The Reverend Joseph Ratzinger has been tapped for the new position of health care czar. This is part of a package of reforms to the nation's health care delivery system. "We will deliver health to this country the way we deliver drones to Pakistan," the nominee said. Ratzinger had served as Director of Dogma in the Bush administration's office of Faith-Based initiatives. Prior to that he had been pope.
The proposed new Department of Secure Homeland Health will oversee all aspects of the nation's health care, except for those administered by private plans. An anonymous source in the administration pointed out that "Kaiser will not be controlled by the czar!"
Medicare and VA hospitals will be under the new department. "Millions of veterans have given their lives for this country and they deserve the best treatment available, " said the Reverend Ted Hagerty. "I look forward to serving under czar Ratzinger."
The CDC has announced new protocols for its promising laying on of hands therapies.
On April 25, I got a message on facebook from a friend who is a nurse midwife. The message was headlined, “Dr George Tiller needs support in Kansas” and was asking people to write letters of support to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.
I knew about Tiller’s practice, and that he was a lifeline for thousands of women all over the country who couldn’t get abortions anywhere else. Nonetheless, I have to admit, I was so busy with all my other political and personal commitments, I didn’t make the time to read the message or write the letter. Not, of course, that if I had it would in any way have changed what happened on May 31.
Here’s part of the message I didn’t read. It’s a pretty good summary of Dr. Tiller’s life for the last 25 years or so, until he was gunned down at church (just one more reason not to go):
“Dr Tiller’s is one of the two clinics in the USA (and possibly in the world) that specializes in abortion care for patients who have a late diagnosis of severe fetal anomalies. Patients come from all over the world seeking care at his clinic. (www.drtiller.com).
Dr Tiller recently stood trial on 19 misdemeanor charges of illegal abortion based on technicalities concerning who was eligible to provide a second concurring opinion in the case of these abortions. He was exonerated on all charges in less time than it takes to eat a sandwich. The charges were initiated by Phill Kline, a self proclaimed anti abortion advocate who was attorney general in Kansas. The charges were bogus and the jury saw through it immediately.
Minutes after the ‘not guilty’ verdict on all charges, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts decided to press ahead with its own investigation of 11 of the 19 cases which had just been dealt with by the court. (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-abortion-trial28-2009mar28,0,4163360.story) and (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Tiller)
And who filed the complaint with the Kansas Board? Cheryl Sullinger, who pled guilty to conspiring to blow up an abortion clinic in 1988 and received a sentence of 2.5 years. She is a member of the anti abortion group “Operation Rescue” which has set up an office in Wichita for the express purpose of forcing Dr Tiller out of business.
Why is the Kansas Board responding to a complaint from a group which has an obvious political agenda? Because the Board has recently come under criticism for failing to adequately police Kansas doctors. Particularly controversial is the case of Dr Stephen Schneider, a pain doctor who was recently arrested for his prescription practices. (http://www.kansas.com/news/state/story/772491.html ). Anti abortion activists have taken the opportunity of the scrutiny on the Kansas Board to barrage the Board with a flurry of frivolous complaints. Their only purpose is to harass Dr Tiller in every way they can.”
The criminal charges and board complaint were only the most recent weapons of the anti-abortion right wing against Dr. Tiller. In 1986, his clinic was bombed, and in 1993 he was shot twice (once in each arm) by Shelley Shannon, who had written letters of support to the man who killed abortion doctor David Gunn in Florida.
Though the news reports following his assassination mainly state that Tiller “performed third trimester abortions,” those procedures were a very small part of Tiller’s practice. Kansas law prohibits aborting viable fetuses, which is generally midway through the second trimester, unless two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would cause the woman “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The 19 charges against Tiller were based on allegations that he consulted a second physician who was not truly “independent” as required by Kansas state law.
What was unique about Tiller was that he used a less rigid standard to determine the age of the fetus than many other clinics, and therefore was often able to offer late second trimester abortions to women who had been told their pregnancies were too advanced. As a volunteer at ACCESS Women’s Health Hotline, I helped numerous women find transportation, housing and funding so that they could get abortions at Tiller’s clinic.
Many people wonder why women would wait so long that they would need to get an abortion late in the second trimester. What many people don’t realize is that 24 weeks, which is more or less the latest that one could get an abortion from anyone except Tiller (San Francisco General, which is the latest in Northern California, goes to 23 weeks), that doesn’t mean 24 weeks gestation. It means 24 weeks since your last period. Many women, especially teenagers and women in perimenopause, don’t have completely regular cycles, so by the time they realized that they’ve missed a period, they may already be considered 8 or 10 weeks pregnant. Medical (or chemical) abortion, such as RU486 (the “abortion pill”), can only be used up to about 8 weeks, which means that basically, you have to be able to get the abortion within a week or two of having a positive pregnancy test. The easiest, cheapest types of abortions, which are vacuum aspiration, are performed up to 12 or 14 weeks at most clinics. Anything after 13 or 14 weeks is considered second trimester. The procedure requires going to the clinic two days in a row, usually involves a general anesthetic, and the cost goes up significantly.
If a woman depends on Medicaid for her medical care, the abortion may or may not be covered. Here in California, Medi-Cal actually covers most abortions, and you can even get emergency Medi-Cal, bypassing the time-consuming application process, if you have proof of pregnancy. But for that you need a blood test, not a home test, and if you need to get it for free, you might have to wait, and you also might accidentally end up in a fake clinic, which advertise “Free Pregnancy Tests” and when you go there, they do not actually give you the blood test you need but they do pressure you to have the baby. So you lose valuable time.
To make matters worse, around 1999, antiabortion bureaucrats were able to change the reimbursement schedule so that clinics got almost no reimbursement for procedures after 19 weeks. As a result, nearly all clinics in California phased out later second-trimester abortions for Medi-Cal recipients. This effective change in the abortion law went pretty much unreported in the press, but it means that a woman who if she didn’t need public funding would have plenty of time to get her abortion before she was close to the deadline, must start scrambling around to find someone who takes Medi-Cal. If she started late already, she might well run out of time.
According to a 2005 article by ACCESS-Women’s Health Rights Coalition, “Of the 148 publicly advertised California abortion providers -defined as those listed under ‘Abortion Services’ in the Yellow Pages – 53% accept Medi-Cal through the first trimester and 20% accept Medi-Cal up to 20 weeks gestation.
