Truthout Stories Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:09:24 -0400 en-gb "Nuisance" Evictions Target Domestic Violence Survivors

To an outsider looking in, Alice and James would have seemed like a typical Manhattan couple, both professionals and parents of one college-aged son. They had lived in their rent-regulated apartment for 25 years and, while James' name was the only one on the lease, it had never occurred to Alice to ask the landlord to add her name to the contract. That is, until James' drug addiction ramped up and things - jewelry, cash and bric-a-brac - started to vanish from the unit.

Alice eventually confronted James and according to her lawyer, William Gribben, his response was to slam her into a wall and threaten to push her out a window and kill her. "She escaped," Gribben told Truthout, and went to a friend's house. Then, a day or two later, Alice went to family court to request an order excluding James from the apartment so that she could return home. The judge refused, saying that because James was the only tenant of record, he could not help her.

Shortly thereafter, an already distraught Alice got a frantic phone call from a neighbor, informing her that all of her possessions had been dumped on the street. "Alice's husband had signed a surrender agreement, giving up the apartment," Gribben says, "and the landlord had obtained an order of eviction. This all happened in a matter of weeks."

Gribben filed a lawsuit to reinstate Alice, and won, allowing her to move back into the apartment, but the case highlights a common problem for victims of domestic abuse. In much of the country, survivors - 85 percent to 90 percent of whom are women - are re-victimized by housing policies that disproportionately impact low-and-moderate income tenants in both privately owned and government-subsidized rentals.

Local Ordinances Blame the Victims of Domestic Abuse

In more than 25 states the threatened eviction is sanctioned by local laws – interchangeably called crime free ordinances, disorderly behavior ordinances and nuisance ordinances – that allow a tenant to be evicted if he or she is involved in criminal activity, causes property damage, disrupts the peace and tranquility of other residents, or is deemed a nuisance by a landlord or local law enforcement personnel. 

Unfortunately, these laws often punish the most marginalized people, especially when domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault are factors.

Take the following examples. In Detroit, Michigan, an abuser broke into the apartment of his ex-wife, smashed windows, and was arrested for home invasion. Nonetheless, the female tenant faced eviction. In Berlin, New Hampshire, a landlord refused to renew a woman's lease after police were called in response to a domestic violence complaint. Similarly, in Glen Bernie, Maryland, a property manager served a 30-day notice to vacate on a family within days of the prime tenant's release from the hospital. She had been repeatedly stabbed by her boyfriend and was still recovering. All three had been labeled "nuisances" by property owners and police.   

One of the most well-known cases, however, is that of Lakisha Briggs. Briggs, a nursing assistant, was living with her then-three-year-old daughter in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb, when she was told to leave her apartment in 2012. Briggs had called the police five times between January and May and had been warned by the building management that if she made one more call for help, she would be evicted. Not surprisingly, when her ex showed up in June 2012 and used a broken ashtray to slash her in the head and neck, she did not reach for the phone. But a concerned neighbor did, and even though Briggs suffered injuries so severe that she had to be airlifted to a hospital, the incident triggered a Norristown ordinance that stipulated that three calls to police in four months constituted a "nuisance." Court documents reveal that city officials had pressured her landlord to initiate eviction proceedings against her; he complied since failure to do so would have compromised his livelihood. []

The racial, class and gender bias prompting passage of nuisance bills is often blatant.

Briggs sued to stop the threatened displacement from her Section Eight subsidized apartment. She was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, [] whose lawyers successfully argued that the Norristown Nuisance Ordinance violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which bars gender-based discrimination in all public and privately-owned dwellings. Her lawyers also pointed to the Violence Against Women Act, which protects domestic violence survivors in federally subsidized housing from bias and mandates that consistent housing policies be in place so that victims of domestic violence can remain safe. They also noted that the policy violates the First Amendment right to free speech. Two years later, in 2014, Briggs received a settlement totaling $495,000 and the Norristown Ordinance was upended, affirming that "it is unlawful to evict an individual because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status." []

Ordinances Are Billed as a Way to Fight Crime

Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, [] reports that despite the Briggs decision, so-called nuisance ordinances remain popular in every region of the country. "They've been promoted as a tool to root out crime since the early 1990s," she begins, "and are heavily marketed at law enforcement conferences. The idea is that if a locale does not have this type of ordinance, all the 'problem people' will move into their town and overburden already overworked and underfunded police forces and social service entities." While an exact count has never been done, the Shriver Center estimates that ordinances have been promulgated in more than 2000 cities and towns in 44 states, many of them newly inhabited by poor and working-class people of color.

In fact, the racial, class and gender bias prompting passage of nuisance bills is often blatant, Walz continues. "In one town in Illinois, an official actually said that 'not all renters are criminals but all criminals are renters' and an ad promoting Ordinances showed a Chicago public housing project being torn down, the implication being that tenants from these buildings  - poor, mostly African American women - are headed your way. These bills respond to these fears and while ordinances did not set out to harm victims of domestic violence, they do nothing to deter the harm they cause."

She adds that the situation is exacerbated by policies that tell owners that if they do not evict a "nuisance occupant" their right to rent or manage a property will be curtailed; This means that even when a landlord wants to do right by a tenant, he or she is hampered from doing so.

Even more troubling, Walz says, is the fact that "in many jurisdictions you need a permit to be a renter, so if you were previously evicted as a nuisance, it's on your record." This leaves many tenants in the lurch, since it makes it difficult for those with "bad rental histories" to find a suitable domicile and increases the likelihood that they'll agree to an out-of-court settlement - typically giving up their homes by a specific date - rather than going to court and risking being blackballed. The lucky few who are able to hire a lawyer or secure free legal representation, like Alice and Briggs, are exceptions to this troubling rule. 

In one town in Illinois, an official actually said that 'not all renters are criminals but all criminals are renters.'

The actual eviction of domestic violence survivors is not the only unintended consequence of nuisance ordinances. Activists are quick to point out that these policies often unwittingly benefit assailants. Sandra Park, Senior Attorney at the ACLU Women's Rights Project, calls ordinances "a legal weapon" for the abuser. "He knows that she can't call the police without losing her home, so he targets her and escalates the abuse, armed with the nuisance law as a tool."

Park's exasperation is audible as she continues. "One of the biggest issues survivors face is assessing the safest thing for them to do. Sometimes reaching out to the police or taking legal action against an abuser makes things worse but the decision about what to do should always be made by the survivor," she says. In addition, while Park acknowledges that many communities – especially those of color – are leery of calling the police, she nonetheless contends that nuisance ordinances "blame the victim instead of addressing the cause of the problem: domestic violence." She further argues that it should be up to the woman to decide whether to call 911, go to a shelter, or seek legal assistance or counseling - and she should never, ever, have to weigh the possibility of becoming homeless against remaining safe.   

