Kari Lydersen

Chicago Pursuing School Privatization at Any Cost

This article originally appeared at In These Times and is reprinted here with their permission. This report was made possible by a generous grant from the Voqal Fund.

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Behind the Scenes of Rahm Emanuel's Poor Mayoral Strategy

The following is an excerpt from Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99%. Copyright © 2013 by Kari Lydersen. Reprinted with permission of Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL.

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Chicago Fast Food Strikers Win Small Victories

Chicago workers continued the roving fast food and retail strike Thursday, joining strikers and picketers around the nation calling for increased wages and better working conditions for the thousands of low-wage workers who staff some of the nation’s largest companies but are not paid even enough to scrape by.

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Will $2 Billion for Chicago Trains Create Good Jobs?

In February, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) announced that it plans to spend up to $2 billion on as many as 846 new cars for its elevated train and subway system, and issued a call for bids from manufacturers. According to the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), an economic justice advocacy group running a national campaign pushing transit agencies to source parts and labor in the U.S., a purchase of that size could create more than 20,000 American jobs. 

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Fracking 'Boom Towns' Rife with Workplace Accidents

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Times' weekly updates.

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Chicago Fast-Food Workers Begin Fight for $15 an Hour

CHICAGO—The workers at Chipotle Mexican Grill on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile quickly and efficiently turn out “gourmet” burritos and tacos with organic and local ingredients for scores of shoppers, tourists and businesspeople strolling this famously tony stretch of Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River. The popular chain prides itself on offering “food with integrity” and cultivates a hip, sustainable image.

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‘The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized’: Day Two of the Chicago Teachers Strike

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Times' weekly updates.

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Big Rumbling in Chicago as Teachers Move Toward Historic Strike

Editor's Note: We've been following the teachers' union fight in Chicago closely because of its potential ramifications--a showdown between a well-known Democratic mayor who is often emblematic of the wing of the party that's closest to Wall Street and furthest from its roots with working people, and a progressive union that won't back down. Teacher-union-bashing has become far too common in both parties, and the attacks on the people who educate our kids led to full-scale attacks on collective bargaining rights in states across the country in recent years.  A strike in Chicago has national ramifications, as the union-busting tactics honed in Chicago have spread around the country, and a big move here could lead to more action.

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Not-For-Profit Hospitals Make Billions - and Provide Little Charity Care

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Times' weekly updates.

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Wage Theft at Wal-Mart Warehouses? Fourth Lawsuit in Two Years Filed on Behalf of Underpaid Workers

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Timesweekly updates.

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The Plight of Three Journalists Imprisoned in Iran Reveals the Risks That Come With Real Reporting

Journalist Shane Bauer made his friend Shon Meckfessel promise he wouldn’t let him work during their vacation in the Kurdistan mountains in northern Iraq last summer. Bauer, 27, and his partner Sarah Shourd, 31, had been living in Damascus for almost a year. Bauer was studying language and reporting for the Nation, Mother Jones and other outlets. Shourd was reporting, blogging and teaching English. Their friend Josh Fattal, 27, had just arrived in the Middle East as part of a teaching fellowship with a Boston-based honors comparative global studies program, for which he had already been based in China, South Africa and India. Meckfessel was studying Arabic and working on his dissertation on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The four decided to take a 10-day trip as a break from the emotional and intellectual intensity of their work.

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Thousands March in 3-Day Showdown with Banking Industry

Workers gave pink slips to the country's top bankers Tuesday morning to culminate three days of protests, billed as the Showdown in Chicago, during the American Bankers' Association's annual meeting.

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Why Is the American Coal Foundation Setting the Curriculum at Elementary Schools?

An elementary school curriculum designed by the American Coal Foundation suggests that students learn about the costs and benefits of coal mining by using toothpicks and paper clips to "mine" chocolate chips out of cookies. They also go about "reclaiming" the "land" damaged in the process by tracing the cookies’ outline on graph paper. Costs are to be calculated by the amount of time spent per chip and the expanse of graph paper that needs to be reclaimed.

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Will Oceans Be Our Best Source of Clean Power?

The resource is clean, renewable and vast. In fact, it covers 70 percent of the planet. That would be the ocean, with endless waves and ceaseless tides that can be harnessed to create electricity with zero carbon or particulate emissions. If logistical, environmental and efficiency challenges can be overcome -- a big "if" -- this could be a major clean energy source for the half of the world's population who live within 50 miles of coasts.

So far wave and tidal power have not been tapped on a commercial scale, but a number of pilot projects are underway worldwide and so far the prospects seem relatively promising.

This summer the world's first commercial offshore wave power project was launched off the coast of Portugal. The Agucadora Wave Park consists of three 142-meter-long hinged steel tubes called Pelamis machines. As waves move along the tubes, they move up and down and hydraulic devices at the joints generate electricity. The project plans call for 25 Pelamis machines generating up to 21 megawatts of power, which would save 60,000 tons of carbon emissions per year compared to a fossil fuel plant making the same amount of energy.

Meanwhile a commercial shore-based wave energy project was also launched in Islay, Scotland. The LIMPET, or Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer, is attached to the shore and uses the waves' momentum to funnel air into turbines to produce electricity. Plans are also in the works for a 40-turbine, four megawatt wave project in Scotland's Siadar Bay which could provide electricity for a fifth of Scotland's population.

Australia, England and Israel are among other countries where the government and private companies are actively pursuing wave power.

As with other renewable energy methods the US is lagging behind Europe, but there are a number of wave power projects in the works off the west coast. In September Oregon State University's Hatfield Center and the University of Washington secured a $6.25 million, five-year grant from the Department of Energy for wave energy development including an experimental project involving large energy-generating buoys about 12 miles off Newport, Ore.

"It's very much an emerging technology," said Roger Bedard, head of ocean power for the Electric Power Research Institute, the research and development arm of the utility industry. "I am not ready to say whether the US or the world should add wave power to the portfolio of energy options. What are the effects on sedimentation, fish, marine mammals, whales migrating from Alaska to Baja? First we need to do pilot testing and get hardware in the water to answer these questions."

Bedard said there are currently about 40 device developers in various stages of development. About six are doing full scale prototype testing, he said, and about 25 more have done subscale testing in the ocean. Others are still testing devices in wave tanks.

In December 2007 the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) issued its first permit for a hydrokinetic wave energy project in the U.S., the Makah Bay Offshore Wave Pilot Project which calls for four floating buoys and an underwater transmission cable two miles off the coast of Washington state. It is being developed by the company Finavera Renewables Ocean Energy and expected to power 150 homes. But Bedard said it still needs permits from multiple government agencies, a lengthy and costly process, to proceed.

"Unfortunately in this country the regulators want to know what the environmental effects are before we put it in the water, but we need to do pilot tests in the water to know," he said. "It's a catch 22." In 2008, FERC permit applications for wave energy projects were filed by Pacific Gas & Electric in Mendocino and Humboldt County, Calif.; and by other private companies in California and Oregon. "PG&E has all the coast of California with good strong waves as their territory," said Bedard. "They're the one utility that can really capitalize in a big way in the future in wave energy."

The company Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) is developing a wave project off Reedsport, Ore. involving 10 buoys similar to the ones being tested by Oregon State, which could generate enough power for 1,500 homes. They are still seeking permits but hope to launch a pilot buoy next summer. These buoys need waves at least four feet high and can work in waves up to 22 feet high, according to the company. The motion of the waves essentially moves a piston up and down inside the buoy, which generates electricity magnetically. OPT, founded by an Australian surfer, is a publicly traded company that launched its first test buoy in New Jersey in 1997. An OPT buoy that produces 40 kilowatts is about 52 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, with about 13 feet rising above the ocean surface.

An Irish company called Wavebob with headquarters in Annapolis is also hoping to develop wave projects on the US west coast. The Pacific has much stronger waves than the Atlantic, since winds blow west to east across the globe and hence gain power all across the Pacific before hitting the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Wave power is also about 10 times stronger in winter than summer.

George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Center and a professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State, noted that the Pacific Northwest is conducive to wave power because it not only has steady, powerful waves but also electricity transmission infrastructure near the coast.

"There are an awful lot of places where you have very good wave energy, but you don't necessarily have a mechanism to transport it where the power is needed." he said.

"In Oregon we had a lot of industries related to timber and mills at the coast. So we have a lot of substations essentially right near the beach."

The Oregon governor's office has instituted a program to fast track wave power projects, and state officials hope wave power could help them meet a goal of getting 20 percent of the state's power from renewable sources by 2025. A government grant helped form the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a public-private partnership to study the development of "responsible wave energy."

Wave power has been explored more than tidal power, partly because tidal power is more limited geographically. The power of the tides can generally only be harnessed in a narrow passageway between large bodies of water, for example between a bay or estuary and the open ocean. A major tidal power plant is operating in the Bay of Fundy between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, known for having the world's largest low tide-high tide gap at up to 50 feet. But this project and other proposed tide power schemes involving dams or turbines in the Bay of Fundy have raised serious environmental concerns, including shoreline erosion, contamination and whales stuck behind the generating apparatus.

In the U.S., many tidal areas only vary by about three feet between high and low tide, meaning much less potential energy. But Bedard said places like under the Golden Gate Bridge could still be attractive for tidal power, since they are close to populations which need electricity. "San Francisco is right there, you just plug it into the city," he said. "In Puget Sound, the Admiralty Inlet is just 20 miles from downtown Seattle. Whereas in Alaska, you have a huge tidal resource, but no people and no transmission wires."

There are a number of wave power technologies being tested worldwide, including the Pelamis tubes and the buoys being used off the Pacific Northwest. Boehlert said Oregon State also has experimented with a different prototype he describes as "basically an electromagnetic system like shakeup flashlights."

"Where wave energy is today is similar to where wind was 15 or 20 years ago," said Justin Klure, former director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust and a consultant with the company Pacific Energy Ventures. "You had four blades, five blades, vertical, horizontal, towers of all heights. Now a 100-meter tower with three blades is the technology of choice. It will be a while before we can make a determination on what technology is most efficient in extracting the linear motion of waves into electricity. It might not be one single device like wind -- there might be multiple devices that make sense."

Researchers at the University of Southampton are developing huge rubber "snakes" known as Anacondas which they hope can generate power more cheaply than most wave technologies, to the tune of six cents per kilowatt hour. The 200-meter-long, seven-meter-diameter Anacondas are rubber tubes sealed, filled with water and placed in the sea facing oncoming waves. The motion of rolling waves passing over them moves the water inside in a "bulge" toward a turbine at one end of the tube to generate electricity.

A technology is being tested off Australia which involves a piston pump attached to the sea floor moved by a float rising and falling on the waves above. Another device developed by the company Energen Wave Power involves floating pontoons and multiple "pivot arms" that capture wave energy. One of Bedard's favorites is an "artificial muscle" being developed by SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif. in partnership with the Japanese company Hyper Drive Corp which he says, "is very much like a rubber band. You stretch it, and it makes energy." He noted simple devices like this are key, since the off shore location makes maintenance difficult and costly.

"Since the ocean concentrates energy from wind into waves, it's a much higher density resource than wind or solar," he said. "That means the machine to extract it can be smaller, which means less capital. But the kicker is the deployment and maintenance cost. The ocean is a remote and hostile place. Unless developers make something highly highly reliable (that doesn't need much maintenance) it won't be economically successful."

Energy from wave projects is transmitted to the grid through undersea electrical cables, which are commonly used for various purposes including offshore wind farms that are prevalent off several European countries and in development in the U.S.

While land-based and offshore wind farms -most notably the proposed Cape Wind project in the Nantucket Sound -- have provoked significant opposition because of their effects on views, wave energy buoys would be virtually unnoticeable to people onshore.

However wave energy does raise serious environmental concerns, especially in places like the federal Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, where the Makah project would be located. Oregon State is beginning to investigate whether their buoys could alter gray whale migration routes, ocean currents or sand dispersal patterns. Environmentalists also worry about the electromagnetism from undersea transmission cables. And some worry wave power operations could impede the commercial fishing and crabbing industries which are economically crucial to the Pacific Northwest.

"If there are egregious environmental effects, we should not add wave power to our portfolio," said Bedard. "If there are negative effects but they are outweighed greatly by the negative effects of other supplies like coal, maybe we should consider it. (Wave power) should be adaptively managed as part of the national energy supply portfolio."

"It's clear there's a lot of energy in the ocean yet to be tapped," added Klure. "There's no free lunch, there are risks. It's a risk worth taking but we need to do it in a very logical, sequential manner to explore what the real long-term potential is."

Alaska Chooses Largest Gold Mine Over Clean Water

Editor's Note: Check out the video to the right from the film "Red Gold" by Felt Soul Media.

The spawning of salmon is something of a primal, epic drama. After spending their life of several years in the sea, the fish make their way up streams to the places where they were born. They don't eat, all their energy focused on their single-minded goal of spawning, after which they will die. Their flesh turns red from the effort, and hormones cause the males to develop a hump and a sinister-looking, toothy hooked beak.

The salmon life cycle is also part of the cycle of life for thousands of Alaska natives and Alaskans in general. Bristol Bay is known as the world's largest wild salmon fishery. With more than 30 million salmon worth hundreds of millions of dollars caught per year, it is a bedrock of commercial fishing and Alaska natives' subsistence fishing as well as a popular sport-fishing destination. Even people who have dispersed to Anchorage or other towns return yearly, like the salmon, to fish in Bristol Bay. The state's fishing industry is highly regulated to ensure the salmon population is not overfished.

But on Aug. 26, Alaskans voted down a ballot measure that proponents had cast as crucial to the future survival of Bristol Bay salmon. Ballot measure 4, which survived a challenge that went all the way to the state Supreme Court to remain on the state's primary ballot, would have prohibited large metal mines from contaminating salmon streams and drinking water sources. Though by law the ballot measure couldn't name a specific project, everyone knew it was aimed at the proposed Pebble Mine, which if developed as planned would be North America's largest open pit gold mine, also mining copper and molybdenum (a crucial element in steel).

Opponents of the ballot measure, which was defeated by 57 percent of voters (95,338 to 71,456), called it a "mining shutdown" and said it could not only block the Pebble Mine but paralyze Alaskan mining in general and force existing mines to close. Much of Alaska was settled during the gold rush of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and like oil, mining is seen by many as central to the state's economy and identity. It is also seen as an economic lifeline in a time of astronomically high energy prices and stagnation in fishery profits partly because of competition from Chilean and Norwegian fish farms.

Multinational mining giant Anglo American and its Canadian partner in the venture, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., say they will safely contain waste from Pebble Mine, namely the sulfuric acid that results when sulfide ore is disturbed and exposed to oxygen -- also known as acid mine drainage. But opponents of the mine say no sulfide mine has ever operated without leakage, and they also fear cyanide, which is normally used in the refining of gold.

John Shively, CEO of Pebble Partnership, notes that the mine proposal is only in the early stages and must still undergo numerous environmental studies and permitting processes including being subject to state and federal water protections. The partnership promises that no harm will come to salmon.

But given the record of resource exploitation in Alaska, many are skeptical. Alaska native communities around Prince William Sound are still feeling the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 and are disgusted with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision holding the company's punitive damages at $507 million. Residents of small towns like Tatitlek on the sound say they are still unable to eat local shellfish and seabirds, since thousands of gallons of oil still contaminate the beach.

