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

  • New national diners’ guide helps make wise restaurant choices
  • Dell 20th corporation to stop funding ALEC
  • New Venezuelan laws give more power to communities
  • TIAA-CREF divests from Caterpillar
  • Increasing repression against Iranian labor rights activists
  • Israeli 'refuser' on a hunger strike
  • Philadelphia adopts resolution to redirect military spending to communities
  • FDA helps companies exploit patients with Alzheimer’s
  • Nonprofit organizations with ties to industry
  • Congress poised to slash food stamps, program that helps minority family farmers

Read the Peace & Justice News archive on The Bloomington Alternative.

New national diners’ guide helps make wise restaurant choices

Restaurant workers are some of the most poorly paid workers, with poor working conditions and no benefits. The newly released ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012 helps consumers with a conscience decide which are the least exploitative restaurants to patronize.

The guide provides information on the wage, benefits and promotion practices of the 150 most popular restaurants in the U.S. and “lists responsible restaurants where you can eat knowing that your server can afford to pay the rent and your cook isn’t working while sick.”

According to Restaurant Opportunities Center United, which published the guide, the U.S. restaurant industry is doing very well despite the current economic situation and employs 10 million people.

“If you care about sustainability — the capacity to endure — it’s time to expand our definition to include workers. You can’t call food sustainable when it’s produced by people whose capacity to endure is challenged by poverty-level wages,’ the New York Times’ Mark Bittman wrote in an opinion piece earlier this week."

Most of the most exploitative companies are the largest ones: Applebee’s, Arby’s, Baskin-Robbins, Bennigan’s, Bob Evans, Boston Market, Buffalo Wild Wings, Burger King, California Pizza Kitchen, Captain D’s, Carl’s Jr., Chart House, Checker’s Cheesecake Factory, Chili’s, Chuck E. Cheese, Church’s Chicken, Cold Stone Creamery, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Domino’s, Dunkin Donuts, Friendly’s, Golden Corral, Hard Rock Café, Hooters, Houlihan’s, IHOP, KFC, Legal Seafoods, Little Caesar’s, Marie Callender’s, McDonald’s, Morton’s Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, Panera, Papa John’s, Perkins, Pizza Hut, Qiznos, Red Lobster, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Sbarros, Sonic, Starbucks, Steak-n-Shake, Subway, TGI Friday’s, Taco Bell, Uno Chicago Grill, Waffle House and Zaxby’s.

However, some restaurants treat their employees well. For instance, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and In-N-Out Burgers provide paid sick leave and an hourly wage of $9 for workers who don’t receive tips.

“There are also a few notable high-end restaurants on the list,” the post says.

Dell 20th corporation to stop funding ALEC

Dell is the 20th corporation to stop funding ALEC since Color of Change began a campaign launched to convince companies supporting ALEC to pull out of the organization.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a right-wing policy group funded by corporations. By funding ALEC, those businesses helped pass discriminatory voter ID laws around the country as part of the right wing’s attempts to hinder people of color, young people and the elderly from voting.

In leaving ALEC, Dell joins Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart,, Procter & Gamble, Yum! Brands, McDonald's, Wendy's, Mars Inc., Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Reed Elsevier, Kaplan, Scantron, Medtronic, American Traffic Solutions and Arizona Public Service.

New Venezuelan laws give more power to communities

In legislation approved on June 15 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, communities organized into communal councils and communes will be granted increased power and access to national-government funding.

The series of 11 laws relates to communal government, tourism and housing.

“In an interview following the announcement, Vice-president Elias Jaua said that the new laws had been passed ‘for the people, for life and for the productive economic development of the nation.’”

One of the new laws will allow organized communities to have greater responsibility for running local life and greater access to direct funding from the government, says the post.

That law is under Article 184 of the 1999 Venezuelan constitution and indicates that “local and national government bodies must progressively start delegating their responsibilities to Venezuela’s various local bodies of communal power,” the post says.

Isis Ochoa, Venezuela’s Commune and Social Protection Minister, said communities will have greater control over managing local services and greater input into Venezuela’s changing model of production.

“In this law, mechanisms are established through which community participation can take on functions such as the maintenance of public infrastructure, such as schools,” said Ochoa.

TIAA-CREF divests from Caterpillar

Bowing to public pressure, TIAA-CREF removed the Caterpillar company from its Social Choice Funds.

The Israeli government uses Caterpillar bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes and farms to make way for Israeli settlements.