Adding to the issues' complexity, Park says, is the fact that in many low-income communities, especially those of color, police protection is not seen as a right. "Domestic violence victims already face biases from law enforcement staff who are dismissive toward claims of abuse," she says. "In many cases this is additionally compounded by racism and discrimination based on class and gender."  In fact, in many communities of color, police are often rightly viewed primarily as sources of violence, rather than as those who protect the community from it.

It would be easy to despair, but Park and other activists emphasize that some headway has already been made in protecting abused tenants. Not only has the Norristown Ordinance been nullified, but more than 20 states have instituted some protections for victims. As of January 1, 2016, California will allow victims to terminate their leases after giving their landlord two-weeks' notice, down from 30 days.

Many other cities and towns throughout the country are issuing regulations to ensure that a prior history of domestic violence will not be used against a prospective tenant; a handful stipulate that calls to 911 cannot be construed as an "eviction-worthy" nuisance when prompted by domestic abuse; numerous states mandate that a landlord must change the locks on an apartment if requested to do so by a terrified tenant; and a fair number allow a landlord to bifurcate a lease, evicting only the abuser, but not other household members from the unit, after a domestic violence conviction.

"Domestic violence is messy," concludes the Shriver Center's Kate Walz. "But nuisance ordinances undercut all the hard work that has been done over the past three decades to protect victims. They discourage victims from seeking help and need to be opposed."

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
In Photos: New Orleans Remembers and Resists

New Orleans observed the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that blurred the lines between art and politics, truth and contradiction, and life and death. Activists on the ground organized around a theme of resistance.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

All photos: Laura Borealis

New Orleans observed the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that blurred the lines between art and politics, truth and contradiction, and life and death. While elected officials and the mainstream media focused heavily on the city's "resilience," activists on the ground were organizing around a different theme: resistance. In the lead up to the anniversary, racial justice groups held a summit and launched a website,, to remind the powers that be in Louisiana - and the rest of the country - that the city's recovery efforts have mostly benefited white residents and prioritized private profit over people. Then came the second line parades. This is what resistance looks like in New Orleans.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

A girl prepares to perform with Black feminist artists in front of the levee wall in the Lower Ninth Ward during the memorial second line on August 29. The second line began where the levee wall failed during Katrina, releasing a torrent of water that left the historically Black neighborhood in ruins.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

Performers with ECOHYBRIDITY, a collaboration of Black feminist artists who held a roaming "visual black opera" on the Katrina anniversary, perform at the levee wall during the second line. Many people who lived in the Lower Ninth War before Katrina have still not returned to their homes.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

ECOHYBRIDITY constructed a mock house as a float that reads, "Housing is a human right." Before Katrina, there were 12,270 public housing units available in New Orleans, and now there are only 2,006. More than 90 percent of the nearly 15,000 families currently on waiting lists for either public housing or Section 8 assistance are Black families, according to

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

Youth march in the second line parade. At least 50 percent of Black children in New Orleans live in poverty, more than before Katrina.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

The Warriors, a youth dance crew and color guard, march in the second line parade. Many New Orleans schools were privatized after Katrina, and now 92 percent of students attend private charter schools. Advocates say harsh discipline polices at charter schools deny students equal access to education, and 15 charter schools in New Orleans have higher suspension rates the rest of the nation. In 2013, there were 46,625 out-of-school suspensions, more than the total number of students in the local school system.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

The Katrina memorial second line was more political than most second lines, as activists from New Orleans and across the country joined the parade.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

Alicia Garza, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, speaks at a racial justice summit held in New Orleans shortly before the Katrina anniversary.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

ECOHYBRIDITY performers march into position as prison resistance video is projected across the walls of the Orleans Parish Prison, the jail in New Orleans that became infamous for human rights abuses after Katrina. Jail officials have been tussling with the local government and the Justice Department over reforms ever since. There are five times as many Black inmates than white inmates in Louisiana prisons. The state's white population is double that of the Black population. "I hope they can hear us," an organizer said before raising a fist toward the jail.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Syrian Colonel Faces Charges in Maher Arar Torture Case

In a move to hold government officials accountable for torture, Canada has charged Syrian Colonel George Salloum with allegedly torturing Canadian engineer Maher Arar. In 2002, Arar was kidnapped by US authorities during a layover at JFK Airport and then sent to his native Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a tiny underground cell. He was held for nearly a year. This is the first-ever criminal charge of torture brought by Canada against a foreign government official for acts committed abroad. Canada's decision to pursue torture charges in Arar's case may open the door to further such prosecutions, including of US government officials. In 2007, Arar received a $10 million settlement from the Canadian government. The United States has yet to apologize to him. We speak with Maher Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Protests Grow over Clerk's Denial of Same-Sex Marriages

In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge today to make her case for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis' appeal that the court grant her "asylum for her conscience." The next day, same-sex couples went to Davis' office. In a video that went viral, David Moore confronted Davis about her decision not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. We speak with Moore about how he and his partner, David Ermold, have been denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. We're also joined by Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's statewide LGBT advocacy group, and Joe Dunman, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge in just a few hours to make her case for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis's appeal that the court grant her asylum for her conscience. The next day, same-sex couples confronted Davis at her office. David Moore asked her why she wasn't issuing licenses.

DAVID MOORE: The injunction is the order that you're supposed to issue marriage licenses.

KIM DAVIS: And we're not issuing marriage licenses today.

DAVID MOORE: The Supreme Court denied your stay.

KIM DAVIS: We are not issuing marriage licenses today. So I would -

DAVID MOORE: Based on what?

KIM DAVIS: I would ask you all to go ahead and leave.

DAVID MOORE: Why are you not issuing marriage licenses today?

KIM DAVIS: Because I'm not.

DAVID ERMOLD: Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?

DAVID MOORE: Why? Whose authority?

KIM DAVIS: Under God's authority.

DAVID ERMOLD: I don't believe in your god.

DAVID MOORE: Did God tell you to do this? Did God tell you treat us like this?

DAVID ERMOLD: I don't believe in your god. I don't believe in your god.

KIM DAVIS: I've asked you all the leave. You are interrupting my business.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police if you want us to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED: It's not your business; it's the public's.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police. I pay your salary.

KIM DAVIS: That's exactly right. The public can't get in here.

