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Block #HB2: Austin Banner Drop for Texas Abortion Access

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Banner on an overpass: Abortions Save Lives. Keep clinics Open. Block #HB2.

During rush hour on September 11, 2014, activists tied this banner to an overpass of Interstate Highway 35.

On Thursday activists in Austin, Texas performed a “banner drop” — tying a painted sheet to a highway overpass — above Interstate Highway 35 during a busy evening’s rush hour. The banner read, “Abortions Save Lives, Keep Clinics Open, Block #HB2.”

House Bill 2, or the Texas Omnibus Abortion Bill, places draconian restrictions on the ability of residents to access abortion. It’s already forced many clinics in the state to shut down through its unreasonable requirements such as hospital admitting privileges for doctors and holding clinics to the standards of surgical operating theaters, even if they only administer abortion with pills.

A lawsuit brought by Whole Women’s health clinics successfully blocked portions of the bill. Federal Court Judge Yeakel blocked the final portions of the bill, set to go into effect on September 1.

From RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes:

A federal judge blocked part of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, late on Friday, ruling that its restrictions on Texas abortion providers—requiring them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers—are unconstitutional.

Without the court’s injunction, HB 2 could have reduced the number of Texas abortion providers to eight.

‘The act’s ambulatory surgical center requirement places an unconstitutional undue burden on women throughout Texas,’ ruled Judge Lee Yeakel, who also determined that the portion of the law that requires abortion-providing doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges is unconstitutional as it applies to doctors in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley; those doctors also brought claims against the state in a lawsuit filed this summer.

The state’s attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott immediately filed an appeal against Yeakel’s ruling, only to be rebuffed by the Fifth Circuit. One clinic was even able to re-open.

But the bill returns to court on Friday, September 12 where many worry the victory for abortion access could come to an end.

Ian Millhiser, writing for ThinkProgress, calls it a “Disaster for Team Choice:”

The one silver lining facing advocates seeking to halt several provisions of a Texas law limiting access to abortion is that, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decides this case, their decision may not be unanimous. Judge Stephen Higginson, an Obama-appointee to the Fifth Circuit, is one of the three judges who will consider this case on Friday. So, when the panel of judges issues their opinion, Higginson might write a dissent arguing that Texas’s law is unconstitutional.

There’s little chance that this position will win over another member of the panel, however, as the other two judges who will hear the case are staunch conservatives.

Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod has twice voted to allow Texas to enforce the law restricting abortions, most recently when she voted to uphold a provision of the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital. When Elrod was selected to hear that case, we described the three judges who were selected to hear it as a ‘nightmare federal appeals court panel’ for pro-choice advocates. It is unlikely that her views on abortion have changed much since then.

The worst news for the lawyers challenging Texas’s law, however, may be the fact that Judge Jerry Smith is the third judge who will hear their case. In 2012, just hours after a lower court judge issued an order suspending funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, Smith issued a two sentence decision blocking that order. What made Smith’s action in this case unusual, however, is that he did so in a single-judge order, something the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure only permit in ‘an exceptional case in which time requirements make that procedure impracticable.’ It’s not clear what exceptional time constraints prevented Smith from consulting with two of his colleagues before issuing this order, as is the normal process in a federal appeals court.

HB2 has ties to ALEC and other anti-human corporate interests. The Fifth Circuit case means the courts once again have the opportunity to choose between human rights and inhumane right-wing politics.

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VIDEO: Jon Stewart on Race (& Ferguson in the Media)

6:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Jon Stewart returned from a brief hiatus with a brilliant take down of the racially charged Ferguson coverage in the media, primarily on FOX News.

Not that they are the only offenders:

But there’s no denying Fox’s work is especially egregious, as called out by Salon in Joan Walsh’s recent piece “Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends:”

Why, besides racism, are Wilson’s supporters so convinced of his innocence? Well, any good grift will involve a hoax or two, to gin up the sense of outrage. First there was ‘Josie,’ a purported friend of Wilson’s who called in to a radio show helmed by gun-loving wingnut Dana Loesch to tell Wilson’s side of the story. ‘Josie’ insisted that Brown attacked Wilson, grabbed his gun, and the terrified cop shot only in self-defense. The problem? The details were almost identical to those shared on a fake Facebook page set up to look like Wilson’s own. But before the tale could be debunked, not only Fox but CNN had reported on ‘Josie’s’ tale with some credulity. As karoli notes over at Crooks and Liars, it’s not clear whether Loesch was punked, or was in on the punking.

