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

  • Hungry and homeless college students
  • Outer space adventures for the super-rich
  • School suspensions of African-American students
  • Justice for DHL workers in Turkey
  • Janitors demonstrate for health care benefits and wages
  • Scandinavian ship to challenge Israel’s Gaza blockade
  • The fight over labeling genetically modified foods
  • Perils of the for-profit higher-education industry

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


Hungry and homeless college students

The number of hungry and homeless college students is increasing along with escalating tuition, according to an Aug. 16, 2010, Socialist Worker article.

“The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA),” the post says, “even created an ‘Economic Crisis Response Team’ to help homeless and hungry students stay enrolled. NPR reported the story of one such UCLA student, Diego Sepulveda, who ended up homeless after losing his full-time job at Subway. Now Sepulveda alternates between sleeping in the library, student center and friend's couches, catching occasional showers in a school gym.”

After noting how many of his fellow students were going hungry, one UCLA engineering student began a food pantry, according to the post.

“With students and their family members losing jobs as tuition increases escalate and social services are cut, more and more students will fall through the tattered social safety net,” the post says.


Outer space adventures for the super-rich

If you have $200,000 to spare, you can use it to purchase a seat on a spaceplane that will provide a few minutes of weightlessness and a view from outer space for your money, according to an Aug. 14 Truthout article.

“Virgin Galactic, billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, … has so far taken in $70 million in deposits from 536 passengers, according to an August 1 report from Reuters,” the post says.

The solid fuel rockets that Virgin Galactic use produce global-warming soot, which accumulates in the stratosphere. One thousand space-tourism flights a year could increase polar surface temperature and reduce polar sea ice significantly, the post says.

A moral issue is involved in spending such an enormous amount of money on a short space jaunt when, according to the post, there are about 2.8 billion people living on less than $2 day, as stated in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals report.

"Call me old-fashioned,” the post says, "but I personally find it morally offensive that some people can afford to spend $200,000 on a three-minute experience when others can't afford food. Food first, luxury yachts second and $200,000 suborbital flights last. That's my motto.”


School suspensions of African-American students

A recent analysis of federal education data has shown that almost one in six African-American students was suspended from school during the 2009-10 academic year, while the figure for white students was one in 20, according to an Aug. 7 Education Week article.

One in four African-American students with disabilities was suspended at least once that year. In some areas, 50 percent of African-American students were suspended, according to the post.

In Fort Wayne, with 25 percent of the 32,000 district students African-American, 56 percent of the African-American students were suspended at least once during the 2009-10 school year.

“These numbers show clear and consistent racial and ethnic disparities in suspensions across the country,’ said John H. Jackson, the president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, based in Cambridge, Mass., which supports equity in schooling for all students and efforts to improve outcomes for African-American boys. ‘We are not providing [these students] a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. Any entity not serious about addressing this becomes a co-conspirator in the demise of these children,’” says the post.


Justice for DHL workers in Turkey

DHL, the world’s largest courier company, owned by Deutsche Post, the privatized former German postal service, fired 24 workers in Turkey after the Turkey Motor Vehicle and Transport Workers’ Union tried to organize the DHL workers, according to an Aug. 13 email from LabourStart.

Fired workers are holding vigils outside DHL warehouses to protest their unjust dismissals. DHL management tells workers who have joined the union to leave it or lose their jobs.

“In Germany, DHL recognizes trade unions and bargains with them,” the email says.

The company has 470,000 employees worldwide and claims on its website that it “promote[s] a corporate culture based on dialogue.”

The International Transport Workers Federation, which represents more than 4.5 million members in 153 countries, has called for global solidarity with the Turkish DHL workers, the email says.

You can sign a letter urging DHL to stop obstructing workers from joining the union.


Janitors demonstrate for health care benefits and wages

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, over 2,000 janitors marched in San Francisco, closing down the city’s main artery, after which 27 workers and supporters were arrested for blocking a financial-district intersection in an act of civil disobedience, according to an Aug. 10 Truthout article.  

