Truthout Stories Mon, 03 Aug 2015 11:15:17 -0400 en-gb Japan's "Sacred" Rice Farmers Brace for Pacific Trade Deal's Death Sentence

In small wet rice fields, or suiden, across Japan, farmers don rubber boots to slosh through the fields and check their plantings. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in tropical Hawaii, negotiators are in the final stages of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that farmers fear will disrupt the rhythm of their even-metered life.

Rice is one of the five sacred areas of Japanese agriculture (with pork and beef, wheat, barley and sugarcane). To many, especially those living in rural areas, it remains the primary ingredient of the Japanese identity. As one farmer here said, "without rice, there is no Japan; the culture is a rice culture, it is the most basic element."

Japan's rice farmers have long been the backbone of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. But lately, as their numbers dwindle along with a declining population and demand for rice, this key cultural constituency seems to have lost the strength it once had to demand the government's support.

There are now around 2 million rice farmers in Japan, down from 4 million in 1990 and as many as 12 million in 1960. Some farm part-time, while for others it's their entire livelihood and passion.

Japanese negotiators in Maui, who only a few months ago seemed intenton protecting rice growers by maintaining current import quotas, appear to be bending to American pressure in exchange for allowing more Japanese autos into the US. The tit for tat of trade negotiations, along with the geopolitics of countering China, now threatens this ancient way of life.

I recently spent part of the summer doing fieldwork in Japan and discussing this issue with rice farmers and others in the agriculture industry to learn how the TPP will affect them.

"I'm a simple man. I love farming and just want to farm," a rice grower in Toyama prefecture told me. "Foreign rice is a problem. I'm worried about the TPP and the future of these fields."

Lifting limits on rice imports

The TPP includes 11 nations (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan) with the United States. The agreement has a goal of eliminating thousands of current tariffs that exist among these countries and to serve as a template for future trade agreements in the region.

Currently rice farmers are shielded by Japan's limit on rice imports. The US is pushing Japan to increase its duty-free imports of American rice and related products from 10,000 tons a year to 215,000 tons. The US also wants Japan to open up its lands to foreign investment.

Per-capita rice consumption in Japan has declined 15% over the past two decades, according to the University of Arkansas. Back in April, Japan's agriculture minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, cited this declining consumption in arguing the country must hold the line on rice imports to protect the farmers.

But that firm stance seems to have softened, though the details remain secret, and that's bad news for Japan's rice farmers.

The decline of nokyo

Most of these farmers live a country lifestyle, in a region naturally suited to rice growing because the rice paddies here get water from the melting mountain snow. Farmers in these small villages hundreds of miles from Tokyo on the other side of the Japanese Alps said they are most worried about the impact of the TPP on their ability to compete with foreign rice and foreign ownership of agricultural land.

Rice is grown in small plots (less than an acre). Currently, it is difficult for outside companies to own land because of legal measures. The TPP would allow for foreign land ownership as a form of investment in Japan's rice market.

Past trade agreements have already led to a decline in Japanese agricultural cooperatives, known as nokyo, they said, because competition from foreign rice has made farming more difficult. Other reasons for the decline include the fact that fewer young people are taking on these family farms (Japanese farmers are on average in their 70's).

A young female soybean farmer in Joge, outside of Hiroshima, reminisced about a time when active farms and their bright shades of green marked the neighborhood.

"One by one they stopped farming, the farms are gone," she said, and now the land has transformed to weeds.

This has meant declining influence in the latest trade round. Although the national agriculture union has staged protests, the farmers I spoke with noted the inability of this and other such groups to help and protect farmers.

TPP and the US pivot

The rice issue is one of the stickiest wickets that negotiators have had to deal with as they try to seal a deal. Getting an agreement rests largely upon the decisions made between the US and Japan, by far the biggest economies in the deal whose shared trade is seen as a building block of the partnership.

And at the moment, the plight of the rice farmers is being overshadowed by much bigger geopolitical issues that are dominating the trade negotiations. Most notably, the Obama administration views the TPP as a key element in its "pivot" or "rebalancing" toward Asia as it seeks to counter China. And by Asia, in terms of partners, it really means Japan, because of the strong US Japan alliance (or nichibei, in Japanese) dating from the end of WWII.

A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service on key TPP negotiation issues notes the US presence in Asia has declined, while America remains "distracted" by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the TPP is increasingly about the US–China rivalry, and the concerns of rice farmers and other citizens are unlikely to derail it.

End of a way of life

In some respects, the TPP is an attempt to get around the recent failure of developed and developing countries to achieve meaningful results at the World Trade Organization Doha round of negotiations that began in 2001 but collapsed in in 2008.

If negotiations are successful this week in Hawaii, Japan will not only open up its rice market to more US competition but will also allow for foreign investment and corporate land ownership through its investment protection measure. Foreign investment and corporate ownership mean larger plots of land and high mechanization. Small farms simply can't compete with this intensive large-scale production.

Mr Saito (who like many Japanese goes only by his last name) fears an influx of foreign rice and landowners and says the TPP and the changes it brings will crush a way of life, and young farmers like him will be unable to survive.

"Farmers working by hand can't compete," he said. "We are lost."

The Conversation

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Trans Liberation Doesn't Come From a Military Uniform

Transgender people in the US have a long history of being ignored by the mainstream LGBT rights movement. This movement, built off the struggle of trans activists and organizers in the 1960's and quickly co-opted by white, middle-to-upper class gay men and women, has long fixated on assimilation, marriage, normality, and equality, but not justice.

However, after the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage in June 2015, the movement has been echoing a new line: time for transgender rights.

But which rights?

The "transgender rights" that the mainstream LGBT rights movement seeks - transgender military inclusion one of many - are steeped in the same assimilationist rhetoric that drives its other successes.

After the repealing of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," a policy that banned gay, lesbian and bisexual troops from openly serving in the armed forces in 2011, the inclusion of only three out of four letters in the well-known LGBT acronym made it clear that transgender soldiers were left in the dust. As many as 15,500 transgender individuals may currently be on active duty, or serving on the Guard or Reserve Forces.

