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The USA is the most corrupt country in the world and I have 10,000 posts that point heavily to that fact…

Wall Street protesters vow to reoccupy on movement’s anniversary December 9, 2011

Activists at Occupy Wall Street have issued a call to thousands of protesters across the US to reoccupy outdoor public spaces to mark the movement’s three-month anniversary.

The Occupy movement has stalled in recent weeks after a wave of evictions swept away a raft of encampments, including the largest in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York. On Wednesday, it suffered a fresh blow as police in riot gear cleared Occupy San Francisco camp on the orders of the mayor, who had been sympathetic to protesters, while Occupy Boston lost legal protection against eviction.

Organisers said they hoped the call to reoccupy on the 17 December would galvanise and grow the movement.

Amin Husain, a press spokesman for OWS, said: “We know that occupation empowers people and eliminates fear. It permits individuals to assert themselves as political beings even although the system doesn’t represent them.”

“The question is not to make a splash, the question is how are we going to get the space to make that happen.”

Sandy Nurse, one of the direct action committee responsible for the call, said: “The need for physical space is one of the top five priorities for direct action. My personal opinion is that people have gotten scared. They have gotten arrest fatigue. They are not willing to put their bodies on the line. But the call would re-galvanise the movement and remind it how powerful it is.”

Citing the conference call by mayors across the US to deal with various encampments, Nurse said: “They have identified occupation as a threat to them – that’s how powerful it is.”

Eleven mayors participated in a conference call in November about Occupy protests in their cities, including those in New York, Denver and Portland, Oregon, but they denied any co-ordination of raids to clear encampments.

The need for a physical space has been on OWS’s agenda since police raided Zuccotti Park in November. In a piece published this week in the first issue of Tidal, a magazine published by the Occupy movement, Judith Butler, academic and feminist theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke of its importance.

Butler said: “When bodies gather together as they do to express their indignation and to enact their plural existence in public space, they are also making broader demands. They are demanding to be recognised and to be valued; they are exercising a right to appear and to exercise freedom; they are calling for a liveable life.

“These values are presupposed by particular demands, but they also demand a more fundamental restructuring of our socio-economic and political order.”

At one point, the movement had more than 1,000 occupations, but now they have less than 100 – and that number is dwindling daily. With the onset of winter’s plummeting temperatures – which was already driving people from Zuccotti Park before the eviction – and the hardening attitudes of city authorities against encampments, notwithstanding the dearth of public spaces in the US, seeking a place to camp is a massive challenge for activists.

Even within OWS, where the movement began, activists have a battle on their hands. In Zuccotti Park, the space’s owners have imposed strictly enforced rules which no longer allow tents or sleeping bags, or allow people to lie down, which would make it impossible to set up camp.

The place they want to occupy on December 17, is Juan Pablo Duarte Square, a currently vacant lot on the corner of 6th and Canal Street in Soho, about 15 minutes walk’ from Wall Street, named after the founder of the Dominican Republic.

But it has already proved controversial.

It is owned by the real estate branch of Trinity Episcopalian church in Wall Street, Trinity Real Estate, one of the largest real estate companies in New York.

Activists at OWS, which had previously counted Trinity church among their supporters, have repeatedly asked for the use of this space for a winter camp. But Trinity church has refused, drawing criticism from other church leaders and a handful of activists who went on hunger strike, pledging not to eat until the church allowed protesters on the site.

In a statement on its website, Trinity said it offered its continued support of the movement – including providing meeting space at church buildings – but not the use of its enclosed vacant lot at the city-owned Duarte Square, which it leases to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The property, Trinity said, is unsuitable “for large-scale assemblies or encampments.”

For activists, the matter is simple: they need the space and the church should hand it over.

Husain said: “They’re part of the 1% and they are choosing profit over God.”

The church is also facing pressure from the religious community.

Reverend John Metz, of the Episcopalian Church of the Ascension, in Brooklyn, who describes himself as a “real mainstream church guy” said: “Trinity church is in a challenging position. They are a church with an enormous real estate holding. It’s one thing to deliberate and review grants. It’s another thing for a church to respond in real time to one of the largest movement for social change that this country has see for four decades.

“This is an opportunity to engage in mutual actions to transform a space, and make it a catalyst for the revitalisation of public squares that have all been eliminated in the United States, to create a space where the cause for social justice can be forwarded.”

