Friday, March 30, 2012

Monsanto Insecticides Linked to Honeybee Colony Collapse

Honeybees – critical agents for pollinizing the world’s food chain – have been dying off at rates of 20-50% a year for the last two decades. The phenomenon, called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” has been blamed on mites, viruses, urbanization, weather patterns, and a whole host of causes. But the reality is that the massive deaths of these insects is most likely due to a chemical whose prime purpose…is to kill insects.

In Thursday’s issue of the journal “Science,” two teams of researchers published studies showing that even low levels of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids may have significant effects on bee colonies. Derived from nicotine, the pesticides are produced in mass quantities by Monsanto, the company that gave you Agent Orange, GMO lawsuits against family farms, and the Indian suicides crisis. Introduced in the early 1990s, these pesticides have exploded in popularity; virtually all corn grown in the United States is treated with neonicotinoids.

The first experiment was conducted by French researchers, and showed that the chemicals confuse honeybee homing instincts, making it harder for them to find their way back to their hives. Researchers at the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France fed honeybees a dose of neonicotinoid-laced sugar water and then moved them a half-mile from their hive. The bees carried miniature radio tags that allowed the scientists to keep track of how many returned to the hive.

In familiar territory, the scientists found, the bees exposed to the pesticide were 10 percent less likely than healthy bees to make it home; in unfamiliar places, that figure rose to 31 percent. Using a computer model to estimate how this would affect a hive, they concluded that a hive’s population might drop by two-thirds or more.

“I thought it was very well designed,” said May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The second study, by scientists in Britain, showed that neonicocotinoids keep bumblebees from supplying their hives with enough food to produce new queens. In this study, Dr. Goulson and his colleagues fed sugar water laced with a neonicotinoid pesticide to 50 bumblebee colonies. The researchers then moved the bee colonies to a farm, alongside 25 colonies that had been fed ordinary sugar water. Dr. Goulson found that colonies exposed to neonicotinoids produced 85 percent fewer queens, which would translate into 85 percent fewer hives.

Jeffery Pettis, a bee expert at the United States Department of Agriculture, called Dr. Goulson’s study “alarming.” He said he suspected that other types of wild bees would be shown to suffer similar effects.
“Three or four years ago, I was much more cautious about how much pesticides were contributing to the problem,” Dr. Pettis said. “Now more and more evidence points to pesticides being a consistent part of the problem.”


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

St. Tuathal (Tutilo), my Namesake's Feast Day (March 28)

St. Tuathal of Saint-Gall
Feastday: March 28

In the early middle ages, one of the most influential monasteries and centers of learning in Europe was located at St. Gall, in present-day Switzerland on the Bavarian border. It was a center of music, art, and learning whose effects are still felt today.

In the middle of the ninth century, a group of Irish monks stopped off at the abbey and several decided to stay; among them was Tuathal, who would remain there for the rest of his life, where he became known as Tutilo or Tuotilo, the Old Germanic translation of Tuathal. Tuathal is known as a “Renaissance Man” before his time: a musician/composer, painter, athlete, and sculptor/metalworkerbuilder, he was chosen to be the head of the monastic school.

He was headmaster at the abbey’s greatest height of influence. The Gregorian chant manuscripts from the monastery of St. Gall were standardized by St. Tuathal and are considered among the most authentic available, becoming the source of almost all the chant manuscripts that were distributed throughout Europe. They are illustrated in the style of Irish manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, attesting to the Irish influence in St-Gall.

Tuathal expanded the standard church liturgy by adding musical group choral responses called “tropes and sequences,” which marked the beginning of liturgical ‘drama.’ This device was eliminated from liturgies in the 13th Century, but is being restored in many modern churches as dramatic presentations become popular once again.

In every written account of Tuathal, he is described as large, athletic and muscular, and several accounts exist of him physically subduing enemies of the Abbey. He died at the Abbey in 915 AD. His paintings and sculptures can be found in museums and monastaries in Constance, Metz, Saint-Gall, and Mainz. The chapel in which he was buried, dedicated to Saint Catherine, was later renamed for him.

Muscle, Music, Teacher, Irish/ there any doubt as to why I chose Tuathal (pronouced "Too-wool") as my name?


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Morocco's Occupation of the Saharawi People and Lands Must End

In my last blog article, I attempted to explain the half-century-long fight of the Tuareg people to preserve their homelands and traditional ways. (Tuareg Right to Self-Determination) Today, I turn my attention to a similar situation in northern Africa: the Western Sahara, which has the distinction of being the last “colony” on the African continent.

The land, which borders the Atlantic Ocean, has been occupied by Morocco ever since the previous colonial power, Spain, withdrew from the colony in the mid 1970s. The long-term plan was to grant independence to the native Sahwari people; almost 40 years later, the Sahwari not only lack their own nation, they have been driven out, walled off, and had their resources plundered by Morocco and both European and American corporations.
The Sahrawis are growing understandably impatient with the supposed “peace process” that was mandated by the UN decades ago.

Sahrawi journalist Embarka Elmehdi Said recently told Green Left Weekly, an Australian paper, “No one will give us our freedom — we must take it!” A child when her family fled the Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara in 1975, Said has spent most of her life in a refugee camp on the Algerian border run by Polisario (the organization recognized by the United Nations as the official representative of the Sahrawi people.) Said’s two sons, aged 12 and three, have spent all their lives in refugee camps.

As with the Tuareg further south, the Sahrawi are enduring the standard forms of marginalization by their colonizers:
Military occupation of their lands; prohibition of their speech and lifestyle (their flag is outlawed in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara); the literal building of walls to prevent their return; impoundment in refugee camps or reservations; ethnic discrimination; the branding of those yearning for freedom as “terrorists;” the intimidation and impoverishment of the people; plundering of national resources and destruction of property; and torture of captives (justified because they are “terrorists.”)

It is a pattern that has been used against indigenous people around the globe, including Native American Tribes, Gaelic-speaking Celts, blacks under apartheid in the "old" South Africa, the East Timorese in Indonesia, Palestinians, Kurds, and indigenous people in Mexico.

