peace prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú Túm, who is running in the September 9 presidential election. The latest occurred yesterday, when unknown gunmen opened fire at the home of an EG female congress candidate, wounding her two daughters. “There have been so many attacks in the past days that I have not even had time to stop and think who is behind this”, commented Nineth Montenegro, founder of the indigenous political movement. The assault took place outside the residence of Olga Lucas, in a suburban neighbourhood of Guatemala City. The injured girls “are not in life threatening conditions”, said Arturo Higueros, communications representative of EG, adding: “It may have been a politically motivated attack, but also of ‘pandillas’ (juvenile criminal gangs) present in the neighbourhood”. In a still unclear incident on Tuesday, the former guerrilla commander César Montes, adviser of Menchú, escaped an armed attack in the capital, in which his bodyguard and a mechanic were wounded; on Sunday, the body of León Bravo, EG mayoral candidate in Santa Catarina, was found in the trunk of his car; while in May, Liberato Granados, mayoral candidate in Zacapa, was assassinated. According to the independent ‘Mirador Electoral’ organisation, it is the most violent election campaign of the past 20 years in Guatemala: since the start of the year there have been at least 50 acts of “political violence” in Guatemala with a toll of 36 dead and 16 wounded, much higher than that registered ahead of the 2003 election. On September 9 over 5.9-million Guatemalans are called to the polls to elect a president, a vice-president, 158 lawmakers and 322 communal administrators.


Supporters of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) dispersed on Thursday afternoon after police banned them from marching to the army headquarters where they planned to fire arrows to show their opposition to a draft constitution.

Before being dispersed, however, the protesters marched from the Democracy Monument intending toward the Royal Thai Army headquarters. The marchers were dressed in ancient Siam Warrior dress and carrying bows and arrows.

When asked to halt the protesters stopped their march and read a statement, calling for the revocation of martial law for a truly open national referendum currently scheduled for August 19. Then several volleys of arrows were launched in two areas along Rajdamnoen Avenue near Democracy Monument.

As Thailand gets ready to go to the polls, a total of 187,950 police and army personnel are set to man 87,824 polling booths countrywide from Sunday through August 19, referendum day, a senior police officer said Sunday.

One week ago the UDD released the following open letter:

An open letter to International organizations throughout the globe

August 2nd, 2007
Bangkok, Thailand

Dear Sir,

As this letter reaches you, the eight principal leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, an umbrella organization striving for the restoration of Democracy in Thailand in its true and full spirit, are sequestered in a high security prison at Bangkok Remand Custody, Ngam Wong Wan Rd, with lesser privileges than common convicts.

The incidents that led to the conviction itself are testimony to the ghastly new chapter that is being written in the history of this nation of peace-loving, affable people-that of violent repression of individual freedom, open practice of deceit by the state and unlawful manipulation of the judiciary and the press, making a mockery of the chance for a life of decency for the common man.

On July 22nd 2007, there was a large gathering of peaceful demonstrators in front of General Prem Tinasulanonda’s residence. Throughout its history of the last several decades, Thai people have always had the right to protest, and gatherings multiples in size of what was present on the evening of July 22nd have been allowed to protest with no violent interventions by the state.

On this particular evening however, the government in an act of brazen ruthlessness, designed to cover its shame, disrupted the peaceful gathering by hitherto unprecedented use of force in the form of tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges, leading to chaos, confusion and tears and often grievous injuries for the protesters. In another sign of the pervasive control of the government on all institutions, the local media’s reporting was biased to a shocking extent, providing no light from reliable quarters on what actually happened at the protest, that evening. We would like to present actual video footage with narrative in English of the incident, which provides reportage free from the attack by the government censor.

The anti-government leaders were arrested on July 28 after scores of people were injured at a rally held earlier that week outside a former prime minister's home.

On September 19 2006, the Royal Thai Army staged a coup against the government of caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup, which was Thailand's first in fifteen years, followed a year-long political crisis involving Thaksin and political opponents and occurred less than a month before nation-wide House elections were originally scheduled to be held. The military cancelled the upcoming elections, suspended the Constitution, dissolved Parliament, banned protests and all political activities, suppressed and censored the media, declared martial law, and arrested Cabinet members.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, Peoples Coalition Party, Turn Left newspaper and Workers' Democracy, Thailand immediately after the coup described the whole mishagas like this:

"Last night the military staged a coup against the elected, but controversial, government of Taksin Shinawat. In the tradition of all Thai military coups for the last 60 years, the dictatorship claimed to have staged the coup in order to "reform politics" and "protect democracy". They said they had "no interest in taking personal power" and would be "returning power to the people as soon as possible". And in the tradition of many previous coups they later sought and received support from the monarchy.

The military have taken over all Thai TV channels and have blocked foreign news channels such as CNN and BBC. The TV is showing pictures of the royal family along with various declarations from the so-called "democratic reform committee".

The Thai peoples' movement had good reason to oppose the Taksin government which presided over gross human rights abuses in the south and in the so-called war on drugs and pushed for many neo-liberal policies, such as privatisation and free trade agreements. Yet the Taksin government retained huge popularity among the poor. On 2 April this year 16 million people voted for the government, as opposed to 10 million who voted against.

The reason was simple. The Thai Rak Thai government of Taksin had initiated many pro-poor policies, including a universal health care system and various measures to cut poverty. Yet many of those who joined the anti-government movement earlier this year, dismissed the electorate for being uneducated and ill-informed. Unfortunately many social movement leaders also took this position. Instead of respecting the poor and the electorate, they demanded that the king sack the government. Although the king refused to do this, the position taken by the anti-Taksin movement has helped pave the way for this coup.

It is now up to us in the peoples' movement to once again struggle for democracy in Thailand. This struggle for democracy can be the only road to real and lasting political and social reform which is much needed in order to make Thai society a more just and peaceful society...."

