Posts Tagged ‘Washington State’

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Plans to Take Us Back to the Moon

May 12, 2019

One of the other interesting pieces in yesterday’s I for 11th May 2019 was David Parsley’s article, ‘Amazon tycoons furthest delivery – putting people back on the Moon’. As the headline says, this is about the plans by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for a crewed mission to the Moon within the next five years. The article runs

The man who made billions from sending parcels around Earth is taking one giant leap towards the Moon.

The world’s richest man and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos aims to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2024, 55 years after Neil Armstrong took his first small step.

Mr Bezos said his space company Blue Origin will initially land an unmanned robotic ship about the size of a small house, but would also help Nasa to meet its target to put humans back on the surface of Earth’s satellite in five years’ time.

“We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago,” said Mr Bezos. “It’s time to back to the Moon, this time to stay.”

Known as Blue Moon, the reusable lunar lander is capable of carrying four rovers and uses a newly designed rocket engine powerful enough to carry up to 6.5 metric tons of cargo on the 238,000-mile journey.

Mr Bezos, who is worth £100bn, unveiled a model of one of Blue Moon’s proposed rovers, which was roughly the size of a golf cart, and presented a new rocket engine called BD-7 which can blast 10,000 lb of thrust.

“We have been given a gift – this nearby body called the Moon,” Mr Bezos added.

In March, US Vice President Mike Pence called on Nasa to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary”, four years earlier than planned.

Blue Origin said the group would “share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth”. Based in Kent, Washington, the group is also developing the New Shepherd rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for commercial satellite launches. It is aiming to deliver the New Glenn rocket by 2021, while launching humans in a suborbital flight later this year aboard New Shepherd.

Elon Musk also develops plans to take humans to Mars with his company SpaceX. He previously set the first cargo-carrying Mars mission for 2022 and a crewed mission for 2024.

Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson achieved Virgin Galactic’s first manned flight last year and plans to launch the first space tourism flights later this year. (p. 13).

This is very exciting, and I’m really looking forward to Bezos to take humanity back to the Moon, and Musk to send us to Mars. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Branson to take tourists into space, as he’s been promising that ‘soon’ or ‘next year’ for decades.

However, I’d like Bezos to pay his Amazon workers a living wage first. From what I gather, the peeps working at his warehouses really are paid starvation wages. Which, I ‘spose, is how he get to be worth £100 billion. But he can afford to earn a little less, and workers a lot more. Sending people into space does not mean ignoring or exploiting the folks back on Earth. If he gives his workers a proper wage, then I’ll be behind him and his plans to take humanity to the planets 100 per cent.

Advertisements

Human Rights Lawyer Maria LaHood on Israel’s Suppression of Criticism in the US

September 25, 2018

This is another video from the conference ‘Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?’, organized by the American Educational Trust, which publishes the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs; and Middle Eastern Policy, Inc. The speaker in this piece is Maria LaHood, a deputy legal director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who works to defend the constitutional rights of Palestinian civil rights activists in the US. In this clip she describes some of the cases she’s worked on defending Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists from legal attack by the Israel lobby. These includes the case of the Olympia Co-op, Professor Stephen Salaita, and filing Freedom of Information Act Requests to obtain government documents about Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. The speaker also says she works on the Right to Heal Initiative, helping Iraqi civil society and veterans seeking accountability for the damage to Iraqis’ health from the last war. She’s also challenged the American government over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and Caterpillar over its sale of the bulldozer used to kill Rachel Corey to Israel. Before joining the Centre, she also worked campaigning for affordable housing in the Bay area of San Francisco.

She begins by talking about attempts to harass, prosecute and suppress pro-Palestinian students and professors at US universities.

