community-based, non-corporate, participatory media
On this week's show... * A new bill may protect Pennsylvanians from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression * Updates on protests and state violence in Burma * A history of American diplomacy with Iran * Views on this year's Columbus Day, in Pittsburgh and in Denver * plus more in our local and global headlines
audio link: MP3 at 27.1 mebibytesFlash player: Embed this audio player:
Welcome to this week's edition of Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's weekly review of the news from the grassroots, news overlooked by the corporate media.
On today's show...
Rustbelt Radio is broadcast live from WRCT studios every Monday at 6 PM on 88.3 FM in Pittsburgh, and the program airs again on WRCT every Tuesday morning at 9AM.
We can also be heard weekly on the following stations:
We're also available on the internet, both on WRCT's live webstream at W-R-C-T dot ORG and for download, stream or podcast from our website at radio dot I-N-D-Y-P-G-H dot org.
We turn now to local stories.
The Allegheny Port Authority is currently investigating an incident in which a black Barbie doll, with a racist comment written on it, was found hanging in the hallway of an East Liberty garage. The doll was found last Monday sometime in the early morning between 3 and 4am. Officials say that it is was most likely placed there by an employee since the area where the doll was found is only accessible to Port Authority workers.
Although it is still unknown who placed the doll, one Port Authority employee believes that the threat was intended to intimidate and insult her. Debbi Blocker claims that the doll was a reaction to recent personnel shifts and new employee trainings which had caused tension among some of the 500 employees working at the garage.
Police are currently collecting writing samples to try and identify the person responsible. Port Authority officials say that once the guilty party is found they will face internal punishments in addition to filing charges.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is facing questions regarding his use of a GMC Yukon SUV that was paid for with federal Homeland Security funds. Ravenstahl used the vehicle for several recreational trips including driving to a Toby Keith concert in August. When the vehicle returned with over 300 miles on it, Sergeant Mona Wallace, who works for the police intelligence squad, was the first to alert others about the wrongful use of the vehicle. Wallace’s attempts were ultimately ignored by officials and disciplinary action was taken against her for not following the proper chain of command.
Now it is under question whether the police bureau ever had authority to purchase the vehicle in the first place.
The SUV was bought with federal funds designated for homeland security. By accepting the funds, the police bureau agreed to several terms and conditions regarding the use of the money. In a pledge signed by city officials, they agreed to only use the federal funds for purposes that would detect and protect against terrorism; using the vehicle for other purposes would violate this agreement.
Ravenstahl claims he was not aware that federal funds had paid for the vehicle.
The US Attorney's office is currently investigating the issue.
And now, Word on the Street.
That was Diane Amdor with Word on the Street, featuring music by Youngblood Brass Band.
For more on local news, you can visit pittsburgh dot I-N-D-Y-M-E-D-I-A dot org.
You are listening to Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's weekly review of news overlooked by the corporate media. We turn now to news from other independent media sources around the world.
In other Columbus Day news, police arrested 83 people at the Columbus Day parade in Denver, Colorado this year. Denver's parade has had a long history of confrontations, with a large Native American population and a history of Italian miners. Colorado was the first state to recognize Columbus Day as a state-wide holiday. 2007 marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the holiday’s Colorado birth.
Associate professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Glenn Morris, was one of the arrestees. He and the other organizers of the All Nations/Four Directions march against the parade drew connections between the use of US Army Cavalry re-enactors in last year's parade and the use of nooses in Jena, Louisiana.
On Sunday October 7th, the first ever referendum vote was held on the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The vote was held in Costa Rica, which is the last remaining Central American nation left to approve the treaty.
With most of the votes counted, President Oscar Arias said the treaty had been narrowly approved. With 89% of votes counted, 51.7% backed the treaty. Just a few days prior, the treaty was expected to be rejected, as opposition to the trade deal has been high throughout the nation for over a year.
It is believed that a heavy ad campaign from the government and propaganda from transnational employers were able to sway voters into approving the deal. $54 million dollars were spent by the Costa Rican government, businesses and other institutions on a CAFTA approval campaign that included television ads and newspaper articles. In comparison, only $4 million dollars were spent by the opposition campaign.
In anticipation of CAFTA's approval, Wal-Mart has purchased the largest supermarket chain in Costa Rica, called Mas y Menos. They are currently drawing up employment schedules and pay rates that would be substantially lower than the current salaries. It is suspected that they are able to grossly violate the labor laws because they are bribing high officials in the labor ministry.