DAVID MOORE: I pay your salary! I pay you to discriminate against me right now. That's what I'm paying for. That's what I'm paying for. I'm paying for this memory with my partner that I love that I've been with for 17 years. What's the longest you've been with someone, that you've been married to someone?

KIM DAVIS: I'm asking you to leave.

DAVID MOORE: I'm not leaving.

DAVID ERMOLD: We're not leaving until we have a license.

KIM DAVIS: Then you're going to have a long day. Good day.

DAVID MOORE: Well, then, call the police. When they come, I'll ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!

DAVID MOORE: Call the police! Call the police! I will have - I will ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!


DAVID MOORE: You should be ashamed of yourself! Everyone in this office should be ashamed of themselves. Is this what you want to remember? Is this what you want to remember, that you stood up for this? That your children have to look at you and realize that you're bigots and you discriminated against people? Is that what you want? Is that what you want?

DEPUTY CLERK: I answer to God, and God's word is my calling.

DAVID ERMOLD: God does not belong in the County Clerk's Office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That's David Moore arguing with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. In a filing Wednesday, attorneys for Kim Davis argued a court order requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, quote, "irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience." Meanwhile, the Republican president of the Kentucky state Senate has come to Kim Davis's defense, asking a federal judge to withhold his order for her to issue same-sex marriage licenses so that the state Legislature can pass a law exempting her from having to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, national attention is focused on Kim Davis's own marital history. She has been married four times, including twice to her current husband. She says she had a religious awakening about four years ago when her mother-in-law asked, as a dying wish, for Davis to go to church. In a statement, Davis said, quote, "There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. ... I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God," she wrote.

Well, to talk more about Kim Davis, we're joined by three guests. David Moore is a graphic designer from Morehead, Kentucky. He and his partner, David Ermold, were denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. His voice is the one you just heard on that video we just played arguing with Kim Davis. That video has gone viral - more than 1.8 million hits. Chris Hartman is also with us. He's the director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's statewide LGBT advocacy group, based in Louisville. They're both joining us from Lexington, Kentucky. But we are also going to Louisville to speak with attorney Joe Dunman, who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several in Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.

David, let's begin with you in Lexington. Describe that interaction that you had with the county clerk, Kim Davis. Where were you? What were you asking for? And what did she say to you?

DAVID MOORE: I was in the County Clerk's Office in Morehead. We went in. Press was everywhere. We actually saw the couple that went in before us, who are a part of the ACLU case. They came out. We saw that they were denied. At first we thought they got it, but then they turned around and said that they were denied. We walked up to the counter. We stood there for maybe three or four minutes talking to the deputy clerk. She said that Kim Davis was in her office. We could see her blinds were drawn, and she wasn't speaking to anyone. And we pretty much demanded that she come out and face the people. She said she was willing to face the day, so I think it was only fair that she come out and face the people that she was denying a license to. When she came out, I - we both felt infuriated that they were still denying our rights to get a marriage license in the county that we live in, in the home, you know, that we live in. I was infuriated. I just could not control myself. I refuse to accept that. I just refuse.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, David Moore, you've suggested that Kim Davis has a lot of support for the position that she's taking. Could you elaborate on that? Support from whom?

DAVID MOORE: Well, that day, there were protesters and supporters for both sides outside the courthouse. She had support from, I guess, local church groups. And a lot of people that come outside, from outside the community, you know, they came to support her. And the thing is, if she would issue marriage licenses today to everyone, those people who are coming out to say, "We stand with Kim Davis," they would not be protesting. They would not be protesting people just going and getting their license. She is basically sending like a rallying signal that she's a victim. And she's not a victim. So, really, it's just this false signal - "Oh, come and help me" - so all these people show up. But really, she doesn't need any help, because her rights haven't been changed or taken away in any way whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to go to another video of you at the Rowan County Courthouse. This is the second time that you and your partner, David Ermold, attempted to get a marriage license. After staffers in Kim Davis's offices refused to issue you a license - they said she was not there that day - the two of you go down the hall to the office of the Rowan County judge/executive, Dr. Walter "Doc" Blevins. He was not yet in the office, but his aide calls him and lets you speak with him by phone.

DAVID MOORE: Nope, won't do it. So...

DAVID ERMOLD: What was his reason?

DAVID MOORE: He doesn't have the paperwork, no paperwork, doesn't have the software. He wants the judges to figure out, wants it to go through the court system.

DAVID ERMOLD: It is through the court system.

DAVID MOORE: He said he cannot force anyone in her office to do it. They can't force her to do it. He said there's one person in her office that's willing to do it, but they can't do it without her authorization. So, there's - no, there's nothing.


DAVID MOORE: So, [inaudible].

DAVID ERMOLD: Basically, if you want a statement from me, I will say that people are cruel. They are cruel. People are cruel. And this is wrong. And that's how it is. That is how it is. And that's the bottom line. She's wrong, and these people are cruel to do this to us.

AMY GOODMAN: That's David Ermold and David Moore. I want to go to Joe Dunman, who's in Louisville, Kentucky. You're an attorney who has worked on this case. You have spearheaded the case that really led to the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality in the United States. What is the law here?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, the law - there's two different kinds of the law. The first is the federal Constitution, which, the Supreme Court has said, requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And then there's the state law, which requires clerks to issue the licenses. And that's what Kim Davis is violating. She is saying that she has a religious objection to following a Kentucky statute, which is neutral and very simple and just says clerks must issue licenses. She doesn't really have a legal argument, because the courts have never observed that public officials have religious - can have a religious exception to just doing their jobs. And so, we're making a very simple argument here that just says that public officials must do their jobs. If there's a conflict with their beliefs, then they need to resign or, you know, lobby the General Assembly to change the law in the meantime. But they still have to follow the statute and issue the licenses.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Joe Dunman, there's a hearing on the case today. On what grounds, if at all, would it be possible for the judge to rule in Kim Davis's favor?

