Category Archives: Articles

Theme Cars: A new vision for BART

BART has stupid rules. $200 fines for eating on a BART train? They should fucking have dining cars on BART, complete with singing waiters. Hell, they should have the theme cars on BART. A three car singles train to Daly City will be approaching in 2 minutes. Now approaching, a seven car chakra train, enter the red one at your own risk.

The smoking car would simply be a flat. bed, open air car (no smoking in the transbay tube). There could be all sorts of different musical themes, folk music cars, rap cars, thrasher cars. Imagine slam dancing your way to and from work. Each car could be painted in its own unique way, so you could choose which marker,to stand on in the station.

Maybe a car complete with gospel choir and preacher. It sure would make the idea of one taking one of those ‘excursion fare make more sense. How about a bunch of bike-only cars, – where you are scoffed at if You don’t have a bike, and where in place of seats they have bike stands where you can sit on your bike. Maybe even an exercise train, where people would be able to walk on treadmills and hike on stairmasters while commuting.

Just think, instead of taking BART to a social activity, it would be a social activity all On its Own. But we have regular old sanitized BART cars. No cubicles but there may as well be. BART should be spending money on theme cars, rather than tenting ivy to beautify their parking lots.

Communities of Fear

Communities of Fear

Our communities are in crisis, due to the burgeoning growth of gated communities and the security industry. Gated communities are becoming the norm of development; security systems, including surveillance cameras and private guards, monitor-an increasing portion of public life. There -is no obvious need for this security frenzy: crime rates have fallen steadily, throughout the 1990′s. But however unnecessary, the trend is potentially devastating to communities. Communities cannot function when people live in gated enclaves, segregated by wealth and class. A social system based around fear and enforced isolation is asking for revolt by those outside the gates.

Gated communities are becoming the model for home development. Since 1970, gated communities have increased by a factor of ten, numbering 20,000 in 1997. Fifty-two percent of Dallas-area home buyer feel gated, communities are desirable or essential, according to a National Association of Home Builders 19% survey. The demand for gated communities is spread across the home buyer spectrum: mobile homes, as well as upscale houses, are being developed within walls and gates.

What do these people feel they will gain by the gates? Psychologically, gates and valid are linked to protection but often ft structures surrounding these communities can be easily scaled. And many advertisements and newspaper, articles describing gated communities list them in relatively affluent surroundings, A gate does offer control of who enters the neighborhood and who comes to the door. But with control comes predictability, and can quickly lead to a sense of isolation. Mental health practitioners are in fact seeing increased incidences of social isolation, which is strongly linked to higher rates of disease and premature death.

Perhaps most importantly, a community composed of waited and gated enclaves is not a community. The impulse towards safety is being manifested as a desire to surround yourself with your own social class, shutting others. out. Children growing up in such non-diverse surroundings may have a grossly distorted world view. The end effect is segregation by socioeconomic class. Gates send a strong message: when you are on the outside, you are not good enough. To those on the inside, people on te outside will begin to seem less. trustworthy; the outsiders will be perceived as second class citizens. As Edward J. Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder point out in Fortress America: Gated Communities, in the United States, ‘For fine inside the gates, life may be a little more comfortable. For others’, however, gated communities. symbolizee a larger social pattern of segmentation and separation, designed to disassociate, and exclude.” What gated communities are really about is the abdication of, responsibility. Instead of dealing wit I h issues that make them uncomfortable, people who can afford gates and walls secret themselves away from things, scary – or maybe even just” different.

Communities are about sharing resources and responsibilities. Since most gated communities privatize everything within the gates, including streets, parks, and other municipal services, people living within the gates risk becoming anesthetized to issues outside the gates. They will likely no longer feel the need to share their resources. If the rich keep all their resources to themselves, the rest of the larger community will have work harder to maintain institutions outside the gate. The end result is the exacerbation of the problems” the gated folks tried to escape by living within the gates.

And what are these “problems”? The main difficulty” is that the people not living in gated communities will either be too poor to afford that level of security, or uninterested in living a segregated life- neither of which is cause for fanatical security and isolation. The fear and superiority the gated folks feel is clearly a consequence of a society that emphasizes wealth, class, and profit over community and humanity.

The concentration of wealth encouraged by gated communities almost guarantees a revolt by the peoplr outside the walls. Against of angry, frustrated people, walls and gates will offer laughably little protection. One private guard working at a gated community acknowledged that he could easily scale the gate. ‘It may be nice for a couple ofdecades,’ write Carolyn Shaffer and Kristen

Anundsen in Creating Community Anywhere, ‘But if there is too much disparity between the private enclaves of wealth and homogeneous groups of people, the rest of the community is going to be poor, frustrated and angry. And the walls are not going to be high enough to keep out the problems.”

