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So Peaceful Here

Saturday’s women’s studies conference at SUNY New Paltz failed to degenerate into the carnival of protests, violent demonstrations and brazen Israel-bashing that university administrators feared it would. In fact, the conference went off without a hitch.

Earlier this year, when administrators learned who would be on the panel at this year’s conference, titled “Women and War, Peace and Revolution,” they made the controversial decision to withhold funding. The administration claimed that the proposed panel would present a lopsided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and fail to condemn Palestinian violence. They were particularly troubled by the inclusion of Dr. Ruchama Marton, president of an organization called Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights. A biography of Marton brought to the attention of Gerald Benjamin, dean of liberal arts and sciences, who made the ultimate decision to withhold funding, describes her as being committed to “exposing, analyzing, and challenging the systematic and individual acts and policies of Israeli repression toward Palestinians.”

Conference organizer Denise Bauer says that she and others in the women’s studies department were extremely disappointed when they learned they would be denied funding. She says that the goal of the conference was not to present a balanced overview of the conflict in the Middle East, but to explore the phenomenon of “transnational feminism,” women working for peace across borders. Marton, and Palestinian writer Nadia Hijab, were perfectly legitimate choices for this panel, contends Bauer.

Left without the funding that they had come to rely on, conference organizers scrambled to raise money through private donations. They sent a letter to local supporters on the Web, and according to Bauer, “It traveled online in ways we couldn’t believe.” Following the online plea, and an article in The Village Voice highlighting the university’s decision to deny funding, financial support came flooding in. Bauer says they received supportive e-mails from people in Israel, and donations from Semitists and academics from around the country, mostly from the East Coast but also from as far away as California. “We received support from people who didn’t necessarily identify with either Israel or Palestine, who just felt that we were doing the right thing,” Bauer added.

More than 400 people turned out to attend the conference, and while much passionate discussion did take place, tensions ran much lower than expected. No protesters or hecklers turned out to sling mud in support of either side, offering proof that people really can act peacefully when talking about war.

—Paul Hamill

No Satisfaction

Employees of two area nursing homes picketed last week to protest their employers’ unwillingness to move forward with contract negotiations.

As previously reported in Metroland, [Newsfront, July 11] employees at the Guilderland Center and Rosewood Gardens nursing homes have long quarreled with their employers, Highgate LTC Management LLC (a company that owns six adult-care facilities in New York state, including four in the Capital Region), regarding a number of alleged insufficiencies at both facilities. In the contract negotiations, the workers have been represented by their union, 1199 Capital Region Division of the Service Employees International Union.

According to Ingrid Remkus, an organizer with 1199 SEIU, insufficient staffing to care for the residents, shortages on linens and other necessities, and a lack of a competitive wage/benefit package are a few of the issues affecting the quality of care provided at the facilities. Remkus said the negotiations’ slow pace is evidence of Highgate LTC Management’s lack of concern for these issues.

“We’ve tried to set up with management and they have not gotten back to us,” said Remkus. “They’ve agreed at the table that they want to meet, but they haven’t come back. [Management] figures if they ignore [the situation] it will go away. But that is not the case.”

Remkus also cited a number of violations handed down to each nursing home by the New York state Department of Health as reasons to call for change in Highgate’s practices.

Meanwhile, workers at the nursing homes continue to express frustration.

“We have been raising these issues with management, with the public and in the media for months,” said Lori Massara, a certified nurses’ assistant at Rosewood Gardens. “Management has ignored us so far, but they should realize that we will continue to speak out on this.”

Remkus feels that if her union and employees from both facilities could sit down at a bargaining table with management and work out the issues, the situation would be better for everyone involved.

“When you have a contract, and people are paid well and have good benefits, they’ll want to work there,” said Remkus.

As of press time, no one from Highgate LTC Management had returned calls for comment.


A Clear View

Just as Iraq-related headlines about preemptive strikes and security council resolutions were about to permanently eclipse those referring to creative accounting practices and corporate accountability, Standard & Poor’s issued a study ranking more than 1,500 companies on how clearly they inform their stockholders.

S&P’s Transparency and Disclosure Study, released on Oct. 15, examined the relationships between a company’s management, board and shareholders based on the way information is divulged from the top. The study was designed to assist investor understanding of corporate ownership structures, investor rights, board effectiveness, and financial transparency and disclosure practices.

“We discovered, not surprisingly, that U.S. companies, when you look at their required regulatory filings . . . are among those at the top of transparency and disclosure performance,” said Michael Privitera, spokesman for S&P. “But just looking at annual reports, the one document most investors and potential investors have easy access to, the level of transparency and disclosure is not nearly as good.”

With a ranking of 10 being the highest, most companies received a ranking of 6 or 7, which is “a good place,” according to Privitera. While local companies like GE (7) and International Paper (8) were included, any company currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission was not.

The importance of such a study was highlighted by President George W. Bush’s recent backpedaling on support for corporate accountability reforms. The New York Times reported on Oct. 19 that the president had been lobbying Congress to cut $208 million from the amount he initially said should go to the SEC budget, stating that other budgetary needs, like defense and homeland security, make it impossible to afford. When asked about the importance of his company’s study in light of the president’s actions, Privitera said “S&P is committed to producing this ranking every year.”

“Strong transparency and disclosure is something companies and boards can and should commit to regardless of Washington policies,” said Privitera.


Show Me a Sign

With Election Day less than two weeks away, ’tis the season for campaign signs. But signs of another kind are popping up on lawns across the Capital Region—signs protesting the Bush administration’s proposed war on Iraq.

“We felt that, as individuals, we wanted to do something,” explains Marggie Skinner, an unofficial spokeswoman for War Is Not the Answer. Skinner notes that the group is just a collection of concerned friends, not a formal organization. “The polls were showing 65 to 80 percent [of Americans] supporting the war, but everyone we talked with didn’t.”

So, using recycled campaign signs from Skinner’s previous, unsuccessful run for Albany City Council, the group set about spreading their titular message: “War is not the answer.” According to their press release, the group’s intention is to fulfill a basic civic responsibility: speaking up. They argue that “war does not resolve problems but leads only to greater problems and misery,” and further assert that “in the current atmosphere, disagreement with the government is considered unpatriotic.”

The response so far has been limited. “I’m disappointed,” admits Skinner.

When asked if the group plans to engage in any other form of protest, Skinner answers no. “Other groups are out there doing protests, going to Washington, D.C.,” Skinner says. “We just want to get more people to put the signs out on their lawns—and, of course, contact their elected officials.”

Anyone who would like to obtain one of these signs can contact the group at:

—Shawn Stone

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