The Pogo gold mine in northern Alaska, run by Teck Cominco, has the nation's eighth-highest releases of the neurotoxin mercury, with more than 2,000 pounds in 2005, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Likewise, Teck Cominco's Red Dog mine, the world's largest zinc mine, near the Chukchi Sea in northwestern Alaska, has been blamed for contaminating the Ikalukrok and Wulik rivers after melting permafrost contributed to acid leakage. Only 32 people live near the mine, so critics say it has been able to get away with contamination with little oversight. It also benefits the NANA Regional Corporation, which owns the land and is one of 13 native corporations formed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

The EPA ordered remediation at Red Dog in 1991 and several years later lodged a $4.7 million penalty against Teck Cominco. Teck Cominco also originally explored and owned the rights to the Pebble Mine project before selling to Northern Dynasty. Critics of the Pebble project, including former Cominco environmental affairs director Bruce Switzer, say the fact that this company sold such a potentially lucrative project shows it is not practically or environmentally viable.

"How can Vancouver stock promoters (Northern Dynasty) and inexperienced South Africans (Anglo American) protect this environment when the best and most experienced northern mining company had so many problems for so long in the far more benign environment at Red Dog, and, in light of all their experience, walked away from Pebble?" asked Switzer in an editorial in the Anchorage Daily News.

Art Hackney, president of the group Alaskans for Clean Water, which drafted the ballot measure, said there is no doubt the Pebble Mine would harm salmon in Bristol Bay.

"It's a 100 percent certainty that if the scope of this mine is put in as planned, you will contaminate the water," he said. "It's an absolute given. Alaska is a mining state, but nothing has come close to the potential damage this mine could have. There's no mine in a place like this. This sits astride two river systems that feed Bristol Bay."

As part of a global "No Dirty Gold" campaign, Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds and several other prominent jewelers have pledged not to buy gold from Pebble Mine.

Critics of the mine also point out that the area is prone to seismic activity, making leaks and cracks in retaining ponds more likely. And they complain that development associated with the mine, including the building of a road to transport ore to Cook Inlet and heavy traffic in and out, would have environmental and social effects.

But some local proponents of the mine say that in an economically suffering area, development and an influx of workers is a good thing.

Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, said mining has not caused any major environmental disasters in the state to date and could serve as an important source of jobs and investment for rural Alaska, especially Alaska native villages, which have been hit hard by sky-high prices of gas and heating oil.

"I believe within 50 to 60 miles of any native village is a mineral resource that can be developed," he said. "In those villages there are no jobs except a few teachers who are from somewhere else, a janitor, a part-time worker at the airfield."

With mining jobs, he said, Alaska natives will be able to stay in their villages and keep local schools open instead of being forced to leave for the cities. "The native people of Alaska recognize how important mining is to their future," he said, adding that before the vote, proponents of the initiative were "sending people to the villages to scare people" about the mine.

But Eric Olson, who grew up in Bristol Bay fishing salmon, said fishing is essential to the identity of people there. He pointed out that the Yu'pik Eskimo phrase for "let's eat" basically equates to "let's eat fish," and most of the villages and landmarks in the area are named after fish. He, like many natives of the Bristol Bay area who have moved elsewhere, still returns there to fish in the summers.

"It's a fishing town, as almost all the communities in western Alaska are," he said. "I don't see how you can guarantee (the mine) would never have an effect. If tailings and chemicals leak, it's right above Iliamna Lake."

Hackney said this was the first time mining industry leaders have faced a major challenge to their plans in Alaska, known as the easiest state to get a mine permitted. The multimillion-dollar ballot initiative campaign, funded by private donors including Bristol Bay area resort owner Bob Gillam and the group Americans for Job Security, blanketed cities and towns with posters and lawn signs and packed the airwaves with radio and TV spots promoting clean water and salmon. The mining industry responded in kind, with ads decreeing a "mining shutdown."

Though the ballot measure failed, the battle over Pebble Mine is bound to continue through each step of the permitting and development process. This will just be the latest, though perhaps the biggest, in a series of challenges for the fishermen of Bristol Bay, a group perhaps as tough and determined as the salmon swimming stolidly upstream.

Gloria Chythlook-Sifsof, a third-generation Bristol Bay fisherman from the town of Dillingham, recalls the rancorous struggles fishermen have endured over the past two decades, including a bitter 1991 strike against processors offering low prices and rising competition from fish farms that caused prices to plummet. Thanks to the increasing popularity of wild salmon, Bristol Bay's industry has been rebounding. She hopes Pebble Mine doesn't sink it now.

"This is about employment where people feel useful and proud of what they are doing," said Chythlook-Sifsof, who now lives in Girdwood with her daughter, a world-class snowboarder who also still fishes Bristol Bay in the summer. "We can't let Pebble Mine shut it down."

Satisfied Sex Worker or Domestic Trafficking Victim?

A teenage girl from Chicago is being sexually abused by her mother's string of boyfriends. So she flees home with a boyfriend of her own. They hit the road but run out of money, so the boyfriend shows her how to work the truck stops, and she becomes a prostitute. Several years later, she is working for a pimp who forces her to serve 10 or more customers a night, driving her to different locations in the city and suburbs, and keeps almost all the money himself. She wants to leave prostitution, but is emotionally and financially dependent on the pimp and afraid he will physically harm her if she tries to leave.

This story is a composite of very common situations, according to a groundbreaking study of 100 young prostitutes and their relationships with pimps released by DePaul University's College of Law and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on May 7.

Public and governmental attention has been increasingly focused on victims of international sex trafficking over the past few years, with immigration visas and social services offered to victims. By current legal and social definitions, the girl described above has not been trafficked. But advocates argue the DePaul study shows U.S.-born prostitutes working in the United States should, in many cases, be defined as trafficking victims, exploited and trapped in situations beyond their control. The House version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA, also HR 3887), passed overwhelming in December 2007, redefines trafficking to include many domestic prostitutes. If a similar bill is passed in the Senate and becomes law, it will mean that women -- and some men -- in this situation would be treated as crime victims deserving of resources and institutional support, rather than as criminals. And their pimps and traffickers would face increased criminal penalties.

Among other things, the legislation widens the U.S. Department of Justice's definition of trafficking, which currently hinges on the presence of "force, fraud or coercion." The House bill designates trafficking involving force, fraud or coercion as "aggravated trafficking" and expands simple trafficking to include other forms of deceit, manipulation and control including threats, verbal abuse and withholding of support. It also makes sexual tourism to foreign countries a crime akin to importing people to the U.S. for sexual servitude.

Major women’s groups including the National Organization of Women and Feminist Majority support the HR 3887 language (also known as the Wilberforce Act).

In coming weeks, Sen. Joe Biden is expected to introduce the Senate version of the TVPRA, which also includes provisions on slavery and child soldiers. Some advocates of HR 3887 are afraid the Senate version will be introduced without the expanded definition of trafficking, based on internal conversations with politicians. (Policy staff for Biden's office were not available to comment for this story.)

Samir Goswami, outreach and policy director of the legal advocacy firm Justice Partners Against Sexual Harm, said the DOJ is likely loathe to expand the trafficking definition because it would give them the responsibility to investigate and prosecute many more trafficking situations in the U.S. And it would bring more attention to the extent of commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. even as the country is gaining accolades for its fight against global sex trafficking. Goswami said HR 3887 mirrors the treatment of trafficking in the United Nations' Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, which was ratified by the United States.

"This federal bill just catches us up with the rest of the world," he said.

The federal Mann Act of 1910, which received attention during the Eliot Spitzer scandal, does criminalize interstate trafficking. But it is rarely used; it was left out of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); and it is associated with politically and racially motivated prosecutions such as that of boxer Jack Johnson for "transporting" his white girlfriend across state lines.

In Illinois, state legislation addressing domestic trafficking passed in 2005 but has not resulted in any prosecutions. If the language in HR 3887 becomes law, prostitutes arrested on city streets or in Internet sting operations would be questioned by law enforcement to determine whether they are trafficked or being forced to work against their will. "That's what they do for cases of international trafficking now," said Goswami. "Say someone goes to a Greyhound station, sees a 14-year old girl who has been abused and run away, he offers her a ride, shelter, affection and attention and she falls for him. He then sometimes uses force and the threat of rape to prostitute her, and even transports her to clients -- that's trafficking."

The DePaul study found that, in general, the vast majority of young women in prostitution are controlled by pimps and suffer worse conditions in terms of violence, number of clients and lack of autonomy the longer they stay in the trade. Sixty-four percent of women reported wanting to leave sex work, but 43 percent reported they could not leave without physical harm. Sixty-four percent of women also have a romantic relationship (usually an abusive one) with their pimp, adding extra layers of emotional vulnerability and manipulation to the situation.

The study found that 58 percent of women were transported to different locations for prostitution (26 percent out of state), 53 percent could not keep any of the money they made, and many were watched or guarded when not working -- hallmarks of trafficking situations.

"This is a highly organized sex trade," said Jody Raphael, co-author of the DePaul study. "They take these women to where they know there is demand" -- including Las Vegas or the state capitol when the legislature is in session. "To me, transportation and control equals trafficking."

The study also confirmed that a majority (57 percent) of women were deceived as to the conditions or terms of their work when they were recruited into prostitution.

For example: "He told me I would never get hurt. I get hurt on a regular basis." And, "He promised we would get rich, and we didn't. He promised no violence; there is violence."

Some sex workers rights groups think current laws are adequate to prosecute victims of abuse and exploitation, and they are afraid the revised bill would increase criminalization of sex work.

"We agree there need to be more resources for prostitutes, but this would say every prostitute is a crime victim, and resources should come out of crime victim money," said Juhu Thukral, president of the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center. "We don't believe every person involved in the sex work sector is the victim of a crime. You're changing federal law to say every act of prostitution or persuading someone into prostitution now constitutes this crime that can be prosecuted as sex trafficking."

Thukral said many advocates are worried the law could be used to launch serious trafficking charges against sex workers just trying to make a living.

"Say I am working tonight and I ask a friend, 'Do you want to work with me?' for safety reasons," said Thukral. "Now I could be prosecuted for encouraging prostitution."

The Young Women's Empowerment Project, a Chicago group of youth in sex work, said their experiences with police -- who often demand sexual favors -- and the court system give them no faith that abuses can be addressed through the justice system.

"Making more laws and hoops to jump through will not change this situation," the group said in a collective statement. "If adults really want to support young women who trade sex for money, they will keep us away from the criminal legal system -- away from cops and courts and social workers. They will ensure that we have the documentation and the skills that we need to achieve our goals, and they will offer us concrete assistance (jobs, housing, transportation -- where we set the terms of the assistance) rather than roping us in to a larger system that hurts us."

Raphael said that while she supports the expanded legislation, she doesn't think law enforcement is the key to ending domestic trafficking.

"Communities themselves have to say this is not acceptable," she said. "This has been normalized in many communities; that needs to change. Change has to come from the bottom up."

Great Lakes Endangered by Invasive Species

Zebra mussels, "bloody red shrimp," quagga mussels and round gobies are a few of the invasive species that have hitched a ride into the Great Lakes in the ballast tanks of ships over the past half-century. These critters have devastated native organisms and infrastructure, costing billions of dollars per year in harm to the fishing industry and to water intake systems. Zebra mussels alone cost U.S. taxpayers from $1 billion to $5 billion annually.

Most invasive species in the Great Lakes came from fresh waterways in Asia and Eastern Europe, and were transported in ballast tanks -- containers holding a mix of water, sediment and seaweed that's pumped into ships to stabilize them when they are not weighed down with cargo. When a freighter takes on a load, the ballast is pumped out.

For decades, environmentalists, legislators and fishermen have been demanding ballast water regulation.

Starting this shipping season in March, a rule passed by an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation called the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation will provide what advocates call a sorely needed stop-gap solution.

All ocean-going ships will have to rinse out their empty ballast tanks with seawater at least 200 nautical miles from the mouth of the Saint Lawrence Seaway that leads into the Great Lakes. This saltwater "swish and spit," as it is known, kills most freshwater invasive species. Advocates call this a big improvement on previously existing guidelines -- wherein U.S. Coast Guard regulations mandated that ships develop and report individual ballast water management plans.

"The shipping industry was saying they only wanted to work with the Coast Guard, but the Coast Guard wasn't getting the job done," says Joel Brammeier, of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a Chicago-based advocacy group.

The 1990 National Aquatic Invasive Species Act already mandates that ocean-going ships clean their ballast tanks at sea. But that law includes a loophole for ships claiming to have "no ballast on board." Known as NOBOBs, these ships make up about 90 percent of the ocean-going freighters -- or "salties" -- entering the Great Lakes.

Most salties arrive without ballast because they are loaded with cargo. But a residue of plant and animal life remains in the tank, and once a ship unloads at a port, it takes on ballast water that then travels to another port, where it empties the ballast -- along with invasive species.

The new rule, however, applies to all ships, including NOBOBs. "This rule is good but not good enough," says Jeff Skelding, national campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, a regional network of various environmental and advocacy groups. "Flushing will get rid of many but not all of the organisms in those tanks."

Ballast can be sterilized through several methods, such as using ultraviolet light, chlorination, filtration, de-oxygenation or chemicals.

In 2007, Michigan passed legislation requiring ships to certify their ballast treatment before docking at state ports. The law has so far survived an ongoing legal challenge from the shipping company Fednav International. Fednav, which didn't respond to an interview request for this story, has argued the law interferes with interstate commerce rights.

Wisconsin and Ohio are considering laws similar to Michigan's. Meanwhile, the Port of Milwaukee is working on a system to dump ballast onshore and treat it before returning it to Lake Michigan.

On the federal level, industry-supported legislation pending in the House and Senate would require ships to have on-board ballast treatment systems by Dec. 31, 2013. But the Coast Guard would be in charge of enforcing the law, and it could delay implementation indefinitely if it deems adequate technology for on-board treatment is not available.

The Alliance and other environmental groups oppose the federal legislation because, along with lacking an enforceable deadline, it would preempt state laws like Michigan's and would not force ships to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Last May, a coalition of environmental groups proposed a moratorium on ocean-going vessels in the Great Lakes until Congress passes meaningful ballast regulation legislation.

"It's a no-brainer," says Brammeier. "People are so frustrated because we know what the problem is and we know what the solution is, but no one is doing it."

Rolling Back the Regs

Emissions limits on coal-fired power plants, endangered species protections that inhibit logging, and restrictions on chemicals in drinking water have all been thorns in the side of the Bush administration.

But an executive order released on Jan. 18 with little fanfare could give the White House-controlled Office of Management and Budget (OMB) much greater control over such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With the new Democratic majority in Congress, the Bush administration has less power to pass laws that weaken environmental protections, worker safety, public health standards and the like. Critics fear the White House will now carry out its political agenda by dictating how federal agencies can interpret and enforce policies.

The order could have devastating consequences for environmental protections, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

"The Bush administration is now trying to do through administrative barriers and regulatory policies what it can't do through Congress," he says. "The administration has long been trying to change the Clean Air Act, forestry protections, and other environmental and natural resource statutes. The realignment of Congress clearly makes that more challenging. So they're turning to administrative processes that gum up the works."

(The OMB and the EPA did not respond to requests for interviews.)

A series of executive orders, the most recent being number 12866, have allowed the White House to review regulations before they are published in the Federal Register. The new order gives the OMB the expanded power to review "guidance documents" published by federal agencies.

Guidance documents are statements that explain how an existing regulation will be interpreted, implemented and enforced. In a worst-case scenario, the OMB review of guidance documents could take the nuts and bolts of interpretation and enforcement out of the hands of agency experts and turn it over to White House appointees with political agendas.

During a Feb. 13 House Science and Technology Committee hearing, Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) said, "It is not good government when agency action is based on economic or political back room deals rather than environmental or public health consequences."

The bulletin defines "significant guidance documents" meriting OMB oversight as those that, among other things, would result in "an annual effect of $100 million or more or adversely affect ... a sector of the economy." In other words, environmental or other regulations that would cost industry considerable amounts of money -- like cleaning up archaic coal-fired plants -- would be subject to extra administrative oversight.