The first case she talks about is Professor Stephen Salaita, an esteemed Palestinian-American lecturer, who had a tenured position at Virginia Tech University. He was offered a position at the University of Illinois, Urban Champagne on its Native American Studies programme, which he accepted. He was due to begin his new job at the University of Illinois in the summer of 2014. During that summer he watched, horrified, Israel’s devastation of Gaza and tweeted about it. Two weeks before he was due to take up his post, he received an email from the Chancellor telling him not to bother because he would not be accepted by the Board of Trustees. The professor and his family were thus left without jobs, an income, health insurance and a home.

Salaita lost his job due to a self-declared Zionist, who’d been following his tweets. These were published on the right-wing blog, Legal Insurrection. Professor Salaita was also targeted by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League. Also, wealthy donors to the uni threatened to withdraw their money. The Chancellor and the Board later stated that they withdrew his job offer based on those tweets, which they considered uncivil, and anti-Semitic. LaHood states that accusations of anti-Semitism is commonly used to silence criticism of Israel. Christopher Kennedy, who led the Board’s rejection of Salaita, was later given an award by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

CCR sued the university, the trustees and top administrators. The court found in his favour, and the Chancellor resigned a few hours later the next day, and the Provost resigned a few weeks later. LaHood states that last autumn (2015) Salaita became the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, and settled his case for $875,000 against the university. LaHood paid tribute to the immense grassroots support for Salaita, with thousands signing petitions, five thousand professors boycotted the university, and 16 U of I departments voted ‘no confidence’ in the administration. The American Association of Professors also censured the university. Salaita went on to talk about his experience to more than 50 unis, and his works on Israel and settler colonialism are more popular than ever.

The Olympia Food Co-op is a local food co-op in Olympia, Washington; a non-profit organization, it has been very involved in social work and political self-determination. It has adopted a number of boycotts, and in 2010 the board voted by consensus to boycott Israeli goods. Five of the co-op’s 22,000 members voted to prosecute the 16 board members, who’d passed the vote, over a year later. Six months before the lawsuit was filed, the Israeli consul general to the Pacific northwest, based in San Francisco, travelled to Olympia to meet the co-chairs of Stand With Us Northwest, the lawyer representing those suing, and some Olympia activists. Stand With Us is a non-profit organization supporting Israel around the world. It is one of the groups trying to suppress free speech on Israel in the US. It maintains dossiers on Palestinian rights activists. The five issued a letter to the board members telling them to rescind the boycott or else they would be sued and held personally accountable. They were accused of violating the co-op’s governing principles, and the board asked their accusers how they had done this, and invited them to put their proposal to a membership vote, according to the co-op’s bye-laws. The accusers refused to do so, and went ahead and filed the suit. After they did so, Stand With Us put it out on their website that they had brought the suit in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spearheaded by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Alon. Alon admitted that the Israelis were behind the lawsuit, and using it to amplify their power.

CCR then sued, using an anti-SLAPP motion. SLAPP stands for ‘Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Half the states in America have legislation to deter the abuse of laws to chill free speech. The trial court dismissed the case as a SLAPP, held the Board had the authority to initiate the boycott, and awarded them each $10,000. The accusers launched an appeal, this was turned down, and they then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Washington Supreme Court turned down the anti-SLAPP motion, and referred the case back to the trial court. The CCR’s motion to dismiss the case again was denied. The case goes on, and the board members, most of whom are no longer in their post, have been subject to discovery and intimidation. The boycott of Israeli foods continues, however.

LaHood states that these are not isolated incidents, but only two of numerous cases where those, who speak out on Palestine are attacked. In September 2015 the CCR and their partner, Palestine Legal, issued a report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in US, documenting the increasing attempts in the US to silence and punish advocacy in favour of Palestine and speech on Israel, including BDS. The report details to the tactics and many cases studies, and is available on both of the organisations’ websites. In 2015 Palestine legal dealt with 240 cases of suppression, including false accusations of terrorism and anti-Semitism. 80% of those incidents were against students and professors at 75 campuses, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. She talks about some of these tactics and cases, such as that of the Irvine 11, who were criminally prosecuted for walking out of a speech by the-then Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Several schools have been given complaints by the Zionist Organisation of America, claiming that advocacy on campus for Palestinian rights creates a pro-anti-Semitism atmosphere on campus. Even though these complaints are unconstitutional, universities respond by investigating those accused and cracking down on speech.