These individuals face numerous difficulties in the armed forces due to highly restrictive and outdated policies that restrict the expression of their identities: the threat of dishonorable discharge if their trans identities are made known, the inability to wear the gendered uniform and be addressed using the name and pronouns of their choice and potential harassment and discrimination due to their gender identity or expression.

Updating military policy to allow trans people to openly enlist and serve in the military would ostensibly both reduce the stress that trans soldiers face and increase the effectiveness of the military.

The above argument is not an unfamiliar one, especially to the mainstream LGBT movement.

Advocating for inclusion into society's most revered institutions - whether they be marriage or the military - is a tactic that the mainstream LGBT movement has employed with great success. It hinges on demonstrating "normality," on proving that LGBT people are just like everyone else, on ultimately assimilating so that privileged (wealthy, white and cisgender) lesbians and gays can reap the same benefits from society as their equally privileged straight friends.

In the case of the military, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ordered the formation of a working group to study whether transgender inclusion would cause an "adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness." But everyone knows what that working group will conclude. Transgender soldiers are just as able to hold guns. Transgender soldiers are just as able to follow orders. Transgender soldiers are just as able to murder on behalf of the state.

As a trans woman of color, I find it particularly ironic that soon I will be able to serve the same country that brutalizes my black and brown sisters on the streets and in prisons by brutalizing black and brown people elsewhere.

I find it more ironic that to the mainstream LGBT movement, this is a victory.

While transgender inclusion in the military in the near future is almost a certainty, gaining the right to participate in America's war machine does not help trans people.

Assimilating into oppressive systems invested in the continued occupation of countries around the world, the so-called "War on Terror" that has itself terrorized communities in the Middle East and contributed to Islamophobia at home, and an aggressive neoliberalism that uses the military as a tool for rampant economic gain is no victory.

No amount of rhetoric that emptily repeats the same patriotism and nationalism on behalf of trans people can erase the reality that the US military is complicit in global injustice.

Inclusion campaigns do not help those of us who are already systematically excluded from society due to our other identities. For trans people of color, trans women, disabled and neurodivergent trans people, non-binary trans people and many others, transgender military inclusion is an almost entirely irrelevant issue.

This is not to say that I wish to advocate against it - I am almost sure it will happen.But true victories lie not in claiming seats at an already broken table, but in deconstructing oppressive systems and building alternatives in our communities.

True victories lie not in pinkwashing but in affordable health care and housing, and an end to deportation, criminalization and police brutality. The common response to these demands from moderate progressives is always some variation of, "We'll get to that next! One thing at a time!" And trans people are never surprised.

While trans activists and organizers have been advocating for those issues that would most help their communities for decades, the mainstream LGBT rights movement has tried especially hard to focus on every issue it can find that isn't liberation - because what about liberation could possibly benefit wealthy white gay men and women and their corporate sponsors? It makes sense that a movement invested more in Bud Light and Airbnb sponsoring their pride parades than the suffering of queer and trans people of color would invest in finding distractions.

Trans military inclusion is, at best, one of these distractions. One of those causes that is bound to resolve in due time, that the mainstream LGBT movement can rally behind and then take credit for. For what it's worth, military inclusion will help transgender troops who are currently forced to hide their identities to live their lives a little more free of fear and discomfort. I am sure that these policy changes will make serving in the military a little less dangerous for trans service members, and that is by all accounts a good thing.

However, on a grander scheme the real work - prison abolition, Black Lives Matter, living wages, affordable health care and housing - is elsewhere. Dedicated trans activists, organizers, and communities have been engaged in this work with or without the support or even knowledge of wealthy, white gay people.

If it is committed to the same visions of justice and liberation as the rest of us, the LGBT movement that has been so focused on assimilation needs to take a step back, look at the work already being done, and either repurpose their resources or be part of the problem. 

Opinion Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Corporate Tribunals Pose Biggest Hurdle to Europe's Vote on Transatlantic Trade Pact

July marked the second anniversary of negotiations between the US and European Union over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but for the millions of European citizens opposed to the trade deal it was not a month to celebrate.

One of the main points of contention remains the debate about whether to include investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) in the trade pact. The mechanism would allow corporations to sue governments if legislation is put in place, or altered, that could in any way negatively impact a company's profits. This could include environmental protection laws, health and safety standards, workers rights or private services being made public.

So much public concern and controversy was raised over ISDS that the European Commission suspended talks on the investor protection rules in order to open a public consultation in spring of 2014. Considerations of ISDS are still suspended in the US-EU negotiations - the 10th round of which took place earlier this month in Brussels, following a European Parliament vote that recommended the European Commission reassess the role of ISDS in the Transatlantic pact.

The Vote on ISDS-lite

Rather than a straight Yes/No vote on whether to include the corporate tribunals in TTIP, as some MEPs had proposed, the European Parliament voted on an amendment proposed by the Socialists and Democrats that claims to "replace the ISDS system with a new system for resolving disputes between investors and states."

The recommendation to the European Commission called for a more "transparent" process, with "publicly appointed, independent professional judges in public hearings" to be used rather than private arbitration panels.

In a statement following the vote, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that "TTIP will not in any way affect EU public services, nor will it in any way undermine the power of EU or national Parliaments. And it will certainly not undercut core EU legislation in areas such as food safety or environmental protection."

Campaigners said the proposed changes - which passed with 436 in favor, 241 against and 32 abstentions - would be an improvement on "standard" ISDS practice, though the core aspects of ISDS would remain.

"These reforms are purely cosmetic," said Anne Dänner of the campaign group Stop TTIP. "In essence, foreign investors are still to receive substantial additional rights compared with domestic companies and a parallel justice system to domestic courts to enforce these rights."

Although the vote is non-binding, it has sent a clear message to the European Commission that MEPs believe this revised form of ISDS is acceptable to the citizens they represent. Yet 97% of the 150,000 EU citizens surveyed during the consultation process rejected the idea of including any version of ISDS in TTIP - not to mention 2.3 million people signing a petition to halt the negotiations altogether. So whose side are the politicians on?