The new executive order also raises the bar for what corporate activities warrant government regulation. It stresses "market failure" as the main standard for determining whether something should be regulated. A toxic chemical like mercury, for example, would only be subject to federal emissions limits if it is proven that market forces will not protect public health. This standard is particularly disturbing as it relates to adverse effects with long time delays, like climate change, the effects of which don't show up for years.

The order also calls for detailed cost-benefit analyses to be used in considering government regulation. And it authorizes a policy officer, appointed by the administration, to oversee each agency as a liaison with the OMB.

"It creates a new layer as far as annual priority planning goes," says Robert Shull, Public Citizen's deputy director for auto safety and regulatory policy. "[The officers] will have their hands on everything internally at the agencies. It will lead to political priorities shaping what should be public policy."

Watchdog groups Public Citizen and OMB Watch are particularly disturbed because these processes will likely be overseen by Susan Dudley, a hard-line anti-regulation ideologue. During her tenure at the industry-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Dudley opposed safeguards against arsenic in drinking water and smog.

"I read this as an invitation for Dudley to go on the attack, handing her an axe to chop Congress off at the knees," says Shull.

Critics fear the extra studies and proof required by the order could delay critical environmental, health and safety regulations from taking effect for years. Shull notes that guidance documents largely govern the implementation of the Superfund environmental clean-up program. The new regulations could cause massive delays in the already severely underfunded and bureaucratically mired program.

The OMB bulletin describes the executive order, which was published in the Jan. 23 Federal Register and takes effect 180 days later, as a way to increase government agencies' transparency and accountability. It mandates that electronic versions of guidance documents be available to the public, and that agencies accept public comment on significant guidance documents. These are arguably positive developments, but it does not obligate them to take action based on public comments.

Far from increasing public participation in policy, critics say the executive order does just the opposite. "This," says Learner, "is inside baseball in the extreme."

Civil Rights Attorney Barred from Airlines Flight

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Francisco "Kiko" Martinez, a Colorado civil rights attorney and long-time Chicano activist, was flying home from visiting family in Washington state. At the Salt Lake City airport, federal officials barred him from making his connecting flight back to Colorado. After they questioned and prohibited him from boarding his flight, he ended up taking a bus home.

Turns out he was on the "no fly" list, a shadowy roster of thousands of people the government has identified as potentially having links to terrorism. People can end up on the list because of legal political activity or membership in legal groups; or just because they have the same name as someone the government is keeping an eye on. Those erroneously listed have included an Air Force sergeant, an attorney, a minister and even children.

Since November 2001, the Transportation Security Administration has adhered to two lists: a "no fly" list that prevents people from boarding any commercial airliner and a "select list" that subjects them to extra screening and questioning.

In 2003 a broader "U.S. master terror watch list" combined 12 government lists into a register of more than 100,000 people. The list, officially called the FBI-CIA Terrorist Threat Integration Center, is meant to "create a structure to institutionalize sharing across agency lines of all terrorist threat intelligence," according to a government fact sheet.

Martinez likely made it onto these lists because of 1973 charges related to package bombs sent by Chicano activist groups. He fled to Mexico from Colorado, saying he feared for his life since local police officers were out to get him. He eventually went to trial in 1980 after crossing back into the United States. The charges were either dropped or ended in acquittals.

On three other occasions while driving, Martinez, 60, has also been detained by law enforcement for no obvious reason beyond his activist past. In July 2000, police held him after he got a speeding ticket in Pueblo, Colo., and in December 2004, in Morris, Ill., when he and his family were driving back from a national cross-country meet his son was competing in.

Most recently, he was detained on April 19, 2005. While driving back from giving a speech at the University of New Mexico, a state trooper and Pojoaque tribal officer pulled Martinez over. He was held while the officers called an FBI agent, who asked questions, then ordered his release. This summer he filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe challenging the detention.

And on Dec. 4, Martinez filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago, charging that Illinois state police and local FBI agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure during the Morris traffic stop. Since Martinez can't fly, at a Chicago press conference about the lawsuit, attorney Jim Fennerty of the National Lawyer's Guild placed his photo on an empty chair with a phone broadcasting his voice to media.

The next day, Martinez spoke with In These Times.

How did you end up on the watch list?

I was placed on the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF). Basically the only guidelines for being placed on that list are that a police officer nominates you. That's what we think happened to me. The government won't confirm or deny it. The only way we figured it out is on the police reports from Colorado and New Mexico it mentions the VGTOF.

What effect has this had on your life and work?

We supposedly have a constitutional right to travel, but I can't get on a plane. If I drive, even the slightest infraction can result in a detention of one to three hours or more. I have to be careful who I travel with because I don't want to subject most people to what I have to go through if I'm stopped.

And. of course, there's the racial profiling that happens on most highways. The time I was stopped in Colorado [in 2000], I think it was racial profiling. I was driving an Oldsmobile sedan fixed up nice, they probably thought a young gangster was driving it.

The world is a fast place these days, so this has really slowed me down, since I can't fly or drive long distances.

Do you truly feel you are not able to fly?

I wasn't allowed to fly before. I don't want to subject myself to that humiliation again.

How does the current surveillance and monitoring of activists or suspected dissidents--through things like the watch list--compare to the situation in the '60s and '70s?

The current technology enables them to access and use that data much quicker than in the '60s and '70s. Then, the police would have contact cards they'd keep on people. Now, they just type your information into a computer and it comes up.

Do you think the government intends this watch list to have a chilling effect on political speech or activity?

I'm sure they figured it would. It chills people's will to exercise their First Amendment rights. A lot of people are afraid they will lose their job or it will affect their family [if they get placed on a list like this].

I see this as the next generation of COINTELPRO [the infamous FBI program run from 1956 to 1971 which tried to destabilize dissident groups through harassment, surveillance and infiltration]. It's set up to destroy and neutralize things.

After Watergate and the Nixon era, there was a movement to prevent the government from spying on people unless they really had a reason to. But this so-called war on terror has given them a pretext to increase spying again. People are starting to speak out about it, but who knows when the next terrorist attack will happen? Then that will mean they can take away even more of our rights.

Along with activist histories like yours, what current activities or affiliations do you think are landing people on the list?

Environmentalists, immigrant-rights advocates, attorneys and individuals who speak out on behalf of those who are targeted, antiwar activists, media persons who are not embedded with the government, black nationalists, Puerto Rican independentistas, indigenous nation advocates and others who struggle against corporations and the government dominated by corporations [are all at risk].

You were involved in radical movements tied to violence 30 years ago. Do you think there's a valid reason for having you on a list like this?

The guidelines for the VGTOF say you must be part of an "ongoing organization." But these things happened 25 or 30 years ago. The state has such a long memory, even if generations of agents have passed on, they will keep you on the list.

But if they just followed their own guidelines, I wouldn't be on it. Also it says you can only be detained if they have reason to believe you have or are about to commit a crime. They had no reason to believe that with me.

Do you think this list is at all effective in preventing terrorism?

No, the way police usually find out something's afoot is through informants--being there on the street. This is just random stops and searches and seizures. Many people don't know their constitutional rights and will agree to searches.

As a tactical matter, it's hard to tell a policeman no. If you buck them a little, it gets them mad. With police so aggressive, with Tasers and steroid rages [refusing a search could mean trouble]. Most of the country's interstates are considered drug routes, so an officer could always use the pretext of the war on drugs.

What do you hope to accomplish with the lawsuits?

Something productive will come of it. At least we are able to engage the government, otherwise they would never talk to you about it. We're hoping by bringing more attention to this, more people will take steps to find out if they are on the list.

What do you think will happen with the cases filed in Chicago and New Mexico?

Well, they've assigned the Chicago case to Judge Amy St. Eve, [a Bush II appointee] who's hearing the Muhammad Salah case [a Chicago area grocer accused of financing Hamas]. She's made some terrible moves in that case. In New Mexico, the government is saying they don't want their agents deposed, they don't want discovery; that the case involves state secrets and national security.

Not all judges are falling into lockstep with the Department of Justice. Some judges are ruling against the government, so the Department of Justice is trying to settle cases so the Bush gang can continue its imperial presidency and be a secret government.

Are you hoping to get off the list?

I don't think you can ever really get off the list. They'll always have another generation of lists.

Target as Bad as Wal-Mart? You Decide

Shopping in a Target store, you know you're not in Wal-Mart. But the differences may be mostly skin deep.

Targets are spaciously laid out and full of attractive displays and promotions. While many people associate Wal-Mart with low-income, rural communities perhaps dominated by a prison or power plant, life-size photos throughout Target stores remind you that their customers are a lively, beautiful cast of multi-cultural hipsters.

"Their image is more upscale, more urban and sophisticated, sort of a wannabe Pottery Barn," said Victoria Cervantes, a hospital administrator and documentary-maker in Chicago who regularly shops at Target. "I'm not sure if their customers really are more upscale. But that's the image they're going for. They have a very good PR campaign."

In contrast to this image, however, critics say that in terms of wages and benefits, working conditions, sweatshop-style foreign suppliers, and effects on local retail communities, big box Target stores are very much like Wal-Mart, just in a prettier package.

Of more than 1,400 Target stores employing more than 300,000 people nationwide, not one has a union. Employees at various stores say an anti-union message and video is part of the new-employee orientation. At stores in the Twin Cities, where Target is headquartered, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Local 789 has been trying for several years to help Target employees organize, with little luck.

"People ask what the difference between Wal-Mart and Target is," said UFCW organizer Bernie Hesse. "Nothing, except that Wal-Mart is six times bigger. The wages start at $7.25 to $7.50 an hour [at Target]. They'll say that's a competitive wage, but they can't say it's a living wage. We know a lot of their managers are telling people, 'If we find out you're involved in organizing a union you'll get fired.'"

Wal-Mart has about 3,800 stores nationwide and another 2,600 worldwide, employing about 1.6 million people. Target plans to open at least 600 more stores by 2010, for a total of about 2,000 in 47 states. Like Wal-Mart, a typical Target sells a wide range of consumer goods including clothing, household items, office supplies, toys, sports equipment, furniture, art, and electronics; and the stores often have photo laboratories and pharmacies. About 160 SuperTargets nationwide also sell "upscale" groceries, as the company's website describes them, and often contain banks, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut Express outlets. Total revenue was up 12.3 percent in 2005 - $52.6 billion compared to $46.8 billion in 2004.

Wage Slaves

A survey by the UFCW found that starting wages are similar in Targets and Wal-Marts -- possibly higher overall at Wal-Marts - and that Target benefits packages are often harder to qualify for and less comprehensive. (Target's media relations department refused to comment on its wages and benefits policies; individual wages and benefits policies are not included in their annual report.)

"We know that Target and Wal-Mart are constantly checking each other out and seeing how cheap they can get by," says a UFCW statement on the website Targetunion.org, urging Target employees around the country to post their wages.

A Target employee who asked that his name and store location be kept secret said he can barely make ends meet on his salary of $8.40 an hour.

"After three years, I have received less than $1 an hour in raises. I started at $7.65," said the worker, adding that he does love his job because of camaraderie with his co-workers. "We are never compensated and rarely even recognized for meeting our goals."

The starting wage he describes would put a single parent with two kids working full time at Target just slightly above the poverty line; someone with more children or working fewer hours would fall below the poverty line.

Compare that to Target CEO Robert Ulrich, who earned $23.1 million in 2005, according to Forbes, making him the second-highest paid CEO in the retail sector. That's more than 1300 times as much as the worker we spoke to.

Sweat on the Racks?

Meanwhile a glance at labels on a few racks of stylish $20 cardigans and capri pants shows that, like Wal-Mart and most major clothing retailers, Target itself sources its products in India, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and other low-wage, developing countries.

In October 2005 representatives of a Mexican labor federation protested outside a Bronx Target to call attention to alleged child labor and illegal worker lockouts at a Mexican factory that supplies the store's Halloween costumes.

"The way the global garment industry is, there are so few factories that respect workers' rights that there is no way Target gets its clothes from workplaces where workers' rights are being respected," said Allie Robbins, national organizer of the group United Students Against Sweatshops.

Race to the Bottom

Target doesn't differ from most major clothing vendors; you usually have to seek out small specialty companies to find union-made, American-made textiles. But as one of the country's major retailers, Target is an industry leader, fostering and profiting from the U.S.'s general culture of consumerism: We buy, buy, buy at ever lower prices in a market system sustained by very low-paid, non-union workforces in impoverished countries.

Even as American consumerism thrives, however, there is growing public awareness and critique of the problems it spawns. Wal-Mart is becoming a lightning rod for the public's increasing dissatisfaction and animosity. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell showed that 63 percent of people would oppose a Wal-Mart opening in their community. Groups such as Wal-Mart Watch, several documentarians have harshly critiqued Wal-Mart's working conditions and its effects on communities and international labor standards.

But somehow, perhaps because of its relative small size compared to Wal-Mart, Target has largely avoided negative publicity.

In fact, it benefits from anti-Wal-Mart anger, a fact that isn't lost on company officials.

Media reports describe Target executives booing and hissing at a Wal-Mart logo during sales meetings and calling it the "evil empire." While communities often fight tooth and nail against new Wal-Marts, residents usually welcome Targets, as local governments offer the corporation generous tax breaks and subsidies to locate in their area.

That is what happened last fall in West St. Paul, Minn., where a new Target reaped $731,000 in local tax breaks, while 30 miles away, Ham Lake was fighting Wal-Mart's efforts to open a superstore. The Target in downtown Minneapolis received $68 million in public subsidies, according to the Star Tribune newspaper. In Chicago in 2004, a city-wide coalition formed to oppose two proposed Wal-Marts and the fight roiled the city council for months. Meanwhile at least three new Target stores have been built in the metro area in the last several years.

Target definitely works hard on its image. Last summer it became the first company to sponsor an entire issue of The New Yorker, with 17 pages of ads. With a 2005 advertising budget of $1.028 billion, it regularly takes out full page ads in major daily papers and magazines, promoting the company's products, and sophisticated image as well as its charity work. The company's website says that 96 percent of Americans recognize the Target logo, "more than the Swoosh or Apple." Unlike Wal-Mart's low-budget, cluttered decor, Target sports artsy, larger-than-life photos of everything from cleaning products to desserts to women in lingerie. It is the exclusive marketer of specialty items such as the Roots "retro-futurism" official gear for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Target's website notes that its average consumer has a median household income of $55,000, and 43 percent have completed college.

"It's like they're trying to be Marshall Fields or something," said Chicago high school student Stephanie Evans, shopping for a bikini for spring break. "But it's really the same things as at Wal-Mart, just at higher prices."

The first Target discount store opened in Roseville, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, in 1962. It was run by the Dayton Company, which originated in 1902 with a retail store called Goodfellows owned by George Dayton in Minneapolis. Along with the discount stores, Target Corp. runs Target Financial Services, which manages the Target REDcard credit card.

Target: We Train the FBI

Perhaps Target's oddest singularity is the fact that it boasts one of the nation's top forensics labs at its company headquarters. A product of its efforts to stop shoplifting and property destruction at its stores, its mastery of surveillance and investigative technology and strategy is now eagerly subscribed to by law enforcement agencies nationwide, including the FBI. The company provides training for police and federal agents on investigation and prevention of everything from arson and robbery to smuggling.

Target does more proportionately for the community in the form of community grants and charity than Wal-Mart does, and spends considerably less boating about it. According to the company website, which says Target donates more than $2 million a week to local and national non-profit organizations. The company gives grants of $1,000 to $3,000 to community organizations, and shoppers can donate 1 percent of Target REDcard charges to a local school. The website says more than $154 million has been donated to schools since 1997. The company also runs Target House, a luxury residential facility in Memphis where families can stay while their seriously ill children are treated at a nearby medical center.

