Category Archives: stories
Over the past few days, numerous acts of solidarity took place throughout Greece in solidarity with imprisoned anarchist Kostas Sakkas, who is on hunger strike since the 4th of June 2013 fighting for his immediate release. On the 11th of June, a treating physician reported that clinically he has profound weakness, fatigue after minimal exertion (e.g. walking from his cell to the prison’s infirmary), discomfort, mild dyspnea, dizziness, headache, abdominal pain, and he has lost 3.5kg of weight.
In the meantime, fellow prisoners have declared their unreserved solidarity with the hunger striker. Since the 4th of June, four comrades that are held in the dungeon of Koridallos women’s prison wing, Kostas Gournas (Revolutionary Struggle member), Christoforos Kortesis, Vaggelis Stathopoulos, as well as Dimitris Koufontinas (17 November member), have refused prison meals.
On the 5th of June, in the session of the 3rd CCF trial at Koridallos women’s prison court, co-accused comrades left the courtroom supporting the decision of Kostas Sakkas to go on hunger strike.Since the 6th of June, the comrades from Larissa prison second wing Rami Syrianos and Spyros Stratoulis have abstained from prison food to support Kostas Sakkas in his struggle, stating also their solidarity with CCF member Gerasimos Tsakalos, who received an extension of his pretrial detention.
On the 7th of June, anarcho-communists Tasos Theofilou (Domokos prison) and Polykarpos Georgiadis (Corfu prison) published a joint statement for their comrade Kostas Sakkas, saying ‘we will meet again soon, at the battlefields of social/class war.’
On the 11th of June, a total of 290 women and men incarcerated in Larissa, Patras, Corfu, the first wing of Koridallos, Alikarnassos, and Eleonas–Thebes released an open letter in defense of Kostas Sakkas and the destruction of every prison.
On the 13th of June, Kostas Sakkas was brought to the Athens appeals court (on Loukareos street), where a council of appellate judges examined his objection against his prolonged pretrial incarceration for another 6 months. (Their decision is yet to be announced.) In the same morning, three other prisoners were brought before a judicial council in the same court, namely anarchists Fivos Harisis, Argyris Ntalios and Dimitris Politis. During their stay at the appeals court, cops attacked Fivos Harisis throwing him to the ground, kicking him repeatedly, and handcuffing him even in the transfer van. When all of the prisoners, including the hunger striker, were taken back to Koridallos an intense clash broke out with cops and jailers at the prison, in response to the earlier police assault at one of them. The comrades turned the entrance unit into a battlefield for a while (fire extinguishers, drawers with documents and chairs were thrown in the air, and windows were smashed), proving in practice that no attack of the dogs of Power will be left unanswered.
Strength to all prisoners in struggle! Immediate release of hunger striker Kostas Sakkas!
Hunger strike declaration by Kostas Sakkas, Koridallos prison, May 29th, 2013:
On the 4th of December 2010 I was captured along with the comrade Alexandros Mitroussias in the district of Nea Smyrni, Athens, while I was leaving a rented warehouse where arms were being stored.
Since the beginning, I have admitted my connection with this place as well as the weapons found there. I have stated, since the first moment, that I am an anarchist and that my presence in this specific place was related to my political identity and the choices I make as a consequence of this.
On the 7th of December 2010 they brought me before the head investigator and I got in pretrial detention on charges of participation in an unknown terrorist organization as well as aggravated possession of weapons.
On the 12th of April 2011, when I had already been in the prison of Nafplion for more than four months, I was called upon again by the investigators Baltas and Mokkas, and without any new evidence, nor even any new developments on the investigation, I was remanded for participating in the R.O. CCF. It was obvious that this was because the principal investigators realized that a case against an unknown organization that hasn’t any registered actions, doesn’t have any bombs, nor communiqués, that has not used guns, an organization without a name, couldn’t stand up in a courtroom.
I have clarified in the past —as did the R.O. CCF for their part— that I’m not a member of this organization. I didn’t do this to avoid the vengeful, punitive odyssey that the bourgeois justice reserves for all those accused of being members of that organization, but simply because that’s how it is. I ought to set the history straight; not only for me but also for the R.O. CCF.