JOE DUNMAN: I don't know. I don't think there are any grounds. I mean, we made a simple motion. You know, we have an injunction in place that requires her to issue licenses. She's violating that by not doing so. We've simply asked that the court impose a financial penalty, which will incentivize her to do her job. And, you know, we don't think there's any grounds for them to argue otherwise. Of course, her attorneys disagree.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And she could keep appealing every court order, is that right?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, each order that's considered final, she can appeal. So far, she has shown quite an interest in doing so. It's important to note that we're at the very beginning of the litigation here. We just have a preliminary injunction in place. We haven't done any kind of discovery. We haven't looked at any documents. We haven't done really much of anything other than file some briefs. And so, we're still in the early stages. And even though the injunction is in place, it's being appealed to the Sixth Circuit, so we still have to take an argument there while the rest of the case sits in the district court. So, yeah, it's kind of a unique procedural place we're in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, two questions: One, the significance of Kim Davis being an elected official; and two, when she says that she is having her rights violated, she's trying to follow her conscience?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, well, public officials, it's an important distinction, because, you know, they don't operate as individuals. The government is not compelling them to do something as private citizens. It's asking them to do something as their employer. And the case law is very clear that, you know, the government, as an employer, can tell its employees what to do, to a certain extent. And all the case law about the First Amendment and how it operates for public officials is very clear. You know, they have to do their jobs. If they don't, they have the option to resign. It's not mandatory that they hold that office, it's voluntary. And because it's voluntary, they can always choose to do something else. And I'm sorry, your second question?

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about her saying that her rights are being violated, that this is against her religion.

JOE DUNMAN: Right. You know, she has done - she made a big effort in this case to portray herself as the victim here, but the victims are our clients. They're the ones who have been denied marriage licenses to which they're entitled. She is trying to say that she is the one being victimized. She has actually sued the governor as a third-party defendant, claiming that his letter to all the clerks earlier in the year asking them to issue licenses somehow infringes her rights, except that that letter doesn't compel her to do anything. And she's ignoring it anyway. And so, she's complicated this procedurally in a way to make herself seem like a victim, when really it's our clients who are the ones who are entitled to marriage licenses and can't get them in their home, where they deserve them.

AMY GOODMAN: She could as easily say, "It is against my religion to serve any black person."

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I mean, that's the logical extension of her argument. I mean, if we give her a religious exemption, then we give all public officials that kind of exemption, and then there's no rules. And then the 14th Amendment stops meaning anything. Equal protection stops meaning anything. You just have to hope that when you walk into the clerk's office every day, you know, when you need a document, that the clerk shares all your beliefs; otherwise, they can turn you away.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of these cases are being brought around the country? I mean, you are the lawyer who spearheaded the case that went to the Supreme Court that legalized marriage equality in this country. How much are we seeing this in - not only in Kentucky, but in other states?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I had a lot of help in that effort for marriage equality, I wasn't alone. But as far as the clerk fight, it's a little different. I know in Alabama they do it through probate judges, and they've - I believe it's 11 probate judges in Alabama are still saying that they won't issue any marriage licenses, despite court orders to the contrary. And I want to say there's a fight going on in Texas, but I'm not really clear on it. Our case - in Kentucky, there's at least three clerks who are refusing to issue any marriage licenses, and Kim Davis is just one of them. But, you know, we have 120 counties, and three of them are protesting, so percentage-wise we're doing pretty good. For the most part, the country is complying with the Supreme Court's order, as we should expect.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I'd like to ask Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign how representative Kim Davis is of other counties in Kentucky. You have been lobbying for fairness laws for a long time across the state. Could you say a little about that?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Right. Kentucky really is a state of fairness, not of Kim Davis. She's not representative of the population. More than a quarter of Kentucky residents now live in a city or a county that has anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including the city of Morehead, where Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis works. Morehead actually was the only city in Kentucky to unanimously approve LGBT discrimination protections. Now there are seven other cities and counties in our state that extend those protections, and those numbers keep on increasing every year. Kim Davis is making a last gasp right now with her lawyers from the Liberty Counsel, who are imported into Kentucky. These are late Reverend Jerry Falwell's lawyers. They're not even Kentucky lawyers bringing the case before the courts right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Chris Hartman, another organization that's been active in lobbying for LGBT rights is Freedom to Marry, and its national campaign director said that the Kim Davis incident is, quote, "a very small temporary blip that will take care of itself." Do you agree with that assessment?

CHRIS HARTMAN: I do agree with that assessment, that I think even by the end of today or tomorrow marriage licenses are going to start coming out of Rowan County; that sooner, rather than later, folks will be able to get married in every county in which they live across the United States. This is a temporary roadblock. It is a small, but very vocal, population that are simply fighting back and attempting to make as much noise as they can, because they know that the vast majority of Americans and Kentuckians support LGBT rights.

AMY GOODMAN: The other three clerks in Kentucky who are saying no, like Kim Davis, Chris?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Casey Davis, Kay Schwartz, right. Whitley County, Casey County.

AMY GOODMAN: Will their case take the exact same legal route?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Certainly, if there are cases brought against them. I think that they're probably waiting to see what happens in Kim Davis's case. And I think the message will be clear and resounding. I don't believe Judge Bunning is going to tolerate any more delay of couples like David and his longtime partner getting the marriage licenses that they deserve, that the Supreme Court has twice affirmed is their constitutional right to obtain. Kim Davis and these other two county clerks cannot stand in the way much longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, David Moore, as we watched you attempt to get a marriage license again and again, tell us why you want to get married, why this is important to you, and what you plan to do now.

DAVID MOORE: Well, we've been together for 17 years, my partner and I, and we kind of already feel like we are married. We went through all the commitment and all the ups and downs that you have in a marriage. This is just kind of a final legal, you know, symbol of our love for each other and our commitment, that everybody else is able to share in, and we should be able to share in that, too. I think we've demonstrated, just by being together for this long, you know, that we deserve that same right. Anyone deserves that right.

What we plan to do is, hopefully, we'll be able to get a license very soon in Rowan County. It's our home, it's where we live and work. And that's what I want to see happen. So I'm looking forward to that and getting that license, going on a trip, a honeymoon, and relaxing and not having to think about the media and Kim Davis for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you all for being with us, David Moore and Chris Hartman, speaking to us from Lexington. Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign. And from Louisville, attorney Joe Dunman.

When we come back from break, will a torturer be brought to justice? That's the question that a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, is asking, because it was Maher Arar who was tortured, sent by the United States to Syria in 2002, where he was held for almost a year. We'll speak with his wife in Ottawa. Stay with us.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Guatemalan President Resigns in "Huge Victory" for Popular Uprising

After a massive public uprising, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned. His resignation came just hours after a judge approved the attorney general's arrest warrant for him. This follows the Guatemalan Legislature's unanimous decision to strip him of immunity from prosecution, bowing to popular pressure. Prosecutors said Pérez Molina will be charged with illicit association, taking bribes and customs fraud. Attorney General Thelma Aldana said Pérez Molina was also being investigated for money laundering, which could lead to the freezing of his assets. Otto Pérez Molina's former vice president and other government officials are facing similar charges. We speak to George Polk Award-winning journalist Allan Nairn in Guatemala City.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After a massive public uprising, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned. His resignation came just hours after a judge approved the attorney general's arrest warrant for him. This follows Congress's surprising unanimous decision to strip him of immunity from prosecution, bowing to public pressure. Prosecutors said Pérez Molina will be charged with illicit association, taking bribes and customs fraud. Attorney General Thelma Aldana said Pérez Molina was also being investigated for money laundering, which could lead to the freezing of his assets.