Electronic Security System Additional protection measures are being taken, both in conjunction with and apart from gated communities. Elaborate security packages, including private guards, alarms, and surveillance cameras, are standard on 30% of new homes. Private security guards are being hired to. patrol neighborhoods, in addition to the conventional police presence. Nationally, private security is a $104 billion industry, while public security (such as local police forces) is a $44 billion industry. Private security guards offer somewhat illusory protection. Often, guards are hired specifically to observe. crimes and report them to the police force, instead of to intervene. Even in uniform, private guards are still only private citizens; anybody on the street has the power to detain a suspect for a ‘reasonable length of time.

‘Most criminals know exactly what those services do and what they can’t do, and they are not afraid of them like they are the police”‘ says Terry Schauer, senior lead officer at ,LAPD’s West Los Angeles station. Nonetheless, the security guard industry continues to expand. Some neighborhoods, both with and without gates, are hiring private security guards to patrol their streets.’ Several neighborhoods in the Baton Rouge, LA area have established mandatory taxes to fund the guards. Ironically, son* conservatives join civil libertarians in speaking against these residential tax districts. ‘it is going to Balkanize the cities even further,” argues Walter Abbott of the politically conservative Americans for Tax Reform. ‘It’s pitting neighborhood against neighborhood. Ifs a gate community without walls.” Electronic security systems are as ineffective as private guards. Electronic systems are standard on 30% of new homes; a fifth of United States residences now have alarm systems, compared to 1 % in 1970. Thesystems are little to sensitive, creating a boy-cries-wolf effect: in one luxury gatedcommunity, mosquitoes can set off the infrared motion sensors. Nationally, only 1%of alarms are valid. These mistakes lead police to deprioritize any alarm signal, real orspurious. A cop’s arrival an hour after the alarm sounds is meaningless, considered that most thieves can escape with their cargo in minutes.

Surveillance cameras are proliferating even faster than alarms systems. For several years, surveillance cameras have been staples of convenience stores and ATM’S, but spy cameras can increasingly be found monitoring all aspects of public life. In one eight block area of New York, NY Civil Liberties Union volunteers found 300 cameras in plain sight; many more could have been hidden. The presence of cameras often suggests an atmosphere of safety.

According to the Village Voice, however, no clear link exists between crime prevention and cameras. Researchers think cameras may cause decreases in petty crime such as vandalism, but probably don’t prevent larger comes. For instance, convenience store robberies have not significantly decreased, even after years of taping the cash register area. Cameras often are not monitored directly, and may not be monitored at all unless a crime occurs in the area. The tapes are only viewed afterwards with hopes of catching the perpetrators.

Security Through Community The security frenzy points to a crisis within our communities. For security’s sake, mainstream America accepts daily monitoring, and then returns home-to sealed homes inside sealed gates. But technology cannot provide household security precautions, we can better invest our attention and resources in strengthening our whole-community health and security, enhancing and opening up our lives instead of closing them down.” Carolyn Shaffer, also a Berkeley community organizer and author, echoes these thoughts: ‘People are very afraid to be vulnerable and have mistakenly thought that security comes through external systems of burglar alarms, gates, guns and police forces. What I believe is that true security comes through being willing to connect openly with one another, honestly and respectfully. Building those bonds and links of connection creates much greater security- than all the hardware, firepower or guards you can hire.’

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10 Things a City Can Do to Promote Bicycling

1. Exempt bicycles from obeying stop signs (especially 4-way) when the bike is the only vehicle approaching an intersection.

2. Fix pot holes that form in the space between where cars drive and the side of the road. These road blemishes force bikes to choose between veering into traffic and ruining their tires or crashing.

3. Require companies or neighboring clusters of businesses to provide a space for employees who bike to work to shower and change clothes.

4. Paint designated bike lanes on main bike routes that are clear of parked carsí opening doors. If necessary, eliminate car parking on one side of the road and have a 2-way bike lane on that side.

5. Install bicycle-responsive triggers that actually work to help bikes get across busy streets when there is no other cross-traffic to trigger the light.

6. Smooth out curb cuts to prevent flat tires.

7. Provide adequate, functional bike parking throughout the city. Simple posts are fineóspare us the complicated contraptions.

8. Stipulate that mass transit agencies such as buses, trains, and subways must accomodate bikes, at all hours of the day.

9. Ticket vehicles that endanger bicyclists, for example, by stopping or parking in a bike lane or cutting off a cyclist.

10. Encourage high-density, mixed-use development that enables bicylists to easily meet most everyday needs without having to make long, dangerous journeys.