The following is from the Thai News Agency

Police block UDD march

Anti-coup demonstrators marching on the Royal Thai Army headquarters dispersed after being intercepted by police units Thursday afternoon.

Protesters from the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) marched from the Democracy Monument intending to carry out their planned protest at the Royal Thai Army headquarters, but they were blocked by a 450-man formation of police officers.

The protesters stopped their march and announced their statement, calling for the revocation of martial law for the transparency of the national referendum due on August 19.

Some 100 police officers are stationed at the Royal Thai Army headquarters and barriers have been set up at three locations to prevent protesters from entering the headquarters.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing six key leaders of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) petitioned the Criminal Court arguing against the police request to revoke bail for further detentions of his clients.

The petition clarified that the six UDD leaders joined an anti-government rally at Sanam Luang on Monday shortly after their release from Bangkok Remand Prison on bail, but none of their actions violated the bail orders as claimed by the police. They insisted that they had exercised their rights under the freedom of expression.

The seven released on bail on August 6 after 12 days confinement at Bangkok Remand Prison included former key members of the now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party -- Veera Musikapong, Jakraphob Penkair, Aphiwan Wiriyachai, Weng Tojirakarn, Chatuphorn Phrompan, Nattawut Saikua and Wiphuthalaeng Phatthanaphumthai.

The court is scheduled to rule on their petition next Friday.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Maybe you have heard of the Freedom Concerts put on by Sean Hannity and his bud Ollie North. Perhaps not.

The announced aim of the concerts are "to benefit the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund for the children of America's military heroes."

A close look, however, calls into question just what the Freedom Alliance Scholarship" is actually getting.

The Daily Kos (I think this may actually be the first time I've quoted that blog) reports,
"After weaving through voluminous amounts of carefully crafted, parsed language and following up on the reporting of news hounds and a daily kos diarist it appears that Sean Hannity and Oliver North are using the name of dead American soldiers to garner profits for a right wing organization masquerading as a charity."

Are we surprised?

Tickets cost generally $50. Four dollars of that is sent to the Freedom Alliance which in turn only spends a fraction of the incoming revenues on the scholarship fund. The families of soldiers, it seems actually get less than 1% of the money forked out by those attending these shindigs.

By the way, in case you wondered, Freedom Alliance, an educational and charitable foundation, was founded in 1990 by LtCol Oliver L. North, who now serves as the organization's honorary chairman. On its website the Alliance states up front what it is all about:
"While there has been a liberal domination of the institutions of the federal government, the media and college campuses, Freedom Alliance has worked diligently to educate concerned citizens across the nation to the dangers of a growing federal government and an expansion of international institutions whose policies and influence adversely impact U.S. policy."

Thanks goes to One People's Project for the following.

Written by One People's Project

There is a little more than a month to go before Sean Hannity and Ollie North exploit not only the troops but Sept. 11 with one of their "Freedom Concerts" scheduled to take place at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. To that end, we are providing a letter you can print out and send or email to the general manager of Six Flags that draws attention to the concerns many people have with these concerts. This is why we cannot be part of the mainstream liberal circles. When we see something foul being done we want something done about it, even if it means us taking the initative. Let's take a look at this scenario. We have a radio talk-s--t host who never served in any branch of the military, who attacks those that did if they have a D next to their name and questions their integrity, even if they go to Iraq and either fought or lent support to the troops. When he is called out on his radio show in Dec. 2004 by a caller for not going over there himself, he says he was never asked to and that the liberals force themselves upon the troops (Al Franken was asked by the USO, by the way and is well-received). It takes him two friggin' years to actually make it there, and what does this moron do? Try to get those troops to say something bad about John Kerry! His partner in these concerts disgraced his rank and his uniform by committing treasonous acts that were forgiven because of the R next to his name, so while the rest of the country is telling him to go to hell, he is embraced by that right-wing who could care less. Together, they purport to raise money for the families of injured and fallen soldiers when it seems that this money is a little slow in reaching those families. There are dozens of other charities that you can trust will take care of those soldiers and their families, and we ask that you support them. We provided links to them along with the letter.

Six Flags Great Adventure
Attn: Mark Kane, General Manager
P.O. Box 120
1 Six Flags Blvd.
Jackson, NJ 08527

Dear Mr. Kane,

I am writing to ask that you reevaluate your hosting the of the annual Hannity Freedom Concert on Sept. 11. The money raised from this concert supports an untrustworthy organization headed by an ex-convict.

The Hannity Freedom Concert raises money for the Freedom Alliance, a group whose stated purpose is to provide scholarships to the children of injured and fallen soldiers. This is a worthy cause but a closer look at the Freedom Alliance raises several concerns.

First, the Freedom Alliance only puts about 55% of the money it raises towards its programs, meaning just a little more than half of the money they bring in is going towards these scholarships. Most charities put at least 75% towards their programs. Meanwhile, nearly 40% of the Freedom Alliance's funds are spent on fundraising expenses, which is more than twice what most groups spend. In fact, Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator, gave the group zero out of four stars in the area of efficiency. Clearly, the Freedom Alliance cannot be trusted to manage its own funds.

Even more startling is that the group's founder and honorary chairman is Oliver North. North was a key player in the disgraceful Iran-contra scandal and was convicted of accepting illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. This is certainly not a person I'd trust with my money.

Instead of hosting the Hannity Freedom Concert and supporting the Freedom Alliance, there are several other charities that are worthy of support. Below are some charities that support the troops. I urge that you instead support these charities and discontinue the annual Hannity Freedom Concert.


