Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 22 Oct 2014 04:13:03 -0400 en-gb The Lost Generation http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26976-the-lost-generation http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26976-the-lost-generation

2014.10.21.DailyTake.main(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout )Libertarian economic policies are fueling the United States' lost generation.

In the last century, there have been two generations that have seen first-hand the devastating effects of libertarian economics.

The first was the generation that came to age in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Living through the presidencies of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, that generation saw massive tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, which helped the wealthy elite prosper, but screwed over everyone else.

The second generation to suffer through libertarian economic policies is the one that came to age under the Bush administration, an administration that doubled-down on Reaganomics and libertarian economics so that the wealthy elite could prosper even more.

That generation is the millennial generation, and thanks to our nation's addictions to 34 years of failed Reaganomics, and to devastating libertarian extremist economic policies, it's also the United States' lost generation.

The millennial generation has seen up-close and personal how libertarian economics and unregulated capitalism have brought our nation's economy to its knees.

Take the student loan debt crisis for example.

Right now, the United States' outstanding student loan debt stands at more than $1.18 trillion. More than 40 million Americans hold student loan debt, a number "greater than the entire population of Canada, Poland, North Korea, Australia and more than 200 other countries."

The average debt for a 25-year-old American has risen a staggering 91 percent during the past decade, and most of that is student loan debt.

Student loan debt exceeds both credit card and auto loan debt in the US, and the average college debt per person is over $23,000.

That debt is also hurting the overall economy.

Last year, the New York Federal Reserve showed that there's been an actual drag on our economy, just because of the growing levels of student loan debt.

Americans with piles of student loan debt have less money to spend on anything from consumer products to homes.

First-time home buyers are, or at least used to be, "the bedrock of the housing market."

But, since millions of college graduates are drowning in debt, they can't afford to buy a home, which is killing the United States' housing recovery.

Meanwhile, according to a report from the One Wisconsin Institute, the devastating effects of student loan debt "may reduce new vehicle spending by as much as an estimated $6.4 billion annually in the US."

And, the chief economist for General Motors has even said that student loan debt is one of, if not THE major reason why millennials aren't buying cars.

But the mountains of student loan debt that millenials find themselves buried under today is a relatively new phenomenon.

Before lawmakers in Washington got hooked on Reaganomics and libertarian economics, our country never had a student loan debt crisis.

To compound their problem, while millenials are struggling to pay off their student loan debt, they're also struggling to find employment, another consequence of libertarian economics.

According to Generation Opportunity, as of this past August, the unemployment rate for millenials, aged 18-29, stood at 15 percent, more than double the national unemployment rate.

And that's even more amazing considering millenials make up over a third of the American workforce.

The US has historically had fairly tight job markets, but thanks to libertarian economics and the "free trade" mantra that comes with it, unemployment is through the roof, jobs are being shipped overseas on a daily basis, and millenials are bearing the brunt of it.

Meanwhile, millenials have also seen their parents struggle under devastating libertarian economic policies.

Thanks to massive deregulation of the stock market, millenials saw their parent's 401Ks and retirement plans wiped out when the stock market crashed.

As result, they've become aware of just how dangerous an idea it is to privatize social security and retirement.

From finding themselves buried under mountains of student loan debt, to being unemployed and watching their parent's life savings disappear, the United States' millenials have seen first-hand the dangers of libertarianism, and the devastation that it leaves in its wake.

Fortunately, there's a way to protect future generations from having to go through what the millennial generation has.

The United States' 34-year-long experiment with Reaganomics has been a complete failure and libertarian economic policies, while they might sound great, have done unprecedented damage to our economy and way of life.

Let's not lose the next generation of Americans to the insanity that is libertarianism and Reaganomics.

]]>
Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:32:25 -0400
Fighting the Last War: Will the War on Terror Be the Template for the Ebola Crisis? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26974-fighting-the-last-war-will-the-war-on-terror-be-the-template-for-the-ebola-crisis http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26974-fighting-the-last-war-will-the-war-on-terror-be-the-template-for-the-ebola-crisis

2014.10.21.Ebola.MainCountering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. (Image via Shutterstock)

These days, two “wars” are in the headlines: one against the marauding Islamic State and its new caliphate of terror carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria, the other against a marauding disease and potential pandemic, Ebola, spreading across West Africa, with the first cases already reaching the United States and Europe.  Both wars seemed to come out of the blue; both were unpredicted by our vast national security apparatus; both have induced fears bordering on hysteria and, in both cases, those fears have been quickly stirred into the political stew of an American election year. 

The pundits and experts are already pontificating about the threat of 9/11-like attacks on the homeland, fretting about how they might be countered, and in the case of Ebola, raising analogies to the anthrax attacks of 2001. As the medical authorities weigh in, the precedent of 9/11 seems not far from their minds. Meanwhile, Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has tried to calm the country down while openly welcoming “new ideas” in the struggle against the disease.  Given the almost instinctive way references and comparisons to terrorism are arising, it’s hard not to worry that any new ideas will turn out to be eerily similar to those that, in the post-9/11 period, defined the war on terror.

The differences between the two “wars” may seem too obvious to belabor, since Ebola is a disease with a medical etiology and scientific remedies, while ISIS is a sentient enemy.  Nevertheless, Ebola does seem to mimic some of the characteristics experts long ago assigned to al-Qaeda and its various wannabe and successor outfits. It lurks in the shadows until it strikes. It threatens the safety of civilians across the United States.  Its root causes lie in the poverty and squalor of distant countries.  Its spread must be stopped at its region of origin -- in this case, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa -- just as both the Bush and Obama administrations were convinced that the fight against al-Qaeda had to be taken militarily to the backlands of the planet from Pakistan’s tribal borderlands to Yemen’s rural areas. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that, while President Obama was sending at least 1,600 military personnel (and the drones and bombers) to fight ISIS, his first response to the Ebola crisis was also to send 3,000 troops into Liberia in what the media has been calling an “Ebola surge” (a reflexive nod to the American troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007). The Obama administration’s second act: to beef up border protections for the screening of people entering the United States (a move whose efficacy has been questioned by some medical experts), just as the authorities moved swiftly in the wake of 9/11 to turn airports and borders into massive security zones. The third act was to begin to trace points of contact for those with Ebola, which, while logical and necessary, eerily mimics the way the national security state began to build a picture of terror networks, establish watch lists, and the like.

The next step under consideration for those who might have been exposed to Ebola, quarantine (that is, detention), is controversial among medical experts, but should similarly remind us of where the war on terror went after 9/11: to Guantanamo.  As if the playbook for the post-9/11 response to terrorism were indeed the playbook for Ebola, Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy, questioning Dr. Frieden, noted that, without putting policies of surveillance, containment, and quarantine in place, “we still have a risk.”

While any of these steps individually may prove sensible, the ease with which non-medical authorities seem to be falling into a familiar war on terror-style response to the disease should be examined -- and quickly. If it becomes the default template for Ebola and the country ends up marching down the road to “war” against a disease, matters could be made so much worse.

So perhaps it’s time to refresh our memories about that war on terror template and offer four cautionary lessons about a road that should never be taken again, not in developing a policy against the latest non-state actors, nor in pursuit of the containment of a disease.

Lesson One: Don’t turn the “war” on Ebola into another set of programs that reflect the national security establishment’s well-developed reliance on intelligence, surveillance, and the military.  Looking, for instance, for people complaining about Ebola-like symptoms in private or searching the metadata of citizens for calls to doctors would be a fool’s errand, the equivalent of finding needles in a field full of haystacks.  

And keep in mind that, as far as we can tell, from 9/11 on, despite the overblown claims of its adherents, the surveillance system they constructed has regularly failed to work as promised. It did not, for instance, stop the Shoe Bomber, the Times Square bomber, or the Boston Marathon bombers. Nor did the intelligence authorities, despite all the money invested since 9/11, prevent the Benghazi attack or the killing of seven CIA agents by a suicide bomber believed to be an American double agent in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009, or predict the rise of ISIS for that matter. Similarly, it is hard to imagine how the usual military might, from drones and special ops teams to those much-discussed boots on the ground, will help solve the problem of Ebola.  

In the post-9/11 era, military solutions have often prevailed, no matter the problem at hand.  Yet, at the end of the day, from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to the air operation in Libya to the CIA’s drone campaigns across tribal backlands, just about no militarized solution has led to anything approximating victory -- and the new war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is already following the same dismal pattern.  Against a virus, the U.S. military is likely to be even less successful at anything more than aiding health workers and officials in disease-ridden areas.

The tools that the national security state has relied on in its war on terror not only didn’t work then (and are highly unlikely to work when it comes to the present Middle Eastern conflict either), but applied to Ebola would undoubtedly prove catastrophic. And yet -- count on it -- they will also prove irresistible in the face of fear of that disease.  They are what the government knows how to do even if, in the war on terror itself, they created a vulnerability so much greater than the sum of its parts, helped foster the growth of jihadist movements globally, and eroded the sense of trust that existed between the government and the American people. 

Lesson Two: Keep public health professionals in charge of what needs to be done. All too often in the war on terror, professionals with areas of expertise were cast aside by the security establishment.  The judicial system, for instance, was left in the lurch when it came to dealing with accused al-Qaeda operatives, while the expertise of those who found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002-2003 was ignored.