5th Avenue Artists

A rag-tag group of artists and small businesses on Oakland’s Fifth Avenue waterfront has battled the powerful Port of Oakland to a standstill and possibly struck a fatal blow against a harebrained scheme to bring an International Expo center to the Oakland waterfront. Back in March of this year folks in Oakland’s Fifth Ave. waterfront found their neighborhood the subject of a front page article in the Oakland Tribune, complete with artist’s conception type drawing of a new grand plan for the waterfront–only the buildings that house their studios and businesses weren’t there.

The neighborhood is located in the middle of roughly five miles of waterfront known as the Oakland Estuary (from the foot of MLK to the airport) that has been changing with the advent of containerized shipping and the collapse of Oakland’s industrial base. Planning efforts for the area began in 1993 when the League of Women Voters published a paper calling for a co­ordinated planning effort, stressing the need for increased connection with the nearby flatlands neighborhoods and constructive re­uses for abandoned waterfront land. In 1996 the Port and the city jointly hired the ROMA group of San Francisco to develop a comprehensive plan for the area. The thirty-one member Citizen Advisory Committee for the planning process contained no one from the neighborhood. The first draft of the Estuary Plan literally wiped the neighborhood off the map.

The Fifth Ave. waterfront is home to about 100 artists and small arts and crafts related businesses, many of whom have been on that street for fifteen years or longer. The area is a bright spot of authentic urban fabric in the midst of an otherwise neglected stretch of waterfront. Painters and sculptors co-exist with a steel fabricator and a foundry, and self-employed picture framers, architects, and musical instrument makers ply their trades. The larger enterprises on the street frequently provide flexible, well paying industrial arts jobs to the artists in the area. There is an elaborate network of tool and resource sharing, and lots of hanging out on the street and courtyards.

Artists and small business owners are notoriously difficult to organize and only a few folks on Fifth Ave. had any community organizing or political experience, but the neighborhood quickly pulled together a co-ordinated lobbying and publicity effort. A loose neighborhood organization The Fifth Ave. Waterfront Alliance was formed and weekly community meetings were held where strategies were developed and tasks divided. The group had meetings with city council members, members of the community advisory committee, and grass-roots activists from other neighborhoods, making sure it had someone present at every public agency meeting that might have something to do with the future of their neighborhood. The East Bay Express ran a sympathetic, if somewhat rambling and romanticized feature article on the street and its denizens. Maybe the Port and its planners thought the neighborhood would be an easy mark because it looks kind of run down–there are no streetlights or sidewalks, and some of the buildings lean noticeably, but in mid-May they got a big surprise–a dozen neighborhood activists showed up at a workshop for the Citizen Advisory Committee and presented an eighty page document detailing their own vision for the area. Port officials were dumbfounded. The group had done its homework, and advisory committee members overwhelmingly supported the neighborhood’s right to exist. Either feeling the heat, or else just seeing reason, the Port and its planners went back to the drawing board and in August presented a new proposal that not only preserved the neighborhood but made it the pattern for future development in the area.

The Expo

But Fifth Avenue isn’t safe yet. Stalking the planning process all along has been a pie in the sky scheme to bring an international exposition to Oakland for the millennium. And what have the con-men hustling this bill of goods identified as the preferred site for this turkey? You guessed it. Nevermind that the land involved was private property and not for sale, or that forty-odd trains a day roll through the area, sometimes blocking street access for up to fifteen minutes at a time, or that the event probably will not receive the sanction of the Bureau of International Expositions, making it little more than a trade fare.

The relationship between the expo and the planning effort is complex and suspicious. The Port’s first draft for the area called for a huge tract of open space, supposedly for a public park and civic celebration space, but revealed deep in the fine print as a potential site for condos or a corporate campus. The expo was touted as a once in a lifetime, gotta act now deal for the city and a way to get some of the infrastructure installed for the supposed open space. The Port hoped that enthusiasm for the expo would speed the approval of their plan before it could be examined too closely; approval of the plan would have provided the legal and political grounds for taking the land from its owners by condemnation or eminent domain. The Port directors, mostly from the business community and permanent government of Oakland have been very cagey in their actual dealings with the expo promoters, and much more so than the City council, even though they both approved the joint financing of a $162,000 feasibility study. Given the weakness of the promoters’ proposal, (both San Francisco and Sacramento have turned them down already) it is possible that the Port never had any real interest or confidence in the expo proposal but was cynically using it to speed authorization for a land grab. Although the Port now seems to favor leaving the Fifth Ave. community in place and the promoters say they now favor the soon to be vacant Oakland Army Base (putting them in conflict with West Oakland activists with other plans for the site) the Fifth Ave. neighbors have produced (for about $500 in printing costs) an inch thick Infeasability Study and distributed it to the City Council, the Port Commissioners, and the news media. Keep your eyes on this one. In the words of one time city council candidate, perennial gadfly, and Oakland high school teacher Hugh Bassette, If it looks like an ice rink and walks like an ice rink…

Port of Oakland

The core of the 5th Avenue neighborhood is some of the last privately held land on Oakland’s waterfront. While it is not the intention of this writer to praise landlords, it is clear that so far in this area the singular vision of the two private landowners has fostered a spontaneous, creative and accessible environment, while all the Port of Oakland has been able to manage is dreary commercial tracts, locked down piers and the half empty and all plastic retail strip at Jack London Square.

