Connecting Palestinian and Indigenous peoples’ struggles for freedom

 

Boarded, arrested, impounded, sabotaged and finally shelled from the sea — the Canadian Boat to Gaza and Gaza’s Ark have not given up. Amid the hot-war conflicts today, peace activists are still at work, bringing attention to people who seek liberty and self-determination.

In the Spring of 2015, Freedom Flotilla III will sail, again.

When the Idle No More movement arose spontaneously, one of the first international communities to recognize the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada were Palestinians. Caught in the stifling grip of colonialism also, Palestinians understood why people long discriminated against would take to the streets. Palestinians have recognized how important international witness can be for themselves and other colonized peoples.

While Aboriginal Canadians see some merit in this kind of recognition, they continue to fear aligning themselves with international solidarity movements. Seldom do they look over the walls of their own disentitlement to ally with other peoples similarly oppressed. There are some outstanding exceptions but generally we continue to subscribe to the oppressive ideology that tells us not to get involved, or else.

Aboriginal people in Canada and Palestinians have a lot in common.

Take for example Canadian policy. The present government in Ottawa perpetuates the “us and them” narrative for both Palestinians and Aboriginal people.

In service to divide and conquer strategies, Ottawa supports illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine and unrestricted resource exploitation on Aboriginal homelands. Their logic is that Aboriginal people and Palestinians have inferior land rights, their cultures are backward and violent, and they are both disappearing peoples.

Conveniently, Ottawa sides with Israel, the colonial power. To challenge Israel’s claim to legitimacy would undermine Canada’s own dominion over Indigenous nations. The result is that the West Bank continues to shrink in size and viability, while Gaza has become the largest Indian reserve in the world.

Reserves and Aboriginal communities in Canada have limited access to self-sufficiency and many still boil water to avoid becoming sick: drinkable water in Gaza has become increasingly rare due to bombing and the blockade, while industries and other infrastructure have been systematically destroyed by the Israeli occupation.

The illegal blockade of Gaza is the “or else.”

Since 2007 Gaza has been blockaded. Access and egress for 1.8 billion people by land, sea and air has been denied. A buffer zone inside Gaza, policed by Israeli snipers, prohibits Palestinian farmers from reaching their fields. Fisherman are restricted to a three mile limit so a once-viable fishery has all but collapsed.

Everything and everyone that goes in and out of Gaza is monitored by Israeli security forces.

While restrictions on movement go back for decades, the Gaza blockade was tightened after Hamas, the political party of the insurgency movement, was democratically elected to govern Gaza in 2006. The “or else” is collective punishment for demanding self-determination.

When Aboriginal politicians and treaty organizations in Canada assert traditional power they are marginalized and defunded.

More and more people understand the dynamics of colonialism and realize that much of the violence in the world is rooted in historical oppression. There is still room for peaceful activism. There is still reason for Indigenous peoples and their allies around the world to demonstrate that change is going to come, that liberation and self-determination are what make people healthy and happy and a prosperous world is one that maintains equity and balance in what the earth offers.

The Freedom Flotilla movement has demonstrated how diverse peoples can come together, share resources and challenge dangerous oppression.

Even when the Mavi Marmara was attacked and Israeli Defence Forces murdered ten activists five years ago, the movement continued. Freedom Flotilla II mounted another attempt to challenge the sea blockade and experienced political manipulation and sabotage.

On November 4, 2011 the Canadian Boat to Gaza “Tahrir,” was illegally seized in international waters by Israel. Canadian and International activists were roughed up and arrested. The Tahrir was impounded. The Canadian government called it a private matter and refused to get involved.

Gaza’s Ark was born out of the same “never give up” attitude. Organizers and supporters recognized that empowering Palestinians and demonstrating the need for an open port were principal objectives of the movement.

In 2012, the Canadian Boat to Gaza shifted to rebuilding a seaworthy ship in an almost defunct Gaza shipyard, working with farmers and artisans to connect them with offshore investors and markets, and restoring hope through local employment. The idea was to sail out of Gaza with locally produced cargo to promote economic development.

By Spring of 2014 the Ark was almost ready to go. On April 29 saboteurs blew up the Ark in Gaza harbour. Still hopeful and with supplies and cargo purchased the ship was taken onto land for extensive repairs.

On July 11 the Israeli Occupation Forces finished it off with a direct hit while shelling the port of Gaza. No one expected that helping Palestine gain its freedom would be easy.

Every effort counts. Like Indigenous resistance in the Americas, Palestinians know that they are involved in a long-term struggle. Just like round dances demonstrated freedom, the Flotillas also have had an impact.

As Palestine asserts its statehood and more and more nations call for recognition and an end to occupation the time for liberation draws nearer. For every boat that sails challenging the blockade, people seeking peace and justice come closer together. The bonds of colonialism become weaker as Indigenous people and their allies work together for a better future.

Follow peace this spring. Follow Freedom Flotilla III. Whether you are an Indigenous Canadian or an ally, bring your presence to the movement to free Palestine. Engage individuals and groups around you and encourage them to join you in following the courageous crews who will be challenging the blockade again.