Some history:

The Western Sahara was colonized by Spain in the 1800s. Most European powers granted independence to their African colonies in the mid 1900s, but Spain appeared to be dragging its feet. In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on the Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonize the territory. In 1966, the UN again addressed the issue, requesting that Spain conduct a referendum on self-determination. No referendum was held.

In 1975, the International Court of Justice declared that the population of Western Sahara possessed the right of self-determination. During the week of October 31 - November 6, 1975, Moroccan troops invaded the Western Sahara, followed by 350,000 new Moroccan occupiers. Within three months Spain relinquished control of the territory to neighboring Morocco and Mauritania, and soon those two nations found themselves at war over the territory.

The Sahrawi people countered by forming the Sahrawi National Liberation Movement (Polisario) to demand independence. Polisario proclaimed the land the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” (SADR) and established a government-in-exile in nearby Tindouf, Algeria, creating a three-way battle for the land The Polisario forced Mauritania to withdraw in 1979, but Morocco then overran and secured control of almost the entire territory, including all major cities and natural resources. Foreshadowing a tool that Israel would utilize against Palestinians, Morocco then built an extensive sand berm in the desert, known as the Border Wall or Moroccan Wall, to contain and exclude the Sahrawi and protect their own occupation.

The Wall left the Sahrawis with control of less than 20% of their nation, and no access to cities, ocean ports, or national resources. This area now has only a small population of about 30,000 Sahrawi nomads. The Moroccan government views it as a no-man's land patrolled by UN troops; Polisario, whose troops also patrol the area, have proclaimed a village in the area, Bir Lehlou, as SADR's provisional capital.

Open hostilities between Morocco and Polisario generally ended in a 1991 cease-fire overseen by a UN peacekeeping mission with a transition plan. In the intervening years a new king has been crowned in Morocco, Mohammed VI, son of previous King Hassan II. He opposes any referendum on independence, and has said Morocco will never agree to one: "We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand".

In the years since the conflict began, there have been serious human rights abuses, most notably the displacement of tens of thousands of Sahrawi civilians from their own country. A little over a year ago, Moroccan troops violently dismantled the Gdeim Izik refugee camp near Laayoune. In a November 26, 2010 report, Human Rights Watch said that Moroccan security forces used excessive force, and engaged in “retaliatory” attacks on ethnic Sahrawi citizens. Among the casualties at Gdeim Izik was 14-year-old Nayem Elgarhi, shot by Moroccan security forces near the camp.

Morocco has been repeatedly criticized for its actions in Western Sahara by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Organization Against Torture, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Derechos Human Rights, Defend International, Front Line, the International Federation of Human Rights, the Society for Threatened Peoples, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

While the political situation remains in limbo, Morocco and western nations have turned to resource extraction from the territory with Morocco’s blessing. In February, German engineering firm Siemens secured its first wind turbine orders on Morocco-occupied lands.

Last year, a fishing rights agreement signed by the European Union and Morocco granted fishing rights to Europe off of the entire coast of the Western Sahara. On January 25, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that monster fishing vessels were sucking the oceans dry of small pelagic fish species off the Western Saharan coast. The eight country investigation showed that the world’s largest fish factory vessel, The Lafayette (which is the size of two football fields), accompanied by a fleet of trawlers, was actively harvesting fish populations off of the Western Sahara coast. The Moroccan state-owned oil company ONHYM continues to promote the uranium potential of occupied Western Sahara; only last month, due to international pressure, did US-owned Kerr McGee cease exploratory oil operations. (Source)

And throughout, the Sahrawi people have waited for a referendum on self-determination for their plundered lands that was guaranteed under the peace settlement with Morocco almost 21 years ago. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara mandate has been extended 39 times without being fulfilled, largely due to international disinterest and the interference of Moroccan authorities.

The mission has drawn increased criticism over its failure to make headway, including from its former deputy chairperson Frank Ruddy. In 2005 he said: Morocco dictated the where and when of the voting registration, controlled entry to the UN registration facilities, and even decided which Western Saharans got to register … Morocco’s abuse of the people of Western Sahara and its manipulation of the UN mission in Western Sahara was open and notorious.”

Learosi Abdalahi Salec, a volunteer at Afapredesa (a human rights organization based in the Rabuni refugee camp), said he could also see anger in the younger refugees. “They say this situation is unacceptable, especially for us … they told the leaders if you didn’t want to [return to] war, you can go away … we want new leaders, who take us to war.”

When asked why they want war, many around the camps point to the poverty, purposelessness and boredom that pervade their lives. Some young men sleep until midday, waking only to perform a few menial tasks. Others whittle away days on end just making tea. “Some say it’s better to die than live this life.”

Last October, three aid workers were kidnapped from the Rabuni camp by al Qaeda, a group, incidentally strongly opposed by Polisario. But immediately following the kidnapping, some western reports suggested that the Sahrawi people support al Qaeda.

That is, of course, entirely untrue. At the current time.

But the longer a people live a marginalized, impoverished existence...and the longer the west is indifferent to their pleas for freedom...and the longer their lands are plundered...the more likely a group a frustrated young people will turn to warfare to achieve their ends. And the more likely they will be branded, incorrectly and ignorantly, as mere terrorists.

Like the Tuareg in the Agadez, the Sahrawi must have their right to self-determination realized, and it must be sooner rather than later.

If the United States is serious about combatting terrorism, then instead of sending in US troops to endlessly occupy culturally dissimilar nations; instead of only being concerned with oil-producing giants and military-industrial work contracts; instead of engaging in and supporting state-sponsored torture and branding all poor freedom fighters as terrorists; we could do far better by helping indigenous peoples realize their aspirations for independence and govern nations of their own.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Tuareg Right to Self-Determination: Western Support Long Overdue

The Pattern is the same around the world: Wealthy nations colonize a native people, redrawing the existing political lines and importing ‘settlers’; Native people are marginalized and forced by government decree to conform and assimilate; and those who seek to preserve their own lifestyle and homeland are branded as “insurgents,” “guerillas,” and “terrorists.”