The Port of Oakland derives its powers from both the city charter and state law. Though technically a city department, it functions as an autonomous government-within-a-government with just about total control of Oakland’s waterfront and airport, including all permitting and zoning authority and the powers of condemnation and eminent domain. Its accountability to the city government and the people of Oakland is limited and indirect– its directors are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, and outside of presenting its budget to the council in June of each year there is no formal review of its policies or activities.

Free Mildred Jones!!!

Black Liberation Radio activist is 8 months pregnant!

Mildred Jones, co-founder of Black Liberation Radio (BLR), an unlicensed micropower radio station in Decatur, lL., is currently being held in the Dwight Correctional Facility for Women, a maximum security facility, and risks losing her 3rd child to the State of Illinois if action isn’t taken immediately to free her.

Meanwhile, Napoleon Williams, also of BLR, has been charged with eavesdropping, a felony. He recorded conversations he had with workers in the Dept. of Child and Family Services on the radio about having their children returned to them. Napoleon Williams is out on bail now and has not yet been assigned another court date.

Black Liberation Radio, run out of the house of Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones, has been on the air since 1990 addressing such issues as poverty, unemployment and police brutality. Decatur.,- a city of 100,000 with four major multinational corporations: Caterpillar, Firestone, Archer Daniels Midland and Staleys is located in Macon County which is Klan country and generally extremely racist. Though 16% of Decatur is African American, BLR is the only radio station where music with black artists and black perspectives can be heard. Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones have endured a long history of harassment by local and state authorities, including arrests on dubious charges, raids and the removal of their children into foster care.

The latest raid on Napoleon. Mildred’s house took place May 10 when, at the order of the Illinois Attorney General, a SWAT team broke down the front door and took Napoleon and Mildred to jail. Miraculously, the station remains on the air today, but with one founder in prison and the other facing prosecution.

On June 13 Mildred was sent to prison. Mildred is over seven months pregnant and is extremely worried about how the conditions are affecting her unborn child. The nearest hospital is over 20 miles away. There is not even a full-time medical facility on the premises. Rumor has it that the prison has a horrible rate for complications in pregnancy.

She was sentenced to 3 years in prison for a probation violation stemming from a 1995 arrest on a shoplifting charge. Mildred already served time for the original charge. Her original conviction was based on highly questionable circumstances, and key videotape evidence that would have cleared her mysteriously disappeared and therefore could not be presented as evidence.

Mildred and Napoleon’s 2 daughters were taken from them in 1992 and 1993 and are in foster care. The taking of their children by the Department of Child and Family Services seems to be punishment for operating the radio station. They have another young son living somewhere else so as not to be taken into custody as well. The child Mildred is expecting will be taken if born in prison.

Justice has been hard to find in Macon County. Public pressure would be helpful. Activists need to put a spotlight on their situation nationally so Macon County will know that there’s a support system for Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones and we’re watching.

Flood Governor Jim Edgar and Department of Corrections Transfer Coordinator Diane Jockisch, with letters asking for an independent investigation of Mildred’s and Napoleon’s cases and ask that she AT LEAST be put under house arrest while the case is being investigated. Be sure to mention Mildred’s number, B49044 and that she is in the Dwight women’s prison. Please let Napoleon or Mildred know that you sent a letter by sending them a note or a copy so they will have a sense of what kind of pressure is being exerted. Funds for expenses should be sent to Napoleon. Make checks out to him with a note that its for BLR.

Governor Jim Edgar
207 Statehouse
Springfield, IL 62706.

Diane Jockisch
1301 Concordia Court
Box 19277-Admin. Building
Springfield, IL 62706

Mildred Jones, B49044
P.O. Box 5001
Dwight, IL 60420

Napoleon Williams
629 E. Center St.
Decatur, IL 62526
(217) 423-2737

Check out the BLR homepage: http://burn.