Upstanding Charities

Help for the Wounded
Angels Of Mercy
Azalea Charities Aid for Wounded Soldiers
Coalition to Salute America's Heroes
Comfort for America's Uniformed Services Elite
Helping Our Heroes Foundation
Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund
Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warriors

Homes for Disabled Troops
Fisher House Foundation
Homes for our Troops

Scholarships for Military Children
Scholarships for Military Children
Special Operations Warrior Foundation

Tragedy Assistance
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

Other Support

Military Heroes Fund
America Supports You
Hero Bracelets
Gold Star Families for Peace
Veterans for Peace
Fisher House
Operation We Care
Magnetic Peace


For today's report on class war in America we take you readers down to hang with the rich and famous in south Florida. Now anyone who has been to the Miami area can tell you how clear the divide is between those folks and the "real people" who inhabit the not always so beautiful, but still hot and humid areas, away from the sandy beaches.

Anyway, the story below will tune in on a small demonstration by union members who seem to be unhappy, and I can't imagine way, with the way their city/country taxes or doesn't tax the homes and condos of some of the richest people you're ever gonna meet.

But first, a little background.

Fisher Island is a census-designated place (CDP) and town located on a man-made island of the same name in both the City of Miami Beach and on unincorporated land in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Named for automotive parts pioneer and Miami Beach developer Carl G. Fisher, who once owned it, Fisher Island is 3 miles off shore of Miami, Florida. No road or causeway connects to the island, which is accessible by private ferry and helicopter.

Today, Fisher Island is a very exclusive and wealthy community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fisher Island had the highest per capita income of any place in the United States in 2000. There are only 800 properties on Fisher Island.

And for some "unknown" reason the people there think they need a break.

While most Florida homeowners are itching for a break on their property taxes, Fisher Island’s wealthy residents have been getting breaks for years.

In Miami-Dade County Florida law allows property owners to appeal any assessment on their property taxes. This is supposed to catch any errors made by appraisers.

Residents of the exclusive island at the foot of South Beach have gotten accustomed to challenging the property appraiser’s assessments before the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board —and saving big on property taxes.

A research report called “Fisher Island: Rich Play, Poor Pay” concluded, “…between 2002 and 2005, Fisher Island property owners managed to use this process to lower their assessed property values a cumulative total of more than $965 million below what it should have been.” Again, hard as it is to believe, there are only 800 properties on Fisher Island

This crap cost the county $15.2 million in tax revenues for one of the poorest cities in the United States.

And that "trickles down," as the Republicans like to say, to hurt the working people and unemployed of the county.

Oh by the way, just as a point of reference, up north in the great state of Indiana, in Marin County (that would be Indianapolis), it seems that folks in the County's poorest neighborhoods faced the largest percentage increases in assessed values and tax bills before a storm of public outrage compelled the governor last week to order a recalculation.

An analysis by The Indianapolis Star found that four of the five neighborhoods that would have been hardest hit are predominantly black, and the median household income in all five is well below the county median of $40,421.

The analysis also found:

• Three of the hardest-hit areas were in Washington Township, two in Center Township. Taxes on single-family homes in those areas jumped an average of 100 percent or more, compared with a countywide average of 23.6 percent.

• Only 13 percent of the county's neighborhoods have a median household income of less than $25,000, but 30 percent of the highest property tax increases and 40 percent of the highest assessment increases were in those neighborhoods.


The following is from the Miami Herald.

Union protests Fisher Island tax adjustments

Union leaders demanded that residents of Fisher Island, the nation's wealthiest community, stop using Miami-Dade's Value Adjustment Board to lower their property tax assessments and instead pay the full value of the property taxes they owe.

On Wednesday morning, 40 or so union members rallied in front of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami.

''They will be coming before the board tomorrow [Thursday] to get their taxes reduced again. When the board reduces those assessments, that means the county doesn't have the money to pay for nursing homes and other services for needy people,'' said Hiram Ruiz, political director of Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

In June, SEIU published a study alleging Fisher Island residents used the Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board to lower their property values by $965 million from 2002 to 2005. Gary A. Appel, an attorney who represents most of the unit owners on Fisher Island, disputed those figures on Tuesday. He said from 2002 to 2005, the amount of reductions totalled $52 million, not $965 million.

He said three separate reductions -- totalling $15.5 million -- were for the Fisher Island Clubhouse, the old Vanderbuilt mansion that cannot be demolished or put to more profitable use because of its historic designation.

''SEIU's attempted link to the VAB process is wrong, dangerous and nothing more than self-propaganda as the system benefits, equally, all economic classes,'' Appel said.

For months, the union and Fisher Island leaders have been squabbling over SEIU's continued efforts to unionize workers at Fisher Island Club and the Fisher Island Community Association.

''It is obvious from the reference to Fisher Island workers not making enough that SEIU's real issue is with the various employee entities including union recognition and compensation of employees,'' Appel said.

Three-fourths of property owners on Fisher Island do not have homestead exemptions, he said, so they cannot qualify for Save Our Homes, a state law that caps yearly assessments at 3 percent of a property's value.

Despite having the highest per capital income in the United States, according to the U.S. Census, Fisher Island is one of several communities in Miami-Dade that appeals property tax assessments. Property owners in Sunny Isles Beach and Coral Gables also appear before the board and secure the reductions they seek.

Ruiz said that county officials told him Appel will present 280 applications for assessment reductions Thursday. Appel said he believed the number less than that.

Thursday afternoon, SEIU plans to demonstrate in front of the Fisher Island Ferry Terminal, located off the MacArthur Causeway, according to union spokeswoman Tanya Aquino.


For the record folks, I am one of those (and I don't live in San Francisco) who are happy for Barry Bonds and think, if anything, he has gotten a raw deal. I am thrilled to have been able to watch the guy play the game as no one else has before him.