The Rise of ISDS, Going Back Decades

ISDS agreements are already a part of many international trade deals around the world. They were initially established in the 1950s to ensure that companies were protected against unfair trials in countries with weak or corrupt legal systems, thereby encouraging foreign investment.

Many argue that ISDS would be unnecessary under TTIP since the US and EU legal systems are already sufficient to deal with such cases. There's also little evidence to show that a lack of ISDS has impacted investment between the two continents so far. If companies want further protections, they can purchase political-risk insurance that insures investments against future laws or regulations that could effect business.

For decades the inclusion of ISDS was seen as a diplomatic gesture of goodwill between the countries involved, and few claims were made. However, in the late 1990s the number of ISDS cases started increasing as lawyers saw the potential for companies to profit and change legislation in their favor.

With an ever growing set of regional trade treaties being signed, the number of ISDS cases has leapt more dramatically in recent years. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, by the end of 2014 a total of 608 known ISDS cases had been initiated. Among those, there were 58 in 2012, 57 in 2013 and 42 in 2014 - meaning a quarter of all ISDS cases ever started were in the past three years.

Of the 356 total concluded cases, 37% have been decided in favor of states, while 25% sided with investors and 28% settled. Meanwhile, legal costs for governments have amounted to an average of $4.5 million per case, funded with taxpayer money. Governments cannot sue companies in the same way, so the best they can hope for is not to lose.

If ISDS gets included in TTIP - which would create the largest single free trade zone in the world - the instances of companies suing governments will likely increase further still.

What Could Happen?

Recent cases highlight some of the impacts that ISDS could have on the US and European states if included in TTIP:

1. Deterring legislation that benefits people over profit. The government of Peru decided to shut down a metal smelter in La Oroya, one of the most polluted towns in the world, after US company Renco Group delaying environmental improvements. However, the possibility of an ISDS case against them led the Peruvian government to allow the smelter to restart its zinc operations in 2012.

2. An advantage for foreign companies. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, the German government decided to phase out nuclear power. As a result, Swedish state-owned energy company Vattenfall sued the German government for loss of profits, based on two nuclear power stations the firm co-owns with the German energy company E.ON. As a foreign company, Vattenfall could sue the German state using ISDS whereas E.ON could not, despite both companies losing potential profits.

3. A lose-lose financial situation for governments. In 2004, Canadian mining company Pacific Rim applied to dig for gold in El Salvador. But with 90% of the country's surface water already contaminated, the application was rejected and in 2008 the state introduced a moratorium on new mining permits. Pacific Rim has since claimed for a $301 million loss of potential profit, with a verdict expected later this year. The sum would amount to roughly 2% of El Salvador's GDP. Even if the case is called in favor of the state, it has cost the government $13 million to date - almost as much as the country's entire environment and natural resources budget.

Next Steps

Such cases have fueled widespread and growing opposition to TTIP across Europe. Along with negative public response to the recent consultation on ISDS, demonstrations have occurred throughout the continent since negations began. Yet when given the chance to voice citizen concerns, European politicians have often been seen as doing the opposite. "The European Parliament failed citizens in the TTIP vote," said Anne Dänner of Stop TTIP. "They were completely ignored."

The 11th round of TTIP negotiations are set to take place in the fall, when discussions of ISDS inclusion are expected to begin again and perhaps will take into consideration the recent vote. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said: "Parliament's call for a new system must be heard, and it will be." But campaigners along with millions of European citizens will be hoping that ISDS, if not TTIP itself, is instead dropped altogether.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Dealing With Mass Killings in the US: Funding Our Children, Not Our Wars

Imagine that you're in the FBI and you receive a tip - or more likely, pick up information through the kind of mass surveillance in which the national security state now specializes. In a series of tweets, a young man has expressed sympathy for the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, or another terrorist group or cause. He's 16, has no criminal record, and has shown no signs that he might be planning a criminal act. He does, however, seem angry and has demonstrated an interest in following ISIS's social media feeds as they fan the flames of youth discontent worldwide. He's even expressed some thoughts about how ISIS's "caliphate," the Islamic "homeland" being carved out in Syria and Iraq, might be a place where people like him could find meaning and purpose in an otherwise alienated life.

A quick search of his school records shows that his grades, previously stellar, are starting to fall. He's spending more time online, increasingly clicking on jihadist websites. He has, you discover, repeatedly read news stories about mass killings in the US. Worse yet, his parents own legally registered guns. A search of his medical records shows that he's been treated by a psychiatrist.

As a member of law enforcement, what exactly do you do now? You know that in recent years, mass killings have become an all-too-frequent part of American life. There were the Chattanooga military recruitment office shootings; the Charleston church killings; the abortive attack on a Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas; the Boston marathon bombing; the Sandy Hook school slaughter; and the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and most recently, in Lafayette, Louisiana. Loners, losers, jihadis, racists - label the killers as you will - as a law enforcement agent, you feel the pressure to prevent such events from happening again.

Given the staggering array of tools granted to the national security state domestically since 9/11, it's a wonder (not to say a tragic embarrassment) that such killings occur again and again. They are clearly not being prevented and at least part of the reason may lie in the national security state's ongoing focus on "counterterrorism," that is, on Islamic extremism. For the most part, after all, these mass murders have not been committed by Islamic extremists. From the more than 100 deaths of this sort since the Aurora shooting three summers ago, only eight were killed by individuals inspired by Islamic radicalism.

Soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft declared an all-out, no-holds-barred policy of terrorism "prevention." Another 9/11 was to be avoided at all costs and a "global war on terror" was quickly set in motion.

Domestically, in the name of prevention, the government launched a series of measures that transformed the American landscape when it came to both surveillance and civil rights. Yet despite the acquisition of newly aggressive powers of every sort, law enforcement has a woeful record when it comes to catching domestic mass murderers before the damage is done. In fact, a vanishingly small number of them have even shown up on the radar of the national security state.