The initial charge of participation in an unknown terrorist organization attributed both to me and my two comrades (Alexandros Mitroussias, Giorgos Karagiannidis) and the rest of the people arrested in the same operation —although they had nothing to do with it— showed up at a time that was political expedient for the DAEEV anti-terrorist force (the so-called Special Violent Crime Squad of the Greek police), on account of the ex-minister of public order named Christos Papoutsis, who desired —like all his counterparts— to dismantle, at all costs, a terrorist organization during his mandate. It is known that this minister directly supervised the operation, and even evaluated the information that the anti-terrorist force had, and finally gave the order to make arrests. Anyone who watched the mass media during that time remembers the scenarios and evaluations of various journalistic parrots about which organization we belonged to, what we intended to do, etc., obviously being fed by the DAEEV, until the results of the ballistic tests made them shut up… Later, Mr Papoutsis, in an attempt to apologize for the fiasco, gave an interview to a well known magazine stating that the ‘anti-terrorist force has tricked him’ (!).On the 6th of April 2012, still in jail awaiting trial and reaching the limit of 18 months (the maximum pretrial incarceration period), I was out again in pretrial detention for committing 160 incendiary and bombing actions claimed by the organization CCF. It’s worth comment that in this particular case file there is neither any evidence against me —they didn’t even bother to frame me this time— nor any reference to my person except in the execution of the indictment. It’s a case file that could be served, without exaggeration, to anyone, according to the logic of the intransigent investigators Baltas and Mokkas. The prosecutory purposes of this are evidenced by the fact that the principal investigators had their hands on this specific file from the very first moment of my arrest, and were obligated —that is according to the law— to give it to me along with the first accusatory file. To put it simply: these gentlemen detained me on charges of participation in the same organization twice, consecutively (!).
Today, after being jailed for two and a half years, for simple weapons possession (to clarify: aggravated possession of weapons means that the weapons were intended either for trade or for equipping a terrorist organization, something which is neither evident, nor something I have admitted to), the primary institutional defenders of justice and law, who hold me for breaking it, decided to ignore even their own Constitution —which defines maximum time of 12 months for each subsequent to the first pretrial detention— since that is not enough for their political needs. Therefore, they decided to hold me hostage for six more months.
In fact, they intend this prolonged and excessive captivity to offset their makeshift, lazy accusations. Whatever they may do it is not enough to prevent the ‘deflation’ of the charges in any courtroom, despite the special regime that characterizes the terror-courts (in every way). Anyone who has ever set foot in them even for a while knows it very well.
Their tactics and vengeful intentions are clear by now. Yes, it’s true; the State avenges its political opponents; avenges but never acknowledges them. It never has, as a matter of fact. In the past they were treated as foreign agents and traitors, and now as terrorists and enemy of the society.
The fact is that, due to the domestic consequences of the global capitalist crisis, the political system is going through what is both the most critical and the most unstable period since the dictatorship. It is also a fact that repression, and the generally authoritarian attitude of the State, is the ‘last card’ in its hand, the last thing it can do to ensure a subordinated social peace and prevent a generalized reaction from being expressed in organized and substantial insurrectionary forms.
The finance minister himself has confessed that this is the first time that a government is asked to implement such extreme measures in peacetime. The laws have always reflected the will of the powerful, but today not even these laws are enough for the political representatives of the system in the face of what they need to implement so as to loyally serve the establishment.
Because of my political view and position, that the road to individual and collective freedom is full of struggle and resistance, I decided on Tuesday 4/6 to go on hunger strike; the date when, according to the current laws, the maximum time limit of my pretrial custody is expired. I would like to clarify that, for me, the choice to go on hunger strike is not a gesture of despair, but a choice to continue the fight, a fight that my comrades and I have made since the first moment of our captivity; a resistance to the unprecedented and vindictive treatment of the judicial mechanisms, which decided in our case to take a break from their cash collection duties to defend society from its supposed enemies and the laws from the outlaws. They are the same mechanisms, and the same persons behind them, who are actual perpetrators of the legitimacy of forced return to work for strikers; the same who are primary responsible for the thousands of property auctions and the homeless, for the abolition of labour demands, for the unemployed, for the abolition of social benefits, for the thousands living below the poverty line, for hundreds of suicides every year by those who, unable to cope decently, put an end to their lives; they are actual perpetrators of the legitimacy of declaring people illegal and piling them up in camps; responsible of classifying tortures and beatings at police stations, accidental gun discharges, the silencing of anti-regime media as legitimate…
They are responsible for creating a cemetery society in the name of law, and when it’s necessary, for establishing a cemetery society outside the law… Steeped in hypocrisy and nastiness, despicable to both the devotees of bourgeois justice and its detractors and ideological enemies.