And my friends, even if he did use performance enhancing drugs (which has never been proven, by the way) so did just about everyone else in the game at the same time. That includes pitchers, who I guess we should presume, thus were better than they would have been without them. Also, keep in mind that for the longest time baseball cared less then two hoots about it anyway. And again, keep in mind that athletes have been using various drugs (like speed) for years and years. Keep in mind Babe Ruth never had to play at night or against African American players. Keep in mind Barry was the best player in the game long before anyone alleges anything about him. Keep in mind he is now 43 and has hit more home runs at that age than anyone else ever. Keep in mind that the eye hand coordination needed to hit a baseball is something quite unique. Keep in mind that Barry, especially in his prime, also was one of the best fielders around, one of the best base runners around, one of the best all around hitters around. And keep in mind that for years he was seldom even pitched to. The facts stand out no matter what the sports world wants to say or do about it.

And again, no one has ever proved Barry used anything.

As to his personality. Again, I say so what? Babe Ruth was a bit of a lout and Ty Cobb was a Klansman, Mickey and the boys were out partying every night and were sexist as hell. Ted Williams wouldn't even tip his hat to the crowd. Why is Bonds a bad guy because he is not friendly with the press boys and girls (who have been hounding him for years), or because he doesn't grin often enough, or isn't out in public the way some think he should be? What's the point. That's why we have politicians.

American wants it heroes to be white. And if they have to be African-American then it wants them to be smiling all the time, to be "aw shucks" sorts of folk, just pleased and so happy to be here.

Barry isn't that way and I say more power to him.

Henry Aaron was and always will be one of the greatest men to play the game. But I remember the death threats and the hate that followed him as he pursued Babe's record, too. I remember the talk about juiced baseballs, better bats, better physical training etc. and how that should disqualify anyone from saying he was better than the Babe (who, of course, happened to be a white fellow).

Now, of course, everyone likes Henry, just as now everyone likes Muhammad Ali, but things were different back when. I was there. I know.

It's America after all.

So again, I congratulate, probably the best player in the history of baseball for his remarkable achievements.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Black August Film Festival -- Assata: Eyes of the Rainbow

August 16th 2007
Time 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Washington, DC

Location Sankofa Videos & Books, 2714 Ga Ave NW
Phone Contact 202-271-7763
Topic / Issue Prisons, Police & Repression
Sponsor Black August Planning Organization (BAPO)
Black August Film Festival: Assata: Eyes of the Rainbow

"Eyes of the Rainbow" deals with the life of Assata Shakur,the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army leader who escaped from prison and was given political asylum in Cuba, where she has lived for close to 15 years. In it we visit with Assata in Havana and she tells us about her history and her life in Cuba.

Discussion afterwards.


In case you were wondering those nurses in Fiji are still defying the military government with their strike. And they aren't about to be bullied.

Striking nurses who were detained at the Nasova Police Academy yesterday have been released. The nurses were holding up placards when police and soldiers rounded them up.

Criminal Investigations Department director Aisea Navakamocea confirmed police had warned them before they were released.

The nurses were interviewed but no charges were laid.

The nurses are reported to have returned to the Fiji Nursing Association headquarters to continue protesting as they end the 14th day of their strike today.

The Fiji Nurses Association says that nurses will stand firm and will not be moved by statements made by Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

Fiji Nursing Association, General Secretary Kuini Lutua, who was one of those arrested, declared the nurses are mothers of the country and they will fight to the end.

Still, Lutua says they are looking forward to continue negotiations in trying to solve the impasse.

This is the longest ever strike action to conducted by an essential services union in Fiji.

The following is from the Fiji Times.

Protesters walk free

TWENTY Fiji Nursing Association members were released late yesterday after being taken in for questioning by police for protesting outside Government Buildings where a Cabinet meeting was in progress.

Shortly before midday, security in and around Government Buildings was increased as reports filtered in of a protest there by nurses.

FNA members arrived in pairs with placards and stood across Gladstone Road from Government Buildings, with police and army personnel facing them.

The striking nurses were spread out along Gladstone Road in groups of two and silently held up their placards in the hope Cabinet ministers would see them.

FNA general secretary Kuini Lutua, who was part of the group, said the protesters wanted to show the interim Government that it needed to make a decision soon regarding their grievances.

"They have refused to meet us so we have come down now to show them that these are the messages that we want them to see," she said.

"We need them to make a decision for this country; make a decision for the nurses of this country.

"Nurses are public servants and if they care for this nation, they must care for the workers of this country."

She said they were abiding by the Public Order Act by standing in pairs but were ready to be taken in by police.

"We hope they will see our message; that they will see what we're trying to say because they have refused to talk to us."

The protesters were taken to the Police Academy where they were questioned by a team of officers.

Commissioner of Police Commodore Esala Teleni said last night the FNA members were not charged but their statements were taken by the investigators before they were warned.

"They were only warned verbally but we will keep the file open," he said.

"We understand that they're standing in small groups and holding placards but their motive is very clear."

Commodore Teleni said he felt his officers acted very well in dealing with the protesters.

"We were well aware of their plans to protest and when we were alerted by our intelligence unit, I personally sent a team led by a senior officer to convince them not to come to Government Buildings.

"I was briefed by the senior officer who said that he had warned them (against protesting at Government Buildings). They were verbally warned that it (protest) would be illegal"

Commodore Teleni said all along when the unions were planning to go on strike, police had been allowing that process to go through provided it was done within the ambit of the law.

He said he had personally made a plea in the media to those intending to go on strike and to all the people of Fiji to remain calm but despite that, the FNA members went ahead with their protest.

"But this is a warning and reminder to everyone that we will ensure that people are not intimidated or live in fear."

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said the protesting FNA members should have expected to be arrested by police.

"That's normal, you break the law, you get arrested," he said.


It ain't easy being dead poor or working poor in the big city. If you have a job or need to get to school it's a chore. Most such folks have to depend on mass transit for which they have to fork out some of what little money they've got to get across town to whereve they need to go.

