Civil Liberties

Civil LibertiesNo photo ID to vote, Health coverage for Illinois kids, TerrAfrica

Georgia can’t require photo ID from voters
Georgia’s new law requiring voters to present photo ID (at a cost of up to $35) in local elections was struck down by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLU and a coalition of civil rights and voting rights groups brought the case, arguing that the burden placed on minorities, elderly and the poor would be unconstitutional. Civil rights movement veteran Rev. Joseph Lowery celebrated his 84th birthday rallying opposition to what he called the ‘Georgia suppression bill’, which sparked a walkout by most of Georgia’s black lawmakers when it passed this spring.

Boston fighting employment discrimination
The Boston City Council voted unanimously for a measure that allows the city to boycott vendors who discriminate against ex-convicts. The Massachusetts Alliance to Reform CORI (Criminal Offender Records Information) fought for the measure, to end hiring discrimination and ensure ex-cons have some chance at starting over.

Guerrero celebrates 10 years of communitarian police
The dirty wars in Mexico’s rural Guerrero state have left peasants in a world defined by violence and narco-poverty, and over 500 people have disappeared. “It is worthwhile highlighting that the special secretary of the United Nations against torture and extralegal executions and the work group on arbitrary detentions as well as the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, have visited Guerrero to assess the human rights situation,” notes Peace Brigades International, in a report on their work in Mexico. To counter the warlords and opportunistic criminals who prey on the vulnerable, the Mixteco, Tlapaneco, Nahua and Mestizo communities have created their own security and justice system, outside the corrupt rule of Mexican law. Indymedia reports on the 10th anniversary of the Communitarian Police system, which involves 62 communities around five municipalities in Guerrero.

No ‘bunker buster’ warheads
At the Department of Energy’s request, the Bush administration finally dropped plans to develop a ‘bunker buster’ nuclear warhead. Congress had opposed even a $4 million budget request to develop the massive new nuclear weapon, although the Senate approved. When the National Nuclear Security Administration insisted that a non-nuclear alternative should be developed instead, the proposal died, The Washington Post reports. “This is a true victory for a more rational nuclear policy,” Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Post. “The proposed weapon, more than 70 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, would have caused unparalleled collateral damage.”

Venezuelan factory occupations conference
The National Gathering of Workers towards the Recovery of Companies in Caracas brought together labor activists who have occupied factories across Venezuela to discuss their different forms of workers’ management. This meeting was followed by the 1st Latin American Gathering of Companies Recovered by the Workers, including representatives from Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Perú, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Panama. Speakers included Eduardo Murua of Argentina’s Movement of Recovered Companies and Maria Cristina Iglesias, Venezuela’s minister of labor. You can read the talk on co-management given by professor Michael Lebowitz at the national gathering on the solidarity campaign site Hands Off Venezuela.

Wage protection restored in Gulf Coast
The executive order exempting federal contractors from paying the prevailing wage for hurricane relief work has been lifted, restoring the labor protection measures in the Davis-Bacon Act. The White House relented to calls from over 350,000 activists protesting the executive order. Several members of the Republican Main Street Partnership met with Bush shortly before the announcement and assumed credit for pressuring the president to reinstate Davis-Bacon worker protections. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told The New Standard that the next step is to “reinstate affirmative-action requirements for contractors in the Gulf and end [White House] attempts to slash programs for working families while adding new tax breaks for the rich.”

Illinois expands health insurance programs for children
The state Senate’s Democrats passed a $45 million bill to provide low-cost health coverage for 125,000 kids whose families earn too much money to qualify for other government programs but can’t afford private health insurance. Officials hope the new law’s publicity will catch the attention of parents who qualify but are not enrolled in the existing state program to provide children’s health insurance for the poor. Envisioned as a ‘universal health insurance’ plan to catch all the children falling through the cracks in Illinois, the law makes “Illinois the first state to offer health benefits to all uninsured children,” one AP writer reports in Finance Tech. Governor Blagojevich pitched the idea at a Chicago restaurant, pointing out that parents who work several part-time jobs to make ends meet “can’t get health insurance for themselves or their children.” Under the new law in Illinois, they can.

Court slams EPA for ignoring pollution
The EPA’s decision to ignore Clean Air Act violations and approve the pollution control permits of two New York energy plants has been reversed in the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) policy analyst Jason K. Babbie told The New Standard, “Today’s court decision upholds the government’s responsibility to act quickly to address violations that threaten our health and environment, and requires that the public be included in that process.” The EPA would have postponed any decision on the pollution violations until after a separate state lawsuit against the power plant operators had been resolved. The other lawsuit stems from the state’s discovery in 2000 that two of the company’s plants had “illegally upgraded facilities to increase output without bringing the aging plants into compliance with modern environmental standards, a direct violation of the 1970 Clean Air Act,” The New Standard reports. NYPIRG sued the EPA for allowing the Huntley and Dunkirk plants to violate pollution regulations, producing more than 20% of New York’s nitrogen oxide and 38% of sulfur dioxide emissions in the state.

Greening development under Kyoto
South Africa is leading the continent into a new economic arena – the market for carbon trading under the Kyoto Protocol. The Kuyasa low-cost housing project in Khayelitsha, Cape Town is Africa’s first development project to take advantage of the Kyoto Protocol’s green investment provision. This measure allows countries that are obliged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to off-set part of that obligation by investing in pollution control projects in poor countries which stimulate economic growth. Project proposals are slowly streaming in, and in South Africa such developments are expected to bring down the country’s CO2 emissions by 21 million tons a year by 2012, while generating 618 million Rand (U.S. $92 million), Business Day reports. A recent forum on the flexibility mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol has been posted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, describing more broadly the early efforts to clarify and implement the carbon trading and clean development programs.

TerrAfrica alliance combats land degradation
The new TerrAfrica alliance is the largest partnership ever formed to address desertification and pool the efforts of Sub-Saharan African countries to improve sustainable land use practices. Warren Evans, the World Bank Director of Environment, describes the new program: “TerrAfrica is unique in that it will look at the root causes of land degradation, as well as the barriers and disconnects between demand for investments in support of SLM and the major delivery and financing mechanisms both at the domestic and international levels.” Wangari Maathai welcomes the initiative – “We know that there are many good practices going on in Sub-Saharan Africa, both by governments and civil society – it is important that these be scaled up so that we don’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel’. TerrAfrica provides us with that platform. The challenge is to not only mobilize the communities on this issue, but to include them so they become part of the elements of change.”

Seed Fairs in the Republic of Congo
The Pool region of the Republic of Congo is most often in the news for the activity of Ninja rebels based in its forests. But Caritas Congo changed that this week with a major investment in peace, through seed fairs across the region. For two months the Catholic charity has been conducting agricultural recovery projects, reaching thousands of households through a Seed Voucher and Fair approach that helped residents purchase seeds and farming tools that will help them restart farming work the violence interrupted. By involving local and regional sellers, the program injected around $61,333 into the local economy, UNIRIN reports. Caritas described the Pool region as a former breadbasket region devastated by the destruction of fields and community resources and infrastructure. Their work rebuilding the region’s roads and agricultural resources will continue through 2006.