With the implementation of CAFTA, activists, environmentalists, and farmers across Costa Rica are now fearful that their cultural and economic security will be subject to the interests of US based corporations.
Last week, the Burmese military stepped up its violence against popular protest. In cities and rural areas across the country, government forces barricaded monasteries from both the inside and outside. Many monks who had been arrested were released, and testified that they had been verbally abused by police. The political mobilization and solidarity between monks and other diverse communities in Burma has resulted in the largest popular uprising since the student protests of 1988. Rustbelt Radio heard from Chan Mon, an activist on the Thai-Burma border.
Chan Mon addressed rumors of a split in the Burmese military, with some choosing the side of the people:
More from Chan Mon on ways the Burmese government has tried to create the illusion of democracy:
Last Saturday, October 6th, was declared an International Day of Solidarity Action for Burmese People. Buddhists in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Barcelona, Spain; London, England; and other cities held peace vigils in support of Burmese monks. Stay tuned to future editions of Rustbelt for updates on Burma.
Last Week The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding sentencing of crack cocaine versus powdered cocaine. They will soon be deciding how much discretion federal judges can use when sentencing these drug cases. Currently, federal drug laws impose a ratio of 100 to one, so that possession of five grams of crack cocaine carries the same punishment of five years in jail as dealing in 500 grams of the less addictive powdered cocaine form. Critics of this sentencing disparity say that it is racially based as crack is more prevalent in low income communities, whereas powdered cocaine is more commonly used by affluent white people.
Eric Sterling, President of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation helped draft this legislation in 1986 and now has become a staunch critic of it. He explains the implications of this disparate sentencing.
Sterling also says that these severe penalties for crack cocaine have led to a boom in the federal prison population.
The US Sentencing Commission is set to reduce the guidelines' crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity on November 1st. That is unless Congress acts to block it, though it has not yet decided whether to make the change retroactive. If made retroactive it would affect about 19,500 current prisoners, most notably those serving the longer sentences, by an average of 27 months. Over 1300 current prisoners would receive sentence reductions of 49 months or more.
Many critics are hopeful that allowing judges to use discretion when sentencing drug offenders will lead to less severe penalties. However, others feel that the problem is much deeper. Chuck Armsbury of the November Coalition, an anti-prohibitionist group that concentrates on freeing drug war prisoners, stated: "Most of the sentencing disparity is due to rules and results of deal making by informants, police and prosecutors working together secretly. The justices are unlikely to admit they can't determine the fairness of a hidden system's operations...To fix this broken system would mean to rein in police, prosecutors and the snitch system producing substantial differences in drug sentences."
That was “Arise Oh Women” from a collection of patriotic and revolutionary songs by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. RAWA was founded in Kabul in 1977 as an independent political and social organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and social justice in Afghanistan.
October seventh marks the six-year anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan. In the words of RAWA, the result has been, (quote) The huckster, misogynist and mafia-raced executioners of the Taliban thought they could squeeze our tormented nation in their criminal, ignored and lunatic claws. In the end they were toppled by their foreign creators, before being punished for their actions by the nationwide uprising of women and men of Afghanistan. But this didn't mean the breaking of chains from the hands and feet of our captive nation because instead of jackal, dog took power. The power was handed over to the felons of the ‘Northern Alliance’ who are much more anti-humanity, ravishing and racist.
You're listening to Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's weekly review of news from the grassroots.
On Tuesday, September 25 St. Andrews Episcopal Church hosted two speakers to talk about United States policy with Iran. The first speaker, Dave Robinson, is the executive director of Pax Christi USA, an internationally acclaimed Catholic peace organization. In February 2007, Dave Robinson was part of an ecumenical delegation to Iran aimed at improving relations between Iran and the United states.
The second speaker, Shervin Boloorian, is the Washington Representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists and was the former Legislative Director of the National Iranian American Council.(Note: Shervin Boloorian was asked to speak by the event's organizer. The views he expressed were personal views and not those of the Union of Concerned Scientists.)
Dave Robinson began the lecture with a brief history of relations between the United States and Iran.
Shervin Boloorian expands on Robinson’s history of U.S./Iran relations:
The misunderstanding and lack of diplomacy between Iran and the United States led to controversy regarding President Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York City two weeks ago.
Shervin Boloorian has more on the implications of American motivations:
In April 2003, Iran made an offer to the United States government through the Swiss embassy. Iran offered to acknowledge the state of Israel and assist with the stabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan. The offer required a suspension of U.S. sanctions and a guarantee that America would not promote a regime change in Iran.
