Outcry as Walmart OK’s Monsanto GM Corn August 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Health.
Tags: agricultgure, califoirnia, California, consumer protection, food watch, genetically modified, gm corn, gmo, monsanto, prop 37, proposition 37, roger hollander, wal-mart, walmart
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Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that despite protests from environment and food-safety advocates, it will not restrict sales of genetically modified corn in its stores.
The corn will not be labelled and consumers will not be notified that the sweet corn they are buying are engineered by agro-giant Monsanto and genetically-altered (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) to resist the toxic impact of being sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides.
“A lot of people who were their customers explicitly said we don’t want you to carry this product, and I think it’s unfortunate that they chose not listen to that feedback,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch. The consumer group had submitted a petition to Wal-Mart with 463,000 signatures, she said.
Consumer advocates argue that too little research has been done on to be certain of the effects such products can have on those who eat or them, but say certain troubling health trends correspond to the rise of GMO foods in the marketplace. At the least, they argue, such products should be labeled so consumers are aware of what they’re purchasing.
“How would you ever know if there are adverse health effects?” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. “There has been a doubling of food allergies in this country since 1996. Is it connected to genetically engineered foods? Who knows, when you have no labeling? That is a problem.”
Earlier this year, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills said they would not carry or use the genetically modified sweet corn.
In California this year, a state referendum is up for a vote that would require all GMO products to be labelled so that consumers are aware if modified ingredients are contained in the products they buy. The chemical pesticide companies and companies like Monsanto are fighting hard against the measure, fearing that if California, the country’s most populous state, passes such a sweeping consumer protection laws other states will likely follow.
The initiative, Proposition 37, will be voted on in November.
Anaheim fights back against outrageous police killing July 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
Tags: anaheim, anaheim police, answer coalition, cviil liberties, first amendment, manuel diaz, police abuse, police brutality, protest, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: watch the video from beginning to end (the link is in the second paragraph). Among other things you will see the police unleash a vicious police dog, who attacks a babe in arms. Unfortunately, what we are seeing here is not atypical. Police forces around the nation have been brutalizing peaceful demonstrators with unprecedented degrees of violence since the beginning of the Occupy movement. Repression against Americans and Canadians who are exercising their right to demonstrate against racism, war, social injustice, etc. has become the unofficial policy in our so-called democracies.
On Saturday, July 21, Anaheim police shot and killed Manuel Diaz. According to the OC Register, “A 17-year-old who lives in the neighborhood said she saw the shooting from about 20 feet away. She said Diaz had his back to the officer and was shot in the buttocks area. Diaz went down on his knees, and she said he was struck by another bullet in the head. The other officer handcuffed Diaz, who by then was on the ground and not moving, she added.’They searched his pockets, and there was a hole in his head, and I saw blood on his face,’ she said.”
Witnesses say Manuel Diaz was simply hanging out when police began harassing him. In response to the killing, friends and neighbors began gathering in their front lawns. Then, without warning, Anaheim police began firing rubber bullets, beanbag shotguns, and pepper-spray bullets indiscriminately into the crowd which included children–even unleashing a police attack dog on a woman holding a child. In the harrowing video, you can clearly see baby strollers and toddlers in the line of fire.
In response to the killing, people immediately came from the area to protest. On Sunday, a large group picketed outside the Anaheim Police Station where the police were holding a press conference about the killing. As the protest grew, demonstrators, who were led by victims of police abuse (including young children), held a protest inside the police station.
As the community continued to mobilize, the Anaheim police then killed another resident on Sunday night. Witnesses say the victim was already handcuffed when he was shot. Another spontaneous demonstration continued until about 4am.
As the situation develops, the ANSWER Coalition will continue to be on the ground supporting the community in their struggle for justice. History shows us that there is no accountability or justice unless the people fight for it. The community will continue to mobilize in order to hold the killer cops and police department accountable.
How you can help:
- Help pack the Anaheim City Council meeting Tuesday, July 24 at 200 South Anaheim Boulevard, Anaheim, CA 92805. Picket starts at 4pm, meeting begins at 5pm.