“As of May 1, 2012, financial data posted on TIAA-CREF's website valued Social Choice Funds shares in Caterpillar at $72,943,861. Today it is zero.”

We Divest, a campaign of Jewish Voice for Peace, has been working since 2010 toward convincing TIAA-CREF to end its ties with companies profiting from and enabling Israel’s 45-year military occupation and colonization of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

"By selling weaponized bulldozers to Israel, Caterpillar is complicit in Israel's systematic violations of Palestinian human rights," said Rabbi Alissa Wise, director of campaigns at Jewish Voice for Peace and national coordinator of the We Divest campaign. "We're glad to see that the socially responsible investment community appears to be recognizing this and is starting to take appropriate action."

Palestinians aren’t the only victims of Caterpillar; so are nonviolent foreign activists. In 2001 American activist Rachel Corrie died when a Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier ran over her in the town of Rafah, in Gaza, where she was trying to prevent demolition of a house.            

Increasing repression against Iranian labor rights activists

In Karaj, Iran, on June 15, heavily armed police arrested 60 trade union and workers’ rights activists at a peaceful meeting of the Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations, according to a June 23 email from the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.

Though 51 people were released within 24 hours, nine are still in the custody of the intelligence services. One of those arrested but later released was Mahmoud Salehi, founder of an independent bakers’ union in Kurdistand province. He has served several prison terms.

“There is good reason,” the email says, “to fear for the physical and psychological integrity of those still in detention.”

Recently transport workers’ union activist Reza Shahabi and teachers’ association activist Rasoul Bodaghi were sentenced to six years in prison.

To send a message to the Iranian government urging it to release the detainees, go to this website.

Israeli 'refuser' on a hunger strike

An Israeli soldier, Yaniv Mazor, is in an Israeli military prison for refusing to serve in the “occupation army” and has begun a hunger strike to protest the treatment of Palestinian administrative detainees, according to a June 17 story on

Mazor, a 31-year-old Jerusalem resident and member of the Israeli Defense Force reserve, was just sentenced to 20 days in jail for refusing to serve in any way, combat or otherwise, in what he called the occupying army. On June 11 he was transferred to the IDF’s Tzrifin prison and started the hunger strike the next day.

Mazor has been held in solitary confinement because he refused to wear a uniform in the prison or to address prison commanders according to their official ranks.

A tour guide by profession, Mazor served in the armor corps between 1999 and 2002, most of the time in the Jordan Valley and some of the time in the West Bank.

“He had also reported six or seven times to reserves duty, when, as he told journalist Hagai Matar, the question of Israel's occupation of the territories began bothering him more and more,” the post says. "’I arrived in the army as a typical product of the system,’ he told Matar, ‘a nice boy, serving in the territories, doing what he's told. Without thinking. Mostly without thinking.’"

Mazor initially attempted “grey insubordination,” in which a soldier keeps his refusal private. After a year-long trip abroad, however, he decided he couldn’t “resume the façade anymore.”

Philadelphia adopts resolution to redirect military spending to communities

On June 21, by a vote of 15-2, the Philadelphia City Council adopted a resolution "calling on the U.S. Congress to bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, to take the funds saved by that action and by significantly cutting the Pentagon budget, and to use that money to fund education, public and private sector family-sustaining job creation, special protections for military sector workers, environmental and infrastructure restoration, care for veterans and their families, and human services that our cities and states so desperately need,” according to OpEd News.

Composed of many labor, neighborhood, faith and peace organizations, the Delaware Valley New Priorities Network drafted the resolution, which had seven sponsors on the city council.

“The resolution contrasts the $2 billion shortfall of the City of Philadelphia over the next five years with the $5 billion spent on wars by Philadelphians since 2001. The resolution notes the doubling of military spending in the last decade and that the U.S. military budget could be cut by 80 percent and still be the largest in the world,” according to the post.

FDA helps companies exploit patients with Alzheimer’s

For the second time in under two years, the FDA, “at the behest of companies seeking to exploit the large market for Alzheimer’s disease, has approved a product with little proven benefit and documented risks,” according to the May Public Citizen Health Letter.

In July 2010 the FDA approved a new, high-dose version of Aricept, manufactured by Pfizer/Eisai, even though most scientists who assessed the drug found that it didn’t improve patients’ overall functioning and caused more side effects than an older, lower-dose version of the drug.