Then we saw right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, named ‘the dumbest man on the Internet’ by Media Matters, peddling a phony X-ray or CT scan purporting to show that Wilson suffered a fractured eye socket scuffling with Brown. Unfortunately, a little sleuthing revealed the image in question came from a facility at the University of Iowa and had nothing to do with the Ferguson case. Oops. Of course Fox ran with the story, but ABC News also reported that Wilson had suffered a ‘serious facial injury,’ claiming its own local source.

Of course Ferguson’s white grievance industry is getting major help from Fox News, the grievance industry’s biggest grifters. It’s funny, a couple of weeks ago Attorney General Eric Holder spent a few days as Fox’s favorite administration figure, with Bill O’Reilly and the crew at ‘The Five‘ piously instructing Ferguson protesters to trust the attorney general, who had taken over the inquiry into Mike Brown’s shooting. No more. On Friday’s ‘Five’ Andrea Tantaros declared that Holder ‘runs that DOJ like the Black Panthers would,’ while the whole team endorsed her claim that the attorney general is ‘race-baiting.’

Fox has peddled every allegation of wrongdoing by Mike Brown from the beginning of the story. On Fox and Friends Monday morning, Linda Chavez argued that the media should stop calling the teenager ‘unarmed’ because ‘we’re talking about an 18-year-old man who is 6-foot-4 and weighs almost 300 pounds, who is videotaped just moments before the confrontation with a police officer strong-arming an employee and robbing a convenience store.’ So Mike Brown can’t be considered unarmed because … he had arms?

Street Art shows a silhoutte of a man in an American flag throwing teargas back on police against a background that says FILM THE POLICE

But only independent and citizen journalists told the real story.

And Dex Digital, writing for Medium, offered the provocative “Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down:”

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Missourians Fight ALEC Over Big Agriculture’s “Right to Farm”

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Grassroots efforts will likely push a recount on an amendment to Missouri’s bill of rights that favors the interests of corporate agriculture.

Artwork of a young boy dressed as an ear of corn, carrying a Monsanto flag.

Did Missouri voters just grant constitutional rights to Monsanto & friends?

On Aug. 5, Missouri residents voted on the state’s Right-to-Farm, Amendment 1, a new addition to the state’s bill of rights. The results were extremely close: 498,751 voted in favor of the new amendment, while 496,223 opposed it. With a difference of less than half a percent, a recount is almost certain.

Though the Humane Society of the United States donated $375,000 in opposition, the amendment had the financial backing of Big Agriculture and its deep pockets as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the secretive organization which writes legislation on behalf of major corporations.

That the bill came so close to defeat is a testament to the efforts of grassroots Missouri activists like the members of People’s Visioning, a coalition of diverse progressive organizations led by Columbia, Missouri, resident Monta Welch. MintPress News spoke with Welch and other members of her coalition as they rested from what they described as an exhausting campaign and considered what their next steps might be if the recount fails.

Welch explained that the conflict was essentially between large agricultural factories and consumers increasingly concerned with the sustainability and ethics behind the food they eat.

“This amendment was really designed to preempt giving consumers what they want and preempt any possibility of addressing an unsustainable system whether it be factory farming — a confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO — or genetically modified food. There’s been a trend of customers and consumers saying they don’t want these kinds of products, but this is the ‘get bigger or get out’ style of factory farm’s response,” Welch said.

ALEC’s corporate “extremism”

For over 40 years ALEC members — corporations and wealthy backers like the Koch Brothers — have crafted model legislation which is then sponsored by the council’s specially selected legislators who are required to swear a loyalty oath to the organization. ALECexposed.org, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, features hundreds of model bills as well as lists of its corporate members, including agricultural giants Archer Daniels Midland and St. Louis-based Monsanto. Monsanto, along with Cargill — which has disputed its ALEC membership — were members of the Farmers Care PAC that formed to promote the bill.

Though all 50 states have existing legislation designed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits, ALEC has been working to rewrite those laws to its specifications since at least 1995, when the importance of the Right to Farm Act model is mentioned in the council’s Source Book of American Legislation. That same language was incorporated into a longer model bill first voted on in 1996 and updated and re-approved by members as recently as 2013 (where it’s now openly posted on ALEC’s website).

It restricts farms from being found to be a nuisance as long as they conform to “generally accepted agriculture and management practices” as determined by state agricultural agencies. It also prevents farms from being found to be a nuisance if they adopt new technology, begin producing new products, or expand. Other clauses further complicate lawsuits by, for example, potentially forcing anyone making complaints to pay the defendant’s legal fees.