AMY GOODMAN: Otto Pérez Molina's former vice president and other government officials are also facing similar charges. Just before the broadcast, Democracy Now! reached journalist Allan Nairn in Guatemala City.

ALLAN NAIRN: Last night, the attorney general issued an order of arrest for General Pérez Molina, the president, and a few hours later, Pérez Molina resigned, just before midnight. It's quite possible now that, as a private citizen, Pérez Molina will be arrested sometime after dawn. This is another huge victory for the popular uprising in Guatemala. Pérez Molina, just a few weeks ago, seemed completely invulnerable. But now he may be going to prison, and he will be facing trial on corruption charges.

But this is just the beginning of the challenges for the popular movement, because stepping in to replace Pérez Molina will be Vice President Maldonado Aguirre. Maldonado Aguirre is the key figure who, as a member of the High Court of Guatemala, annulled the genocide verdict against General Ríos Montt. He did that at the demand of CACIF, the oligarchs of Guatemala. After the criminal court issued a guilty genocide verdict against Ríos Montt and sentenced him to 80 years, the oligarchs went on TV, had a press conference, and they demanded - they demanded in the name of their money - that the court annul this verdict. And Maldonado Aguirre, who at that time was a leader of the high Constitutional Court of Guatemala, complied. And he is now the vice president. He is now the man who will be stepping in to replace Pérez Molina. And in fact, Maldonado Aguirre began his political career with the MLN, a political party. The MLN was a partner of the CIA in the 1954 invasion of Guatemala, which overthrew the democratically elected government, put the army in power and began the reign of terror that is still reverberating today. The MLN described itself as "the party of organized violence," and they ran their own semi-public death squad. So now, this man, Maldonado Aguirre, is the acting president, and he will have that position until January.

This Sunday, there is a presidential election in Guatemala, and the slate of candidates is dominated by people who were backed by the old army generals who ran the massacres, drug-running syndicates, other organized crime and the CACIF oligarchs. Those being backed by those forces are the ones who are considered to have a chance to win, because they are the ones with the money. They're the ones who have been dominating the media coverage and the advertising. And unless the election is postponed - and many, many people, including leading academics, leading lawyers and popular groups, have been calling for a postponement, so the electoral law can be rewritten to give a fair chance to actual real citizens, who are not backed by drug dealers or by killer generals, to get a chance to contest for office - but unless that election is postponed, one of those - one of the front people for those groups will be the newly elected president of Guatemala. So, if this movement is going to turn into one that wins real structural change, it's only just beginning.

And even with Pérez Molina himself, there is a big issue. He's now going to go to trial for corruption. But that's really his minor crime. His main crime is mass murder. He was one of the implementers of the policy of slaughter in the Ixil highlands for which Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide. I met him at the time that he was doing this, and his soldiers described how they would go into villages and wipe out the civilians. But no charges have yet been brought against Pérez Molina for those crimes. However, they could be, because, under Guatemalan law, ordinary citizens can come forward and file criminal charges, as long as those charges are accepted by the Attorney General's Office.

If there is going to be a serious legal process against Pérez Molina for the mass killings, it should include the - what in Guatemalan law is called the intellectual authors and the collaborators. And those would include the US sponsors. Pérez Molina received backing from the US military, and from US intelligence when he later became head of G-2, the Guatemalan intelligence. So, if there's a serious prosecution, it would have the option of calling US officials, subpoenaing US records and indicting US officials for their role in the murders. And I would urge them to do that, because the law should be enforced impartially. And even though Pérez Molina was the man on the ground directing the killers, he had bosses and sponsors, and the Americans out of Washington were perhaps the most important.

AMY GOODMAN: George Polk Award-winning journalist Allan Nairn reporting from Guatemala City. He has covered Guatemala since the 1980s. You can follow him on Twitter at @AllanNairn14 for the latest news on the resignation of the president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, to cover the showdown - the county clerk, Kim Davis, who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. We'll talk to the man, David Moore, who she refused to issue a marriage license to three times. Stay with us.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Praise for Pope Francis Is Premature: Vatican's Official Stance on Abortion Hasn't Shifted

The Pope has been praised for his progressive stances on climate and poverty, but the temporary window of absolution offered Tuesday to Catholics who have had abortions has brought criticism from reproductive justice groups.

ROME, ITALY - APRIL 18, 2014: Pope Francis celebrates the 'Via Crucis' procession at Colosseum in Rome on April 18, 2014. (Photo: Giulio Napolitano / Shutterstock)Pope Francis celebrates the "Via Crucis" procession at Colosseum in Rome on April 18, 2014. (Photo: giulio napolitano / Francis made a temporary, absolution-only offering to Catholics "who bear in their heart the scar" of abortion and repent during the upcoming 355-day "Jubilee," or Holy Year, in a letter published Tuesday by the Vatican.

Despite 95 percent of those who have abortions reporting no struggle with regret, the Pope explains his decision to temporarily open the power of absolution to all clergy by calling the choice to terminate a pregnancy "an existential and moral ordeal."

"A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails," wrote Francis. "I have decided ... to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."

Deputy Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini quickly clarified that the change was seasonal-only. Further clarification from Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi offered little space to hope for an end to the automatic excommunication of any Catholic known to have had or performed an abortion.

"This is by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin, but to widen the possibility of showing mercy," Lombardi told reporters. Catholics may now go to their parish priest rather than specially designated upper echelon officials within the church - a change that doesn't offer solace to those who would likely be expelled from their faith community upon confession.

Pope Francis's decision to refocus the church's energy towards mercy starts as a nice thought grounded in compassion, but quickly turns to more shame for women.

Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, expressed tempered appreciation for the Pope's use of empathetic words before pivoting to an approach that fully realizes an individual Catholic's humanity.

"Pope Francis's decision to refocus the church's energy towards mercy starts as a nice thought grounded in compassion, but quickly turns to more shame for women," Knox said in a statement. "The compassionate, pastoral approach is to recognize that women have abortions for many reasons. ... What a woman really needs from her clergy is someone ready and able to have deep pastoral conversations about her decision."

Knox emphasized that clergy are called to engage with the faithful where they are, in life and as complete and complicated people: "The Pope should equip his priests with the tools to listen to a woman's story instead of offering occasional absolution."

