'New Step in Long Walk to Freedom': Palestinian Prisoners Launch Mass Hunger Strike

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by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer April 17, 2017

www.commondreams.org

'New Step in Long Walk to Freedom': Palestinian Prisoners Launch Mass Hunger Strike

As many as 1,500 political detainees are taking part in the demonstration demanding 'freedom and dignity'

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on Monday, protesting dismal conditions as well as "Israel's inhumane system of colonial and military occupation."

Some said as many as 1,500 political prisoners in six jails across Israel were participating in the open-ended strike, commemorating Palestinian Prisoners' Day and coming ahead of June's 50-year anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, when the occupation began. Solidarity rallies were also taking place in the occupied cities of Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus.

According to the human rights and prisoner advocacy organization Addameer, which is urging global solidarity with the detainees, "the hunger striking prisoners' demands include: family visits, proper medical care, end to Israel's practice of detaining Palestinians without charge or trial in so-called administrative detention, and stopping the use of isolation."

Palestinian movement leader and longtime prisoner Marwan Barghouti, who initiated the call to strike, explained his reasoning in a New York Times op-ed published Sunday.

"Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance," he wrote. "Israel's courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the [U.S.] State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent."

Barghouti continued:

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.

Instead, though, Israel's prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners' movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

"Ahmed," a 32-year-old from Hebron currently held in administrative detention in Ketziot prison in the Negev desert, told Amnesty International that he was joining the mass hunger strike in the hope that it will pressure the authorities to allow his 70-year-old mother, who has been repeatedly denied a permit, to visit him. Ahmed, who said he'd been arrested seven times in total, has spent a cumulative five and a half years in an Israeli prison—but has only had one family visit in that time.

"In 2006 my mother and father were able to visit me because my father was sick," Ahmed told Amnesty for its report released Monday. "He was 75 then, it was the last time I saw him. He died while I was in prison." 

Now, he said, his mother is being denied a visitation permit. "The Israeli authorities are using the permits to punish me," Ahmed said. "I don't know how long [my mother] has [left] and if I will be able to see her if or when I am released."

Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty, declared: "Israel's ruthless policy of holding Palestinian prisoners arrested in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in prisons inside Israel is a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is unlawful and cruel and the consequences for the imprisoned person and their loved ones, who are often deprived from seeing them for months, and at times for years on end, can be devastating."

The mass action, described as one of the largest in recent years, also has widespread political support.

"On this day, we are reminded of the pain of imprisonment, the cruelty of the occupation, and the injustice of the prison cells, as we are reminded of our pride in your steadfastness and sacrifice," Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah said in a recorded video message shared on his Twitter page. "In the midst of this battle I call on all the Palestinian people and national institutions to show more solidarity so we can deliver the message of the prisoners to the whole world. Let us all push for the largest international, popular, and official movement to stand by the prisoners in this critical time."

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'Obscene': 70 Top Healthcare CEOs Raked in $9.8 Billion Since 2010

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Jake Johnson, staff writer, July 24, 2017

commondreams.org

'Obscene': 70 Top Healthcare CEOs Raked in $9.8 Billion Since 2010

"The median household income in 2015 was $56,515, which the average healthcare CEO made in less than a day."

While the Senate GOP's plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been denounced as potentially devastating to the poor, the sick, women, people of color, children, and those with pre-existing conditions, a new analysis published Monday finds that no matter what happens, the CEOs of large healthcare companies are likely to continue living lavishly.

"The median household income in 2015 was $56,515, which the average healthcare CEO made in less than a day."

—Bob Herman, Axios

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, the "CEOs of 70 of the largest U.S. healthcare companies cumulatively have earned $9.8 billion," according to a report by Axios's Bob Herman.

Herman goes on to add that the CEOs' earnings "far outstrip[ped] the wage growth of nearly all Americans."

"The richest year [for healthcare CEOs] was 2015, when 70 healthcare CEOs collectively made $2 billion," Herman notes. "That was an average of about $28.5 million per CEO and a median of about $17.3 million per CEO. The median household income in 2015 was $56,515, which the average healthcare CEO made in less than a day."