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President Obama, do not bow to the bishops on the birth control mandate | Brittany Shoot December 2, 2011

When the Obama administration successfully pushed the healthcare reform package through Congress last year, it was a major victory for American women. Congressional Democrats had campaigned aggressively to secure contraceptive coverage as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), requiring insurers to cover “preventative health services”. On 1 August of this year, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathy Sebelius cleared up any lingering questions when she further specified that health insurance providers must offer full coverage of contraceptive devices, drugs and procedures. 

But securing and maintaining adequate healthcare for American women – especially policies concerning birth control – is never as simple as it seems.

Roman Catholic bishops and various church leaders have fiercely retaliated against the so-called “birth control mandate”, arguing that religiously affiliated employers must not be made to comply with federal regulations. Don’t be fooled by their furore: churches were already exempt from the rule on the grounds of conflicting moral and religious beliefs. But now, the battle for exemptions has expanded to include any hospital, clinic, or university associated with a religious institution, regardless of the religious beliefs of the organisation staff or those who use its services.

Even though all of this has been on the books for months, the White House has suddenly started to give vague answers about whether or not the previously agreed upon and widely supported guidelines will be upheld. President Obama has yet to make a public statement about any of this. And his silence on the matter is deeply troubling.

It’s been pointed out elsewhere that approved policies such as these shouldn’t be up for debate. Under any normal circumstances, they wouldn’t be. When President Obama spoke at the United Nations in September, he used the recently passed policy as evidence of his administration’s commitment to empowering women and girls and as proof of America’s commitment to women’s health.

If President Obama has already touted this policy as a victory, why the sudden appearance of backpedalling? Is this just one more example of a presidential flip-flop when it comes to protecting women’s health from anti-choice religious groups?

It is also noteworthy, if obvious, that the antagonised Catholic leaders who have been fighting back are hardly representative of all believers, let alone the majority of women who rely on birth control. According to Catholics for Choice, 98% of Catholic women have used modern contraceptives at some point in their lives. Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien also gave testimony to the House energy and commerce subcommittee on health in early November, in which he explained that the majority of Catholic women support the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans.

The Guttmacher Institute further supports these statements and statistics, reporting that over 99% of sexually active American women of childbearing age have used at least one method of contraception. A Kaiser Health tracking poll from August also shows that two-thirds of Americans support the plan to require health insurers to provide full contraceptive coverage. Constituents and lawmakers alike are rightfully perplexed about why President Obama would even consider such an exemption.

“Why should the conscience of an employer trump a woman’s conscience?” Illinois Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky asked in a statement. “Why should an employer decide for a woman whether she can access healthcare services that she and her doctor decide are necessary? Why are we talking about allowing some employers to put up a barrier to access at a time when women are struggling afford and access healthcare?”

Indeed, what Rep Schakowsky asks is of vital importance. This isn’t just an issue of separating church and state, or of being forced to define what constitutes religious affiliation, doctor-patient privacy or a public health matter. If President Obama sides with the Catholic leaders demanding the exemption, his decision would directly impact the lives of millions of poor Americans already struggling in the recession.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 36.2 million women sought out contraceptive services in 2008. Half of these women relied on publicly funded programs, yet only slightly more than half of low-income women who need these services currently receive them. The 2010 healthcare reform package was supposed to change this. Now, thanks to some belligerent bishops, even those hard-won victories for women’s healthcare seem to be in jeopardy.

If 66% of Americans support an already approved healthcare plan, why in the world are we still having to worry that the president won’t uphold his own policies? If millions of women depend on these vital services every year, why do we have to fear that the needs of low-income women will be once again compromised by the Obama administration’s fear of upsetting a minority Catholic cadre?

The real threat of the birth control mandate is not that employer-funded health insurance would be forced to cover contraceptives. The real threat in this debacle is the very real possibility of denying low-income basic medical care. The real threat is that widely supported, sensible, affordable and comprehensive healthcare policy can be dramatically altered by a few pissed-off priests. The real threat right now is a wavering president who can’t be counted on to support the most basic women’s health policies that the majority of Americans desperately need and want.

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New York’s ardour for Michael Bloomberg cools November 27, 2011

The rally last week at Manhattan’s Riverside church was packed. Several thousand people crammed into the famous hall where Martin Luther King once gave a 1967 speech against the Vietnam war and for a fight against poverty.

The gathering was part of the Living Wage New York campaign, which aims to force companies who receive large grants of public money for private projects to pay workers in the jobs they create a minimum wage of around $10 (£6.47) an hour. It does not sound a controversial plan or one to create major unrest.