The Right to Farm model legislation is just part of ALEC’s overall support of industrial agriculture. In a memo released by Common Cause, ALEC reveals its “Agriculture Principles” and pledges to “remove barriers for agricultural production, trade, and consumption.” Further, the organization objects to “extremist attempts to establish animal rights as a public policy objective,” stating:

There are significant human costs to the animal rights movement’s attempt to destroy human exceptionalism and along with it our system of animal husbandry and tradition of pet ownership. Similar to ALEC efforts related to animal and ecological terrorism and environmentally corrupt organizations, ALEC’s principles include a commitment to transparency and honesty among these groups and their allies.

A commitment to transparency may seem surprising from an organization which shields its actions with secrecy and police violence. It might be a reference to the group’s support of so-called “Ag gag” laws that restrict the free speech of animal cruelty activists, including one which passed in Missouri in 2012 that forces activists to inform police of their efforts to gather evidence of animal cruelty.

A newer approach to the same goal is to amend state constitutions. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in January that in 2012 North Dakota became the first to amend its constitution to include the Right to Farm, and similar proposed amendments have appeared in Indiana, which will vote on it in November, and in Oklahoma, where legislators tabled the amendment until next session. In Missouri, the amendment included two sponsors who are ALEC membersTim Jones and Jason T. Smith.

Another sponsor, Bill Reiboldt, the Agriculture Policy Chair in the most recent Missouri legislative session, is known for taking donations from businesses like Smithfield Foods. Smithfield Foods is one of the nation’s largest producers of pork products, and Missouri is ranked sixth nationally in pork production.

North Dakota’s amendment specifically mentions the right to engage in “modern farming practices,” but that language was dropped due to what Businessweek calls “concerns that it appeared too narrowly aimed at benefiting industrial farms.” Despite that change, the amendment’s supporters seemed to deliberately court voter confusion about its true goals with even the amendment’s very phrasing.

Deliberately confusing voters

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket)

8:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

A Bolivian woman in colorful traditional clothes and dark hat.

Please visit Texas, Grandmother Cricket!

Tonight’s viewing is Abuela Grillo, which translates as Grandmother Cricket. It’s a global project, that tells a Bolivian story:

Animated short-film produced in The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark. By The Animation Workshop, Nicobis, Escorzo, and the Community of Bolivians Animators and is supported by the Danish Government. Animated by 8 Bolivian animators, directed by a French director, music by the Bolivian ambessador in France, composed by another French citizen, a Danish project, hepled for the production by a Mexican and German.

The blog Chai Kadai summarizes the plot of this short animate film:

The Ayoreo are the nomadic indigenous people of Eastern Bolivia. They believe in the legend of Direjná, the grandmother of a cricket whose songs can bring rain to this earth. She owned all the waters, and where she was it rained. But one day, she sang and sang in overjoy until the rain fell so hard and the lands were flooded. So, her grandchildren asked her to leave, and she retired to the second heaven. The hot, dry days of famine took over the earth. From the second heaven, Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket) sends rain every time someone tells her story.

In the years 1999 to 2000, there were massive protests in Cochabomba, in Bolivia, against the privatization of municipal water supply. In 2009, eight animators from Bolivia worked with French filmmaker Denis Chapon and The Animation Workshop of Denmark, chose to retell her story. Abuela Grillo sings as she walks the lowlands and mountains in the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. She settles in a village where she is initially welcomed. Overjoyed, she sings and sings until the valleys are flooded. The villagers get angry and chase her away.

While traveling, she is lured by the black-suited, white-collared corporate giants who promise her fame and applause. They harness the rains, bottle water and sell it to the people. Now, the villagers whose lands had plenty start to run dry. Abuela Grillo gradually grows tired of the stage shows, but realizes she cannot leave. The corporations have her in captivity. They force her to sing more and more, until they tap her tears.

The villagers come to know of Abuela Grillo’s plight and realize their mistake. They march into the city with all utility weapons they can find demanding the corporates let their grandmother go. Unfortunately, the white collars wage war against them with tear gas. Not able to stand it anymore, Abuela screams and her floods wash away the tear gas and destroys everything in the city. Free now, Abuela walks away, and is welcomed back in the village, where she sings and brings harvest all along her way.

Von Diaz, writing for the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU, explains more of the film’s background in Bolivia’s struggle over water rights:

The Abuela Grillo character is based on a myth from the Bolivian lowlands, but the film tells the story of a historic moment in Bolivian water politics. Water issues reached a boiling point in 2000 after water privatization legislation led to a significant spike in prices for Bolivian citizens. Demonstrations rocked Cochabamba in what is also known as the Cochabamba Water Wars.  Though they began as peaceful protests, demonstrations quickly  grew violent, leading to dozens of civilian and police injuries and casualties.  Then President Hugo Banzer was forced to resign.

But of course another theme in Abuela Grillo is that  is that we’ve forgotten the value of our elders. From Pimpernelle:

The grandmother as key to the community, for all the women that we take for granted because of their age. Perhaps, her purpose has become less obvious to us or maybe because we’ve relinquished her purpose, an untapped source of wealth for the community.