In comparison, Wal-Mart, with revenue of $288 billion in 2005, donated $200 million (or 7/100ths of a percent) to charities and organizations in 2005, according to its web site.

While many customers and employees praise Target's charity efforts, critics counter that the company would have more positive impact on communities by providing living wage, stable jobs to local residents.

Following the general trend in retail and the U.S. job market as a whole, Target relies on part-time workers. This schedule may work well for some students and retired people, but it contributes to a dearth of full-time, fully benefitted, stable employment - especially in communities reeling from the store's impact on small local businesses.

"If I needed a full time job I couldn't afford to work here," said "Rosa" a 57-year-old who works part time at a St. Paul Target near her house. (Her name has been changed because she fears retribution.) "It starts at $7.50 an hour and you only get a 50-cent raise once a year. So how long will it take you to even get to $10 an hour! You can't live on that."

Diversity Dilemma

Target's website says diversity is a core value for employees and customers. It says Target is above national averages in employing minorities, both in the overall workforce (21 percent) and managerial positions (38 percent).

But that may depend on the store. Hesse said that some of the many Somalis refugees employed in the Twin Cities stores complain about cultural insensitivity and discrimination.

"Entry level management people just don't know how to handle it, they seem to be insensitive to immigrant workers," said Hesse. "In one store, there's a lot of friction between managers and Somali workers. They hire these young white boys as managers, and then they run a crew of Somalis with a very condescending attitude."

An African-American employee at the flagship Roseville, Minn. store (who asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution), said she feels as if she constantly suffers racial discrimination. She said there are no black supervisors on the overnight shift she works. "There are a lot of Somalis working on the overnight shift, but no Somali team leader." She said she is tired of young white "team leaders" repeatedly telling her to work faster or do things differently.

"It's the same conversation over and over," said the middle-aged woman. "They treat us like we're kids. And they'll approach you in front of other crew members, not in the office or somewhere private."

She thinks she was unfairly given a document from management saying she needed to increase her work speed.

"I feel like I was discriminated against because I'm black," she said. "I talked to white co-workers who I was working side by side with, and I could see I was working just as fast as them. I asked them if they had to sign the paper [from management] saying they were too slow and they did not. The majority who got the "guidance" slips were Somali or African-American like myself."

Beat the Clock

Workers generally complain about a pressurized and patronizing work atmosphere where they are constantly pressed to work harder and faster and at the same time to act cheery and invested in the store's success. The company's website boasts that workers will respond with "cheetah-like" speed within 60 seconds to customer calls on the red phones throughout the store.

Rosa said employees are constantly exhorted to get shoppers to sign up for Target REDcards; some stores have weekly quotas. "They'll have little employee promotions, it's so ridiculous, you'll get candy or a liter of pop if you get two people to sign up," she said.

She said the store is generally understaffed and workers are expected to do numerous jobs at the same time.

"You're running around, feeling like you're being pulled in every direction," she said. "There's never enough people on the sales floor. You're getting calls to come up to the cash register, to do pulls [of merchandise] in the back room, to deal with returns at guest services, all at once. And the whole time you're constantly picking up and folding stuff, getting things off the floor. At my age it's a really hard day, on your feet the whole time on these linoleum floors. I'm aching when I get home. I have to take Ibuprofen just to be able to sleep."

John Hayden had a similar experience working in a Target distribution center near his home in Oconomowoc, Wisc. After quitting his Target job in 2002, he was diagnosed with a hernia which he blames on lifting up to 700 boxes a day.

"It was hard work," said Hayden, who was in his late 50s at the time. "We never produced enough to keep the middle managers happy. I think they plan it that way - they always want more."

Could it Be Different?

In today's market, could retail really be any different? Fair labor advocates think so. Hesse notes that in several unionized grocery stores in the Twin Cities, hourly wages hover around $13 to $17 an hour, roughly double Target's. Now SuperTarget's sale of groceries threatens the survival of union grocery stores.

Even other major big box retailers have managed to pay significantly higher wages and achieve higher employee retention. The prices at Costco Wholesale Corp., the nation's fifth largest retailer, are competitive with those at Target and Wal-Mart, but it pays full-time employees an average of around $16 an hour along with generous health benefits.

Costco pulls this off by offering fewer brands of each item, keeping infrastructure costs low and forgoing advertising; and the company also benefits financially from low employee turnover. Labor advocates also note that The Container Store is known for decent wages and good working conditions.

"We've turned into a nation of consumers, not citizens," said Hesse. "We need to make retailers and employers bring back the old social contract where if you work hard and give them full time, they have to treat you with some degree of dignity and pay you enough that you don't need to worry about your basic needs all the time."

Resisting Mountaintop Removal in Tennessee

Appalachian Tennessee, Nov 15 -- Paloma Galindo's chihuahua skittered ahead of her, jumping back in surprise when a small cascade of loose rocks and dirt at the Egan Mountain mine in Tennessee tumbled down a jagged cliff created by the type of mountaintop removal mining that has left the mountains of Appalachia increasingly scarred, pocked and leveled.

Galindo, an environmental activist with the group United Mountain Defense who has come to know the mines of Tennessee like the back of her hand, gestured toward a scrub-covered hillock at the end of a gently sloping meadow, a "reclaimed" strip mine that was once home to lush forest.

"It looks like it's back to its original shape, but it acts like a big sponge," she said of the hillside, which was reconstructed out of rubble after part of the mountain was blasted away to get at coal seams. "It's all broken rock slapped on there and compacted with no hydrological system, so it will soak up water, and five years down the line you'll get massive landslides. Then the mining company will have already bonded out so the cost will fall on the taxpayers."

During a flyover of Egan and other mines in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky the next day, landslides of the type Galindo was describing were visible: gashes of jumbled gray boulders, upended trees and debris cutting through the autumn colors.

From the air, the North Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee look like the coat of a once-beautiful animal with a debilitating case of mange. Mountaintops are laced with strangely shaped bald spots, where trees give way to brushy undergrowth. Giant hunks have been bitten out of the mountainsides, revealing sores of crumbling sand, broken rock and black tar. Once-neat layers of sediment are visibly torn asunder, cascading down hillsides. Strange top-hat-shaped protrusions of land rise up sharply. For miles and miles, it looks as if someone took a giant potato peeler to the side of the range.

And six days a week, fleets of enormous dump trucks and bulldozers crawl along the open wounds of the earth, drilling, blasting and extracting truckloads of shiny black coal.

Even after decades of drilling, digging and blasting, Appalachia is still rich in coal -- 28.5 billion tons of it according to a 1998 US Department of Energy. And coal, in the eyes of the Bush administration, is the energy source of the future. The White House's energy plan designates the black rock as one of the country's main sources of fuel, and calls for 1,300 new coal-burning power plants by 2020. The relative efficiency of strip mining versus the more traditional "deep" mining means that coal companies can harvest more coal faster and with fewer workers.

Setting Up the Battleground

Activists view Tennessee as an important proving ground in the fight against mountaintop removal since the pace of destruction is accelerating rapidly and there are still more state environmental protections in place in Tennessee than in neighboring states. But activists in Appalachia say the environmental and cultural price of powering the country with coal -- especially when it is mined through techniques like mountaintop removal -- is too high.

The harshest effects of mountaintop removal can be viewed in West Virginia, where mining companies have decapitated roughly 300,000 acres of mountains and filled in about 1,000 miles of streams with rubble. Mountaintop removal is also practiced in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

This fall the US Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies released an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the effects of mountaintop removal mining. The statement, part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed in West Virginia in 1998, catalogued sundry negative effects of the practice but concluded that better cooperation between federal agencies and a better permitting process could lessen the harm. Environmentalists called the EIS a green light for coal companies to proceed with mountaintop removal.

In Tennessee, the process is officially called "contour mining," when the sides of a mountain are excavated, or "cross-ridge mining," when the peak is shaved right off. They do not call it "mountaintop removal" because Tennessee law mandates the mountain must be "reclaimed" and rubble cleared from the streambeds. However, environmentalists say the process and effects are virtually the same.

In order to reach coal seams in the mountains, mining companies literally blast off their tops. The debris is pushed down the mountainside, creating a "valley fill" at the base, or stored in large piles where it can deposit minerals and ooze toxic metals and compounds into rivers and groundwater.

The EPA website dispassionately describes the hazards of this process: "The impact of mountaintop removal on nearby communities is devastating. Dynamite blasts needed to splinter rock strata are so strong they crack the foundations and walls of houses. Mining dries up an average of 100 wells a year and contaminates water in others. In many coalfield communities, the purity and availability of drinking water are keen concerns."

In Tennessee, strip mining became common in the 1970s but tapered off in the 1980s due to dropping coal prices. However, in the last few years, mountaintop removal mining has quietly resumed with vigor in Tennessee, mainly in the eastern part of the state near the Kentucky border.

Tennessee has always been a relatively minor player on the national coal scene; the US Office of Surface Mining (OSM) reports that in 1997, the most recent published numbers, it produced less than a third of a percent of the nation's coal, with 5,021 acres of active surface mining and 58 acres of underground mining. Though coal extraction has picked up considerably since then, the state still lags far behind nearby West Virginia and Kentucky in production.

Unless enough local residents demand a public hearing, new mine proposals go through rapidly without any public notification or comment.

However, activists view Tennessee as an important proving ground in the fight against mountaintop removal since the pace of destruction is accelerating rapidly and there are still more state environmental protections in place in Tennessee than in neighboring states.

As Dangerous as it is Destructive

In 1977 President Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMRCA), which mandated that mine sites be restored and remediated. States have implemented the law in different ways, and it allows for exemptions, which are frequently granted.

In West Virginia, little is done to restore sites. In Tennessee, companies are supposed to restore the site to their original form, a task critics say is unachievable. Instead of restoring the mountains to their prior, tree-covered lushness, they leave gently sloped, grassy hillsides and golf-course-like plateaus. The rubble from blasting is packed back onto the mountain, compacted to the point that it is hard for trees to take root, and sprayed with "hydro-seed," a chalky, green mixture of seeds producing hardy but not necessarily native grasses and shrubs that quickly sprout on the reformed land.

Because of the heavy compaction and the destruction of topsoil, trees and diverse forest systems are unlikely to regenerate on the patches for a long time. Instead of rain filtering naturally through the mountain sediment, it sheets off the compacted hillsides causing flooding and landslides.

Mountaintop removal mining is also dangerous both for workers in the blast areas and for surrounding communities. In August 2004 in Wise County, Virginia, a three-year-old named Jeremy Davidson was crushed to death when a half-ton boulder dislodged from a strip mine, tumbled down a hillside and crashed into his family's home in the middle of the night. A&G Coal Company, which argued the accident was an "act of God," was fined only $15,000 by the state mining agency.

In Tennessee, workers at a Perkins restaurant along I-75 still remember the accident in 1993 when "flyrock" -- the debris flung by the blasting process -- shot out 225 feet from the interstate and killed sixteen-year-old Brian Agujar, a tourist from Louisiana.

Responsibility for that incident was borne by Sugar Ridge Coal Co. Already about $8 million in debt, Sugar Ridge was found in violation of its permit for simultaneously blasting two rounds of explosives in one hole, instead of separately in two holes as required. A special permit restriction had been placed on the company by OSM the previous year because of earlier flyrock violations. The worker detonating the blast was later sentenced to five months in prison and the company fined $550,000, but since it went bankrupt after the accident, the family was never able to collect.

Several groups of residents here, shocked to realize the extent of the strip mining going on in their area, have been working doggedly to stop the mines wherever possible and slow down the process.

One front in that battle has opened around water pollution. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), charged with regulating the state's water quality, must issue permits for mining operations that could affect state waterways. Activists are pressuring the TDEC to impose stricter water protections.

Currently if a mine is polluting the water, TDEC can fine them and demand a remediation process, according to a TDEC spokesperson, but it cannot actually issue a stop-work order. State legislation (SB 0142, HB 1328) that could be voted on next year would empower the Tennessee government to put stop-work orders on polluting operations.

Meanwhile, opponents are pressing TDEC and Governor Phil Bredesen to ban mountaintop removal altogether on the grounds that it violates the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977.

A Long, Uphill Struggle

Acknowledging the economic realities of the area, the groups trying to stop mountaintop removal generally say they are not opposed to deep mining, which has its own drawbacks but makes much less of an environmental impact and also creates more jobs than mountaintop removal.

Unless enough local residents demand a public hearing, new mine proposals go through rapidly without any public notification or comment. So local activists -- every one a volunteer -- regularly visit the OSM office to find out what permit applications are on the table, write lengthy comments and demand public hearings.

The activists say that by challenging permits, they have slowed down the mining process considerably and caused the size of several mines to be reduced.

But companies have found ways to circumvent regulation. They construct mines consecutively, creating huge projects that are treated legally as a series of small efforts and thereby subject to less scrutiny. This is the modern-day version of an infamous Tennessee practice banned in 1987 known as the "string of pearls," in which mining companies develop a long string of strip mines of only a few acres each to avoid needing a permit.

The modern practice, now called "segmentation," has essentially the same effect on an even larger scale. For example, from the air, Galindo pointed out the Cooper Ridge mine, run by Apollo Fuels Ltd., a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips. The Cooper Ridge project stretches for miles, snaking around the sides and tops of many peaks. Even though there are no breaks in the slice taken out of the range, it is legally multiple mines. ConocoPhillips did not return a request for comment on this story.

"If you look at it on a permit-by-permit basis, it's all mines less than 5,000 acres," said Galindo. "But they're all connected to each other, so it's really one massive mine. And each additional mine makes it easier to get more permits, because they say it isn't a pristine mountain; it's already impacted, so what's one more mine?"

Last summer, United Mountain Defense held a month-long program called Mountain Justice Summer to give activists from around the country a crash course in the politics and effects of mountaintop removal. They toured mine sites, attended public hearings about proposed permits and engaged in direct action. Some protesters used locking devices to create a barricade at the entrance to Zeb Mountain, where National Coal Corporation, founded in 2003, is now mining up to 2,000 acres. Authorities arrested eleven protesters.

The company's website says National Coal "easily identified and quickly capitalized on opportunities within the South Appalachian region," so "the company is riding high on new demand for coal." National Coal spokesman Charles Kite declined to comment in detail, saying only that the company has received "a lot of harassment" over Zeb Mountain.

Mountain Justice Summer participants also conducted "listening projects," visiting the homes of community members around Zeb Mountain to hear their thoughts on the situation. They said most were hesitant to speak about mining, and attributed the silence to the long history of violence and intimidation against people who challenge coal companies in Appalachia. Activists also said there is a long-standing acceptance of and pride in mining work.

"When we were doing the listening projects, the older people had all these stories about how life was shaped by the coal mining companies," Galindo said. "If a company would stop mining for a while, whole towns that had been thriving with theaters and everything would become ghost towns in a matter of months. Then a new company would open up, and people would move to that spot. There's a long history of being impacted by coal; this isn't new for them."

Straight to the Top

While President Bush's initial nominee for director of the Homeland Security Department, Bernard Kerik, withdrew himself from consideration amidst questions over numerous scandals, civil libertarians say the administration's new pick to head the department raises other serious concerns.

Michael Chertoff, Bush's new nominee to replace outgoing Secretary Tom Ridge, faced a congressional hearing today, as lawmakers questioned him on plans for security budget priorities, labor relations within the department, and other issues surrounding protection of national security. Senators also asked Chertoff about his commitment to balancing national security concerns with protecting civil liberties and about his prior involvement in designing post-Sept. 11 detention and interrogation policies.