The ability to collect all phone metadata from all Americans has not deterred these attacks, nor has the massive surveillance of Muslim communities in the US, nor did the use of FBI informants to encourage often disturbed, trash-talking individuals towards jihadist crimes. In short, the government's strategy of preventing attacks by individuals we've now come to call "lone wolves" has failed, despite the curtailing of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of association, religion, and speech and the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of freedom from warrantless surveillance.

Time for a Change

As someone who has followed the development of the national security state carefully in the post-9/11 era and spent a fair amount of time talking publicly and privately with law enforcement agents and officials, I can see that many of them are aware of such problems and frustrated with the old approach. They know something's not working and that it's time for a change - and a change is, in fact, coming. Whether it's the change that's needed is the question.

Aware of the legacy of the Bush years, the Obama White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI have spent much time and effort rethinking previous policies and have designed what they are calling a "new" approach to security. It's meant to partner prevention - the dominant strategy of the past - with a new word that has come into favor: "intervention." The goal is to intervene with youth attracted to extremism before violence can occur. As with so many attempts at government redesign, the new policy already has its own name and acronym. It's labeled "Countering Violent Extremism," or CVE. It's meant to marry the post-9/11 law enforcement and intelligence-driven profiling of potential terrorists with an approach borrowed from non-law-enforcement programs like those designed to help individuals deal with and break the pattern of drug or alcohol abuse.

The new CVE program will theoretically rely on a three-pronged strategy: building awareness of the causes of radicalization, countering extremist narratives (especially online), and emphasizing community-led intervention by bringing together law enforcement, local service providers, outreach programs, local governments, and academics. It is, in other words, meant to be a kinder, gentler means of addressing potential violence before it occurs, of coming to grips with that 16-year-old who's surfing jihadist websites and wondering about his future.

The White House recently convened a "summit" on this "new" strategy, with law enforcement officials, Muslim community leaders, and others, and Congress is now considering a bill that would create a new government agency to implement it. It sounds good. After all, who's against keeping the country safe and reducing violent extremism? But just how new is it really? In essence, the national security state will be sending more or less the same line-up of ideas to the plate with instructions to potentially get even more invasive, taking surveillance down to the level of disturbed kids and community organizations. Why then should we expect the softer-nicer version of harder-tougher to look any better or prove any more effective? Coming up with a new name and an acronym is one thing, genuinely carrying out a different program involving a new approach is another.

With that in mind, here are five questions based on past errors that might help us all judge just how smart (or not so smart) the CVE program will turn out to be:

  1. Will the program's focus (rather than its rhetoric) be broader than radical Islam? As the numerous mass shootings of recent years have shown, radical Islam is only a modest slice of a much larger story of youth violence.In fact, as a recent report from Fordham's Center on National Security makes clear, even the individuals alleged to be inspired by ISIS in the past two years defy profiling in terms of ethnicity, family, religion, or race. Yet the new strategy - not so surprising, given the cast of characters who will carry it out - looks like it's already trapped in the Muslim-centric policies of the past. In this vein, civil libertarians worry that the new strategy continues to "threaten freedoms of speech, association, and religion," as a recent letter signed by 49 civil liberties organizations put it. In practical terms, the odds are that the usual focus means that detecting the sort of shooters who have dominated the headlines for the past couple of years, domestically, is extremely unlikely. 
  2. Can the kinds of community outreach on which CVE interventionism is theoretically based crack the reality of lone-wolf killers? By definition, "lone wolves" are on their own. Yet the new CVE program expects to rely on what it calls "community-led intervention" to detect signs of radicalization or disturbance among the young. We know, however, that lone-wolf killers interact little with such communities or often even other individuals. They tend to be deeply alienated and startlingly unattached. Deputizing community organizations - be they mosques, churches, community centers, or schools - to interact with law enforcement agencies in developing greater awareness of individuals faltering in life and in danger of turning to violence belies the reality that such young men are generally cut off from almost everyone.  (A special danger of such an approach is that its focus may, in fact, fall not on potential future criminals and killers, but on oddballs, loners, and those with ideas critical of the society in which they live.  In other words, the very people who may in maturity become our innovators, inventors, and artists could soon become targets of the national security state in a desperate attempt to find future mass murderers and terrorists.) 
  3. Will CVE focus on the crucial role that youthful despair and depression play in such cases and on the absence of adequate psychological intervention for such figures? Aurora shooter James Holmes had lost his girlfriend and his job, was failing out of school, and had just received a speeding citation.  Chattanooga shooter Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez had lost one job - at a nuclear facility no less - was in danger of losing another, was facing bankruptcy, and had had a recent run-in with law enforcement.  Both Holmes and Abdulazeez were increasingly unstable and had a history of substance abuse that they were unable to break, despite help from family and doctors. Both were undoubtedly depressed.  Even if the government could find such individuals before they lash out, what role has it imagined for counseling in any intervention process? 
  4. Will the CVE program take on America's gun lobby?  This is, of course, the elephant in the room. Any strategy that ignores the ready availability of guns, legal and otherwise, in this country and the striking absence of gun control laws is whistling in a hurricane. While deterring individuals from violence may be an essential focus for any new program, overlooking the striking lethality of what they kill with and the ready availability of weapons like assault rifles honed to mass slaughter is a strange way to go. Chillingly enough, recent shooters have tended to collect whole arsenals of weaponry. Once a top student with a 3.9 grade point average in college, the increasingly disturbed James Holmes managed to purchase two Glock 22s, one semi-automatic rifle, and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, all of it legally. The Chattanooga shooter possessed four guns, three of which - a handgun and two rifles - were on him at the time of the shooting. If gun control protections had been in place in the United States, it's possible that neither of these young men would have been able to carry out a mass killing, whatever their mental states and desires. 
  5. Will the CVE program have any regard for the bright line between law enforcement and civil society? The record of the national security state since 9/11 on this subject remains dismal indeed.  Can the government's CVE strategy, seeking public-private partnerships between law enforcement and local communities, refrain from again crossing so many lines?  In reality, such a strategy of intervention would undoubtedly best be served by an independent effort on the part of organizations in civil society.  Perhaps rather than creating yet another new security outfit, new civilian organizations are what's really needed. What about a new version of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America geared to the age of terror? What about a teen-oriented version of the Head Start program that gave children the resources they needed to be more productive at school and helped redirect them when they failed? What about more support for programs that oppose bullying? What about a resource center for parents confused about what is expected of their children in today's world?

