Peace & Justice News is a collection of news items collected by Bloomington Alternative contributor Linda Greene. Today's edition includes:

  • Sham Violence Against Women Act guts protections
  • U.S. trade representative receives Corporate Power Tool Award
  • Voter sues Pennsylvania over voter ID law
  • Counting and naming all drone strike victims
  • Lockout at Sotheby’s enters its 10th month
  • House votes to slash food aid but fund the Pentagon more
  • Former Citigroup executive receives honorary doctorate
  • Feds designate “martial law red zone” around Chicago’s Loop
  • Lawsuit targets NYPD stop-and-frisk practices
  • Florida’s color- and gender-coded justice system

Read Peace & Justice news archive on The Bloomington Alternative.


Sham Violence Against Women Act guts protections

As part of the Republican “war on women,” just over a month ago Indiana's Ninth District U.S. Rep. Todd Young and fellow Republicans redefined rape and defunded Planned Parenthood by voting to block reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), according to a May 17 email from CREDO Action.

Then on May 16, Young and his Tea Party colleagues voted for a fake VAWA that “guts current protections for victims of domestic abuse,” the email says.

“The purpose of this charade,” the email continues, “was to muddy the waters on the substance of their position, and by confusing people, to appear to care about women.”

The real VAWA, now up for renewal, reduced domestic violence rates by 58 percent since it was passed in 1994.

The last time the real act was reauthorized, it passed almost unanimously through the House and Senate.


U.S. trade representative receives Corporate Power Tool Award

Ron Kirk, U.S. trade representative and former mayor of Dallas, received the Corporate Power Tool Award on May 13 at a corporate-sponsored welcome gala dinner for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations at a Dallas hotel, according to the May 14 yeslab blog.

Right after Kirk’s keynote speech, a well-dressed man approached the microphone and announced he was “Git Haversall,” president of the “Texas Corporate Power Partnership,” and was giving Kirk and other U.S. trade negotiators the “2012 Corporate Power Tool Award.” Another man stood beside him and held up the award for all to see.

The gathering of negotiators and corporate representatives applauded, and "Haversall" continued: "I'd like to personally thank the negotiators for their relentless efforts. The TPP agreement is shaping up to be a fantastic way for us to maximize profits, regardless of what the public of this nation -- or any other nation -- thinks is right," the blog says.

As Kirk walked toward the stage to receive the “award,” federal agents blocked his path. “At that point, a dozen well-dressed ‘delegates’ (local activists, some from Occupy Dallas) broke into ecstatic dance and chanted ‘TPP! TPP! TPP!’ for several minutes until Dallas police arrived.”

Fifteen minutes later, another 12 Occupy activists interrupted the reception with a “mic check” as other activists projected a message on an exterior wall of the hotel.

The activists also replaced the hotel’s toilet paper rolls with a customized version that said in part: “WHAT IS TPP? A) Taking People’s Power: foreign tribunals gut U.S. laws; B) Transfer Production Plan: offshoring of U.S. jobs; C) Toxic Poisonous Products: unsafe food imports; D) Terribly Pricey Pills: even higher medicine prices.”

The activists said they disrupted the event to protest the hijacking of trade negotiations by an extreme pro-corporate agenda.

"The public and the media are locked out of these meetings," said Kristi Lara from Occupy Dallas, one of the activists. "We can't let U.S. trade officials get away with secretly limiting Internet freedoms, restricting financial regulation, extending medicine patents, and giving corporations a whole host of other powers allowing them to quash the rights of people and democracies, for example by offshoring jobs in ever new ways. Trade officials know the public won't stand for this, which is why they try to keep their work secret -- and that's why we had to crash their party.’"


Voter sues Pennsylvania over voter ID law

Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old African-American, is suing the State of Pennsylvania for preventing her from voting because of its new voter ID law, according to a May 8 article in Raw Story.

Applewhite, who voted in every election since 1962, does not have a government-issued photo ID and thus won’t be able to vote this fall. Applewhite is the plaintiff in a lawsuit by the NAACP and ACLU. 

Pennsylvania’s law is similar to ones passed in seven other states.

“Twenty-four other states are currently attempting to pass voter ID laws, which have been shown to disproportionately affect poor and minority voters” the Portside article said.

The NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice says that about 25 percent of African-American adults don’t have a photo ID, whereas only 8 percent of whites don’t.

“Republican legislators insist that these laws are necessary to prevent vote fraud, but a Supreme Court decision from 2007 upholding Indiana’s law was only able to unearth one case of in-person vote fraud in the last 143 years. Nonetheless, the Brennan Center estimates that 5 million eligible U.S. voters will be kept from the polls this fall by the new laws, a larger number than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections,” the article said.


Counting and naming all drone strike victims

The Bureau of Investigative Reporting is counting and naming people who died in drone attacks in the U.S. covert wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The bureau has named 317 civilians killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Another 170-500 more civilians have yet to be identified.

In June 2011, the U.S. chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan stated that the CIA hadn’t killed “a single non-combatant in almost a year.”