Which leads us to today's "class war" in America story.

In Philadelphia last month the city public transportation behemoth decided to try to screw those very people who so depend on it. They decided they'd eliminate transfers which might not seem like a big thing to you, but when you have to count every damn penny it makes a helluva difference.

What were they thinking in their nice air conditioned offices when some suited executives made this decision?

I don't care what they were thinking, the truth of their actions speak louder than their words.

A blogger at Young Philly Politics put it this way:

They have an inept system, that favors suburbanites over the city riders who foot the bills. Then, they try to penalize city riders for that inept system. Nothing like screwing poor school kids and moms taking their kids across town to church!

He is absolutely right as SEPTA (which stands for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) provides public transportation services in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties, with selected rail service in New Jersey and the State of Delaware decided to eliminate the "benefit" of transfers.
SEPTA gets people around Philadelphia which is a place, I can personally testify as someone who once lived there, is not a place you'd much want to drive in especially if like most poor and working class people you can't afford outrageous parking fees everywhere (that is if you happen to own a car to park in the first place). Consequently, you are forced to depend on SEPTA just to get by.

Well, right now SEPTA, its riders and the city are locked in a battle over whether it can move ahead with its plans to end the transfer passes.

SEPTA says it wants to no longer offer the cut-rate transfer fares to riders in need of a transit connection to reach their destinations. They had planned for this to take place August 1st, but the outcry and the city and the courts have put this on hold - for now. A Common Pleas Judge issued an injunction last week against SEPTA’s elimination of transfers after the city accused the monopoly of discriminating against black and low-income riders.

Back in Common Pleas court yesterday City solicitor Romy Diaz said SEPTA simply disregarded federal law: “There should be a minority analysis. The fact that it wasn’t conducted is disturbing. And our analysis suggests that there are going to be significant minority riders who are affected.”
And the city’s attorney who is arguing the case, Mark Zecca, went further than that: in court he accused SEPTA of racial discrimination:

"They would not have done this if it were a predominately white population,” he said.

In fact, the city’s attorney showed last week that, while fares for children and adults who take one or two transfers will go up anywhere from 36 to 200%, fares for some people in the suburbs will decline 27%.

SEPTA says it has to do this for financial reasons.

Others disagree.

Marc Stier,a member of the steering committee of the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, argued in the Daily News that eliminating transfers won't generate much more money for SEPTA and constitutes a 36% increase for riders who previously used transfers. "That is unfair to those riders," he writes, "mostly schoolchildren and workers who can't get where they need to go on one bus or train." And as aptly pointed out by the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition many of the adults and school children who depend on transfers can’t afford to pay an additional 36% or 55%

"SEPTA," wrote Marc Stier, "has argued that eliminating transfers will encourage riders to buy a weekly TransPass, which might save them money in the long run. While that's a solution for some riders, it won't help the occasional rider or the rider who takes SEPTA three days a week. And it creates a burden for low-wage workers who can't easily afford to buy a weekly pass."

The Pennsylvania Transit Coalition points out:
"...the transfer issue also has broader ramifications. Now that SEPTA has received at least part of the dedicated funding it has long needed, it is time for us all to start working on the dramatic improvements in our transit system we have also long needed. We need both big changes—new transit lines and massive improvements in existing lines—and small changes—cleaner trains, buses, and station; more sensible schedules; more timely information and so on. We won’t get either the big or small changes we need unless SEPTA is willing to start working with—and listen to—community groups and political leaders. And a critical element of working together is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Whether deliberately or because it did not care to work with the community, SEPTA has not listened or talked honestly to the public in the past. It is time for it to start, even if it has to be forced to do so by judicial order."

The following article is from today's Philadelphia Enquirer.

U.S. agency steps into fray over transfers
Federal authorities say SEPTA must analyze the effect that fare hikes would have on low-income riders.
By Larry Eichel

SEPTA planned to eliminate its 60-cent transfers on Aug. 1 but the city stepped in and temporarily blocked the effort, so they remain valid for now.

A letter from the Federal Transit Administration has injected a potentially significant element into the legal battle over SEPTA's attempt to do away with the 60-cent transfer.

In the letter, dated Friday, the administration's office of civil rights told SEPTA that it must conduct an analysis as to whether any proposed fare increase would "have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income riders."

SEPTA spokesman Jim Whitaker said yesterday that the transit agency had studied the topic and was talking to the federal administration to find out whether its work met federal guidelines. No analysis has been made public.

The existence of the letter was revealed yesterday at the resumption of the hearing in Common Pleas Court regarding the city's attempt to block the elimination of the transfer fare.

Judge Gary F. DiVito gave lawyers in the case until Thursday afternoon to file briefs about several issues, including the relevance of the letter. So it is likely that will be no decision until Friday at the earliest.

In the meantime, the 60-cent transfer, which SEPTA planned to eliminate effective last Tuesday, remains in effect.

The letter apparently resulted from a telephone call to the federal administration made last week by Darlene Heep, a senior attorney in the City Solicitor's Office. In the document, the federal agency noted that fare increases that disproportionately impact minority and low-income riders are permissible if the alternatives "would have more severe adverse effects."

Much of the hearing yesterday was devoted to statistical presentations by city witnesses indicating that a high percentage of the city's low-income and African American residents rely on SEPTA and on transfers.

Elimination of such fares would raise the cost of a one-transfer ride 37 percent for passengers using tokens, 54 percent for cash payers.

Also impacted would be students. They have been able to buy tokens at a discount and transfer for free throughout the city transit division.

Elimination of transfers was part of a rate increase SEPTA described as averaging 11 percent.

In an interview, Thomas S. Biemer, an attorney for SEPTA, cited two reasons he thinks the federal letter should have no bearing on the legal proceedings.