US Catholics oppose criminalizing abortion by a margin of two to one.

"I grew up Catholic, and I attended a Jesuit university," Erin Matson, co-director of the new reproductive justice organization ReproAction, told Truthout. "The official teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality - including, but not limited to abortion - harm people around the world and are deeply out of step with the views of Catholic people."

Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien issued a more complimentary statement, saying, "this is a pope who is not stuck in the pelvic zone, and perhaps his message on how he thinks about abortion is more for his brother bishops than Catholics in the pew."

Matson had a very different initial reaction to the pope's Jubilee Letter.

"Women who have abortions have done nothing wrong, and they have nothing to apologize for," said Matson, who didn't hear any fundamental policy change in the expanded pool of priests who will be able to dispense absolution."We can't lose sight of the fact that Pope Francis is not changing any doctrine on abortion, which remains an excommunicable offense - this is a temporary change."

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) also pushed back on language she feels "contributes to culturally pervasive and deeply harmful abortion stigma."

"As an organization committed to Latina health and reproductive justice, we reject any attempt to impose judgment or shame on someone based on deeply personal decisions about health, pregnancy and whether to become a parent," González-Rojas said in a statement.

While appreciating Pope Francis addressing abortion directly, González-Rojas described Vatican doctrine as out of step - a potential barrier to accessing care for those in her community.

"What is significant here is that the Pope, as a faith leader for millions, recognizes the need to talk about abortion, which one in three women will experience in her lifetime. Yet these comments fall short in reflecting the realities of women's lives, and the viewpoints of many Catholics," she said. "Despite ongoing prohibition by church doctrine, Catholic Latinas support access to reproductive health care, with 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas using a modern form of contraception and a majority of Latino/a voters - including many Catholics, supporting access to safe and legal abortion services."

Polling confirms González-Rojas's analysis. Only 28 percent of Catholics overall wanted to see President Obama make abortion a priority during his presidency and US Catholics oppose criminalizing abortion by a margin of two to one.

Despite empirical polling data in support of abortion and testimony from affected communities - disproportionately rural resident, the poor and people of color - during campaigns like the one to pass the EACH Woman Act, conservative legislators in Washington continue to take their cues from Vatican doctrine. From 2010-2014 231 abortion-restricting laws were enacted with no slow-down in 2015; 332 anti-abortion provisions were introduced in 43 states just in the first quarter of this year.

The 30 percent of the GOP-led Congress that identifies as Catholic is considerably more conservative than the average Catholic voter, continuing to prioritize decreased abortion access through legislation. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and James Lankford (R- OK) are among those threatening - again - to shut down the government over non-existent federal abortion dollars going to Planned Parenthood. That Planned Parenthood would still get the majority of its funding during a shutdown through Medicaid preventative care insurance hasn't toned down the rhetorically contentious climate into which Pope Francis issued Tuesday's letter.

While that climate feels like "the same old politics of shame and stigma" to González-Rojas, she tempers her call for culture change with optimism. "We're glad to see a conversation about abortion happening within faith communities," she said, "but the focus should be on respect and support for those who end a pregnancy, not the same old politics of shame and stigma."

Despite her criticisms, Matson also remains hopeful, citing the way this pope engages with the faithful.

"The responses to our #HeyPopeFrancis campaign have been incredible," she said, referencing ReproAction's call for individuals to speak directly to Francis about their needs and concerns. "People connect with this Pope and they believe he should listen to them and respect them. The ball is in his court to do the right thing, and listen."

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Private Global Interest Organization Performs Corporate Takeover of Our Education Systems

A discourse of paranoia is slowly but surely creeping into the core of our education systems and if you are a parent who has a child in school, you will know that education today is not like it was even 10 or 20 years ago and that a significant difference is the increase of standardized testing.

What you may not be aware of is that this increase in standardized testing is spearheaded by a private global interest organization called the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) who runs a program called PISA (Program For International Student Assessment).

The OECD has with its PISA program become one of the most influential organizations when it comes to setting the agenda for the future of education, and is rapidly working towards standardizing the world's school systems into one streamlined one-size-fits-all model.

In a mere 20 years, the OECD has become one of the world's leading forces with regards to affecting education policies and currently, more than 70 countries solicit OECD to test its students through international comparative tests and accordingly give 'expert advice' based on the results of these tests on how each country can optimize its education system.

It is for example based on results from the PISA tests that Finland's education system in the early 2000's was glorified and appraised and it is because of their high rankings in PISA that South Korea and Singapore currently are seen as having some of the best education systems in the world, (despite the fact that South Korea for example also has the highest suicide statistics among young people in the world).

How has a private economic interest organization like the OECD been able to penetrate the very fabric of our education systems?

There are two ways in which OECD with PISA is slowly but surely monopolizing educational policies all over the world:

The first is the seemingly innocuous ways in which our education systems are changing through the ways standardized testing are affecting schools and curriculum all over the world on a rather ubiquitous level.

The other is how OECD with PISA has positioned itself as a global overseer of quality in education with which it penetrates the education system to further a specific economic and ideological agenda. Countries are literally basing educational reforms on directions from OECD, in some countries with what some would call devastating effects. More on this later.

See, the thing is: Standardized testing is not simply a "tool" as the OECD presents it, which is used to optimize the quality of our education systems. It is in itself changing the way education is carried out, addressed and seen.

It is not a passive tool for measuring the quality of education at a school because it requires students' active participation and at many schools the result of PISA and other tests are included as part of the students' final grading. Teachers have to change their curriculum to "teach to the test" and local budgets are set based on competitive results between schools in the same area.

This is not simply adding an innocuous tool that only has the effect of optimizing the equality of education - it is pervasive in nature and it is changing oureducation systems more rapidly than we realize.

This is seen no more than in how students experience having to take one standardized test after another. One of my 7th grade students for example experiences perpetual stress over having to do tests close to every week. She is a young, bright woman with an immense drive and creative ambition. She wants to become a movie director and often sits at home writing long scripts. She is even working on a novel. One time she mentioned to me that they had been learning about ancient Mesopotamia in a history class. To me that sounded like a fascinating subject and I asked her with excitement what she had learned. "I'm not really sure," she said. "The teacher is moving so fast through the curriculum pushing us towards the test so it is difficult to keep up."

This is coming from a bright and intelligent young woman who still has an immense curiosity and interest for learning. How much learning potential is wasted when students are rushed through a curriculum only to get to a test at the end?

Another tragic example of the effects that standardized testing has on students can be seen on the American art teacher Mrs. Chang's blog. She gave her 10 - 12th grade students the task to illustrate how they felt about taking tests. You can see the outcome of that project for yourself here.