- Be sure to attend next Saturday’s protestagainst Downey police for the killing of Mike Nida, another victim of police violence.
- Make a donation to help support the fight for justice.
ANSWER LA has been organizing against police brutality in southern California for years in response to the scourge of police violence directed at working-class communities.
Tags: berkeley, berkeley police, civil liberties, first amendment, Homeland Security, nick sibilla, oakland police, ows, police, police brutality, roger hollander, uasi
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Roger’s note: As a UC Berkeley graduate, who as an undergraduate took part in free speech and anti-war protests, I maintain an abiding interest in the city and the campus. The militarization of American police forces is an ominous development, and it is no coincidence that Berkeley is in the vanguard given its long and proud history of non-violent first amendment protest. An imperial nation such as is the United States, which supports and spreads violence around the globe, will eventually see that violence erupt on its own shores. This is surely the case with what we are witnessing today. One is reminded of Malcolm X’s prophetic (in response to the Kennedy assassination): “the chickens have come home to roost.
The police departments for Berkeley, Albany, and the University of California system have partnered together to buy an armored personnel carrier (APC). Not quite a tank, the APC is a Lenco Ballistic Engineered Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck, better known as a BearCat.
If approved, the APC will be paid for by a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). Created in 2003, UASI funds counterterrorism measures in “high-threat, high-density urban areas.” From FY 2003 to 2011, over $6.5 billion was appropriated for UASI. In FY 2012, UASI had funding worth $490 million.
However, David Muhlhausen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has criticized UASI: ”Currently, there appears to be a virtual absence of independent, objective evidence indicating the effectiveness of UASI…Increased spending does not equal increased effectiveness.” Daniel Borgstrom, a former US Marine now active in the Occupy movement, recently urged the Berkeley City Council to reject the APC and police militarization: “I’m asking, please stay out of this urban warfare stuff.”
Meanwhile, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan praised the BearCat, calling it “a defensive resource” necessary to protect officers from being killed. But according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks the deaths of law enforcement officials, no officers from UC Berkeley or Albany have been killed in the line of duty and only two Berkeley police officers have ever been killed by gunfire. The last Berkeley police officer killed in the line of duty was in 1973. Furthermore, as Radley Balko observes at the Huffington Post:
We’re now about halfway through 2012, and this year is on pace to be the safest ever for America’s police officers…Fifty officers have died on duty so far this year, a 44-percent decrease from last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). More remarkably, 17 have died from gunfire, down 55 percent from last year. (21 died in traffic accidents, the remaining 12 in various other incidents.) If the second half of this year follows the first, fewer officers will have died on duty this year than in any year since 1944, a time when there were far, far fewer police officers.
In addition, there have been significant concerns about armored vehicles’ ability to violate civil liberties and increase police brutality. A spokesman for the UCPD insisted that the BearCat “is not going to be used for protests or crowd control…it’s nothing to be feared.”
However, police in nearby Alameda County (which includes Oakland) used a $323,000 grant from Homeland Security to buy an APC from Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater). That APC was even used to suppress protests by the Occupy in May 2012. The Inter Press Service elaborates:
Locally, police militarisation was evident at the Nov. 9, 2011 Occupy Cal demonstration at UC Berkeley, where combat-gear clad police injured peaceful protesters with baton strikes, and on Oct. 25, 2011 in Oakland, when similarly armed police nearly killed a young former Marine when they fired a tear-gas canister that hit him in the head.
Due to mutual aid agreements, whereby law enforcement agencies can assist each other, the UCPD could share the APC with both the Berkeley and Albany police departments. The decision to renew mutual aid has previously been postponed, thanks to efforts by the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, which is advised by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
As Emily Odgers noted earlier this year, turning police into soldiers has eroded the Constitution:
This clash between Occupy protesters and police highlighted a need to stand in support of the protection of First Amendment rights. In the past ten years, there has been a decay of constitutional freedoms in America and the only way to get them back is through cooperative grassroots movements.
This is not just an issue for Occupiers or other activists; the First Amendment applies to everyone and it is necessary that the rights described within it are preserved for all, if they are to be preserved for any.