Seen any good cartoons lately? What are you watching on TV these days?

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The Watercooler is an open conversation. Ask questions, share links and your Friday thoughts.

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Exposing ALEC’s Corporate Sausage Factory in Dallas

6:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

A cowboy hands out bottled water to protesters.

Protesting in the Texas summer is thirsty work.

DALLAS — We’d gathered at Eddie Deen’s Ranch to interrupt the American Legislative Exchange Council at dinner. I was wearing a pink cowboy hat, temporarily inducted into the CODEPINK Posse, an effort organized by the local branch of the well-known national rabble rousers for peace. About 30 of us stood along the sidewalk outside the Ranch, watched by a half-dozen police officers looking bored, a chatty police detective and a pair of startled horses held by two men dressed as cowboys. Overhead, an airplane circled, towing a warning about corporate corruption.

Powerful people in suits laughed at us and snapped smartphone photos as they disembarked from the chartered buses they rode to the Western-themed restaurant. It was July 31 and ALEC was in town for its 41st meeting. After the first of several days of corporate backroom deals at the Hilton Anatole, ALEC’s members wanted to pretend they were cowboys while they ate.

The buses kept coming and out poured some of the world’s most powerful: corporate executives, rich investors, state legislators and their families. Though they’d normally disdain public transportation — when they aren’t orchestrating cuts against it in the name of austerity — I imagined the atmosphere on the bus was jovial, as if the “1%” was on a field trip.

CODEPINK are no strangers to using humor to fight evil. Duded up in pink Western-wear, with faux handcuffs and a “RUN ALEC OUT OF TEXAS” banner, they were aiming for laughter. As the suits’ humor peaked, CODEPINK Dallas — mostly older women — began chanting, “WE MAY BE FUNNY, BUT YOU ARE CORRUPT!”

Speaking out is thirsty, thankless work in the Texas heat. After two hours, a Ranch worker dressed as a cowboy brought us all bottled water.

ALEC: Where the corporate sausage is made

For over 40 years, ALEC has had a corrupting influence on state politics. Its corporate sponsors and rich private investors write legislation, then their hand-picked, loyal legislators introduce those bills into law. The mainstream media rarely connects the dots, even when covering ALEC-related laws. And while many have heard of Stand Your Ground and its contribution to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, few are aware of ALEC’s sponsorship of that law in multiple states.

In the summer of 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled ALECexposed.org, bringing ALEC widespread negative attention for the first time in its four-decade-long history. The site features over 800 model bills and dozens of corporate sponsors. The agenda revealed was startling in its breadth: to name just a few of its policies, ALEC seeks privatization of education and policing, aides the Koch brothers in undermining laws that support renewable energy, and attacks the rights of unions and the retired.

 

On July 30, Jim Hightower, a former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and publisher of the popular newsletter The Hightower Lowdown, was on hand at the Community Brewery after a noon rally at the Hilton Anatole was attended by hundreds of activists, retirees and union members in honor of ALEC’s 41st national conference. After a rousing speech to encourage the crowd, he told this reporter, “The only way we’re going to take power back for ordinary working people to become a self-governing people again is to confront the corporate interests and to expose them.”

As much as protesters wanted to reach ALEC with their objections, another purpose of the week’s events was to expose the Dallas public to ALEC’s existence among them.

“Most people never heard of ALEC,” he continued. “This big rally we had at the Anatole hotel today, that showed to a lot of people maybe just driving by that there’s something out there called ALEC. [...] If people see it, they will be disgusted by what’s happened. This is the most visible, the most ostentatious merger of corporate power with right-wing legislative power and they meet in secret. [...] If you want to see where the sausage is made, we were at that factory today.”

I spoke with Connor Gibson, a Greenpeace researcher who studies ALEC and similar groups, about how a newcomer to the movement can begin to unravel this complex network of corporate corruption. “The most important thing to do is learn about ALEC [. ...] It’s actually a really complicated organization. It’s state politicians, it’s corporate lawyers and lobbyists and it’s ALEC’s staff. They convene and have a weird governance and the more people understand that, the more people know what to look out for.”

He continued:

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Exposing Breitbart’s Lies at ALEC 41

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Banner: ALEC Parasitic Corporate Mafia

CODEPINK Dallas confronted ALEC at their dinner party — and Breitbart.com lied about what happened.