Recently the FDA did Eli Lilly a favor by approving the dye Amyvid, “which is injected into patients with possible Alzheimer’s disease and, on the basis of a subsequent brain scan, is used to detect amyloid plaque in the brains of such patients,” according to the letter. Amyloid plaque is linked to Alzheimer’s.

Though several brain-imaging experts and Public Citizen opposed approval of the dye, the FDA went ahead with it.

The dye test has proven inaccurate, and different physicians interpret its findings differently. “The test has been shown to detect amyloid plaque in some patients who do not have Alzheimer’s disease and to fail to detect the plaque in some patients who turn out to have the disease,” according to Public Citizen.

In the opinion of Public Citizen, the FDA’s two decisions show the agency is setting its priorities according to the financial benefits for the companies and not the well-being of Alzheimer’s patients.

Nonprofit organizations with ties to industry

In case you ever deliberated about sending an apparently needy charity a donation, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has published a handy guide to nonprofit organizations’ funding from industry.

Take, for example, the American Heart Association.

Florida grapefruit growers paid the AHA $450,000 for the association’s exclusive grapefruit use of the association’s heart-healthy endorsement, according to a 1997 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to the guide, “AHA charges $2,500 (plus a yearly renewal charge of $650) for a company to put the association's heart-check symbol on a package. Florida Department of Citrus paid $450,000 for exclusive promotion and advertising contract from 1994 until early 1997. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association paid $25,000 for its arrangement with the AHA to promote lean cuts of beef. For an agreement with ConAgra in 1992-93, the AHA received $3.5 million for a TV program on nutrition.

For companies that want exclusive agreements without the AHA like that of the Florida citrus growers, the cost is $55,000 a quarter or $200,000 a year. Without exclusivity the cost is $25,000 a quarter or $90,000 a year,” the New York Times reported in 1997.

The AHA has endorsed only Bayer aspirin, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Bayer contributes over $500,000 annually to the AHA.

The American Red Cross isn’t clean, either. According to the New York Times, the guide says, the organization has a policy against endorsing commercial products, yet for two years it endorsed Laerdahl Medical Corporation’s CPR mannequins.

Congress poised to slash food stamps, program that helps minority family farmers

Congress is on the verge of cutting food stamps for nearly half a million recipients and crippling a program that assists black family farmers, according to a June 26 email from Color of Change.

The House Agriculture Committee is now deliberating about the text of the omnibus 2012 Farm Bill, which will determine the nation’s agriculture and nutrition policies for the next five years. The bill has already undergone major cuts to critical programs by the Senate.

The largest expenditure in the farm bill is the food stamp program, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (S.N.A.P.), which helps families buy groceries, provides a market for small farmers and boosts local economies in some of the poorest areas in the country.

So far in 2012, 46 million people, or more than one in seven Americans, have signed up for food stamps in accordance with the percentage of the U.S. workforce experiencing unemployment or underemployment.

As many as nine in 10 African-American children receive food stamps before the age of 20.

S.N.A.P. also offers economic benefits: “For every dollar invested in the food stamp program, $1.71 is pumped back into the economy, helping to pay the wages of producers, grocers, truck drivers, and any number of other people who help move our food from farm to table. In this way, S.N.A.P. is key to the economic stability of some of our poorest states,” the email says.

What’s more, under attack is a program dedicated to redressing generations of disparate land loss by black, Latino, Native American and other minority farmers and ranchers whom the Department of Agriculture has discriminated against over the years.

“For decades,” the email says, “USDA officials systematically denied black farmers loans and subsidies that they routinely made available to white farmers. At best, this state-sponsored discrimination retarded the growth of many black farms, but in practice it resulted in many simply going under – causing devastating losses of land, income, and intergenerational vocational knowledge. In 1920, Blacks made up about 15 percent of the nation's farmers, but today that number is just one percent.”

The purpose of the Farm Bill’s 2501 program is to ensure that minority farmers have the opportunity to acquire, own, operate and retain farms and ranches “despite USDA’s history of neglect and abuse,” the email says.

The 2501 program attempts to guarantee that “socially disadvantaged” producers participate fairly in all USDA programs by providing targeted financial and technical assistance. The version of the Farm Bill being considered now, however, would significantly decrease the program’s funding and make it much harder to access resources.

Color of Change is asking members of Congress to restore full funding for these programs – $150 million to Section 2501 and $4.49 billion to SNAP.

Linda Greene can be reached at