Tags: Criminal Justice, linda katehi, pepper spray, police abuse, roger hollander, student protest, uc davis
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Roger’s note: now that it took over four months to document the obvious, the question is whether the UC Davis administration and police will be held accountable and face justice, or will the authorities decide, to use the infamous words of our gutless president, and choose to “look forward rather than backward” (which is code for letting those in power get away with crimes for which we ordinary folk would pay dearly).
Published on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 by Common Dreams
Pepper spraying incident ‘should and could have been prevented’
Months after students at UC Davis were filmed being soaked in pepper spray and arrested by police in riot gear after peacefully protesting at their university, a UC Davis ‘task force’ has finally released a report on the incident today.
The report includes a number of criticisms against police and administrative action on the day stating, “The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented.” The report is critical of the actions of Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. It states, “the command and leadership structure of the UCDPD is very dysfunctional.”
The 190-page Reynoso Task Force Report said the use of pepper spray was “not supported by objective evidence and not authorized by policy.”
According to CBS News, the report finds:
- The incident was not managed according to plan.
- The pepper spray used (MK-9) was not an authorized weapon for UC Davis police officers and officers were not trained in how to use it.
- Chancellor Linda Katehi bears responsibility for deploying police at 3 p.m. to remove tents rather than earlier in the day or the night before
- Chancellor Katehi bears primary responsibility for failing to communicate her position that physical force should be avoided.
- Lt. John Pike bears responsibility for the use of pepper spray on the students.
The Reynoso task force will be presenting the report live at UC Davis from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Eastern, which will be available via webcast here.
Tags: agribusiness, agriculture, betsy butler, cesar chavez, farm workers, farmworker deaths, farmworker safety, farmworker wages, farmworkers, jerry brown, labor, labor conditons, labour, roger hollander, ufw
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According to Assemblymember Betsy Butler, D-Los Angeles, author of the Farmworker Safety Act of 2012, “At least 16 farm workers have died since the state issued emergency regulations related to heat illness in 2005. Since all of the deaths were preventable, it’s clear that the regulations and their enforcement are ineffective.”
Let’s replay that: every year farmworkers are dying from thirst and heat exposure due to inadequate water and shade.
In announcing AB 2346, Butler added: “It is absolutely abhorrent to think that in this day and age, farm workers are not regularly provided with shade and water. These two commodities are essentially free and we all know that no grower would let their crops go without water.”
To rally support, the United Farm Workers union and other advocates will gather in Sacramento this weekend and laborers will speak of toiling thirsty and overheated in the fields.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but history shows a long, sorry resistance to treating farmworkers with even the most basic dignities. In July 2010, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to give farmworkers overtime pay after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week (New York passed such a bill in 2009). This February, after lobbying from Kraft Foods, the American Meat Institute and others, the USDA withdrew a proposed rule requiring companies doing business with the agency to prove that their subcontractors–including growers–are complying with labor laws.
Can you imagine any other profession where such injustices would be allowed? We hear of the sweatshops behind our computers, sneakers and other attire–yet the exploitation of farmworkers has become normalized. Somehow food, so intrinsic to our daily lives, escapes the kind of justice we should take for granted in 2012.
Our ongoing “harvest of shame” is about more than water and shade. It is about toxic pesticide exposures that send farmworkers to the hospital–up to 20,000 are poisoned annually according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is about rock-bottom wages for back-breaking work: more than 60 percent of farmworkers live south of the poverty line. “Hired farmworkers continue to be one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the United States,” the USDA says, noting, “they are sometimes forced to sleep in their vehicles, in tents, or completely outdoors.”
Farmworkers receive just half the average hourly wage of other private-sector workers, yet their pay represents up to 40 percent of food production costs for “crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nursery products,” according to the USDA.
The dirty big secret of our food is that highly exploited labor is a major cost (particularly in organic farming), and even well-meaning growers fight to keep their costs down. If food prices get too high, consumers howl for price relief. Something has to give.