Slowly dies who does not risk certainty for the uncertainty to chase a dream, those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives, … Who does not find grace in himself, dies slowly, … Let’s try and avoid death in small doses, reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.—Pablo Neruda
Kostas Sakkas, first wing in Koridallos prison
View solidarity actions here.
Call for solidarity and endorsement against the persecution in Brazil of anarchist militants and the Gaucha Anarchist Federation in Porto Alegre.
In Porto Alegre, on June 20 last, about 15 officers from the Civil Police raided the Ateneo Batalha da Varzea, the political and social premises where theFederação Anarquista Gaúcha is located, without a warrant. [Espanol]
(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday gutted a core part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act and challenged Congress to come up with a replacement plan to protect blacks and other minorities in places where discrimination still persists rather than target former slaveholding states in the South.
In a 5-4 ruling with the court’s conservatives in the majority, the justices ruled that Congress had used outdated facts in continuing to force nine states, mainly in the South, to get federal approval for voting rule changes affecting blacks and other minorities.
The court ruled in favor of officials from Shelby County, Alabama, by declaring unconstitutional a section of the law – most recently updated by Congress in 2006 – that set the formula that decides which states and locales with a history of racial discrimination need federal approval to change voting laws.
President Barack Obama expressed disappointment with the ruling and asked Congress to pass legislation “to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”
“Today’s decision invalidating one of (the law’s) core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent,” Obama, the first black president, said in a statement.
The ruling upended legal protections for minority voters that were a key achievement of the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King Jr. The Voting Rights Act as a whole was enacted to broadly prohibit poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures common in states with a history of slavery that prevented black people from voting.
But, writing for the court’s majority, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said that America is not the country that it was a half century ago when the Voting Rights Act was passed to end a century of attempts by former slaveholding states to block blacks from voting.
“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote.
But Democrats have accused Republicans at the state level in recent years of enacting a series of measures intended to suppress the vote of minority groups likely to support Democratic candidates.
Just last week, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law that required people registering to vote in federal elections to show proof of citizenship, a victory for activists who said it discouraged Native Americans and Latinos from voting.
Tuesday’s decision placed the burden on Congress – sharply divided along party lines to the point of virtual gridlock – to pass any new voting rights law like the one sought by Obama.
‘I HAVE A DREAM’ REVISITED
Civil rights activists, looking ahead to August’s 50th anniversary of King’s famous march on Washington, hoped Tuesday’s ruling would revive the spirit of that event and prompt Congress to act. It was before a massive crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial that King gave his era-defining “I have a dream” speech.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, predicted a “massive mobilization” for the anniversary.
Roberts said the formula that Congress used to determine what states and locales should be covered by the provision relating to approval for voting changes when it most recently re-authorized the law should have been updated.
“Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” he wrote. “It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”
The coverage formula therefore violates the sovereignty of the affected states under the U.S. Constitution, Roberts said.
Congress could pass a new version, but it would have to reflect “current conditions,” he added.
The issue of voting rights remains prominent in the United States. During the 2012 presidential election campaign, judges nationwide heard challenges to new voter identification laws and redrawn voting districts, with some blocked before the election.
In February, Obama, a Democrat, decried barriers to voting in America and announced a commission to address voting issues.
Civil rights activists fear that the ruling could lead to an increase in attempts to deter minorities from voting. They said 31 proposals made by covered jurisdictions to modify election laws had been blocked by the Justice Department since the law was re-enacted in 2006.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, accused the Supreme Court of leaving “millions of minority voters without the mechanism that has allowed them to stop voting discrimination before it occurs.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, on Tuesday pledged to move quickly to try to restore voting rights protections after the ruling.