Gather together in your cities, communities and on Reserve and cheer as the boats reach their destination and load Palestinian goods for export. Let Canada and the world know that your freedom and your children’s futures are linked together with people who struggle for freedom everywhere.

For more information, follow http://freedomflotilla.orgwww.GazaArk.org

Robert Lovelace is a Continuing Adjunct Lecturer at Queen’s University in the Department of Global Development Studies. His academic interests include Aboriginal Studies, Re-indigenization and De-colonization. Robert is an activist in anti-colonial struggles. In 2008, Robert spent 3 ½ months as a political prisoner for his part in defending the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation homeland from uranium exploration and mining. Robert is a retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. He lives in the Algonquin highlands at Eel Lake in traditional Ardoch territory.

Photo: flickr/Luciano

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Canada’s negligence and indifference is killing Indigenous people

Racism doesn’t just hurt our feelings – racism kills. The two senseless deaths of First Nations children in a house fire in Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan from an unpaid bill of less than $4,000 has sparked outrage across Canada. In no other place in Canada would an ambulance, fire fighter or police officer ask a provincial resident if they had paid their taxes before answering an emergency call for help. Canada has a deep-seated racism problem which is killing our people. But to truly understand Indigenous outrage and sadness, one must understand both the context and true depth of this problem in Canada.

Indifference is nothing new

In the mid-1700s, colonial governments in what is now Nova Scotia considered the Mi’kmaw Nation to be “rebels” because we refused to give up our land. As a result, Governor Cornwallis issued a scalping proclamation that decimated the Mi’kmaw Nation by as much as 80 per cent. In 1971, Donald Marshall Jr., was sentenced to life in prison for murder and spent 11 years in jail before his wrongful prosecution was exposed. A subsequent Royal Commission found the reason for his imprisonment was racism against Mi’kmaw people by all levels of the justice system.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the Mi’kmaw right to fish and trade it commercially was protected in our constitutionally-protected treaties. The result? Canada sent in law enforcement to beat, pepper spray and run over our fishing boats — in addition to legal charges. In 2013, Elsipogtog First Nation and other members of the Mi’kmaw Nation who supported their anti-fracking stance in Mi’kmaw territory were labeled “terrorists”, “militants” and “bad Indians”. The scalping law was not used but our people were beaten and imprisoned.

From small pox blankets and scalping bounties to imprisonment and neglect — Canada is killing our people and Canadians will be next if nothing is done to change the value (or lack thereof) that we collectively put on human life – all human life. This dictatorial, police state is not what newcomers to Canada had in mind when they came to Canada. A territory shared with Indigenous Nations based on formal agreements (treaties) and information agreement (alliances) were founded on three principles: one, mutual respect; two, mutual prosperity; and three, mutual protection. Indigenous peoples, their families, communities and Nations protected and cared for newcomers. Our people fought in Canada’s world wars to protect our shared territory and people. Now it’s time for Canadians to stand up for Indigenous peoples.

In 1971, Helen Betty Osborne was kidnapped and murdered in The Pas, Manitoba. Her grieving friends and family were treated like criminals while the accused men were given the royal treatment by law enforcement and left to walk free for years. This wasn’t the first time our Indigenous women and little girls have been victims of a racist Canada, but no action was taken. Today, Canadians are well aware of the thousands of Indigenous women and little girls have gone murdered and/or missing in Canada. Yet, there is no sense of alarm in Parliament, nor has the Canadian state taken any steps to work with First Nations to embark on an inquiry or implement an emergency action plan.

By 1996, the last residential school had closed which was supposed to mark an end to the theft of Indigenous children from our Indigenous families, communities and Nations. Literally thousands of Indigenous children were victims of murders, rapes, tortures and medical experiments — and in the early 1900s, upwards of 40 per cent never made it out of those schools alive. [8] The legacy of thousands of our children who died as a matter of state law and policy should at least have included a promise to stop stealing our children. Today, we have more than 30,000 Indigenous children in care and growing. The problems have not stopped — they are getting worse.

The use of small pox blankets on our people to try to kill us off faster has been described by medical doctors as the first example of “biological warfare” during non-war times. Indigenous women and little girls were forcibly sterilized without their knowledge and consent for decades in an effort to stop us from reproducing. The Canadian state does not need to use such blatant policies to reduce our populations anymore — willful neglect has the same lethal effect. Federal, provincial and municipal governments are standing by while our people die. This is not an “Indian problem” — this is a Canadian problem that impacts every single Canadian and our collective future.

In 2005, Jordan River Anderson, a little boy from Norway House Cree Nation with many medical issues, died in hospital at five-years old never having seen his home because the federal and provincial governments couldn’t stop arguing over who would pay. In 2008, Brian Sinclair, a double amputee, whose family had roots in Berens River and Fort Alexander First Nations, died after waiting 34 hours in a hospital waiting room waiting for treatment for a bladder infection — while nearly 200 people passed him by — including staff who wrongly assumed he was “sleeping it off”.