One is that the federal regulations cited in the letter went into effect May 13, several months after SEPTA began the rate-changing process. "You can't change the rules in the middle of the game," Biemer said.

The other, he said, is that the appropriate remedy for any violation of such a regulation is up to the federal agency and should have no effect on local litigation about a fare hike.

City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. countered that the thrust of the federal regulations has been in effect for years. By ignoring federal concerns about minority and low-income riders, he said, SEPTA was jeopardizing its federal funding.

That qualifies, he said, as unreasonable behavior - "a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion"- and thus a violation of the state legislation that created the transit authority.

In court, Mark R. Zecca, a deputy in Diaz's office, went further, alleging that SEPTA would not have eliminated transfers if doing so would have impacted "a predominantly white population."

Throughout the transfer controversy, SEPTA officials have said that only about 8 percent of riders use transfers and that many of them could minimize the impact of eliminating transfers by switching to weekly transpasses.

In court yesterday, Christopher Zearfoss, the transportation director in the city's Office of Strategic Planning, testified that his own studies indicated transfer use was at least somewhat higher than SEPTA estimated.

Monday, August 06, 2007


An uproar over police use of Tasers continues in Brattleboro, Vermont, where a protest is being planned for Tuesday.

The two people tasered were Jonathan "Slug" Crowell and Samantha Kilmurray. They were part of a small group of people who "occupied" a vacant lot on Putney Road where a bowling alley used to stand, planting shrubs, flowers and even a tree.

The owner of the land, who also owns a gas station next door, has said he would like to expand the gas station to allow for more diesel pumps and truck parking. The protesters were removed at his request. "I didn't start this," said Jim Robertson, who owns the land. "Obviously it was their intention to have a confrontation."

But many in a town known for being a place that's tolerant and liberal-minded have been outraged.

With no danger to officers or the public, "why Taser anybody?" asked Brattleboro resident Gerry Benjamin.

"I can't conceive of why we would have to Taser peaceful protesters," George Reed-Savory of Brattleboro told the local paper, The Reformer, adding the police department should develop policies that insure it never happens again.

A spokesman for Amnesty International USA, which has called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers, said he was surprised non-violent protesters were stunned in, of all places, Brattleboro, Vermont.

"Here are these people practicing civil disobedience," said Joshua Rubenstein, the Northeast regional director for Amnesty International USA, based in Somerville, Mass. "There's no threat to anyone's life or liberty. No threat of injury. It's an outrageous use of force."

When Tasers were first introduces, said Rubenstein, "the public was told this was an alternative to lethal force."

But he said across the country, Tasers are being used "simply to get someone to comply with a police order" when there is not threat of violence "and certainly no need to use lethal force."

"We believe police are not properly trained," he said, and they often use Tasers as "a quick solution" and not as a last resort.

More than 70 people have died in the last three years in Taser-related incidents, according to Amnesty International USA.

"It has been used by police around the country in inappropriate circumstances," said Rubenstein.

On top of all this, A volunteer emergency medical technician, Raven Burchard, who spoke out at a Selectboard meeting against police use of Tasers on nonviolent protesters was suspended pending an investigation.

Said David Dunn, executive director of the emergency ambulance service, "Raven has been suspended from the organization pending investigation of his actions in a Rescue Inc. uniform in front of the Selectboard. He was not authorized to be speaking on behalf of the agency."

Meanwhile, Brattleboro police have been told to suspend their use of Taser stun guns while town officials review the department's policy on their use.

The following story is from the Brattleboro Reformer (Vermont).

Taser protest planned for Tuesday

A group of area residents is planning to take to the streets Tuesday to protest the use of Tasers on a pair of nonviolent protesters.

Starting at noon, they will gather at Wells Fountain in downtown Brattleboro before walking around the Municipal Center, past the post office and back up to the fountain. If time permits, the marchers will then repeat their circle.

The organizer of the event, Leo Schiff, called the march a "moving picket."

"The people who supervise the police are the Selectboard and they need to know how people in town feel," he said.

On July 24, while protesting the possible development of a vacant lot on Putney Road, Jonathan Crowell and Samantha Kilmurray, of West Dummerston, were stunned with Tasers by Brattleboro police after they refused to leave the property. They were cited for trespassing.

"I was appalled at the police use of excessive force on peaceful protesters," said Schiff, who said he has been involved in nonviolent protest "for many years."

Schiff, who said Taser use does have a place in the Brattleboro Police Department's arsenal to subdue people who may be violent, feels "there are clearly some training issues with the local police department," adding "and I think there are leadership issues with the department as well."

The march is an opportunity for those who feel the police action was inappropriate to get together and continue the dialogue on the use of Tasers in Brattleboro.

Crowell said it would also give people an opportunity to meet him and Kilmurray and realize "we are human beings who are thoughtful," adding "it's a chance for people to stand up against violence to human beings in our community."

Schiff is asking marchers to bring signs and noise makers but also urged them to be respectful.

"All participants in the demonstration must adhere to a strict code of nonviolence of action, attitude and speech toward persons and property," wrote Schiff, in an e-mail announcing the march.

In his e-mail, Schiff said the march is planned for Aug. 7, because the Selectboard will be holding a regular meeting that night.

"I am hoping that our demonstration will help push the Selectboard to hold the police and Chief John Martin accountable for the indefensible use of Tasers against our comrades Slug and Sam," wrote Schiff.

An open air meeting permit from the town is required before a group of people can hold a protest. There is no cost for the permit, but it must be reviewed by the police department. In this case, the Brattleboro Police Department approved the permit on the condition that all marchers follow Vermont and town law and don't impede vehicle or pedestrian traffic.


Last month members of the unit which protects the President of Panama attacked protesters who were demanding answers in a bizarre mass poisoning in their country.