These complaints are not only brought by the Z of A, but also the Brandeis Centre, the Ampline Centre, Sheriat Hedin, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Anti-Defamation League amongst others. Netanyahu has launched a full attack on BDS, which Israel has declared to be the biggest threat it faces. Movements to divest from Israel across America have been accused of being anti-Semitic. The American Studies Association was received death threats when they voted to endorse the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Sheriat Hedin, the Israeli law centre, threatened to sue them if they didn’t end the boycott. Sheriat Hedin admits that it takes advice on which cases to pursue from Mossad and Israel’s National Security Council. Also in response to the ASA’s decision, legislatures around the country voted on bills to withhold state funding from colleges that used any state aid to fund academic organisations advocating a boycott of Israel. Mobilisation of public opinion prevented these bills from being passed, but now 15 states have introduced anti-boycott legislation. Some states have also passed non-binding resolutions against the BDS, but those have no legal effect. Last year (2015) Illinois passed a law demanding a black list of foreign companies that boycott Israel and compelled the state pension fund to divest from those companies. Florida passed a similar bill in 2016, which also outlaws state contracts with such companies for amounts over a million dollars. New York has even worse legislation pending.

The US Congress has introduced legislation to protect these state laws from federal pre-emption challenges, but these cannot prevent challenges under the First Amendment. Anti-Boycott provisions were introduced into the Federal Trade Promotions Authority Law, making it a priority to discourage BDS from Israel and the Occupied Territories. More information can be found about anti-BDS legislation at righttoboycott.org. Anti-BDS isn’t confined to the US. Israel has anti-boycott damages legislation and France has criminalized BDS. And people have been arrested for wearing BDS T-shirts.

She states that these laws are an extension of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. They have no defence, so they attempt to stop the debate. Free speech and free inquiry is essential to the functioning of democracy, especially at universities, and open debate helps shape public attitudes. Campus opposition helped turn the tide against the Vietnam War, Apartheid in South Africa and will eventually do the same against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. The mounting opposition to people working against the occupation and other violations of international law shows how strong the pro-Palestinian movement is, and how it will eventually win.

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

Massachusetts Attorney General Attacks Trump’s Muslim Ban

February 3, 2017

After Governor Inslee and the attorney general of the state of Washington launched their attack on Trump’s Muslim ban, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Maura Healey, the state attorney general there, have also launched their appeal to block the ban. They are joining an action from the Massachusetts branch of the ACLU, as well as representing the University of Massachusetts, who saw two of their professors temporarily held over the weekend due to the ban. Attorney General Healey states that she and her colleagues have reviewed the legislation, and found it harmful, racist and unconstitutional. And just as Governor Inslee and the attorney general there believed that the Muslim ban was economically harmful to their state, so Healey is expected to argue that the detention of leading researchers and business experts will also damage the state’s economy.

This makes you wonder if any other states are going to come forward to challenge the ban, just as ordinary Americans have been doing at demonstrations across their nation.

Washington State Launches Legal Attack on Trump’s Muslim Ban

January 31, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece from YouTube showing Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state very firmly expressing his disgust and condemnation of Trump’s ban on Muslims coming to the US. Governor Inslee announced that he was going to seek ways to mount a legal challenge to overturn it.

In this clip, the state’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, announces that he is filing a lawsuit today against Trump, the Department of Homeland Security, and high-ranking Trump officials. The suit is intended to make key provisions of Trump’s ban declared illegal and unconstitutional. If successful, the legal action will result in the ban being declared illegal throughout America. Attorney General Ferguson also makes the point that America is a nation of law. Under the rule of law, it is not the loudest voice that prevails, but the law. You are either abiding by the Constitution, or you are not. And in his view, Trump is not abiding by the Constitution with the Executive Order.