To be fair, there are some small signs of a desire for change in the law enforcement community. In recent cases involving teenagers attracted to ISIS, the FBI has shown a less punitive approach, indicating a desire not to arrest them or at worst to charge them in ways that would avoid the outrageously long sentences that have become the new norm of the post-9/11 years. The courts, too, may be starting to show signs of a new sense of restraint. In Minneapolis, for instance, a federal judge is putting teens charged with terrorism crimes in halfway houses or letting them out on bail, highly unusual for such cases.

It's easy enough to blame Islamic fundamentalism for luring lost American children into violent networks of jihadism by offering meaning in lives that feel meaningless and individualized attention (on the Internet) for young people who feel ignored and invisible. It's harder to face the fact that the country is faltering when it comes to providing constructive remedies across racial and religious lines for those who retreat into violence in reaction to hopelessness and isolation.

In reality, it probably matters little how the government tries to create predictive metrics for individuals who might someday turn to mass violence, or what groups it targets, or how it deploys law enforcement to "solve" this problem. Too many youths experience periods of doubt, depression, anxiety, anger, and instability to predict which few will turn to acts of violence. What's needed instead is a less law-enforcement-oriented style of thinking and the funding of a far less punitive style of interventionism that would actually provide young people at risk with support services, constructive outlets, and reasons to feel that a rewarding life might someday be theirs. Isn't it time, in other words, to put as many resources and as much innovative thinking into our children as into our wars?

Opinion Mon, 03 Aug 2015 10:23:06 -0400
Bullhorn Politics ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Workplace Diversity Still Lacking in Most US Newsrooms

United Nations - Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

Another new census, by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), found just 12.76 percent minority journalists at US daily newspapers in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the US has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the US population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low - between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and ASNE.

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

"Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society," Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors' Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, "The consequence [of ethnic minority groups' under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are."

ASNE President Chris Peck added: "If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced."

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

"Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It's a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections - schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It's something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve," Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College's Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 - a number that is "not high" but "still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.".

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers' financial constraints. Peck told IPS: "There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic."

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in the 2013 article in The Atlantic.

"One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they're the least senior employees."

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of "home-grown talent": "Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It's a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off."

"Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it," he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: "AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation."

"2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA's history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES."

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the US and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

"When it comes to women's portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse," Pamela Mornière told IPS.

"Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world's population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public's perception of women's place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that."

Edited by Kitty Stapp.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
After Threatening to Strike, Airport Workers Win Agreement, Will Push for $15

Laguardia Airport. (Photo via Shutterstock)LaGuardia Airport. (Photo: rthoma /

Twelve hundred workers at New York's John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports may soon be negotiating a union contract after pressuring management with the threat of a strike. On July 22, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that the workers' employer, Aviation Safeguards, has agreed to remain neutral as they seek to join the SEIU through a "card check" recognition process.

The day before the agreement, employees had vowed to walk off the job and potentially strike. The subcontracted baggage handlers, security guards and wheelchair attendants have been fighting for higher wages and better working conditions for years. In February, a number of Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers went on strike at JFK, despite a threat of termination. Rahim Akhbarally, who has worked for 21 years at the company, told CNN, "We fight, we win. If we don't fight, we're not going to win."

"The agreement with Aviation Safeguards last week shows the power that airport workers have when they come together and fight for good jobs," 32BJ President Hector Figueroa told In These Times. "This agreement brings the number of subcontracted airport workers who have won, or are on a path to win, 32BJ recognition to almost 7,000 in the New York City area - a majority of subcontracted workers at the airports. … The fight isn't over, but this victory shows worker solidarity is still a force for change in this country. Airport workers across the country are fighting for better wages and we have seen them win significant wage increases, including a raise up to $12 an hour in Philadelphia and soon an increase to $11 an hour in Boston. And the fight continues for good jobs and respect for all workers at airports across the US."

Figueroa is referring to a massive nationwide campaign to organize subcontracted airport employees, who have won a number of workplace victories against what they often allege are horrible working conditions. In addition to the examples of Philadelphia and Boston that Figueroa mentioned, airport workers in cities like Minneapolis and Los Angeles have seen wins.

In a June In These Times story about Logan Airport workers striking in Boston, Eugenio H. Villasante, Regional Communications Manager for New England's 32BJ SEIU, also pointed out that the struggle is a nationwide one.

"This is very much same fight throughout the country," he said. "These are workers helping people getting people from point A to point B. … Our country depends on them."

According to the union, negotiations for a union contract are expected to begin this fall (assuming a majority of workers choose to join the union). Workers will be seeking a wage of at least $15 an hour and affordable health care.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 10:27:33 -0400
Bernie Sanders, Open Borders and a Serious Route to Global Equality

1 July, 2015:Bernie speaks at a rally for his presidential campaign in Madison, WI. (Photo: Jen Wegmann-Gabb)Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally for his presidential campaign in Madison, Wisconsin, July 1, 2015. (Photo: Jen Wegmann-Gabb)

Some progressives expressed dismay last week to discover that Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, doesn't favor a policy of open immigration. While such a policy would undoubtedly allow billions of people in the developing world to improve their lives, there are not many people in the United States who relish the idea of the country's population tripling or quadrupling over the next three or four decades.

It is hard to justify people in the United States living so much better and longer lives than people in places like Bangladesh or Burundi, just like it's hard to justify the children of the rich and privileged in the United States living so much better and longer lives than their poorer counterparts, but there is not a plausible story where this inequality will be addressed by mass immigration. There are, however, more serious ways to think about addressing global inequality.