Canada’s failure to act

The former Auditor General for Canada raised the alarms about discriminatory funding and the failure by Indian Affairs to take action on programs that would significantly impact the lives of First Nations. The Office of the Correctional Investigator has called the increasing over-representation of Indigenous peoples a crisis that needs to be addressed. The United Nations Special Rapporteur has made numerous recommendations on how Canada can address this multi-faceted crisis in First Nations. But Canada fails to take action.

Despite Canada’s failure to act, First Nations continue to try to raise the alarm bells on this lethal situation. A failure to address the chronic underfunding has led to First Nations being 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than Canadians. Indian Affairs’ own report done in 2011 indicated that a minimum of $28 million dollars was needed to prevent deadly fires in Manitoba alone — yet all 633 First Nations in Canada only get $26 million.

Canada sits back and watches our people die needless deaths while we struggle to heal our families and communities, to rebuild after the theft of our lands and resources and to resist ongoing attempts to assimilate and eliminate us. The herculean effort at the grassroots level to protect our people is made more difficult by state propaganda that would blame us for our own misery, or deflect media attention by vilifying our leaders. Now Bill C-51 will make those of us who speak out against such inhumanity all “terrorists.” Then who will defend this territory?

The Chief Coroner for Ontario released an especially rare and powerful report in 2011 on the child suicide epidemic in Pikangikum First Nation which had declared a state of emergency — a desperate call for help that went unanswered by Canada. Within a two-year period between 2006 and 2008, 16 children between the ages of 10-19 committed suicide. 16 children died — not from accidental car crashes or unpreventable diseases but because the “basic necessities of life are absent” in Pikangikum who struggles to heal and survive amidst the “backdrop of colonialism, racism and social exclusion” and government neglect.

Sixteen little First Nation children committed suicide because the Canadian state creates and maintains the conditions of life that will either kill them or make them so hopeless they will kill themselves. That’s the UN definition of genocide.

In the words of the coroner, this “was not a story of capitulation to death, but rather, a story of stamina, endurance, tolerance, and resiliency stretched beyond human limits until finally, they simply could take no more.”

In what vision of Canada are the ongoing deaths of our people okay? We need Canadians to stand beside First Nations and support us as we defend the health of our lands and waters as well as the rights and freedoms of Canadians. This should not be our burden to bear alone anymore. Help us turn this ship around before we lose any more precious children.

Image: Flickr/Thienv

Reading the Runes in the Latest Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program

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by Peter Jenkins

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program contains much that is worth emphasizing. Iran is continuing to account for all its declared nuclear material (and the agency appears to have no reason to suspect the existence of undeclared nuclear material). Iran is also continuing to comply fully with the commitments it made to the United States and others on November 24, 2013 and which it has renewed since.

Much of the commentary on the report on Iran will inevitably highlight Iran’s continuing failure to resolve two concerns the IAEA raised in May 2014. I, however, am surprised, that the IAEA director general omits all mention of two Iranian attempts, since the last IAEA report in mid-November, to address those and some other allegations that the IAEA is investigating.

On December 2, Reuters reported that in a statement to the IAEA Iran had rejected accusations that it was stonewalling IAEA investigations. Instead, Iran had affirmed that it had given the IAEA “pieces of evidence” indicating that documents adduced by the IAEA as reasons for concern were “full of mistakes and contain fake names with specific pronunciations which only point towards a certain IAEA member as their forger.” (The member Iran probably had in mind was Israel).

Yet there is no mention whatsoever of this Iranian rebuttal in the latest report, still less any detailed IAEA rebuttal of the rebuttal. Instead, the director general resorts to an exceptionally bland (and in the circumstances misleading) phrase: “Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the Agency to clarify the two outstanding practical measures [concerns].”

In effect Iran is being asked to prove its innocence. But when it tries to do so, the evidence it submits is rejected out of hand because it calls into question the evidence that is being used to justify the suspicion of guilt. Is that consistent with due process?

Also surprising is the omission of any mention of Iran’s offer of access to a suspected nuclear site at Marivan, reported by Reuters on December 11. A controversial annex to the IAEA’s November 2011 report referred to one member state having informed the agency that major high-explosives tests were conducted at Marivan in the first part of the last decade.

Since the IAEA has not taken Iran up on the offer, it presumably believes that a visit to Marivan would serve no useful purpose. If that is the case, do they not owe it to Iran to withdraw the November 2011 charge relating to Marivan? If the agency isn’t arranging a site visit, it should explain to IAEA member states that it considers the information provided by “a member state” to have been unreliable or irrelevant.

I raise these questions not to criticise the IAEA secretariat, which continues to do a first-class job in Iran, as professional and objective as ever. Rather, I want to offset the hue and cry that opponents of a nuclear deal will raise over the reference in the latest report to Iran’s failure to provide explanations. I’m suggesting that there is more to this than meets the eye.

Turning back to the positive, Iran is continuing to allow exceptional access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops, and storage facilities. This access has enabled the IAEA to conclude that centrifuge rotor manufacturing and assembly are consistent with Iran’s replacement program for failed centrifuges. In other words, Iran is not manufacturing and diverting rotors to some clandestine enrichment facility.