Blurbs of Revolt

Chinese Workers Fight Back

In early July over 4000 workers at the Mianyang Silk Printing Factory in Sichuan province took to the streets after their factory went bankrupt and managemers stole their unemployment money. Workers built barricades and blocked traffic for two days before their action was crushed by police. In March 20,000 textile workers in Nanchong besieged city hall for 30 hours before their demand for payment of back wages was met. For the past five years the number of strikes in China has increased dramatically. In the first half of ë96 there were 4000 strike actions. This year the number of labor disputes has increased by 59%. Job securities that had existed under the previous socialist (state capitalist) system are rapidly being eroded as China integrates with the rest of world capital. Strikes are banned in China and unions are strictly controlled by the Communist Party. Chinese workers can expect more hardship. Last month president Jiang Zemin promised massive layoffs as China privatizes most of its state owned industry.

3,000 Italians Hijack Train to Amsterdam

In Amsterdam 50,000 people marched this June against European capitalist unification, turning the city ìinto a sea of red and black.î A section of the march, which coincided with a meeting of European Union leaders, turned over a police bus, broke bank windows and battled police. Several days before, the Summit authorities decided to remove the remaining European Union flags after three-quarters of them had been stolen. It seems that several local squatter bars had offered free beers for each captured flag. Attending the march were several thousand Italians who had taken over trains in Rome and Milan. ìWe demanded free transportationî and to be able ìto pass through different countries without revealing our identity, this was an act of solidarity with undocumented workers and to assert our right to free circulation as individuals.î Marchers were protesting austerity measures imposed by states to qualify for the European single currency.

Police Murder Sparks Nashville Riot

Nashville, TN: On August 10, hundreds of angry people threw rocks and bottles at police after they shot to death Leon Fisher. Fisher, a 23 year old Black man, was being chased by the cops for speeding when he pulled into a housing project. According to witnesses he was then chased down on foot and, after being beaten, pepper sprayed and handcuffed, was shot by Sgt. Randy Hickerson who is white. Hours later police returned to find a nearby Dollar General Store looted and in flames.

Lorenzo gets messed with

down under

In July Lorenzo Komboa Erwin was arrested by Australian immigration police after arriving in the country for a speaking tour. Komboa, an anarchist and former Black Panther was convicted in 1969 of hijacking a plane to Cuba in order to escape from a U.S. counter-insurgency which left many Black Panthers dead. Under pressure from racist politician Pauline Hanson who attacked Komboa as ìa known terrorist and gunrunnerî who ìwill only incite racial hatred and violenceî, Prime Minister John Howard ordered him arrested and summarily deported. After his arrest immigration police slammed him head first into a wall, breaking his glasses then dragged him by the handcuffs giving him ìfirst hand experience of what it is like to be blackî in Australia where up to 1,000 Indigenous Blacks have died in jail. Komboaís lawyers appealed the deportation to the High Court, saying he had been denied his right to answer the governmentís allegations. In a precedent setting case, the court agreed and ordered the government to restore the visa and pay all legal costs. After his release Komboa spoke to 7,000 people at an annual indigenous celebration and was warmly received. Because of widespread racist violence against Indigenous australians, Native communities are calling for an international boycott of the 2000 Olympics to be held in Sydney.

German Cops raid Zine

Berlin, On June 12 print shops, private apartments, and the offices of the ìAnti Racist Initiativeî were raided by 500 cops attempting to find the editors of ìInterimî, Berlinís weekly autonomist magazine. Cops broke down doors seized 750 copies of the current issue, 16 computers, 2,000 diskettes and disassembled printing presses. Many Berliners suspect that the ìentire action was designed to gain insights and overview into leftist collective houses.î For the past nine years the Interim has provided autonomists in Berlin and beyond an open forum for information and discussion. This attempt to criminalize the Interim ostensibly because it ìrewards and approves of criminal actsî is just the latest action of the German state against resistance media.


BREAD: Because You Knead It!

Money. You hate it–maybe, you must have it–surely. Its acquisition will claim your best years, dampen your creative initiative and suck the very life out of you. For money most of us trade our time and skill, our muscle or brain, whole decades of existence as wasted as a 7 gallon flush. In the mean time we enrich the people whose very words can terminate our livelihood.

You’ve heard this all before. You know why you hate jobs–if not necessarily work; you’re a cog, a wage-slave, a Ph.D. with more vision than bucks, a class-traitor who got it. Maybe you’re just tired of seeing a third or more of your paycheck extorted every-fucking-time-and-there-isnít-a-damn-thing-you-can-do-about-it. So what, if you don’t want to subsidize the meat and dairy industry, the war machine, the petro-chemical industry, corrupt foreign governments, the corporate elite, the pri$on $system or border patrols. For every bucket you sweat to earn a paycheck one-third goes directly back to the corporations. Oops, I mean the government. The rest eventually makes its way back to the corporate elite that owns the country–heck, the world. Dollars are like homing pigeons and though just as lousy they are not nearly as lovable.