One of the main reasons that workers in the United States get much higher wages than workers in the developing world is that they have more capital to work with. They also are much better educated on average. The same policy can help to address both gaps. Specifically, we can make our "intellectual property" freely available to the rest of the world at the cost of transferring it, which will generally be close to zero.

We can accomplish this by exempting the developing world exempted from intellectual property (IP) claims in the form of patent and copyright protection. This would mean that poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be able to get drugs for what it costs to manufacture them. There would no longer be any issues with drugs costing tens of thousands of dollars a year. Nearly all of them would sell for just a few dollars per prescription. The same would apply to chemicals used in agriculture, also to newly designed crops that use land or water more efficiently. The operating systems and software on computers and cell phones would also be available at no cost, as would be various programs applications in research and business.

To get an idea of how significant this would be, the Commerce Department estimated the value of the stock of the intellectual property held by the private sector at $2.4 trillion at the end of 2013, roughly 12 percent of the total capital stock. It is also the fastest growing portion of the capital stock. In real terms the value of intellectual property products increased 40 percent more rapidly than the total capital stock over the last two decades.

While not all of the what is counted as intellectual property can be easily transferred, since it depends on trained personnel who may not be available in some developing countries, there is also much intellectual property embedded in the value of physical capital. If developing countries could produce equipment without having to pay licensing fees for using various types of processes, it would substantially reduce the cost of building up their own capital stocks.

The education aspect of this story would also benefit from ending IP claims in the developing world. If schools and training facilities in the developing world all could gain access to books, computer software, online lectures and other educational material at zero cost, it would substantially reduce the cost of education. In short, a substantial portion of the benefits of the wealth can be transferred to the developing world simply by changing IP rules.

Of course if current IP laws are not enforced in the developing world, it may be difficult to enforce them in the US also. If drugs costing $100,000 a year in the US can be purchased in Africa or India for a few hundred dollars, it will be difficult to sustain the US price. This would mean a need for different mechanisms to finance research.

Fortunately Senator Sanders has already been thinking along these lines. Back in 2011 he proposed two bills that would replace patent monopolies with more modern mechanisms for financing drug research. His specific proposals may not be the best financing method, but they are at least a serious effort to move away from the anachronistic patent system.

Unfortunately, US trade policy has been moving in the opposite direction. In 1993, the Clinton administration put the TRIPS provisions into the Uruguay Round at the last minute. These provisions essentially required developing countries to adopt US style patent law if they wanted to be part of the WTO Since this was very late in the negotiating process and countries did not want to be excluded from the world trading system, developing countries had to accept TRIPS before they even had time to analyze its implications.

Subsequent US trade pacts have consistently sought to make patents and other protections longer and stronger. One of the major sticking points in finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the strong patent protection the United States is demanding for prescription drugs.

This is another area where there may be major differences between the candidates. Regardless of which president gets elected in 2016, we are not going to see any movement towards open borders. However, there is at least one candidate who may support policies that will make it easier for people in developing countries to benefit from the knowledge the world has accumulated over many thousands of years. This can make a huge difference in their lives.

Opinion Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Post-Migration Trauma and Evaluating Children in Texas Immigration Facilities

Luis Zayas, PhD, is the Dean and Robert Lee Sutherland Chair in Mental Health and Social Policy, at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work. He is also a member of Migrant Clinicians Network’s External Advisory Board. For about a year, Luis has been regularly visiting the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s South Texas Residential Center in Dilley and Karnes County Residential Center, two Texas facilities housing many of the women and children who came to the US during the US-Mexico “border surge” last year. (You can read more about MCN’s coverage and position on last year’s influx of immigrants seeking refuge in the US here.) The two facilities have been at the center of heated debate on the federal handling of the influx of immigrants; many human rights groups and others have called for their closure. As a national expert on the mental health of children and adolescents during deportation, Luis has been evaluating children primarily on behalf of the pro-bono attorneys at Karnes and Dilley who are presenting asylum claims on behalf of individual residents.

Lately, Luis has been even busier than usual: he’s been in the news, like the Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and elsewhere; he met with House Democrats when they recently toured the two facilities; and he continues to evaluate facility residents. We spoke with Luis the day after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s startling turnaround in policy regarding the length of detention for Karnes and Dilley residents. This was just a few days after the visit from the Congressional delegation was followed by a resident’s suicide attempt. In late June, he took some time out of his schedule to help us better understand the lives of the women and children, and what we as clinicians need to know.

How did you first encounter migrant health issues, and how did you come to work with immigrant children in the Karnes and Dilley facilities?

I came to the issue of immigration about ten years ago, pretty much as just a sedentary reader of the newspaper. But I became a very active participant when I got called in to evaluate a little girl whose father was challenging his order to be removed from the country. I evaluated her, we were able to get the cancellation of removal, and I realized that there was a whole lot there that was missing -- [like health] information about citizen children in these situations.  The more I dug into the literature and science to see what we knew about these kids, we realized that we didn’t know much about what happened to them upon deportation.  We have an idea of what living in the shadows of undocumented immigration does to kids, and to parents, and the fears and so on, but once their parents entered the detention system, there was really nothing. I decided to continue to work on cases like this, most of it in St. Louis. Then, I wrote a grant and studied what happens to these kids and was able to get that funded.

Then, last summer, with the surge at the border, I was asked to come in and evaluate children, but this was a unique thing. These weren’t US citizen children whose parents were being deported; these were immigrant kids, who came with loads of trauma from their countries of origin, whether it was domestic violence, community violence that they saw on the streets or were a victim of -- I’m talking about gangs, parents being extorted for money, and the complicity [or] inaction of the police…. This was a whole new thing [for me]: the pre-migration trauma. Then there’s the peri-migration trauma -- the process of crossing 1,800 miles from Honduras, a little less from the bordering countries…. and the kind of things these children saw, and witnessed, and were subjected to, and their mothers subjected to.

And then they arrive at our country [to seek asylum, hoping] that they will be greeted and brought into safety, and instead they’re put into hieleras -- the ice boxes -- and then put into detention, for 10 or 11 months now in some cases. 