This is highly significant. Amid the endless furor over the number of centrifuges that Iran should retain under a comprehensive agreement, the public could be forgiven for failing to appreciate that, theoretically, Iran is far more likely to “sneak out”—using a clandestine enrichment facility—than to “break out” under the eyes of IAEA inspectors, using the centrifuges it wants to retain.

I inserted “theoretically” to emphasize that at this point there is no evidence that Iran intends either to break out or to sneak out. And as long as the IAEA retains access to Iran’s rotor manufacturing, assembly, and storage facilities—which it will lose if the opponents of a deal have their way—we can all feel confident of a continuing absence of intention.

In essence, the latest IAEA report contains nothing that would justify the United States and its allies declining to close a deal with Iran in the course of the coming four weeks. I, for one, am rooting for their success.

Photo: Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi (L) shakes hands with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano (R) after signing a new agreement in Tehran, Iran, November 11, 2013.

About the Author

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Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, ADRgAmbassadors, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.

The Keystone Pipeline is Land Theft

The US Congress approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline’s fourth phase on February 11, with the bill scheduled to land on president Barack Obama’s desk for a likely veto sometime after the “President’s Day” recess. Near-unanimous support for Keystone from self-proclaimed “conservatives” and “libertarians” is disappointing but unsurprising. This government land grab is just the latest example of alleged “small government” advocates abusing their power at the expense of ordinary Americans. Despite their ceaseless rhetoric about free markets and limited government on the campaign trail, most Republican legislators — and the GOP’s 2016 presidential front-runners — openly embrace such robbery once in office.

Completing Keystone requires the state to forcibly take large tracts of land from American farmers and homeowners through a process known as eminent domain. TransCanada Corporation — the company behind Keystone — has sent Texans and Nebraskansthreatening letters demanding they enter “negotiations” (read: Sell, at prices acceptable to TransCanada) or face legal condemnation and loss of their land. The company, with government assistance, has already stolen more than 100 tracts of land from Texans. Homeowners along the line connecting Oklahoma to Alberta are next. TransCanada also plans to use eminent domain against Oklahoma’s Sac and Fox Indian Nation, undermining tribal sovereignty and adding a new chapter to the US government’s long history of land theft from Native Americans.

In a free society, people and companies seeking to build on others’ lands must reach voluntary agreement with rightful ownera. This stands in complete contrast to the approach of Transcanada and its GOP allies. Such theft gives unfair competitive advantages to its beneficiaries, greatly distorting the economy. It is no coincidence that the firms benefiting from eminent domain lobby heavily for its use. In a real free market they’d have to negotiate and compete without government favors of this kind.

The Keystone land grab illustrates how supposedly conservative and libertarian politicians violate the freedoms and property rights of others. They have become part of a corrupt, coercive system that freely uses force against ordinary people when doing so suits its purposes. Ultimately, the state corrupts even the most principled advocates of liberty who join its ranks. Replacing the current system with a society based on voluntary interaction should be our ultimate goal. Until this happens, Americans need to recognize that allowing government to give stolen land to business interests is incompatible with freedom and must be opposed.

Industries Profiting Handsomely from America’s Prison System

Business is booming thanks to the prison-industrial complex.

It’s no coincidence that the United States now imprisons more of its people than any other country in the world: mass incarceration has become a giant industry in the U.S., resulting in huge profits not only for private prison companies, but also, for everything from food companies and telecoms to all the businesses that are using prison labor to cut their manufacturing costs. The prison-industrial complex even has its own lobbyists: according to a 2011 report from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), the U.S.’ largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and their competitor the GEO Group have both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying forlonger prison sentences. And the American Bail Coalition has been lobbying for the bail bond industry for 23 years.

One of the main reasons so many people are imprisoned in the U.S. (which now has 25% of the world’s prisoners even though it comprises only 5% of the world’s population) is the war on drugs, which has brought with it draconian sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. In a 2013 report on Americans serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, the American Civil Liberties Union found that 79% were incarcerated for drug-related convictions. Three-strikes laws, which mandate life without the possibility of parole after a third felony conviction, have also done a lot to expand the prison-industrial complex.

Reform is at odds with the agenda of many powerful industries. It’s well-known that private prison companies draw their profits from mass incarceration, but they’re not the only ones. Here are nine industries that are profiting quite handsomely from the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration in the U.S.

1. Food Supply Companies: Supplying food for prisons can be extremely profitable. Just ask the Philadelphia-based Aramark Corporation, which brings in millions of dollars bringing food to around 600 prisons in North America. Aramark’s profits continue to roll in even when the company does a terrible job. In 2014, Aramark received fines of $98,000 and $200,000 from the state of Michigan for a long list of infractions, including meal shortages, unsanitary conditions (maggots found in the food, for example) and Aramark employees smuggling contraband into prisons. But such fines were a small price to pay in light of the fact that, in December 2013, Aramark signed a three-year, $145-million contract with the state of Michigan. Aramark has had problems in other states as well, including Kentucky (where corrections officers said poor food service led to a prison riot in 2009), Florida (where state officials ended a contract with Aramark after accusing the company of boosting corporate profits by skimping on meals) and Ohio (where Aramark employees have been fired for having sex with inmates).

