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

  • Global education strike planned for the fall
  • Surveillance of citizens with automatic license plate recognition cameras
  • Drone use inside the United States
  • Feminist punk band Pussy Riot on trial in Russia
  • Pfizer bribing foreign physicians to hike sales
  • Cutting funding for nuclear weapons
  • Cuba lifts ban on anti-Castro musicians on the radio
  • Women farm workers win sexual harassment case
  • British workers in solidarity with trade unionists in Turkey
  • Expulsion from school for pregnancy

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


Global education strike planned for the fall

The International Student Movement (ISM) is calling for a global education strike on Oct. 18 and Nov. 14-21, according to the International Student Movement website. It’s the first time an education strike has been planned worldwide.

“We will UNITE in solidarity,” the post says, “because no matter where we live, we face the same struggle against national, state and profit driven interests and their hold on education. Increasing tuition fees, budget cuts, outsourcing, school closures, as well as other phenomena are linked to an increasing commercialization and privatization of education. Only by uniting globally will we be able to overcome these and enable free emancipatory education for all.”

This year, the post says, 45 protests have taken place in more than 40 cities related to “the struggle for free emancipatory education.”

“The education market and national states require that profits take priority over developing the capabilities for emancipatory thinking," the ISM contends. "Both need obeying ‘citizens,’ consumers and cheap labour, not emancipated individuals living self-determined lives."

Education is increasingly privatized and commodified and operates on the basis of competition between students, the post says. “Our creativity, our energy and our free spirits are actively being crushed by the educational institution.”

The ”training factories” that the education system has come to be under capitalism are there to produce exploitable workers and commodification of knowledge, the ISM says. To call attention to these facts, the global education strike is aiming for closure of all educational institutions during the strike.


Surveillance of citizens with automatic license plate recognition cameras

The government is using automatic license plate recognition cameras, also known as tag readers, to surveil average citizens, according to an Aug. 6 email from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

“Most people are not aware that silently, but constantly, the government is now watching, recording your everyday travels and storing years of your activities in massive data warehouses that can be quickly ‘mined’ to find out when and where you have been, whom you’ve visited, meetings you’ve attended, and activities you’ve taken part in,” says the email.

This mass surveillance and data storage are taking place without probable cause or warrant and with no suspicion that a crime has been committed.

Though it is in favor of such cameras, the International Association of Chiefs of Police stated in a report, “The potential privacy harm of surveillance is its potential use as a tool of social control,” the email says.

The U.K. first developed tag readers for use against the Irish Republican Army, and the U.S. used them in Baghdad.

“Tag readers are physical cameras that can be stationary, mounted on traffic poles, gates or bridges, hidden in white and orange traffic barrels, or disguised in roof-mounted taxi-signs. A tag reader captures thousands of license plates per minute, day or night and records the date, time, photo of the vehicle and possibly occupants, its immediate area and GPS coordinates,” according to the email.

The Department of Homeland Security has developed customized software to coordinate surveillance information from the various  vendor systems on the market and used by different localities. In northern Virginia is located a huge data storage center for tag reader information.

“With a plate and a cross-reference to other databases (like the Department of Motor Vehicles, credit card companies and phone records) a full profile about you can easily be created through electronic and computer data,” according to the email. "The fusion of license plate reader data with commercial databases and intelligence databases gives the government virtually unlimited knowledge of our activities and associations."

PCJF has initiated a campaign to stop illegal government surveillance, called the One Nation Under Surveillance Campaign. At its website, bigbrotheramerica.org, you can send a letter to Congress, see and contribute to a growing national map of tag reader locations, send in photos and location information on local tag readers, and more.


Drone use inside the United States

Congress, which seems to be unmoved by the use of drones for assassinations abroad, has taken an interest in them for use in the U.S. “It’s the possible and probable violation of Americans’ privacy in the United States by unlawful drone surveillance that has caught the attention of legislators,” according to a July 17 Common Dreams article.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., observed people are concerned about drone use in the U.S., and for that reason he introduced a provision in a defense spending bill that would prevent information gleaned by drones without a warrant to be used as evidence in court.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., introduced a provision in another bill that would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from arming the drones it uses for surveillance at the borders with Mexico and Canada.

“Holt may wish to extend the prohibition against arming drones to local law enforcement,” according to the post. "The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas used a Homeland Security grant to purchase a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone that can be equipped with a 40 mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun. When the sheriff’s office announced that the drone would be used by the county’s SWAT team, a spokesman said there were no plans to arm it but left open the possibility that deputies might decide to adapt the drone to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets."

The legislators, concerned about privacy and search warrants, are having a tough time because the drone industry lobby, its leaders the drone manufacturers General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, has inspired the formation of the 60-member Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus. The caucus’s website says that its goal is “to educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems; and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”


Feminist punk band Pussy Riot on trial in Russia

Three members of a Russian Feminist punk band are on trial in Moscow for a performance in which they criticized Russian president Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral. They are charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” according to an Aug. 8 Guardian article.

"This is a trial of the whole government system of Russia, which so likes to show its harshness toward the individual, its indifference to his honour and dignity," said Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, one of the three women on trial. "If this political system throws itself against three girls ... it shows this political system is afraid of truth."

A guilty verdict would carry a maximum seven-year prison sentence. The case has garnered international attention. Both Madonna and Yoko Ono sent messages of support for the band, and the verdict has been delayed.

“Couching their case in the long plight of political prisoners in the country, the three women urged Russians to reject Putin's system and embrace freedom,” the post says.


Pfizer bribing foreign physicians to hike sales

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been bribing physicians and other health care professionals abroad to increase sales of its drugs, according to an Aug. 8 New York Times article.