Only by trusting our medical professionals will we avoid turning the campaign against Ebola over to the influence of the security state. And only by refusing to militarize the potential crisis, as so many others were in the post-9/11 era, will we avoid the usual set of ensuing disasters.  The key thing here is to keep the Ebola struggle a primarily civilian one.  The more it is left in the hands of doctors and public health experts who know the disease and understand what it means practically to commit the government to keeping people as safe as possible from the spread of the virus, the better.

Lesson Three: Don’t cloak the response to Ebola in secrecy.  The architects of the war on terror invoked secrecy as one of the prime pillars of their new state of being.  From the beginning, the Bush administration cavalierly hid its policies under a shroud of secrecy, claiming that national security demanded that information about what the government was doing should be kept from the American people for their own “safety.”  Although Barack Obama entered the Oval Office proclaiming a “sunshine” presidency, his administration has acted ever more fiercely to keep the actions of both the White House and the national security state under wraps, including, to mention just two examples, its justifications for policies surrounding its drone assassination campaigns and the extent of its warrantless surveillance programs.

As it happened, that wall of secrecy proved endlessly breachable, as leaks came flooding out of that world.  Nonetheless, the urge to recreate such a state of secrecy elsewhere may be all too tempting.  Don’t be surprised if the war on Ebola heads into the shadows, too -- and that’s the last thing the country needs or deserves when it comes to a public health crisis. To date, with medical professionals still at the forefront of those dealing publicly with Ebola, this impulse has yet to truly rise to the surface.  Under their aegis, information about the first Ebola cases to reach this country and the problems involved hasn’t disappeared behind a cloak of secrecy, but don’t count on transparency lasting if things get worse.  Yet keeping important facts about a potential pandemic under wraps is guaranteed to lead to panic and a rapid deterioration of trust between Americans and their government, a relationship already sorely tested in the war on terror years.

Realistically, secrecy and allied tools of the trade would represent a particularly inauspicious starting point for launching a counter-Ebola strategy at a time when it would be crucial for Americans to know about failures as well as successes.  Outbreaks of panic enveloped in hysteria wrapped in ignorance are no way to stop a disease from spreading.

Lesson Four: Don’t apply the “black site” approach to Ebola.  The war on terror was marked by the creation of special prisons or “black sites” beyond the reach of the U.S. justice system for the detention (in the case of Ebola think: isolation and quarantine) of terrorist suspects, places where anything went.  There can, of course, be no question that Ebola patients, once diagnosed with the disease, need to be isolated. Protective gear and isolation units are already being used in treating cases here.

The larger issue of quarantine, however, looms as potentially the first major public policy debate of the Ebola era. Keep an eye on this.  After all, quarantine-style thinking is already imprinted in the government’s way of life, thanks to the war on terror, so moving toward quarantines will seem natural to its officials. 

Quarantine is a phenomenon feared by civil libertarians and others as an overreaction that will prove ineffective when it comes to the spread of the disease.  It stands to punish individuals for their associations, however inadvertent, rather than dealing with them when they actually display signs of the disease. To many, though, it will seem like a quick-fix solution, the Ebola counterpart to Guantanamo, a facility for those who were deemed potential carriers of the disease of terrorism.

The fears a threat of massive quarantines can raise will only make things harder for health officials. So, too, will increasing calls for travel bans for those coming from West African countries, a suggestion reminiscent of sweeping police profiling policies that target groups rather than individuals. Avoiding such bans is not just a matter of preserving civil liberties, but a safety issue as well. Fears of broad quarantines and blanket travel bans could potentially lead affected individuals to become far more secretive about sharing information on the disease and far more deceptive in their travel planning.  It could, that is, spread, not halt the dissemination of Ebola. As Thomas Frieden of the CDC argues, “Right now we know who’s coming in. If we try to eliminate travel, the possibility that some will travel over land, will come from other places, and we don’t know that they’re coming in will mean that we won’t be able to do multiple things. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they arrive. We won’t be able, as we do currently, to take a detailed history to see if they were exposed when they arrive.”  In other words, an overly aggressive reaction could actually make medical deterrence exponentially more difficult.

The United States is about to be tested by a disease in ways that could dovetail remarkably well with the war on terror.  In this context, think of Ebola as the universe’s unfair challenge to everything that war bred in our governmental system. As it happens, those things that the U.S. did, often ineffectively and counterproductively, to thwart its enemies, potential enemies, and even its own citizenry will not be an antidote to this “enemy” either. It, too, may be transnational, originate in fragile states, and affect those who come in contact with it, but it cannot be stopped by the methods of the national security state.

Countering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. The now sadly underfunded National Institutes of Health and other such organizations have been looking at possible pandemic situations for years. It is imperative that our officials heed the lessons of their research as they have failed to do many times over with their counterparts in public policy in the war on terror years. To once again invoke the powers of the state to address fantasies and fears rather than the realities of a spreading disease would be to recklessly taunt the fates.

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:54:38 -0400
We Want Them Alive: The Search for Mexico's 43 Missing Students http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26973-we-want-them-alive-the-search-for-mexico-s-43-missing-students http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26973-we-want-them-alive-the-search-for-mexico-s-43-missing-students

2014.10.21.Mexico.MainPolice at the scene of a grave site that contained 28 badly burned and dismembered bodies, on a hill above Iguala, Mexico, October 7, 2014. Members of a local gang now in custody say the still-unidentified are among the 43 college students reported missing in September - a grim episode in Mexico's ongoing struggle with police corruption and organized crime. (Photo: Adriana Zehbrauskas / The New York Times)

The flames started to engulf the municipal palace of Chilpancingo in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero as the rage built within the students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College who, for more than three weeks, have received no answers concerning the whereabouts of 43 of their fellow students. The last time the group of missing students were seen was in the custody of Mexican municipal police forces, who detained them after opening fire on their caravan in an attack that killed six people and injured dozens more. This massacre and subsequent disappearance of the students, known as “normalistas,” has sparked an international movement demanding that the 43 students be found alive. But it has also called into question the deep ties between drug cartels and Mexican politicians.

To understand the political significance of the Ayotzinapa case, it’s important to understand who the students are. The Ayotzinapa Normal School was founded in 1926 in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution as a teachers’ boarding school for youth from the most marginalized rural communities in Guerrero, a poor state in the south of the country. The students have been some of the nation’s most politically active; in recent years, they participated in protests against education reforms that they believed would privatize the system. Furthermore, the majority of the 43 who have disappeared grew up in rural farming towns that have been devastated by Mexico’s post-NAFTA economy. These voices of dissent are the ones that the government saw as a target for their machine gun fire — thinking no one would take notice.

But people have taken notice. On October 8, tens of thousands of them marched in solidarity actions in 80 cities across Mexico, Latin America, Europe and North America. On October 15 tens of thousands more people took to the streets, and the majority of public and private universities in Mexico City went on strike.

If You Moved

The initial attack against the students came two and a half weeks ago, when local police, in conjunction with armed gunmen, opened fire on three buses full of normalistas in Iguala, Guerrero, located just 150 miles southwest of Mexico City. The students had traveled to this small city to ask for donations to help them finance their trip to Mexico City for the annual march honoring the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre. The students had boarded commercial buses, after asking for permission from the bus drivers, according to their testimonies. Commandeering buses is a common practice for the normalistas, who say their schools limited budget drives them to take these measures. They also often engage in Robin Hood-style expropriations of large corporations’ delivery trucks to get milk and other basic food items. (The normalistas constantly engage in anti-capitalist actions that most direct-action anarchists only dream about.)

While the normalistas of Ayotzinapa are known for protesting, that is not what they were doing at the moment that they were ambushed — contrary to the majority of reports that have appeared in the international press. Instead, they were en route to their school aboard the commandeered buses, when, according to students’ testimony, municipal police and armed gunmen opened fire on them in two separate attacks.

“If you moved, they fired, if you yelled or talked, they fired,” said Ayotzinapa student Mario in an interview with VICE News.

Two students, 25-year-old Daniel Solís Gallardo and 19-year-old Aldo Gutiérrez Solano, were killed. Dozens more were injured. In a separate attack nearby, armed men opened fire on a bus of a semi-professional soccer league, most likely mistaking them for the normalista students, killing 15-year-old soccer player David Josué García Evangelista, the bus driver Víctor Manuel Lugo Ortiz, and Blanca Montiel Sánchez in a nearby taxi.

The day after the attack, Ayotzinapa student Julio Cesar Mondragón was found dead. His body exhibited signs of torture: His facial skin was torn off and his eyes gouged out. Since then, 22 police have been detained from Iguala, as well as over a dozen supposed members of the narco-trafficking gang Guerreros Unidos and policemen from the nearby town of Cocula, for their involvement in the ambush.

José Luis Abarca, the mayor of this small city, first claimed to have no knowledge of the attack. (His excuse was that he was busy dancing at a government celebration with his wife.) Shortly thereafter, Abarca fled the town along with Felipe Flores Velázquez, the municipal secretary of security, and his wife, María de los Angeles Pineda, whose family has clear drug cartel ties. There is a search warrant out for Abarca and Velázquez.

Abarca, who belongs to the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which is considered by many to be a leftist opposition party, has been in the spotlight before. Last year, eight members of a campesino organization were kidnapped, of which three were murdered, including leader Arturo Martínez Cardona. One of the kidnapped campesinos managed to escape and gave a testimony stating that Abarca himself pulled the trigger that killed Martínez. No proper investigation was conducted into these murders, and the case currently sits before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Abarca’s mother-in-law, Maria Leonor Villa Ortuño, revealed in a forced testimony in a YouTube video released last year that her family members worked for the Beltran Leyva cartel and that they had financed the gubernatorial campaign of Angel Aguirre, who is the current governor of Guerrero. Thus it should come as no surprise that municipal police were working hand-in-hand with the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos, as the state has a documented history of narco-government collaboration. In fact, this cartel has hung banners in Iguala stating “The War has begun,” threatening to reveal the names of all politicians who have relations with this organized crime group if they don’t release the police detained for attacking the buses of students.