Only 4% of publicly advertised abortion providers accept Medi-Cal past 21 weeks.
Of the 23 providers in the state who provide abortion past 20 weeks, only three accept Medi-Cal through 24 weeks.”
Women in California, though, are among the lucky ones. Medicaid covers abortions in only 17 states. For women in the other 33 states, the situation is even more dire. A private first-trimester abortion generally costs between $400 and $600. But the cheapest clinics have the heaviest caseloads, and often women who are earlier in pregnancy are delayed so that women pushing the end of the time when they could get an abortion can be seen. So unless you started making appointments the day you realized you were pregnant, you are very likely to be past the 12-week cutoff for the cheapest procedure by the time your appointment comes around. Then you will have to delay longer while you try to scare up the extra money you need for a later procedure – about $200 for every two or three weeks. At Family Planning Specialists in Oakland, which is one of the most affordable facilities in this area, a 19-22 week abortion costs $1,150. So quite a few women who would not have needed to go to Tiller’s clinic ended up there because by the time they got the money together, no one else would see them. Of course, then they ended up needing thousands of dollars more to afford the later procedure, plus travel to and lodging in Wichita.
To anyone in the abortion rights movement, Tiller was, as our friend Barbara said, “Irreplaceable.” The good news is that Dr. LeRoy Carhart announced this week he will start doing late-term abortions in his clinic in Nebraska, in an effort to plug the hole left by the closure of Dr. Tiller’s clinic. The bad news is that scott roeder, Tiller’s killer, says that more violence is on the way. Given that we seem to be in a torrent of hate-motivated violence, that the justice department is probably too busy writing about the cost of gay marriage and fighting to keep torture cases out of the courts to investigate what the right wing is doing, it seems pretty likely that roeder is going to be proven right.
Shirley Asnis, a lifelong progressive activist, former New York City school teacher, and avid reader of UltraViolet, died on June 4 in Oakland at the age of 88. Shirley moved to Oakland three years ago to be near her daughter, Deni, one of the writers of UV’s MOCHA column. Despite her decreasing mobility, Shirley went to a number of demonstrations, including a picket line formed by the workers at her residence, Piedmont Gardens, demanding better pay and working conditions. Over the past few years, many of us in the LAGAI/UV community were lucky enough to get to know her. Shirley will be missed by Deni and Chaya, Deni’s sister Ellen, and the rest of us as well. (The MOCHA Column will return in the September issue.)
Like many who live in the east bay, I look forward to the now-weekly issues of the Berkeley Daily Planet, one of the few remaining independent local papers. The Planet provides probably the most complete coverage of local issues, including development and gentrification, police violence, climate change, and environmental justice. Unlike the Oakland Tribune which virtually ignored waste management’s lockout that resulted in my garbage accumulating for weeks, the Planet covered it in every issue, including the spectacular failure of Oakland city government to do a thing about it.
But the Planet, which takes a basically progressive view of things, has run letters and op-eds that are critical of israel, including many written after the israeli invasion of Gaza in December 2008. For example, the January 15 issue included a piece by Osha Neumann, of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, confronting Obama’s silence. For the record, the Planet has also run letters and op-eds supporting israeli policy.
Interestingly enough, soon after these pieces, the Planet found itself the object of increased code enforcement by the City of Berkeley for not repairing damaged or defaced newspaper boxes quickly enough.
Speaking of newspaper boxes, the June 4 issue of the Planet could not be found in most boxes in Berkeley. Perhaps coincidentally, it carried a front page story by Richard Brenneman describing the “Zio-con” campaign against the Planet, created by Jim Sinkinson, John Gertz, and Dan Spitzer. Sinkinson is a director of the anti-Palestinian website FLAME (facts and logic about the middle east).
According to Brenneman, Planet advertisers received letters dated March 7 and March 31 alleging that the paper is antisemitic, and warning that the Jewish residents of Berkeley object to the paper. The March 7 letter included a Notice of Cancellation addressed to publisher Becky O’Malley with which they were advised to cancel their ads. The letter was also physically presented to local advertisers. One of them told Brenneman that “she was initially frightened when a man who refused to give his name walked into her business, handed her a sheet of paper and declared, ‘I think it’s best that you don’t advertise in the Daily Planet.’”
Another advertiser, Houisi Ghaderi, the owner of the Vault restaurant, said that a man identifying himself as Dan Patterson, handed him a piece of paper that was apparently a printout of an email. It said,
"Dear Berkeley Daily Planet advertisers: You have been requested to cease advertising in this publication whose owner/editor is obsessed with demonizing Israel. Because your ads continue to appear in the paper, you are likely to lose business as about 20% of Berkeley/Rockridge residents are Jewish and most are putoff [sic] by the Daily Planet’s continually [sic] attacks upon Israel. The newsletter listed below is e-mailed to much of the East Bay’s Jewish community and it will keep notifying its readers of businesses which continue to advertise in the Daily Planet.
"The visitor told Ghaderi to stop advertising in the paper. “If I didn’t,” Ghaderi said, “he told me I’d be put on a blacklist. He told me, ‘You’ve been warned.’” Ghaderi said he’d been receiving similar phone calls for more than a year, demanding he stop his ads with the paper. He told Brenneman, “They go after your family and your livelihood and make intimidating phone calls. Just because you have a First Amendment right to speak doesn’t give you the right to threaten people.”
John Gertz runs a website called dpwatchdog.com, which attempts to discourage people from advertising in the Planet. He gives three reasons why advertisers would avoid the Planet,
**The DP’s core demographic, Berkeley’s aging radicals, is of minimal interest to potential advertisers. [I suppose that is as compared to Berkeley’s vampire radicals]
**Potential advertisers may not wish to be associated with a newspaper that publishes anti-Semitic canards and rabid anti-Israelism.
**Potential advertisers do not wish to be associated with a newspaper whose views are so clearly harmful to business in Berkeley.
In a letter published in the May 20 issues of the east bay express, Spitzer included KPFA in the rant, saying, “Although there are some local Jewish residents who loath Israel, the vast majority of Berkeley Jews — while sometimes critical of Israeli policy — by and large support its existence. Berkeley's population is about 20 percent Jewish and most now shun both KPFA and the Planet, which many have come to call "The Daily Palestinian."