2. Telecommunications: Although corporatists love to describe themselves as believers in free-market competition, the reality is that many of them do everything they can to rig the game, avoid competition and become monopolies. One telecom company that operates as a monopoly in many prisons is Global Tel* Link (GTL). The company has been making $500 million annually in profits thanks to its exclusive contracts with a long list of prisons. When prisoners make collect calls via GTL, the person accepting the call pays inflated rates of up to $1.13 per minute. GTL can get away with charging those rates because it doesn’t have to compete with other telecom companies in the prisons where it has exclusive contracts.

3. Healthcare Companies:Inside American prisons, decent healthcare is hard to come by. Corizon, a company that specializes in prison healthcare, is making an estimated $1.4 billion annually despite doing an abysmal job caring for those they are paid to treat. In 2012, seven sick prisoners died in a Louisville, Kentucky jail where Corizon was in charge of healthcare; the city of Louisville later canceled its contract with Corizon. In the video, Prison Profiteers, a Tucson, Arizona woman whose incarcerated son had hepatitis C was told by Corizon employees that they had “no protocol for treating” the disease, which is rampant in prisons.

4. Telemarketing and Call Centers: Many American corporations have moved their call centers to India, the Philippines, Honduras and other countries where they can get away with paying slave wages. But some Americans corporations in need of call centers have found an even cheaper source of labor: American inmates. USA Today reported in 2004 that 2,000 or more prisoners in the U.S. were working in call centers. About 80 of them were in Snake River Prison in Oregon, where inmates were being paid around $120-$185 a month for working full-time. When companies can get people to sell and promote products, handle customer service or make hotel reservations for 75 cents an hour, there is much incentive for keeping the prison-industrial complex alive.

5. Clothing Manufacturers: Prisoners are making a lot more than license plates these days. A wide variety of products are being manufactured in U.S. prisons, from office furniture and bedding to sinks, toilets and clothing. All kinds of clothing is made in American prisons: shirts, hats, pants, shoes, jackets, you name it. Even Victoria’s Secret has profited from the prison-industrial complex: in the 1990s, Victoria’s Secret subcontractor Third Generation hired 35 female inmates in North Carolina to sew lingerie.

6. The Technology Sector: Back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, unionized manufacturing and packaging jobs were great for the American middle class. But that was before so many of those jobs were outsourced to Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and other countries with ultra-low wages and terrible working conditions. Some corporations, however, have found a source of ultra-cheap labor right in the U.S.: inmates, whose pay can be as low as 35 cents an hour. The technology sector has been willing to make use of prison labor. Exmark (a Microsoft subcontractor) used prisoners in Washington State for shrinkwrapping Microsoft products (including mouses and software) in the 1990s, and in 2003, Dell used federal prisoners for recycling desktop computers.

7. The Bail Industry: According to research by the ACLU and the Nation, the bail industry now pulls in $2 billion in revenue annually. They described the practices of bail bondsmen like Eric Amparan, who keeps 10% of a bail amount as a non-refundable fee even if the person is found innocent. The higher the bail amounts set by judges, the more bail bondsmen stand to make—and Prison Profiteers reported that between 2002 and 2011, the American Bail Coalition (a lobbying group for the bail industry) spent $3.1 million lobbying for judges to set higher bail amounts. Prison Profiteers also noted that average bail amounts increased substantially with the growth of the prison-industrial complex, going from $39,800 in 1992 (the year ABC was founded) to $89,900 in 2006.

8. Food Processing and Packaging: The prison-industrial complex not only uses companies like Aramark that bring food to prisoners, it can also use prison labor to process food for people on the outside. In 2008, Mother Jones’ Caroline Winter reported that in California alone, prisoners were processing “more than 680,000 pounds of beef, 400,000 pounds of chicken products, 450,000 gallons of milk, 280,000 loaves of bread, and 2.9 million eggs.” Winter reported that Signature Packaging Solutions, a Starbucks subcontractor, was using prisoners to package holiday coffees.

9. Agriculture: With more states fining farmers for hiring undocumented workers and fewer agricultural workers coming in from Mexico, the prison-industrial complex has been using more prisoners as a source of farm labor. This is happening everywhere from Georgia to Arizona to Idaho, where in 2014, State Sen. Patti Anne Lodge (a Republican) sponsored a bill allowing agricultural employers to hire prisoners. The bill was quickly signed into law by Idaho’s Republican governor C.L. Otter.

Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

One State: 500 Laws Aimed at Oppressing the Homeless

On the heels of a damning new report, the Right to Rest campaign pushes for state-wide legislation to stop discrimination against homeless people.