“Even a cursory examination of credible media reports between June 1, 2010, and June 29, 2011, (when Brennan made his original claim) shows that dozens of civilians were reported killed in that period,” said the bureau. “Among those who died were more than 40 tribal elders and villagers in a single disastrous CIA strike in March 2011.”

The bureau observed, “By showing only one side of the coin [the number of militants killed], we risk presenting a distorted picture of this new form of warfare. There is an obligation to identify all of those killed.”


Lockout at Sotheby’s enters its 10th month

Outside the Sotheby's art auction business in New York City, 150 artists, activists and locked-out art handlers have been picketing to protest the lockout according to a May 7 In These Times article.

The workers, represented by the Teamsters, feel their job security is threatened. The union’s local inherited a contract with “a crucial weakness: language allowing some work to be done by temporary workers rather than union workers,” the Portside article said.

Both the union members and temporary workers are mostly African-American and Latino, but the temporary workers have much worse wages and benefits.

Meanwhile, as Sotheby’s attempts to increase its profits by exploiting its workers, in the first week of May the company sold Edvard Munch’s painting "The Scream" for $119.9 million.

"Tonight, the irony persists," said Sotheby's worker Julian Tysh. "Sotheby's is selling a copy of The Scream -- an artful interpretation of human anguish and suffering -- and they're going to profit tremendously tonight, while at the same time they continue to create anguish and suffering among their own workforce."

Bloomberg reported Sotheby’s paid its CEO $4.25 million last year in “performance share units.”

Occupy Wall Street’s Arts & Labor Group has been instrumental in the struggle against Sotheby's.


House votes to slash food aid but fund the Pentagon more

The Friends Committee on National Legislation's Oct. 16 E-News reported that on May 10 the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut the sums spent on school lunches, Medicaid and the working poor “while protecting the Pentagon and some large corporations.” Further, the legislation would also make cuts in Meals on Wheels programs and prevent child abuse and food aid for the poor.

The bill, H.R. 5652, would cut specific “mandatory” programs -- such as food assistance, social services and Medicaid -- by about $243 billion over a decade.

Over 10 years, the cuts could remove $36 billion from food assistance. That means slashing aid to 2 million participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school lunch program, affecting about 300,000 children.

The bill would also “declare Pentagon spending off-limits for any sequester or across-the-board budget cuts, thereby requiring domestic discretionary and mandatory programs to absorb all of the cuts that would have been shared with the Pentagon budget, plus $19 billion more.”

The bill would cut Medicaid funding by almost $423 billion over the next 10 years and end the Preventive and Public Health Fund, established by the Affordable Care Act.

Further, the bill would also eliminate the child tax credit for working, low-income immigrant families who pay taxes but aren’t authorized to work in the United States. Of the 3 million children whom these changes will affect, many are U.S. citizens.

“The largest cut -- $83 billion – would come from federal employees who will be required to pay a higher percentage of their wages into federal retirement accounts.”

The bill would offer protections for the 1 percent, which includes high-income individuals and corporations, Wall Street and military contractors.

“This package,” the E-News said, “and the other ones that are being delivered with it, paint a harsh picture of a country in which our government would allow and encourage wasteful military spending; abandon responsibility for vulnerable families, children and elders; and accept an unconscionable gap between extreme wealth and poverty so deep that it is felt in the belly.”

The FCNL has called for a “week of action for a peaceful budget” during Memorial Day week and is encouraging people to contact their senators.


Former Citigroup executive receives honorary doctorate

Retired Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill and his wife, Joan, received honorary doctorates on May 12 from California’s Sonoma State University, according to the May 9 Portside.

Last year, Weill donated $12 million for the university’s new Green Music Center.

"Is this a doctorate honoring anything besides being the largest recent donor to the Green Music Center?" asked SSU Sociology Professor Peter Phillips. "It seems to smack of buying the honor instead of earning it."

Notorious for its toxic mortgages, Citigroup received $45 billion in government investments and a $300 billion guarantee of its bad assets to avoid bankruptcy.

"Sandy Weill is greedy," says graduating senior Melanie Sanders. "He is a symbol of a nation's economy becoming increasingly unbalanced and building the accounts of the ultra rich on the backs of the very poor. Half of my school loans are with Citigroup. I once took out $15,000 in student loans. Now $29,365 is due."

Among the myriad fines Citigroup paid over the years was $3 billion for being involved in the Enron Scandal.

As California's Attorney General Jerry Brown wrote, Citigroup "knowingly stole from customers, mostly poor people and the recently deceased." It has been charged numerous times with fraud, conflicts of interest and theft, according to Portside.

“Weill's degree,” Portside said, “exemplifies a trend in public higher education. It is being increasingly corporatized and privatized to meet the financial desires of big banks and mega-corporations, rather than the needs of students and citizens.”


Feds designate “martial law red zone” around Chicago’s Loop

In preparation for the NATO summit taking place in Chicago in late May, the federal government has designated a “martial law red zone” for security in Chicago’s downtown area known, as the Loop.

The federal government seems to be convinced that the peaceful protestors assembling at a people’s summit on May 18 and 19 and at the city’s Grant Park for a nonviolent rally and march against NATO on May 20 are terrorists.