John Martin, former CEO of the pharma giant Gilead Sciences, topped Axios's list: he pulled in $863 million in the "ACA era."

    CEOs of 70 of the largest US health care companies have earned $9.8 billion in the seven years since ACA was passed https://t.co/1VBAavfiWZ pic.twitter.com/aeXbUmtW4j

    — Axios (@axios) July 24, 2017

Despite President Donald Trump's repeated insistence that Obamacare has been a "nightmare" and that the entire system is collapsing, Herman observes, "The ACA has not hurt the healthcare industry. Stock prices have boomed, and CEOs took home nearly 11 percent more money on average every year since 2010." And the Senate GOP's alternative, which Trump has enthusiastically endorsed, would likely be a further boon to industry executives, who would stand to benefit from the bill's massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

Axios's analysis focused on 70 of the largest publicly traded healthcare companies—including some of the largest insurance and pharmaceutical companies—in the United States.

Perhaps the most consequential component of healthcare CEO pay, Herman observes, is the fact that "a gigantic portion of what CEOs make comes in the form of vested stock, and those incentives drive their decision-making."

This means that CEOs are incentivized not to take actions that would benefit the healthcare system overall, but rather to "inflate stock prices" using methods "such as repurchasing shares or issuing dividends to shareholders."

Such moves lead to higher salaries for CEOs, but not to widely shared benefits.

"Stock-heavy pay," Herman concludes, "drives CEOs to do the exact opposite of their buzzword-laden goals of creating a 'patient-centered' health system that focuses on 'value.'"

Some commentators portrayed the analysis as both indicative of the fundamental injustice at the heart of the for-profit insurance model and proof of the need for Medicare for All.

    The central healthcare initiative of the Dem Party is a policy that effectively subsidizes the pay of these execs https://t.co/briYBbU5EG

    — David Sirota (@davidsirota) July 24, 2017

    But how could we possibly afford a Medicare for all system? https://t.co/jynH0yollk pic.twitter.com/rIY8mRSlAa

    — Billy Gendell (@billygendell) July 24, 2017

    This is obscene. https://t.co/6jhmSs5eG2 pic.twitter.com/q2y37631EW

    — Michael Kelly (@MichaelEdKelly) July 24, 2017

    Time for single payer. https://t.co/RtvWwhYCh5

    — Suzanne C-J (@barefootswan) July 24, 2017

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'Our Momentum Is Unstoppable': Workers Celebrate as Target Announces $15 Minimum Wage

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by Jake Johnson, staff writer, September 25, 2017

www.commondreams.org

'Our Momentum Is Unstoppable': Workers Celebrate as Target Announces $15 Minimum Wage

"Never underestimate the power of organizing."

Getty Image

In what is being described as a huge victory for the tens of thousands of workers across the country who have for years organized, rallied, and gone on strike for higher wages, Target on Monday announced that it plans to raise the company-wide minimum hourly wage to $11 by next month and $15 by 2020.

"We won't stop until everyone, everywhere, wins $15 an hour and union rights." 

—Steven Suffridge, Fight for $15

"Five years ago, when 200 New York City fast-food workers first walked off the job for $15 an hour and union rights, nobody gave us a shot. Since then, we've spread this movement to every corner of the country and beyond fast-food. We did what they said we couldn't: we won. We won in the states, in the cities, with the big politicians and with the big corporations," Steven Suffridge, a Minneapolis McDonald's Worker and Fight for $15 organizer, wrote in an email reacting to the news. "And today, we won $15 an hour for all Target employees."

In celebration, Fight for $15 and other groups began circulating a graphic that echoes Suffridge's message: "When we fight, we win!"

Immediately upon seeing the news of the Target wage boost—which will affect over 320,000 workers throughout the U.S—activists and lawmakers immediately began raising the question: if Target can pay its workers a decent wage, why can't Walmart, McDonald's, and other profitable low-wage corporate giants?