Cities in the United States have a long history of criminalizing the public presence of people they consider undesirable. In the late 1800s, Southern cities established “sundown towns,” laws that restricted black people from being outside after sunset. Throughout the 19th century, cities ratified “ugly laws,” banning people who were diseased or deformed from being outside. During the Great Depression, California cities passed an “anti-Okie” law, making it illegal to assist poor people entering the state.

Today, society’s target is homeless people. Beginning in the 1980s when the federal government slashed the affordable housing budget, cities have enacted thousands of laws to criminalize basic human needs such as resting, sleeping, standing, and sitting, as well as acts like panhandling and food sharing.

That’s why the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a network of homeless advocacy groups on the West Coast, is pushing to pass the Right to Rest Actin Oregon, Colorado and California this year. The act, the first of its kind, would protect all residents’ right to rest, allowing people to occupy and use public spaces without fear of discrimination. The legislation was written based off interviews with more than 1,400 homeless people. It would also serve as a model legislation that could be enacted in every state across the nation.

While representatives in Oregon and Colorado are sponsoring the bill, no one has yet been willing to sponsor the bill in California. February 27 is the last day for the bill to be introduced into the legislature for this session—meaning if no one puts their name on it, the act is out for this year. The final push to get the Right to Rest Act introduced in California comes on the heels of a new research report revealing the extent of the criminalization of homelessness.

Paul Boden, executive director of WRAP, said, “The fact that we have the most in-depth research by far in California and we’re having the hardest time by far getting a sponsor for the bill is a really sad statement about the politics of business and gentrification in the state.”

New Findings on the Criminalization of Homelessness in California

New research prepared for WRAP by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law details the impact criminalization has had on the homeless population in California, home to one in every five homeless people in the U.S. Researchers looked at a sample of 58 California cities and found 500 anti-homeless laws on the books—an average of nine laws per city. Each city has at least one code restricting daytime activities like resting, standing and sitting; 57 had codes restricting nighttime activities like sleeping, camping and lodging; 53 had codes restricting begging and panhandling; 12 had codes restricting food sharing. Some of these laws either overlap or criminalize the same action but in different locations.

“You can word these laws in different ways,” said Marina Fisher, a policy graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and a researcher for the report. “You’ll have a city that has three different laws about begging. One is you can’t beg in public. One is you can’t beg near freeway onramps. You can’t beg in parks. And then you can’t be sitting on the sidewalk during these hours. And then another is if we catch you doing this twice in a row, it’s a bigger fee or penalty. There are a lot of variations.”

In addition to using anti-homeless municipal or state laws, cities also use other laws to criminalize homeless people. In San Diego, for instance, police have used a law intended to eliminate safety hazards around dumpsters to target the homeless population.

“These are laws that technically apply to everyone but anecdotally, people who appear to be homeless based on looks or demeanor are more likely to be targeted by police,” Fisher said. “One [San Diego] police officer even acknowledged that after state level laws got blocked by a lawsuit they looked through [local] laws and thought this one could be pretty applicable.”

With these laws on the book, homeless people are harassed by police, given citations, spend time in jail, and could end up with criminal records that further hinder them from finding housing or employment. In the report, a San Diego Police Department veteran told researchers that cops arrest homeless people if they presume that they could be “repeat offenders.” Fisher said her research team wasn’t able to get a larger picture of the impact of criminalization because cities don’t adequately track enforcement of these laws. Police also don’t document the housing status of those jailed.

But sending homeless people to jail is the inevitable consequence of these laws. A homeless man in San Francisco spent 30 days locked up for sitting on a milk crate, and faced up to two years in prison. And things could get worse. For homeless people who are mentally ill, police encounters to enforce these laws could be fatal. Last spring in New Mexico, Albuquerque police officers shot and killed James Boyd, a homeless man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

Click to enlarge.

Despite these severe consequences, there is no shortage of new anti-homeless legislation being passed. According to the report, these laws first emerged in the ’80s, as federal cuts to affordable housing drove people onto the streets. Cities were left with limited legal recourse due to a Supreme Court ruling a decade earlier that struck down a municipal vagrancy law. Ever since, there’s been a dramatic increase, with a majority of these laws—59 percent—enacted since 1990. Since 2010 alone, 55 new anti-homeless laws have been enacted in these cities. If the trend continues, researchers predict that California will enact 110 new anti-homeless laws by the end of the decade.

“I think that this report was an objective analysis really for people to understand that we are not treating people without homes right in California,” said Nathaniel Miller, a law student at the University of California, Berkeley, and a researcher for the report. “California, across most of the categories, has a higher prevalence of these laws compared to cities … in the other 49 states. Local city councils are writing these laws by the month that are continuing to restrict these people’s ability to live.”

Cities Create a Race to the Bottom

While California certainly faces a crisis, criminalization of the homeless has reached disastrous levels across the nation. Some law schools are working to forge coordination across schools to inspect homeless rights issues on a statewide level. Law students at Seattle University School of Law have begun similar research to Berkeley’s and are finding similar results.