Recent news reports concerning the coup in Mali two days ago reflect the western journalistic trend to lightly – and ignorantly – brand native peoples as terrorists – especially if some government merely asserts it is so. For those of you who missed the news, a military coup took place in the western African nation of Mali two days ago. The coup was staged by army members who thought the government was too ‘soft’ in fighting Tuareg separatists in the northern parts of the country. And, as the pattern mentioned above suggests, those responsible for the coup have wasted no time in branding the Tuaregs as terrorists and in league with al Qaeda, in an effort to garner western support. And, true to form, much of the mainstream media have simply repeated what has been asserted without any sense of history of the area or context.

And so, a bit of that history is in order.

The Tuareg are a nomadic people, made famous by their indigo-colored clothing which often stains their skin, earning them the name “the Blue Men of the Sahara” by 20th Century writers. Numbering between 5 and 6 million, they inhabit the interior and most inhospitable parts of the Sahara Desert, traditionally serving as caravan guides and security, trading in salt and supplies across the Sahara between the Mediterranean north and the ‘greener and wetter’ lands to the south, and herding goats. Ethnically they are Berbers, not Arabs, and, though nominally Muslim, their religion is a syncretistic combination of Islam, animist and even Christian elements. As is necessary to their survival in the Saharan environment, they are a pragmatic rather than a theologically-driven people.

The Tuareg are well-known for their highly elaborate silver crosses which have become fairly common as western jewelry in recent years; the men, not the women, wear the traditional veil in this society. And Tuareg women own the family tents, the most prized form of property in the society.

When European powers carved up Africa, France took control of much of their homelands, calling the territory “French West Africa.” When this territory was carved up into the nations that make up the modern map of Africa in the 1960s, the Tuareg found their traditional homeland – “the Agadez” - divided between Mali, Niger, and Algeria. A smaller number of Tuareg were drawn into Libya as well.
The Tuareg opposed this political division, as it established international political borders across their historic and traditional nomadic routes. In reponse, the new Malian army brutally repressed the Tuareg, slaughtering hundreds of people and their livestock flocks. Malian military rule was then imposed on this region of Mali for 25 years.

Modern nations don’t like nomadic peoples. Nomads don’t pay taxes and are difficult to control. The Tuareg have endured ethnic discrimination and marginalization ever since the Agadez was carved up. In some places their language, Tamashek, was outlawed. The Arabs to the north look down on the Tuaregs as primitive people who have little affection for law and order, and see their religious belief system as apostate. To the south, the Black-African majority states have sought to shut out the light-skinned Tuaregs from both government and business. In Niger, for example, the government chose to invite Chinese workers to operate a uranium mine in the Agadez, leaving the local Tuaregs without jobs and saddled with pollution of their land and limited water supplies.

Draw new political lines. Fence them in. Outlaw their language. Discriminate based on ethnicity. Dominate with Military Force.

Isn’t this a story we’ve seen time and time again? The story of the Native Americans? The Gaelic-speaking Irish? Palestinians?

And so, lacking jobs and an ability to engage in their traditional lifestyles, the Tuareg – particularly in Mali – have been seeking their own homeland in an on-again, off-again rebellion for the last half-century.

Meanwhile, in Libya, Colonel Gaddhafi seized the opportunity to hire thousands of Tuaregs into his private militia. When the Gaddhafi regime fell, these trained – and armed - Tuareg returned to the Agadez. The number of returning Tuareg fighters range somewhere between 800 and 4,000. While all journalistic and political eyes were focused on the events in Libya, the returning warriors joined other independence-minded Tuareg and formed the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (Mouvement National de Liberation de l'Azawad) or MNLA. And the MNLA had some immediate success.

In January of this year, the MNLA routed the Malian army, which lost complete control of the Azawad region to the Tuareg. More than 1,000 Malian troops were killed, and their defeat was accompanied by the humiliation of having run out of ammunition. The MNLA issued a press release stating that it aimed "to free the people of Azawad from the illegal occupation of its territory by Mali". As indicated earlier, the Azawad region covers not only northern Mali, but northern Niger and southern Algeria as well. Suddenly, multiple African states - and the west - have become attentive and nervous. Within the last few weeks, the MNLA has been reinforced by Tuareg deserting the Malian army and young recruits from within the region. Estimates put the former as high as 1,500 and the latter at 500. The accompanying map shows Tuareg gains in the last 3 months.

In the wake of the success by the Tuareg, remaining members of the Malian army, bitter over their stunning defeat, turned their wrath on their own government, ousting Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure and his cabinet and installing a military junta openly hostile to the Tuareg.

Which brings me to the most important part of this Blogpost.

Governments around the world are beginning to issue cautious statements about the overall situation. Journalists unfamiliar with the region are reaching for any quote they can get. And the new junta in Mali is issuing statements pleading for legitimacy. In all of this flurry, the Tuareg are being called everything from Islamicists to Al Qaeda allies.

They are neither.

They are, like so many indigenous people, asserting their right to their own homeland, one not drawn up by colonial powers and imposed on them.

One journalist who knows the situation well is Ben Barber, who has written about the developing world since 1980 for Newsday, the London Observer, the Christian Science Monitor,, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Times and USA TODAY. Yesterday, he was a bright spot in an otherwise foggy and murky reporting flurry, when he wrote:

“The United States, which has sent special forces, trainers and other troops to Mali and the region to fight Al Qaida, should lead diplomatic efforts to bring the Tuareg and the governments of Mali, Niger and Algeria, to the table with concrete proposals.

The Tuareg should have some say in the administration of resources in the desert. They should get access to land with water as they move their flocks away from a drought-affected region. They should be invited to join local governments, police and armies as equal citizens of their home countries. And a pan-Tuareg cultural or trade union could be formed to facilitate their nomadic journeys and preserve their unique lifestyle.”