“I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting,” Leahy said.
Republicans were largely silent on the court’s ruling. Neither House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner nor Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, had any immediate comment.
The court struck down Section 4 of the law, which describes the coverage formula, and not Section 5, known as the preclearance provision, which is the general requirement that the covered states get approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making election-law changes.
In her dissenting opinion on behalf of the liberal wing of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Section 5 is now “immobilized” without a working coverage formula.
Congress approached the 2006 re-authorization “with great care and seriousness,” she added. “The same cannot be said of the court’s opinion today.”
The nine fully covered states under the provisions of the law at issue were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Tuesday’s ruling left intact Section 2 of the law, broadly prohibiting intentional discrimination in the voting arena.
The decision is likely to have an immediate impact on states previously covered by the preclearance requirements that are battling federal oversight.
Texas had been unsuccessfully fighting federal rejection of its most recent congressional redistricting and voter identification laws, both of which were rejected by federal judges. The high court’s ruling means Texas would no longer need to seek that approval, although there is other litigation taking place over the redistricting plan.
“Texas may now implement the will of the people without being subject to outdated and unnecessary oversight and the overreach of federal power,” said Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry.
The case is Shelby County v. Holder, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-96.
(Additional reporting by Joan Biskupic, Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham)
Residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, have recently filed a class-action lawsuit seeking more than $5 million in damages against ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, after a pipeline carrying Canadian crude from Illinois to Texas ruptured, allowing thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil to flow into a residential area. ExxonMobil has claimed that between 3,500 and 5,000 barrels of heavy crude leaked from the ruptured pipeline, however the lawsuit has claimed that more than 19,000 barrels were spilled.
There is yet another recent lawsuit which ExxonMobil has to contend with. This one, however does not involve oil spills.
In December of last year, the gay rights organization Freedom to Work and its founder, Tico Almeida, decided to expose Exxon’s anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Mr. Almeida used a legal strategy of resume audit testing, using two ghost applicants, to expose its anti-LGBTQ bias in hiring practices. Last month, the LGBTQ group Freedom to Work filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission contending Exxon Mobil violated a 2005 law in the state prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Jennifer Priston and Michelle Caland are similar in many respects. They both live in Springfield, Ill., attended the same high school and graduated from the same local community college in 2011 after majoring in business administration. Jennifer Priston, however, was a candidate that a higher grade point average, more advanced office skills, a higher ranking previous position with a greater level of responsibility, and a longer work history. However, she was consequently outed as LGBTQ because of her volunteer experience working for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Michelle Caland, on the other hand, was less qualified in terms of work experience and education, but offered no indication that she was LGBTQ.
Even though Caland was less qualified, she received multiple call backs in response to her application. Priston never received a call back in response to her application even after Caland didn’t respond. “We know that they cannot credibly claim that they didn’t receive the LGBTQ resume and application because when they were submitted, they sent back to both applicants a receipt acknowledgement saying, ‘Thank you for your application from Exxon Mobil,’” Almeida said. “They can’t claim they didn’t see it.” In a press release announcing the complaint, Almedia claimed that, “Exxon broke the law, defies industry standards and continues to betray the American people’s sense of fairness.”
Exxon denies any wrongdoing and said it is reviewing the complaint, which was filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Charlie Engelmann, a spokesman for the company, stated in an email that, “ExxonMobil’s global policies and processes prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any Company workplace, anywhere in the world. In fact, our policies go well beyond the law and prohibit any form of discrimination.”
However, for the 14th year in a row, shareholders of ExxonMobil have continuously rejected a proposal which would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the company’s non-discrimination employment policy. Its current equal opportunity policy states it will provide equal employment opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, color, sex, religion and half a dozen other legally protected statuses, but sexual orientation and gender identity are not mentioned.
Civil rights groups have employed the strategy of resume audit testing with great success for decades, but this lawsuit marks the first time an LGBTQ group has tried it. To reach a settlement in the case, Almeida has said that he is asking Exxon Mobil to adopt a company-wide LGBTQ non-discrimination policy and train its workers across the country on implementation.