DALLAS — In his recent article “Code Pink Stages Mini Protest at ALEC National Conference,” Breitbart.com’s California correspondent Jon Fleischman fabricates an encounter with an activist, erases a full day of anti-corporate protest, and makes a major source of corporate corruption in American state politics seem like a benign force for social good — all in just 250 words.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has helped corporations and rich private investors pass conservative legislation for over 40 years. The legislation is written by the corporations, then passed by conservative state legislators selected and groomed by the group. The group has faced increasing criticism and protest in recent years, especially since the 2011 publication of the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALECexposed.org, a site with hundreds of these model bills and a partial membership list of the organization. Several corporate members have dropped out of the group under this pressure.

Among other policies, ALEC lobbies for the privatization of education and police and undermines laws that encourage the use of renewable energy. It also crafted the Stand Your Ground legislation that may have contributed to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.

Fleischman describes seeing a small group of protesters led by CODEPINK Dallas outside the cowboy-themed restaurant Eddie Deen’s Ranch, where ALEC held a kick-off dinner on the first night of its 41st national conference. Since the article features a photo of the group from inside the restaurant’s property, it’s clear that Fleischman was present on the night of July 30, 2014. But the rest departs significantly from reality.

“Big surprise!”

“This article is full of errors. Big surprise!” CODEPINK Dallas’ Danna Miller Pyke said when MintPress News first brought the article to her attention — a sentiment shared by many news consumers in reference to the accuracy of Breitbart’s many published works. Many people first became aware of the site’s late founder, Andrew Breitbart, from his distribution of the dishonestly edited undercover videos that destroyed the community advocacy network ACORN in 2009. Others may remember Breitbart’s infamous rape-themed Occupy rants from the days before his death in 2012. His site’s reputation for honesty hasn’t improved since then.

But digging deeper into how and why the site carries these lies can instruct us how the right-wing spin machine works to minimize those who oppose it. Though Fleischman once told the Los Angeles Times that reporting on his homepage, Flash Report, was “fair and biased,” his handling of the CODEPINK protesters has been both biased and unfair.

In his article on the ALEC protest at Eddie Deen’s Ranch, Fleischman recounts an encounter he allegedly had with an anonymous protester:

While elected officials dined on tri-tip and chicken, some taking photos on a cow brought in for the occasion, the protesters were screaming “corporate whores” and holding up signs that said, ‘Democracy not Corporatocracy’ and ‘Round Up Alec and Run ‘Em Out Of Town.’

When I approached one of the Code Pink members to see if they had a comment for Breitbart News Network, the response was screamed at me, ‘Breitbart is part of the corporate machine! You suck!’ She then went back to screaming at the top of her lungs towards the steady stream of conference attendees headed into the BBQ joint.

This encounter never happened. A MintPress reporter was present for the entire protest at Eddie Deen’s Ranch. Organized by CODEPINK Dallas, they called it “The Showdown at the Ranch.” Dressed in pink Western wear and carrying banners and toy handcuffs, the idea was to show ALEC members that they were a criminal influence corrupting American politics — and to show the people of Dallas, too. An airplane circled downtown that evening, trailing a banner warning residents against the presence of ALEC in their midst.

While MintPress remembers a man matching Fleischman’s description taking photographs of the group on a smartphone, at no point did he or any other individual approach the group and identify themselves as a representative of Breitbart.com or any other conservative news outlet. To verify our recollections, MintPress spoke with two additional members of CODEPINK Dallas — Kit Jones and Leslie Harris — as well as Roy “Train Wreck” Sudduth, an independent videographer who recorded the entire protest.

After checking his footage, Sudduth confirmed, “My review didn’t show a conversation. I remember the photos being taken.”

Pyke added, “I don’t believe that happened, either. We would have noticed.”

Pyke reinforced the notion that while Fleischman spoke only with an ALEC member and not a member of CODEPINK Dallas, “He purports to know our complaints without talking with us about them.”

Further, the group was approachable — CODEPINK Dallas members held conversations of varying lengths with members of the ALEC delegation. Fleischman’s own photo shows a man in a dark suit conversing with the group — a man who identified himself as a Republican state lawmaker. He had a conversation lasting about 15 minutes with a member of CODEPINK before exchanging contact information with her.

Fleischman also erases a busy day of active free speech when he describes the Showdown group as “thus far … the only protester presence.” Protests had actually kicked off earlier that day when hundreds of activists, including many union members, rallied at the Hilton Anatole (ALEC’s home for the week) in an event called “Don’t Mess With Texas, ALEC.” After the rally, a similar sized group listened to the “Stand Up to ALEC” panel discussion at the nearby Community Brewery, featuring guests such as Jim Hightower, Connor Gibson of Greenpeace and Shahid Buttar from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Even though he’d missed these events, a social media search or some old-fashioned journalistic fact-checking would have set him straight.