This is not the first time local zionist organizations have threatened the survival of local organizations that dared to speak out against israel. In 2003, Rainbow Grocery received threats of boycott and a threat that their products would be poisoned if they continued their decision to deshelve israeli goods. Later that year, the jewish community relations council attacked the funding of San Francisco Women Against Rape because they declared that because they are against racism, they were anti-zionists. The SF women’s commission required SF WAR to change their statement and website and meet with jcrc representatives as a condition of continued funding. The jcrc also attacked Eileen Hansen’s campaign for SF supervisor, and the General Union of Palestinian Students at San Francisco State.
These attacks come on top of the general economic problems that are afflicting newspapers. LAGAI urges all of our readers to save the Planet. Contact their advertisers and tell them you are glad they support the Planet. (If appropriate, you may want to identify yourself as an aging radical.) If you can, send a contribution to: Fund for Local Reporting, Berkeley Daily Planet, 3023A Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA, 94705, or go to their website www.berkeleydailyplanet.com.
Without community there can be no liberation
- Audre Lorde
"Family" is a loaded term. Although "family" is one word, it has many meanings. The concept of "family" is dependent on one's culture, beliefs, experience and will to make up one's own definition. However it seems that many religious institutions along with the people that love them are really trying to convince the rest of us that their definition, their “family” is the only way to be. For example, many right-wing, evangelical folk are using the concept of family as justification to continue pushing agendas that support their inadequate ideas about what family is. Here in California, there has been a lot of news reporting on the development of Proposition 8, a proposition that changes the state constitution to define marriage as being between a "man" and a "woman." The surrounding controversy around Prop.8 has provided a conduit for people both for and against it to air their views, which in turn helps to shape our popular perceptions of "family." Many Christian-identified folks in the U.S. of A. have used this controversy to reiterate myths that ,"family" is one man and one woman bonded together in holy matrimony under the authority of "God" ( what if one does not believe in only "one" or any God?). Once this union happens, it apparently gives these right-wing married couples the notion that they are now somehow “transformed” and can now act like an all-powerful, all-knowing god without consequence. Thankfully you and I know this is NOT the case. Many people who identify as progressive, open and left-wing in the press seem to have a similar take on what family means to them, meaning partnered up.
A lot of what I've been seeing regarding this specific argument has been people vehemently shouting their personal views about what marriage is,which is only a tiny part of what people are really trying to articulate. People are trying desperately to understand the underlying issues that marriage brings up, which is ultimately rooted in our understandings of what Family is. If you think about it, all this talking at, all this defensive and aggressive postering and acts of traditional government comes from the fact that still a lot of people are finding it difficult to go beyond these surfaces to truly see what lies beneath; We are not completely made up of exteriors, but a complex interior that begs to be understood. "Rhetoric" is a fancy term that simply means "persuasive language" and I find a lot of the arguments for maintaining and changing a status quo, like "marriage" contain a lot of rhetoric and little of simple truths. In an introductory linguistics class I once took, I learned that at one time there was a split in this field between "Prescriptivists," or those who prescribed or decreed what the rules of language should be, versus "Descriptivists", or those who simply described the rules of language as they had observed them. At first the prescriptivists view was the validated one, mainly being because they were the educated" ones (translation: upper class) who were able to control society to a greater degree due to their class and elevated position in a society made for and controlled by, you guessed it, the "Elite" (translation: upper class). As time has gone by though, the view of the descriptivists has widely been accepted as the standard in linguistics today, where the field has eventually learned from its past of being biased towards an elite point of view that did things such as confer racial superiority and inferiority to people on the basis of their ethnicity and/'or how and what one spoke in favor of a more enlightened, accurate way of perception.
This example from the world of linguistics is an apt analogy to what is going on today in terms of the new/old argument surrounding what "Family" means. For the record: one does not need a marriage to have family!!! This is a most bothersome part of this whole marriage debate. As noble as these activists are for challenging the status quo and fighting for rights I have concerns, many concerns. All these efforts Queer-identifed people and our allies are doing for the right to marry are focusing solely on the surface of what this specific debate is about, because to many marriage=equality. Equality? For years I believed and put my all in this, another loaded term. But the truth of the matter for me is that, "Equality" is simply rhetoric, persuasive language. Humans are in fact humans, which is a nice thing to have in common, yet we are so diverse! We come from all parts of this world and our sexes, our genders, our cultures, our languages, our hairs, our foods and our values all speak to this incredible diversity we all represent. To overlook what is always looking at us right in the face is beyond stupid to me, as is trying to standardize our way of life on the basis of assuming we are all the same. This way of doing things clearly has not worked in our past and it is especially not working today- we do need to find a way to make policies catered to who we really are, instead of making policies that apply to some. Yet in this American culture this is how we are taught; accepting things at face value is the American way, but it does mean it is the right way, or the only way.
I do not have the answers to the difficult questions posed in this article, but I do know this: "Without community there can be no liberation." Our families are our communities and our communities are our families. How many of you truly understand and know your families, your communities or the powerful fluidity of these terms? I'll be the first to admit there is so much I still do not know about my families and my communities, and this ignorance seems to go hand-in-hand with my feelings or lack of, being free and feeling liberated. Audre Lorde's saying speaks to all the ripples caused by the stone we popularly accept as "Family." Until we understand how we can be this term and use it to truly reflect how diverse and flexible this concept truly is, we must each do our work to question what "Family" really means to us on all levels before it can be present in all the ripples that we make and connect us to each other. We are all connected for we are family, and I'm so over the dysfunctional family scene.
by Amy Jay Schoenwald
Israel’s war on Gaza didn’t start on December 27th, 2008, nor did it end on January 18th, 2009. In those 23 days, however, as 1,417 Palestinians were killed in what has been cited as the most brutal Israeli massacre since 1967, international outrage increased exponentially. People across the world took to the streets to protest the illegal Apartheid State’s blatant disregard for human rights, human life, and international law. Then, on the 18th of January, when Israel declared a “unilateral ceasefire” (whatever that means), most activists went home. Unfortunately, Israeli fire still hasn’t ceased- and the movement shouldn’t either.
This May, I went to Gaza with a delegation of 13 activists from a variety of organizations in the US, under the umbrella of “Code Pink,” a national (mostly) women’s peace organization that has recently taken on the issue of Palestine with remarkable success, at least in terms of getting people across the border in spite of (and in opposition to) the siege. While we were there, it became increasingly clear that Israel’s war on Gaza isn’t over. There are many examples of this. Here are 6:
1. The day before we arrived, Israeli planes dropped leaflets throughout the Gaza Strip, declaring that 300 meters inside the Eastern border is now a “no man’s land”- anyone who goes within this zone may be shot. In actuality, the Israeli army has been shooting farmers in this zone for quite awhile and sometimes even further in. As a result, about 25% of the agricultural land in Gaza has become inaccessible. According to a representative from the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), this is a form of “indirect confiscation” of land. Apparently the direct forms (colonization, war, occupation) aren’t enough for them anymore.