“We do have some very hard data showing that there is very much a consistency in terms of the prevalence of these laws,” said Sara Rankin, associate professor at Seattle University School of Law, who is working with students on the research.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. WRAP found in an earlier reportthat between 1979 and 1983, federally funded affordable housing was cut by approximately $50 billion, an amount that has never been fully restored. With homelessness on the rise ever since, cities have resorted to criminalization to appease residents and businesses and to give the appearance of having solved the crisis.

“I grew up in San Diego where there’s a huge homeless population,” Fisher said. “People would complain all the time to the police and government about, ‘I went downtown and there was a bunch of homeless people.’ So I think cities feel a lot of pressure to do something. It seems easier to say that you’re doing something by passing a law than investing millions of dollars in housing or counseling programs or retraining your police force to work differently. It’s shortsighted. And I think one of their hopes has been, that if they’re more restrictive than their neighbors, maybe they’ll push the homeless people out of their city and into neighboring cities, which at a state level doesn’t do anything; it’s counterproductive. But at a city level, it encourages a kind of race to the bottom.”

Boden said city officials sometimes don’t even try to conceal their efforts. He said mayors have gone to other cities to praise the effectiveness of criminalization.

“When we were having the hearings on sit/lie [in San Francisco] they brought up the mayor from Santa Cruz to talk about how great it’s worked there because it removed homeless people from the downtown area,” Boden said. “So they’re not even hiding that this is about getting rid of poor people. This isn’t about any other issue except removing people that they don’t like from local communities.”

The Push to Put People Over Profit and Politics

This is why WRAP is pushing for statewide legislation to squash this race to bottom among cities. In Oregon, Chip Shields of the state senate was the first to sponsor the Right to Rest Act, stating, “People who are homeless not only struggle with life on the street, they struggle with the indignity of being treated like criminals because they have nowhere to eat, sit or sleep. This bill is about making sure everyone is treated humanely under the law.”

Joe Salazar of the Colorado House of Representatives was next to sponsor the act. In both states, several state representatives have added their names to the bill. No California representative has yet offered to serve as a sponsor.

“It is a really disappointing shock no one has sponsored the bill in California,” said Boden. “And the fact that you have several sponsors in Oregon and several sponsors in Colorado—we actually anticipated those being a little harder because we have a lot more members in California. We came out of California. We have a Democratic controlled assembly and Senate and a Democratic governor. What we’re trying to say to these politicians: if not you, who?”

Politicians’ lack of courage in California may stem from the campaign’s history in the state. In 2012, former California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced WRAP’s Homeless Bill of Rights, which included the Right to Rest Act’s anti-criminalization component as well as the right to legal counsel and the right to 24-hour access to hygiene centers. The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee approved the legislation but it later died in Appropriations.

“It gave too many loopholes for the opposition to plug into and avoid the race and class issues that are really behind the criminalization piece of it,” Boden said, adding that this year, WRAP is back with the Right to Rest Act—the core of the Homeless Bill of Rights.

Ammiano took a lot of heat from the League of California Cities, the Chamber of Commerce and the Police Officers Association for the bill, Boden said. The business improvement districts were the most vehemently opposed.

“When you look at how many business improvement districts we have in the state—we’re turning what we used to call neighborhoods into business improvement districts,’” Boden said. “A lot of politicians aren’t comfortable going up against this kind of opposition.”

But WRAP is still pushing for politicians to put people over politics and profit before the February 27 deadline.

“At some point somebody has to stand up and say this ain’t right,” Paul Boden said. “Some groups had to finally say, we’re going to fight Jim Crow. Some groups had to finally say, we’re going to fight ugly laws; we’re going to fight Japanese exclusion acts. Right now, today, we need to be that group.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

Fukushima….latest.

Radioactive sulfur was “the highest ever measured in any atmospheric sample” — “Very high” concentrations detected in Tokyo

Detection of radioactive 35S at Fukushima and other Japanese sites, authors include scientists from the University of California San Diego and the University of Tokyo, 2013 (emphasis added):

  • An effect of [the Fukushima] disaster was secondary formation of radioactive 35S… when neutrons… activated the coolant sea water. Here we report the first measurements of 35S [which oxidized to 35SO2, then 35SO42-] collected at six Japanese sampling sites… during March-September 2011.
  • Even after 6 months, 35SO42- activity remains very high… in the Fukushima region, which implies that the reactor core was producing radioactive sulfur.
  • 35S is a unique tracer in that it provides information on the number of neutrons emitted from the reactor core and can be used to probe the condition of the reactor core as well as the containment vessel.
  • 35SO42- concentrations [of 61,000 atoms/m3 in Kashiwa (200 km from FDNPP) and 120,000 atoms/m3 in Kawamata (50 km from FDNPP)] arethe highest 35S activities ever measured in any atmospheric sample and are nearly 100 times higher than the natural background.
  • Figure 3 [right]: 35SO42- measured… at Fukushima prefecture… shows that, even after 6 months… the reactor core was active and producing 35S.
  • The natural background 35SO42- concentration [is] 300 to 900 atoms/m3.
  • Even after 6 months, 35S activity was very high… which implies that the reactor core wasstill active and releasing neutrons. However, the presence of a viable chlorine source is not known. The neutrons might be reactingwith sea water coming in and out across a crack developed in the containment vessel.
  • 35SO42- was detected several thousand miles away from the source
  • A very high 35SO42- activity was observed at [Kawamata, Kashiwa], Tsukuba [175 km from FDNPP], and Tokyo Tech Yokohama [250 km from FDNPP].