Any effort to ignore the legitimate demands of the Tuareg can only become a self-fulfilling prophecy: at best, the 60-year old instability will continue to rock the region; but at worst, an ill-informed anti-Tuareg western response may drive yet another indigenous people right into the arms of the terrorists that we insist we are trying to defeat.

(For a similar story regarding the Sahwari people, see Morocco's Occupation of the Sahwari People... on this Blog)


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Murder by Racism

I have been following the saga surrounding the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin every day. And every day when I read or hear about it, my voice breaks as I try to speak and the tears flow. Because I know, but that for chance or circumstance, Trayvon could have been one of my children.

I am white. I have six adopted children, and one grandchild. They are minorities: the ultimate rainbow family of Black and Native American and Caribbean and Latina and White ancestries, with a gay dad, all rolled into one unmistakably American family. I also live in a very white community in a very white state, as I have for the last 20 years.

Like Trayvon’s mom and dad, I am divorced from their mom. And that means that my kids do not live with me all the time – but they are here at least once a week. They stay here, enjoy holidays here, come here after school. They BELONG here with me. It is not unusual for one of them to run out of the house to walk to town to go buy some candy. My oldest daughter often stays out with friends, and walks home on her own at night through the white neighborhoods.

And every day that George Zimmerman remains free; every day that Trayvon’s parents plea for help; every day that black crowds demand justice and not a single white face shows up in the crowd along side of them; every day some ignorant internet post tries to blame Trayvon and exonerate Zimmerman; every day that this goes on, my anger burns.

Because, but for the grace of God, there goes my own son or daughter.

And if the black community in this country explodes, I will be there with them.

If you’ve never lived, day by day, in an interracial family, you may not understand. But award-winning film maker Michael Skolnik, Editor-In-Chief of, gets it. And so when I ran across his most recent blog article, I couldn’t help but repost it here:

White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin
by Michael Skolnik

I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers fact, that is what I wore yesterday...I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you. I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me. I won't have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can "run my plates." I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get "stopped and frisked." I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only. The color of my skin. I am white.

I was born white. It was the card I was dealt. No choice in the matter. Just the card handed out by the dealer. I have lived my whole life privileged. Privileged to be born without a glass ceiling. Privileged to grow up in the richest country in the world. Privileged to never look suspicious. I have no guilt for the color of my skin or the privilege that I have. Remember, it was just the next card that came out of the deck. But, I have choices. I got choices on how I play the hand I was dealt. I got a lot of options. The ball is in my court.

So, today I decided to hit the ball. Making a choice. A choice to stand up for Trayvon Martin. 17 years old. black. innocent. murdered with a bag of skittles and a bottle of ice tea in his hands. "Suspicious." that is what the guy who killed him said he looked like cause he had on a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers. But, remember I had on that same outfit yesterday. And yes my Air Force Ones were "brand-new" clean. After all, I was raised in hip-hop...part of our dress code. I digress. Back to Trayvon and the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where he was visiting his father.

I got a lot of emails about Trayvon. I have read a lot of articles. I have seen a lot of television segments. The message is consistent. Most of the commentators, writers, op-ed pages agree. Something went wrong. Trayvon was murdered. Racially profiled. Race. America's elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn't sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too. I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children. And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude. They bought t-shirts. Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance. But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet. Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.

We've heard the 911 calls. We seen the 13 year old witness. We've read the letter from the alleged killer's father. We listened to the anger of the family's attorney. We've felt the pain of Trayvon's mother. For heaven's sake, for 24 hours he was a deceased John Doe at the hospital because even the police couldn't believe that maybe he LIVES in the community. There are still some facts to figure out. There are still some questions to be answered. But, let's be clear. Let's be very, very clear. Before the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, started following him against the better judgement of the 911 dispatcher. Before any altercation. Before any self-defense claim. Before Travyon's cries for help were heard on the 911 tapes. Before the bullet hit him dead in the chest. Before all of this. He was suspicious. He was suspicious. suspicious. And you know, like I know, it wasn't because of the hoodie or the jeans or the sneakers. Cause I had on that same outfit yesterday and no one called 911 saying I was just wandering around their neighborhood. It was because of one thing and one thing only. Trayvon is black.

So I've made the choice today to tell my white friends that the rights I take for granted are only valid if I fight to give those same rights to others. The taxi cab. The purse. The meal. The police car. The police. These are all things I've taken for granted.

So, I fight for Trayvon Martin. I fight for Amadou Diallo. I fight for Rodney King. I fight for every young black man who looks "suspicious" to someone who thinks they have the right to take away their freedom to walk through their own neighborhood. I fight against my own stereotypes and my own suspicions. I fight for people whose ancestors built this country, literally, and who are still treated like second class citizens. Being quiet is not an option, for we have been too quiet for too long.

Originally posted at Global Grind


Monday, March 19, 2012

Medical Marijuana Prognosis Looks Good in NH

[Update to this post found HERE

[Blogger's Note: Before my father died of esophagal cancer, he expressed to me how he thought that Marijuana ought to be legalized - a strong turn of events for a man who was otherwise viewed as a conservative Republican. In his last days, medical cannabis was not available to him, so his pain was relieved by morphine, which put him into a state of near-sleep and confusion almost 24 hours a day. It was that experience that made Medical Marijuana an important issue for me. What follows is a guest blog article written by Matt Simon, a personal acquaintance, who is a resident of Goffstown, NH and a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project of Washington, D.C. It is reprinted here by his express permission]

Nearly three years have passed since House and Senate lawmakers first approved a medical marijuana bill to protect patients with debilitating illnesses in New Hampshire.

That bill fell just short of becoming law in 2009, when an effort to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto passed the House but failed by only two votes in the Senate.

When the 2010 election resulted in Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the General Court, many felt this issue would be placed on hold for two years. On the contrary, last year the GOP-dominated House showed it wasn’t at all afraid to pass medical marijuana, voting to approve the measure in a 221-96 landslide.

Last year’s bill reached a stalemate in the Senate, when senators voted to table the bill rather than casting an up-or-down vote, but this year patients and their advocates are feeling more optimistic than ever about their chances. Their new bill features three Republican senators as sponsors.