“We hope that we will shame them into settling this very quickly,” Almeida said. “If they agree to adopting and training HR people on it, we will settle the case as quickly as we can.” But if Exxon Mobil chooses to fight the lawsuit, Almeida said the case will go into discovery, which means Freedom to Work will subpoena internal documents from the company and depose staffers to expose anti-gay bias in hiring practices.
Illinois was one of two states in which Freedom to Work uncovered apparent anti-gay bias in hiring practices. Almeida did the same paired resume testing in Texas and uncovered similar results at Exxon Mobil. However, Texas does not have a statewide LGBTQ workplace non-discrimination law on which to base a lawsuit, and no federal non-discrimination protections are in place to help LGBTQ people. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn’t law, nor is an executive order in place prohibiting anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors.
In the 2000 decision of Kyles v. J.K. Guardian Security Services, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Illinois upheld the right of testers to bring these claims after two black testers brought a race discrimination action to federal court. They were allowed to proceed to a trial and later settled their claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously validated lawsuits on the basis of paired resume audit testing in its decisions on earlier litigation. In the 1982 case of Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, the court held testers can sue to challenge housing discrimination and that groups conducting the testing can also file a lawsuit to remedy discrimination.
Also working with Freedom to Work on the testing was the Equal Rights Center, a D.C.-based advocacy organization, which has experience with resume testing for minority groups. Donald Kahl, executive director of the Equal Rights Center, explained the validity of filing employment discrimination lawsuits based on resume audit testing and their applicability to LGBT people.
“Based on the Equal Rights Center’s 30 years of testing experience, and nearly 2,000 tests conducted in the last year, our testing methodologies are recognized and accepted by the civil rights community, government agencies, and the courts,” Kahl said. “The type of testing we conducted with Freedom to Work is a critical part of objectively demonstrating why our LGBT community needs and deserves anti-discrimination protections.”
The legal team representing Freedom to Work in the lawsuit is Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, a group that has experience representing women who alleged gender discrimination in employment at the retail giant Walmart Stores, Inc. As the lawsuit proceeds, Almeida said Freedom to Work will continue testing for anti-LGBTQ workplace bias at other companies and take action as necessary.
For the past four days Chip Starnes, an American executive and co-owner of Specialty Medical Supplies, has been barricaded in the company’s medical supply plant in suburban Beijing by several workers demanding severance packages comparable to some 30 veteran workers who had already been laid off.
Starnes has claimed that local officials had visited the 10-year-old plant on the capital’s outskirts and coerced him into signing agreements Saturday to meet the workers’ demands even though he sought to make clear that the remaining 100 workers weren’t being laid off.
He said that the workers were expecting wire transfers by Tuesday, and claimed that about 80 of them had been blocking every exit around the clock and depriving him of sleep by shining bright lights and banging on windows of his office. He declined to clarify the amount, saying he wanted to keep it confidential.
It is not rare in China for managers to be held by workers demanding back pay or other benefits, often from their Chinese owners, though occasionally also this also involves foreign bosses. Workers inside the compound, a pair of two-story buildings behind gates and hedges in the Huairou district of the northeastern Beijing suburbs, repeatedly declined requests for comment, saying they did not want to talk to foreign media. The Huairou district and Qiaozi township governments also declined to comment.
A local police spokesman said police were at the scene to maintain order. Four uniformed police and about a dozen other men who declined to identify themselves were standing across the road from the plant.
“As far as I know, there was a labor dispute between the workers and the company management and the dispute is being solved,” said spokesman Zhao Lu of the Huairou Public Security Bureau. ” I am not sure about the details of the solution, but I can guarantee the personal safety of the manager.”
U.S. Embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said the two sides are on the verge of an agreement and that Starnes would have access to his attorneys. It is unclear what the agreement may be, and subsequent attempts to contact Starnes have not proven successful.
Starnes said the company had gradually been winding down its plastics division, planning to outsource it to Mumbai, India. He arrived in Beijing last Tuesday to lay off the last 30 workers, some of whom have been working there for up to nine years.
“It happened more often say 15 years ago than today, but it still happens from time to time,” stated Christian Murck, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “It rarely leads to personal harm to the managers involved, but there are cases when it has in years past.”
One of the nation’s best-known charities is paying disabled workers as little as 22 cents an hour, thanks to a 75-year-old legal loophole that critics say needs to be closed.
Goodwill Industries, a multibillion-dollar company whose executives make six-figure salaries, is among the nonprofit groups permitted to pay thousands of disabled workers far less than minimum wage because of a federal law known as Section 14 (c). Labor Department records show that some Goodwill workers in Pennsylvania earned wages as low as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour in 2011.
“If they really do pay the CEO of Goodwill three-quarters of a million dollars, they certainly can pay me more than they’re paying,” said Harold Leigland, who is legally blind and hangs clothes at a Goodwill in Great Falls, Montana for less than minimum wage.
Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons, who was awarded $729,000 in salary and deferred compensation in 2011, defended the executive pay.
“These leaders are having a great impact in terms of new solutions, in terms of innovation, and in terms of job creation,” he said. Gibbons also defended time studies, and the whole Section 14 (c) approach. He said that for many people who make less than minimum wage, the experience of work is more important than the pay.
“It’s typically not about their livelihood. It’s about their fulfillment. It’s about being a part of something. And it’s probably a small part of their overall program,” he said.
ISTANBUL – Turkish riot police fired water cannons, teargas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Istanbul on Saturday, while Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized the protesters for having “played into the hands of Turkey’s enemies.”
Protesters in Taksim brought flowers to commemorate those who have died during the protests, and clash with police who respond with clubs, tear gas water cannons and rubber bullets. This latest episode of unrest which took place within Turkey’s largest metropolitan city ended six days of relative peace, although it paled in comparison with previous clashes which took place there and in other cities spanning the course of the past three weeks ago.
People living around the square have been reported banging pots and pans as a sign of solidarity while demonstrators shouted “Police, do not betray your people!” Witnesses have also said that police used teargas to disperse protesters in nearby streets during confrontations and clashes.
During these clashes, many unarmed protesters tried to stop an advancing water cannon truck – even to the point of attempting to hold it back with their arms whilst another protester tossed a handful of carnations at the driver. Across the square, a tearful and angry woman asked the police why they were attacking the peaceful protesters yet again, while officers dismissed her please – and even pushed her aside with extreme force. Another man attempted to stand still, employing a new tactic which the protesters had adopted, but riot police pushed him to the ground with their shields – with one of them proceeding to beat him with theirs whenever he attempted to stand up again.
Taksim Square had been peaceful about half an hour prior to this. However, a huge crowd had eventually massed carrying red carnations in memory of at least four people killed in the protests so far. In a good-natured protest they had chanted, “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance,” and called on Mr Erdogan’s government to resign.
They proceeded to throw their carnations in the air in answer to the brutal crackdown on earlier protests. Some protesters even carried Brazilian flags in solidarity with the protests that have been taking place across Brazil. Unfortunately, this peaceful demonstration did not last for very long. Over a loudspeaker, the police said that they had made their point and ordered them to disperse. Shortly after this, the police began to form and advance in lines, forcing the protesters back across the square while water cannons fired into the crowd.
This did not deter the protesters, for they kept returning to the square until a standoff ensued at the junction of Istiklal Street. Police fired huge amounts of tear gas into the narrow streets, until large clouds engulfed the area. There have also been reports of police shooting rubber bullets into the crowds.
Taksim Square has been the cradle of protests triggered when police used force to remove a group of eco-activists opposed government plans to develop Gezi Park, a green space in central Istanbul which adjoins Taksim. These protests quickly developed into a much broader demonstration of dissent against the government, specifically Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whom protesters say is an authoritarian leader that is increasingly meddling in their everyday lives.
While everyone has been talking about Edward Snowden and the recent NSA scandal, there has been yet another attack on the right to free speech and the fifth amendment within the United States. The Supreme Court has ruled that when a suspect doesn’t answer a question prior to one’s Miranda rights being read, it can be used as evidence in court to demonstrate guilt. Prosecutors can use a person’s silence against them if it comes before he’s told of his right to remain silent.
The 5-4 ruling came in the case of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted of a 1992 murder. Salinas was willing to answer some of the questions, but he refrained from answering others. For example, he remained silent when questioned about the murder weapon. Prosecutors in Texas used his silence on that specific question as evidence when convicting him of murder, saying that it helped demonstrate his guilt. Texas courts as well as the Supreme Court upheld the decision to allow silence to be used as evidence.
The Fifth Amendment (Amendment V) to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects Americans against coerced self-incrimination, with the Supreme Court saying that prosecutors cannot comment on a defendant’s refusal to testify at trial. The courts have expanded this right to answering questions while in police custody, with police required to inform those under arrest that they have a right to remain silent without it being used in court.
Prosecutors argued that since Salinas was willing to answer some questions, he was thus not invoking his right to silence. Therefore, since he wasn’t under arrest and wasn’t obliged to speak, his silence on the incriminating question is not under constitutional protection.
Justice Samuel Alito stated that Salinas’ “Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question, and that “[i]t has long been settled that the privilege ‘generally is not self-executing’ and that a witness who desires its protection ‘must claim it.'”
This Supreme Court decision was split down its conservative and liberal lines, with Alito’s judgment joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented. “In my view the Fifth Amendment here prohibits the prosecution from commenting on the petitioner’s silence in response to police questioning,” Justice Stephen Breyer said.
The police decided to charge Genovevo Salinas after one of his friends informed them that he had confessed, but Salinas successfully evaded the police for years. He was finally arrested in 2007, however, his first trial ended in a mistrial. It was during his second trial that prosecutors tried very aggressively to use his silence about the shotgun in their closing remarks to the jury.
Salinas was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Texas Court of Appeals and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction, with the latter court saying “pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence is not protected by the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and that prosecutors may comment on such silence regardless of whether a defendant testifies.”
The case, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, is Salinas v. Texas, 12-246.
In the Bahudhàtuka Sutta (MN 115), the Buddha explains that there are actually eighteen physical and mental elements. These are six triads of elements where each triad is composed of a sense object (the external sense bases), a sense organ (the internal sense bases), and the six related sense-consciousnesses (viññāṇa):
1. There is the element of the eyes as a visual organ
2. The form element as an objective visual
3. Eye-consciousness as the cognizance of the form perceived by the eyes
4. The ear element, or the ears as auditory organs
5. The element of sounds or audible objects
6. Ear-consciousness as the cognizance of the sounds perceived by the ears
7. The nose element as the olfactory organ
8. The element of aromas, scents, odors, fragrances, etc.
9. The nose-consciousness as the cognizance of the oflactive objects sensed by the nose
10. The tongue element as the gustatory organ
11. The elements of tastes, flavors, etc.
12. The tongue-consciousness as the cognizance of gustation sensed by the tongue
13. The body element as the tactile organ
14. The tangible element of touch, contact, etc.
15. Body-consciousness as the cognizance of the tangible objects sensed through body-contact
16. The mind element as consciousness and discernment
17. The element of mental objects (mano-dhātu) such as intellect, ideas, thought-processes, etc.
18. The mind-consciousness element (mano-viññāna-dhātu) as cognizance itself, or that which discerns
As a more concise, alternative description, the Buddha condensed these eighteen elements into only six descriptive natural elements. These include the four great elements that most people are familiar with – earth, air/wind, sea/water, and fire. Some traditions include a fifth element such as akasha/aether/sky/space/etc. These four classical elements (dhātu or mahā-bhūta), as well as the fifth, are also found within Buddhism. There is also a sixth element, which is consciousness. However, these elements themselves are more properly understood to be categories of sensorial qualities which are used to relate to the sensible physical world, rather than as substances. Therefore, these six elements can be understood as:
1. The Earth Element, or everything solid (pathavī) in the body, such as sense organs, hairs, teeth, tendons, bones, etc.
2. The Water Element, or all that is liquid (āpo) within the body. This is quite a bit, considering that up to 60% of the human body is water, while the brain itself is composed of about 70% water.
3. The Fire Element, or the heat (tejo) energy in the body. This can be related to body temperature, metabolism, temper, etc.
4. The Air Element, or everything internal that is in like wind (i.e. in motion; vāyo). This quite obviously applies to the air we breathe, but it can also relate to other things as well such as blood flow.
5. The Space Element, or the aether (ākāsa) constituted by the physical elements. This can be more easily comprehended as the bodily orifices such as the mouth, ears, nostrils, etc.
6. The Mind Element, or the emergent consciousness (viññāna) that arises from the other elements, by which they become conscious of themselves. This is cognizance, or that which discerns the three feelings (vedanā) of pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain, and the arising and passing of the sense contact (phassa) upon which these feelings are dependent.
So it is easy to see how the six elements make for an easier mindfulness practice. There are of course other examples given which can be used for understanding the elements, but for now we will focus on this formula of six elements.
There was once a wandering aesthetic named Pukkusati who went traveling to search out and meet the Buddha. However, he had never seen the Buddha before so how would he even be able to recognize him once he did? Well, he wasn’t. He was only able to realize his mistake after the Buddha related to him the six properties/elements, six media of sensory contact, eighteen considerations, and the four determinations.
However, the main point of the six element practice is to note that how each is an ever-changing, temporal process, rather than a static, abiding quality or substance. Each element, that is: solidity, fluidity, airiness, aether, and consciousness, makes up our body but none of them can be identified as an intrinsic whole in their own right. They are all empty of inherent existence as they are all dependently co-arisen processes.
Therefore, all things perceived by the these six elements (or even just one of them) are actually unfit for identification with a “self”/”ego” or “soul” (atta) since they are impermanent (anicca) – and because there is anicca there is dukkha. The mark of not-self (anatta) states that one should regard the six elements with right discernment as, “This is not mine, this is not my self, this is not what I am.” Realizing this one grows weary and disenchanted with the each of these elements, letting go of attachment to each by progression through the jhanas, until there is only consciousness which discerns pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain.
With the cessation of the very sensory contact which is to be felt as pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain, the concomitant feeling of said pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain also ceases. That is, consciousness is stilled. When this occurs, only equanimity will remain: pure and bright, pliant, malleable, and luminous. This can lead one to Nibbāna (Skt. Nirvāṇa), in which “birth is exhausted,the holy life fulfilled, the task done” and there is “nothing more of this becoming.”
Everyone seems to have their own preconceived ideas of what Buddhism is and what Buddhists are. I mean, if you saw some punk rocker or even someone from Uganda, you probably wouldn’t think they look like the “typical Buddhist”. But what is a “typical” Buddhist supposed to look like? What’s a “typical Buddhist”, anyways?
There was one time this monk by the name of Bhaddiya. He sure didn’t look anything like all of the other monks. He was dwarfish in that he was shorter but not really proportioned, and he also happened to have a pretty bad complexion. Some of the other monks seemed uncomfortable by his appearance, and upon seeing this the Buddha told them that:
“Monks, that monk is of great power, of great eminence. There is no well-gained attainment that has not already been attained by that monk. For that benefit, for which sons of good lineage rightly go forth from home into homelessness, that ultimate conclusion of the holy life, even in this very life, by himself, having seen with his own eyes the higher knowledge, and having attained, he abides.”
This is because one’s outward appearance is in no way related to their inner wisdom. It doesn’t matter what we look like, or who we are – regardless of our class, gender, color, etc. – we all have the potential to realize full enlightenment. In terms of gender, Ven. Soma once observed that:
“What difference does being a woman make when the mind’s well-centered, when knowledge is progressing, seeing clearly, rightly, into the Dhamma. Anyone who thinks ‘I’m a woman’ or ‘a man’ or ‘Am I anything at all?’— that’s who Mara’s fit to address.”
The Buddha was pretty radical in his time for admitting that everyone was capable of arhatship regardless of gender, caste, etc. It’s not how you are born or even how you define yourself that really matters – its what you do. The Dhamma places a higher value on a person’s ethic and virtue rather than how we were born. Buddha stated in the Vasala Sutta that, “not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes an brahman.”
In MN 90, the Buddha explains the five factors for exertion to a king and asks him, “Lord, if these four castes were endowed with these five factors for exertion, would there be any distinction or difference among them in that respect?” The king actually wondered about this, so Buddha said “I tell you, great king, that there would be no difference among them with regard to the release of one and the release of another.”
It makes no difference how you were born, or how you define yourself. Your outward appearance or personal preferences, likewise, make no difference. We all have the potential to realize full awakening – that is, if we do our part and cultivate it with practice.