But the mood beneath the church’s soaring vault was angry. Most of it was directed at one man, New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who wants to veto the proposal.

Council member Jumaane Williams could not contain his fury. “This is about greed,” he fumed to the crowd before turning his ire on Bloomberg and his vast fortune. “Ten dollars is not a lot of money! If Mayor Bloomberg woke up making 10 dollars an hour, he would faint!” he thundered, adding that the mayor ran New York like a “coward dictator”.

Bloomberg, 69, who is now one of the most recognised names in American politics, is not usually the target of such strong emotion. He is often spoken of as a potential third party presidential candidate and ideal person to thread the needle of America’s two-party set-up. He is hailed as a socially liberal moderate who is friendly to big business. He has, after all, been a member of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

But these are no ordinary times for Bloomberg. In the middle of economic hardship and financial crisis, sparked by a reckless banking industry, he has emerged as a staunch defender of Wall Street. While the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread from Manhattan around America, his administration has used the police to brutally crack down on demonstrators in New York – and the media covering them. He has defended the banking industry as patriotic and vital for New York’s finances, despite polls showing deep anger with big finance. And he sees the Living Wage bid for a $10-an-hour pay packet as a reckless “job killer”.

He has also become more prone to gaffes. New York police recently arrested a terror suspect, José Pimental, after officers assisted him in devising a fake bomb plot to attack the city. Bloomberg personally trumpeted the arrest of the so-called al-Qaida sympathiser. However, within hours the story’s impact turned negative as it was revealed that the FBI refused to help with the case, believing Pimental was not a credible threat.

The controversies have all focused America’s mind on the mayor of its most famous city as he contemplates the final two years of his last term in office. It has prompted a critical rethink in some quarters of just how Bloomberg has run New York and the legacy he will leave behind in a city that, always controversially, considers itself the unofficial capital of the world. And, just as the American political landscape seems ripe for a third-party run, it also appears that the man most usually associated with such a bid is making uncharacteristic mis-steps.

Perhaps that explains the New York Observer‘s front page last week. Under the headline “Digging In”, the paper ran a huge cartoon of Bloomberg’s head superimposed on a Thanksgiving turkey being served up to potential successors wielding knives and licking their lips.

It seems, in the eyes of New York media at least, that Bloomberg is suddenly vulnerable. That is remarkable for a man whose savvy political touch – and willingness to spend tens of millions of dollars of his own fortune on campaigns – made him untouchable as a politician. After all, Bloomberg’s sheer chutzpah saw him change a term limits rule just so he could serve three times in office. Then, having won his third race, he supported a move back to two-term limits and closed the very loophole he had used himself.

If any one thing is currently tarnishing Bloomberg’s record in office, it is his handling of the Occupy protests and his pro-banking industry stance. The police have used a heavy-handed approach to the growing protests that set up a world-famous encampment in downtown Manhattan’s Zuccotti park.

There were pepper-spray incidents on female protesters, mass arrests on the Brooklyn bridge and a secretive early-morning raid to clear the park. That latter incident caused widespread protests from media organisations that were kept away from the site. Reporters were manhandled, beaten or arrested despite having press accreditation. In words that sparked ridicule on websites such as Twitter, Bloomberg said that the press had been kept away from the action for their own safety.

“There is a real hostility towards public expression in the street,” said Professor Joshua Freeman, an expert on the city’s history at the City University of New York. One Bloomberg watcher, who did not want to be named, was more blunt, saying that the police hard line was a manifestation of the mayor’s personal attitude to the anti-capitalist protests: “I think this is him. It is what he is about.”

There is little doubt that Bloomberg is a defender of America’s brand of free market capitalism, even as the Occupy movement‘s cry of “We are 99%” has entered into political debate. Bloomberg, after all, founded the media company that bears his name, which has made him a vast fortune from financial news and data services.

“Mayor Bloomberg has become a spokesman for Wall Street. He comes off as a clear member of the 1%, defending the interests of the 1%,” said Professor Bruce Berg, an expert on New York City politics at Fordham University.

However, Berg added: “But that is nothing citizens of New York didn’t know from the outset.”

Indeed, many experts say that Bloomberg’s current travails are unlikely to impact his overall legacy. When his 12 years are up in 2014, he will still be seen as a highly competent, if autocratic, manager who made a dizzyingly complex city work well. “His administration has been exceptionally competent. New York runs better on a day-to-day basis than at any time I can remember,” said Freeman.

Bloomberg has presided over rapid gentrification of many parts of the city, even as poorer residents are forced out. Many city streets have become safer and he has launched high-profile “green projects”, such as planting hundreds of thousands of trees, building bike lanes and trying to push congestion charges.

He banned smoking and forced fast-food chains to post calorie counts on menus. Critics say that Bloomberg’s New York has become a far more homogeneous, less diverse place that has lost the edge and rawness that made it famous. But that is probably not a criticism Bloomberg dislikes. Neither does everyone think it is fair. “The boom in real estate prices made it difficult for New York to be the way it was. A lot of that was out of Bloomberg’s control,” Freeman said.

But what will Bloomberg do next? At least one man is hoping the answer is to run for president in 2012. “He’s the best person to create a needed third party in the United States,” said Carey Campbell, national chairman of the Draft Michael Bloomberg Committee, which aims to pave a way for Bloomberg to join the presidential race. “He’s a brilliant man, both in the private sector and as a mayor.”

For his supporters, Bloomberg’s appeal is based on free-market sympathies, coupled with social liberalism and a record at getting things done.

They also argue that his wealth makes him immune to “special interests” that are flooding American politics with much-needed campaign donations. Aside from Campbell’s movement, Bloomberg could also get ballot access via Americans Elect, an online third-party movement that will choose a nominee by a popular vote in the summer. His name is already being touted as a possible pick for AE.

However, Bloomberg himself has publicly denied that he would run and most observers expect him to sit out the race. After he leaves office, he will remain a high-profile name with a fortune counted in billions and owner of one of the world’s fastest-growing and most influential media companies.

Indeed, some might say, that is a more powerful position than simply holding elected office. He could influence debates, fund causes and still shape the world. On the left, George Soros has done just that. On the right, so have David and Charles Koch. Their billions give them power most politicians only dream of.

It might even be the one area where Bloomberg and the Occupy protesters finally agree on a basic truth: in modern America, money buys power and politics sometimes cannot.

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Kenyan Grenade Attack Kills 2 November 6, 2011

Kenyan authorities suspect militants are behind a grenade attack on a house near a church in eastern Kenya, killing two people and wounding at least two others.

Officials say it happened in the town of Garissa around midnight Saturday.  A second grenade found nearby did not explode.

The violence comes as many people were planning to attend prayers for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.

No one has claimed responsibility, but investigators are looking toward the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, which has staged attacks inside Kenya to protest military operations in Somalia.

The Kenyan military launched an offensive in Somali three weeks ago aimed at militants.  The government has accused al-Shabab militants of crossing into Kenyan territory from Somalia and kidnapping several foreigners.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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US bishop charged with failing to report abuse October 15, 2011

A bishop has become the highest-ranking US Catholic official indicted on a charge of failing to protect children after he and his diocese waited five months to tell police about hundreds of images of child pornography discovered on a priest’s computer.

Bishop Robert Finn, the first US bishop criminally charged with sheltering an abusive clergyman, and the Kansas City-St Joseph Catholic Diocese have pleaded not guilty on one count each of failing to report suspected child abuse.

Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Finn and the diocese were required under state law to report the discovery to police because the images gave them reason to believe a child had been abused.

“Now that the grand jury investigation has resulted in this indictment, my office will pursue this case vigorously,” Baker said. “I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims.”

The indictment, handed down 6 October but sealed because Finn was out of the country, says the bishop failed to report suspicions against the priest from 16 December, 2010, when the photos were discovered, to 11 May, 2011, when the diocese turned them over to police.

Finn denied any wrongdoing in a statement on Friday and said he had begun work to overhaul the diocese’s reporting policies and act on key findings of a diocese-commissioned investigation into its practices.

“Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph,” said Finn. “For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defence.”

Finn faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted of the misdemeanour. The diocese also faces a $1,000 fine.

After the Catholic sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002, grand juries in several regions reviewed how bishops handled claims against priests. However, most of the allegations were decades old and far beyond the statute of limitations.

Until Finn was indicted, no US Catholic bishop had been criminally charged over how he responded to abuse claims, although some bishops had struck deals with local authorities to avoid prosecution against their dioceses.

A former secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Monsignor William Lynn, was charged in February with child endangerment. A grand jury had released a report accusing the archdiocese of keeping some credibly accused clergy in church jobs where they had access to children. Lynn has pleaded not guilty.

The grand jury report in Philadelphia and the case in Kansas City have raised questions about how closely other dioceses are following the national discipline policy the US bishops adopted in 2002. Church leaders had promised to remove all credibly accused clergy from church work.

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