A little over a year ago, doctors, nurses and pharmacists in Panama's public health care system began to notice a strange series of deaths and illnesses, mostly involving kidney failure. It wasn't until October that the Ministry of Health said anything to the public and declared an emergency. It turned out that the patients had been poisoned by cough syrup mixed in a government lab using Chinese-made diethylene glycol (DEG) that had been mislabeled as glycerin. DEG, commonly used as automotive antifreeze, is a deadly toxin. The material had been marked "TD glycerin" (imitation glycerin) by its Chinese manufacturer, was sold by a Chinese wholesaler to a Spanish wholesaler as medical grade glycerin, which sold it to a Panamanian wholesaler, which sold it to Seguro Social (CSS). After months in a warehouse, it was mixed into medicines at the CSS Medicine Lab near the University of Panama, which has since been closed. Somewhere along the chain of distribution, probably at multiple somewheres, the labels on the plastic jugs of DEG were switched to alter expiration dates and misrepresent the material as medical grade glycerin. Neither the CSS nor the wholesalers tested the stuff to verify that it was what it had been represented to be. The CSS not only didn't test the medicines it made for purity and safety, it didn't have the budget or equipment to do so.

When the government finally did call an emergency, it was a matter of about a week before, after a false start or two, experts from the US Centers for Disease Control identified the problem. It was found that some 20,000 bottles of DEG-laced sugar-free cough syrup had been distributed and the government called for people to turn them in and sent out investigators to visit patients who had been prescribed the medication and recover the material. Fewer than 3,000 of the bottles of tainted medicine were recovered.

China blamed Panamanian firms for passing off the industrial solvent for use in the medicines. A Chinese official said Panamanian firms doctored paperwork to mislabel the chemical's use and shelf life.

A senior official in Beijing, Wei Chuanzhong, said the chemical had been confusingly labelled as "TD glycerine" when Chinese companies sold it to Spanish firms. They then sold the product on to Panamanian firms.

He accused Panamanian traders of doctoring the records to show the product as medical glycerine which was then used in cough syrups and other medicines.

They also changed the shelf life of the already expired product from one year to four years, he said.

Whoever is at fault the results have been awful.

The official death toll --- those proven by forensic medical tests or conceded by the government to have been caused by DEG --- was set at 102. The government is holding the line at that number on the list of people who might get compensation.

Meanwhile, a group of Ngobe students at the University of Panama complained that in remote communities of the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca there were many deaths and illnesses that went unreported and uncounted because it's just not practical for many in that area of the country to make their way to a prosecutor's office. Investigators from the Public Ministry went out to the comarca and the prosecutors' list of suspected DEG deaths climbed over 600.

The families of many of the victims and some of the ailing survivors organized the Comite de Familiares por el Derecho a la Salud y la Vida (Relatives Committee for the Right to Health and Life). Not surprisingly these people wanted drastic action taken against those responsible for the injuries and deaths of their loved ones.

Then on July 19 members the presidential guard beat and kicked family members of those who had died from toxic cough syrup distributed by the government as well as some ailing survivors of the mass poisoning.

The following comes from the Panama News.

Fallout continues in beatings of protesting poison victims

On August 3 Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino Real announced that José Gómez, the director of the Institutional Protection Service (SPI) that guards the president, had been suspended for 30 day for "the lack of control of the SPI units" that beat and kicked diethylene glyclol (DEG) poisoning patients and relatives of those who died from the government-distributed toxin in a July 19 incident near the Palacio de las Garzas. Also suspended were a SPI agent who sprayed chemical mace on one protester and another who stomped on a demonstrator who had been knocked down. A SPI lieutenant who was shown on Telemetro news videos kicking protest leader Gabriel Pascual was not sanctioned. The Torrijos administration declined to say whether the three SPI members were suspended with or without pay.

Gómez, who was at the scene and in charge during the presidential guards' attack on the protesters, was originally put in charge of the investigation of the incident by President Torrijos, but after public protests a three-member commission, including two of Gómez's subordinates, was given the task of investigating.

The president himself has had no comment about the actions of his guards, and over the past year very little to say about the at least 102 and possibly more than 600 poisoning deaths caused by his administration's production and distribution of DEG-tainted medicines.

The Relatives Committee for the Right to Health and Life, the group that organized the July 19 protest, called the disciplinary measures a "mockery." Across the spectrum of opposition groups, from left to right, similar opinions were issued. The labor/left FRENADESO umbrella group, referring to General Noriegas' infamous riot squad, called the SPI "the same Dobermans as always" and accused the investigators of covering up a second beating of protester Ransés García while he was in custody. Law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal said that the violence presages the Torrijos administration's intention to move Panama in the direction of becoming a police state. Former President Guillermo Endara accused the current administration of trying to insult Panamanians' intelligence.

The videos of the beating were widely seen on television. The network that recorded the incident, Telemetro, is part of the MEDCOM conglomerate and politically aligned with the PRD. However, there is a power struggle brewing within the ruling party over the 2009 presidential nomination and MEDCOM is run by relatives of former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares, whose quest for another term as president is opposed by Martín Torrijos. Thus the network, which is normally not very subtle about its partisan allegiances, apparently put family and faction before party in its decision to air the damaging videos.


Okay OD readers, here we go again. It's our little "class war" story of the day from out here in America.

Locals in a Nogales, Arizona subdivision have learned a bleak lesson about private water services. They've learned they don't have any water and they don't really have any recourse.

For a week now customers of the Valle Verde Water Company have had little or no potable water.

The water company blames their woes on 1) the city, which in this case has no control over anything, 2) the company's former owner who is dead.

Residents already knew they were in trouble when earlier this summer the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Director Steve Owens announced that ADEQ had issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Valle Verde Water Company for a series of
drinking water quality violations in Santa Cruz County.