A week after the students disappeared, the state government claimed that testimonies of the detained police and cartel members led them to clandestine graves where the bodies of the normalistas have been buried. The international press immediately started pumping out their stories about the mass graves containing the students. The parents of the students are more skeptical; after all, it was state forces that fired on their children, kidnapped them and, according to the state attorney’s office, handed them off to a drug cartel.

Mexico Is a Mass Grave

Rather than accept the government’s allegations, family members, students and human rights groups began pressing for an independent investigation. A well-known Argentine forensic team rose to the task. On October 14, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam stated that according to their investigation the bodies in the first round of mass graves do not belong to the students.

The question remains: If it’s not the students’ bodies, who are they? Likely they belong to the close to 10,000 people who have disappeared during President Peña Nieto’s first two years in power.

“Mexico is a mass grave,” writes the Mexican Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde, famous for his defense of Central America migrants crossing Mexico. In other words, it may seem logical to assume that the remains of the dozens of disappeared people are those in clandestine graves that were discovered a week later, but as mass graves become more common across the country, this likelihood diminishes. Last year, in the nearby state of Jalisco, for example, at least 67 bodies were found buried in 35 different clandestine graves. The same Argentine forensic team is still trying to identify some of the remains of the 72 largely Central American migrants who were killed in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, just 85 miles shy of the U.S. border in 2010.

“The government wants to instill terror in the population,” said Edith Na Savi, a young indigenous activist speaking about why the students were targeted. “Ayotzinapa, here in Guerrero, has been an emblematic example of struggle, with these students who are organized and fighting for their right to education.” Na Savi also pointed to the state’s horrific human rights records; according to local media outlets, between 2011 and 2013, more than 17 political activists have been assassinated and more 16 incarcerated.

The state of Guerrero has a long history of political repression, particularly during the dirty wars of the 1970s, when the government disappeared and assassinated leftist and indigenous guerillas. Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez, the most famous of these guerillas, were themselves both graduates of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College. These movements gained strength following the government’s massacre of students in Mexico City in Tlatelolco in 1968 and in Halconazo in 1971.

Guerilla armies still operate in Guerrero today but with much less strength. Since the massacre and disappearance of the students, at least three groups have released communiqués, including the People’s Insurgent Revolutionary Army, which stated that they are forming a “Popular Execution Brigade” to confront the Guerreros Unidos cartel. A communiqué from the Popular Militants of Guerrero blamed the government for numerous massacres including the recent military execution of 22 young people in a warehouse in the nearby town of Tlatlaya in Mexico State on June 30, 2014.

We Want Them Back Live

Numerous politicians have threatened to close down the remaining 16 Normal schools, which are run by the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students, claiming that they breed guerrillas. In an interview conducted during the large mobilization in Mexico City on October 8, 2014, one student said that he was proud of the radical political tradition but not of the repression associated with it. “Five of our students have been killed in the past four years,” said the student during the protest, referencing a previous attack when the government opened fire and killed two students blockading a Guerrero highway to demand more resources for their historically underfunded school. “Now the people will think: if I study in Ayotzinapa are they going to kill me?”

As journalist Daniela Rea explained in a recent article, these students are also often on the frontlines of broad community struggles. “They, together with other residents of Guerrero, resist the construction of dams and mines on their land, the domination of the local chiefs, the militarization of indigenous communities,” she wrote.

But this activism has subjected the students to an increasing amount of hostility — both from the country’s elites and the government. And in an atmosphere of impunity, this hatred can turn into an outright massacre. As Mexican journalist Luis Hernando Navarro said, in response to a question on why the government would kill normalistas: “Because they can.” He added, “You see this in the media and society that the police believe that they won’t be tried for their crimes.”

Yet, this attitude is increasingly being challenged by mobilizations by students, family members and broader civil society demanding the reappearance of their fellow comrades. Graffiti painted on the streets of major thoroughfares throughout the nation beg people to not forget the normalistas, declaring: “You took them alive; we want them back live.”

One particularly poignant stencil sprayed on a central avenue in Mexico City features the face on one of the disappeared students and the words: “I don’t know you, but we need you to make a better world.”

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:56:11 -0400
Using Less Energy Doesn't Have to Mean Less Growth http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26972-using-less-energy-doesn-t-have-to-mean-less-growth http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26972-using-less-energy-doesn-t-have-to-mean-less-growth

2014.10.21.Krugman.ClimateA cow grazes in a pasture near a coal-fired power plant earlier this year in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. (Photo: Luke Sharrett for the New York Times)

We seem to be having a moment in which three groups with very different agendas - anti-environmentalist conservatives, anti-capitalist people on the left and hard scientists who think they are smarter than economists - have formed an unholy alliance on behalf of the proposition that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is incompatible with growing real gross domestic product.

The right likes this argument because it wants to block any action on climate. Some on the left like it because they think it can be the basis for an attack on our profit-oriented, materialistic society. The scientists like it because it lets them engage in some intellectual imperialism and invade another field (just to be clear, economists do this all the time, often with equally bad results).

A few days ago, Mark Buchanan at Bloomberg published a piece titled "Economists Are Blind to the Limits of Growth" making the standard hard-science argument. Mr. Buchanan wrote that it's not possible to have something bigger - which is apparently what he thinks economic growth has to mean - without using more energy, and declares that "I have yet to see an economist present a coherent argument as to how humans will somehow break free from such physical constraints."

Of course, he's never seen such a thing because he's never looked. But anyway, let me offer an example that I ran across when working on other issues. It is by no means the most important example of how to get by with less energy, and in no sense enough by itself to make that much difference. But it is, I think, a useful corrective to the rigorous-sounding but actually silly notion that you can't produce more without using more energy.

So, let's talk about slow steaming.

After 2008, when oil prices rose sharply, shipping companies - which send massive container ships on regular "pendulum routes," taking stuff, say, from Rotterdam to China and back again - responded by reducing the speed of their ships. It turns out that steaming more slowly reduces fuel consumption more than proportionately to the reduction in speed.

So what happens when you switch to slow steaming? Any one ship will carry less freight over the course of a year, because it can do fewer swings of the pendulum (although the number of trips won't fall as much as the reduction in speed, because the time spent loading and unloading doesn't change). But you can still carry as much freight as before, simply by using more ships - that is, by supplying more labor and capital. If you do that, output - the number of tons shipped - doesn't change, but fuel consumption falls.

And, of course, by using still more ships, you can combine higher output with less fuel consumption. Despite what some people who think they're being sophisticated somehow believe, there is no reason at all that you can't produce more while using less energy.

It's not a free lunch - it requires more of other inputs - but that's just ordinary economics. Energy is just an input like other inputs.

Some other points here: Notice that we aren't talking about having to develop new technologies; slow steaming is just a choice, not a technological advance, and in fact it doesn't even require that you change the equipment - you just have to use the same ships differently.

Given time to redesign ships for fuel efficiency, and maybe develop new technologies, it would presumably be possible to ship the same amount of cargo with even less energy - but that's not necessary to make the case that growth and less energy can go together.

So where does the notion that energy is somehow special come from? Mainly, I'd say, from not thinking about concrete examples. When you read columns like Mr. Buchanan's you see lots of metaphors about bacteria or whatever, nothing about shipping or manufacturing - because if you think about actual economic activities even briefly, it becomes obvious that there are trade-offs that could let you produce more while using less energy.

And greenhouse gas emissions aren't the same thing as energy consumption, either; there's a lot of room to reduce emissions without killing economic growth. If you think you've found a good argument showing that this isn't possible, all you've done is get confused by your own word games.

]]>
Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:48:53 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: California's Dwindling Water Supply Is Contaminated, and More http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26971-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-california-s-dwindling-water-supply-contaminated-and-more http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26971-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-california-s-dwindling-water-supply-contaminated-and-more

In today's On the News segment: The last thing Californians needed was to learn that some of their dwindling water supply has been contaminated; last week, a lab official pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering whether to extend Diablo Canyon's operating license for another 20 years; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of....science & green news.....

You need to know this. California is already dealing with the worst drought in that state's history. So, the last thing residents needed was to learn that some of their dwindling water supply has been contaminated. Back in June, California regulators shut down 11 fracking injection wells after finding that wastewater may have contaminated aquifers. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the state to send a full report, which the California State Water Resources Board turned in earlier this month. The board confirmed that at least nine of the fracking sites in question were dumping waste into aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation. The Center for Biological Diversity obtained a copy of the letter that the board sent to the EPA, which revealed some alarming information. That letter said about three billion gallons of fracking wastewater was pumped into injection wells and seeped into aquifers near the center of that state. Water samples taken from these areas have extremely high levels of carcinogens and toxins like thallium and arsenic. Timothy Krantz of the University of Redlands, said, "The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents." Considering that many of California's reservoirs are already sitting at about half of their historic average, that state can't afford to lose access to any of their drinking water. But, thanks to the fossil fuel industry, residents may have to risk consuming dangerous chemicals or risk going thirsty. This is exactly why they can't be trusted. It's time for a complete moratorium on natural gas drilling, and time to end our addiction to fossil fuels.