See also: Fukushima released 13 billion times more neutrons than first estimated — “Obvious implication for human health” — Neutron radiation “the most dangerous radiation” known to man

And: IAEA: Fukushima reactors may have been active long after meltdowns — This completely changes our idea of what happened — Very surprised over extremely high I-131 levels, which shows fission went on for weeks/months (VIDEO)

  1. AP: Radioactive material spews into air & sea at Fukushima — Asahi: Exposure levels spike — Nuclear Expert: We don’t even know where 3 melted reactor cores are… it’s not under control at all; Still getting worse 3 years later (AUDIO) March 11, 2014
  2. Japan Journalist: Melted nuclear fuel going through Fukushima containment vessels, they don’t even know where the 3 reactor cores went — Senior Scientist: I’m being told Japan may never be able to remove radioactive materials from site; ‘Solution’ may be to leave it in place (AUDIO) June 10, 2014
  3. TV: Highest ever radiation levels detected outside reactor buildings at Fukushima — People exposed to it would die in 20 minutes (VIDEO) December 7, 2013
  4. NHK: Extremely high levels of radiation detected just above Reactor 2 containment vessel — Radioactive substances suspected to have moved through location (VIDEO) June 15, 2012
  5. Nuclear Engineer: “Very huge catastrophe” for melted fuel to burn into ground — Radioactive material “will go all around the world” once in underground water — Chernobyl made cement barrier below reactor, #Fukushima did not (VIDEO) February 1, 2014

ABC Tours Fukushima Plant: This could go on for centuries, and some say problems can never be fixed; “Tepco admits it doesn’t know extent of meltdowns” — Official: We don’t know ‘real situation’ of the molten fuel, “nobody has seen it”; We need help from the world (VIDEO)

ABC News (Australia), Feb 18, 2015 (emphasis added): Inside Fukushima: ABC tours crippled power plant… TEPCO [says] major steps have been taken to decommission the molten reactors.Others say the plant cannot be fixed… With vacuum-sealed protection gear and special breathing apparatus, TEPCO gave the ABC an exclusive tour of the crippled plant… Reactors 1, 2 and 3 were strictly off limits, and looking from about 500 metres away the area was clearly deserted, with cars and equipment abandoned. Removing the molten fuel from these reactors will be an enormous challenge… [TEPCO guide Kenichiro Matsui] admitted they did not know the extent of the problemsLocals distrust TEPCO, say future is ‘hopeless’… Fourth-generation fisherman Hisashi Yoshida said any trust with TEPCO was broken a long time ago… Shinichi Kumadah, a Fukushima evacuee [told ABC] “When I think of the future I can’t think of anything. It’s hopeless.”

ABC News (Australia) transcript, Feb 18, 2015:

  • Matthew Carney, ABC North Asia correspondent: “Sorting out Reactor No. 4 will be the easy part. Fixing Reactors No. 1, 2, and 3 will be much more difficult. They’re full of molten nuclear fuel. Humans can’t enter, it would result in instant death. And robots have yet to be invented that can withstand the massive radiation levels near the melted cores. TEPCO admits it doesn’t know the exact location and extent of the meltdowns. They claim it will take 40 years to fix, but others say centuries.”
  • Kenichiro Matsui, TEPCO public affairs department (voiceover translation): “We don’t know the exact situation in detail. Fuel has been melted down, but nobody has seen it. We need to develop technology with help from around the world to know the real situation.”

Watch the broadcast hereRelated Posts

  1. BBC: Work at Fukushima Unit 4 a “distraction”; The “real nightmare” is coming from 3 molten cores — NYTimes: Melted fuel is “all over the place… First goal is simply to stop uncontrolled releases of radioactive material” (AUDIO) December 7, 2013
  2. Japan Official: Fuel from Fukushima reactors is “melting down daily” — AP: No way of confirming melted fuel is at bottom of containment vessels — Tepco Adviser: “Schedule for decommissioning the plant is pure supposition” — The Economist: This is ‘Mission Impossible’ (VIDEO) February 8, 2015
  3. NPR: How can Fukushima’s molten fuel be contained so it stops contaminating the planet? Nuclear Expert: There’s no way to get at molten fuel… I’ve not seen a solution to this (AUDIO) September 17, 2013
  4. Experts: Nuclear chain reactions may have lasted over 7 months at Fukushima — Neutron leakage from ‘active’ molten fuel — “Core producing radioactive sulfur” — Top Gov’t Official: MOX fuel could be neutron source April 10, 2014
  5. TV: Only ‘some’ of Fukushima melted fuel is now solid — Nuclear Expert: Molten core ‘re-melts’, even with enough cooling water — Japan Engineer: “The Fukushima accident was the first of its kind” (VIDEO) January 29, 2015