On Aug. 7, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that  it had settled with Pfizer for $45 million because of the charges.

“The allegations … involve violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which forbids paying bribes to government officials,” the post says. "In many countries, doctors are government employees."

Pfizer China had “point programs” in which physicians could redeem points earned for such items as cell phones and tea sets. The physicians earned points according to how many prescriptions they wrote.

The settlement with Pfizer is the result of a broad investigation that federal prosecutors and securities regulators are undertaking to look into the sales and marketing practices of large drug and device manufacturers overseas, the post says. Last year, Johnson & Johnson acknowledged it had bribed European physicians and settled for $70 million.


Cutting funding for nuclear weapons

Now is the time to demand budget cuts for nuclear weapons, according to an Aug. 9 email from Peace Action.

For decades, politicians have spent taxpayer money on everything from developing to maintaining a nuclear arsenal. Besides that is the money needed for dismantling nuclear weapons and cleaning up after them, the email says.

“The nuclear weapons lobby has moved to protect its interests by funneling millions of dollars to the re-election campaigns of dozens of Members of Congress who play key roles in determining funding levels of nuclear weapons related projects,” according to the email. “Hundreds of industry lobbyists, many of whom previously worked for key nuclear weapons decision-makers, now apply their experience and influence on behalf of a ‘nuclear weapons forever’ establishment.”

Even a general, James E. Cartwright, a retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of the U.S. nuclear forces, has joined the growing list of “national security experts, supporting sharp reductions in the nuclear arsenal,” the email says.

Peace Action has launched a campaign to stop Congress from designating as much as $200 billion over the next decade for the nuclear weapons program.


Cuba lifts ban on anti-Castro musicians on the radio

The Cuban government has quietly retired a radio blacklist of musicians who spoke out against it, according to an Aug. 8 BBC article.

The Cuban government has made no public announcement about the change: “that would mean admitting to censorship in the first place,” according to the post. Rather, several of Cuba’s largest radio stations have confirmed the ban's overturning.

“Radio station staff in Havana told the BBC they were informed at meetings last week that the list ‘served its purpose’ but was out-dated and that its removal was part of Cuba ‘opening up to the world,’" the post says.

Some of the musicians who were prohibited from having their music on the Cuban airwaves are Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Paquito d’Rivera, Willy Chirino and Bebo Valdes.

Recently, there were at least 50 musicians on the blacklist.

“The decision to lift the official ban has not transformed the airwaves,” according to the post. "In fact, it is not clear whether any station has yet played the de-censored artists."


Women farm workers win sexual harassment case

Dimare Ruskin, one of Florida’s largest growers, must pay a $150,000 fine after women tomato pickers filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that they were sexually harassed on the job, according to a July 26 Miami Herald article.

Two women were fired after they filed complaints. One says her crew leader repeatedly demanded sex, and another was groped and sexually taunted by a male supervisor, according to a lawsuit.

Such abuse is widespread in the fields, says the email.

“The settlement,” the post says, “requires DiMare to implement a company-wide, anti-harassment policy, create a system for employees to submit complaints to the company and provide training about the EEOC's anti-discrimination laws. The company also has to keep the EEOC updated about how it handles discrimination complaints for the next three years.”

Many women farm workers never report their abuse on the job because they’re scared of losing their jobs and, if they’re undocumented, of being deported.

“Said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District office of the EEOC: ‘Just the fact that this case went forward, that these women had the courage to come forward, that the EEOC sought justice,’ will hopefully encourage other agricultural workers to ‘stand up’ for their rights.”


British workers in solidarity with trade unionists in Turkey

Turkish Airlines fired hundreds of workers in an attempt to crush their union, and in solidarity, the British union Unite has been posting large banners outside its offices in London expressing solidarity with the Turkish workers, according to a Morning Star article.

New Turkish laws prohibit airline workers from striking, and the airline is taking their union to court.

“Unite activists are building up wider support because the escalating battle over basic trade union and human rights has a loud echo in [Britain],” the post says.

In a protest outside the Turkish embassy in London in late July, some 50 trade unionists and supporters from London’s Turkish and Kurdish community appealed to visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intervene in the situation.

“The Turkish state owns 49.12 percent of the airline and, despite already having tough laws covering trade unions, legislation was rushed through in May effectively banning strikes by airline workers,” the post says.

Though the airline workers wanted to protest the new laws, they were unable to do so except for going on a one-day sick leave.

Unite’s action is part of a global campaign by the International Transport Workers Federation calling for the 305 fired workers to be reinstated in their jobs and for the reversal of the anti-strike laws in Turkey.


Expulsion from school for pregnancy

At the Delhi Charter School, a public school in Delhi, La., female students are required to undergo a pregnancy test if the school suspects they’re pregnant, according to a July 8 American Civil Liberties Union article. Those who are pregnant or refuse to undergo the test are expelled and forced into home schooling if they want to graduate.

According to the post, “This is in blatant violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.”

The school’s policy directly violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools.

Title IX obligates schools not to exclude a student from classes or other activities “on the basis of such student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”

“Besides violating Title IX,” the post says, “the policy is also in violation of the Constitution’s due process right to procreate, and equal protection: it treats female students differently from male students and relies on archaic stereotypes linked to sex and pregnancy.”

The post notes that in the U.S. about 70 percent of female teenagers leave school after childbirth, the result in part of illegal discrimination.

“Schools should be supporting pregnant and parenting teens that face numerous barriers to completing their education, not illegally excluding them from school,” the post says.

On Aug. 6 the ACLU of Louisiana and ACLU Women’s Rights Project requested that the Delhi school end its pregnancy policy immediately.


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