So what objections remain?

First, the attorney general’s office points out that marijuana remains illegal under federal law and says the program could lead to interventions in New Hampshire by federal agents. Second, it observes that, in a few states, badly implemented medical marijuana laws have led to undesirable outcomes.

When considering the merits of these objections, New Hampshire legislators should focus on two very useful counterexamples: Vermont and Maine.

Vermont and Maine have been protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest since 2004 and 1999, respectively. There have been no federal raids on patients or caregivers in either state, and the laws continue to enjoy strong public support.

After years of allowing patients and their caregivers to grow their own marijuana, both states recently approved the addition of state-regulated dispensaries to improve patients’ access.

Have these reforms led to increased rates of recreational marijuana use and teen use in Maine and Vermont? According to government surveys, they have not. In fact, the federal government’s own data shows that teens and adults use marijuana at a nearly identical rate in all three states.

Unfortunately, the U.S. attorney for New Hampshire has indicated that dispensaries here would not necessarily be safe from federal prosecution. Thus, Granite State lawmakers appear to be left with two policy options: they can continue leaving desperate patients to fend for themselves on the black market, or they can acknowledge their plight and permit them to simply take care of themselves.

SB 409 would protect patients from arrest and give them a way to access marijuana safely, legally and unobtrusively. A 2008 Mason-Dixon poll showed 71 percent of New Hampshire voters agree, with only 21 percent opposed.

Will 2012 be the year that public opinion finally translates into public policy?


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Coptic Pope Shenouda III Dies, Increasing Uncertainty Over Egypt's Future

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, died today at the age of 88 from liver failure. He had served as Pope of Alexandria since November 14, 1971, presiding over a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church and maintaining positive relations with Muslim leaders, the Egyptian government (under both Mubarek and the current military regime), and with the wider inter-faith community. His peace-making approach protected Egypt’s Christian Copts, a minority that comprises 10% of a nation that is currently divided between modern secularist Muslims and Islamicists. Recent attacks on Copts have been met by moderate Muslims forming protective human walls around Coptic churches and neighborhoods.

Shenouda was a graduate of Cairo University and the Coptic Orthodox Seminary. Then-Pope Cyril VI summoned him to become the Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological University, whereupon he assumed the name Shenouda. On November 14, 1971, he was chosen as the 117th Coptic Pope.

To western Christians, the term “pope” almost exclusively brings to mind the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who is seated in Rome. But the early Christian Church had “patriarchates” not only in Rome, but in Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople (where the current Eastern Orthodox Patriarch is seated) and Alexandria. Much of the North African Church was divided from the Western Church over theological issues following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD; Alexandria remained the ‘seat’ of leadership to the Africans, who have generally become known as “Copts” (from the word "Egypt"). Their leader, Pope Shenouda, has been instrumental in attempting to restore relations between the African Church and their Asian and European brethren; many modern scholars believe that the 1600-year-old division between the churches is based more on linguistic misunderstandings than actual theological differences.

During his papacy, Pope Shenouda III appointed the first-ever Bishops to preside over North American dioceses, as well as the first Coptic Bishops in Australia, France, England, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and established the first Coptic Churches in South America. He is known for his commitment to Christian unity and has, since the 1970s, advocated inter-denominational Christian dialogue.

In 1973, Pope Shenouda III became the first Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria to meet with the Pope of Rome in over 1500 years. In this visit, they signed a common declaration on the issues that had divided the churches, and agreed to further discussions on Christian unity. In an address he gave during the International Week of Prayer in 1974, he declared,

"The whole Christian world is anxious to see the church unite. Christian people, being fed up with divisions, are pushing their church leaders to do something about church unity and I am sure that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us.”

In 2000, He was awarded the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, and in 2007 received an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the University of Lawrence in Michigan for his efforts in spreading the values of peace, human love and tolerance in the world. The University declared that Pope Shenouda was a "man of peace who works in his utmost efforts to maintain more understanding between the Middle Eastern people, regardless their religions or nationalities,” and "shows us the way of reconciliation in that region which is torn apart by wars".

At the current time, Egyptian Christians and Muslims share a sense of uncertainty over the future of Egypt, and Pope Shenouda’s death increases the weight of that uncertainty.


10 Fun Bits of Irish Trivia for St. Patrick's Day...

1) St Patrick was born in Britain, not Ireland (But that’s not the real news…) Yes, Patrick was born about 387 AD somewhere in Britain – different scholars have suggested Wales, Cumbria, and even Scotland. But lest you jump to the conclusion that he was English, think again: The Angles would not arrive in what is now “England” for at least another 100 years; Patrick, as a native ‘Briton,’ was 100% Celtic, not ‘English.’

2) All that Red Hair you associate with the Irish? It may not be Irish at all. Red Hair is more indicative of Viking DNA, no doubt the result of several hundred years of Scandinavian pillaging and other extra-curricular activities on the Irish coast. Not unsurprisingly, Scotland – which was closer to Viking raiders than Ireland – boasts 50% more redheads than the Emerald Isle. An absolute majority of the Irish have brown - not red - hair.

3) Potatoes ain’t Irish either. They are native to the Andes Mountains of South America, and were first brought to Europe in the 16th Century by Spanish Conquistadores who obtained them from the local Incans.

4) Corned Beef and Cabbage is a distinctively….American dish. Corned Beef was considered an expensive extravagance in Ireland, especially at the time of the Famine when few Irish could afford it. It became popular in the United States in the last 1800s as an Irish-American dish, but has never been popular in Ireland itself.

5) Speaking of the Famine – “An Gorta Mor” (or “The Great Hunger”): During the worst years of the famine, 1845-1849, 25% of Ireland’s population died or were sent by ship to the US and Canada. During those same years, a record amount of calves, beef, bacon, and ham were exported from Ireland to England. Monetary aid to the Irish was sent from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the City of Calcutta, India, and the Choctaw Nation, which had barely survived the Trail of Tears 16 years earlier. Americans sent the equivalent of over $1,000,000, more than any nation,including Britain itself.