We've all heard that dogs age seven times faster than humans, but it turns out that ratio is just a myth. According to animal experts, dogs age at different rates, depending on their breed and size, and depending on what stage of life that they're in. Most dogs age very quickly early in life, reaching full maturity by age two, but that aging slows down later in life. And, while smaller dog breeds tend to reach maturity even faster, larger dogs actually have shorter life spans. Although veterinarians have known all along that this calculation wasn't true, the myth seems to be believed by many people. When asked why the 7-to-1 ratio persists, William Fortney, a veterinarian at Kansas State University, told the Wall Street Journal, "[It's] a way to educate the public on how fast a dog ages compared to a human, predominately from a health standpoint. It was a way to encourage owners to bring in their pets [for a check up] at least once a year." We certainly wouldn't go seven years without getting a health check up, and our pets shouldn't wait that long either.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering whether to extend Diablo Canyon's operating license for another 20 years, but environmentalists say that's a really bad idea. Pacific Gas & Electric – AKA PG&E – applied for the license extension back in 2009. However, the permit process was suspended after the massive disaster at Fukushima. Even before the tsunami in Japan, activists were calling on regulators to shut down that plant until operators could prove that it could withstand a major earthquake. In 2011, the NRC released a study that showed Diablo Canyon was the nuclear plant most at risk of failure because of an earthquake, and new data has proven that the threat is even larger than believed. Seismic data released last month shows that the 1960s-era plant is surrounded by fault lines capable of producing earthquakes that the plant could never withstand. The environmental group Friends of the Earth has filed a petition for a public hearing on the new data before Diablo Canyon's license is renewed. We shouldn't have to wait for a massive disaster in the United States before we wake up to the danger of nuclear power, and the public should have a say in which plants are allowed to stay in operation.

Last week, a lab official pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act. John W. Shelton admitting to diluting water samples and substituting clean water to help coal mining companies get away with polluting West Virginia waterways. The charges against Shelton state that the conspiracy helped coal companies "avoid fines and other costs associated with bringing their operations into compliance with the Clean Water Act." The thing is – one person can't commit a conspiracy alone. Based on his admission, we know that Shelton helped coal companies, but as of now, we don't know who at those companies asked him to do so. Under current law, many companies are allowed to "self-report" their supposed compliance with air and water quality samples. The biggest questions we should have after learning of this story is who directed John Shelton to "self-report" a lie, and when will they be punished. It does no good to charge the low-man on the totem pole if you keep the lying, cheating, polluting people in charge of "self-regulation." We should be demanding some answers in this case, and demanding that regulators are the ones doing the regulation.

And finally... It looks like humans aren't the only ones who can be introverts or extroverts. According to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, even sharks have personalities. Dr. David Jacoby of the Institute of Zoology in London conducted a study on ten groups of catsharks, which were monitored in different levels of social structure. Dr. Jacoby and his colleagues found that, "some sharks are gregarious and have strong social connections, whilst others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous." Those personalities remained constant even when researcher changed the sharks' environment. Once again, science has proven that a quality we think of as unique to humans is actually present among wild animals. These studies should remind us that we are part of an interconnected, amazing web of life, and why it is so important to respect and care for all species. And, if you happen to come across a shark while swimming, I suppose it doesn't hurt to hope that it's one with a friendly personality.

And that's the way it is for the week of October 20, 2014 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:45:14 -0400
"Women Are Being Driven Offline": Feminist Anita Sarkeesian Terrorized for Critique of Video Games http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26969-women-are-being-driven-offline-feminist-anita-sarkeesian-terrorized-for-critique-of-video-games http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26969-women-are-being-driven-offline-feminist-anita-sarkeesian-terrorized-for-critique-of-video-games

Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of video games, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University last week after the school received an email threatening to carry out "the deadliest shooting in American history" at the event. The email sender wrote: "feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge." The sender used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Sarkeesian canceled the talk after being told that under Utah law, campus police could not prevent people from bringing guns. We speak to Sarkeesian about the incident, the "Gamergate" controversy, and her campaign to expose misogyny, sexism and violence against female characters in video games despite repeated physical threats. "Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic," Sarkeesian says. "Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries."

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show by looking at the violent threats faced by a feminist critic for pointing out sexism in video games. Last week, Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a planned lecture in Utah after threats of a shooting massacre. She was scheduled to speak at Utah State University, when the university received an email threatening to carry out, quote, "the deadliest shooting in American history" at the event. The email sender wrote, quote, "feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge." He used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Anita Sarkeesian canceled her talk after being told that under Utah law, Utah State [University] police could not prevent people from bringing guns to her lecture. A university spokesperson told the Standard-Examiner newspaper the school had determined it was safe for Sarkeesian to speak because, quote, "The threat we received is not out of the norm for (this woman)."

Sarkeesian has long faced bomb, rape and death threats from online harassers opposed to her criticism of the ways in which women are depicted in video games. In August, she was forced to leave her home after an online harasser posted her address and threatened to kill her parents and, quote, "rape [her] to death." Another harasser created a video game called "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian."

Sarkeesian’s viral web series on video games is titled "Tropes vs. Women." This is a clip.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Welcome to the second part of our miniseries examining the women-as-background-decoration trope in video games. I need to stress that this video comes with a content warning and is not recommended for children. The game footage I’ll be showcasing will be particularly graphic and includes scenes of extreme violence against women.

I define the women-as-background-decoration trope as the subset of largely insignificant, nonplayable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players.

In our last video, we discussed the concept of sexual objectification and looked at a specific subset of non-essential female characters, which I classify as nonplayable sex objects. In this episode, we will expand our discussion of the women-as-background-decoration trope to examine how sexualized female bodies often occupy a dual role as both sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.

CENTO OCCHI: Are you here for the whore?

FEMALE PRISONER: Aiutatemi!

EZIO: I have your money. Let her go!

CENTO OCCHI: No! Take it up with Cesare!

ANITA SARKEESIAN: The use of sexual or domestic violence as a form of scaffolding to prop up dark and edgy environments has become a pervasive pattern in modern gaming.

JASMINE JOLENE: Well, if it isn’t long-lost Andrew Ryan? Mmm-mm-mm, come here, tiger. I thought you had forgotten about poor Jasmine, but I am so glad you didn’t. I’m sorry Mr. Ryan, I didn’t know. I didn’t know Fontaine had something to do with it. Ah, what? What are you doing? No! No, don’t! Please! I loved you. Don’t! Don’t! Please, no! No!

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip from Anita Sarkeesian’s web series, "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." Since Anita launched her critique of misogyny in video games, some in the video game community have launched a relentless campaign of threats and harassment against her.

To find out more, we go to San Francisco, where we’re joined by Anita Sarkeesian, the media critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency, a video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture. Rolling Stone recently called her "pop culture’s most valuable critic."

Anita, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start by what happened, or didn’t happen, last week at Utah State. Explain the threats and what you were going to Utah State for.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. So, the school received some threats against my life and of the students on Monday night. The threats were, as you had described, very much reminiscent of these copycat killers of these, you know, big misogynist school massacres. I didn’t actually find out about the threats until I landed at Salt Lake City airport on Tuesday afternoon, and I found out with everyone else through Twitter and through the media.

So, when I spoke to the organizers of the event and the police, I wanted to know what security precautions they were taking. It wasn’t the first time I was threatened at an event, but this one was—the language was very—it was much more intense in terms of that sort of misogynist, antifeminist attack. So, you know, the school said that they were going to take—not allow backpacks in and have extra security. And when asked about Utah’s concealed gun laws, they said that they couldn’t screen for firearms. I asked them if they could have metal detectors or patdowns, and they said no. And that was just too big of a risk for me to take in terms of my life and that of the students, when the threat was specifically about firearms.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the person signed their email threat "Marc Lepine."

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to a Canadian news report about what became known as "the Montreal Massacre." This is an excerpt from the TV show 100 Huntley Street.

MAGDALENE JOHN: December 6, 1989, started off like any other day, but ended in horror, forever being labeled in Canadian history as the Montreal Massacre. A young man, identified later as Marc Lépine, entered L’École Polytechnique in Montreal, opening fire, killing 14 female engineering students before turning the .22-caliber gun on himself. This was the first school shooting of its kind in Canada.

AMY GOODMAN: That report from 100 Huntley Street, Magdalene John in Canada. So, Anita Sarkeesian, for those who didn’t know what that name meant in the email that was sent to the Utah State officials, if you could take it from there?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Yeah, it was very much, you know, specifically referencing Marc Lépine as his hero, using his name, referencing this Montreal massacre about this mass shooting that was very specifically antifeminist. He was going to kill—and actually did kill—these women, because he considered them feminists and that, you know, feminists ruined his life, apparently. The threat that we received at the school last week was exactly the same as that. There was another threat that came in that mentioned Elliot Rodger, which was a young man who committed another school shooting at UC Santa Barbara earlier this year, and his manifesto was very much the same language of antiwomen, antifeminist, very deeply misogynist.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, in that, what you’re referring to, Elliot Rodger, killing seven people, including himself. In a video posted hours before his rampage at a sorority house at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Rodger said he planned to attack, quote, "you girls" for what he called the "crime" of not being attracted to him.