The point of my rant is that almost anything we do goes to benefit the power structure. Once we’ve bought at a chain or from a corporation our money leaves the local economy. It no longer circulates back to us to improve our standards of living, inspire initiative, create a viable mode of exchange. That’s your life blood coursing through someone else’s veins.

For years I’ve been pounding my head, avoiding wage-slave dynamics, living a rewarding and frugal life. All the while thinking, knowing, there has to be a better way, an alternative to the continuous unrelenting grind. Something that will give us empowerment as well as a tangible economic boost. Something that can benefit us both personally and collectively.

Well there is. We now have BREAD (Berkeley Regional Exchange and Development) a local organization that is doing exactly what so many of us have been dreaming about for years. BREAD has printed its own money to be used as a valid mode of exchange between members and with participating local businesses. Their currency is printed in hours and comes in one, half and one-quarter hour denominations. The rate of exchange is an agreed upon $12 per hour minimum wage. The advantages of this are clear. You can trade your hours with many people with different skills. That person will then trade that same bill with another local person and the cycle repeats itself. This means our labor stays here. Bread is not electronically transferable. No, its not backed by the gold standard but neither are the dollars in your wallet, your bank account, your IRA or social security account.

There are a variety of skills offered in the BREAD directory. I counted eighteen categories. The listing offers everything from childcare to computer literacy, auto repair to gardening, tutoring in many areas, carpentry, book repair, accounting skills, etc. I couldn’t possibly list all the headings let alone their contents. The best way to find out more about BREAD is to give them a call, leaving your name and address or mail a request for more information. They’re swamped right now so be patient. You can also just write them stating you would like to join. Membership costs an initial $6-$60 sliding scale. You should include your name and phone number, what skills you can offer, group activities (if any) and what skills you seek. In return you will receive the ever expanding BREAD Directory and 3 BREAD hours. Because you knead it!

Contact BREAD at:

PO Box 3973

Berkeley, CA 94703

(510) 704-5247

(510) 595-4011 (fax).

The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of BREAD.

NASA Bets Farm on Cassini Probe

When speaking with people about the impending $3.4 billion Cassini rocket launch scheduled for October 6th from Cape Canaveral, FL, often I get the same reaction, Better they send 72 pounds of plutonium into space than keep it here on Earth. No one, however, seems to be so interested in the purported mission of the rocket – an international scientific mission of discovery to Saturn. Welcome the age of interplanetary politics.

Anti-nuclear activists have been mobilized around this issue, and rightly so. If pulverized and inhaled, the plutonium onboard can cause cancer. Cassini’s dangerous isotope is primarily plutonium-238, a close cousin to plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons. Activists are asking NASA what the rush is, because the European Space Agency claims that, given five years, they could build long life solar cells that would eliminate the need for plutonium. NASA claims this is not possible because of the remoteness of Saturn and its distance from the sun. These solar arrays would use sunlight gathered before Cassini gets too distant from the sun, and would store this electricity for later use in running the probe’s computer and communications systems.

The powerful plutonium is NOT being used to propel the craft into deep space. NASA has planned a risky flyby maneuver for that, where Cassini will slingshot around the earth on August 16, 1999 by gravity-assist thereby gaining an enormous boost into deep space. Cassini is scheduled to reach Jupiter in December, 2000 and ultimately Saturn in July, 2004 – suspiciously close to American Independence Day, this time dominance day where the US is not only the superpower on Earth, but dominates, and thereby owns and controls all of the universe. That is, of course, provided nothing goes wrong during the entire seven year trip.

NASA’s own 1995 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission states, In the unlikely event that an inadvertent reentry occurred, approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population at the time of the swingbys could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure. From these grim figures, NASA somehow determines that of us 5 billion affected, only 2,480 heath affects would occur in the 50 years following the disaster, and that this would be statistically indistinguishable from normally observed cancer fatalities among the world population.

For them to pontificate and say things like the odds are 1 in a billion is the height of scientific arrogance, said Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. NASA is basing its figures on a single-event failure, but in the real world when accidents happen, many things go wrong in quick succession, Kaku said. In reality, things shake, things get hot, and things break apart all at once.

NASA used the same reasoning to calculate the dangers of the Cassini mission that it used in saying the space shuttle had a 1 and 100,000 chance for solid rocket failure, Kaku said. After the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, NASA recalculated the risk to 1 in 72.