It is Chertoff's previous role in the Justice Department as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division and his reported involvement in many of that agency's most controversial policies that has rights groups questioning his fitness to serve as head of what the American Civil Liberties Union dubbed "a new and untested agency with great influence on civil liberties."

A long-time lawyer, Harvard graduate and past editor of the Harvard Law Review, Chertoff earned a rating of "well qualified" from the American Bar Association, and few doubt his talents as an attorney or thinker. Chertoff most recently served as a federal judge, a post he resigned for the opportunity to head the Department of Homeland Security. But human and civil rights groups are raising serious questions about Chertoff's respect for constitutional rights and his role in the domestic "war on terror."

If his nomination is approved, Chertoff will be charged with overseeing everything from legal immigration and the granting of foreign workers' visas to guarding the country against terrorism.

At the top of the list of his critics' concerns is that Chertoff is credited as the architect of a post-9/11 government policy to hold hundreds of people indefinitely for minor visa violation or under the premise that they were "material witnesses" in terrorism investigations, without having to provide evidence they were involved in any criminal activity.

This controversial policy was the subject of a harsh Department of Justice Inspector General report, which found that shortly after 9/11, the government cast a very wide net in its investigation into the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, detaining hundreds of immigrants, most of whom had virtually no connection to people involved in the attacks. The inspector general further found that many of the individuals were held for weeks and even months without access to legal counsel or information about the charges against them. Many of the detainees suffered brutality at the hands of guards while in detention, as evidenced by videotape.

A few senators brought up Chertoff's involvement in crafting the Justice Department's investigation and subsequent detentions and asked him if he believed the policies carried out by the Department as detailed in the inspector general's report were appropriate.

Chertoff responded that the abuse was illegal and that he hopes in the future prison authorities will be better trained in dealing with detainees. He also expressed hope that improvements in information gathering and sharing will enable the FBI to more quickly clear and release people detained under suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

He did not, however, eschew the policy of detaining people who are merely suspected of being involved in terrorism, but against whom there is no evidence.

Civil liberties advocates also criticize Chertoff for his key role in developing the USA Patriot Act and other laws giving the FBI increased powers of secret domestic surveillance; his direction of the widely criticized systematic interviews of Middle Eastern men after 9/11; his participation in revising the internal Attorney Guidelines to allow the FBI to infiltrate religious and other gatherings with undercover agents; and his co-authorship of a brief in the Supreme Court case, Chavez v. Martinez, in which Chertoff argued that there is no constitutional right to be free from coercive police questioning as long as the resulting statements are not intended for use in a criminal trial.

"We are troubled that [Chertoff's] public record suggests he sees the Bill of Rights as an obstacle to national security, rather than a guidebook for how to do security properly," the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office associate director Gregory T. Nojeim, said in a press statement.

The Patriot Act has been at the center of a heated struggle between civil libertarians and the Executive Branch. Passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Act is a sweeping set of laws providing unprecedented power to law enforcement to conduct investigations. Widespread grassroots organizing has sprung up in communities throughout the nation as people have realized that some of the provisions give authorities increased surveillance and search abilities and inflated powers to obtain personal information.

To date, four states and 365 cities and counties have passed resolutions condemning various aspects of the Patriot Act and reaffirming their commitment to protecting civil liberties.

When asked by Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) if there are aspects of the Patriot Act that should be changed, Chertoff responded, "I don't know as I sit here that I am aware of any particular systemic criticism of that Act that comes to mind."

Kareem Shora, director of legal policy for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said their members are worried about Chertoff. "Definitely we have concerns given his history with the Department of Justice," Shora told The NewStandard. "We certainly hope the Senate exercises its powers to review his record in protecting the Constitution."

Though Chertoff is reported to have been one of the architects behind the campaign of "voluntary" interviews held between federal agents and thousands of Muslim and Arab immigrants, which led to several hundred deportations but netted no viable terrorism suspects, no senator asked him about that policy during the hearing.

Along with his investigations of Middle Easterners and people suspected by the government of involvement in terrorism, Chertoff is known for having prosecuted high profile mob and white collar criminal cases in his previous role as federal prosecutor.

Additionally, civil rights groups have praised Chertoff for the key role he played in shaking up a campaign of racial profiling among New Jersey's state police force in 2000, though they note the apparent transition from condemnation of such practices to the aggressive application of them on a nationwide basis.

Chertoff has earned the respect of many Democrats by declining to align himself with the far right of the Republican Party, especially on charged issues like school prayer and abortion. But the Alliance for Justice, a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations, notes that from 1994 to 1996, Chertoff served as special counsel in the Whitewater investigation, which yielded no charges and which many Clinton supporters saw as a politically motivated campaign.

"[He] has had a long career in Republican legal circles," wrote the Alliance in a report on Chertoff. "His behavior in the Whitewater investigation and his current role in the War Against Terrorism raise questions about his partisanship and his belief in the civil liberties of all people."

"It's quite obvious [Chertoff] is completely willing to take any part of American due process and throw it out the window if it suits our security needs," Leonard Cavise, a professor of criminal law and evidence at Chicago's DePaul University law school, told The NewStandard.

During the confirmation hearings, there also took place a series of questions from senators about a recent New York Times article that anonymously quotes "current and two former senior officials with firsthand knowledge of the interaction between the CIA and the Justice Department," who claim that the Central Intelligence Agency consulted Chertoff on the legality of various interrogation techniques. According to the Times' sources, Chertoff, then head of the FBI's criminal division, told the CIA that some techniques were legal under some circumstances. One such technique is known as "water-boarding," a procedure in which a detainee is strapped down and made to feel as if he is drowning. Others, including injecting detainees with mind-altering drugs and threatening subjects' families were deemed not acceptable, the Times article said.

When asked about that piece, Chertoff denied under oath that he had ever endorsed specific techniques and insisted that he did not think it was his institutional role to condone certain actions ahead of time. Instead, insisted Chertoff, he told lawyers for the intelligence community that they should study the law carefully and make sure to act well within it.

The Other Virus

Although hepatitis C has often been called the "silent epidemic" (since 75 percent of people who carry the virus don't know it), with at least 4 million people in the U.S. now infected, hep C is starting to make itself heard.

"It's clear it's a significant public health problem that hasn't received the attention it needs," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "When I was in medical school it wasn't even talked about. We called it 'non A or B hepatitis' and it was this gray area that wasn't thought to be a big deal. It turns out it's a very big deal."

Such a big deal that former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop calls hepatitis C "an even graver threat to our public health" than AIDS. Nearly four times as many Americans are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) as with HIV. Each year, 8,000-10,000 Americans die from hep C-related disease.

Some people carry the virus throughout their lives and never experience symptoms. Others will develop serious, even fatal liver disease. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control, out of every 100 people infected with HCV, up to 85 percent may develop chronic liver disease; and anywhere from five to 20 people may develop cirrhosis over one or two decades. Up to 5 percent of infected people will die.

Those who become ill can require costly treatment regimens and in some cases liver transplants, of which hep C is the leading cause. With a shortage of donor livers, many patients die before receiving a transplant (the American Liver Foundation says more than 18,000 people are currently awaiting a liver transplant). As if these concerns weren't enough, researchers at the University of British Columbia have just discovered a link between hepatitis C and cancer, with HCV-positive individuals six times more likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Unlike other forms of hepatitis, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

'C' Is For Confusion

The virus that causes hepatitis C was only discovered in 1989, so awareness is still slowly growing. Doctors and health promoters are doing their best to break the silence around the epidemic, believing that increased testing and education about prevention and management are crucial to stemming its spread. Education is also vital for those who are infected, since the harmful effects of this slowly progressing disease can be greatly reduced if it is detected and treated early on.

So how do people get hep C? Only through direct contact with contaminated blood – from syringes, unsterilized tattoo needles or contaminated inks, unsterilized manicure equipment, during accidents, and from blood transfusions prior to 1992. The virus cannot be spread through casual contact, and is only rarely transmitted through sexual contact.

Injection drug users – who, contrary to stereotypes, are a diverse group of people not confined to low-income communities – are at particularly high risk of contracting the disease from shared needles. Healthcare workers and others who come into contact with blood in the course of their work are also at risk. And hep C is running rampant in prisons, with the rate of infection in some prisons estimated at more than 80 percent.

Like most communicable diseases, the spread of hepatitis C could be greatly reduced through public awareness-raising, testing and subsidized treatment. But public health professionals agree there is a serious lack of emphasis placed on hepatitis C by government and private bodies, including a lack of funding for its prevention, treatment and education.

While hep C is an equal opportunity virus, crossing class and race lines to affect a wide range of people, the CDC says the disease is more prevalent among low-income people and people of color, with African-Americans the hardest hit group, followed by Native Americans, Hispanics and whites.

Slowing the Progression

Drug treatment, most often using a combination of the drug interferon and ribavarin, can significantly slow the progression of the disease and in some cases actually cure it. However this regimen costs up to $30,000 year, so it isn't an option for many uninsured or underinsured people, and community health providers note that many low-income people who could benefit from the treatment are steered away from it or never even told it exists.

"It is not my experience, in nearly 10 years of HCV and needle exchange work, that interferon is easy to get," said Laura Jones, a health worker with the group Test Positive Aware Network in Chicago. "We work with pretty marginalized people, and it's expensive, no one really wants to spend that much money on many of the folk who come through our needle exchange even if it would be beneficial to them."

Uninsured or underinsured people are also far more likely than insured people to forego checkups and delay treatment until absolutely necessary. Therefore they often aren't even diagnosed until their disease is in the later stages. Interferon therapy is not considered advisable in patients with advanced cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

"Someone who doesn't have insurance and doesn't go to the doctor for regular checkups is more likely to find out about the disease when it's too late to do anything," noted Georges Benjamin.

On the flip side, interferon treatment often has severe side effects – some patients say the cure is worse than the disease, and complain that doctors prescribed interferon therapy without disclosing how rough it would be.

The Herbal Route

After her husband Kevin was diagnosed with advanced liver disease resulting from hepatitis C infection 10 years ago and told he didn't have long to live, Patty Krueger devoted her life to spreading awareness of HCV. Her husband decided to forego drug treatment, having heard horror stories about interferon's side effects. After some lifestyle changes, including quitting drinking and taking a medically approved herbal regimen, his health greatly improved. (Since some herbs, such as mate tea and pennyroyal, are toxic to the liver, doctors recommend doing thorough research before taking herbs or other natural remedies.)

Krueger said she gets calls from many people who have had bad experiences with interferon and feel they weren't adequately warned of the risks and side effects.

"It can be really nasty for some patients," she said. "We encourage people to get a second opinion and get all the information they can."

Krueger said when they started trying to publicize the disease, they met resistance from both governmental agencies and the general public.

"[Potential funders] would tell us hepatitis C isn't 'hip' yet," she said. "And it's a hard thing to raise money for. We'll have bake sales and people shy away, they act like we're giving out free samples of it or something!"

"There's a terrible lack of funding for hep C education, prevention, testing and treatment," added Tracy Swan, the Coinfection Project Director at the Treatment Action Group in New York. "We don't even have the money for surveillance of chronic and acute cases."

Free needle exchanges are considered to be one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease. Yet there is a federal ban on funding these programs, and there is often political and community pressure against allowing them to locate in a given community, because of the stigma and the erroneous belief that they encourage drug use.

With the death toll from hepatitis C expected to triple in the next 10 to 20 years, the "silent epidemic" could become a major burden on the health care system. Fortunately, there is some hope on the horizon.

"I think the pharmaceutical industry has realized that hepatitis C is a very common problem, and they're now pouring the resources into it that they poured into HIV and AIDS some years ago," said Dr. Adrian Di Bisceglie, medical director of the American Liver Foundation. "I think it will be a few years before we see the first of those drugs, though."

Rape Nation

As a new officer in the Air Force who trusted the institution and the men she worked with, Dorothy Mackey didn't think she would ever be sexually assaulted by her fellow servicemen. She was wrong.

When a military ob-gyn did things during an examination that didn't seem right, soon after she joined the service in 1983, she tried to rationalize her disturbing thoughts away. When she had another bad experience with a military ob-gyn in 1986, at the Spangcahlem Air Force base in Germany where she was stationed, it was harder to look the other way.

"He sodomized me," she said. "I started looking into what happens in a normal ob-gyn examination, and that is definitely not supposed to be part of it."

But when she was violated again about a year later, it was clear. Her group was on a training mission in Spain, passing some downtime by playing volleyball. By this time she was a sergeant, in charge of many of the enlisted men there.

"I had had a few drinks, but I know my body really well and I was not drunk," she said. She asked a male friend who was a first sergeant for a drink of water, but after two gulps of it, she realized something was very strange. She demanded to know what was in the drink, but soon she was staggering and losing her balance.

"In college everyone has had their moments, but I never experienced anything like that," she said. "I knew I had been poisoned."

She staggered inside and began violently vomiting.
"He was standing at the door laughing," she said of the supposed friend who gave her the drink.

"When I had nothing left to throw up I passed out and he took me to his room. I woke up and there were four men in the room playing cards, I remember them laughing and saying, 'Sergeant I've never seen you like this,' like they were glad I had loosened up and was enjoying myself. I passed out again and the next time I came to, he was on top of me, penetrating me. I remember telling him no and then passing out again. I woke up again to a loud knock on the door, someone who was concerned about me asking how I was doing. He was hiding behind the door naked with a full erection. I knew if I didn't do something I would be raped again."

Despite feeling like she didn't have the energy to move she pulled herself out of the room and down the hall, she said. Later when she tried to complain to her superiors about the rape, no one wanted to hear it.

Dorothy Mackey is not alone. She and other women veterans recounted their experiences at the National Summit of Women Veterans Issues in Washington, DC June 19th and 20th. As an officer, scores of women had come to Mackey and told her about abuse and rapes they had suffered, by officers, fellow enlisted men and doctors. Many of the attacks involved servicemen intentionally getting women drunk or drugging them and taking them off base.

"When you are a new woman walking onto a military base, you are like a deer and it's deer hunting season, but you don't know it," she said. "You think you can trust these people, you believe in the mission you are on together."

In 1992, Mackey quit the service, mainly because of the repeated incidences of sexual assault and domestic violence and other wrong-doing that she had seen go unpunished on the base. In 1994 she filed a civil lawsuit in a district court in Dayton, Ohio against the specific men who had assaulted her, including the superiors who abused her when she tried to report the previous assaults. The Justice Department decided to represent the defendants, so the case was moved to federal court. The Department of Justice attorney said the case should not be brought to trial on the grounds that it constituted a threat to national security, representing a "disruption of good order, morale and discipline." After making its way through the appeals courts, it ended up in front of the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case in 1998 and again in 2000.

Meanwhile Mackey founded a group called Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAMP) to fight the rampant rape and sexual abuse in the military and demand justice and reform. She says over 4,300 women have contacted her about being raped or assaulted while in the service, and in the vast majority of cases watching their attackers go scot-free while they are humiliated and threatened for speaking out about the attacks.

At a press conference during the National Summit of Women Veterans Issues, women cited surveys indicating that up to 50 percent of military women have experienced sexual assaults, and 78 percent have experienced sexual harassment. Because of the intimidation and harassment that women face for reporting assaults, the military's own numbers are much lower. But even so, they show a rise in assaults over the past few years. An analysis of Army records and reports published by The Washington Post on June 3 showed that reported sexual assaults increased 19 percent from 1999 to 2002, from 658 to 753, and rapes increased 25 percent, from 356 to 445.