ELLIOT RODGER: On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut I see inside there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Elliot Rodger, the video he posted right before he killed seven people at the University of California, Santa Barbara. So, this decision that you made, your response, Anita Sarkeesian, to the university saying you get threats like this all the time, that they had no reason to up the security?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: That was immensely frustrating. You know, the school did take some security measures, but they didn’t—I didn’t think what they did was adequate for this type of threat. You know, to say that I’ve received threats in the past is inconsequential. I mean, I think we need to take all of these threats seriously. There’s a sort of sentiment that online harassment is not real, that we shouldn’t take it seriously. But, you know, as you just showed, Elliot Rodger had his manifesto online and his videos online before he actually took action. So, this is a larger culture of women, you know, one, not being believed about their experiences with online harassment, and when it is seen that they actually are being attacked in really vicious ways, it’s just brushed off as, "Oh, it’s just the Internet," or, you know, it’s just boys being boys, when that’s really not what’s happening here. These threats are very real, whether they are committed or not.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then go to your larger critique in the gaming industry. Anita Sarkeesian, media critic, executive director of Feminist Frequency, a video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture. The students at Utah State didn’t get to hear what she had to say after she canceled her speech because of an email threat to the school, that the shooter, named for the Montreal massacre shooter, would make this the worst massacre in American history. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Anita Sarkeesian is our guest, and I want to start, asking about your whole critique about video games, by talking about Gamergate controversy, how it emerged. This is a video game developer, Brianna Wu, speaking to CNN over the weekend about so-called Gamergaters threatening her.

BRIANNA WU: I posted a meme making fun of—one of my fans sent me a meme, and it made very gentle fun of Gamergaters, and I posted it. And, you know, as a response to that, pro-Gamergater people and the site 8chan ended up making thousands of memes targeting me, and it escalated to death threats.

AMY GOODMAN: That was video game developer Brianna Wu. Anita Sarkeesian is with us today, media critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency, a video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture, who withdrew from her speaking engagement at Utah State after the school got an email threatening to commit the worst massacre in American history. Anita, can you talk about what Brianna said and talk about these video games, your overall criticism?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. So, one of the things that she’s referencing is, you know, we have this larger culture in gaming where a subset of mostly male gamers have been viciously going after women and attacking them. It’s mostly women who speak up—excuse me, who speak up against, you know—actually, speak up for the inclusivity of games, right, speak up in terms of creating more diversity in games. And right now, this reference of Gamergate is sort of this big culmination of these toxic harassment—this toxic harassment campaign that’s been happening to me for years and to many other women. And so, they’re sort of lashing out and going after women in these horrible, vicious ways, sort of as trying to preserve gaming as, you know, a male-dominated space, as the status quo. But they’re doing it under the guise of journalism ethics. But really what’s happening is they are attacking women.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened to Zoe Quinn.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: And who she is.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Zoe is an independent game developer, and an ex of hers wrote a big diatribe saying awful things about her which were not true. And, you know, he claimed that she had slept with a journalist to get coverage for her game, which was also not true. And, I mean, her game is a free game; there’s no need for her to try to get any press for it. But it was another example of going after women and trying to discredit us and silence us, and in some very personal ways.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did that become so extreme, and that became what is known as Gamergate?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: I think it became—I think it culminated at this time because they sort of latched onto this idea of journalism ethics, and that became something that sounded good, but it was a way for them to mask their sexist temper tantrum, where they’ve been going after women for years. And so, I think, because of the intensity and how many people they’re going after and just the sheer toxicity of their behavior, a lot of people in the games industry and in the community and in the industry have started to really take note of the fact that we have a problem. We have a problem with sexism and misogyny, and we need to do something about it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play two short clips from a video game you’ve critiqued, "Dragon Age: Origins."

FEMALE CHARACTER: Let go of me! Stop, please!

LORD VAUGHN: It’s a party, isn’t it? Grab a whore and have a good time. Savor the hunt, boys.

GUARD CAPTAIN: Well, that’s one less elf breeder in the world.

GUARD 1: A shame, though. Nice body on that one.

GUARD 2: She’s still warm. How picky are you anyway?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s from "Dragon Age: Origins." Can you respond to this, Anita Sarkeesian?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. So, one of the big—one of the most important pieces of what I do is talking about how we can love a piece of media and also critique it at the same time. So, a series like "Dragon Age" is a highly beloved series that has a lot of great things about it. But there are some examples of, you know, violence against women and sort of exploiting women’s bodies or exploiting their vulnerability in these really awful ways. And so, that’s just one of many examples of games that do that, that sort of take advantage of this vulnerability to try to make players feel more intense, right, to make these worlds more gritty. So—

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you—yes, go ahead.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Well, no. I just wanted to say, like, so it’s not just one game. You know, in my series, I look at hundreds and hundreds of games, and so I don’t want to just sort of pick out "Dragon Age" as, you know, this big horrible example, when there are so many other examples.

AMY GOODMAN: So give us a sense of this world of video games. How many people use them? Who develops them? How many are women? How many are men?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. You know, gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry that is bigger than Hollywood at this point in terms of revenue, so it has a huge cultural impact on our society. The last statistic that I saw, I believe, is about 27 percent of developers are women. So we still have a huge problem with gender equity within the development community. But about 40 to 46 percent of gamers are actually women. So this idea that gamers are all men is actually not true, that we are almost—women are almost half of the gaming players.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the comments that, "Come on, this is just online stuff, it’s pretty harmless"—why you take it so seriously, Anita?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic. Women are being driven out; they’re being driven offline. This isn’t just in gaming. This is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries. So the harassment actually has a very real effect on us as a society, in terms of making this space unwelcoming for women. But it also has a chilling effect. So, women who are watching this happen, who are watching me get terrorized for two years, are going to question whether they actually want to be involved, whether they want to speak up, and whether they want to participate.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk more about what you feel needs to be done at this point.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Yeah, so, in terms of the immediacy of the harassment against women in gaming, I think developers and publishers and key figures in the gaming industry need to vocally step up and say, "We do not accept this harassing behavior. We support women," and further outline steps that they’re going to take to try to make the gaming community more inclusive and more diverse, both within their hiring practices and also within the games that they’re making.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Anita Sarkeesian, I want to thank you for being with us, media critic, executive director of Feminist Frequency, video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture. Final question, the response that you’ve gotten after canceling your speaking engagement at Utah State University?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: I’ve received an enormous amount of support. And that’s one thing I’m really thankful for, is throughout doing this project, there’s been so many people who have been incredibly supportive, that really value and like what I do. And that just means the world to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Anita Sarkeesian, thanks so much.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk with people who are representing their own lives, filmmakers from the United States and from Russia who have banded together to raise awareness about disability issues through films. Stay with us.

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:30:49 -0400
Media Enabled Musketeers: Russian and American Filmmakers With Disabilities Document Shared Struggles http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26968-media-enabled-musketeers-russian-and-american-filmmakers-with-disabilities-document-shared-struggles http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26968-media-enabled-musketeers-russian-and-american-filmmakers-with-disabilities-document-shared-struggles

Meet the Media Enabled Musketeers, a group of Russians and Americans with disabilities who have banded together to raise awareness about disability issues through film. They have created a dozen short movies that delve into the everyday challenges faced by people with disabilities — issues of accessibility, love, dreams and prejudice. One of the films, Don’t Look Down on Me, has become a YouTube sensation, viewed more than 2.6 million times. The film chronicles a day in the life of Jonathan Novick, a New York resident with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism, who uses a hidden camera to expose the prejudice and insensitivity he encounters on a daily basis. We broadcast excerpts of the Musketeers’ films and speak to four of the people involved about how the Russian-American project provides a deeper understanding of life with disability while bridging the divide between their two countries.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Media Enabled Musketeers. That’s the name of a group of Russians and Americans who have banded together to raise awareness about disability issues through films. They’ve created a dozen short films that delve into the everyday issues faced by people with disabilities—issues of accessibility, love, dreams and prejudice. On Friday, the group held its premiere screening at the HBO Theater in New York City.

One of the films, Don’t Look Down on Me, has become a YouTube sensation, viewed over 2.6 million times. The film chronicles a day in the life of Jonathan Novick, a New Yorker with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Jonathan uses a hidden camera to expose the prejudice and insensitivity that he encounters on a daily basis. It begins with him as a child.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Here I am, Dad! Here I am!

JONATHAN’S FATHER: Yeah, there you are!

JONATHAN NOVICK: I don’t think there is a certain point in anyone’s life where they grow up. I think that we’re growing up all the time, and we always will be. My name is Jon Novick. I’m 22 years old, and I am a dwarf with achondroplasia.

Before I was even born, my mother studied genetics in graduate school. Specifically, she had interest in achondroplastic dwarfism, that she did a study on. Achondroplastic dwarfism is the kind of dwarfism that I have. So when I was born, she had a lot of extra information, and she had a lot of books to help her parent me. The definition for "dwarfism" is a—the abnormal underdevelopment of the body, characterized predominantly by extreme shortness of stature. Now, there’s a lot of different kinds of dwarfism, as I mentioned before, and the most common kind is the kind that I have, which is achondroplasia.

Achondroplasia is characterized by disproportionately short limbs, a normal-size torso, large head and with a depressed nasal bridge—right here—a small face and stubby hands, as well as the curvature of the spine. The term is "dwarf" or "little person." One or the other is totally fine, just not "midget." A lot of times "midget" is thrown around as the term to describe someone who has dwarfism, and not only is that incorrect, but it’s incredibly offensive.

I moved to New York City about a year ago, and although I consider it ultimately a good experience, it was made a lot more difficult because of my dwarfism. I grew up in a small town, and I would have, you know, negative encounters every now and then, but for the most part I had friends and I had family who supported me. School wasn’t a nightmare, and I just was able to have a pretty average childhood.