This Cesar Chavez Day, let’s renew a national conversation about justice and fairness for America’s roughly one million farmworkers. Here’s a start: in the 2012 Farm Bill coming before Congress this summer, let’s create an income and health support fund for farmworkers–and a Farmworkers’ Bill of Rights. Currently, taxpayers subsidize agribusiness to the tune of roughly $15 billion a year–most of it benefiting large-scale production of additives for fast food and fuels that deplete our health and the environment. Let’s redirect some of that money to prevent severe farmworker poverty, chronic disease and premature deaths.
Why spend taxpayer dollars to make sure farmworkers get basic justice? We’re already paying the bill every day for uninsured farm laborers who end up in emergency rooms due to acute and chronic pesticide exposures or heat exhaustion; and we’re already paying the bill for impoverished underpaid farmworkers who need welfare and other supports just to survive. We can pay now to prevent farmworker suffering, or pay later for the inevitable health and economic emergencies.
Farmworkers are often undocumented and vulnerable–but not powerless. They’ve won some impressive battles recently, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers extracting better pay from Taco Bell and Trader Joe’s. Like Cesar Chavez’ great boycotts of the early 1970s, these campaigns organized farmworkers and consumers in common cause.
It’s time for consumers and policymakers to demand an end to the sweatshops hiding behind our dinner plates. It’s not just one company or a few bad apple growers–it’s our whole economy and policy of “cheap food,” which has cost many farmworkers an arm and a leg.
Cesar Chavez: A True American Hero March 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
Tags: agriculture, boycott, cesar chavez, child labor, dick meister, farm workers, grape boycott, history, immigrant labor, labor, labor organizing, labour, non violence, roger hollander, ufw, union rights, unions
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Cesar Chavez. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Saturday, 31 March 2012 09:22
Dick Meister, Dick Meister’s Blog | Op-Ed
I hope we can all pause and reflect on the extraordinary life of a true American hero today (March 31). It’s Cesar Chavez Day, proclaimed by President Obama and observed throughout the country on the 85th birth date of the late founder of the United Farm Workers union. It’s an official state holiday in California, Texas and Colorado.
As President Obama noted, Chavez was a leader in launching “one of our nation’s most inspiring movements.” He taught us, Obama added, “that social justice takes action, selflessness and commitment. As we face the challenges of the day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez.”
Like another American hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez inspired and energized millions of people worldwide to seek and win basic human rights that had long been denied them, and inspired millions of others to join the struggle.
Certainly there are few people in any field more deserving of special attention, certainly no one I’ve met in more than a half-century of labor reporting.
I first met Cesar Chavez when I was covering labor for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was on a hot summer night in 1965 in the little San Joaquin Valley town of Delano, California. Chavez, shining black hair trailing across his forehead, wearing a green plaid shirt that had become almost a uniform, sat behind a makeshift desk topped with bright red Formica.
“Si se puede,” he said repeatedly to me, a highly skeptical reporter, as we talked deep into the early morning hours there in the cluttered shack that served as headquarters for him and the others who were trying to create an effective farm workers union.
“Si se puede! – it can be done!”
But I would not be swayed. Too many others, over too many years, had tried and failed to win for farm workers the union rights they absolutely had to have if they were to escape the severe economic and social deprivation inflicted on them by their grower employers.
The Industrial Workers of the World who stormed across western fields early in the 20th century, the Communists who followed, the socialists, the AFL and CIO organizers – all their efforts had collapsed under the relentless pressure of growers and their powerful political allies.
I was certain this effort would be no different. I was wrong. I had not accounted for the tactical brilliance, creativity, courage and just plain stubbornness of Cesar Chavez, a sad-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken man who talked of militancy in calm, measured tones, a gentle and incredibly patient man who hid great strategic talent behind shy smiles and an attitude of utter candor.
Chavez grasped the essential fact that farm workers had to organize themselves. Outside organizers, however well intentioned, could not do it. Chavez, a farm worker himself, carefully put together a grass-roots organization that enabled the workers to form their own union, which then sought out – and won – widespread support from influential outsiders.