"C'mon McDonalds, Walmart, and everybody else," wrote Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who recently celebrated Minneapolis lawmakers for overwhelmingly voting to raise the city minimum wage to $15 by 2024. "Pay your workers right!"

As Common Dreams has reported, wages have remained largely stagnant for decades even as CEO pay and corporate profits have continued to soar. According to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, the compensation of top American CEOs has grown by 937 percent since 1978; typical worker pay rose by only 11.2 percent over that same time period.

With little indication that the Republican-dominated Congress—much less President Donald Trump—has any intention of acting to boost the federal minimum wage, workers have taken it upon themselves to organize and fight back against entrenched inequities and for a livable wage.

Since the Fight for $15 movement kicked off in 2012, many major cities—including Los Angeles, Seattle, and Pittsburgh—have committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Democratic members of Congress, too, have begun signing on—the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum to $15 an hour, currently boasts 165 co-sponsors.

Even with these tremendous victories, there's still a long way to go, organizers acknowledge. Target, for instance, remains viciously anti-union, a fact that presents major questions about the company's professed commitment to the well-being of its workers.

But Suffridge concluded that if workers are able to keep up the pressure on corporations and politicians, the momentum sparked by sustained action across the country "is unstoppable."

"If Target can pay $15/hour, billionaire corporations like McDonald's can do the same," Suffridge concluded. "We won't stop until everyone, everywhere, wins $15 an hour and union rights."

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'Pray': Armed Police Descend on Water Protectors at DAPL Site

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by Nadia Prupis, staff writer

www.commondreams.org

'Pray': Armed Police Descend on Water Protectors at DAPL Site

Hundreds of water protectors attempted to cross footbridges built over Cantapeta Creek to reach construction area

Police descended on water protectors in North Dakota on Wednesday, as images on social media showed a dramatic standoff along a creek that borders a construction site for the long-opposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Jordan Chariton, a political reporter with The Young Turks network, posted this video dispatch after covering events just east of the main camp, where Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and their allies were set upon by law enforcement officers in full military gear:

Amidst the standoff one peaceful demonstrator said she was telling officers that she "Loved them" when they began shooting her in the face with mace.

And filmmaker and journalist Josh Fox, also on the scene, decried the violence by authorities, telling Chariton, "These people from the North Dakota police force and the United States government has lost legitimacy in every respect today."

According to independent media outlet Unicorn Riot, which was also on the ground in the town of Cannon Ball, hundreds of water protectors attempted to cross footbridges built over Cantapeta Creek to reach the DAPL construction area on the other shore, but the police in riot gear reportedly pulled the bridges apart and forcibly kept people from crossing onto the opposite bank.

#NoDAPL Tweets

One protector said the walkways had been built to help elders reach the construction area to pray for sacred sites.

The Bismarck Tribune writes that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which lays claim to the land along the shoreline, gave Morton County the orders to arrest protesters and break down the bridge.

According to Grand Forks Herald, law enforcement officers used a boat to pull the bridge apart, and many protectors proceeded to swim across the river.

People on the ground said women and children were being evacuated from the protest camps, multiple people had already been maced, and police had fired rubber bullets, injuring at least one person.

Native American tribes and activists from all over the country have been resisting DAPL's construction for months, saying it threatens their access to clean water and violates treaty rights.

    White residue floating on top of water is from the variety of chemical weapons used against #NoDAPL water protectors. pic.twitter.com/HObv9xlPCV

    — Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) November 2, 2016

    Just coverered disturbing standoff bw ND police and protectors-police pepper sprayed, shot rubber bullets @ point blank range #NoDAPl

    — Jordan (@JordanChariton) November 2, 2016

    Journalist, congressional candidate, @ErinSchrode shot in back w rubberbullet #StandingRock protest. I was right next 2 her. #nodapl shes ok

    — Josh Fox (@joshfoxfilm) November 2, 2016

    Happening at Standing Rock now. Pray. #NoDAPL pic.twitter.com/l7EeSWCq7A

    — Ruth Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) November 2, 2016

    Multiple people have been maced. They're evacuating women and children from camp. #NoDAPL