“Last week Red Cross officials reported that the City of Chicago, Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service had instructed them to prepare for a mass evacuation of the city in the event of an emergency during the NATO summit. The Red Cross was asked to prepare to shelter and feed residents in the event of such an evacuation,” said the post.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is testing an emergency plan to shut off access into and out of the Loop.

Local media have reported that “Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is devising a strategy to deal with large-scale mass arrests during the NATO Summit meeting. In fact, the Chicago Sun Times is reporting that the once abandoned Joliet State Prison may be reopened as a mass detention center for NATO,” according to the post.

About 40 miles from Chicago, the Joliet prison can hold some 1,300 inmates. Reportedly, Dart is considering installing tents for protestors in the yard of Cook County Jail.

“The news of federal agents on the streets of Chicago isn’t sitting well with many,” said the post. “From last month’s urban warfare drills, to residents being warned of possible citywide evacuations, the city of Chicago is starting to look like a city that may already be under martial law.”

When you review the last decade’s executive orders and congressional legislation, the blog said, you see that the security system being established in Chicago isn’t “some half-baked training exercise. Rather, this is what life in America is destined to look like in the future.”


Lawsuit targets NYPD stop-and-frisk practices

According to a May 16 email from the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Police Department in 2011 reported 685,724 stops -- a 600 percent increase since NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly took over in 2002.

"Eighty-four percent of those stopped were Black or Latino, and 88 percent of persons stopped were not arrested, nor did they receive summonses," the email said. "The numbers for the first quarter of 2012 show yet another record rate of stops -- over 203,500 between January and March, an average of 2,200 per day. At the current rate, the NYPD is on track to stop over 730,000 New Yorkers this year -- more than 40,000 stops over the record-setting annual stops in 2011.”

On May 16, a federal judge granted class certification in a lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices as unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

The ruling will allow everyone illegally stopped and frisked since January 2005 to be plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.

The suit asserts that stop-and-frisk policies violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits racially discriminatory policing, and the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.


Florida’s color- and gender-coded justice system

On May 11 in Jacksonville, Fla., Marissa Alexander, a young African-American, was convicted of aggravated assault stemming from an incident in 2010 in which she fired a warning shot at her ex-husband, Rico Gray, who had beaten her repeatedly in the past. No one was killed or injured in the incident.

Alexander received a sentence of 20 years in prison under the state’s 10-20-life mandatory-minimum law.

George Zimmerman, who is half white and half Latino, wasn’t even arrested or charged with a crime after he shot 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Williams to death. Zimmerman defended his action on the grounds that he followed Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

When the prosecutor read his final arguments at Alexander’s sentencing trial, a student civil rights group, Dream Defenders, began singing, “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it’s won.”

Police immediately evicted the protesters from the courthouse but not before Dream Defender Ciara Taylor, a senior at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, started chanting, “No justice, no peace!”

"We feel that this case shows the absurdity in our broken system in that a Black woman who is a victim of domestic abuse who defends herself is going to jail for 20 years while a killer like George Zimmerman is walking free," said Dream Defender organizer Michael Sampson. "This is a clear episode of a racist criminal justice system choosing to make a victim of yet another person of color but as well, this shows also a sexist criminal justice system that doesn't care for the struggles of women and victims of domestic abuse.”

Earlier the Dream Defenders marched 40 miles from Daytona Beach to Sanford in defense of Trayvon Martin. The group shut down the Sanford police headquarters by blocking the doors in April. Two days later, thanks to a public outcry, Zimmerman was arrested.

The law under which Alexander was convicted “seems to disproportionally affect black and brown youth," said Sampson. "The system needs changing, and we're gonna organize and mobilize to demand freedom for Marissa Alexander and as well come back stronger and fight back against this tyranny."

Dream Defenders are not involved in just the Alexander case. The organization is “dedicated to defending the dream of black, brown and other oppressed peoples in this society who are often the victim of this corrupt system,” said Dream Defender Cecelia O'Brien. "We will continue growing and keep defending the dream of oppressed peoples in Florida and nationwide until our voices are heard. We cannot be drowned out.”


CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin interrupts government official to condemn drone strikes

CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, author of the newly published "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control," interrupted a speech by White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan on April 30.

Brennan spoke to mark the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of American forces.

At the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., Benjamin, who was in the audience, stood for a minute making her comments while Brennan spoke.

“What about the hundreds of innocent people we are killing with our drone strikes in Pakistan and in Yemen and Somalia?” she said. “I speak out on behalf of those innocent victims. They deserve an apology from you Mr. Brennan. How many people are you willing to sacrifice, why are you lying to the American people and not saying how many innocents have been killed?”

“I speak out on behalf of the Constitution,” Benjamin said while being dragged out of the auditorium by security guards. “I love the rule of law. I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people around the world.”

Benjamin kept talking as a female security guard and police officer started to remove her from the auditorium. She was handcuffed and taken to the basement of the building, where law enforcement questioned her about her background and motives.

“To their credit,” Benjamin wrote on May 2, “it seems the Wilson Center thought it would not be good to have someone arrested for exercising their right to free speech, so I was released.”

Medea Benjamin will speak in Bloomington about drone warfare this coming October.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.