What work have you been doing in the facilities?

I’ve been evaluating children primarily on behalf of the pro-bono attorneys who are down at Karnes and Dilley who are doing the asylum claims… by showing the situations that the children are in. It’s an interesting thing, because I have to focus on what’s happening to them as a result of being in detention -- we have to set aside all the other trauma, because the issue is, how is detention harming these kids?  I get a rough idea of what had happened back home, but the issue is, how has it been since you’ve arrived here? What are people doing to you? What are you doing? What are you thinking? Are you dreaming? Having nightmares? Eating, sleeping…?It’s a very narrow band of attention. But when a child is there three months, six months, nine months, there’s plenty for them to tell you.

What is the goal of your work at Dilley and Karnes?

At the case level, it’s really to help the families get bonds and get released to their families here in the US. Just about 99% of these families, these women and children, have family here in the US that they’re going to see. I’ve already interviewed kids on their way to Florida, Virginia, Michigan, California, and many are coming to places like Houston, within Texas….  At the overall level, it’s using all those cases, consolidate them and show the government the damage that’s being done to these children and their mothers, and therefore to end family detention. 

Today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement saying he’s changing some of the approaches in these immigration centers, including shortening immigrants’ stays. What’s your reaction?

These children, in my mind and with my experience with them, should spend no more than 14 days in a detention facility. None of these mothers, by the way, say to me, ‘We expected to waltz into the country and continue on.’ They knew they were going to be detained, but they didn’t expect it to be this long. The children that I’ve seen -- they could understand two weeks of detention, where they are processed, where health examinations are done, maybe [given] immunizations and vaccinations…. That would not be harmful. They would understand it, especially if these detention centers are set up to be what they should be -- which is resettlement centers, a stopping-off point to get them to their destinations, rather than a place where they stay and languish for so long without any idea of whether and when they’ll be let go, and whether they’ll be sent to their home country or whether they’re going to get to stay with their family [in the US].

It’s nice that Secretary Johnson is pulling back, but it’s really not enough. He needs to go farther. He’s been running an experiment for over a year. The long-term damage on the mothers and the children is extraordinary. We haven’t seen anything like this since the Japanese internment camps in World War II. 

How quickly do you think changes will come?

I don’t anticipate changes quickly. He’s setting up a federal advisory committee. He did say he wants [stays] shortened, but he didn’t say how long. That’s my primary concern as a clinician -- the lawyers have other concerns about the three or four steps that [Johnson] has taken, but basically he is shifting his stance from last year, but not enough to satisfy most of us. He doesn’t explain what shorter stays are -- that’s insufficient. He’s not basing anything on evidence or empirical science about the damage done to kids. It’s certainly not enough. We need to end family detention, period.

Can you tell us about some of the cases that you have seen?

[I evaluated] a teenage girl from El Salvador, [who told] me how the Mara followed her home from school, with cat-calls and things… Finally, they jumped her, tore off her clothes. She denied being raped, but from everything she told me, she was sexually assaulted…. She’s now in a real depression here.

[I saw] a teenage boy who was told [by gang members], ‘If you don’t join us, you’re going to be killed.’ He’s now suicidal in the detention center.

I met a little girl last Saturday, an eight-year-old girl, who has reverted to breast feeding. She’s not really feeding because her mother is not lactating, but she’s sucking on her mother’s breasts. 

[I also met] an 11-year-old boy who was the son of one of the hunger strikers at Karnes who was perceived to be one of the leaders. They held [them] in isolation, and she was very paranoid. She came into the office, a little cubicle, and she was looking for bugging devices under the table, because… she thought they were bugging my interview with the kids... This boy, after being held in isolation with his mother for 24 hours, he started bedwetting. I asked his mother, ‘Had he been bedwetting before?’ She said no. This kid had endured that trek through Mexico… and was managing, if you will, but when he was held in isolation in a cold room with lights on and a camera on them -- he started bedwetting … We’ve seen countless things like that.

How often are you visiting the centers?

I had been going between August and February or March, once a month, every two months, whenever I got called in by lawyers. Now, I’m going more frequently. I saw a 13-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl on Saturday, and I’m going there this Friday to interview the mother who attempted suicide by slitting her wrists.

Can you tell us more about this busy week you’ve had?

I was at Dilley on Saturday. On Sunday, I drove to San Antonio and stayed overnight. On Monday afternoon, a group of eight congress people visited Karnes, and among the women they spoke to was the one who attempted suicide [the next day]. 

On Monday night, they did a press conference, and then a group of four of us conducted a private briefing for the delegation. Yesterday morning, they were at Dilley. The mothers demonstrated in front of the members of Congress... While they were there, the mother they saw before was slitting her wrists. She has a four-year-old daughter. I’m seeing her on Friday [along with] another child who I’m told is depressed. So it’s getting more frequent and I may have to slow it down, because I’m getting tired, and I’ve got a school to run.

How have volunteers like lawyers and clinicians helped those held in the centers?

We should be proud of this: the number of lawyers who are doing pro-bono work has been remarkable. [There are] solo practitioners, who are immigration lawyers, [and] group practitioners -- but there are even corporate law firms, who are releasing their attorneys to do pro-bono work, or the attorneys have been finding time to do pro-bono work. It’s been outstanding… These attorneys are pushing back. 

Alongside of that, there have been lawsuits -- the two main ones being the ACLU lawsuit with the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic, called RILR, and another class-action which was...based on the Flores settlement from the mid-1990s… which said that children should not be held in detention in secured facilities licensed by the state.  

Communities around our country have stepped up to try to provide clothing; when the first cold wave swept through Texas, these kids were not prepared… ICE got the kids coats and things -- but many others had donated as well... It’s quite remarkable how our people have mobilized. 

How does it work when a family is released on bond? Do they receive support services?

If it wasn’t for the volunteers, these families would be sent to Missouri, or wherever they’re going, and that’s it. At least the volunteers are helping as much as they can. We do really need a lot more case management at the point when we know they’re going to be released, so the case managers can be in contact with the hospitals, the clinics, the day care centers, the schools, the churches in the community as well as the family they’re going to be with.