Governor Inslee adds his voice, stating that this is not reality TV. It’s reality, and the immense suffering caused by ‘this train wreck’ prevents him from agreeing with Trump about how beautiful it all is. He states it is an insult and an attack on all of Washington’s citizens for a variety of reasons. An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. It is also damaging to the state of Washington. He also offers this advice to Trump, as a member of the chain of command for the National Guard: Stop giving ISIS recruiting posters.

Democracy Now On Petition to Impeach Trump for Corruption

January 30, 2017

Here’s news of yet another petition against the Orange Fuhrer that’s being set up. In this short video – about four minutes long – Democracy Now’s anchor, Amy Goodson, talks to John Bonifaz, an attorney and political activist, about an anti-Trump petition his group has launched. It asks for Congress to impeach Trump because of his massive business interests. These place Trump in a conflict of interest, as he stands to profit personally from occupying the role of President, in violation of the law. There are two acts, which forbid the president from receiving any monies from foreign governments and from domestic organisations or individuals, which Trump has broken. He has been asked to divest himself of his companies, and refused. In fact, Mr Bonifaz states at one point that Trump is so massively corrupt, he’s actually worse than Nixon. Which is clearly going some, in stakes of Most Corrupt President Ever. Since the petition has been launched, it’s garnered nearly a quarter of a million signatures.

There’s a petition over here to stop the Orange Generalissimo coming to Britain on state visit because of his racist ban on Muslims entering the US. There are demonstrations against that law in airports across the US, and a Federal judge has ruled in unconstitutional. The Governor of Washington state has also denounced it as cruel, racist and economically damaging, and described the efforts his administration is making to ending it.

All around the world, people are coming together to force this malignant buffoon out of office. The people of America are showing that they’re not going to stand idly by while he tramples on the rights of fellow US citizens.

From 2012: Fraud and Failure in Maximus, American Work Programme Contractors

April 9, 2014

This comes from Private Eye for the 29th June – 12th July 2012, and concerns the history of failure and corruption in Maximus, an American company that IDS awarded a contract for running the Work Programme.

Welfare to Work

Dirty Max

It’s probably just as well hardly anyone in the UK has heard of welfare-to-work firm Maximus, which has government contracts worth £176m to run Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme in west London and the South-east. In the US its record includes fraud and failure on a grand scale.

In 2007 Maximus was fined $30.5m over accusations that it cheated Medicaid, the US equivalent of the NHS, by making tens of thousands of false claims on a “payment by results” contract.

Washington State had hired the firm to help it make savings, both sharing money claimed from the national Medicaid system for children in foster care. But Maximus, in a plan called “Operation Lightning Rod”, increased its income by making claims for children who had not received care.

After the fraud was exposed Maximus said it would not sign any more “contingency-based contracts” where it was paid from “savings” in state expenditure. But the UK’s Work Programme is just such a contingency-based, payment-by-results contract.

In 2007 Maximus was also sued by Connecticut for the “abject failure” of its computer system which was supposed to run a police database, including real-time police record checks. The state’s attorney-general said: “Maximus minimized quality – squandering millions of taxpayer dollars and shortchanging law enforcement agencies.” He said the database could “make a life and death difference to police and other law enforcers”, so the failure was unacceptable. In 2010 Maximus settled the case for $2.5m.

In the same year the firm recorded losses of $37m after its work with Accenture for Texas collapsed. It was main subcontractor on a scheme to run the state’s health benefits; but after 5,000 benefit clerks were made redundant, the replacement databases and call centres, failed, families were arbitrarily cut off from benefits and Texas lost millions in national funds.

So, like A4E, another company with a history of failure and corruption was awarded the government contract to handle the Work Programme.