It is important to remember that this is not the first launch of nuclear material into space. The recent ill-fated Russian Mars Probe that fell into the Andean foothills in December 1996 was also carrying about 9.5 ounces of plutonium-238. The Titan IV rocket that will carry Cassini that exploded in the past as well. In August 1993 a Titan IV exploded over the Pacific Ocean, destroying its payload containing a $1 billion US spy satellite system. Three of the 24 known US space mission involving nuclear power have met with accidents, as well as six out of the 39 Russian missions.

Turning outer space into a nuclear dump is only one of the many reasons to be concerned about the Cassini rocket launch. In an Aviation Week and Space Technology article in August 1996, Gen. J.W. Ashy, commander-in-chief of the unified Space Command said, it’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but – absolutely – we’re going to fight in space, we’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space when orbital assets become so precious that it’s in our national interest to do so, he said.

Cassini is just one in a whole series of launches planned by NASA to ensure the miniaturization, and US domination of space. Many of us don’t question this as an okay thing to do – we’ve been trained for many years to accept weapons of destruction by video games such as Asteroids and Space Invaders, where winning means killing things, in, from and into space.

The Northern California Stop Cassini Coalition is planning a demonstration on September 28th. For more information contact Elliot at 510/527-4055 or Winston at 707/772-5264. To get find out what is happening at Cape Canaveral as October 6th approaches contact the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, P.O. Box 90035, Gainesville, FL 32607. Phone: 352-468-3295.

US Ciggie Companies Vie For Fresh Blood

*Note: Slanted for your protection.

Hey, smokers! If you thought you were highly profitable to the Big US. Cigarette Companies, think again. In fact, you’re small change compared to the hot new markets in developing countries, where laws are lax and the global economy beckons.

That’s right, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and B.A.T., makers of Lucky Strikes, are working hard to bring many impoverished folks around the world fresh, quality cigarettes, the only legal product around that is harmful when used as intended. Cuba, China, Poland, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Kazakstan, Russia, Portugal…the list of affected countries bleeds on and on. And it seems the Big Cigarette Companies collective efforts are paying off. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms this with the staggering figures of 1.1 billion people over the age of 15 addicted to cigarettes, and 72 per cent of them are in developing and underdeveloped countries, to use their terminology. So even though US. consumption of cigarettes has fallen (the number has dropped 17 per cent in the last decade), you don’t have to worry about those Big Ciggie Companies. They can sleep well tonight, knowing that the global market (and global lives) is safely in their control.

Here are some horrendous facts to wet your whistle of indignation: In this year’s first quarter, international sales accounted for 71 per cent of Philip Morris’ total tobacco sales of 9.9 billion. Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and British American Tobacco, the Big Three in industry parlance, account for a full third of the 5.5 trillion cigarettes sold annually worldwide. The Big Three’s exports rose 259 per cent in the last decade. So how does this translate into human lives? Vietnam has the highest male smoking rate in the world, with 72.8 per cent. In the Philippines, 73 per cent of adults smoke, and 50 percent of children aged 7-17 are addicted to cigarettes. In Japan, 50 per cent of adult men smoke: the highest rate among developed nations. Among Japanese women, the number is 35 per cent: also extremely high. And what about deaths? The WHO places the number of deaths from cigarettes at 3 million annually.

Of course this assault has not come without its backlash. Many countries have moved to place trade or ad restrictions on US. cigarettes. That tactic does not last long, however. US. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, at the behest (or at the beck and call, rather) of the major cigarette companies, has seen to that. Representative Barshefsky has wielded the mighty carrot of economic prosperity and the fearful stick of economic ruin over the heads of the mostly impoverished countries, and they can but cower under the threat that they will be run over in the global market. Plus, if these countries ever do pass laws restricting US. cigarettes in any way, they are severely reprimanded by Rep. Barshefsky for violating free trade agreements.

If you think the new global tobacco deal is going to change any of this (and I don’t insult your intelligence enough to believe you do), guess again. Firstly, although it is being touted as a global measure, in fact there’s nothing global about it. The US. companies will be as free to do their profiteering off of death and misery in other countries as they were before this proposed agreement. The facts of this new deal are so egregious that it prompted tobacco control advocates from 19 countries to release a joint statement condemning the spineless American deal as unethical, since it does nothing to address international tobacco control issues. Indeed, it makes it even more desirable in terms of profits and lax restrictions to market to other countries, a situation that will happen even if the agreement does not go through.

I wish I could end this article with an optimistic ring for the future, but obviously there is nothing optimistic about the continued rampage of the Big Three into other countries. They will continue to reach for fresh hordes of disposable people with no disposable income, and will keep on ripping their last cents away as these adults and children suffer through the throes of nicotine addiction. Can you say Nuremberg Standards? If you can, then you should apply them here. Taking orders from the mighty God of Profits and killing millions of innocent people in the process should not be sanctioned by anyone, and this phenomenon should not go unpunished, though it undoubtedly will.

