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The 411 Last Updated: Apr 14th, 2013 - 19:45:57

Congo Crisis Worsens
By the SB Crew, Compiled With Dispatches from
Nov 30, 2012, 15:46

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Congo Humanitarian Crisis Worsens Amidst Renewed Violence Linked to Rebels Backed by Rwanda
A massive humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Central Africa, where fighting has displaced tens of thousands in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebels believed to be backed by Rwanda postponed their departure Friday from Goma for "logistical reasons," defying for a second time an ultimatum set by neighboring African countries and backed by Western diplomats. Last week, the World Food Program suspended its food distribution over security concerns, but it has now resumed activity in several refugee camps across the Congo. Meanwhile, many who fled their homes amidst the fighting are looking to return, but thousands are still living in camps as the conflict drags on. "It’s one of the greatest humanitarian crises anywhere in the world since the end of World War II. Some five million people have died since 1998 when serious fighting broke out again in the region," says veteran reporter James North, who has covered Africa for almost four decades. He is a contributing writer to The Nation, where his latest article is "Washington’s Role in the Renewed Violence in DR Congo."

Bangladeshi Labor Activist Finds Burned Clothes With Wal-Mart Labels At Site of Deadly Factory Fire
The Bangladeshi government has declared a period of national mourning for more than 120 garment workers who died in a fire at a factory that supplied U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, among others. Joining us from Bangladesh is labor activist Kalpona Akter, who has visited the factory and took pictures of the charred clothing labels she found there — including the Wal-Mart brand, Faded Glory. She started work in garment factories when she was 12 years old. Now she campaigns for better wages, recognition of the right to organize, and higher safety standards. We are also joined by Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, which investigates working conditions in factories around the world. In comparison to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City, Nova says, “It really is an extraordinary achievement, in an ironic sense, that the U.S. apparel industry has managed to replicate early 20th century conditions that were so brutal and cruel to workers now again here in 2012 in factories in places like Bangladesh. It is a shameful record for the U.S. apparel industry … And hopefully this horror will finally galvanize a global push for genuine reform of the labor practices of the big brands and retailers. Akter speaks directly to shoppers, saying, “Consumers can play a big role because they are the most powerful player in the supply chain.”

Stevie Wonder Cancels Gig Benefiting Israeli Military
Stevie Wonder canceled his benefitting Israeli military.
Musician Stevie Wonder has cancelled his appearance at a concert to raise money for the Israeli Defense Forces following mounting pressure from an online campaign. Wonder took action after thousands of people signed a petition urging him not to support the Israeli military because of its treatment of Palestinians. According to the news agency, Stevie Wonder’s representatives plan to say the performance would be out of step with his role as a U.N. Messenger for Peace. Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip ended in a ceasefire last week with the final toll standing at around 170 Palestinians killed, and more than 700 wounded. Meanwhile in Israel, four Israeli civilians and two Israeli soldiers were killed, along with dozens of others wounded, in Palestinian attacks.

Palestinian medical officials say the death toll of around 170 in Gaza included between 24 to 34 children. In a statement, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child warned the conflict has had a "devastating and lasting impact" on children, with "deep trauma and other psychological effects on children on both sides of the border." At least one Gaza school was completely destroyed by Israeli shelling. One young Palestinian boy reported witnessing his brother’s decapitation when metal from an Israeli bombing tore off the victim’s head as he slept. Diane Araki, the Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gaza, said she had witnessed a number of children suffering.

Diane Araki: "I was seeing children who have been injured by the conflict, and children on ventilators, children bruised, their bruised bodies and they were very much suffering."