A May 27 report from an Army task force stated that the Army "does not have a clear picture of the sexual assault issue" and lacks an "overarching policy" to deal with the problem. The report was prepared because of complaints by women's groups and lawmakers about apparently increased assaults against servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the National Summit, women pointed out that far from being an isolated problem, the military nurtures a culture of sexual violence and contempt for women that is linked to the rape and sexual abuse of women in occupied countries or countries where the U.S. has military bases, as well as rapes and assaults of women in U.S. prisons and jails. Rapes and sexual assaults are also often known to be high in U.S. cities and towns with military bases. On June 28, a Nashville T.V. station reported that Fort Campbell soldier Johnathan David Loynes was arrested for violently kidnapping 10- and 13-year-old girls who lived nearby and trying to force them to perform oral sex on him.

"It's all connected," said Phoebe Jones, a member of the group Global Women's Strike, which is joining STAAMP and other women's groups in a campaign to "STAAMP Out Rape by the Military."

"You have prison guards here, like Charles Grainer [implicated in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal], who go to Iraq and abuse people there. Then you have soldiers come back from Iraq or Afghanistan getting jobs as prison guards, and they rape and abuse people. The military could stop it if they want to, but they don't want to. They're socializing men into doing this."

Global Women's Strike has been in contact with women's and human rights advocates in Iraq who say women detainees and civilians are regularly raped and abused there. A press release they put out alleges that as part of the inquiry into abuses in Iraqi prisons, Congressmen have been shown photos of gang rapes and other abuses of women.

"They're suppressing the photos of women being raped because the public would just be outraged," said Jones.

The STAAMP Out Rape campaign is demanding that:

1) an oversight body independent of the Department of Defense investigate all rapes and assaults by military members;

2) that the Veterans Administration (VA) must provide benefits and care to rape and assault survivors;

3) that women be allowed to choose a female health care provider; that reports of rape be treated seriously; and

4) other measures ensuring that there is accountability and that the problem is taken seriously.

Currently, servicewomen are not allowed to request a female ob-gyn or to deal with a female investigator after reporting an assault. And servicewomen who suffer post traumatic stress disorder or other physical and mental effects from being raped or assaulted report that they are often unable to obtain health care or benefits from the VA, with VA doctors and officials denying that their trauma exists or saying that it isn't service-related.

One of the campaign's demands is an end to the use of the so-called McDowell checklist to determine whether rape reports are valid. The checklist, developed by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charles McDowell, is made up of 57 questions that are scored with .5 to 5 points for each answer. A score of over 16 points means a woman's rape charge is "probably false," over 36 is "false" and over 76 is "overkill." If a woman is having problems with her husband or boyfriend, she gets three points. Financial problems earn one point. Even "demanding" to be given medical treatment by a female earns her a point.

"There is no way any rape victim can pass this test," said Mackey. Considering the seeming irrelevance and bias of the questions, it is not surprising that the McDowell checklist turns up a 60 percent incidence of "false" rape reports, compared to a national average of about eight percent (according to FBI numbers).

Other statements McDowell has made over the years show his blatant contempt for women. The book "For the Love of Country" by T. S. Nelson quotes a woman who attended a 1992 Air Force Office of Special Investigations seminar given by McDowell, in which he said women who make rape allegations fall into three categories: "narcissists, socio-paths and immature, impulsive, inadequate, types."

His apparent belief that women make rape accusations mainly to get attention is belied in some of the checklist questions, for example does the woman "describe the assault with a sense of relish or enthusiasm."

While women bear the brunt of rape in the military, advocates point out that as seen in Abu Ghraib, both enlisted men and male detainees in foreign countries are also raped and abused, and these attacks are likewise hidden. Speakers at the National Summit said that there is often also a racial element to sexual attacks and harassment.

A male veteran who was sexually abused in the military said that "soldiers are trained to take whatever they want, whether from fellow servicemen or Iraqi detainees, and they know they will be protected."

Mackey sees this culture of arrogance paired with misogyny and resentment toward women in the military.

"There are multiple agendas to the attacks," she said. "There are those who don't want women in the military, and who want to rape them out. And there are those who see civilians [in foreign countries] as 'practice' and don't care what happens to them. Rape is one of the greatest tools of war, and our government is essentially saying that rape of human beings is acceptable. We are a rape nation and this is all being done in our name."

Saved by the Court?

On March 31, the International Court of Justice in the Hague issued a decision demanding the U.S. provide meaningful review of the cases of 52 Mexican nationals on Death Row, since they were not provided their right to consular assistance after arrest, as guaranteed in the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The ruling is particularly urgent since one of the Mexicans, Osvaldo Torres Aguilera, convicted of a double murder during a 1993 robbery, is set to be executed in Oklahoma on May 18. This could be a precedent-setting victory for human rights and immigrants rights proponents and death penalty opponents. Or it could be a case of deja vu.

This isn't the first time the court has demanded the U.S. halt or review the executions of foreign citizens. The court ordered the U.S. not to execute German citizen Walter LaGrand, after his brother Karl LaGrand was executed on Feb. 24, 1999. The U.S. did it anyway, killing Walter on March 3, 1999. The court later ruled that the U.S. violated the rights of the brothers to obtain consular assistance. In August 2002, Mexican President Vicente Fox, often touted as a close friend of George W. Bush, canceled a scheduled visit to Bush's Texas ranch in protest over the execution of Mexican national Javier Suarez Medina, a drug smuggler who killed an undercover agent in 1988 thinking he was "just another drug smuggler," in his words. Despite the opposition of Mexico and 13 other countries Suarez was executed by lethal injection, in Texas, the same state where, as governor, Bush oversaw the execution of 130 people including foreigners. Mexico filed a complaint regarding the then-54 Mexican nationals on Death Row with the International Court in January 2003, and in February 2003 the court asked the U.S. to delay three scheduled executions, of Torres, Cesar Fierro Reyna and Roberto Moreno Ramos, while it considered the case.

Since the vast majority of death penalty cases and all of the cases involving Mexicans are in state, not federal courts, Bush's direct power to order reviews is limited. It is up to the state's individual courts and governors to order reviews or grant stays of execution. But David Elliot, communications director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, noted that Bush could have a big influence. "Bush can't step in and stop it, but he could apply pressure, use the bully pulpit, call the Governor of Oklahoma," Elliot said. "Will he do that? The record does not suggest he will. It’s possible some states will, on their own initiative, take the ruling very seriously and other states will totally ignore it. Eventually this issue is going to go to the U.S. Supreme Court because eventually we're going to have circuit court decisions that will be in conflict with each other."

Of the 52 men, 28 are in California prisons, 16 in Texas and the others in Oregon, Oklahoma, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Arkansas and Ohio. Two of the men originally named in the case had their sentences reduced by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan as part of his sweeping death penalty reform and commutation actions in 2003. In all, there are at least 87 foreign nationals on Death Row in the U.S., and at least 14 have been executed since 1993 with the Vienna Convention being allegedly violated in 11 of those cases. "We don't ask that our prisoners be released," Mexican ambassador Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo was quoted as saying on the Global Policy Forum web site in December 2003. "But what we do demand is that a country which chooses to impose the death penalty respects in an extremely careful manner its legal procedures, including international law."

The Bush administration hasn't yet issued a statement on the Hague ruling, though State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli was quoted calling it "a very complex ruling" and saying the government "will decide on appropriate steps." The U.S. delegation in the International Court case was represented by William H. Taft, great-grandson of the former U.S. president. In his opening remarks in 2003, he warned the court not to interfere in the U.S. justice system.

The International Court's ruling didn't call for the invalidation of the verdicts or sentences for the men, or even mandate retrials, just reviews. In that sense, many analysts described it as something of a compromise. Elliot noted that at the very least consular assistance would have helped the men obtain better legal representation, which he says "in many cases would have meant the difference between life and death." "What's the most important factor that determines whether you get a death sentence?" he asked. "It's not how egregious the crime is, it's the competency of the lawyer. They say it's reserved for the worst of the worst, but it's really reserved for those with the worst lawyers." The U.S. has long stood nearly alone in the industrialized world and much of the developing world for its use of the death penalty, and foreign countries haven't taken kindly to having their citizens executed here.
But in general international opinion has usually done little to sway these cases. One thing that could make a difference this time are the pending November elections, where the Latino vote will be crucial in general and in key states like Florida. Bush might also be more receptive to the International Court's decision since he is slowly mending fences with Fox after several years of severe tension over Suarez's execution, Bush's broken promises regarding immigration reform, the tightening of U.S.-Mexico border security after the Sept. 11 attacks and Mexico's refusal to support the war in Iraq. Fox met with Bush at his ranch in Texas on March 6, with the planned executions being one of the topics they discussed. Latino voters in the U.S. may or may not identify with the plight of the Mexicans on Death Row -- especially in the cases where the men have admitted guilt, they aren't likely to automatically have the sympathy of their countrymen. But on a larger level, the planned executions are just one more example of the U.S.'s arrogance and hypocrisy on the world stage; its practice of demanding special treatment for its own citizens abroad while denying basic rights to foreigners in the U.S.; and its refusal to respond to world opinion and even the decisions of a prestigious body like the International Court. "When U.S. citizens go abroad and face arrest, they demand consular assistance," said Elliot. "Foreign citizens here should be entitled to no less. That's the bottom line."

Many Latino voters, even Republican ones, are fed up with this double standard and general attitude of U.S. supremacy, which shows up especially starkly in regards to Mexico and the dualities of the border regions. So in this sense the execution issue may indeed figure strongly in the November elections, and the Bush camp may indeed listen to Latino and international opinion on the issue and support the International Court's decree.

The International Court was set up by the United Nations in 1946 with the mission of providing diplomatic solutions to international conflicts. It is made up of 15 judges from different countries and rules on cases ranging from military to human rights to treaty issues between its 60-plus signatory states. It has no real power to enforce its decisions, and the U.S. and other countries have flaunted its wishes. In 1984, the U.S. refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction in a case brought by Nicaragua regarding the U.S.'s economic and military support of the right-wing Contra guerrillas opposing that country's socialist regime. The U.S. actually has a special status under the Vandenburg Reservation allowing it to disregard the court's decisions under certain circumstances.

While the International Court's recent decision could be a key factor in U.S.-Mexico relations and the November elections, death penalty opponents and human rights groups working on the death penalty issue see it as just another piece in the already overwhelming file of proof that the U.S. is out of step with world opinion in its use of the death penalty.

Critics of the criminal justice system also point out that the men's denial of consular assistance is just one example of the violation of rights and racism that Mexican immigrants and Latinos in general are subject to in the U.S. criminal justice system. Latino immigrants are regularly arrested, processed and even tried, convicted and imprisoned without ever having adequate translation services or explanations of their legal rights, notes the National Council of La Raza, and Latinos are being incarcerated at rates proportionately as high or higher than any other ethnic group.

There are about 100,000 Mexican citizens currently in U.S. prisons, not to mention hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens of Mexican and other Latin American descent. "We are very disappointed at the treatment of Latino adults and youth in the criminal justice system and in the state and federal prison system in the United States," said La Raza civil rights analyst Angela Arboleda. "Minorities are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites, and Latinos fare worse than all other minority groups except possibly African-Americans. And for immigrants with language barriers there are whole other issues. There's just a lack of resources for immigrants. It's an overall picture of injustice."

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

MoveOnPAC Takes On the White House

George Bush strides confidently in the background, looking strong and presidential. As the images taken from his campaign ads referring to the Sept. 11 attacks scroll across the screen, a voiceover intones, "George Bush shamelessly exploited 9/11 in his campaign commercials." Soon after, we hear the voice of Bush's former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke: "Frankly I find it outrageous that a president is running for re-election on the grounds he'd done such great things on terrorism. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11."

bushThis advertisement, which aired on CNN and Fox between Mar. 30 and Apr. 3, is part of a new campaign put together by MoveOnPAC.org. It is part of a coalition of 28 groups that aim to help fill the $100 million-plus fundraising gap between presumped Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his rival, George Bush.

Since its founding in 1998, MoveOn.org has grown from an upstart cyber-activism group to an organization with a membership two million strong known for its immense grassroots clout. The affiliated MoveOnPAC.org was founded in 2000 specifically to support candidates in key races. During the 2002 elections, MoveOnPAC.org raised about $4 million for various races. Last fall it targeted Arnold Schwarzenegger during the California gubernatorial recall election with edgy ads highlighting his attitudes toward women.

This time around, preventing Bush's reelection is MoveOn.org's main goal -- a goal supported by over 23,000 donors who responded to a Mar. 24 appeal for donations with about $1 million in just three days.

Campaign observers say that the MoveOn Voter Fund, which runs ads exposing President Bush's failed policies in key battleground states, and similar groups like the Media Fund (run by former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes), will play a significant role in the election, but it is still unclear whether they will have an impact on the outcome.

"It's sort of undefined," says Evan Tracey, the COO of TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group, a non-partisan political and media affairs tracking firm. "There's no real precedent for this in America politics. What they can accomplish is keeping the heat up on Bush and driving his negatives up."

And that's exactly what MoveOn.org executive director Eli Pariser hopes the ads will do. "With millions of jobs lost and rising healthcare costs, the only thing this administration has left to run on is its supposed leadership in countering terrorism," he says. "Now we know that there, too, the administration dropped the ball. This ad strikes at the core of Bush's case for re-election."

This unabashed targeting of Bush explains why "527 groups" (named for the section of the tax code they operate under) such as MoveOn Voter Fund and others are raising GOP hackles. Republicans claim that efforts by such groups represent illegal campaign donations.

In a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission, the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee called 527s part of "an unprecedented criminal enterprise designed to impermissibly affect a presidential election." According to the complaint, "this illegal conspiracy of donors and shadowy groups" is spending "soft money" of the type off-limits to political parties under McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform laws. Moreover, the Republicans accuse these groups of illegally coordinating their activities with the Kerry campaign, noting that Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, is currently advising some of the media groups.

Some analysts equate the status of the MoveOn Voter Fund to groups such as the NRA, and are skeptical that the FEC will censure them. "The Republicans are just whining now because the progressives are doing what their allies have been doing for years," said Steven Hill, senior analyst with the Center for Voting and Democracy. "The NRA and the Christian Coalition have been doing this for years. It's about time the progressive side caught up."

The 527s are in a legal gray area, says Tracey. "It's a case of it being easier to ask forgiveness than permission," he adds.

While there is no doubt that Kerry will be glad to have MoveOn's anti-Bush ads on air, MoveOn and other activists don't necessarily see the battle as solely between Bush and Kerry, and the ads reflect that perspective.

Pariser says that MoveOn ads are designed to spark discussion and media coverage, exponentially increasing their effect. "We hope that if we're really nimble and strategic, we can amplify the truth. Just by getting these ads out to a small group of people they will continue to circulate to the greater public," says Pariser.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger, director of the Midwest Democracy Center, agrees: "I think it's a problem if we define people against Bush only as Kerry supporters. This is about raising issues that need to be talked about regardless of the Democrat/ Republican debate."

While the high-profile national TV ads will be combined with local grassroots campaigns, Hill and other say that the key to the campaign's impact lies in its ability to target swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri and Ohio.

"Sometimes national ads aren't as effective, because the message that resonates with a national audience may not resonate as well in those crucial fifteen states," notes Hill. "If MoveOn is doing national ads on TV, maybe they have something to learn from the NRA. The NRA doesn't do national TV ads, they target each state with tailored messages."

Coming during the height of the 9/11 commission hearings and amid growing public skepticism and despair about progress in Iraq, MoveOn is betting that its national message will have resonance at the local level. "The MoveOn ads are essentially saying out loud what people have been saying to themselves: that the Bush administration lies," says Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Others believe that in order to affect the outcome in November, MoveOn will have to go further than just attacking Bush's record. "The problem they have is that they don't really stand for anything, they don't have a strong answer. Attacking Bush is an easier sell from a message standpoint when you're a political party or an individual candidate," says Tracey.