6) Even though Irish Gaelic is the National Language of Ireland, required in public school, and recognized as an official language in the European Union, no more than 85,000 Irish – only 1.3% of the population – speak it regularly and fluently.

7) While Ireland and Guinness Stout are practically synonymous in popular culture, two-thirds of the beer consumed in Eire is lager, not stout. The number one national brand is not Guinness, but Smithwicks. Of all beers, the number one beer in Ireland? Dutch-brewed Heineken. And while the Irish drink a lot of beer – 139 liters per person annually – the Czechs are the worlds beer-drinking champs at 159 liters per person.

8) If you want to be remembered after you’ve passed on, be a horse. Horseracing has long been a popular pasttime in Ireland, and in the early 1840s, many races were won by a horse named “The Pride of Ballyara.” But in the middle of the Great Famine, The Pride of Ballyara was pressed into service as a workhorse, pulling a cart laden with oats and corn 50 miles from port to the city of Sligo. When he died, grateful residents saw that he was buried in a plot in the Ballyara Graveyard in South Sligo (an otherwise “human” cemetery) where his headstone and grave remains the most prominent and well-maintained plot in the graveyard to this day.

9) In spite of often being characterized as some rude backwater by the European upper classes, Ireland provided more teaching scholars than any other nation throughout the middle ages. The monasteries located throughout Europe – which became today’s Universities – were the centers of teaching and learning in the medieval period…and every one of them was either founded by, or ‘staffed’ by, Irish scholars.

10) We have all heard of Leprechauns…but apparently, they are not the only ‘wee’ things in Ireland. In 2005, Martin Casella’s play, “The Irish Curse - a new comedy about guys with one tiny problem” exploded in New York City and then Dublin. And alas, statistics bear out the myth: At 12.78 centimeters (5.03 inches), Irish men apparently have the second smallest ‘equipment’ in Europe, beating only the hose-challenged Romanians at 12.73 centimeters (Of course, that never prevented them from producing large families…) The Heaviest equipment in Europe is sported by the Hungarians, French, and Scandinavians, all averaging over 6 inches each. [Disclaimer: Your blogger boasts more Scandinavian and French DNA than Irish…]

Which sounds like a great reason to get one’s bravado up and imbibe a bit of Guinne…er, no, Smithwicks…to boost one’s confidence!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all my fellow Irishmen and Wannabes!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rowan Williams to Resign as Archbishop of Canterbury; Anglican Division Imminent?

Rowan Douglas Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the worlds 80 million Anglicans, announced his resignation today effective at the end of the year. While he is resigning in order to assume a new position as Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge, England, his tenure has been marked by deep and insurmountable theological divisions within the global Anglican Communion. It is likely that his departure and the near-impossible task of choosing his successor may mark the end of what little tenuous unity remains within the church.

The church, widely acknowledged as having been founded in earnest by Elizabeth I (Queen of England and daughter of Henry VIII), was ironically rocked beginning in the 1970s over the role of women who felt called to serve as priests and bishops. Older Anglican Churches in Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the US (where the church is known as the Episcopal Church) have generally been more progressive than their younger, growing, and more Evangelically-flavored Anglican counterparts in central Africa and Latin America.

During Williams’ tenure, disagreements over homosexuality divided the church into liberal and conservative elements, and Williams was often perceived as placating conservative demands (The Archbishop of Canterbury is a spiritual leader, but lacks the ‘authority’ wielded by the Roman Catholic Pope.) Nonetheless, conservative churches remained dissatisfied, and began a process of slow withdrawal from the communion during the last decade, lead by Anglican Churches in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and the “Southern Cone” (most of Latin America and the Caribbean) and joined by 10 conservative American dioceses.

Perhaps no greater display of the divide can be shown than by comparing the reactions of Caroline Hall, President of Integrity (an Episcopalian GLBT organization) and David Virtue, an American firebrand who has served as a self-appointed internet communication headquarters for the conservative movement:

Caroline Hall:

"This decade has arguably been the most tumultuous time for Anglicans since the end of the English Civil War. It has been an incredibly difficult time to be Archbishop of Canterbury, officially the ‘Instrument of Unity’ in an Anglican Communion struggling with disunity and at times outright hostility.

When he was elected we had high hopes that Rowan Williams would be willing to take a bold stand on LGBT inclusion. Those hopes were dashed almost immediately when he bowed to conservative pressure and forced Jeffrey John, an English gay man in a celibate relationship, to step down from his nominations as Bishop of Reading. We were also disappointed by his failure to respect Episcopal Church polity and his failure to invite and welcome the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops. In his attempts to keep everyone at the table, Williams has proved more willing to listen to conservative than to liberal voices, even though his own theological position is more progressive."

"I certainly admire his ability to stay in this position for a decade. To be called to leadership in the middle of rapid and contentious change is never easy and Williams has been the target for acrimonious letters and emails since he was first elected."

"Integrity wishes him well in his new position and prays that when God calls the next Archbishop he will be a forward-looking person of great courage who understands that to be the Instrument of Unity may not mean keeping everyone together in a unholy alliance. We hope [we]…will not bow to the forces who seek to keep the Church of England, and by example, the rest of the Anglican Communion, in the dark ages where women, gays, lesbians and trans-people are not welcome in the House of Bishops and thus are not welcome at all."

David Virtue:

"From the moment he took office, Dr. Rowan Williams' tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury was marked by uncertainty, controversy and unacceptable compromises to global orthodox Anglicans…..For almost a decade it has been a rocky, quarrelsome road for Dr. Williams, culminating in one third of his archbishops and bishops failing to show up at Lambeth 2008 [Ed: a meeting of the world's Anglican Bishops]. A third of his African, Southern Cone and Asian bishops failed to show up in Dublin last year when the world's Anglican Archbishops met. It was billed as a "crisis summit". As the majority of orthodox Anglican Primates failed to show, it was not a summit and a crisis was averted.