The key weapon of the organization, newly proclaimed the United Farm Workers, or UFW, was the boycott. It was so effective between 1968 and 1975 that 12 percent of the country’s adult population – that’s 17 million people – quit buying table grapes.
The UFW’s grape boycott and others against wineries and lettuce growers won the first farm union contracts in history in 1970. That led to enactment five years later of the California law – also a first – that requires growers to bargain collectively with workers who vote for unionization. And that led to substantial improvements in the pay, benefits, working conditions and general status of the state’s farm workers. Similar laws, with similar results, have now been enacted elsewhere.
The struggle that finally led to victory was extremely difficult for the impoverished workers, and Chavez risked his health – if not his life – to provide them extreme examples of the sacrifices necessary for victory. Most notably, he engaged in lengthy, highly publicized fasts that helped rally the public to the farm workers’ cause and that may very well have contributed to his untimely death in 1993 at age 66.
Fasts, boycotts. It’s no coincidence that those were the principal tools of Mohandas Gandhi, for Chavez drew much of his inspiration from the Hindu leader. Like Gandhi and another of his models, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez fervently believed in the tactics of non-violence. Like them, he showed the world how profoundly effective they can be in seeking justice from even the most powerful opponents.
“We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons,” Chavez explained.
His iconic position has been questioned recently by outsiders claiming Chavez acted as a dictator in his last years as head of the UFW. But what the UFW accomplished under his leadership, and how the union accomplished it, will never be forgotten – not by the millions of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers’ struggle, nor by the workers themselves.
Chavez deservedly remains, and undoubtedly will always remain, an American icon who led the way to winning important legal rights for farm workers. But more than union contracts, and more than laws, farm workers now have what Cesar Chavez insisted was needed above all else. That, as he told me so many years ago, “is to have the workers truly believe and understand and know that they are free, that they are free men and women, that they are free to stand up and fight for their rights.”
Freedom. No leader has ever left a greater legacy. But the struggle continues. Despite the UFW victories, farm workers are in great need of fully exercising the rights won under Chavez’ leadership. They need to reverse what has been a decline in the UFW’s fortunes in recent years, caused in part by lax enforcement of the laws that granted farm workers union rights.
Many farm workers are still mired in poverty, their pay and working and living conditions a national disgrace. They average less than $10,000 a year and have few – if any – fringe benefits. They suffer seasonal unemployment.
Job security is rare, as many of the workers are desperately poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America who must take whatever is offered or be replaced by other desperately poor workers from the endless stream of immigrants. Child labor is rampant.
Most hiring and firing is done at the whim of employers, many of them wealthy corporate growers or labor contractors who unilaterally set pay and working conditions and otherwise act arbitrarily.
Workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other serious health and safety hazards that make farm work one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. They often even lack such on-the-job amenities as fresh drinking water and field toilets, and almost invariably are forced to live in overcrowded, seriously substandard housing.
Cesar Chavez Day should remind us of the continuing need to take forceful legal steps and other action in behalf of farm workers – to help them overcome their wretched conditions and finally provide a decent life for all those who do the hard, dirty and dangerous work that puts fruit and vegetables on our tables.
We need, in short, to carry on what Cesar Chavez began. We could pay no greater homage to his memory.
Copyright © 2012 Dick Meister
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.
Sleazy California Democratd on Health Reform February 6, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in California, Democracy, Health.
Tags: California, california democrats, california legislature, california politics, democratic party, greek mythology, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare reform, insurance industry, mark leno, medical insurance, phil angelides, public option, roger hollander, schwarzenegger, single payer, tantalus
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Roger’s note: this is an excerpt from an email I received from email@example.com. It describes the machinations of the California Democratic Party in appearing to support a single payer health insurance plan while at the same time behind the scenes doing everything it can to ensure that it DOESN’T come to pass. In the seven years I spend on the Toronto municipal council, I saw this kind of hypocrisy in action time and time again. What they did in California is a classical example of this tactic, and the pen activists captured it perfectly and are to be congratulated for the exposé. And one more example of why electoral politics (as opposed to taking to the streets) is for the most part futile.