We need a lot of that -- but it has to start at the detention level, to be able to give them all the contact numbers, to make the warm handoff into their community. [Case management comes] usually as a result of the attorney who is getting them out -- the attorney then makes the connection to the volunteer who can help, but, I must admit, it’s not a lot...

We all know the lives of migrant families and these [women and children] are different insofar as their migration included these lengthy detentions. It’s not that they were farmworkers -- they just came into this country and were detained immediately.

Our posts are aimed toward clinicians working with mobile populations, perhaps even some people who have recently spent time at Dilley or Karnes. What do clinicians need to know about what you’re seeing at Dilley and Karnes?

We know that detention is unnatural. What we’re doing is we’re devastating the kids’ lives, and their mothers. There is deprivation of freedom; these kids are not experiencing a normal childhood. They can’t get on a bike and go to the corner store and get something and hang out with the kids. They’re constantly being watched. There are guards who are not very friendly. We’re learning more about the neurobiology of stress and trauma -- and how it affects people lifelong. We’ve got to be prepared to work with these kids now, while they’re inside -- but also as soon as they come out. 

We’ve got three levels of trauma, as I said: there’s pre-migration, peri-migration, and then there’s post-migration -- the detention.  We’re going to have to work as clinicians at those three levels. And I think we may have to work backwards, because I think the most recent trauma will be what they experienced [in the immigration centers]. We need to be aware of that.

In those conditions -- sure, they have showers, clothes, and beds -- but there was a constant vigilance that these kids had to maintain, and the stress levels were high. So we’ve got to really be prepared. I think what we need to do is get them connected with services at their destination points as soon as possible, into schools, lots of support services -- mental health services, health services -- and as clinicians, that’s what we’ve got to be thinking about.

News Sun, 02 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Rural Challenges, Real Solutions

The ongoing paucity of public and private investment in the rural South has caused outsized harm to African-American women and girls. In a study published this week titled "Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Families in the Rural South," the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative (SRBWI) found "on nearly every social indicator of well-being - from income and earnings to obesity and food security - Black women, girls and children in the rural South rank low or last." According to the survey, the unemployment rate for African-American women is four times that of white women in the same counties, and the poverty rate for African Americans and Latinos is more than double that of whites.

SRBWI was formed by nonprofit leaders from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to pursue solutions to poverty and injustice in some of America's poorest counties. One of its founders says the Initiative helps women leverage their existing skills and resources. "We work with farmers and try to get women to produce food that's marketed to the school system and to farmers markets and other outlets in the area," said Shirley Sherrod, who is also Executive Director of the Southwest Georgia Project. "Many of them are widows who own land and need to derive an income from that land. ... We looked at the fact that women worked in factories – factories that closed – and those skills were still out there, and that's what gave us the idea of starting a worker-owned sewing coop. ... We have a community foods project that's in 22 counties. We've done lots of work on nutrition and gardens."

Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama Executive Director Sophia Bracy Harris, who also helped launch SRBWI, says it's it's about much more than marketable skills. "It's leadership development of the young women so that we're able to move these women to a place of self-sufficiency around their choice of careers, but with an understanding of the history of the region, understanding of the larger picture of what they're working against so they have the tools to be able to address those issues as well," Harris said.

SRBWI is one of many organizations devising innovative ways to achieve success in the uniquely challenging environment of the rural South. One of the biggest hurdles is simply connecting people to each other. Establishing and maintaining networks of resources are two of the ways the West Virginia Community Development Hub fosters community development efforts. "One of the big challenges you face in a rural state is just that people who are really active in their communities, they're so busy being active, they don't have any idea what's going on five counties away from them," said Director of Community Engagement and Policy Stephanie Tyree. "A lot of what we do is create those connections, share information and let people know, 'Okay, you want to start a bikeability program? You want to create bike lanes in your town? Well, here's a town that is a similar size to you that is also working on creating bike lanes, so you guys should talk and figure out how to do it together.'"

Tyree says another part of that strategy is collaboration on seemingly disparate issues. "There's a statewide campaign that is being organized that is really looking at, how does poverty and the safety and quality of life of children serve as a thread that runs through everything?" she said. "The Hub is a major partner in that campaign, even though we don't really work on children's health issues normally, but we think that you can't have community development if you can't have a place where children can't grow up happy, healthy and safe, and you can't have community development if you're not addressing poverty. ... We end up working in a lot of different areas that you wouldn't necessarily think fit together, but they fit into a larger vision of building a prosperous state, creating a transition and working for social justice."

Organizations have found coalition building to be an effective path to success all over the rural South. Harris says FOCAL began with three core focus areas – advocacy, training and technical assistance – but found that it needed to broaden its base to achieve its goals. "The organization evolved and became aware even in trying to carry out those things, that we could not do that in isolation, that we needed to broaden our base to address other issues. We went from there then to build an alliance for childcare, reaching again across lines of whites and African Americans to try to work collectively together."

In Arkansas last year, two strong nonprofit organizations – one focused on entrepreneurship and one on clean water infrastructure – merged to form a new entity with vast economic development expertise and a broad reach into remote areas. "It's pretty amazing what we can do together," said Communities Unlimited CEO Ines Polonius. "Our hope is that as we continue the community's work, but look at it more comprehensively, we can bring in other partners who can help us address health issues, who can help us address education issues. We don't have to be the expert in all these fields, but what we've built is an infrastructure that allowed us to deliver our services so that we can move a whole community that has been in persistent poverty onto a trajectory toward prosperity."

The most important key to success in the rural South is patience, says former Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund Executive Director Ralph Paige. "The thing that's most challenging is people to see that it doesn't happen overnight," said Paige. "Change comes in increments, and people grow. Farmers grow to be better farmers. Farm leaders grow to become community leaders. They grow and become board members of the church. They become members of the city council. ... You can build a building; a tornado can blow it down. You can build a person and he keeps growing, his children, his community – and I've seen that happen."

News Sun, 02 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400