More spinning than grousing

At Deen's Ranch, men in suits grin as they photograph CODEPINK with their smartphones.

Many ALEC members stopped to photograph the group, but few tried to communicate.

Worse than lying about his attempt to speak with activists is how Fleischman turns ALEC into a benign, even beneficial influence on American politics. The spin begins from the very first sentence:

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national organization made up of conservative state legislators from around the country, is holding its annual convention in Dallas, Texas.

To hear Fleischman describe it, ALEC is the same as any other political caucus where legislators meet to discuss the future of public policy. But a key difference is that ALEC’s legislators are picked by the organization’s other members — corporations and private investors — for their willingness to introduce ALEC’s selected legislation.

Some of these conferences have drawn massive protest crowds from the ideological left, grousing about ALEC’s pro-market bent, and objecting to active participation in the group by large corporate sponsors.

Now Fleischman tries to mention corporate involvement in passing, as if it were only peripheral. In fact, late last year the Guardian revealed that these legislators are expected to swear a loyalty oath to the organization, which includes the Koch brothers among its sponsors. ALEC’s lack of transparency has also been criticized; reporters like Truthout’s Candice Bernd are routinely refused access to the conferences despite meeting the group’s stated media guidelines. And far from “grousing” about a “pro-market bent,” diverse groups from constitutional rights pundits to the Alliance for Retired Americans have made specific and clear objections to the way its policy of profits-over-people is written into law nationwide.

State Senator Joel Anderson, who is Chairman for ALEC in California, reacted to the protesters by saying, ‘Hey, this is a free country. We’re here to discuss policies to foster economic prosperity for everyone in America, even those folks yelling at us.’

Kit Jones from CODEPINK Dallas calls Anderson’s statement “total bullshit.”

“They’re not working for us, they’re not working for economic prosperity for everyone. They’re working for economic prosperity for themselves: the corporations and their lackeys, their hired guns, which would be the legislators,” Jones explained.

As an example, Jones highlighted Missouri’s ALEC-inspired “Right to Farm” amendment that pits large-scale corporate agriculture against small farmers and the environment. As of this writing, the hotly contested bill passed by less than half a percent of voters and may be subject to recount.

A nonpartisan movement

Fleischman’s article attempts to place ALEC and the protests against it within the traditional partisan political narrative. He depicts sensible, logical conservatives enjoying a bit of R&R while a pocket of the activist left loudly and senselessly rails against them.

MintPress asked Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, about whether fighting ALEC’s influence was about the right versus the left or a larger issue of democracy. Buttar stressed the threat to democracy was larger than that posed by ALEC alone, but went on to say, “My real interest is in building a voice for ‘We The People’ to force the institutions to respect our rights. And you’re absolutely right, anyone should care about these issues.”

On some issues, like surveillance, he said the Libertarian and Tea Party Republicans are “more activated.”

“The anti-ALEC crowd was all Democrats,” he said, “but quite frankly, that crowd can’t get anything done. It never has. The best they can do is get into office elected officials that then betray them at every opportunity.”

“Without a movement to ensure the accountability of the electoral gains, without a movement to force the conversation about the needs of ‘We The People’ beyond what the policy sphere is currently addressing, without the movement to force change, there won’t be any,” Buttar concluded.

Originally posted on MintPress News

5,000 Texans March for Gaza

9:39 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Originally published at MintPress News

But we do not have much time. The revolutionary spirit is already worldwide. If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin now to work, urgently, with all people, to shape a new world.

On Aug. 2, Sheikh Islam Mossaad ended his speech at the Texas Stands With Gaza rally by quoting these words of Martin Luther King, Jr. The quotation was preceded by a passionate speech invoking the spirit of dead Palestinian children and calling on the living youth of the world to take up their struggle.

It set the tone for a historic moment — the largest rally for Gaza in the Lone Star State since the beginning of Israel’s military offensive dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and likely the largest pro-Palestine rally ever in the state. A crowd of thousands grew through the speeches and swelled further as it turned from a rally on the state capitol grounds to a march down Congress, the central artery running through downtown Austin, to City Hall. People came off the sidewalks to stand against Israel’s war crimes, to stand with an oppressed people, until the peaceful march stretched to five blocks long and included at least 5,000 Gaza supporters.

After smaller rallies in their respective cities, Texas Stands With Gaza brought together activists and organizations from Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, under a diverse umbrella ranging from interfaith groups to Iraq Veterans Against the War. Chartered buses brought hundreds from around the state. Unseasonably mild weather kept temperatures only in the 80s, a boon since the many pallets of water provided by organizers ran out under the thirst of unexpected throngs.

A woman in a hijab, carrying a Palestinian flag, approaches the Texas Capitol on a partly cloudy day.

Unseasonably mild weather greeted throngs of Gaza supporters on August 2.

A revolutionary spirit was apparent in almost every moment of the event that followed Mossaad’s opening speech. This crowd stood not just against the human rights’ violations of the current Israeli offensive, which has left about 2,000 civilians dead, destroyed over 10,000 civilian homes, and injured over 6,000, but for the rights of Palestinians to live peacefully and not under terror or siege. Before he spoke, Dr. Snehal Shingavi, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a perennial activist for social justice, led the crowd of thousands in a chant of “Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied!

“‘Never again’ means never again for anyone”

In her speech, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb related the plight of Gaza to other social justice struggles:

I grew up in the civil rights movement and my rabbis, the rabbis of my youth, they were getting arrested, they were going to jail because they could not stand segregation in the United States. An evil institution which is still so much the reason we cannot see what is happening in Gaza, because we are still such a racist society [...] so how can we see what is happening in Gaza without struggling for justice here at home?

Gottlieb told the crowd that the first word she learned in Arabic as a young woman in Israel was “nakba.” “Nakba,” which means disaster, is not limited to a single day, she explained, it is an ongoing destruction of Palestinian life and Palestinian culture through ethnic cleansing since Israel colonized historic Palestine in 1948.

According to Gottlieb, the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin told their members not to counter-protest for fear of drawing too much attention to the rally. But like Gottlieb, other Jews had followed their sense of outrage to Israel’s brutal assault and injustice throughout the march.

A revolutionary spirit had led Naomi (she asked that MintPress News use only her first name) to push her own boundaries by attending her first rally for Palestine. When we found her, she wore a look of deep and almost overwhelming emotion. Naomi, who describes herself as openly queer, laughed as she told MintPress she’d been out of the closet to her Jewish friends about everything except her support for Gaza.

She’d been inspired to come by the example of Ernest Rosenthal, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who demonstrated for Gaza in Los Angeles.

“I felt ashamed that he’s 95 and being active and all I was doing was sitting around, talking about it on Facebook,” Naomi said.

Anonymous masked actvists, a man with a Palestinian flag, and others stand for Gaza.

A crowd of thousands grew as religious leaders spoke out against human rights violations in Gaza.

After deciding to attend the rally, “I made the sign ‘I am Jewish and I stand with Gaza’ because I think it’s important to say that publicly — to show that it’s not about Jews versus Palestinians. It’s not a tribal conflict, it’s a political one.”

What she hadn’t expected was how much attention her simple poster board sign would draw:

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: MehWhoop!

8:11 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

A siamese cat studies a dangling string bean

No, kitty! Don’t eat MehWhoop!

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

Tonight’s selection is MehWhoop: The Saga of the Lost String Bean from Marty Cooper, a.k.a. Hombre McSteez.

Accidentally strewn to the supermarket floor, MehWhoop is left to navigate the world alone in search of his bean bin buddies. His exhausting search leads him to a familiar yet unexpected place.

MUSIC:

Original Score:
William Ryan Fritch
http://www.williamryanfritch.com/

End Credits:
Robbie Benson (Super Soul Brothers)
http://www.supersoulbros.com/

“Moonglow” by Podington Bear
from The Sound of Picture Production Library
http://soundofpicture.com

We visited with McSteez just a over a month ago for his Augdemented Reality but the saga of poor lost little MehWhoop was too adorable to pass up sharing.

Bonus Friday Comic: The Man Is Taking a Nap On the Couch” from the adorable Breaking Cat News.

Seen any good cartoons lately? Or tell me about what you’re watching on TV these days.

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Help Kevin Gosztola keep reporting the real (not cat) breaking news.

The Watercooler is an open conversation. Ask questions, share links and your Friday thoughts.

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Remembering A People’s Uprising: 1 Year After HB2

4:02 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

No expense was spared to oppress every Texan who needs access to reproductive healthcare.

On July 12, 2013, the deadly anti-abortion bill HB2 passed the legislature in Texas, forced through in an expensive special session despite the extremely loud opposition of thousands of people who came out to shake the granite building with their angry voices. On that same day this month, one year after the passage and the police brutality of the final night of protests, a few of us returned to the Texas Capitol to reflect on what’s been lost.

From behind, Joshua Pineda and another activist study the Senate hallway where a sit-in took place.

Joshua Pineda (left) revisits the Senate hallway where police violently broke up a sit-in he participated in, resulting in a hospital visit and cranial stitches.

In the previous weeks, there’d been numerous other events to mark what happened last year. Wendy Davis, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and one of the primary legislators to side with reproductive rights, had packed a major events center in town on the anniversary of her filibuster. She seems to take all the credit for it in the media these days, despite the grassroots direct action which temporarily kept the bill from passing after her filibuster was shut down by male politicians.