Ruchell Cinque Magee: Sole Survivor Still

Slavery is being practiced by the system under color of law. Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today;  it’s the same thing, but with a new name. They’re making millions and millions of dollars enslaving Blacks, poor whites, and others – people who don’t even know they’re being railroaded.

– Ruchell Cinque Magee*

If you were asked to name the longest held political prisoner in the United States, what would your answer be?

Most would probably reply Geronimo ji jaga (Pratt), Sundiata Acoli, or Sekou Odinga,all 3 members of the Black Panther Party or soldiers of the Black Liberation Army who have been encaged for their political beliefs or principled actions for decades. Some would point to Lakota leader, Leonard Peltier, who struggled for the freedom of Native peoples, thereby incurring the enmity of the US Government, who framed him in a 1975 double murder trial. Those answers would be good guesses, for all of these men have spent hellified years in state and federal dungeons, but here’s a man who has spent more.

Ruchell C. Magee arrived in Los Angeles, California in 1963, and wasn’t in town for six months before he and a cousin, Leroy, were arrested on the improbable charges of kidnap and robbery, after a fight with a man over a woman and a $10 bag of marijuana. Magee, in a slam-dunk trial, was swiftly convicted and swifter still sentenced to life.

Magee, politicized in those years, took the name of the African freedom fighter, Cinque, who, with his fellow captives seized control of the slave ship, the Amistad, and tried to sail back to Africa. Like his ancient namesake, Cinque would also fight for his freedom from legalized slavery, and for 7 long years he filed writ after writ, learning what he calls guerrilla law, honing it as a tool for liberation of himself and his fellow captives. But California courts, which could care less about the alleged rights of a young Black man like MaGee, dismissed his petitions willy-nilly.

In August, 1970, MaGee appeared as a witness in the assault trial of James McClain, a man charged with assaulting a guard after San Quentin guards murdered a Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley. McClain, defending himself, presented imprisoned witnesses to expose the racist and repressive nature of prisons. In the midst of MaGee’s testimony, a 17 year old young Black man with a huge Afro hairdo, burst into the courtroom, heavily armed.

Jonathan Jackson shouted Freeze! Tossing weapons to McClain, William Chirstman, and a startled Magee, who given his 7 year hell where no judge knew the meaning of justice, joined the rebellion on the spot. The four rebels took the judge, the DA and three jurors hostage, and headed for a radio station where they were going to air the wretched prison conditions to the world, as well as demand the immediate release of a group of political prisoners, know that The Soledad Brothers (these were John Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and Jonathan’s oldest brother, George). While the men did not hurt any of their hostages, they did not reckon on the state’s ruthlessness.

Before the men could get their van out of the court house parking lot, prison guards and sheriffs opened furious fire on the vehicle, killing Christmas, Jackson, McClain as well as the judge. The DA was permanently paralyzed by gun fire. Miraculously, the jurors emerged relatively unscratched, although Magee, seriously wounded by gunfire, was found unconscious.

Magee, who was the only Black survivor of what has come to be called The August 7th Rebellion, would awaken to learn he was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, and further, he would have a co-defendant, a University of California Philosophy Professor, and friend of Soledad Brother, George L. Jackson, named Angela Davis, who faced identical charges.

By trial time the cases were severed, with Angela garnering massive support leading to her 1972, acquittal on all charges.

Magee’s trial did not garner such broad support, yet he boldly advanced the position that as his imprisonment was itself illegal, and a form of unjustifiable slavery, he had the inherent right to escape such slavery, an historical echo of the position taken by the original Cinque, and his fellow captives, who took over a Spanish slave ship, killed the crew (except for the pilot) and tried to sail back to Africa. The pilot surreptitiously steered the Amistad to the US coast, and when the vessel was seized by the US, Spain sought their return to slavery in Cuba. Using natural and international law principals, US courts decided they captives had every right to resist slavery and fight for their freedom.

Unfortunately, Magee’s jury didn’t agree, although it did acquit on at least one kidnapping charge. The court dismissed on the murder charge, and Magee has been battling for his freedom every since.

That he is still fighting is a tribute to a truly remarkable man, a man who knows what slavery is, and more importantly, what freedom means.

Cinque’s supporters have organized the Ruchell Magee Defense Fund, PO Box 8306, South Bend, IN 46660-8306 [E-mail]


Column Written 5/27/97

1997 Mumia Abu-Jamal

All Rights Reserved

*from radio interview with Kiilu Nyasha Freedom is a Constant Struggle, KPFA-FM (12 Aug., 1995)