Florida Man Shoots Unarmed Black Teen After Argument over Music
Florida’s controversial "Stand Your Ground" law is back in the spotlight after an African-American teenager was shot dead by a 45-year-old white man in Jacksonville. Seventeen-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was killed Tuesday following an argument over music volume. Davis and his friends were sitting inside an SUV when Michael David Dunn pulled up in a car and asked them to turn their music down. Following an argument, Dunn shot eight or nine times into the car, fatally hitting Jordan Russell Davis, who was sitting in the backseat. Dunn’s lawyer said he acted in self-defense. Dunn told police he felt threatened and thought he saw a gun inside the teenagers’ SUV, but no gun was recovered from the vehicle. The shooting has already prompted comparisons to the death of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed 17-year-old African American who was shot dead by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, on February 26.

NYC Fast-Food Workers Stage Historic Walkouts, Rallies to Demand Fair Pay, Union Rights
In New York City, fast-food workers walked off the job to hold a series of rallies and picket lines Thursday in what’s been called the largest series of worker actions ever to hit the country’s fast-food industry. Hundreds of workers at dozens of restaurants owned by McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and others went on strike and rallied in a bid for fair pay and union recognition. Organizers with the Fast Food Forward campaign are seeking an increased pay rate of $15 an hour, about double what the minimum-wage workers are making. Workers and their allies demanded a wage that would let them support their families.

KFC employee Pamela Waldron: "CEOs take home six-digit figures. Do you think they’re worrying about how we make — how we provide for our kids? No! Do they know how the store is run? It’s run day to day, day in, day out, by regular employees just like myself."

Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change: "We’re out here to send a message to McDonald’s, Burger King behind me, Yum! Brands and other fast-food restaurants all over the city that workers aren’t going to take it. And there’s a movement of workers to make sure that people can get $15 an hour and the right to unionize."

Brooklyn Public Housing Residents Demand Repairs, Community Input for Sandy Recovery
Residents of Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex are criticizing the city’s response to the disaster. Public tenants in the neighborhood of Red Hook went for weeks without basic services like power and heat but are are still being asked to pay rent on time before receiving a credit in January. Earlier this week, residents protested in front of the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, to issue a series of demands.

Reg Flowers of the Red Hook Initiative: The short-term demands are just like repairs in the buildings, making sure that the air quality and the water quality is safe for people living in housing, and just making those apartments inhabitable again. Some of the long-term demands are making sure that money that is coming down for recovery efforts, that a certain amount of that is going to be directed towards NYCHA, also getting people from housing and from the community at large involved in those meetings when decisions are being made about recovery money allocation. So, I feel like the long-term goal is getting — empowering the community."

First Survey of U.S. Domestic Workers Reveals Low Pay, Abusive Conditions
The first-ever national survey of domestic workers in the United States has revealed substandard working conditions faced by a largely female workforce that goes almost entirely unprotected by labor laws. According to a survey of more than 2,000 nannies, caregivers and house cleaners, nearly a quarter of U.S. domestic workers are paid less than the state minimum wage. The survey found particularly dire rates for live-in workers, who make a median hourly wage of $6.15. Domestic workers receive almost no benefits, with only 4 percent getting employer-provided insurance. Many also reported being forced to silently endure verbal and even physical abuse out of fear of being fired or reported to immigration authorities if they complained.

Strike by Clerical Workers Cripples Major Los Angeles Port
A strike by clerical workers at the Port of Los Angeles spread to several terminals Wednesday, disrupting operations at one of the nation’s biggest ports. Workers are striking against international corporations they say are outsourcing good-paying jobs.

Wal-Mart Worker Uprising: Protests Held At 1,000 Stores on Black Friday
A wave of historic protests struck the retail giant Wal-Mart on Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year. Workers and their supporters demonstrated at more than 1,000 stores. The Wal-Mart protests were organized in part by OUR Walmart, an organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union. Nine people, including three Wal-Mart workers, were arrested at a protest in Los Angeles after they blocked traffic

Florida Republicans Admit Suppression of Democratic Votes Was Goal of New Law
Former Republican officials in Florida have admitted a controversial new law that helped fuel massive lines on Election Day was intentionally created to suppress Democratic votes. Republican leaders had claimed the law was aimed at stopping voter fraud. But former Republican officials, including former Florida governor Charlie Crist, told the Palm Beach Post that alleged fraud was used as a cover to conceal the main goal of Republicans — curbing Democratic votes. In particular, Republican officials were apparently concerned about the impact of early voting by people of color. The Palm Beach Post cites an anonymous Republican consultant saying: "I know that the cutting out of the Sunday before Election Day was one of their targets only because that’s a big day when the black churches organize themselves." President Obama ultimately won the battleground state of Florida, but the state’s voting restrictions caused a spike in provisional ballots, which are used when a voter’s eligibility is in question.