2. According to the Oslo agreement, already a major compromise on the part of the Palestinians, Gazan fishermen are permitted to fish 20 miles into the sea. However, since the so-called ceasefire, Israeli gunboats have been shooting at fishermen who go further than 3 miles out to sea. Even within the 3 mile limit, fishermen risk gunshots, abduction, indefinite detention, and theft of their boats and equipment.
3. Gaza is under an extreme siege. It works like this: 40 items at a time are allowed into the Gaza Strip. The list of items isn’t written down and it doesn’t remain consistent. Anything that isn’t on the list is prohibited. Prohibited items (last we checked) include tea, coffee, baking supplies, large (industrial) quantities of almost anything, construction materials (making it impossible for people to rebuild after the massacre), toys, pasta, various forms of medicine, and, as various organizations have recently discovered, humanitarian aid.
4. In a variety of neighborhoods that were occupied by ground troops during January 2009, such as the Abed Rabbo area east of Jabaliya, are filled with large numbers of unexploded land mines. Before the troops left, they placed land mines in many of the houses and detonated them with wires. Some, however, remain. This makes it dangerous for people to enter the rubble of their homes and collect the belongings they have left, if any. There are experts who specialize in diffusing weapons such as these. Israel won’t let them in.
5. Many delegations of humanitarian & solidarity activists have recently been allowed into Gaza. This is exciting, and the onslaught of delegations is putting pressure on both the Egyptian and the Israeli governments to end the siege. Doctors, however, are routinely turned away (as are Palestinians, but that’s a whole other article…). Actually, Gaza has an ample number of its own skilled doctors as well as a multiple of hospitals. However, these hospitals can’t function without the necessary medical equipment, which Israel refuses to allow in to the Gaza Strip.
6. Does it need to be said that Israel’s war on Gaza isn’t over until the occupation ends & the Palestinian right of return is achieved? As various people said during the attacks, and as a few people mentioned to us while we were there, it’s important that we don’t let Israel succeed in splitting Palestine into separate, isolated “Bantustans.” We don’t just want to “Free Gaza.” We want to free Palestine.
California is in a financial crisis, due in large part to national economic problems such as the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars by wall street brokerages, banks, and insurance companies, the abject failure of all levels of government to adopt and enforce meaningful regulations, the flight of capital to parts of the world where the term “super-exploitation” doesn’t even approach the treatment of workers, and things like that. With over 10 percent official unemployment, this could be the final crisis of capitalism, except as Mao said, “Everything that’s rotten is the same, if you do not hit it, it will not fall. This is as in housekeeping, where the broom does not sweep, the dust will not vanish of itself.” Meaning that the progressive movements here, and unfortunately in most other countries as well, do not seem capable of seizing this moment, though we can continue to hope – dare to struggle, dare to win.
Meanwhile, California is leading the states in budget crises, due in large part to the fact that its tax and budget structure is broke, broken, brokest, thanks to Proposition 13. Prop 13, passed in 1978 as part of the so-called “taxpayers revolt,” requires a 2/3 majority to increase taxes, and a 2/3 majority to pass a state budget. Thus, the last state budget crisis took months to “resolve,” and led to 5 propositions that would have done virtually nothing to fix the problem. (The sixth, Proposition 1F, which prohibits pay raises for state elected officials in budget deficit years, does absolutely nothing, since it can’t even take effect until the incumbent’s terms expire.) Even the supporters of the propositions admitted that they would have reduced a projected $22 billion budget deficit this fiscal year to $15 billion. Not much, when you consider that it would have imposed a draconian spending cap. One particularly nasty effect of the proposed cap would have prevented any increased funding to services in bad economic times, when the need, and therefore the case load of “safety net” programs increases.
Virtually every progressive organization opposed the five ballot measures. One of the two statewide teachers associations (California Teachers Association) supported the main measure, Proposition 1A, which required a vote for the spending cap in exchange for a 1-2 year extension of a mild version of the upper income tax brackets, and the passage of which was necessary to restore school funding in Prop 1B. The “good government groups,” like the League of Women Voters also opposed the initiatives. All of these groups favor increased taxes on the rich, such as reinstatement of the upper income tax brackets. Yet somehow the governor and the press are portraying the elections as proof that the voters oppose taxes, despite polls showing the opposite.
So now come the cuts. Five thousand people demonstrated in San Francisco on Wednesday, June 10, against newsom’s proposed cuts that would eliminate 1,603 positions, including nurses, but not including the really essential workers, like police. There is a 19 percent reduction ($13.5 million) to community substance abuse services, and a 6 percent reduction ($9.3 million) in mental health services. He is proposing contracting out city services such as jail nurses and guards at city buildings, which experience shows doesn’t actually save money, just shifts it from unionized public workers to the owners of private companies. There would be reduced hours for 1200 city employees, including social workers. Some drop-in centers for homeless people would close. Bus fares would increase and some routes would be eliminated. Parking meters would increase. And that’s without compensating for the cuts schwarzenegger is proposing, that would directly cost SF $175 million.
Oakland is considering bankruptcy. It is projecting a $100 million dollar deficit out of a $415 million general fund. Police are estimated to get $212 million, fire $103 million, and debt service on bonds $41 million. Street maintenance and public works, libraries, recreation centers and everything else are left to fight for that remaining $60 million.
And what about the state budget? In May, schwarzenegger proposed cuts including over $5 billion in additional cuts to K-12 education ($1.4 billion in remaining 2008-2009, $3.8 billion in 2009-2010), beyond those cuts agreed to in February, which would be the equivalent of $448 per student, ensuring that California is dead last in per student spending. He would eliminate the Cal Grants program for higher education that is right now assisting 300,000 students. He would eliminate the Healthy Families Program, that provides health coverage to 940,000 children. This program is funded two to one by the federal government, so the state would lose $730 million in federal grants in order to “save” $366 million in the state budget, and presumably off-shift the cost of care to county hospitals. He would eliminate the CalWORKs cash assistance for childcare for the more than 180,000 children of CalWORKs participants. The state would lose the federal matching funds by eliminating this program. He would reduce the funding to counties for child welfare services, and reduce rates for foster care providers and clothing allowances for foster children.
The California Budget Project points out that most of the cuts target children and young people. That is largely because all the other programs, like job training programs, vocational rehabilitation, and aid to disabled people have already been cut. The governor is proposing an additional cut to Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) which provides support to 1.1 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities. The February budget agreement included a cut that took effect on May 1, dropping the maximum grant for individuals from $907 per month to $870 per month. The second cut takes effect July 1, reducing the maximum grant to $850. The new cut would take effect on September 1 reducing the grant to $830 per month – the minimum level required by federal law, and, by the way, $3000 per year less than the 20 percent of area median income considered in determining rents for affordable housing in San Francisco. These changes come on top of the cuts made to in-home support services and MediCal in the September 2008 and February budgets.
The governor is also proposing an additional five percent pay cut for state employees, bringing the total pay cut this year to 15 percent. Given that most state employees have not had any raises since 2003, that’s a lot of money not to have.
But not everyone has suffered as a result of the budget debacles. The budget deals included changes in corporate income tax laws that cost the state $640 million this year, and will cost $2 billion a year when they fully take effect. These changes create various ways that corporations can reduce their taxes, including choosing between two methods of determining their taxable income, sharing tax credits between entities, and claiming refunds on previous years’ taxes.
Proposition 13 was part of the general right wing agenda to bankrupt government, and thus restore the “free market,” in which workers can be freely killed for profit. There should be no infringement on employer’s rights to freely pay people far less than they need to live, and goods should freely flow over the ocean in boats that liberate oil onto the waters and wildlife.
Proposition 13 worked. California has had budget crises in good years and bad. This is a very bad year. And yet there remains no effective campaign in the state to pressure the legislators and governor to pass a fair budget. In March more than 50,000 union workers and community groups demonstrated in New York City to demand a fair budget. We have yet to turn out 10,000 people to prevent the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in California that these budget cuts will create. The democratic congress and the democratic president, high on populist rhetoric only 8 months ago, has refused to provide federal aid to states and local governments beyond the pathetic “stimulus” package, most of which will go to private industry. This despite them giving over a trillion dollars to the banks and insurance companies.
Anyone who says that there is any issue more important to California queers than these cuts is missing the point. Or they’re just too damn rich to need things like public libraries, schools, pensions, health care, welfare, or child care. Because LGBT people are often tossed out of their families of origin, are discriminated against in the workplace, are attacked in schools, are unsafe on the streets, confront ignorant health care providers (when we have them), form communities rather than legally sanctioned couplets, we are economically vulnerable.
The right wing targets the social “safety net” because the rich hate to see even one penny of their money (and all money is their money) go to poor and working people. But they also hate social programs because they are a concrete recognition that society as a whole has a responsibility to the individuals who live in it, regardless of their participation in the heterosexual nuclear family structure. The right wing has been campaigning for years to get rid of child welfare programs, because they believe in their parental right to beat their children, and their right as adult children to abuse their aging parents. They have been trying to get rid of public schools because they interfere in the parental right to pass on their ignorance and prejudice to their off-spring.
Already, the gay marriage advocates are in front of Berkeley Bowl raising money for another fight on Prop 8. That’s fine and dandy, I suppose. But I would like to see those same people fight for the rights of all queers to have the resources we need just to get through to the next day.
A couple weeks ago, I went to a Radical Queer Convergence in Chicago. The first day, I went to the women's caucus meeting. There were probably 100 women there, pretty much all of them no more than half my age. Things started out slowly but pretty soon they were sharing stories from their growing up, interactions with their moms, with their friends, with guys. The discussion turned to harassment, and one woman said that whenever she tells her radical friends she's been hassled or grabbed inappropriately on the street or in her building, they ask, "What did you do?" and then proceed to tell her what she should have done. Another young woman said, "I have never told anyone this, but I was visiting in another city, and I was supposed to stay with some friends, but I was locked out. So I ended up going home with a guy and he raped me." She said that if she had had her car, she wouldn't have been hanging out on the street and wouldn't have needed to go somewhere with a guy. Now, she said, she drives her car and her radical biking guy friends rag her about not being green enough.
The next topic was body image. One woman after another talked about how her mom put her in Weight Watchers at 10. Another reported that when she came home from college, where she eats one meal a day for lack of money, her mom criticized her for eating too much at home. A Persian woman said that when she was in high school, her grandmother demanded she get a nose job. My mind immediately went to my sister, who saved up from the day she got her first job to get her nose "fixed" – the Semitic woman's answer, apparently, to cultural dis-ease. (Someone later told me that Iran has the highest proportion of nose jobs in the world.)
A rather square-jawed white woman sitting next to the Persian woman was the next to speak. Her voice trembled a little as she said that when she was fifteen, her parents made her get an operation where they broke her jaw and pushed her teeth back to correct the overbite that years of braces had failed to resolve. Now, she said, she has no feeling in her lower lip. She had taken it for granted, she said, until recently, when she started to wish she could feel her mouth. She didn't want the operation, but her parents insisted until she finally agreed.
I was sitting there thinking, "That's one of the most horrible stories I ever heard," at the same time wondering how it was any different from the other woman's grandmother insisting she get an operation where they broke her nose. And then another woman said quietly, "Oh, my parents made me get that operation when I was fifteen too, after nine years of braces." Doing the math, I thought, "So this girl got braces when she was six? But you don't even have your adult teeth then. Could that possibly be WHY her jaw never developed correctly (if in fact, there is one "correct" way for a jaw to develop)?" She too, she said, couldn't feel her lip; she too didn't want to get the operation. She had never talked to anyone about it, feeling it was her private shame. As I was contemplating the unlikely possibility that two women in the same relatively small gathering had the same rare operation, when the woman next to me mumbled, "I had that too." "Can you feel your lip?" I asked her. She shook her head.
Okay, so this hideous form of child abuse is obviously rampant among a certain class of white people, or maybe more widely than that. Why hadn't I ever heard about it before? Where's the women's movement on this? We scream about clitoridectomy in Africa, and we should, but this barbarism is happening in our own front yards. Did I miss the issue of Ms. and the many Katha Pollitt columns in The Nation where they exposed this epidemic of mutilation? (No, is the answer. I just searched Ms. Magazine online, feminist.com, and kathapollitt.org for "maxiofacial surgery," which this particular travesty is called, and came up completely blank.) And while I was sitting thinking about this, another woman said, "Well my parents made me get an operation when I was fourteen, because I sweated too much." "Oh, yes, I had that too!" came a chorus – two or three other women had had sweat glands removed, presumably so they would only glow as women are supposed to. (When I was young, they used to say, "Horses sweat, men perspire and women glow." But I, who have always been a profuse sweater (not to be confused with a cashmere sweater), thought it was just a saying.)
I felt like an anthropologist, learning about an alien culture. In the past, I've tended to be angry at young women either for not being feminists, or for misrepresenting Second Wave feminism and claiming everything good about it for the Third Wave, or for not knowing or not respecting their history. But hearing these young women talking to each other for the first time about these violations of their personal rights, I felt angry at myself and other Second Wave feminists. I feel we have failed these young women, nearly all of whom seem to identify as feminists; it's their moms who don't.
They are reinventing the consciousness raising group, but they don't know that's what they are doing, because they never heard of consciousness raising groups. They don't know that's how Second Wave feminism got started. We didn't pass it on – we didn't have it to pass on, because we stopped doing it. I, in fact, never got to be in a CR group, because they were already passé by the time I was in college (circa 1977), and these young women's moms are probably just about my age. Nevertheless, I thought that every girl was being taught in school that sexual assault is not her fault, that being pro-sex is not an invitation to rape, that she has the right to control her body. My fifteen years in Women Against Rape, which ended ten years ago, were dedicated to ensuring that in San Francisco, but these young women did not grow up in San Francisco. They grew up in places like Ohio, where I went to college, and Maryland, where my sister raised her two kids. They reported having abstinence only sex education, consisting of a teacher drawing a cartoon condom on the board and explaining how the microbes go through it to give you AIDS.
Of course, this is not all the fault of feminists. Feminism didn't lose ground because of its own failings, any more than the Black, Chicano or Puerto Rican Liberation movements did. Every progressive movement has been pushed back over the last twenty years, and feminism has been subject to an unrelenting backlash nearly since it began. And of course, it is because of feminism and other liberation movements that that women's caucus was happening at all. Perhaps, history is cyclical and these young women, having accidentally unearthed the CR group, will share their discovery with other young women and they will create the Fourth Wave to challenge the particular system of repression bequeathed to them by their mothers, the kind that says you can be president, almost, as long as you don't talk too loud or eat like a normal person.
Suddenly, after years of the tedium of attempting to get a single payer bill in California by the usual rounds of lobbying, letter writing, and pressure in Sacramento, only to have a bill passed twice in the legislature then vetoed by schwarzenegger, single payer activism took a decidedly militant turn, when eight single payer activists got arrested and dragged out of the Baucus senate hearings on health reform on May 5, loudly demanding a single payer health care plan. Then a week later, on May 11, nurses held a three day protest which included a silent vigil in the hearing, a rowdy march, and five more arrests, all calling for single-payer and in honor of Florence Nightingale’s birthday. These single payer activists are being called the Baucus 13. On May 29-30 there were national days of action supporting single payer. One in San Francisco drew several hundred people, including stalwart LAGAI single payer activists.
The militant demonstrations at the Baucus hearings which confronted the Obama administration for blatantly excluding single-payer from the discussions of health care reform, have been led by the National Nurses Organizing Committee of the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Plan. Doctors, nurses and patients all overwhelmingly support a single payer solution to the current medical crisis. Polls show that 67% of the American public support such a plan. Repeated studies have shown that this is the only way to stop the escalation of health care costs and to provide comprehensive health care for everyone. As the Single Payer Action website says EVERYBODY IN, NOBODY OUT. A government-run single-payer health care system would be able to negotiate on prices and bring costs down. The Veterans Administration, an example of such a plan, is able to get deals on medications because it buys them in bulk. People want an end to profit-driven health care. They want to stop the insurance companies.
Health care reform is suddenly front page news. Obama has said he wants a new health care plan by August. It is not surprising that single-payer has been excluded from the discussion because it would end the rule of greedy insurance and pharmaceutical companies and require real courage on the part of the government to take a stand against this powerful lobby. What has been bandied about is something hypocritically and euphemistically called the “public option”. The idea is that because no one wants to ruffle the mighty feathers of big PHARMA and the insurance industry and because the prevailing erroneous thought is that those already with insurance won’t want to give it up for a good single payer plan (they apparently think I couldn’t bear to part with my kaiser insurance if I were offered a real single-payer plan). Under the “public option,” the government would set up and run a competing health care plan that people could buy as one of many options in the health care market. Supporters of this notion point out that a public option plan could perform well and then become the better choice, thus moving in the direction of single payer. They point to medicare which is well run and saves money because of its low over head compared to the medicare advantage plans which offer medicare services to the elderly through private insurance but for more money. The truth is that there will be no cost control until profit motive, i.e. getting rich of peoples illness and suffering, is stopped completely. A government run plan without insurance companies in the picture can then call the shots with the purveyors of drugs and durable medical equipment and bring their costs down. It also automatically saves the 35 cents out of every health care dollar that goes to insurance companies. It is the only plan that makes any sense.
Also, it’s likely that the public option which the government has to fund will not be a full coverage plan and will end up setting up a tiered health system with the rich paying for more comprehensive deluxe insurance plans and the poor relegated to an inferior public option. At no point would the competitive market stop and prices would continue to spiral up.
The republicans with their usual rabid diatribes are accusing the democrats of trying sneak single payer into health care reform, calling the public option socialized medicine. Of course the public option is not single payer and certainly not socialized medicine. It does not rid the health care system of the profit fueled insurance industry and for that reason will not be able to effectively cover the uninsured or the under insured or be effective in cutting overall medical costs.
Perhaps hardest to fathom is silence of the left and much of the AFL-CIO on single payer. Obama said at the new Mexico town all meeting on May 14 when confronted by single payer activists, that while he is in favor of single payer, the current system is too complex, making it too disruptive to start over. What he is really saying is that he is not going to go up against the insurance companies. The labor movement often echoes this stand: “We want single-payer but it just isn’t practical at this time.”
Of late there has been a movement among certain union activists to make single payer a priority in the labor movement. In January 2009 a founding conference was held in Detroit to establish a campaign within labor for single payer. Since that time local labor groups around the country have started focusing on pushing unions to get on board with single payer, specifically to support and to work on passing the John Conyers bill, HR 676, nationally, and state bills such as SB810 the current bill in California. I began participating in the East Bay labor for single payer group, which is made up of union activists from California Nurses Association and California School Employees Association, both unions who are actively working to get single payer passed as well as people from Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and American Federation of State County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Other unions were represented and I was there from American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
Many unions have vaguely endorsed single-payer while also endorsing other plans, and are especially fond of plans that make incremental change such as pay or play plans. Few have actively worked to push the single payer issue, always saying the tired phrase, “it would be nice but it is unrealistic.” The AFL-CIO has a in fact set up a whole organization for health care reform called Health Care for America Now (HCAN) which has a lovely website which never mentions single payer at all. It boasts many supporting organizations of the Move.on.org ilk and seems to be primarily supporting the public option and the Obama plan.
Labor for single payer is trying to get different unions as well as central labor councils to adopt strong language on single payer. Rather than just endorse, labor single payer activists are pushing unions to pass resolutions saying that single-payer is the only viable plan and agreeing not to endorse anything else. The resolutions also call for the unions to actively work on getting single payer passed. Our particular Labor for Single Payer group orchestrated an excellent debate at the Alameda Central Labor County Delegates meeting.
Two single payer speakers from CNA and SEA were so eloquent and convincing about the cost savings and the efficiency of providing health care for everyone that the two incremental change speakers one from HCAN who waffled about how he was just there to listen to everyone and Anthony Wright from Health Access who has been pushing incremental change as though it were a religion (no doubt trying to keep his job). Had the delegates had a resolution to pass that night, judging for the enthusiasm in the room they would have gone against AFL-CIO pressure and voted for single-payer.
On May 1, a massive rally of thousands of people was organized at the Vermont State Capital for Health Care as a Human Right. Over 90 organizations participated in this rally which included a wide variety of grassroots groups and unions. The Vermont AFL-CIO supports HR 676 and support the introduction by Bernie Sanders of a Vermont single payer bill.
We need to pour into the streets. The unions need to use all their considerable muscle with Obama and democrats. People in unions should go to them and demand strong resolutions be passed. We need to give single payer health care a new start, and to end the disgusting profit made off of disease and suffering.
We need a revolution!
HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT!
compiled by Kate
On May 19, 2009 the President of Sri Lanka officially claimed that he had put an end to the country’s 30-year insurgency by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), colloquially called Tamil Tigers.
How many of us knew that Sri Lanka was embroiled in a civil war for the last thirty years? I sure didn’t. I don’t think I had given a single thought to Sri Lanka until I heard that Nonviolent Peaceforce had chosen it as the location for its first project in 2003.
A friend from my project in Palestine joined NP in Sri Lanka in 2007. When I started hearing about the conflict in Sri Lanka on the news late last year, I asked her to tell me about the situation. Here is what she wrote,
“Sri Lanka is a wonderful island . Trees, animals and birds, wonderful beaches everywhere. I can say Sri Lanka is heaven but there is no peace.
“There are many internally displaced people because of the tsunami and conflict. I think the poverty is higher than in the West Bank. Also, I felt that the Palestinians have more space than Sri Lanka.”
Now that surprised me, because the South Africans who visited the West Bank always talked about how little space the Palestinians had compared to Africans under apartheid. Just shows it’s all in your frame of reference. My friend continues:
“Since I arrived, the suicide bombs increased and assassination of political leaders . The government annulled the cease fire with the LTTE. Sri Lanka Monitor Mission will leave the country on 16 January and we don't know what will be happen in the future. I felt the conflict here is different and strange . It is an ethnic conflict. For me as Egyptian, I never consider myself as belonging to one ethnic group. I rather consider myself mixed of all ethnic groups who are born in Egypt. I felt it is different to understand how two groups have been living in the same island for more than 2,500 years and didn't mix and each group considers themselves different than the other group.”
Sri Lanka is an island less than 20 miles from India at the narrowest point. Its population is divided into ethnic groups whose conflicts have dominated public life since the nineteenth century. The four major ethnic groups are the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims, and the Burghers. Ethnic divisions are based primarily on language and religion, rather than race or physical appearance; according to the “Genetics” subcategory in the Wikipedia entry on “Ethnic Groups in Sri Lanka,” the Sinhalese and their primary adversaries, the Tamil, are genetically nearly identical.
Tamil Nadu is one of the Indian states nearest to Sri Lanka, and many Tamil migrated to Sri Lanka centuries ago. Others were imported by the British to work on the plantations. However, the Tamil community is fairly united on Sri Lanka, and also shares a lot of affinity with the Tamil in India. Many Sri Lankan Tamil have family in Tamil Nadu.
In ancient times, Sri Lanka was known by a variety of names: ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane and Arabs referred to it as Serendib (the origin of the word “serendipity”). Ceilão was the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese when they arrived in 1505, which was transliterated into English as Ceylon. In 1972, the official name of the country was changed to "Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka", derived from the Sanskrit words “Sri” meaning sacred and “lanka”, meaning “island”. In 1978 it was changed to "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka".
Parts of Sri Lanka were colonized by Portugal and the Netherlands beginning in the 16th century, before control of the entire country was ceded to the British Empire in 1815. European colonists established a series of tea, cinnamon, rubber, sugar, coffee and indigo plantations. The British also brought a large number of indentured workers from Tamil Nadu to work in the plantation economy. The city of Colombo was established as the administrative centre, and the British established modern schools, colleges, roads and churches that brought Western-style education and culture to the native people.
Increasing grievances over the denial of civil rights, mistreatment and abuse of natives by colonial authorities gave rise to a struggle for independence in the 1930s, when the Youth Leagues organized to demand representation and civil rights. Buddhist scholars and the Teetotalist Movement also played a vital role in this time. During World War II, the island served as an important Allied military base. A large segment of the British and American fleet were deployed on the island, as were tens of thousands of soldiers committed to the war against Japan in Southeast Asia.
Following the war, popular pressure for independence intensified. The office of Prime Minister of Ceylon was created in advance of independence on 14 October 1947, Don Stephen Senanayake being the first prime minister. On February 4, 1948 the country won its independence as the Commonwealth of Ceylon.
On July 21, 1960 Sirimavo Bandaranaike took office as prime minister, and became the world’s first female prime minister and the first female head of government in post-colonial Asia.
In 1972, during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s second term as prime minister, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and the name was changed to Sri Lanka. The island enjoyed good relations with the United Kingdom and had the British Royal Navy stationed at Trincomalee.
Immediately upon independence, the Sinhalese majority disenfranchised the Tamil workers. In 1956, the Official Language Act (commonly known as The Sinhala Only Act) was enacted. The law mandated Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community, which is spoken by over 70% of Sri Lanka’s population, as the sole official language of Sri Lanka. Supporters of the law saw it as an attempt by a community that had just gained independence to distance themselves from their colonial masters. The immediate (and intended) consequence of this act was to force large numbers of Tamil in civil service who could not meet this language requirement to resign. An attempt to make Buddhism as the national religion, in exclusion of Hindu and Islam was also made. Affirmative action in favour of Shinhalese was also instituted, ostensibly to reverse colonial discrimination against Shinhalese in favour of Tamil.
This led to the first wave of rebellion by the Tamil minority. In 1958-59, hundreds of Tamil were killed by the government for organizing peaceful resistance. Another uprising in the 1970s was also suppressed. The Tamil Tigers were formed in 1976, by Tamil youth who were frustrated by nonviolent movement’s failure to win equality and self-determination for the oppressed Tamil people. The LTTE was very much a part of the global nationalist uprisings of the 1970s, had connections with the PLO and other progressive nationalist movements. They also invented the suicide belt and were the first militant organization to use female suicide bombers, culminating in the assassination of the ninth Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, by a female LTTE suicide bomber.
In 1977, the more conservative Tamil political organizations formed the Tamil United Liberation Party, which won all the Parliamentary seats in the Tamil regions (18 out of 168) and became the main opposition group in the government. The Sri Lankan government continued to carry out serious human rights violations against the Tamils and other minority groups, including lower-caste Sinhalese workers. In 1981, the Sinhalese police burned the main library in the primarily Tamil city of Jaffna, in an act of cultural genocide.
From 1983 to 2009, the conflict continued, with both the LTTE and the government committing atrocities. The government was particularly brutal, but since the late 1980s, the LTTE became increasingly repressive in the areas of its strength, assassinating many opposition activists. The recently released movie, “No More Tears, Sister,” which aired on PBS, tells the story of Rajani Thiranagama, who joined the LTTE as a doctor in the late 1970s, and was assassinated by them in 1989. Rajani’s sister, Nirmala Rajasingam, was also involved with the Tigers. In the early 80s, she was the first woman imprisoned Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act and became an international feminist cause celebre. Rajani worked for her sister’s release while in medical school in Britain, and then returned to Sri Lanka to participate more actively in the separatist movement. She married a Sinhalese radical who could not bring himself to support the Tigers, which ultimately tore their marriage apart.
The more the sisters were drawn into the Tigers, the more they began to question the armed struggle, particularly as fighting between nationalists and Indian peacekeeping forces escalated in the late 1980s. By then, the sisters had quit the LTTE. After another stint in Britain, Thiranagama returned to Jaffna to reopen the anatomy department at the university, while also working to document human-rights abuses perpetrated by all sides of the fighting. She was then murdered.
Local protests condemning her death were crushed and their organizers threatened and killed, according to the film. Human-rights reporting in the region, as in so many conflicts worldwide, became an increasingly clandestine act.
Both Nirmala and the documentary's Canadian director emphasize that blame for human-rights abuses should be placed on all sides of the conflict, including the Sri Lankan army and the years of repression by the Sinhalese-dominated government which helped to spark the Tamil fighting (to say nothing of the initial tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils caused by British colonial policies which were perceived as favoring certain Tamil groups).
In 2001, the LTTE dropped its demand for a separate state and called instead for regional autonomy. Following a period of massive civil unrest and political crisis among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire, and the government agreed. In March 2002, an official Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed. As part of the agreement, Norway and the other Nordic countries agreed to jointly monitor the ceasefire through the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.
Six rounds of peace talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE were held, but they were temporarily suspended after the LTTE pulled out of the talks in 2003 claiming "certain critical issues relating to the ongoing peace process".
Like many of its South Asian neighbors, Sri Lanka was devastated by the cyclone in 2000 and the tsunami in 2004. The 2004 storm killed 35,000 people and displaced half a million. The government’s weak response prompted demonstrations and unrest throughout the country, which in turn intensified the conflict.
In January 2008, the government officially ended the ceasefire, and the Monitoring Mission pulled out. The government then began an intense campaign to wipe out the Tamil Tigers. This was supported by the Indian government, as part of its campaign against the Tigers in India. By the end of January, the United Nations was warning of a “massive humanitarian crisis” in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has also been heavily supported by China, and supplied with arms by Israel. The u.s. gave a fairly small amount of direct aid to the Sri Lankan military, but considers the LTTE a “terrorist organization” and in mid-May, Obama called on the LTTE to surrender.
The UK Guardian reported on April 23, 2009: “Desperate Tamil civilians are trying to flee to India in small boats to escape intensifying fighting between the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tigers. As Sri Lanka called yesterday for international help in dealing with tens of thousands fleeing fighting, the Guardian has learned that boat-loads of refugees have arrived in Tamil Nadu – and others have attempted the trip – to avoid internment in government-run camps. Aid workers say some boats have sunk and children have been washed overboard. Other fleeing the fighting have sailed along the coast to government-held areas. Yesterday members of three families who made the perilous journey to India described their escape. In all, 13 of them slipped away in the middle of the night to avoid being spotted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels, who were reportedly shooting those fleeing.”
In mid-May, the government announced that it had killed off LTTE’s top leadership and taken control of all the LTTE areas. The government declared the fighting officially over, but human rights monitors are not being allowed into the conflict areas to document the government’s actions. News reports estimate that 100,000 people were killed in the 30 years of fighting, the great majority by government forces. 300,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced.
Reports say that government soldiers are going into the detention camps looking for LTTE members. People have been disappeared from the camps. According to feminist human rights workers, many women and girls have been raped by both sides, and they are very concerned about what is happening to LTTE women soldiers who have surrendered or been captured.
Good sources of information about Sri Lanka include Democracy Now (democracynow.org) and Nonviolent Peace Force (nonviolentpeaceforce.org). Several Indian women’s groups are raising money for refugee relief; to find out how to donate, contact email@example.com or Priya Thangarajah at firstname.lastname@example.org.