    — Ruth Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) November 2, 2016

    Barrier of logs and rope has been constructed, placed the water by #NoDAPL water protectors. More officers arriving, lining up on the shore. pic.twitter.com/LY4TbioL6z

    — Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) November 2, 2016

    #NoDAPL

    Currently happening... pic.twitter.com/oy6cTFxKi3

    — Native Life ☄#NoDAPL (@_Native_Life) November 2, 2016

    Protester shot in back, not live bullet. Medic says may have injured lung, coughing up blood, being rushed to clinic. #noDAPL

    — Jason Patinkin (@JasonPatinkin) November 2, 2016

Protectors have vowed to remain vigilant against the pipeline. In recent weeks, police and private security teams have raided the camps, assaulted peaceful protesters with pepper spray and attack dogs, and made hundreds of arrests. Reports of abuse and excessive criminal charges became rampant. One documentary filmmaker faces up to 45 years in prison for her role in the coverage. The United Nations last week sent human rights observers to the site to monitor the situation.

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'Repugnant': On Top of Trans Ban, Trump DOJ Tells Employers They Can Discriminate Against LGBTQ Workers

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by Jake Johnson, staff writer, July 27, 2017 Common Dreams

commondreams.org

'Repugnant': On Top of Trans Ban, Trump DOJ Tells Employers They Can Discriminate Against LGBTQ Workers

"In one fell swoop, Trump's DOJ has declared that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people may no longer be protected by landmark civil rights laws."

 

Just hours after President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that transgender people would no longer be permitted to serve in the armed forces, the Department of Justice on Wednesday launched what is being characterized as a separate attack on the LGBTQ community, this time by arguing in a legal brief that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect gay workers from discrimination.

"Attacks against the LGBTQ community at all levels of government continue to pour in from the Trump-Pence administration."

—Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign

James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT and HIV Project, said in a statement that Wednesday "will go down in history as Anti-LGBT Day" and denounced the Justice Department's brief as a "gratuitous and extraordinary attack on LGBT people's civil rights."

"The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination," Esseks added. "Fortunately, courts will decide whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people, not an Attorney General and a White House that are hell-bent on playing politics with people's lives."

The Justice Department's filing was aimed specifically at a case that "kicked off in 2010 when Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, filed suit against his employer in federal court in New York, alleging the company terminated him for his sexual orientation in violation of Title VII" of the Civil Rights Act, reports Buzzfeed's Dominic Holden.

Holden adds that the DOJ's involvement in the case is abnormal because "the department doesn't typically weigh in on private employment lawsuits." Futhermore, the department is not a party to the case.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department—headed by Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose voting record on issues affecting the LGBTQ community has been described as "deeply disturbing"—issued forth its contention that sex discrimination barred by the Civil Rights Act does not extend to sexual orientation.

    Unacceptable: @TheJusticeDept under AG Jeff Sessions is arguing against gay rights in a major federal case. https://t.co/76Puj04p8c

    — Civil Rights (@civilrightsorg) July 26, 2017

    I don't even have words left. I am exhausted. What a repugnant administration. https://t.co/xiFgcan1VJ

    — Calvin (@calvinstowell) July 26, 2017

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an independent federal agency, previously ruled in Zarda's favor, arguing that Title VII bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"EEOC interprets and enforces Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation," the agency's website states.

"The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination."

—James Esseks, ACLU

Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which slammed Trump's transgender ban as an "all out assault on service members," said in response to the Justice Department's filing that "attacks against the LGBTQ community at all levels of government continue to pour in from the Trump-Pence administration."

"In one fell swoop, Trump's DOJ has provided a roadmap for dismantling years of federal protections and declared that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people may no longer be protected by landmark civil rights laws such as the Fair Housing Act, Title IX, or Title VII," said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow. "Today's filing is a shameful retrenchment of an outmoded interpretation that forfeits faithful interpretation of current law to achieve a politically-driven and legally specious result."

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