Actions Planned to Support Resistance by First Nation Group Against Oil Pipeline
Solidarity actions are expected across Canada and around the world today to support a resistance effort by First Nations groups in British Columbia against the construction of an oil pipeline on their land. Last week, members of the Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation seized equipment and established a roadblock to prevent construction on the Pacific Trails Pipeline, which would carry gas extracted through the the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." Organizers have twice evicted pipeline surveyors from the land, accusing the workers of trespassing.

Illinois Sets Election Date After Resignation of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Illinois has set a March date for elections to replace Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. who resigned from his post after taking a several-month leave to seek treatment for bipolar disorder. In a statement announcing his departure, Jackson cited the orders of his doctors and acknowledged for the first time he is the subject of a federal investigation for what’s believed to be alleged misuse of campaign funds. Jackson said: "None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right."

Author Thomas Ricks: Fox News "Was Operating as a Wing of the Republican Party"
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks is drawing attention for his criticism of Fox News over its coverage of the deadly attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. The veteran military reporter made the comments against Fox News during an interview with the network Monday.

Thomas Ricks: "I think that Benghazi generally was hyped, by this network especially, and that now that the campaign is over, I think [Senator John McCain] is backing off a little bit. They’re not going to stop Susan Rice from being secretary of state. I’ve covered a lot of fire-fights, it is impossible to figure out what happens in them sometimes. And second, I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political, partly because Fox News was operating as a wing of the Republican Party."

Activist Who Defaced Anti-Muslim Subway Ad: "I’m Proud of What I Did"
An activist who attempted to spray-paint over an anti-Muslim advertisement in a New York City subway station appeared in court Thursday to face charges of criminal mischief. Mona Eltahawy was offered a plea deal over the September incident but chose to go to trial instead. She told The Guardian: "I actually look forward to standing trial, because I acted out of principle and I’m proud of what I did."

U.N. Backs Palestinian Bid for "Non-Member Observer State" Status
The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to recognize the state of Palestine by upgrading its status to "non-member observer state." The historic vote saw 138 countries voting in favor of the Palestinian bid with just nine states, including the United States and Israel, voting no. Forty-one countries, including Britain and Germany, abstained. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the United Nations ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine."

Samples Taken from Arafat’s Body in Probe over Palestinian Leader’s Death
Experts have taken samples from the body of former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat as part of an international probe to determine whether he was poisoned to death. Earlier this year, an investigation found traces of the radioactive material polonium on Arafat’s clothing. Arafat died in 2004 after being flown to France for medical treatment.

Egypt: Protests Continue as Panel Approves Draft Constitution
Protests are continuing in Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to grant himself sweeping powers as an Islamist panel has approved a draft of the country’s new constitution. The panel writing the constitution had been boycotted by Christians and secularists and had rushed to finish their work amidst mounting protests. Demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Thursday rejected the constitution and called for Morsi to step down.

Mohamed Magdy: "The government and Morsi should leave. The only and the first demand for revolutionaries is to topple Mohamed Morsi, because he does not achieve the demands and targets of the revolution. There is no freedom, justice or even bread. He has achieved nothing. The Interior Ministry is worse than it was before. The national security police are back to their old tasks (the same as under Hosni Mubarak)."

Egyptian President: Decree Granting New Powers Is Temporary
President Mohamed Morsi sought to reassure the Egyptian people by claiming his decree last week exempting his decisions from judicial oversight was not meant to be permanent. Morsi made the comments in a TV interview Thursday.

President Mohamed Morsi: "The constitutional decree — I say that this period will end immediately after the people vote on the constitution that the constituent assembly is now completing."

World’s Youth Call for Urgent Action at U.N. Climate Change Summit
Climate delegates are wrapping up the first of two weeks of talks in Qatar’s capital of Doha amidst mounting signs of global warming’s impact. The U.N. meteorological agency has unveiled a new report showing an area of Arctic sea ice larger than the United States melted this year over a six-month period. The agency said sea ice around the North Pole reached a record low because of climate change. While world leaders appear to have stalled over a possible extension of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, some of the toughest calls for change to emerge this week have been from the world’s youth. Youth activists called Friday for leaders to take drastic action immediately to prevent poorer countries from suffering the brunt of climate change. Michael Sandmel, a member of the International Youth Climate Movement, spoke in Doha earlier this week.

Michael Sandmel: "We make up half the world’s population, and frankly, we’re being screwed. We’re being denied a future by a lack of ambition, a lack of vision, and governments that are far too beholden to the interests of big fossil fuel companies, big coal companies, the banks that
fund them."

Study: Emissions Targets Won’t Halt Planet’s Warming
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change pledged to cap global temperature rises at 2 degrees Celsius at the 2010 summit in Cancun, but new figures show greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high last year. According to the United Nations, the world is now on pace for a global temperature rise of between 3 and 5 degrees. Unveiling the latest findings, the chief scientist of the U.N. Environment Programme, Joe Alcamo, warned that current emissions standards will be insufficient to stop devastating climate change.

Joe Alcamo: "Over 45 scientists from around the world, came to the conclusion that by 2020, if we just complied with current pledges that the countries have made to reduce emissions, global emissions will not be low enough to be on track to meet the 2-degree climate target. So in other words, we cannot wait until 2020 to have stringent reductions. We know what the challenge is. It’s a question now of taking action. Between now and 2020, through the negotiations, we can tighten up the rules for complying with pledges, that would lead to a reduction in emissions."

Report: Gitmo Prisoner Adnan Latif Died of Overdose in Apparent Suicide
A U.S. military official says autopsy results show a Guantánamo Bay prisoner who died in September had taken an overdose of medication in an apparent suicide. Adnan Latif was a Yemeni national who had attempted suicide multiple times since his imprisonment a decade ago. He was at least the ninth foreign prisoner to die at Guantánamo since the United States began jailing foreigners there in 2002. Latif had remained at Guantánamo despite being cleared for release several times. An unnamed official told the Associated Press it was unclear how Latif had gathered enough medication to kill himself. Latif’s lawyer said he remains skeptical his death was a suicide.

Corker, Collins Join Chorus Against Rice amid Speculation GOP Is Eying Kerry’s Senate Seat
Two more Republican senators are adding their voices to the growing criticism against U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who is considered a top choice by President Obama for secretary of state. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine criticized Rice’s handling of the fatal attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday after meeting with her for more than an hour. Senator Collins also indicated she would prefer Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as a candidate for secretary of state, fueling speculation the Republicans want Kerry nominated so that his Senate seat would be left open. The vacancy could trigger a potential comeback for Senator Scott Brown, who was defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Report: Susan Rice Holds Stock in Keystone XL Oil Firm
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is receiving criticism of a different kind after it was revealed she holds up to $600,000 worth of stock in the firm behind the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. TransCanada is seeking federal permission to transport Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast. If confirmed as secretary of state, Rice could play a key role in determining the fate of the pipeline.