As you know, if you have been a participant of this distribution list for a while, we have been valiantly advocating for a single payer health care system for many years. Such a bill (SB 840) was passed by both chambers of the CA state legislature in 2006, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Maid Molester (Schwarzenegger).
At the time we TRIED to get the Democratic nominee Phil Angelides (who had previously claimed to support single payer) to do an action to demand that Arnold sign the bill. It would have been a great campaign issue for him, but he was too chicken hearted or corrupt himself (your choice) to do it, and he lost by 30 points or something like that.
The same bill passed in 2008 and was vetoed again.
Now fast forward the clock to last week, when single payer
(renumbered SB 810) was again in front of the CA Senate, but now with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who would be expected to sign the bill. All of a sudden four Democratic senators refused to even vote at all. That’s right, folks, they ABSTAINED, which is being in the room for the vote and refusing to cast a vote one way or another. At least three of these abstainers had voted “Yes” for single payer the last time.
So we cranked out a targeted action aimed only at these turncoat abstainers and have good information they got LOTS of phone calls for them to reconsider. But reconsideration never happened. So what’s really going on here? Here’s what the sponsor of the bill, Mark Leno, said on the Thom Hartmann show when gently challenged on why previous supporters were now abstaining.
“Arnold Schwartzeneggar was always going to veto the bill, so if one
had an interest in not ruffling the feathers of the insurance industry, the possibility is to vote for it with the wink of the eye that it’s not going anywhere anyway.”
In Greek mythology, Tantalus as his eternal punishment was cursed to stand in a pool of water underneath a fruit tree with low hanging branches always just out of reach, with the water always receding before he could take a drink. THAT is the very image of what the
Democratic party has become for the interests of the people who consider themselves constituents. It’s all a scam, folks, just one great, big, giant, honking scam.
This is essentially the same thing that happened in 2010 with that phony baloney health care bill, with a bottom line of nothing but pig grease for the medical insurance corporations. After lulling people
along for almost a year with the promise of a “public option”, itself a feeble impersonation of single payer, they refused to even allow a vote on it. In the end, having been forced to pass the bill using a reconciliation gimmick requiring only 51 votes, and 51 Democratic senators on record as supporting the so-called public option, they simply REFUSED to bring it up for a vote, even though they had the votes to do.
And the worst thing about it is that even the so-called good guys are in on it. Mark Leno, the sponsor of SB 810, KNOWS it will never pass, that the vote will always be manipulated so it falls just short in some way. The only reason for him to bring the bill up at all is to CON his own constituents into thinking he’s on their side, otherwise he would be vociferously calling out these abstainer traitors, not accidentally spilling the beans as he did. It’s nothing but a cynical PR stunt, and they are ALL in on it. No matter how many Democrats we vote for, till the end of all eternity, they will always find some way to fail to pass single payer health care.
Tags: California, Criminal Justice, human rights, hunger strike, john rudolf, pelican bay, prison conditions, prison inmates, prisoners, prisons, roger hollander, solitary confinement
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Published on Saturday, July 9, 2011 by the Huffington Post
Nearly 1,500 inmates at six California prisons have joined a hunger strike by prisoners confined in one of the state’s harshest isolation units, prison officials said Friday.
Demonstrators hold up a sign during a rally in front of the State Building in San Francisco, Friday to support prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison. Inmates in an isolation unit at Pelican Bay State Prison are on a hunger strike to protest conditions that they describe as inhumane. Advocates say several dozen inmates in the Security Housing Unit declined to eat their morning meal on Friday. The unit holds about a third of the 3,100 inmates at the Northern California prison. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) The hunger strike began a week ago and was organized by prisoners confined in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison, a maximum security facility located near the Oregon border. Inmates there are held in windowless isolation cells for more than 22 hours a day and can have little or no contact with other prisoners for years and even decades at a time.
A core group of prisoners at Pelican Bay said they were willing to starve to death rather than continue to submit to prison conditions that they call a violation of basic civil and human rights.