ADEQ cited the Valle Verde Water Company for failing to conduct
mandatory water quality monitoring, installing portions of a drinking
water system without the required permits, serving drinking water to
customers in excess of standards, and failing to notify customers of
pollutant levels in excess of drinking water standards.

Valle Verde Water Company, ADEQ said, had been serving drinking water tainted with
tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE, to customers. PCE is an
industrial solvent, often used in dry cleaning. Consumption of PCE
tainted drinking water over many years could cause liver problems and
may increase a person's cancer risk.

Frank Leyva and his family live in the Valle Verde subdivision. Upon hearing of the violation report, he told television station KVOA, "I still have two kids at home, my wife, and my self, so that's quite a worry. Who knows how long we've been drinking that water."

One street over from Frank, Margarita Sol, who expressed the same concerns even though her family has been drinking bottled water for years. "We wash our vegetables and things with the running water. So there's still a danger there."

Valle Verde is classified as a “community” public water system because it serves a year-round population of roughly 2300 persons and is regulated by the state.

Yet, it sure seems to me to be a private company apparently not really beholden to anybody much.

Whatever the water company calls itself, it ought to drop water from its title until they figure out how to provide some to its customers.

As for the folks without water, there just doesn't seem to much of anything they can really do about it.

It ain't right.

The following is from the Nogales International (Arizona).

Valle Verde customers left in the lurch again
By Manuel C. Coppola

Instead of improving, things took a turn for the worse at the Valle Verde Water Co., and residents who had little or no potable water this week, don't know where to turn for help anymore.

"This is my livelihood," said Roxanne Baker, who has had her hair salon in the Flagstone building on N. Grand Avenue for 16 years. "I have no water, and 99.9 percent of everything I do involves the use of water. I'm just trying to hang on, here."

All dried up

Baker said on Wednesday that her establishment had been dry for six days. She, like other neighbors, have been calling to complain to the Valle Verde Water Co. and the City of Nogales, which by default, has become embroiled in a cluster of circumstances.

Because residents and businesses within the Valle Verde service area are hooked up to the municipal sewer system, the city does courtesy billing for the company when it sends out its sewer bills. The city in turn reimburses Valle Verde. The company has collected $156,578 since January.

But because residents write their checks out to the city, the common misconception is that the municipality is somehow profiting and is responsible for service quality.

Further enmeshing the city in the controversy is that it is actually providing water for about 2,395 residents in one of the northern portions of the system, particularly the Valle Verde subdivision.

That's because several contaminated wells in the area were shut down in January.

The city bills Valle Verde directly for that consumption and not the residents. Since the wells were shut down, Nogales has billed Valle Verde $56,161 for more than 22.1 million gallons.

To complicate matters, when residents called Valle Verde for explanations to last week's problems, a company representative would say the solution rested in the city's hands, which angered Mayor Ignacio J. Barraza. Barraza reportedly called the company and strongly suggested that the Valle Verde representative stop perpetuating misleading information.

Since its owner William "Pancho" Randall died in October 2005 at the age of 86, the Valle Verde Water Co. has been in a steady mode of deterioration. Family members say Randall took his knowledge about the system's infrastructure to the grave, leaving nobody qualified or knowledgeable to carry on the business.

Two weeks ago, Mike Leider, a 26-year water systems veteran originally from Illinois, was retained by the company. He said on Wednesday, "we have made huge strides but we still have some issues to address."

More pressing was a problem with Well No. 7, which serves an area between the old U.S. Forest Service Complex on N. Grand Avenue and Frank Reed Road near Nogales High School.

That area is not part of the system being supplied by the City of Nogales water.

The other problem, which Leider says would take "three hours and a backhoe" to resolve, is at the connection where the city's water meets the Valle Verde system just west of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division on N. Grand Avenue and Old Tucson Road.

Leider, who resides in Vail, was in Nogales on Tuesday until about 9 p.m. investigating that problem. Deputy City Manager John E. Kissinger and Leider decided that city crews could tackle the connection issue.

Kissinger said he asked Leider for a letter from Valle Verde authorizing and indemnifying the city from any liability. Instead, Nogales received a letter from Valle Verde's attorney William Wissler simply requesting the help and informing Nogales that the company has no money to reimburse the municipality for the work.

There are two problems with that, according to Kissinger.

First, the city cannot conduct work on the taxpayer's dime for a private enterprise such as Valle Verde.

Secondly, Wissler's letter did not provide indemnity from the company nor the owner of the property where the troubled connection is located.

Wissler promised he would write the letter meeting city criteria by the end of the day Thursday.

In a phone interview, Leider cited a "culture of cooperation and camaraderie" within the water systems industry in which companies help each other based on good faith.

Unfortunately, city officials say Valle Verde is tapped out of credibility. The company has failed to communicate well with the city and its customers about the contamination problem; hooked up illegally in May to a well not certified by ADEQ; allegedly again connected to another well in July without following protocol; and is currently under probation after the state issued a violation notice citing several deficiencies within the company.

Barraza said, "It's become a very sad situation for the consumers in that area and we are basically banging our head against a brick wall trying to get formal permission to enter and assess why they lost pressure to include the possible manipulation of valves by someone within the company."

Barraza said he has instructed legal staff to research what Nogales as a municipality can do to address the Valle Verde Water issue "up to and including possible condemnation" of the system.

He said he has asked Gov. Janet Napolitano's office for a mobilization of ADEQ and Arizona Corporation Commission staffers "on the ground here in Nogales to assess the situation of Valle Verde, as well as the state Department of Health Services."

The lack of water service "is most definitely a public health risk that needs to be addressed."

In a telephone interview, county Health Director Kevin Irvine said his office had received just one complaint. He said health inspectors were going "door-to-door" on Thursday ensuring that businesses such as restaurants have running water.