EXCLUSIVE: Julian Assange on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Cypherpunks, Surveillance State
In his most extended interview in months, Julian Assange speaks to Democracy Now! from inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been holed up for nearly six months. Assange vowed WikiLeaks would persevere despite attacks against it. On Tuesday, the European Commission announced that the credit card company Visa did not break the European Union’s antitrust rules by blocking donations to WikiLeaks. "Since the blockade was erected in December 2010, WikiLeaks has lost 95 percent of the donations that were attempted to be transferred to us over that period. ... Our rightful and natural growth, our ability to publish as much as we would like, our ability to defend ourselves and our sources, has been diminished by that blockade." Assange also speaks about his new book, "Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet." "The mass surveillance and mass interception that is occurring to all of us now who use the internet is also a mass transfer of power from individuals into extremely sophisticated state and private intelligence organizations and their cronies," he says. Assange also discusses the United States’ targeting of WikiLeaks. "The Pentagon is maintaining a line that WikiLeaks inherently, as an institution that tells military and government whistleblowers to step forward with information, is a crime. They allege we are criminal, moving forward," Assange says. "Now, the new interpretation of the Espionage Act that the Pentagon is trying to hammer in to the legal system, and which the Department of Justice is complicit in, would mean the end of national security journalism in the United States."

Accused WikiLeaks Whistleblower Bradley Manning Testifies He Thought He Would "Die in Custody"

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has testified for the first time since he was arrested in May 2010. Speaking Thursday at a pretrial proceeding, Manning revealed the emotional tumult he experienced while imprisoned in Kuwait after his arrest in 2010, saying, "I remember thinking, ’I’m going to die.’ I thought I was going to die in a cage." As part of his testimony, Manning stepped inside a life-sized chalk outline representing the six-by-eight-foot cell he was later held in at the Quantico base in Virginia, and recounted how he would tilt his head to see the reflection of a skylight through a tiny space in his cell door. Manning could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 22 counts against him. His trial is expected to begin in February. He has offered to plead guilty to a subset of charges that could potentially carry a maximum prison term of 16 years. "What’s remarkable is that he still has this incredible dignity after going through this," says Michael Ratner, who was in the courtroom during Manning’s appearance. "But I think all these prison conditions were — sure, they were angry at Bradley Manning, but in the face of that psychiatric statement, that this guy shouldn’t be kept on suicide risk or POI, they’re still keeping him in inhuman conditions, you can only ask yourself — they’re trying to break him for some reason. The lawyer, David Coombs, has said it’s so that he can give evidence against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks." Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Judge Denies Bail Request from Accused Stratfor Hacker Jeremy Hammond
A federal judge has rejected a request by lawyers for accused hacker Jeremy Hammond to release the imprisoned activist into house arrest. Hammond is accused of being a member of the hacker group “Anonymous” and has been charged with hacking into the computers of the private intelligence firm Stratfor. The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has continued to release the Stratfor documents, which number in the millions. Hammond’s supporters say the documents shed light on how the private intelligence firm monitors activists and spies for corporate clients. Jeremy Hammond has been held without bail or trial for more than eight months. His lawyers argued Tuesday the accused hacker would be unable to review the troves of digitized evidence related to the case from jail, but their request for his release was denied. Jeremy Hammond supporter Sue Crabtree defended his alleged actions.

Sue Crabtree: "The media calls Jeremy a hacker, and a member of Anonymous, the courts and those pursuing his prosecution, call him a criminal. But we call Jeremy a hero, and we ask what crimes has Jeremy committed that haven’t equally exposed the very crimes by the state prosecuting him. And again we say, exposing the crimes of the state is not a crime."

Killer Robots: HRW and Nobel Laureate Jody Williams Urge Ban on Modern Warfare’s Next Frontier
Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams is joining with Human Rights Watch to oppose the creation of killer robots — fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention. In a new report, HRW warns such weapons would undermine the safety of civilians in armed conflict; violate international humanitarian law; and blur the lines of accountability for war crimes. Fully autonomous weapons do not exist yet, but high-tech militaries are moving in that direction with the United States taking the lead. Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, joins us along with Steve Goose, director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division.

Civil Rights Activist Lawrence Guyot (1939-2012)
The veteran civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot has died at the age of 73. Guyot began his activism as an anti-racism organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi during the 1960s, spearheading African-American voter registration and nearly losing his life to one of several brutal beatings he suffered while in jail.

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