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A Mixed Reaction From the Americas on Gaza

10:21 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

As a 72-hour ceasefire begins between Israel and Hamas, the devastation in Gaza can be seen with stories, photos and comments. More than 1,800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than 50 Israelis, nearly all soldiers, are dead.

What is interesting is the reaction toward the destruction occurring in Gaza as government officials, celebrities and even civilians take a stance. Specifically, the reaction in North America and South America merit discussion about the stances taken by governments on this issue.

Of course, the United States has been scrutinized intensely as its position as a superpower and the billions of dollars in aid to Israel force it to take a stand on this issue.

Perhaps the U.S. position could be found in a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on July 29 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) titled “Supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, and for other purposes.” It passed with the vote of every Senate member, both Democrat and Republican. It seems on foreign policy both parties are unanimous on what is needed. Regardless, the text of the resolution included a few interesting parts such as:

Whereas the Government of Israel has taken significant steps to protect civilians in Gaza, including dropping leaflets in Gaza neighborhoods in advance of Israeli military attacks, calling Palestinians on the phone urging them to evacuate certain areas before the military strikes targets, and issuing warnings to civilians in advance of firing on buildings;

Whereas Hamas intentionally uses civilians as human shields;

Whereas the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to accept a biased resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry to determine if Israel violated human rights and humanitarian law during the ongoing conflict with Gaza; and (Emphasis mine)

A satirical piece in The Onion more accurately describes what Palestinians face escaping from Israeli missiles. The reality is Israel has not taken any “significant steps to protect civilians in Gaza” and they are dying at the careless hands of the Israeli government.

Furthermore, the argument that Hamas uses civilians as human shields is an argument without evidence*. Amnesty International actually debunked this claim while dispelling myths about the conflict in Gaza:

Amnesty International is monitoring and investigating such reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to ‘shield’ specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks.

In fact, journalist Rania Khalek found Israelis use Palestinians as shields for soldiers through the “neighbor procedure.” This procedure is when “Israeli soldiers force Palestinian civilians to approach armed suspects as well as homes potentially rigged with explosives to protect the lives of soldiers.”

“If anyone should be condemned for using human shields, it is clearly Israel,” Khalek said.

Finally, the resolution accuses the Human Rights Council of a “biased resolution,” despite legitimate claims Israel committed human rights violations. One example can be seen through the bombings of UN schools. Even the White House called it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.

The resolution cannot be considered biased if 29 countries voted for it even though the U.S. voted against it. It is not as if the other countries developed a conspiracy around the resolution.

Anyway, the Senate resolution, filled with errors, had the support of all the Senators, including the ones championed as progressive such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). To understand where they stand on Israel and Palestine, the latter two did not post anything about it on their websites, while Warren’s website has a section where she defends Israel’s right to exist and vows to defend them in the Senate:

To me, it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel, and I am committed to ensuring its long-term security by maintaining its qualitative military edge. Israel must be able to defend itself from the serious threats it faces from terrorist organizations to hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.

Her efforts against greed on Wall Street should be praised, but the job of a U.S. Senator is not just on finance. It includes foreign policy and her efforts are severely lacking here.

There is a plethora of information about the position of the U.S. government and politicians. Yet, it is more important to discuss other countries and their positions on this issue.

For instance, Canada, specifically Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his administration, have taken such a pro-Israel stance that as York University professor Reg Whitaker said “Canada is closer to Israel then just about any other country in the world.” He explained, while speaking to The Real News, just how significant this policy was:

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New Report Exposes World Labor Standards

8:58 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Around 2,000 protesters marched outside McDonald’s headquarters during their shareholders meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois to demand better pay and living standards for employees. The demonstration featured the Fight for 15 demands raised in cities like Seattle and the right to form a union.

Fight For 15 written in lighted signs at a protest

A new labor report shows US workers face systematic abuses of their rights.

Oak Brook police arrested 149 people in total, despite it being a peaceful demonstration. Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, applauded the efforts of the police even though she was among those who protested.

While the protest forced executives from McDonald’s to vacate their headquarters, CEO Don Thompson said the following day to shareholders McDonald’s workers were offered not only “real careers” but also “competitive wages.”

A new report by the International Trade Union Confederation highlighted such harsh labor standards not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world. From a scale of 1, which means “irregular violations of rights,” to 5+, which means “no guarantee of rights due to the breakdown of the rule of law,” the ITUC uncovered how labor is treated in both developed and developing countries.

The ITUC was founded in 2006 after a merger between the World Confederation of Labor and the International Conference of Free Trade Union. It represents millions of workers worldwide and, as they state, they primarily aim to promote and defend “workers’ rights and interests, through international cooperation between trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within the major global institutions.” Its headquarters operates in Brussels, Belgium.