The same night as the Davis fundraiser, another celebration occurred at a small bar attached to a local theatre — organized by some of those grassroots activists, but still featuring a stump speech by Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Both were upbeat, aimed at bringing activists together to honor the most powerful and positive moments of last summer and encourage hope for the upcoming election.

I hadn’t attended either. My requests for press credentials at the Palmer Events Center went ignored — unsurprising given the chilly and deliberately hostile reaction I got from the Texas Democratic Party last summer. And the tone of the other event felt off to me — too positive for a bill that is expected to close all but 6 clinics in Texas and which is already endangering lives and causing a rising number of self-administered abortions. I didn’t hate anyone’s desire to celebrate — summer of 2013 held some unforgettable moments of popular activism showing its true power, despite the defeat. But on the filibuster’s anniversary, I felt a lingering sadness when I rode my bike through the Capitol grounds and saw only tourists — not a single person there to claim that public space for free speech and reproductive liberty.

Days later Jay Kasturi, an ally and friend from those days, invited me to co-organize a small vigil on the Capitol grounds on the one year anniversary of the bill’s actual passage. It seemed perfect to me — a chance to honor what we’d done but also all that was lost by everyone who needs open access to reproductive healthcare.

In 2013 we’d held a sit-in the small hours of July 12, and Texas Department of Public Safety State Troopers — dozens of them, imported from all around the state — bore down on us in a spasm of violence and patriarchal rage. One woman had her pants pulled down as Troopers paraded her to detainment in front of witnesses. One temporarily disabled comrade of mine was pushed up and down a short flight of stairs by a pair of Troopers unable to understand why she wouldn’t comply with them until a third pointed out that she was trying to reach her cane.

Anti-police brutality activist Joshua “Comrade” Pineda was also part of that sit-in, and Troopers hurt him so badly he bled, half-conscious, onto the marble floors before being taken to the hospital for stitches in his head. He and about a dozen others still face charges for taking part in nonviolent civil disobedience.

But Pineda and all the rest we reached out to loved the idea of our vigil, and he and several others joined us that evening while others let us know they were “attending in spirit.” At 6pm, it was still in the 90s so we circled in the shade. The ritual Jay proposed was a simple one, drawn from Buddhist meditation. We’d sit in contemplative silence on the grass outside the Capitol for ten minutes, then spend about twenty on a meditative walk through the Capitol, before returning to discuss our experiences and share our feelings.

I looked around to new faces in the circle, like the family that drove out from Dallas for our vigil, and at others I’ve been working with now for years. The silence of the Capitol grounds — even broken by the voices of the handfuls of tourist families and a bride with a fleet of maids on a pre-wedding photography mission —  felt barren compared to the raucous energy that had filled them the year before.

After the sitting meditation, I followed Pineda up to that marble hallway where the final confrontation took place.

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Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014

6:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Late last month, indigenous activists from Canada’s Athabasca region and their allies took part in the fifth and final “Tar Sands Healing Walk.” Over a route of about 10 miles, they marched and gave witness to the devastation that Tar Sands extraction has brought to the land.

In Yes! Magazine, Liana Lopez shares a beautiful, photo-filled essay about this direct action:

‘This isn’t protest or a rally,’ organizer Crystal Lameman told the participants in the walk. ‘This is a spiritual gathering with prayers and ceremony in order to help bring all of us to an understanding about how bad this is and why it has to stop. The best way to stop it is at the source. So we need to start here.’

The Healing Walk gathering took place from June 27 to 29, with workshops and traditional ceremonies leading up to Saturday’s walk. A lot of discussion this year centered on the Canadian Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, announced the day before the gathering, which granted aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in Nation. The decision may set a precedent for other First Nations, allowing them better footing in their fight against tar sands pipelines and other forms of industrial development.

Groups even came from the United States:

In this final year of the Tar Sands Healing Walk, organizers were quick to point out that their fight is not yet won. Far from it, as tar sands extraction is ramping up in Canada. Yet, just within the last five years, awareness about the issue has spread at a tremendous pace. And this year’s Healing Walk drew participants from all over world, including, for the first time, a Gulf Coast delegation from Houston, Texas, and Mobile, Ala., where tar sands refining and storage is set to take place this year.

‘We wanted to come see the source of what will be coming to our area and learn what can be done to stop it,’ said Mae Jones, who came with the Alabama delegation. ‘We are honored to be part of the walk this year.’

As noted in Lopez’s article, the Healing Walks are ending after five years but the work is just beginning.

A row of drummers marching as they drum on the Healing Walk.

Solidarity to all the earth justice superheroes that joined this Walk! -Kit

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