A year ago, when I moved to the city, I noticed that there was a lot of people. There was a lot, a lot of people. And because of that, I had a lot of encounters. I would have people to take pictures of me on the subway. I would have people that would harass me. And just all of these things, all of these almost daily occurrences, they would continue happening, continue happening, until it got to a point where I just got fed up with it. I wanted to stop telling people what happened to me, and I wanted to start showing people what happened to me. I wanted to show everyone what a day in my life was like.

I was fortunate enough to be able to use this camera, which is actually known as a "button camera" because the lens I’m going to be using is so tiny, it has a button cover up that I’m going to be slipping through a shirt that will be completely unnoticeable. So, we are all packed up, the camera is all ready and going. I’m going to turn it on right now. It’s rolling. And we’re going to go see what we can capture, so let’s head out.

GIRL ON THE STREET: What is he?

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Bro, have you been on TV?

JONATHAN NOVICK: I have not.

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Do you know who you look like?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Who?

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Have you ever seen that show, Little People, Big World?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Yeah.

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Yeah. You look like the son, man.

JONATHAN NOVICK: I do?

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Yeah.

JONATHAN NOVICK: And why is that? I just do? Do you see a lot of little people?

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Man, I’m from Oklahoma.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Oh, yeah?

MAN IN SUBWAY: Little midget! Big man, big penis!

JONATHAN NOVICK: What? What did he say?

MAN ON THE STREET: Hey, short stuff!

JONATHAN NOVICK: [after woman in subway takes his photograph] Wow.

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Man, I hope I didn’t offend you.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Oh, no, no. It’s OK. No, I appreciate that. No, it’s fine.

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Can I get your picture?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Uh, no.

WOMAN ON THE STREET: You’re from one of the show with the little people?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Not that I know of, no, I’m not.

WOMAN ON THE STREET: Oh, you look like that coolest guy.

JONATHAN NOVICK: I don’t want to tell anyone what to do or what to think or how to feel. But instead, what I’ll do is I’ll ask. I’ll ask that the next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what their day might be like. Think about all of the events of their life leading up to that point. Then think about their day, and think about what part of their day do you want to be.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jonathan Novick’s Don’t Look Down on Me. It’s one of the dozen films, part of the Media Enabled Musketeers, a project bringing together Russians and Americans with disabilities to produce films that provide a deeper understanding of their lives and to bridge the divide between their two countries.

Well, for more, we’re joined by four guests. One of them is Jon Novick, a graduate student at Hunter College in the Integrated Media Arts Department. We’re also joined by Maryam Magomedova, a law school student in Russia who made the short film Maryam’s Victory. And we’re joined by the co-directors of Media Enabled Musketeers, Olga Kravtsova and Jon Alpert. Jon is a 16-time national Emmy Award winner, two-time Academy Award nominee.

And we welcome you all to Democracy Now! But I have to follow up on this film. It is so both moving and such—gives us such understanding, Jon, about what you’re going through on a daily basis, how people see you and how you want to be seen, how you want to be treated. Talk a little more about that and why you made the film itself, why you’re part of this project.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Well, I made the film itself personally out of frustration, you know, as you might imagine. It was—basically, I had moved to New York City, and I had been living here for, you know, about a year, a year’s time. And it was just the encounters that I would experience—it’s not something new to me, but what was new was the frequency that it would occur. It would happen almost on a daily basis. And, you know, it would just be—it would become—it would get to a point where I would leave my apartment knowing that I was different, because no one would really let me forget it.

And it all culminated in one moment, when I was coming out of work and a gentleman physically jumped over me while a bunch of people looked on, which was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. But in that moment, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t yell at them, because that would make them laugh more. I couldn’t, you know, run after them and, like, fight them, because, you know, that’s not going to happen.

So it’s just realizing that I wanted to create something, because it’s like, OK, what’s the best thing I can do? The best thing I can do is, you know, do what I do, which is film. You know, I am a grad student. I’ve been studying film, and it’s something I’m passionate about. So I decided to create this work, and not only express myself, but be able to show other people exactly what I go through. And joining the Media Enabled Muskateers, joining this program, was the absolute perfect outlet to do so, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s turn to Maryam’s story. This is a film called Maryam’s Victory by our guest, who’s here in studio, just come in from Russia, Maryam Magomedova.

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: [translated] I was born with cerebral palsy. I am about to get my college diploma with honors. We came here because I couldn’t recite my poem at the competition. Let’s imagine I’m on a stage and reciting a poem by Ashik Veysel. I am on a long twisted road. I walk day and night. I started my journey the day I came into this world. I am walking from birth to death. I walk day and night. I walk even in my sleep, looking for reasons to wake up. I see everything, but I keep on walking. But I keep walking day and night. For years I’ve been wandering, in valleys, mountains and deserts, in foreign lands. I walk day and night. The road looks long, but the journey is only an instant. I walk day and night. I am surprised. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I cry. Only one step left. I walk day and night. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have Maryam’s Victory, Maryam with us today—

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —who has come all the way over from—from Moscow?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Yes. Yes, I am.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about why you made this film?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Well, first of all, I wanted to show that no matter if a person has a disability or not, he should be judged by his spark of talent, which exists in every person. And not only it’s a talent, not only a person can be talented, he can be the best. So, this was first message. And I also wanted to show that education is one of the tools, you know, how to lighten that spark of the talent in a person. So, it’s not only about my talent, but about my everyday struggle for education.

AMY GOODMAN: Which has been?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Which has been like for seven years of my life. I’m a student. I’ve got a degree in linguistics. So, that’s why I recited in Turkish, which you can see in my film. And now I’m studying law. I’m a law student. I’m a student in a law school. So, I want to advocate for people with disabilities in the future. I plan to go to Harvard Law School, so that people with disabilities will have more rights. And this project is a very good beginning for me, so I can expose the problems that we face every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Maryam Magomedova, one of the Russian students who has joined with American students, like Jonathan Novick, to portray their lives, to speak for themselves. And the people who are coordinating this project are our old colleague, Jon Alpert—not so old—from DCTV, Downtown Community Television, the multiple Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, and Olga Kravtsova, who has come over from Moscow. Jon, talk about how you conceived of this.

JON ALPERT: Well, we’re talking a lot about Ebola, Ebola, Ebola. There’s two people in the United States that have Ebola, none in Russia. There’s 80 million people in both countries that have disabilities. And so, the media could really do a much better job of portraying the needs and the talents of people with disabilities. And so, we thought this would be a good place to start. And also, our countries could do a better job of being friends with each other. Every country could do a better job looking for peace. And this is a good program that helps that. So it helps give people with disabilities a voice, and it also helps to promote peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Olga Kravtsova, how did you get involved?

OLGA KRAVTSOVA: I think we came to the idea, like, together, maybe, and we also had Karina Chupina, who is a U.N. expert on disabilities, and she has a disability herself. And she trains reporters—she also has a background in journalism—how to be sensitive about those issues, how to cover disabilities, you know, with good education and attitude. So we just thought it would be a great project, bringing professional and nonprofessional reporters together, bringing people with disabilities, with no disabilities together, and bringing Russians and Americans together.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to a clip from Natalia Ryzhova’s film, I Want, Therefore I Can. She explains her dream to be a Paralympic archery champion.

NATALIA RYZHOVA: [translated] When I was 13, I was electrocuted by 27,500 volts. I had both legs amputated. It was very difficult at first. Then I realized it didn’t change everything. I had to continue with my life. Life isn’t less interesting because of a disability. I plan to join the Paralympic Games. It’s my dream. I’m training for the next two years. I hope to win.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Natalia Ryzhova’s film, I Want, Therefore I Can. I want to turn right now to another clip that is part of this series. This is a clip of a video made by Donna Cappella called Midlife Disability: No Crystal Ball.

DONNA CAPPELLA: Hi. My name is Donna Cappella. And I want to do my own narration, but I hope I don’t mess it up like I messed up that joke. I want to tell you about my brain surgery, but I really don’t want to go backwards. You see, when I speak, people don’t listen to my words. They think, "What happened to her?" So, the scoop is, in 2005, I had a catastrophic stroke. My condition is called an AVM, arteriovenous malformation.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to turn to a clip of a video made by Benjamin Rosloff called Can I Call You?

BENJAMIN ROSLOFF: My name is Benjamin, and I’m 22, and I’m autistic. I want to be a filmmaker and have a lot of my own ideas. I see films in my mind and know exactly what I want. I know who I would cast. I hear the music, and I see the scenes. Some things are hard for me, like writing, explaining things to others and making changes. I do know that I want to get married someday and have a family and a normal life.

Have you ever dated someone with autism?

WOMAN: No, I have not.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Benjamin Rosloff. Can I Call You? is the name of his film. In fact, Jon, you were his roommate, Jon Alpert, in Russia, when the group went to Russia. Now the group has come from Russia to the United States.

JON ALPERT: It was one of the most profound learning experiences of my life. I didn’t know that much about autism. Ben’s really intelligent. And I grew to appreciate his intelligence, his kindness and his value that he can bring to society.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Novick, what has this project meant for you? You went to Russia?

JONATHAN NOVICK: I did, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what was that like for you?