When it comes to message, however, Pariser is confident that MoveOn has the White House beat. "You can spend million and millions on an ad campaign that says nothing, that's what Bush did with these really nice-looking ads with no substance," he says.

But substance alone will not suffice. To affect the outcome in November, folks at MoveOn will have to learn to apply their considerable power with laser-like precision. All politics is local -- so indeed is this race for the presidency.

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

Ladies Last

Polls currently show that women, who vote less predictably than men, may choose the next president of the United States. In doing so, they will be affecting the fate of women around the world. A look at the last four years gives an indication of what�s at stake.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration rejected a United Nations resolution that would have encouraged the release of women and children hostages and helped prevent acts of rape, sexual violence and sex slavery against hostages. The U.S. was the only member of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women to reject the resolution. Why, in the midst of his so-called War on Terror and during Women�s History Month, would the administration refuse to sign a resolution condemning violence, rape and torture against women hostages?

The government rationalized their refusal by pointing out that the resolution contained language reaffirming the Beijing Platform, an historic agreement on women�s and children�s health and rights reached during a 1995 Beijing meeting that built upon an encounter in Cairo in 1994. During ongoing meetings about this platform over the past few years, Bush officials had failed in their attempts to delete the words �reproductive health� and �condoms� from the document and to restrict teen�s access to sexuality education and services. Because these words were still in the document, the U.S. rejected the resolution.

�This is a devastating blow to women around the world,� said June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women�s Environment and Development Program, in a statement about Bush�s refusal to sign the U.N. resolution. �The actions of the Bush administration mean more women will continue to die because of inadequate reproductive rights and health programs.�

During a teleconference from a meeting of reproductive rights agencies in Chile the day before the UN vote, women�s advocates from around the world blasted the Bush�s administration attempts to stifle international family planning services and his budget cuts in world development programs that will directly impact services available to women in Latin America.

�We see this as a manifestation of a larger war on women�s safety and dignity,� said Kavita Ramdas, leader of the Global Fund. She points out that Attorney General John Ashcroft does not support regulations imposed by former Attorney General Janet Reno to grant asylum to domestic violence survivors. Ashcroft is reportedly reconsidering Reno�s decision in the asylum case of one specific Guatemalan woman, Rodi Alvarado, whose husband has threatened to kill her if she returns home.

Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Bush administration has specifically said it is supporting greater rights for women, reports from Madre and other human rights organizations show otherwise. Fundamentalist practices are reportedly as bad as ever in Afghanistan and political forces poised to take power in Iraq are if anything more regressive in regards to women�s rights than Saddam Hussein�s regime. The crushing poverty and destruction in both countries as a result of the U.S. invasions hits women and children hardest.

Policies on the world stage mirror policies at home in the U.S., where the last four years have seen dramatic changes in reproductive rights, health care, child care and education, and affirmative action. Most recently, with the appointment of federal appeals court judges William Pryor and Charles Pickering, the administration is fostering a national and judicial climate where the separation of church and state becomes almost non-existent. Pickering, appointed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, has called for a constitutional amendment making abortion illegal. And Pryor, appointed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, has called Roe v. Wade �the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.�

Other judicial nominees currently being considered by Bush are equally dismissive of reproductive rights. They include Priscilla Owen, who tried to rewrite Texas state law to outlaw choice; Carolyn Kuhl, who urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade during the Reagan years; Janice Rogers Brown, who voted against assuring women equal coverage for contraception on the Supreme Court in California; and Diane Sykes, a Wisconsin judge who praised two abortion clinic protesters and gave them lenient sentences. Another nominee, James Leon Holmes, has called pro-choice activists �Nazis� and has said that �the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.�

With the passage of the so-called �partial birth abortion� ban last year, a term so vague it could apply to almost any procedure done in the third trimester, the administration not only made abortion inaccessible to many women who need it for serious health and social reasons -- it also sets a precedent to make healthcare providers leery to perform even abortions that don�t fall into this category, for fear of being erroneously prosecuted.

Earlier this year Ashcroft subpoenaed abortion-related records from hospitals including Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago and the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York to see if abortions they did were �medically necessary;� clearly invading the privacy of women and doctors in an intimate and personal decision and procedure. The Justice Department also tried to subpoena the abortion records of six Planned Parenthood affiliates as part of their defense against a lawsuit challenging the partial birth abortion law.New York congresswoman Louise Slaughter called the subpoenas �the latest example of this administration�s willingness to go to any length to restrict a woman�s right to choose.� Facing intense pressure, the Justice Department dropped its subpoenas in the Planned Parenthood case, and a federal judge in Chicago blocked the subpoenas against the hospitals.

The National Organization of Women notes that during an announced summer 2001 campaign by anti-abortion extremists, Ashcroft originally refused to provide protection to clinics including a Kansas clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller, who had been shot by extremists in 1993. Only after pressure from abortion rights groups did the Justice Department provide protection in keeping with the FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act.

The administration has cut health care for poor, working class and even middle class Americans in general, and women, especially single mothers, are likely to bear the brunt of the cuts. Senate bill 2061 specifically attacks the health care rights of women. This bill, titled the �The Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies� Act, puts a $250,000 cap on a woman�s ability to sue for malpractice relating to gynecological and obstetrical services. The bill not only protects doctors but more importantly the insurance companies and drug manufacturers who have so much pull with the administration.

�If this bill passes and is signed into law, women and their children will pay the price,� said National Organization for Women executive director Kim Gandy. �The supporters of this legislation are seeking to deny justice to women, some of whom may never be able to have a child� as a result of the malpractice.

Through judicial appointments, proposed legislation, and a foreign policy that puts financial and political interests ahead of human needs, women�s lives are being decided by the Bush administration. Come November, U.S. women may choose to change that.

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

The Civil Liberties Candidate?

If you judged it only by the general lack of daily protest, it would appear that people have adapted easily to increased security at airports and buildings, stepped-up surveillance, and various other manifestations of the war on terrorism in everyday life. "We're ordered to disrobe [at airports] and we just do it," said Dan Johnson-Weinberger, a lawyer and director of the Midwest Center for Democracy in Chicago.

But that doesn't mean everyone is happy about it. The three largest cities in the U.S., representing over 20 million people, have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act and reaffirming the Bill of rights. People of all walks of life and across the political spectrum have a general sense that the government is going too far with its security measures and incursions into private lives.

But are these concerns reflected by the presidential candidates? Between talk of the war in Iraq, the war on terror, NAFTA and other free trade agreements, tax cuts, corporate corruption, race relations and the usual squabbling between candidates, there hasn't been a whole lot of talk specifically about civil liberties during the build-up to the election so far.

Of the presidential candidates, Dennis Kucinich is the most vocal proponent of civil liberties. But if he continues to draw such low numbers in the primary, his role may be more to remind other candidates of this issue. "In opposing the Patriot Act, Kucinich leads in the defense of civil liberties," former New York Green Party candidate for governor Stanley Aronowitz said in his endorsement statement. "I believe his stand against the war on Iraq and for popular elections to choose a new government is consistent with his strong pro-democracy position."

In the view of Johnson-Weinberger, Howard Dean initially stood out as a champion of civil liberties, but the other candidates were quick to follow, not necessarily singling out the issue but making it a given part of their platforms.

"Everyone has taken on Dean's position as far as civil liberties, so you can't really say anymore that there's one candidate who is the civil liberties candidate," he said. "No one's made it a centerpiece but it's always included as part of the Bush administration's failings and over-reachings. The flip side of the administration's arrogant and abusive foreign policy is an arrogant and abusive domestic policy. Anytime [the candidates] mention Ashcroft that's code for civil liberties. He's the only cabinet member that the candidates talk a lot about wanting to remove."

One of the points in Sen. John Edwards' campaign platform specifically mentions Ashcroft's attacks on civil liberties. His web site says that, "Edwards believes that we don't have to sacrifice our liberties or our equal rights in order to preserve our security. America cannot allow this administration and John Ashcroft to use the war on terrorism to take away our civil rights, take away our liberties, and take away our freedom."

However voters don�t seem to be voting based on where the candidates stand on the Patriot Act. Sen. John Kerry, who has won every primary so far voted for the PATRIOT Act. So has Edwards, the only other candidate so far to win a primary (in South Carolina).

Kucinich's director of communications, David Swanson, notes that he is the only candidate who has flat-out promised to repeal the PATRIOT Act. (Spokespeople for the other Democratic campaigns did not return calls for this story.)

"Some of these other candidates are saying they'll review the act line by line and decide what to do with it," said Swanson. "Dennis has already read it line by line and he voted against it. He's committed to completely reversing it and other policies that aren't doing us any good."

While they don�t speak directly about the Patriot Act, most of the Democratic candidates have made equal access to education, access to health care, pay equity and fighting hate crimes and racial profiling parts of their official platforms.

Johnson-Weinberger noted that two key groups of voters are likely to care most about civil liberties. One would be the traditional liberal Democrats -- "ACLU members, they tend to be white, better-educated, wealthier," he said. The other group would be conservatives who have been specifically alienated by attacks on civil liberties. And among this group, a core constituency is socially conservative Muslims who previously might have voted for Bush .

"It's not just the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, it's the detentions and registrations and harassment," he noted. "But there is also the fact that many Muslim immigrants don't vote in primaries. Their vote will figure more into the general election."

In an interview before the New Hampshire primary, Johnson-Weinberger said he thought civil liberties would be an especially important issue in that state's primary because it is an open primary, where voters don't have to be registered Democrats to vote, and there is not a moratorium on registering to vote within the month before the primary, as there is in some other states. This means that the vote is more accessible to people besides Democrats who feel strongly about a particular issue like civil liberties.

"You get swing voters, the Perot-type people, [who aren't necessarily Democrats but] think Ashcroft is going too far," Johnson-Weinberger said. "These people don't figure in primaries much except in states like New Hampshire."

However Kucinich, one of the stronger candidates on civil liberties, wasn't even in the top four in the New Hampshire primary while Kerry, who voted for the PATRIOT Act, won. Does this mean that civil liberties will be a non-issue in the general election, despite the fact that the Bush adminstration has done more to erode civil liberties than any President in at least fifty years?

Come the general election, most agree that the Bush administration will continue their tactic of using fear to motivate the public and gain acceptance for more repressive policies. "The Bush administration uses fear very powerfully," said Swanson. "It was used very effectively to promote the war in Iraq."

The Democratic candidate will have to counter this tactic by casting the defense of civil liberties as patriotic and essential to maintaining our "freedom," a task which shouldn't be too hard to do given that civil liberties, -- as opposed to Bush's military might and authoritarian domestic policies -- really are what freedom in this country is all about.

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

The Socially Responsible Santa

Socially responsible Santas will have lots of choices this year for giving gifts that are not made by young women making pennies in sweat shops or drenched in toxic pesticides or bought at dirt-cheap prices from farmers in Third World Countries.

Socially responsible, organic, union-made and fair trade products have become increasingly popular with consumers over the past few years, and the holiday season, when even anti-capitalist types give in to the urge to splurge on gifts, is one of the prime times for this movement.

Plenty of stores, ranging from mainstream chains like Starbucks and Urban Outfitters to local boutiques and co-ops offer fair trade, union-made and organic alternatives. As the anti-sweat shop movement has gained increasingly visibility in the past few years, there are plenty of internet-based distributors that offer certified union-made, sweat-free casual clothing -- a number of them are compiled on the site Union Mall (www.NoSweatShop.com).

Unfortunately union-made clothing can't quite compete with the cheap prices of mass-produced textiles available at Wal-Mart and other super discount outlets that use sweatshop labor. Stacey Harrington, founder of the sweat-free, union-made company UnionThreads, learned this the hard way when her Boston area shop was forced to close its doors on Dec. 5. Harrington started her business two years ago out of the back of her truck, after being laid off from her own union job, and opened a store a year later. Now the web site includes only a plea for shoppers not to patronize Wal-Mart.

"The Union Mall confronts individual consumers with the same ethical dilemma that the management of major corporations face," notes the Union Mall web site in regards to UnionThreads' fate. "Pay a fair price for labor or pay the lowest price possible. The choice is yours. If you support us now there will be many more choices next year."

Numerous web sites also list different companies that are guilty of using sweatshop labor. The biggest offender is Wal-Mart, which has been awarded the Maquila Solidarity Network's Sweatshop "People's Choice" prize for the third time in four years (Disney won in 2001). Another Web site, www.sendcoaltowalmart.com, lets people send "coal" and a holiday message to the company's CEO about their labor practices.

Though sweat-free retailers do need to charge slightly higher prices, many of the options are completely reasonably priced, competitive with higher-end sweatshop offenders like The Gap. For instance the company Sweat X, which sells goods made by a co-operative of former maquila workers in L.A., offers an organic tote bag for $14.95 and an organic peach or powder blue tank top for $13.95. Meanwhile The Union Jean & Apparel Co. offers stone-washed relaxed fit jeans for $27.99 and a hooded fleece for $37.86.

"This is a growing trend," said Union Jean co-founder Lawson Nickol, who along with two friends started the company in Arcanum, Ohio this August after becoming disenchanted with the global garment industry where he had worked for some years. "The people have been out there wanting to buy American and buy union for a while, but now they're finding out where we are."

Maggie's Functional Organics, an Ypsilanti, Michigan-based company that sells over the Internet and at stores around the country, offers its socks, bedding, camisoles, mittens and other products at what manager Vernon Rowe described as "high-end" prices. A three-pack of socks will go for $19, compared to about $6 for Hanes or the like. But Maggie's customers know they are getting 100-percent organic materials made by people making living wages. One of the company's projects is working with a women's co-operative in Nicaragua called Maquilador Mujeres, where they buy their camisoles at fair trade prices.

"People are more and more interested in living healthy lifestyles, helping the environment, saving the world," said Rowe. "Buying our stuff is part of that. It's an overall good thing."

While most people associate organics specifically with food, buying organic clothing is another meaningful way to support environmental protection and workers' rights. Cotton workers have been referred to as the sweatshop workers of the fields; one of the worst things about the back-breaking, low-paying job is the fact that workers are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals. Over 14 pounds of pesticides are usually used on one acre of conventionally grown cotton, including the highly toxic compounds chlorpynfos and cyanazine.

Meanwhile clothing isn't the only realm where people can buy responsibly. Fair trade coffee has been a big issue for years now, with coffee being the U.S.'s second largest import after oil. More recently fair trade tea and cocoa products are also on the market. Fair trade essentially means that local growers in developing countries are paid a decent price for their products, about $1.26 per pound for coffee at the moment, and that the producers don't have ties to multinational companies or paramilitary groups.

Since some companies might make misleading or fraudulent fair trade claims, the organization Transfair USA certifies companies as meeting internationally agreed on fair trade standards, and Transfair's web site offers a directory to find fair trade products in your area.

"For a while the fair trade coffee market was doubling every year," noted Rodney North, the "answer man" for Equal Exchange, a democratically run, worker-owned co-op based in Boston that started selling fair trade coffee in 1986. "Last year it grew about 40 percent, and more and more companies are getting on the bandwagon."

He noted that the market for fair trade chocolate and other cocoa products is a relatively new development.

"People are hearing about the exploitation of cocoa workers in West Africa, so this is a direct way of responding and helping push the industry toward ethical practices with our dollars."

Arts and crafts from developing countries are always popular gifts, and again the purchaser has the responsibility of determining whether the creators of these products were paid fair prices. The Mennonite non-profit organization Ten Thousand Villages was one of the pioneers of the fair trade movement, starting to buy crafts at fair prices from villages in developing countries in 1946. The group offers countless household goods, jewelry, crafts and other goodies at stores around the country and over its web site.