“No one wants to die,” James Crawford, a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder and robbery, said in a statement provided by a coalition of prisoners’ rights groups. “Yet under this current system of what amounts to intense torture, what choice do we have?”
The hunger strike comes only weeks after the Supreme Court ordered California to dramatically lower its prisons population, because severe overcrowding was exposing inmates to high levels of violence and disease.
California prison conditions were so poor as to be “intolerable with the concept of human dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.
The hunger strike is not a protest against overcrowding, however, but against the treatment of offenders who are segregated from the general population due to gang affiliations or crimes committed in prison.
In June, the Pelican Bay inmates provided prison officials advance warning of their intent to begin a hunger strike and made six key demands, including that the prison reform its policies on long-term solitary confinement.
The prisoners cited a 2006 report by a group of attorneys and law enforcement professionals that determined long-term solitary confinement practiced in U.S. prisons can create “torturous conditions that are proven to cause mental deterioration.”
State and federal courts have rejected prisoner lawsuits seeking to alter such policies, however. Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that prisoners in the Pelican Bay isolation unit were held there due to their known affiliation with prison gangs or for violent acts committed in prison.
“The purpose of the Security Housing Unit is to remove gang members’ influence over other inmates and to keep our prisons safe,” she said.
The prisoners also called for an end to a policy allowing indefinite detention in the isolation unit for inmates suspected of continued involvement in gang activity. Gang-affiliated prisoners can be released from the unit if they “debrief,” or provide information on other gang members.
Those who choose not to “debrief” must serve a minimum of six years in the solitary unit and can be held there indefinitely if they engage in any activity that prison officials deem gang-related.
Tags: California, california hospitals, california strike, democratic unions, executive salaries, healthcare workers, hospital management, kaiser permanente, labor, labor unions, labour, mark brenner, nuhw, organized labor, patient care, roger hollander, salinas california, salinas valley memorial, seiu, workers rights
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Hundreds of workers at a central California hospital return to work today, after a two-day lockout that provoked a complaint from the state labor board.
Workers at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, two hours south of San Francisco, were locked out after taking to picket lines on Tuesday.
The daylong strike—the first ever in the hospital’s 58-year history—was called by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) after stalled negotiations with hospital management.
The union, which represents techs, professionals, and service workers in the hospital, is fighting plans to cut more than 100 direct-care positions and trim pension and health care benefits for new hires.
The labor board’s complaint says the Salinas lockout was illegal retaliation for striking. A decision is expected within a month—and could net workers back pay for the days they were locked out.
It’s the third short strike this year by NUHW, which was founded in 2009 after SEIU placed its third-largest local, the dissident United Healthcare Workers-West, into trusteeship, prompting members and leaders to establish the breakaway union.
The struggles are a critical part of the union’s development, as NUHW members work against intense opposition from employers and their former union to secure first contracts for its 10,000 members statewide.
“We’ve never operated in the red,” said Ester Fierros-Nuñez, the Salinas union chairperson. “But now top administrators are treating this hospital, and the community, like their personal ATM.”
Hospital executives have been under close scrutiny after the union uncovered a deal which provided the recently departed CEO more than $5 million in pension and severance on top of the $150,000 a year he collects from the state pension plan.
Outrage over this taxpayer-funded golden parachute has spurred a state audit of the hospital’s finances. According to Fierros-Nuñez, six additional executives have the same kind of deal, which allows recipients to bypass IRS tax shelter rules by funneling money through multiple pensions.
“It’s like Enron,” she said. “They want to cut folks at the bottom so they can pay more to people at the top.”
NUHW has also criticized the hospital’s decision to spend $12 million on outside consultants, most notably Wellspring Partners, a Chicago-based firm. The consulting company, under prior ownership, was involved in the takeover and closure of St. Vincent’s hospital in New York City.
In St. Vincent’s bankruptcy proceedings, it emerged that the consultants had billed the hospital for everything from groceries and dry cleaning to opera tickets and club memberships. Union activists worry that Wellspring is milking their hospital as well.
LEAN AND MEAN
The biggest concern voiced on Tuesday’s picket line was for the hospital’s patients.