Two years later, the U.S. agreed to stop blocking Iran’s bid to join the World Trade Organization. This move was meant to provide Iran with an economic incentive for entering negotiations with the European Union regarding the suspension of uranium enrichment in Iran. However, this proposal did not include any security guarantees.
In June 2006, the United States insisted that it was willing to join European Union negotiations with Iran with the provision that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing program.
On September 25 of this year, The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill which would increase sanctions on Iran. If implemented, the sanctions would stop the country from receiving money from energy sales that could be intended to produce atomic weapons. Shervin Boloorian addressed this measure on the day it was passed:
Both Dave Robinson and Shervin Boloorian agree that a peaceful and diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program is possible.
Dave Robinson explains this belief in the religious context of Pax Christi’s justice-centered message:
Shervin Boloorian also believes that there is still time to advocate for a peaceful solution in Iran.:
For more information on Pax Christi's work in Iran, visit pax christi usa.org
State Representative Dan Frankel hosted a public hearing on October 4th at the University of Pittsburgh on his bill, H.B. 1400. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to statewide anti-discrimination protection in the areas of employment, housing and credit.
Pittsburgh, Erie County and Philadelphia are among the 14 Pennsylvania communities that ban anti-gay discrimination, but about three-quarters of the state’s more than 12 million residents live in communities that do not provide such protection.
Steve Glassman, Chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, testified about the need for nondiscrimination legislation.
One such case was that of Dan Miller, a Harrisburg City Council member, who testified about his experience of being fired from his job as a CPA after his boss learned that he was gay. His highly public case led other LGBT people experiencing discrimination to contact him.
Philadelphia area Representative Thomas Blackwell had this to offer in response to Miller's candid testimony:
The testimony of La'Tasha Mayes, Founder and Executive Director of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, offered another perspective on the intersection of race and LGBTQ issues. Here Mays reiterates why this bill is important to New Voices Pittsburgh:
Similarly, Sue Frietsche [Fritchy], Senior Staff Attorney at the Women's Law Project here in Pittsburgh, describes the intersection of sex discrimination and LGBT discrimination.
One of the more tense exchanges of the hearing followed the conclusion of testimony from members of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. Representative Michael O'Brien, a practicing Catholic, led with a question followed by a response from Rita Joyce, legal counsel to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The Reverend Dr. Randall Bush of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church offered another religious perspective.
Representative Babette Josephs closed the hearing by emphasizing how imperative it is for people who care about this legislation to take action to ensure its passage.
Tara Reynolds of the Women's Law Project, was the local organizer for the hearing. She offers this advice for people who want to know how they can help support the bill.
Following the hearing was a town hall meeting organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality. NCTE board member Steve Glassman spoke to the crowd about the state bill as well as the pressing federal legislation known as ENDA. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as originally written, includes employment protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Recently there were efforts by a handful of House leaders to strip gender identity from the bill.
Glassman explains one reason why excluding protections for transgender people would harm LGB people as well.
Glassman noted that even though President Bush has vowed to veto this legislation, it will set a crucial precedent regarding transgender inclusion. He suggested that people look up their Congressional representatives on Equality Advocates Pennsylvania's website at equality PA dot org. Glassman explained the importance of taking action now.
All national LGBT organizations except one have vowed to support only a transgender inclusive bill. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest national LGBT organization, is the only organization that would support a bill that excludes transgender protections. Attendees of the town hall recognized the importance of lobbying HRC in addition to Congress.
ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, will go to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in the next week. PA House Bill 1400 will be up for a vote in the state house early next year.
And now we present the Indymedia Calendar of Events:
[ Outro Music ]
Thanks for tuning in to Rustbelt Radio here on WRCT Pittsburgh, WPTS Pittsburgh, WNJR Washington, WVJW Benwood, WIUP Indiana and WKCO Gambier.
Our hosts this week are Carlin Christy and Matt Toups with contributions from Veronica Milliner, Diane Amdor, Carlin Christy, Vani Natarajan, Robin Hewlett, Daniel Hammer, Juliana Strickland, Noah Lewis and Andalusia Knoll. This week's show was produced by Phill Cresswell. Special thanks to all of our hosts, producers, and contributors.
You can get involved with Rustbelt Radio! To contact us, or to send us your comments, email RADIO at I-N-D-Y-P-G-H dot ORG. All of our shows are available for download or podcast on our website at RADIO dot INDY-P-G-H dot ORG and this show can be heard again Tuesday morning on WRCT at 9 AM after Democracy Now!
Tune in next week at this time for another edition of Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's weekly review of news from the grassroots.