And the company EcoPlanet is just one of a number of major companies that have sprung up to meet the relatively affluent consumers' interest in ecologically and environmentally friendly home furnishings and products. At stores and over the internet, EcoPlanet offers enough products to outfit an entire house in green gear, if you have the money.

"The hot gift this holiday season (in our humble, green-leaning opinion): anything recycled or organic," says an article on the Organic Consumers Association website. "Demand for home products made from recycled or organic materials grew by 66 percent in 2001 and continues to rise, according to research conducted by New Hope Natural Media in Boulder, Colo."

Among EcoPlanet's offerings are organic hemp hammocks for $199 and a "stylish high-tech composter" made from an oak Bordeaux wine barrel -- for $275.

A composter is surely a better choice than a brand new SUV or a sweatshop-made wardrobe, but these kinds of products and prices might also serve as a reminder that one of the best ways to be ecologically and socially responsible is the simple DIY approach -- do it yourself. Make your own composter out of recycled materials, knit a scarf or paint a picture. As they say, it's the thought that counts.

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

The Taste of Freedom

The laundry room in Robert King's New Orleans home has been overtaken by pralines. Trays of them sit on every surface, and the sweet sticky smell of the pecan, sugar and cream concoctions pervades the small room and wafts throughout the rest of the house.

Pralines are a tradition in New Orleans, but King's have an extra spin on them. He calls them "Freelines," a reference to the freedom he gained on February 8, 2001. King had spent the previous three decades in the infamous Louisiana state penitentiary in Angola, an 18,000-acre prison built on the site of a former slave plantation that still functions as a farm with convicts, the majority of them serving life sentences, as the farmhands. There King would make pralines on a tiny stove made from a tin can and toilet paper.

King was not only incarcerated for 29 years at Angola, but he spent all of that time in solitary confinement. The state claims that was because when he arrived at Angola from the Orleans Parish Prison in 1972, where he had been sent for armed robbery, he was "under investigation" for the murder of guard Brent Miller that had recently occurred at Angola. Then in 1973 an inmate was killed in a fight at Angola, and witness testimony sans any physical evidence implicated King (who at the time was known as Robert King Wilkerson).

King always maintained his innocence in the inmate murder, and his codefendant, Grady Brewer, testified all along that he alone had committed the murder in self-defense. King's conviction hinged on the testimony of two inmates who later changed their stories, and revealed that they had been forced to implicate King.

Following that testimony King was released on a plea bargain. He and his international network of supporters maintain that it was not the murder of the inmate or the guard -- which occurred when King was over 100 miles away in New Orleans -- that led to his confinement in solitary, but rather his membership in the Black Panther Party and the fact that he was among the inmates carrying out literacy, self-esteem, anti-rape and other programs at the prison.

King is now free, but two of his close friends -- Albert Woodfox and Herman "Hooks" Wallace -- are still in solitary confinement, having been there over 30 years for Miller's murder. If it weren't for that charge, both would have already been released after serving the sentences for armed robbery that brought them to Angola in the first place. Like King, Woodfox and Wallace were vocal members of the Black Panther Party, active at a time when the party was gaining popularity in the prison and officials were trying their best to suppress it, placing party members in solitary confinement and forcing prisoners to shave their Afros.

There is no physical evidence linking Woodfox and Wallace to Miller's killing, and there are plenty of examples of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in their convictions, including the exclusion of women and African-Americans from the juries. It was later revealed that the only supposed eye-witness in the cases, inmate Hezekiah Brown, received regular payments of cigarettes for his testimony, and later he was even pardoned and released thanks to the warden's intervention. In 1992 Woodfox was granted a new trial since women and African-Americans were excluded from his jury.

Again, the system seemed almost laughably stacked against him. Among other things, one of the grand jurors convened for an investigation preceding his retrial was Anne Butler, the wife of warden Murray Henderson, who had presided over the original Miller murder investigation. The two had co-written a sensational book about the murder, and admitted they had distributed the book to other grand jurors. When the trial was finally started in 1998, Woodfox was granted a change of venue, presumably to a more neutral location. But the new venue turned out to be Amite, the small town where Miller's family lives. Not surprisingly, Woodfox was again convicted. (And bizarrely enough, the warden Henderson is now incarcerated himself for shooting Butler five times.)

Along with the men's ongoing appeals of their criminal convictions, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the three men, charging that their three decades in solitary confinement violate the 8th and 14th Amendments, constituting cruel and unusual punishment and the denial of due process. The suit, which names warden Burl Cain as the defendant, was filed in 2001.

In October 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the state that would have prevented the suit, clearing the way for it to go forward. There have been other lawsuits about the conditions of solitary confinement around the country, including suits regarding the Supermax solitary units at the Tamms Supermax Correctional Center in Illinois and Pelican Bay State Prison in California. The MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago filed suit on behalf of mentally ill inmates at Tamms, including many who became mentally ill or had pre-existing conditions horribly exacerbated by the conditions at Tamms.

At Pelican Bay, prisoners went on a hunger strike and filed a class action suit to protest their living conditions.

Journalist Sasha Abramsky describes Pelican Bay this way: "One wall of these cells is perforated steel; inmates can squint out through the holes, but there's nothing to see outside either. In Pelican Bay's Supermax unit, as in most Supermax prisons around the country, the cells are arranged in lines radiating out like spokes from a control hub, so that no prisoner can see another human being-except for those who are double-bunked. Last year, the average population of the Pelican Bay Supermax unit was 1,200 inmates, and on average, 288 men shared their tiny space with a 'cellie.' Since 1995, 12 double-bunked prisoners in the Pelican Bay Supermax unit have been murdered by their cell mates. But near-total isolation is the more typical condition."

In 1995, Pelican Bay inmates won their suit alleging cruel and unusual punishment by guards. However, the U.S. District Court judge ruled that solitary confinement in and of itself is not cruel and unusual. Reports and lawsuits from Pelican Bay, Tamms and other Supermax prisons and solitary confinement units around the country document how inmates subjected to sensory deprivation and almost completely cut off from human contact suffer extreme physical and mental effects, leading to behavior like self mutilation, attempted suicide, the eating of feces and other expressions of desperation.

During a visit in early December, Woodfox noted that the solitary confinement conditions at Angola are actually notably better than at these high-tech Supermax units. The men in the "CCR" (Closed Cell Restricted) unit at Angola, where Woodfox is housed, are able to talk to other inmates through their barred cell doors and chat with other inmates on their tier face-to-face during thrice-weekly free hours in the tier hallway or exercise yard. They can also receive a limited number of contact visits. Wallace is currently in a more punitive solitary unit known as Camp J, where the other two men have also spent time. One of the features of Camp J is a room known as "the dungeon."

The men say conditions there have improved considerably in past years, but King remembers it harshly: "you are buck naked in the freezing air and don't get enough to eat, so that you look like you're starved when you come out."

More than the daily conditions of life in solitary at Angola, however, the ACLU lawsuit is meant to challenge the indefinite and arbitrary nature of their confinement, and to serve as a precedent for other such cases around the country. Wallace and Woodfox have their cases reviewed every 90 days by a board that is supposed to determine if they should still be held in solitary, with the main issue being whether they would pose a danger being in the general population.

But every time the review comes up, according to their lawyer Nick Trenticosta, the board decides to continue their confinement based on "the nature of the original offense."

In other words, even though the offense (for which they claim innocence) occurred over 30 years ago and they have had no major discipline problems since, the original offense is still grounds to consider them dangerous. This, despite the fact that inmate stabbings, rapes and even murders are a regular occurrence at Angola; and Woodfox and Wallace actually spent most of their time when they were in the general population working to decrease this violence.

"Even if you say it's legal to hold someone in solitary confinement for 30 years, you've got to show you've provided fair and proper review of whether they should stay in there," Trenticosta said. "If you look at these guys' prison records, they're okay prisoners, they haven't done anything to justify staying in there. The board that is meeting every 90 days is a sham."

Trenticosta thinks the men are being held in solitary because of their political views, specifically because of their membership in the Panthers. But even more than that he thinks that their positive attitudes and strong leadership qualities pose a threat to the status quo at the prison and specifically to the authority of the warden, Burl Cain, who has publicly referred to Angola as his "kingdom."

"What makes them dangerous is their ability to educate other inmates," he said. "And it's not just on political thought, economics, how this country works. It's that they teach people that you're a human being and you have value. When you teach this to inmate after inmate, you start something. The prison officials can not have independent thinkers or people who believe their lives are worth something, because if somebody has dignity and believes their life is worth something, they won't stand there and take what is being done to them."

Woodfox, who sports a moderate-sized Afro and looks surprisingly fit and energetic despite his situation, says that during their brief time in general population they did have a significant effect on the inmates' moods and conditions.

"Rape and sex slavery virtually stopped because we would make it clear that you could not go and victimize these young kids who were coming into the prison," he said. "It was run like a plantation, and the method of control was secrecy and division. So we started organizing much like we were doing on the streets. We bridged the gap between black and white prisoners, we held political classes to develop consciousness, and inmates began to complain about things they had felt powerless about before."

After he and Wallace were placed in solitary, he says the programs they had instituted quickly collapsed. The nail in the coffin was when inmate Irving Breaux, whom they referred to as "Life," was killed trying to defend a young man from being raped.

"That's when Life died," Woodfox said. "They tried to keep things going, especially the anti-rape squad, but [prison officials] essentially started terrorizing everyone."

In talking to Roy Hollingsworth, another man in CCR, one can see the effect that Woodfox's leadership and philosophy can have. Hollingsworth boasts about being the baddest of the bad while in general population. He ended up there at age 18 after killing someone during the course of a robbery and he became the ringleader of drug-dealing, pimping and other illicit operations that go on freely at Angola. He killed another inmate, he says in self-defense, and ended up in CCR. He describes the mentorship he has received from Woodfox (through the bars and walls) since then as almost a religious revelation.

"I found out I can be somebody, that I can be productive, and that's what motivates me," said Hollingsworth, 48, in between joking with Woodfox through the walls of adjacent visiting cubicles. "I'm not going to allow you to say my life is nothing. I took a life, but now I'm going to stand up and make something of my life."

He says that while before he was acting out of pure blind anger, now he sees himself and other low-income African-American youth as "puppets of the system."

"The factories are using us as tools, and the corporations are making all this money off selling us music about the thug life," he noted. "Then we start killing each other because of what we hear in the music, and we end up here where a guy can't see what's going on because he's too busy trying to keep a pack of cigarettes and a bar of deodorant."

Along with monetary damages, the civil suit calls for Woodfox and Wallace to be moved back into the general population. Woodfox thinks they have a "90 percent" chance of winning the lawsuit. His lawyer in the criminal case, Scott Fleming, also feels confident he will prevail. "I feel like we've proven these guys are innocent, and deserve to have heir convictions thrown out," he said. "We're just waiting for a court to take a look at this and agree with us."

Fleming noted that even if the convictions are overturned he expects the state to retry the men, given that they've been "fighting this thing tooth and nail."

"The state seems to want to win at all costs," he said. "Race is the most inflammatory aspect of life in the south and this is all about race."

Woodfox's goal is nothing less than complete freedom. He says that he has become an environmentalist while incarcerated, and longs to go camping and visit national parks. Talking to him it is clear that while 23 hours a day he is confined to an approximately 60-square-foot space with a bed and metal sink and toilet, his mind is usually far away.

"I've never become institutionalized," he says. "That's how I sustain myself, I've never let prison define my life." King says a similar attitude kept him going all those years.

"Even when I was in prison, prison wasn't in me," says King, who has visited South Africa, Portugal, Holland and other countries on speaking tours and written his autobiography since his release. "When I was in there I would think about getting out, about making candy, about what I would say on the labels, about the taste of freedom."

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

MoveOn on the Ground

Earlier this month Congress introduced an $820 billion omnibus spending bill, which would strip overtime pay protections and reverse Congress's previously imposed freeze on media empire conglomeration while allocating millions of dollars for pork projects like promoting golfing and building an oil museum.

MoveOn.org was ready.

MoveOn members were already hard at work on an ad campaign targeting the $87 billion war appropriation, featuring examples of what else could be bought for $87 billion, when news of the proposed omnibus spending bill pending in Congress came over the wires.

Decentralized committees of MoveOn members around the country instituted a massive on-line petition drive opposing the bill, with thousands quickly signing in each state. The MoveOn.org Voter Fund also aired an ad on national and cable TV stations including CNN, CNBC, Fox News and MSNBC. The ad featured "The Most Outrageous Christmas List in History," citing the "early Christmas gifts to friends and supporters of the Bush campaign in the giant spending bill," as MoveOn member Mary Rickard's press release put it.

Similar print ads also ran in various newspapers, asking, "So who does President Bush feel is naughty and nice?" And members called their elected officials in droves to oppose the bill. There are about 1.7 million members who receive regular email updates on legislative issues and can use the massive Moveon.org server to send emails to their Congressmen.

The bill did pass the House on Dec. 8 but it is still pending in the Senate, so the organization is still calling on members to email and call their Senators.

Rickard notes that the proposed bill reverses positive measures previously approved by Congress under pressure from their grassroots constituencies, including a safeguard for overtime pay protection and a ban on the Federal Communication Commission's new rules making it easier for major media companies to consolidate. The current bill would allow overtime pay rules to be gutted and rolls back the freeze on the new FCC rules.

It also ends unemployment benefits to about 80,000 people a week beginning Dec. 21, with half a million people losing their benefits by the end of January. Meanwhile pork projects in the bill include $2 million for the First Tee Program to provide affordable access to golf in St. Augustine, Fla.; $325,000 for a swimming pool in Salinas, Calif.; the oil museum and even an indoor rainforest in Iowa.

"We're cutting these really important things like overtime and unemployment and then putting money in there for a rainforest in Iowa and encouraging people to take up golf," noted Rickard, a Chicago resident who works in marketing as her "day job" and has taken on public relations for MoveOn locally. "Basically MoveOn is trying to raise awareness so that other Americans know what's in the omnibus bill."

Rickard noted that MoveOn members like her put this campaign together in a matter of days after switching their focus from the $87 billion and what other things it could buy, like universal health care and millions of new teachers. "We figured this was more timely," she said. "This shows how quickly MoveOn can change direction." With only a handful of paid staff people, the group counts on an army of volunteers around the country to serve as organizers, spokespeople and the like.

MoveOn's focal point is its high-tech server, which handles a personalized data base of close to two million people and sends out immediate news and action alerts regarding legislative activity.

"What's so wonderful about MoveOn is it's a new participatory democracy opportunity," said Marguerite Delacoma, an interior decorator who works on the volunteer campaign in Chicago with Rickard. "We can find out in the morning if something has been in a committee or if it's coming to the House in three days or whatever, and then we can immediately go online and send a letter. You give your opinion to your legislator immediately -- we can get an alert like that in the morning and by evening there will have been 40,000 calls or emails telling the legislator what his constituents think."

Rickard notes that members help shape the direction of the organization by posting on bulletin boards and participating in chat rooms on the website. The central office ultimately makes key decisions on the focus of campaigns, and then the masses of volunteer committees implement the campaigns in their own ways.

"There were 500 meetings in people's houses all over the country last week, and that was all organized in 10 days," she said.

Kate Jones, who does PR work for the wine industry in northern California and regularly signs MoveOn petitions, said she found out about the omnibus bill from a MoveOn petition and saw it as "typical of the way Washington works." But she said MoveOn helped her feel more empowered in the face of this system.

"They make me feel heard," she said. "They're very organized and efficient, they're not spending my money just to ask me for more money. It's a new channel for people like me, and it's become a real force."

Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at karilyde@aol.com.

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