In Dromantine in 2005, Williams faced excoriation from both sides. He was accused of being weak and ineffectual by then US Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold for not standing up to Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola over homosexuality, while the Global South Primates continued their distancing from Dr. Williams. Relationships became so estranged that the Primates would not take Eucharist together.

…Williams has warned that the Anglican Communion faces a "piece-by-piece dissolution" if member churches fail to avoid actions that upset others. Many believe that his failure to act or to offer a definitive word on pressing moral issues has contributed to the dissolution.

…Dr. Williams' long struggle to prevent a schism over women and gay bishops and same-sex unions has been a high wire act that has no resolution. Orthodox Anglicans in the West and the vast majority of the Global South are deeply entrenched in Scripture's prohibition of any form of sexual expression outside of marriage between a man and a woman, while Western liberal provinces embrace pansexuality with first a homosexual and then a lesbian bishop
[Mary Glasspool, consecrated in the Diocese of Los Angeles on May 15, 2010] consecrated in The Episcopal Church...

[If the new Archbishop] is a liberal, it will only ratchet up the continuing and ongoing realignment now firmly underway. If he is an evangelical, he will need a spine of steel to stand up to the Country's growing and very strident homosexual and Islamist lobby especially in the Church of England...Whichever way it goes one thing is certain, there will be no stopping the rise of the Global South with its millions of evangelical Anglicans and the slow but inevitable death of Western Anglicanism if it does not repent of its sin. And that it would seem, is not going to happen."


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Greg Smith, Executive, Resigns from "Toxic" and "Destructive" Goldman Sachs

A little more than 7 years ago I began blogging, in part due to my outrage over the tactics used by Goldman Sachs in destroying their clients. The catalyst was their treatment of Ashanti Gold, the third largest gold producer in the world at the time, and the first black African company to be listed on otherwise 'white' stock exchanges. In abbreviated form I retold the story of the manipulation and destruction of that company here in a post that was re-published by the official news agency in Ghana (where Ashanti was headquartered) and which remains one of the top 10 most-widely read posts on this blog to this day.

It has been nothing short of horrifying, then, to watch Goldman Sachs manipulate the American economy in the last few years in much the same way, as its former employees and executives have esconced themselves within the US Dept of Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank offices.

Today, Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs executive director and the head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is resigning...over the very issues we have been raising in this blog for these last several years. The full content of his resignation letter is posted below.

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.
Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.

When I was a first-year analyst I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a derivative was, understanding finance, getting to know our clients and what motivated them, learning how they defined success and what we could do to help them get there.

My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.


Friday, March 09, 2012

The Presidential Election 100 Years Ago: The Same Issues

The year is 1912, and the Presidential Election is at a fever pitch. There is a growing income disparity in the country, and wealth is becoming concentrated in the hands of a few mega-corporations and their CEOs. Politics appears to be directed by Wall Street and Corporate boardrooms, and social unrest is growing. Organized Labor is both demonized and celebrated. Debt is crushing farmers. Fear of war is in the air. Entire groups of people are disenfranchised from voting. One of the political parties has adopted the following as their official party platform for the election:

- A National Health Service to include all existing government medical agencies (YES, this was ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO!)
- Social Security to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled
- Freedom to strike against unfair labor practices.
- Minimum wage laws
- A legal eight hour workday
- Creation of a federal Securities Commission to regulate Wall Street
- Debt relief for farmers
- Workers' compensation for work-related injuries
- An inheritance tax
- A Constitutional amendment to permit a graduated federal income tax
- Universal right of Women to vote
- Direct election of Senators instead of appointment by state legislatures
- Primary elections for state and federal nominations
- Reductions in tariffs that raised cosumer prices
- Limits on the production of military armaments
- Public Works Projects to improve waterways & transportation

The central theme of the campaign was expressed in this platform clause:

“To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

To accomplish this, the Party Platform supported:

- Strict limits and disclosure requirements on political campaign contributions (Yes, we've been debating this for 100 years...)
- Registration of lobbyists
- Recording and publication of Congressional committee proceedings
- Strong national regulation and permanent active supervision of major corporations.

The Party's candidate for President would infuriate southern racists by dining with blacks on multiple occasions, and the Party would openly admit blacks to the nominating convention. A Woman would deliver one of the nominating speeches.

Now . . . Which Party was this?

If it sounds like the Democratic Party - it wasn't.

It wasn't the Republicans, either...although it was a party formed largely of ex-Republicans.

It was a third Party, the Progressive (or “Bull Moose”) Party, who nominated Theodore Roosevelt that year.

Democrat Woodrow Wilson would go on to win the Presidency that year with a minority (41.8%) of the vote. But the Progressives, running as a “Third Party,” would take 27% of the national vote, outpolling the Republicans and winning 6 states (California, Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.)

Rather than being a “wasted vote,” their ideas would impact the platforms of both major parties for generations to come.

Just some Food for Thought.

Green Party USA

Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts

American Progressive Party (not an officially established Party)

Progressive Party of Oregon

Progressive Party of Vermont

Progressive Party of Washington

Working Families Party of New York

Libertarian Party


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lakota Grandmothers Stop Keystone Trucks

Ten years ago, this blogger had the honor of spending several weeks among the Oglala Lakota at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. At the time, the Tokala Oyate (or “Kit Fox Society,” which serve as contemporary tribal warriors) had physically occupied a section of Badlands National Park that ‘overlaps’ the Pine Ridge Reservation. The occupation occurred after the National Park Service proved unable to prevent the looting of bones from Lakota graves on a landform called the Stronghold Table. Through much of modern history, the Lakota people have displayed a willingness to put themselves at risk and physically intervene in instances of social injustice.

This week was no exception.

On Monday, residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation learned through social media contacts that enormous trucks loaded with oil pipeline components related to the Keystone Pipeline/Canadian Tar Sands Project were headed towards the reservation and set to pass through the Oglala Tribal lands. “We did not know where the equipment was going, but we knew that these trucks were too huge, too heavy, and too dangerous to pass our roads. We thought the equipment may be going to the Tarsands oil mine, or other oil mines in Canada,” Lakota matriarch Debra White Plume said.