The report was titled the “Global Rights Index” and its purpose is to put “abusive governments and companies on notice that the international trade union movement stands in solidarity with workers who are denied fundamental rights.”

The worst places in the world for workers to work will be exposed and the ITUC will demand change, demand decent jobs. Global solidarity in support of countries where here are no rights, inadequate laws or effective labour market institutions will garner the support of trade unions around the world to rectify this situation. Governments and business that allow or perpetrate oppression of workers cannot hide.

The report, conducted over the course of a year, found the most frequent violation of worker rights was when workers participated in strike. Joining unions and calling for a strike were also problems in numerous countries with different standards applied.

In total, eight countries received a 5+ rating with a few notable countries like Syria, Ukraine, Palestine, Libya and South Sudan.

The United States received a rating of 4, which means there are “systemic violations of rights.” Other countries that received a 4 include Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran and Argentina. Countries with a lower rating include Brazil and the United Kingdom at 3, Switzerland and Spain at 2 and South Africa and Germany at 1.

Russia, framed as public enemy number one in mainstream outlets, received a 2. This does not mean Russia is a better place for workers as 60 workers died in constructing for the Sochi Olympics, but it is not as bad as in the United States.

Recently, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, won the first-ever ITUC World’s Worst Boss poll. Other American CEOs nominated in the poll included JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon, Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Wal-Mart CEO C. Douglas McMillon. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, explained the significance of this vote:

Jeff Bezos represents the inhumanity of employers who are promoting the American corporate model. The message to big business is back off, you are not going to mistreat workers, Burrow said.

For a company that patented pictures with a white backdrop, Amazon is no stranger to labor disputes with its workers. The Supreme Court recently took up Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Buck which primarily deals with overtime pay not given to Amazon workers. The Supreme Court will make its decision next year, but other companies are alarmed by this push-back by workers as In These Times journalist Bruce Vail cited it may have repercussions beyond Amazon:

The case has attracted the attention of pro-business lobby groups, which often fight interpretations of the FLSA that would lead to an expansion of overtime pay. The Retail Litigation Center, the Society for Human Resources Management, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers filed a joint amicus brief in the case in favor of denying additional wage payments to the workers.

But this is an issue beyond the corporate sphere with the federal government also to blame. Michael Grabell of ProPublica provided excellent coverage of the weakness of temporary worker protection laws. Moreover, he references “permatemp,” which means  ”hiring a temp for years to do the same job permanent employees do, but without the benefits and protections.”

The easy abuse of temp workers by companies looking to reduce costs surely was a factor contributing to the rating.

Yet critics would call the U.S. a haven for workers to work in. Forbes contributor Jeffrey Dorfman stated, due to higher labor productivity and average wage, the U.S. is a friendlier place for workers than in Europe. He elaborated what this data holds for workers in the U.S.:

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Defending the 1 Percent

12:07 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

I support the 1 percent.

It is time in the United States they become a part of our “radical revolution of values.”

Woman panhandling in front of fashion store.

Speaking up for the suffering of our poorest.

I am talking of course of the bottom 1 percent of Americans who live on less than $2 a day. In a world where a list of the top 400 richest Americans can be considered newsworthy, it is high time to give more time to the poorest of Americans who have to suffer as their wealth is stolen by those at top. They cannot be ignored.

This group of Americans, who live on income that is difficult for many people to imagine, is in “extreme poverty.” In 1996, they were just 1.7 percent of all households. In mid-2011, the number rose to 4 percent or a growth rate of 159 percent.

A study conducted by the National Poverty Center, specifically researchers Kathyrn Edin and Luke Shaefer, earlier this year on the other 1 percent stated “1.65 million households with 3.55 million children were living in extreme poverty in a given month.” One disturbing part of the study was how the “Great Recession” affected those in extreme poverty:

[A] rise in the number of households experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment may have also led to a rise in the number of households surviving on virtually nothing. (Emphasis mine)

Let’s briefly pause at this moment to reflect on what we understand so far. When we hear the words “virtually nothing”, what comes to mind?

Surely, we, as a society, have to reach a point where we must criticize what our system so much that it must be abolished. Existence of “bullshit jobs,” as London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber placed it, is directly connected to the problem of such individuals in our society living with “virtually nothing.” But let’s return to the study.

The report notes “assistant programs” for those in poverty has slowed down the overall rate, though notes the rise of poverty highlights how weak the social safety net is for Americans.

It is clear that our current major safety-net programs are playing a vital role at the very bottom, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and are blunting some of the hardship that these households would otherwise face. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the U.S. safety net is strong, or even adequate, when the number and proportion of households with children surviving on less than $2 per day has risen so dramatically over the past 15 years, even after accounting for means-tested transfers

The authors note a major turning point in the 1990s was the signing of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996″ or the “welfare reform” law as the authors placed it. It changed the system from a “need-based” program to a “block grant” program that was easily manipulated by states for their own use. As they elaborated:

[C]ash assistance caseloads have fallen from 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.5 million in December 2011, and only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults. Even during the current period of continued high unemployment, the cash assistance rolls have increased only slightly. ‘Welfare’, in the form of cash assistance, is a shell of its former self.

The signing of the 1996 law was not the fault of Republicans only, but of the Democrats as well. Historian Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States:

The aim of the welfare cuts was to save $50 billion over a five-year period (less than the cost of a planned new generation of fighter planes). Even the New York Times, a supporter of Clinton during the election, said that the provisions of the new law “have nothing to do with creating work but everything to do with balancing the budget by cutting programs for the poor.”

Last year, a New York Times/CBS News poll found “two-thirds of registered voters” viewed him favorably while a whopping 91 percent of Democrats have a “favorable” view of him. This was an individual who remarked the “era of big government was over“, so it is peculiar Democrats would support an individual like Clinton.

There is a section in this study that speaks volumes about the issue of “extreme poverty.” Indeed, the study reports there is an increase of “disconnected” mothers — those with “neither earnings nor welfare” — and experience “multiple barriers to work such as learning disabilities, physical limitations, few work skills, and mental health problems.” The researchers found:

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The Streets Are Not Paved With Gold: Reflections in Uruguay

8:17 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Originally, I wished to discuss the legalization of cannabis within Uruguay as I’m vacationing there and thought to provide an inside look for people unfamiliar with the country. However, as I traveled across Uruguay and read articles about legalization, one figure struck me as peculiar: 63% of the country oppose the measure, while only 26% support the measure.

Sunset in Montevideo

Only liberal Montevideo fully supports Uruguay’s cannabis law reform.

I didn’t understand it at all. How can this measure, a progressive act that changes the paradigm on drugs as Jon Walker rightfully points out, be opposed?

I did some more reading and found that opposition comes mostly from small towns, while Montevideo, the only big city, is the only place where this is strong support. These small towns are apparently “conservative” and, coincidentally, I happen to stay only in small towns.

Considering I did not trust myself in giving justice to such reporting and never connecting my experiences in Uruguay to the US in previous vacations (probably because I was too young), I decided to just be “aware” of such towns and think how that statistic makes logical sense in these people’s minds.

What strikes me the most is the commune setting that I often hear from the left and it is striking that it exists among small towns that are considered conservative. It is a friendly atmosphere where people know each other and say hello to each other in the streets.

Yet, I begin to see a symbol that I cannot help but notice: stray dogs.

I state a symbol, rather than an image, because it is indicative that a society that appears to be “progressive” or “right” has problems of its own that need action.

There are dogs that are so hungry that when you see them, it is like they have no stomach. They walk along the streets, as if they were citizens of the country as well going for a walk.

That is why I disagree with some groups that state Uruguay is “correct” or “bold” in making a measure. Yes, I do believe it is a wise decision, but I have reservations whether the society itself is “progressive” as we imagine it to be.

This is not an attempt to discredit such groups. Rather, I am confused when walking in these streets and seeing such political discussions as wanting to emigrate to the United States and then going online seeing Uruguay is progressive for doing something the United States isn’t.

Maybe I’m overreacting to all of this. Indeed, there are things here that are representative of what such groups say is bold for the country to do. I just can’t help but feel there is something that feels wrong here when children I’ve seen place the American flag on their wallpapers.

I see a misconception that Italian immigrants faced the hard way and that is thinking the US has opportunities that countries like this do not have. Moreover, shows like Law & Order feature the beauty of the United States, though I tend to think it shows the “beauty”of consumerism. It reminds me of what an Italian immigrant wrote to his or her family in the early 1900s while in the US:

I came to America because I heard that streets here were paved with gold. When I came I learned three things:
first: streets in America are not paved with gold;
second: streets in America are not paved at all;
third: I am expected to pave them.

I don’t say much in these instances. I tend to focus more on relaxation in this trip, than the standard political arguments that I frequently have back home. Yet, I can’t help but feel that they’ve been duped about a country that uses propaganda to cover up its troubles.

Is it that yearning of the “American Dream” that captures immigrants? If it is, then I hope these people listen to some George Carlin because it isn’t gumdrops and lollipops when being in the United States (unless you are a certain group of individuals).

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