In 1998, Noel Wilson, a scholar from the Flinders University of South Australia, wrote a paper in the journal EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS titled Educational Standards and the Problem of Error on the devastating effects that standardized testing has on students that is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. A summarized and updated version was added by someone called Duane Swacker in the comment section of this article, which I also recommend reading in relation to a critical perspective on PISA.

In it, Wilson criticizes the entire notion of standardized testing in schools and asks:

"So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.

"So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete."

Paraphrasing Wilson on the epistemological error of the notion of testing, Swacker writes: "A quality cannot be quantified. Quantity is a sub-category of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category by only a part (sub-category) of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that "assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as one dimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error" (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing we are lacking much information about said interactions.

A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the "score" of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place.

The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who "don't make the grade (sic)." Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?"

It is indeed highly problematic that testing is seen as a benevolent tool to improve and optimize education, when it in fact appears to have an oppressing effect on students subjected to it.

The question is then whether this oppressing cookie-cutter effect of standardized testing is an innocuous but problematic side effect of a benevolent project regarding educational reforms or whether it is actually part of a much more sinister agenda to propagate a certain mindset in students graduating from schools around the world?

One of the most revered critics of OCED and PISA is professor Yong Zhao, presidential chair and director of the Institute for Global and Online Educationin the College of Education, University of Oregon.

In the fourth part of his often-referenced four-piece series of articles titled "How Does PISA Put the World at Risk" Zhao argues that the PISA program "was designed to capitalize on the intense nationalistic concern for global competitiveness by inducing strong emotional responses from the unsuspecting public, gullible politicians, and sensation-seeking media. Virtually all PISA products, particularly its signature product, the league tables, are intended to show winners and losers, in not only educational policies and practices of the past, but more important, in capacity for global competition in the future.

While this approach has made PISA an extremely successful global enterprise, it has misled the world down a path of self-destruction, resulting in irrational policies and practices that are more likely to squander precious resources and opportunities than enhancing capacity for future prosperity."

Zhao criticizes the PISA program for measuring the quality of education purely based on academic achievements, entirely leaving out and disregarding socioeconomic facts as well as the psychosocial well being of students. I have discussed this in a previous article where I mentioned how countries such as South Korea might score high on the PISA tests, but they also have some of the highest suicide rates among students - and the question is then whether that is an education system that is worth modeling?

In his closing statement of the article, Zhao argues, "Until OECD-PISA became the only employer in the world with PISA scores as the only qualification, I would not suggest lawyers and doctors in the US, UK, or any nation to replace your children's activities in music, arts, sports, dancing, debates, and field trips with math tutoring. For the same reason, it is not time yet for schools in developed countries to close your swimming pools, burn your musical instruments, end museums visits, or fire your art teachers."

In a 2014 article for the UK-based TES (Times Educational Supplement) newspaper titled "Is Pisa fundamentally flawed?" educational reporter William Stewart outlined the scope of influence that the OECD has gotten over the past decade: "Politicians worldwide, such as England's education secretary Michael Gove, have based their case for sweeping, controversial reforms on the fact that their countries' Pisa rankings have "plummeted." Meanwhile, top-ranked success stories such as Finland have become international bywords for educational excellence, with other ambitious countries queuing up to see how they have managed it."

Like Zhao, Stewart argues that measuring educational quality based on results from PISA is flawed. He argues that the tests are not based on common results but on different results from different students and that this creates highly fluctuating results from country to country and even within the same country, despite the OECD's claim that PISA is one of the most accurate tools for measuring the quality of education. Stewart argues that it is absurd to expect that 50 countries with widely different cultures can be expected to fit into a one-size-fits-all measurement of educational quality and that the tests may therefore potentially be culturally biased.

So how has a private economic interest organization like OECD within the span of a decade managed to influence the course of national educationpolicies on a global level?

In the past 20-30 years a discourse of global competition has become ubiquitously part of the conversation in media and in political sphere. Global competition for profit and resources (where knowledge is one of the most valuable assets a country can mine) is seen as a natural outflow of the processes of globalization and it is in that discourse that the OECD positions itself within and from which it gains its self-proclaimed relevance. PISA is presented as a tool that governments can (and must) use to optimize their educational policies to not fall back in the global competition.

The question is whether the OECD is doing that in fact or whether they, with PISA, are adding gasoline to the fire to further their own agenda, specifically through generating panic and paranoia among member countries who feverishly fight tooth and nail to not be at the bottom of the ranks.

When Sweden, a country who otherwise prided itself of having one of the world's best education systems, keeps dropping in the PISA results year after year, it begs the question of whether PISA is doing more good than harm. Students are becoming increasingly more stressed and meanwhile politicians are acting as lapdogs for the OECD, following their every decree, to do whatever it takes to not fall back and risk being losers in this global game of thrones.

It seems as though the increased focus on global competition in our education systems has done nothing but decrease the actual quality of education, which is in itself an irony of massive proportions. It seems as though an undercurrent of paranoia based on an ethos of "survival of the fittest" is governing our education systems and the question is: Who stands to gain from a system that is set up to make students fail, despite getting aneducation?

I leave you with this analogy that may serve as a precautionary tale, to not let organizations like the OECD dictate the future of education based on paranoia.

In the classic 1954 book about survival and human nature, Lord of the Flies, Jack (leader of the choir boys) convinces the other boys that there is a monster on the island and he soon spreads paranoia to gain power over the tribe. The boys vehemently start hunting the monster. Later, in a vision, another boy called Simon realizes that the monster is not real and that the boys have created the monster as a figment of their own imagination through the intoxication of fear. Jack and his followers kill Simon before they eventually burn down the entire island and destroy what little community was left.

Education is about learning how to navigate the world, how to live together and how to take care of the world and each other in the best way possible. Education is about learning from those who came before us, both from their experiences and examples, but also from their mistakes. Education is about developing and living one's utmost potential so as to best contribute to a world that is best for all, and so for oneself. This is not the type of education that is promoted by the OECD, nor by our countries officials when they so desperately follow the OECD's recommendations without questioning its political agenda.

If we are not interested in an education system designed by a private economic interest organization, whose goal it seems to be to increase paranoia to encourage competition - it is important that we come up with sound alternatives; alternatives such as the democratic (Sudbury) schools that are emerging all over the world, alternatives such as unschooling that questions the very notion of schooling and its capacity to truly educate our children.

At the very least, we ought to question the starting point with which we send our children to school: Is it to teach them to compete and survive in an absurd real-life version of Lord of the Flies or is it to become the best people they can possibly be, so that they may leave a world that is better than the one they came into?