The Lakota people have taken a very strong stand against the Keystone Pipeline, opposing both the pipeline (which is planned to skirt the northeast corner of the Reservation) as well as the controversial Tar Sands mining in Canada due to environmental concerns. The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council (a coalition of area Sioux Tribes) have both passed legislation opposing the pipeline and have called for a moratorium on the tar sands oil mine as “destructive to water, Mother Earth, all animals and human beings.”

Accordingly, as word spread that the trucks were headed to the Reservation, some six dozen residents converged on the town of Wanblee to physically block the trucks passage with their bodies.

As it turns out, the two trucks were “Treater Vessels,” which are used in oil, gas and element separation in Tar Sands operations. Each truck weighed 115 tons, and they had not requested permission to utilize Reservation roads. The owner of the trucks, Totran, is a Canadian Corporation and claimed that they had been told to use this route by South Dakota state officials. Oglala Nation Vice-President Tom Poor Bear called state officials in Pierre, who confirmed that the State helped planned the route for the oversized vehicles.

The reason for using Pine Ridge roads?

To help Totran avoid $100,000 in oversize fees should they have to use South Dakota state roads. Instead, the state suggested that the heavy vehicles use the fragile BIA roads and avoid all fees – as well as responsibility for any damage to the poorly-funded Reservation roadways.

And so, on Monday afternoon, a confrontation was inevitable.

Many Americans remember a news image from 1989, where a lone protester in Tiananmen Square, Beijing (China) stood in defiance of a tank. No less heroic were two Lakota grandmothers, Renabelle Bad Cob Standing Bear – defiant in her wheelchair - and Marie Randal (age 92), standing on the roadway in Wanblee and bringing the two Tortran trucks and a dozen accompanying convoy vehicles to a dead stop.

[PHOTO: 92-year old Marie Randal stands against the front grill of a 115-ton Lotran Treater Vehicle]

The grandmothers were joined by more than 70 others, forming a human roadblock that rendered the trucks immobile for several hours. Others from Wanblee brought pots of soup, fry bread, cases of water, doughnuts, and coffee.

The trucks were too enormous to turn around. Tribal police eventually cleared most protesters, and arrested five who refused to leave; but they also escorted the trucks to the nearest reservation border, forcing the trucks out onto South Dakota state highways and refusing them access to additional reservation roads. The five arrested were bailed out of jail with money collected by the crowd.

Here's to hoping that the American people will find the same degree of inner courage that the Lakota exhibit when it comes to standing for what they believe is right.

Debra White Plume, Lakota matriarch:

86-Year Old WW2 Vet Denied the Right to Vote in Ohio

About 7 weeks ago, we published a blog article detailing the extraordinary efforts Republicans were taking to prevent citizens from voting. In an election when the GOP is seriously reviving the social issue of contraception, it has occurred to them that the only way to win in many swing states this November is to erect obstacles to voting for the poor, minorities, youth, those for whom English is not a native language, and the elderly, all of whom are ‘suspect’ as Democratic sympathizers. (Full article can be found here )

In the wake of the “Super Tuesday” primaries, their efforts are being realized:

Paul Carroll, an 86-year-old World War II veteran who has lived in the same Ohio town for forty years, who has trouble walking and was driven to the polls, was denied the right to vote yesterday after a poll worker denied the validity of his identification.

His ID Card?

A US Government-issued Department of Veterans Affairs Card.

It was rejected by Portage, Ohio poll workers because the ID did not contain an address, as required by the new Ohio law.

Carroll said he had obtained the card from the VA because he doesn’t drive anymore: “I had to stop driving, but I got the photo ID from the Veterans Affairs instead, just a month or so ago. You would think that would count for something. I went to war for this country, but now I can’t vote in this country.”

Carroll’s story echoes what other seniors, many of whom no longer drive, are finding: Tennessee voter authorities denied a 96-year-old woman a voter ID last year because she didn’t have an original copy of her marriage license. NYU Law School has estimated that up to 11% of all otherwise eligible voters – 21 million Americans - do not have the requisite ID being required by the new GOP Voter-Suppression statutes.

GOP efforts to suppress voting have included new laws aimed at requiring government-issued Voter ID Cards with photos and addresses, limiting the locations where such photo IDs can be obtained to offices located far from minority population centers, requiring IDs at polling places when no existing state laws require them, restricting new Voter Registration Drives and imposing stiff fines for errors, banning felons from voting, and banning college students from voting where they attend school.

Carroll was eventually allowed to use a provisional ballot, but the 86 year old admitted to being emotionally distraught at that point, and was further upset by the fact that the print on the provisional ballot was too small for him to read.

Again, the full GOP ‘plan’ and its effects can be found at my Martin Luther King Jr. Day post.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

"8" , The Rob Reiner Play about the Prop 8 Trial

In case you missed the broadcast, here it is in its entirety, starring George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bradd Pitt, Matthew Morrisson, Kevin Bacon, Jane Lynch, John C. Reilly, and Chris Colfer


Friday, March 02, 2012

Prop 8 Play to be Live-Streamed on Saturday, Mar 3

[UPDATE: The Actual Play, in its entirety, is posted HERE]

The Proponents of California's "Prop 8" have spent months attempting to keep the trial record hidden from public view. Insiders who were at the trial are near unanimous in reporting that the anti-equality case was embarrassing it was so poorly made. (Last month's decision of the 9th Circuit, affirming Judge Walker's original decision declaring Prop 8 unconstituional, can be found here.)

Now, to bring the proceedings to light (while the official record remains sealed), Rob Reiner has announced a history-making live streaming of a reading of the play "8," Dustin Lance Black's play about the Prop 8 trial. It will be broadcast at The American Foundation for Equal Rights and You Tube n Saturday, March 3rd, 2012, at 7:30pm Pacific (10:30pm Eastern).

The play is full of heavy-hitters, starring George Cloony, Kevin Bacon, Bradd Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Martin Sheen, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrisson, Chris Colfer, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Two promo reels are included below: