Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for July, 2012

Breaking News: Syria

Dear Gabriel,

Breaking: What I saw in Syria

I recently returned from a months-long fact-finding mission to Syria where I witnessed first-hand the extent of the atrocities being committed by government forces and militias working alongside the military.

In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, I saw people — including a 16-year-old schoolboy — being shot dead and injured by security forces and militias during peaceful demonstrations. Elsewhere in every town and village I saw homes burned down to the ground and spoke to families of young men who had been dragged from their homes and murdered by soldiers. The abuses were systematic and massive in scale. More recently opposition fighters have also been committing abuses and the situation is likely to deteriorate further the longer this conflict goes on.

People who care — like you — must speak out against this senseless violence. Your donation today will help support Amnesty International’s actions to uncover the truth, demand accountability, and prevent human rights abuses in the future.

As you read this, intense fighting between government forces and opposition fighters is taking place in Syria, where residential neighborhoods have been turned into battlefields and civilians are more at risk than ever. Tens of thousands have fled their homes just in recent days, joining the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced in the past year.

Despite the escalating violence, the international community has tragically failed to take effective action — essentially standing by as children, women and men are slaughtered.

That is why it is imperative that Amnesty International continues its efforts speaking out on behalf of Syrian civilians and taking critical steps to hold accountable those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Your donation will help us:

Send other researchers like myself into the field to document atrocities and share them with influencers and leaders around the world.

Put pressure on the United Nations Security Council to take concrete action to protect the civilian population and to hold the perpetrators of these terrible crimes accountable.

When atrocities like what I’ve seen in Syria are committed, we must not turn our heads or despair that there is nothing we can do. We must keep global attention on Syria. Your donation can make a difference.

Sincerely,

Donatella Rovera
Senior Crisis Response Adviser
Amnesty International

P.S. Want to learn more? Watch a first-hand account of my fact-finding mission.

Making Cities Bike Friendly

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
28 July 2012
by Jay Walljasper

How Cities Can Get Drivers Biking

You can glimpse the future right now in forward-looking American cities—a few blocks here, a mile there, where people riding bicycles are protected from rushing cars and trucks.

Chicago’s Kinzie Street, just north of downtown, offers a good picture of this transportation transformation. New bike lanes are marked with bright green paint and separated from motor traffic by a series of plastic posts. This means bicyclists glide through the busy area in the safety of their own space on the road. Pedestrians are thankful that bikes no longer seek refuge on the sidewalks, and many drivers appreciate the clear, orderly delineation about where bikes and cars belong.

“Most of all this is a safety project,” notes Chicago’s Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. “We saw bikes go up from a 22 percent share of traffic to 52 percent of traffic on the street with only a negligible change in motorists’ time, but a drop in their speeds. That makes everyone safer.”

Klein heralds this new style of bike lane as one way to improve urban mobility in an era of budget shortfalls. “They’re dirt cheap to build compared to road projects.”

“The Kinzie project was discombobulating to the public when it first went in,” notes Alderman Margaret Laurino, chair of the city council’s Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee. “Business owners had questions. But now people understand it and we’re ready to do more.”

“Protected bike lanes are not just for diehard bicyclists—they offer a level of safety and confidence for less experienced riders,” adds Rey Colón, a Chicago alderman who first saw how well these innovations work on a trip to Seville, Spain.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel campaigned on the promise of building 100 miles of these “green lanes” over the next four years to heighten the city’s appeal to new businesses. After the protected bike lane opened on Kinzie Street last year, more were installed on Jackson Boulevard and 18th Street on the city’s Near West Side. Thirteen more miles are planned this summer throughout the city. (The Chicago suburb of Evanston just announced plans to install protected bike lanes on one of its busy streets.)

Green Lanes Mean Go

People on bikes everywhere feel more safe and comfortable on busy streets with a physical barrier between them and motor vehicles. In some places it’s a plastic post or line of parked cars. In others it’s a curb, planter or slightly elevated bike lanes. But no matter what separates people on bikes from people in cars, the results are hefty increases in the number and variety of people bicycling.

“We’ve seen biking almost triple on parts of 15th Street NW since installing a protected bike lane last year,” reports Jim Sebastian, Active Transportation Project Manager for the District of Columbia. “And we’re seeing different kinds of cyclists beyond the Lycra crowd. People in business suits, high heels, families out for a ride, more younger and older people.”

This particular bike lane—one of more than 50 protected bikeways built recently in at least 20 cities from New York to Minneapolis to Long Beach, Calif.—is richly symbolic for Americans. It follows 15th Sreet NW to the White House.

“This is what cities of the future are doing to attract businesses and young people,” notes Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “People don’t want to drive all the time; they want a choice.”

The Greening of America’s Streets

The Green Lane Project, an initiative to showcase these next-generation transportation improvements, was launched on May 31 in six U.S. cities: Chicago, Washington, D.C., Memphis, Austin, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. The effort is coordinated by the Bikes Belong Foundation. Advisors to the project include New York City Department of Transportation (which has already pioneered 5 miles of protected lanes on six streets), the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the League of American Bicyclists. Major funders include Volkswagen of America, SRAM, Interbike, the Taiwan Bicycle Exporters Association and the Bikes Belong Coalition.

The name “green lane” was chosen not only to draw attention to the typical color of protected bike lanes but also to highlight their potential in improving the urban environment and saving on transportation costs. “Green lanes are not just a color on the street. They are paths to better cities,” the project’s website explains, adding that more people on bikes eases congestion and boosts residents’ health, sense of community, and economic opportunities.

The project will connect elected officials, city planners, traffic engineers, bike advocates and citizens in these six cities to share experiences, trade data, and swap ideas, says Project Director Martha Roskowski. Until this year she ran GO Boulder, the alternative transportation effort at the city of Boulder, Colorado, which built its first protected bike lane in the early 1990s.

“For cities, green lanes are like finding a whole new drawer of tools in your toolbox,” Roskowski notes. “Our mission is to expand the knowledge on how to use these tools. How to get them on the ground. How to fine tune them. How to make them work best.”

Five years ago, these designs were barely on the horizon in the U.S. although they’ve been standard in Europe for decades. “Today, cities across the country are looking to green lanes to tame busy streets and connect missing links in the bicycling network,” she says. She points to the 2011 publication of a design guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials as a key factor creating momentum for green lanes. “The guide shows cities how to combine existing, approved design elements in new ways to create these spaces,” says Roskowski

“The idea is to create the kind of bike networks that will attract the 60 percent of all Americans who say they would bike more if they felt safer,” says Randy Neufeld, a longtime bike advocate in Chicago who as Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund helped start the Green Lane Project. “It’s about helping people from 8 to 80 to feel safe biking on city streets.”

The six Green Lane Project cities will receive technical assistance and support, backed by targeted grants to help carry out their plans. Other cities around the country will soon be able to tap into a comprehensive resource center of data, documentation and best practices compiled by the project.

Protected bike lanes are often accompanied by other safety improvements—paint that marks bicyclists’ path through intersections; designated spaces at stoplights that give two-wheel traffic a slight head start; and traffic signals dedicated to people on bikes. All these measures reduce car/bike collisions by making people on bikes more visible and clearly assigning priority at intersections. In addition, many cities around the country are also building buffered bike lanes, where wide patches of paint rather than physical barriers separate bicyclists from cars and trucks.

The proliferation of new bike sharing systems—where people can conveniently rent bikes at on-street stations with a credit card and return them to another station near their destination—creates new demand for green lanes by getting more riders on the streets. Bike share is now running full board in Washington, Denver, Boston, Minneapolis, Chattanooga, and Miami Beach—and coming soon to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities. Roskowski notes that the recent rise of bike sharing and protected bike lanes are linked. “Bike share puts new people on bikes who want safer, more comfortable place to ride.”

Bikes—Not Just for Ultra Fit Athletes

The United States has witnessed a boom in bicycling over the past 15 years, proving that bikes aren’t just for kids and recreational riders anymore. They are an essential component of 21st-century transportation systems that can cut congestion on crowded streets, save money in transportation budgets, improve traffic safety, and reduce pollution.

The number of Americans commuting to work by bike has climbed 43 percent since 2000, according to census figures. And numbers are even higher in places making their streets more accommodating for bicyclists. New York City, Boston, Seattle, and Minneapolis-St. Paul have all doubled the number of people on bikes over the past five years. In Portland, Oregon, 6 percent of all commuters travel to work by bike—an achievement matched by smaller cities such as Gainesville, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin; and Cambridge, Massachusetts—and surpassed in Boulder, Colorado (10 percent) and Davis, California (22 percent).

Yet overall, America still lags behind many Western nations in embracing bikes as a form of transportation. Only one percent of all trips nationally are made by people on bicycles today (up from 0.43 percent a few years ago). There are many explanations—some practical, some philosophical—for why most Americans bike infrequently.

The sprawling layout of many cities and suburbs is one obvious cause. The decline of physical activity among many Americans, even kids, is a likely contributing factor. Some observers point to automobiles’ long reign as a status symbol. Others suggest that many Americans view bicycling as a white, upper-middle class hobby, not as a form of transportation for average families. However, a recent study found that 21 percent of all bike trips in the U.S. are made by people of color.

Many cities are paying particular attention to make sure that low-income and minority communities—where many families don’t own cars and others are financially strapped by the rising costs of operating one—have access to state-of-the-art biking facilities. With a 63 percent African-American population, Memphis was selected as one of the six Green Lane cities in part because of Mayor AC Wharton Jr.’s strong support for biking as essential—not a frill—for a city with one of the highest diabetes rates in the country and where 15 percent of households have no access to a car.

Danny Solis—a Latino alderman representing a district on Chicago’s West Side with a high percentage of Mexican Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans—says good bike lanes are important to improving public safety and economic vitality in lower-income communities: “It increases interaction between neighbors, which is a boost for businesses and keeps the gang bangers away.”

Encouraging more people to ride bikes offers substantial rewards for all Americans, whether they ride a bike or not, by using streets more efficiently to move people and offering an economical choices in transportation as well as addressing looming problems such as the obesity epidemic and volatile fuel prices. And it gets even better from there—the more people ride, the more benefits we’ll all see.

Read entire article at Nation of Change or Yes! Magazine.

A Little Common Sense

From Nation of Change
26 July 2012

U.S. Gun Laws: Guilty by Reason of Insanity
by Amy Goodman

James Holmes, the alleged shooter in the massacre in Aurora, Colo., reportedly amassed his huge arsenal with relative ease. Some of these weapons were illegal as recently as eight years ago. Legislation now before Congress would once again make illegal, if not the guns themselves, at least the high-capacity magazines that allow bullets to be fired rapidly without stopping to reload. Holmes bought most of his weaponry within recent months, we are told. Perhaps, if sane laws on gun control, including the ban on high- capacity magazines, were in place, many in Aurora who are now dead or seriously injured would be alive and well today.

The facts of the assault are generally well-known. Holmes allegedly burst into the packed theater during the 12:30 am premier of the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises,” threw one or two canisters of some gas or irritant, which exploded, then began to methodically shoot people, killing 12 and wounding 58.

“Everybody sort of started screaming, and that’s when the gunman opened fire on the crowd, and pandemonium just broke out,” Omar Esparza told me. He was in the third row, with five friends out for a birthday celebration: “He started opening fire on the audience pretty freely, just started shooting in every direction, that’s when everybody started screaming, started panicking. A lot of people had been hit at that point at those initial few rounds, and that’s when everybody sort of hit the floor and started to exit.”

Esparza continued: “It sounded like the bullets had stopped, and it sounded like he was either switching guns or reloading his rifle. At that very second when we sort of heard the silence, we realized that that was our only opportunity of getting out or of dying. So, at that split second, we had to react and had to exit as quickly as possible. And we barely made it, too, because approximately a second after we had exited, we heard him starting to shoot again.”

That moment of silence may have been when one of the weapons jammed. CNN reported that “the semiautomatic rifle used in the Colorado theater killings jammed during the rampage … a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation said Sunday.”

Holmes allegedly had an AR-15, equipped with a 100-round drum magazine, as well as one or two Glock pistols with 40-round extended magazines and a Remington 870 shotgun that can fire up to seven shells without reloading. The AR-15 can fire from 50 to 60 rounds per minute. Holmes had a massive arsenal, easily acquired at retail stores and online.

Carolyn McCarthy is a member of Congress from Long Island, N.Y. Her husband was shot in the head and among the six killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre. Her son also was shot in the head, but survived and remains partially paralyzed. She was a nurse back then, but when her congressman voted against the assault-weapons ban, she ran against him. She won and has been in Congress ever since.

McCarthy has introduced H.R. 308, the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act. It would ban the sale or transfer of these large-capacity clips that enabled the massive casualties in Aurora, and in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011 when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six were killed. McCarthy told me: “The problem is, politicians, legislators across this country are intimidated by the NRA and the gun manufacturers who put so much money out there to say that ‘we will take you down in an election if you go against us.’ Common sense will say we can take prudent gun-safety legislation and try to save people’s lives. That is the bottom line.”

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

375 Million in Daily Profits!

From Nation of Change and Think Progress.

What Five Oil Companies did With Their $375 Million in Daily Profits
by Rebecca Leber
25 July 2012

The Big Five oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell – are slated to announce their 2012 second-quarter profits later this week.

We can expect these companies, all of which rank in the top 10 of the “Fortune 500 Global Ranking,” to reveal billions of dollars more in profits, after earning $375 million in profits per day in 2011 ($261,000 per minute), and $368 million per day in the first three-months of 2012 — bringing their combined profits to $1 trillion from 2001 through 2011.

Below is a quick look at just how much these Big Oil companies are making, and where they are spending their billions in profits.

Big Oil’s Big Profits, In 24 Hours

The five biggest oil companies earned a combined profit of $375 million per day, or a record $137 billion profit for the year, in 2011, despite reducing their oil production.

In 60 seconds, these five companies earned $261,000 — more than 96 percent of American households make in one year.

These five oil companies received $6.6 million in federal tax breaks every day.

In 2011, the three largest domestic public oil companies spent $100 million of their profits each day, or over 50 percent, buying back their own stock to enrich their board, senior managers, and largest share holders.

The entire oil and gas industry spent on average $400,000 each day lobbying senators and representatives to weaken public health safeguards and keep big oil tax breaks, totaling nearly $150 million.

Each CEO of the Big Five companies received an average of $60,110 in compensation per day last year. On average, their pay jumped 55 percent in 2011. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s compensation came close to $100,000 per day last year.

Millions in Political Contributions and Lobbying

Despite ranking as some of the most successful companies in the world, big oil and gas companies continue to receive $4 billion in tax breaks each year.

The oil and gas industry has already given over $30.5 million in federal campaign contributions this year, with a whopping 88 percent going to Republicans.

Big Oil has spent an additional $37 million on lobbying Congress this year, with the top spenders being Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Koch Industries and BP.

Their efforts are paying off. This is the most anti-environment Congress in history, with the House of Representatives averaging one anti-environment vote per day, or a total 247 votes through mid-June. The biggest beneficiary of these votes has been Big Oil. The House voted to enrich the oil and gas industry 109 times, a total 44 percent of its anti-environment votes.

The House is on track to collect a record amount of oil industry contributions this cycle, having already reached 2008 and 2010 levels. And these are direct donations only — it does not include Super PAC spending or other campaign assistance.

Outside Interests and Big Oil Allies Spending Tens of Millions More to Influence the Energy Debate

Fueled by Koch Industries and other Big Oil interests, the industry is spending hundreds of millions to fund false ads in this year’s elections. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 85 percent of the dollars have funded false ad, during a season where most advertising have focused on energy.

Pro-Romney outside interest groups spent $24.6 million on energy ads through June 24, according to Kantar Media CMAG data. This is more than ten-times the amount spent by pro-Obama groups, which spent $2.3 million on energy spots.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Pennsyvlania Denying Right to Vote

Department of Justice Investigating Pennsylvania’s Voter Suppression Tactics

Pennsylvania’s new “voter I.D.” law could literally decide the fate of President Obama’s re-election.

It’s not the first time that Republicans have tried to suppress the vote — but in an election this close, it could be the tipping point that delivers the Presidency to Mitt Romney.

Help us reach 100,000 strong in support of the Department of Justice’s investigation of Pennsylvania voter suppression — Add your name >>

Gabriel — Republicans’ attempt to disenfranchise voters is just a shameless attempt to steal this election.

Even the Pennsylvania Republicans’ Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, boasted, “Voter ID…is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” We all remember what happened in Florida in 2000. We can’t let Republicans get away with disenfranchising nearly 1-in-10 voters in a critical swing state like Pennsylvania in 2012.

Help us fight it:

http://dccc.org/PA-Voter-Suppression

Brynne

Brynne Craig
DCCC Field Director

P.S. Do you have a Republican friend that claims these onerous voter I.D. laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud? Tell them the state of Pennsylvania just admitted in a court filing that they have no evidence of in-person voter fraud, then help us fight back.

Engineers Without Broders in Rwanda

From ROP Stories
Goodbye Engineer Friends!
by Jenny Clover
24 July 2012

As the last of our engineer friends depart Rwanda we want to say a huge thank you to the whole Engineers Without Borders team for their hard work!

Over the last two months Steve, Kara, Andy, Matt, Andrew, BJ, Jordan and Sonya from Boulder, Colorado, have been busy with meetings galore, testing the soil on the new ROP land, designing our new school and generally laying all the groundwork for the exciting new chapter in the ROP’s story.

Thanks to them, the ROP will hopefully have a new school on our own land by next autumn. Thanks for everything and we hope to see you all back in Kigali soon!

Read more stories about the Rwandan Orphans Project at ROP Stories.

Islamic School In Synagogue

Islamic school plans to move onto St. Louis synagogue campus
July 20, 2012

(JTA) – An Islamic school in the St. Louis area, the Al Manara Academy, is planning to move onto the campus of a local synagogue, B’nai El Congregation in Frontenac, Mo.

By August, the Islamic day school plans to move to the space previously occupied by the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light. A conditional permit of use was approved Tuesday by the Frontenac City Council, limiting the number of students to 100, the newspaper said.

Amye Carrigan, B’nai El president, told the Jewish Light that a “firm, signed lease agreement” is not yet signed with the Reform congregation. “If and when it happens, I hope it’s going to be a very positive thing for the community,” she said. “This arrangement can be a wonderful opportunity for understanding and promoting positive outcomes.”

Earlier this year, the Reform Jewish Academy merged with the Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis to form the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. It will operate on the campus of Congregation B’nai Amoona, which previously housed the Schechter school.

Phillip Paeltz, a board member of Al Manara Academy, told the Jewish Light that the operation is “an Islamic school which seeks to train students in the Islamic faith, but also prepares them for a multicultural world.” He said, “As Muslims, we refer to all Jews as people of the book. In so many places in the world there are conflicts between Muslims and Jews. Hopefully, this is a time when we seize the opportunity to work together.”

Follow us on Twitter for breaking Jewish news updates.

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net

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