The janitors are considering striking over health care costs and wages. The janitorial service contractors are demanding that workers pay $600 a month for family health care coverage. They’re offering a raise of 50 cents an hour. That would total about $85 per month, “resulting in an effective wage cut of $515 a month,” the post says.

The janitors are members of Service Employees Local 87, one of the country’s oldest janitors’ unions, and voted to authorize a strike when their contract ran out on July 31 with the city’s three main janitorial service employers, which have revenues in the millions, according to the post.

The owner of the commercial building at which one janitor works had a total revenue of $1.7 billion last year, the post says.

“[J]anitors are up against the 1 percent, whether they’re direct employers or the financial interests behind them,” the post says.


Scandinavian ship to challenge Israel’s Gaza blockade

The SV Estelle, an aid ship backed mainly by Swedish and Norwegian activist organizations, has left Oslo for Gaza, which it plans to reach in October, according to a recent Chicago Tribune article.

In May 2010, one ship in a so-called Freedom Flotilla was attacked by Israeli naval commandos, who killed nine people aboard it. In November 2011 in international waters, the Israelis stopped two yachts, from Canada and Ireland, carrying medical supplies to Gaza.

Though all the ships have carried humanitarian aid and the passengers and crews were  committed to nonviolence, Israel says it stopped the vessels to prevent arms smuggling to the Palestinians.


The fight over labeling genetically modified foods

Proposition 37 in California is a ballot initiative that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such and end the food industry’s practice of marketing GMO foods as “natural” or “all natural,” according to Organic Bytes.

The California secretary of state just released a list of donors who are against the campaign. They are Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and other biotech companies, with help from processed food companies and grocery chains. As of Aug. 15, they’d raised over $25 million.

Nine companies contributed over $1 million each, including Pepsi/Frito Lay, Nestle and Coca-Cola. All told, 45 companies have donated to the “no” side.

The top two donors voting “yes” are “Mercola.com, the nation’s largest network of natural health consumers, and the Organic Consumers Fund (OCF), the allied grassroots lobbying arm of the Organic Consumers Association. Mercola.com has already donated $800,000 to the cause, while the OCF has donated approximately $700,000 so far, almost all of which has come in the form of small donations from organic food consumers. Other large donors to the YES on 37 campaign so far include Nature’s Path, Dr. Bronner’s, Lundberg Family Farms, Eden Foods, and Organic Valley, leading brands in the organic industry,” the email says.

Of the major donors to the “yes” side, none have connections to the biotech industry, pesticide industry or mainstream food manufacturers.


Perils of the for-profit higher-education industry

For-profit colleges charge a lot for tuition, spend little on students’ education and leave students with poor job prospects and big loans, according to an Aug. 27 Socialist Worker article.

“Imagine a business that rakes in billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, but provides its customers with a defective product that fails for more than half of them – though that track record hasn't stopped the business owners from enjoying ever-increasing profits,” the post says. That statement describes the expanding sector of colleges run for profit, according to a new Senate report.

For-profit colleges are more expensive than the most prestigious public ones. For instance, a bachelor’s degree at a for-profit college costs an average of $62,702 in comparison to $52,522 at a top public institution.

“It's no surprise, then, that students at for-profit colleges are more likely to end up deeper in debt. Fully 96 percent of students at for-profit colleges borrow to pay for tuition, compared with 48 percent at four-year public and 13 percent at community colleges, according to the Senate report, … the result of a two-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Democrat Tom Harkin.”

Students from for-profit colleges end up with lower wages and higher unemployment, also.

For-profit colleges make their money by spending little on educating their students. In 2009, the post says, the average spending per student at those colleges was just over $2,000.

At for-profit colleges, “the bulk of tuition money goes to marketing to bring in new students, multimillion-dollar salaries for top executives, lobbying politicians and, last but certainly not least, profits,” according to the post.


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