According to Debbie Prader, a 38-year licensed vocational nurse at the hospital, staff cuts that started a year and a half ago have sent workloads skyrocketing.
Previously, Prader typically worked her entire shift on a single floor, with an average of 10 patients. Now she’s covering two or three floors, and caring for up to 19 patients.
“They’re dismantling the whole hospital,” Prader said. “There’s no way to give good care in these conditions.”
Lily Garner, a 30-year medical transcriptionist at the hospital whose sister is currently a patient, said she’s seen the impact first hand. Basic help, like bathroom assistance, is lacking, she said.
“The people making all the decisions aren’t in contact with patients,” said Linda Vallez, a certified nursing assistant for 31 years at the hospital. “All they see is numbers on a spreadsheet.”
Salinas Valley Memorial is just the latest example of a profitable hospital looking to take advantage of the recession and lower staffing standards.
The same drive for concessions led 2,500 NUHW members in Southern California to launch their second one-day strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities on May 18. The health care giant made more than $1 billion in profits last year but is pushing for layoffs and major pension and health benefit takeaways.
“Kaiser executives are making more money than ever and are giving themselves huge raises, but they refuse to provide nurses with the staff we need to take care of our patients properly,” said Roxana Valadez, a pediatric nurse in Los Angeles. “And now, they’re not just keeping us understaffed, they also want to cut our benefits. Kaiser is becoming a worse and worse place to provide patient care.”
NUHW’S NEXT STEPS
The fights at Kaiser and Salinas hold the promise of stabilizing NUHW’s financial future, if they can win the union a first contract—and dues checkoff. (The union is hand-collecting dues in the meantime). Tight resources have hampered the union’s expansion, leading it to withdraw from numerous elections in recent months.
But even more important, the struggles are defining NUHW’s identity independent of SEIU.
There is no question the union will continue to run and win elections in SEIU bargaining units across the state, and extend their reach into non-union hospitals and nursing homes. NUHW’s recent victory in three of the four California Pacific Medical Center facilities in San Francisco is the latest example of its enduring appeal.
But the union’s most important challenge right now is to make good on its founding promise—that workers can build a democratic union willing to stand up and fight.
This task is doubly difficult when unions everywhere are ducking for cover, and when taking concessions is the norm. SEIU’s California leaders have agreed to health care cost-shifting and pension takeaways at health care facilities, giving management yet more reason to take a hard line against NUHW.
For NUHW’s members, there is no going back to the union they once had. And workers from Santa Rosa to San Diego have demonstrated they’re ready to build something new, and hopefully better, in its place.
Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on Prison Overcrowding Explained; Prison Photos From Decision May 24, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
Tags: California, california prisons, Criminal Justice, jon brooks, kqed, prison industrial complex, prison overcrowding, roger hollander, scalia, scotus, supreme court
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Update 3:16 p.m. From California Watch, a look at how the state might meet the order to drastically decrease its prison population.
KQED’s Joshua Johnson sat down with Scott Shafer, who covers criminal justice issues for us, to discuss today’s major SCOTUS ruling upholding a lower court’s order that California must reduce its prison population. (Listen to the interview here.)The Supreme Court declared the state must shed its prison system of some 46,000 inmates within two years. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority.
Shafer explains that state prisons are at 200% capacity, with twice as many inmates incarcerated as the system was built to hold. The ruling did not dictate how California should comply with the order — whether it should release inmates, transfer them out of state to for-profit prisons, change its parole rules, or take other actions. Cash-strapped California will not be able to simply throw money at the problem, Shafer says, and will probably have to decide on a combination of policy shifts that can meet the required reduction.
One thing that might help expedite changes: The ruling probably didn’t come as a surprise, Shafer says, as it was clear during oral arguments that a majority of justices had run out of patience with the state, giving policymakers a clear signal to start preparing for compliance.
Also of note: The majority took the extraordinary action of including three photos in the official opinion:
As for the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, Shafer called it “bombastic and scathing.” Scalia characterized the 2009 order to reduce the number of inmates as “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history,” and contended that its affirmation would put public safety at risk.