JONATHAN NOVICK: It was amazing. I mean, being a part of—being a part of the project, in general, has been fantastic, because you encounter so many different people from different walks of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it called Media Enabled Musketeers?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Media Enabled Muskateers, we have a slogan: "All for one, one for all." We’re all together. We are all one person. We support each other through what we do, not only in life, but as filmmakers, as, you know, hopeful future, I don’t know, journalists or documentarians of the world. We’re in it together. And whether we’re all going to Russia or we’re all going to come to America, we’re in it together.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your sense of people who are disabled, their treatment in Russia, as you come here from the United States?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Well, it seemed—one of the biggest things or one of the most discussed topics while we were in Russia was education. And it was looking at the separation of people who are physically or cognitively disabled into separate schools, these like separate private schools as opposed to staying in public education. There was a lot of conversation that happened around that. We visited one of these schools. We visited the office for accessibility issues and discussed that several times, so that was a [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: And, Maryam, for you coming here, you’ve been on a major journey. You’ve been to the Empire State Building, to the beach. Were you seeing the ocean for the first time?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Yes. Yes, I think so. And I touched my feet there.

AMY GOODMAN: And walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Yes, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was actually my dream for four years. And I finally fulfilled it yesterday with Musketeer teams.

AMY GOODMAN: And what will you do when you go back to Russia?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Well, I will tell about this project. And I think that right now we can’t even fully comprehend the positive impact it will have. And I hope that I will bring the knowledge, the things that I learned here, and I will share them with my friends, with people that I know. And I hope that this will change things for better in my country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. Jon, the website people can go to to see more of these videos? You had a big party at HBO on Friday where you showed like a dozen of them.

JON ALPERT: DCTVNY.org, our website, but if any fans of Democracy Now!, which I’m the biggest one, would like these as the—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re not that big, Jon

JON ALPERT: I am that big. Look at this. And all they need to do is contact Democracy Now!, and they can get the entire set of all these films. And make sure you send in your contribution to Democracy Now! when you do that.

AMY GOODMAN: All right, and to your local station, public television or radio. It’s been wonderful to be with you all. I want to thank Jonathan Novick, Maryam Magomedova. I also want to thank the coordinators of this project, our colleague right here, Jon Alpert, and Olga Kravtsova from Russia.

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:25:47 -0400
Mumia Abu-Jamal Speaks Out From Jail on New Pennsylvania Law Silencing Prisoners http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26966-mumia-abu-jamal-speaks-out-from-jail-on-new-pennsylvania-law-silencing-prisoners http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26966-mumia-abu-jamal-speaks-out-from-jail-on-new-pennsylvania-law-silencing-prisoners

Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is set to sign into law a bill critics say will trample the free speech rights of prisoners. Last week, lawmakers openly said they passed the legislation as a way to target one of the state’s most well-known prisoners: journalist and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1982 of killing of a Philadelphia police officer, but has long maintained his innocence. During a late night vote last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House unanimously approved the "Revictimization Relief Act," which authorizes the censoring of public addresses of prisoners or former offenders if judges agree that allowing them to speak would cause "mental anguish" to the victim. The measure was introduced after Abu-Jamal delivered a pre-taped commencement address for graduating students at Vermont’s Goddard College earlier this month. We air Abu-Jamal’s response to the bill and speak to Noelle Hanrahan, founder of Prison Radio, which has been recording and distributing Abu-Jamal’s commentaries from prison since 1992.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to Pennsylvania, where today Governor Tom Corbett is set to sign into law a bill critics say will trample the free speech rights of prisoners. Last week, lawmakers openly said they passed the bill as a way to target one of the state’s most well-known prisoners: journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was convicted in 1982 of killing of a Philadelphia police officer, has maintained for a long time his innocence. The bill comes as Corbett and other lawmakers face stiff competition as they run for re-election.

AMY GOODMAN: During a late-night vote last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House unanimously approved the so-called "Revictimization Relief Act," which authorizes the censoring of public addresses of prisoners or former offenders if judges agree that allowing them to speak would cause "mental anguish" to the victim. The measure was introduced after Mumia Abu-Jamal delivered a pretaped commencement address for graduating students at Vermont’s Goddard College earlier this month. The speech was opposed by the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the police officer whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett expressed his support earlier this month for the new law that could prevent similar speeches in the future.

GOV. TOM CORBETT: While law-abiding citizens are entitled to an array of rights, from free travel to free speech, convicted felons in prison are in prison because they abused and surrendered their rights. And nobody has a right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes in the public square.

AARON MATÉ: The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has criticized the new Pennsylvania measure, calling it, quote, "overbroad and vague," and unable to "pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment." But that has not stopped Governor Corbett from saying he will sign [it into law] this afternoon.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke with Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio Project about the passage of the so-called Revictimization Relief Act, in what could be one of his final media interviews for some time.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: It’s amazing, when you think about it, because—on two fronts, I should say. Of course, the first front is constitutional. I mean, this is a blatant, naked violation of Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which specifically grants the right of free speech to all people in the commonwealth, and, of course, the Constitution of the United States, which fairly recently, in the Snyder v. Phelps case—you remember? The preacher who went around to funerals? Well, he caused, I think, a great deal of emotional distress to veterans’ families. This is what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Snyder. They said that the First Amendment trumps emotional distress. That’s recently, and that was an eight-to-one decision. Look it up. But what’s more important to me is this, that during their discussions, right?—that I’ve heard about; I didn’t hear it, I don’t have access to a computer—members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania said they did not hear the speech, did not know what the speech was, but, in any event, it was for a judge to determine whether it was unconstitutional. These are people who took an oath of office to protect and defend and uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Constitution of the United States blatantly acting unconstitutionally in office. That’s one point.

Here’s the second point. This is theoretically or reportedly based on emotional distress. Think about being a student at Goddard College when police, by the hundreds and—and threatening these students at their graduation with rape, murder, assault, attacks. These are police writing emails, calling on phones, threatening administrators and students. How about their emotional distress? And all they wanted was to hear from one of their alumni. I went to that college. I’m a part of that college. I spent years at that college as a student. And when I went back and graduated, I am a part of that college forever. And they wanted to hear from me. They called and asked and wrote to me and said they wanted to hear from me. So, I think those things should be a part of your considerations.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking from prison in a phone interview recorded Monday by our guest, Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, who we’ll talk to in a moment. This is another clip from their conversation, when Mumia Abu-Jamal expresses concern that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett would sign the so-called Revictimization Relief Act in order to benefit politically.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: The press ignores prisoners, as a rule. Most of what happens in prisons are never or rarely reported in the press. I would say this. If you wish, read Live from Death Row, and find out—this book that was written years ago—find out how true it was, how accurate it was, how many of the states that began this hellacious mass incarceration are now decarcerating because their budgets are busted.

You know, we’re talking about a bill—again, let me kind of rephrase this—this is a bill that is signed into law by unconstitutional Tom Corbett, probably the least popular governor—Republican governor, I might add—in the United States, who is facing a virtually unknown opponent who has 20 to 25 points on him, right? At last count. This is a political stunt by a failing politician who is seeking support by using fear. Right? Politicians do it all the time. But this is unconstitutional Tom’s latest attempt to stroke and build up his political campaign, his failing political campaign.

When you asked about the press, for most of the press, prisons don’t exist, right? Silence reigns in states all across the United States. But I went to court. I was forced to go to court by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And I won, in a case called Abu-Jamal v. Price, which gives me the right to write. Now they’re trying to take away my right to read my own writings. How unconstitutional is that?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mumia Abu-Jamal in what could be one of his final media interviews for some time. He was a resident on Pennsylvania’s death row for 29 years before his sentence was overturned in 2011, award-winning journalist whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience both through Prison Radio commentaries and through his nine books. We had hoped to have him on with us today. That interview was recorded by Noelle Hanrahan yesterday. But though it was all set up, we have not been able to reach him yet. He would have to call us. We’re joined, though, now in Philadelphia by Noelle Hanrahan, the investigative journalist and founder and producer of Prison Radio, which has been recording and distributing Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commentaries from prison since 1992, for more than 20 years.

The significance of what we expect Governor Corbett to do today, Noelle Hanrahan, and what it means not only for Mumia Abu-Jamal, but for prisoners around the state?

NOELLE HANRAHAN: This is about Mumia Abu-Jamal, but it’s really about all prisoners and what the journalists have to know from inside prisons. Our society really has this incredible incarceration addiction. And we need to know, as journalists, what’s going on inside. So it affects Robert "Saleem" Holbrook, a juvenile lifer who’s in Pennsylvania. It affects Bryant Arroyo, who’s a jailhouse environmentalist and lawyer inside Frackville prison in Pennsylvania. It affects our ability as a community to get the information that we need to make decisions.

And as you know, around Mumia’s case, he’s been censored before. Mumia was one of the main ways in which the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections shut down prisons to journalists. Prisoners cannot have visits by journalists with cameras and equipment. They can only have in-person visits not even with a paper and a pencil. So this is another attempt for the Fraternal Order of Police and the Department of Corrections and Tom Corbett to really silence what we, as a community, need to know and the information we need to get as journalists, and the voices and the First Amendment rights of prisoners.

AARON MATÉ: Noelle, this bill is framed as one that’s protecting the rights of victims, but your response to that? And on the issue of the First Amendment, which you raise, is there a plan for a legal challenge?

NOELLE HANRAHAN: I think that the Fraternal Order of Police is motivating this bill and that Corbett is using it for political advantage. But also, this is not about crime victims. It’s really about reframing the narrative that the Fraternal Order of Police need to reframe. So it’s shifting the narrative after the wake of Ferguson—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

NOELLE HANRAHAN: —to really pose them as the victims, when we all know, many of the people who deal with the criminal justice system, hey, one in 46 people in this country are going to do jail time and prison time, one in three black men. It’s really killing black men. It’s really affecting our culture. We spend more money on preschools—more money on prisons than preschools. So, it’s reframing it in their way.