Opinion Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Investigators Find New Developments in Possible Lynching Case Out of North Carolina

It's been a year since the lifeless body of 17-year old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in the small town of Bladenboro, North Carolina. While state investigators working under the direction of the local district attorney immediately ruled the death a suicide, questions remain about whether foul play was involved since the African-American teen was found wearing too-small shoes that were not his own, allegedly hung himself in a mostly white trailer park using a belt that was not his own, and since the mechanics of the purported self-hanging appear implausible.

Lacy had been dating an older white woman who, along with Lacy's family, has said she does not believe the teen killed himself. Though he had been grieving the recent death of a great-uncle, the West Bladen High School junior, JROTC member and football player was looking forward to playing his first game of the season the same day his body was found. He had even laundered and laid out his uniform in anticipation.

Following public outcry over the case, and spurred by a report from an independent medical pathologist hired by the North Carolina NAACP that raised questions about the thoroughness and conclusions of the local probe, the FBI is now investigating.

At a memorial service for Lacy held at Bladenboro's First Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 28, which marked a year since the teen was last seen alive, officials with the NC NAACP offered updates about the case:

  • About a month ago, the FBI interviewed Lacy's mother, Claudia Lacy. "There is some indication they're developing a renewed interest in this," NC NAACP attorney Al McSurely told the gathering.
  • Two people came to the NC NAACP with information suggesting Lacy's death was not a suicide; they were referred to law enforcement. The group's president, Rev. Dr. William Barber, described the stories they told as "so chilling."
  • Barber has spoken with new US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a North Carolina native, about the Lacy case. He said he believes there will be more attention devoted to the investigation under her leadership.
  • Someone from outside North Carolina has approached the state NAACP and offered to put up a $25,000 reward for information in the case. Barber said that offer is now being vetted by the FBI.

"Because we know all of that, we know it's not over," Barber told the crowd. "If it was your child, you would not want it to be over."

Meanwhile, the NC Music Love Army, a musical collective inspired by the Moral Monday protest movement led by the NC NAACP, is doing its part to keep public attention focused on the case. Last month it released the "Ballad of Lennon Lacy" by Charlotte-based singer-songwriter Jon Lindsay with Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens and other Music Love Army members including former "American Idol" contestant Charly Lowry, Dark Water Rising, the Backsliders, Caitlin Cary, Eddie Walker, Skylar Gudasz and Brett Harris.*

Lindsay recently told The Charlotte Observer that he has been "obsessed" with the Lacy case. "It's consuming to do a song like this," he said. "You have to feel it in your bones you're doing the right thing."

The song's lyrics hint at the fact that there have been other cases involving mysterious hanging deaths of African-American men that were ruled suicide despite lingering questions about possible foul play:

I can't believe strange fruit still dangles from a Carolina noose
But I won't turn my back, like anyone still afraid to ask:
Did they take away another precious life, precious life,
And try to make it look like suicide, suicide?

For more information about those other cases, which were documented by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp for a 2012 Investigation Discovery TV show titled "The Injustice Files: At the End of a Rope," click here. Listen to the "Ballad of Lennon Lacy" here.

* The song has not been approved by the Lacy family or the NAACP.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
DoD's Inspector General Investigates Administration Propaganda Again

In the last few weeks, there have been several reports that senior intelligence officials were skewing the intelligence on how (un)successful the military campaign against ISIS has been. "Officials at United States Central Command - the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State - were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said," the New York Times was the first to report.

Patrick Eddington - himself a former CIA whistleblower - put that allegation into historical context, reminding how intelligence agencies have focused on good news going back to the Vietnam War and repeating in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

While the history lesson is worthwhile by itself, Eddington makes another important point. He notes that Department of Defense's Inspector General, which is investigating the claims, can't be trusted to carry out such an investigation. "The allegations reported by the Times and the Daily Beast are too serious a matter to be left to the DOD IG, particularly given the DOD IG's recent track record in dealing with high-profile whistleblower complaints." Eddington focuses on the treatment that Thomas Drake and other NSA whistleblowers experienced when they alerted DOD's IG to an ineffective boondoggle designed to make SAIC rich, and argues the Intelligence Community and Source Protection Office should conduct the investigation, particularly since other intelligence agencies may also be politicizing intelligence about Syria.

But there's an even more important example why DOD's IG should not be investigating this allegation: as became clear during the investigation into leaks about the Osama bin Laden raid to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, DOD's IG may not issue reports on senior DOD officials and will not on people who work in other agencies (as Leon Panetta did when he disclosed classified information). "Due to 'a longstanding Department policy,' … referrals of alleged misconduct by senior officials would have to be removed before [the Zero Dark Thirty report] could be published," Senator Chuck Grassley learned when investigating whistleblower complaints of that investigation.

That's a problem given that reports blame "senior officials" for the politicization of this intelligence.

DOD's policy of suppressing information on top officials may only pertain to leaks and not all misconduct. Indeed, DOD's IG has referred a number of generals for misconduct in recent years.

Yet given how closely this issue - spinning happy stories about our operations in Syria - relates to the prior example - spinning the most positive stories about the Osama bin Laden killing - there's good reason to worry that DOD IG won't implicate any senior officials even if they are politicizing the intelligence on Syria.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Walmart and Walker: Always Low Wages

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at Joey's Diner in Amherst, New Hampshire, on July 16, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock)Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at Joey's Diner in Amherst, New Hampshire, July 16, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Cline /

What do Governor Scott Walker and Walmart have in common? They talk pay raises in public while cheating their workers of pay.

When Walmart announced with great fanfare that it was boosting pay for frontline workers, CMD questioned the spin. After all, Walmart is regularly forced to pay back wages between 2007-2012 amounting to an astonishing $30 million according to a US Senate report. This week, Bloomberg reported that Walmart is cutting hours for its workers, robbing many of the benefit of the recent pay hike.

In July, Scott Walker raised eyebrows when he signed a contract with a big pay boost for the state troopers who provide his security detail. The troopers did not get the 17 percent he proposed, but a more modest $4 an hour raise. Now the US Department of Labor has found that Team Walker violated the law by failing to pay overtime for state troopers who provide round-the-clock security as Walker jets around the country seeking the presidency. The troopers' pay raise has been rescinded and the security detail is being cut. Taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $1 million. Perhaps "always low wages" should be the slogan for the candidate who recently called the minimum wage a "lame" idea.

Check out PR Watch's SourceWatch profile of the low-road, low-wage Walmart here.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 10:42:27 -0400