AMY GOODMAN: Noelle Hanrahan, we’re going to have to leave it there, investigative journalist with Prison Radio. That does it for our show. I’ll be speaking in Purchase tonight.

 

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:17:08 -0400
Suit Against Kern County Schools Alleges Disproportionate Discipline for Students of Color http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26964-suit-against-kern-county-schools-alleges-disproportionate-discipline-for-minorities http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26964-suit-against-kern-county-schools-alleges-disproportionate-discipline-for-minorities

2014.10.21.CPI.MainThe Jack O. Schulze Auditorium at Arvin High School in Kern County, California. (Photo: Triumph1975 / Wikimedia Commons )

A sweeping lawsuit filed in Kern County, Calif., late last week alleges that African-American and Latino high school students suffer discrimination from disciplinary practices that remove them at disproportionate rates from regular school and place them in inferior alternative settings.

The Center for Public Integrity in 2011 reported that Kern County, in the Golden State’s Central Valley, had the highest rate of student expulsion in California, not just on a per capita basis, but actually numerically higher than populous Los Angeles County.

In 2013, the Center and KQED radio reported that Kern County kids, among them Hispanic children of farmworkers, were removed from regular school for minor reasons and placed in alternative schools so far from home — as much as 40 miles away — that many kids dropped out or were told to perform independent study at home.

Hundreds of expelled kids, including English-as-second-language learners, were placed on independent study while officially enrolled full-time on alternative campuses, records showed. Because Kern resident Mario Ramirez was unable to get his daughter to a distant alternative school, he sent the 14-year-old to Mexico just to get her in a classroom for a few months during a year-long expulsion.

The lawsuit filed Thursday names Ramirez and other kids and parents featured in Center stories as plaintiffs; the suit alleges that in spite of parents’ meetings in recent months with the local school board to urge changes, officials “have failed to take any effective action to require that Kern High School District develop and implement discipline and school assignment plans that ameliorate the rampant racial and ethnic disparities in the district.”

Black and Latino students “routinely assigned” to independent study receive “only minimal interaction with school personnel and other students,” according to the suit, and fall behind academically.

The suit was filed in Kern County Superior Court in the Kern city of Bakersfield, which is north of Los Angeles in an area of oil drilling and some of the world’s most productive agribusiness fields.

Groups filing the suit demanding adoption of alternative discipline and student transfer practices include California Rural Legal Assistance, or CRLA, a nonprofit that has represented Kern kids in school disputes; the nonprofit Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF; the nonprofit Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc.; the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a Kern County group that organizes parents; Faith in Action Kern County, a multi-faith group that also works with families; and the Equal Justice Society, a nonprofit concerned with racial equity that is based in Oakland.

The suit was filed against the 35,000-pupil Kern High School District, California’s second largest high school district. Its student body is 62 percent Latino and 6 percent black. The suit also names as defendants the district’s trustees; the Kern County Office of Education, which runs alternative campuses; and the California Department of Education.

Lisa Krch, the district’s public information and communications manager, said the Kern High School District “cannot comment on pending litigation.”

In September 2013, Mike Zulfa, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources, told the Center that the district “continues to examine our practices and look for ways to improve. By providing professional development, having honest conversations about our practices, and trying to meet the needs of our students and the community, the district has shown improvement in our expulsion rate over the past three years.”

But the suit accuses the Kern High School District of failing to comply with new state discipline policies and adopt alternative practices designed to diffuse problems without resorting to kicking kids out.

The suit also accuses the district of labeling students that its regular campuses kick out as “involuntary” or “voluntary transfers” instead of expulsions that must be reported to state and federal databases.

The suit notes that the district — under scrutiny after media reports — did cut its expulsions from 2,040 in 2011 to 256 students in 2013. But the groups argue that enrollment has not declined at alternative schools because of continuing transfers of students that parents — many of them limited English speakers — agree to authorize without fully understanding other options. 

The district, the suit alleges, “has implemented a ‘waiver’ system, under which students and parents are convinced through intimidation, coerced or tricked into waiving the due process protections accompanying formal discipline and accepting immediate placement in alternative schools.”

The suit also argues that stark ethnic disparities persist among kids officially expelled from Kern’s high schools.

During the 2012-2013 school year, according to the suit, 67 percent of black students who were expelled were kicked out for infractions that did not include physical injury, possession of drugs or weapons. Only 42 percent of white students expelled were removed for similarly less serious infractions.

Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society, attributed the disproportionate rate of harsh discipline levied against Latino and black students on “implicit biases of students of color.” The U.S. Department of Education has urged schools to examine discipline policies and the impact on children who are ethnic minorities or suffer from disabilities.

Kern’s rate of suspension of students — the path leaving to eventual transfer out of regular school — was three times the state of California’s average in 2013, the suit also says.

Martha Gomez, a MALDEF staff attorney, said: “Kern High School District hurts itself and the state of California by making Latino and African-American students second-class citizens in the educational system.”

Sahar Durali, a CRLA staff attorney in the Kern farm town of Delano, said parents and various organizations have met with Kern education officials this past year to request that they improve teacher training and alternative discipline practices that are being embraced by other California districts.

“The district has the money to do this,” Durali said. She noted that the district is receiving nearly $18 million in supplemental money as part of a statewide funding program to help disadvantaged kids.

On Sept. 9, Brenda Lewis, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction, told KBAK news station in Bakersfield that a number of schools are trying “positive behavioral” intervention methods.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Patricia Crawford, an African-American Bakersfield mother the Center interviewed in 2011, after her daughter was expelled in 2010 for a fight in a gym witnesses agreed she didn’t start. Crawford’s daughter was later cleared, but for weeks, her mother said, her daughter fell behind as teachers declined requests for homework to do at home.

Although the girl was fully exonerated, the suit notes, she was placed on probation when admitted back into to her school and forbidden from participating in volleyball, a sport at which she excelled. The suit alleges that the girl, who has since graduated, “was identified in her school records as a problem student” and that her record “impacted school administrators’ and teachers’ treatment of her.”

Another set of parents and student interviewed by the Center are also plaintiffs in the suit. Antonio M., as the student is identified, was expelled from Arvin High School in Kern County for an alleged fight he denied being involved in. Antonio’s parents, who do not read English, said they were given paperwork in English they thought authorized a five-day suspension. In reality, according to the suit, the parents signed a waiver to an expulsion hearing.

The boy was transferred to an alternative school 30 miles away. When the parents said they had no way to get the boy there, “school personnel suggested that Antonio take the bus, which requires three transfers, or in the alternative, ride a bicycle.”

After a year without any schooling, “Antonio’s educational path has been delayed, and continues to be undermined,” the suit alleges.

]]>
News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:08:45 -0400
Applauding Black Death in the Hour of Chaos http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26960-applauding-black-death-in-the-hour-of-chaos http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/26960-applauding-black-death-in-the-hour-of-chaos

You need not die today.
Stay here — through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.
- Gwendolyn Brooks

On Monday night, I heard a 19 year old young black man say that he wasn't afraid to die for justice in Ferguson. Some in the assembled multi-racial audience applauded. I wanted to throw up.

2014 1021 kaba 1St. Louis, October 11, 2014. (Photo: Page May)

What does it mean to be willing to die for a cause in a society that already considers you to be hyper-disposable? Your evisceration, your death is desirable and actively pursued. What if the revolutionary act in such a society, in such a world, is to live out loud instead? Or simply to live.

I wanted to yell: "No. Stay a while. We don't need any more black 19 year olds in caskets." How are we to reconcile a call for the state to stop killing us with a willingness to die for that end?

I can't get the clapping out of my head.

What were the people who clapped applauding? Did they clap because they thought the young man was courageous? Were they clapping because they too were prepared to die? Did they clap because they were trapped in a 20th century documentary titled 'real freedom fighters are willing to die for justice?' Were they clapping in support of black martyrdom? Were they applauding black death?

Why were they clapping? I can't stop thinking of it.

On Saturday, while we were in St. Louis, my comrade Kelly took a photo of a young woman standing on the bed of a truck exuberantly chanting: "Back up! Back up! We want freedom, freedom! All these racist ass cops, we don't need 'em, need 'em!"

2014 1021 kaba 2St. Louis, October 11, 2014. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Some people chanted along with her while the familiar refrain of 'hands up, don't shoot' reverberated across most of the crowd. Fists up. Voices loud. All around me was love and life. I saw the young woman as I marched past her. In looking at the photograph later, I thought that it captured the youthful resistance that permeated the St. Louis march/rally and has characterized so much of this Ferguson moment.

2014 1021 chaos 3St. Louis, October 11, 2014. (Photo: Page May)

When the young man on Monday's panel described justice as the prosecution of officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed Mike Brown, I felt as if I was dissolving. Maybe I left my body for a second or a minute or I don't know how long. This is the 'justice' for which this young man was prepared to die? This small, narrow, insignificant in the larger scheme of the world thing? We have failed our young by not creating an expansive idea of justice. And then I thought about the fact that his peers had mentioned that they had "nothing" to begin with and I knew that justice would center on addressing that as THE issue.

I kept my mouth shut. I hope that the young man stays in the struggle and that he like so many others in Ferguson and across the country refuses to be quiet. Most of all though, I wish for him a long and healthy life in a future with more justice and some peace.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green's your color. You are Spring. – G. Brooks

]]>
Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:16:13 -0400