Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Hampshire makes life harder for military recruiters

The state of New Hampshire has just passed a law that bars schools from handing over "test results, detailed demographic information, and social security numbers to military recruiting services without the consent of parents," according to the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy (NCPSP).

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, was signed into law on July 14 by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. Specifically, it bars schools from handing over data to recruiters obtained through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, which is ostensibly a vocational test administered by the Department of Defense. However, New Hampshire schools are still required by the No Child Left Behind law to hand over so-called "directory information" to military recruiters -- names, addresses and phone numbers -- unless parents explicitly object (and even then, there's still no guarantee their child's information isn't being stored in a Pentagon database).

The victory, albeit small, comes after a similar bill was defeated earlier this year by Democrats in Connecticut, which I wrote about for Rupert Murdoch. The difference this time, according NCPSP director Pat Elder, was that the lobbying campaign was much more low-key.

"We didn't mention it publicly," Elder told me, which meant opponents "were caught off guard." New Hampshire is the third state to enact such legislation, joining Maryland and Hawaii.

Families rally for Gaza, old people for Israel

On Sunday, hundreds of people in Los Angeles attended a rally for Gaza. I attended that rally and wrote about it. I also took pictures, which I once again don't feel like embedding on this decrepit website, so if you're at all interested, go over here.

You're looking nice today.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The modern American breadline

Look, I have a fancy new url that I paid good money for -- -- and it's a real pain to cross-post pieces that have embedded images and I don't feel like wasting 20 minutes dealing with formatting issues, so: go read my latest, "The modern American breadline," over at the other place.

Good day to you.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Not all refugees can be Cuban

Were the state in question Cuba or Venezuela, the fact that it is deploying an “elite unit” of the national police to prevent people from leaving would feature prominently in US government propaganda. What kind of totalitarian hell-hole need deploy men with guns in order to stop parents from seeking a better life for their children? That fact alone would be cast as a condemnation of socialism and all those tyrants who stand opposed to the hegemonic desires of the freest country on the planet.

In this case, however, the totalitarian state is not an official enemy of the land of the free, but one of its clients, Honduras; that elite unit of the national police is “trained and funded by the United States,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times, just as those who launched the 2009 military coup d'état against the elected, center-left government of Manuel Zelaya, were trained and funded by the US government. As a result, the fact that Honduras is using force against innocent men, women and children fleeing the lack of opportunity in their country – in the wake of the coup, one of the world’s most violent – is not condemned like an East German in the 80s because there is nothing to gain; there is no way to spin the situation in Honduras as the fault of authoritarian socialists indifferent to the plight of their own people. Honduras is home to more US military bases than any other country in Central America and the only time it had a government that seemed mildly interested in pursuing economic policies independent of the United States that government was almost immediately overthrown with the tacit approval of the Obama administration.

As Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo noted at a pro-migrant rally earlier this month, the people coming to America “are products of our foreign policy.” There’s no spinning the humanitarian crisis in Honduras as the responsibility of Fidel Castro or international communism. It’s our fault – we did this – and so understandably silent are those who would otherwise be inclined to publicize the use of state violence against those fleeing misery for a better life in the land of the free.

Ana Maria Ramos and her two-year-old son are the sort of people this joint US-Honduran operation is keeping out. Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times after she was stopped at a US-funded police checkpoint in Honduras, she explained her reasons for wanting to leave everything behind.
"I don't want my boy to grow up in such a violent environment,” said Ramos. “I don't want him to see the violence and learn it. I don't want this for my son.”

Police forbade her from leaving the country because she did not have a notarized authorization of consent from the boy’s father, a legal requirement that it’s not hard to see harming those who are fleeing not just state and economic violence, but a violent, abusive partner. And that’s the sort of thing the US government is now doing so that Barack Obama can look “tough” on refugees, which in a sick political culture is generally viewed as a good thing to be. If you want to be welcomed here, it helps to have a strong pitching arm and the ability to serve as propaganda for US foreign policy; if you are a product of that policy, sorry, but you are out of luck.

(via Mr. Henry Krinkle)

Monday, July 07, 2014

LA residents denounce the deportation of migrant youth

LA rally for migrant youth - 4 Dozens of people rallied today outside the US federal building in downtown Los Angeles to show solidarity with tens of thousands of migrant children who have sought refuge in the United States – and to denounce President Barack Obama's efforts to send them back to the countries they fled.

“I call upon the president not to deport any of these children and to embrace them as refugees,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who joined other speakers in attributing the recent influx of children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to decisions made in Washington. “They are products of our foreign policy. They are seeking an opportunity.”

The rally, organized by the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families, came as the president is seeking another $2 billion to bolster border security and speed up the deportation process, a request that comes in response to a significant rise over the last couple years in the number of unaccompanied minors from the Americas crossing into the United States. In fiscal year 2012, just over 10,000 youth sought refuge in the US; between October 2013 and June 2014 alone, that number rose to more than 39,000.

The dominant media narrative has been that these children are coming to the United States because of misinformation; because they believe that the administration which has deported more immigrants than any of its predecessors would show them leniency. But Leisy Abrego, a professor of Chicano/a studies at UCLA, said that what was causing these children to leave the only land they have ever known – and to leave everything, including their parents, behind – was the dire situation in their home countries.

LA rally for migrant youth - 9“Today, as I see these very heartbreaking images of children coming here, risking their lives . . . I remember that this is just the most recent chapter of a very long and painful history in the region,” said Abrego, who came to the US as child after fleeing a US-backed civil war in El Salvador.

“As a child, I did not understand what was causing the bombings and shootings that forced us to leave our country,” said Abrego. “It took many years for me to learn that history and to understand the very central role of the US government.” Today, she argued, US-backed violence continues under the guise of “free trade” agreements that compel the nations of Central America to favor US corporations at the expense of independent economic development.

For its part, the Obama administration has sought to dispel the notion that it is welcoming of those fleeing violence and economic hardship in Central America, arguing that it would be deporting these children at a faster pace were it not for a law signed by President George W. Bush in 2008 that “made it nearly impossible to repatriate unaccompanied minors to Central America without letting them appear before an immigration judge,” as The Los Angeles Times reported. Because of the law, which the administration is trying to change, these children are allowed to request asylum, which delays deportation but is almost never granted to Latin Americans.

Alex Sanchez, who also fled the war in El Salvador as a child – “seeking refuge, ironically, in the country that was investing in the war” – said the Obama administration should show compassion toward those child migrants who are today fleeing “economic violence” and breakdown of society caused by the US-backed war on drugs.

“We need to have the US government redirect those 2 billion dollars to support those children here,” said Sanchez, who founded the group Homies Unidos, which works with LA youth to provide peaceful alternatives to gang life. “These are children. Children! These are children coming here seeking refuge.”
And these are children the Obama administration are deporting – children who have learned that talk of American compassion was just a rumor.

Check out more pictures from the rally and watch a video of the press conference:

Thursday, July 03, 2014

LAPD, doing the best that it can, kills another homeless man

On Monday, the LAPD's Deon Joseph took to the preferred platform of cops and developers, the Los Angeles Downtown Newsto attribute blame for the humanitarian crisis on Skid Row to everyone but those in law enforcement:
When it comes to policing Skid Row, it seems as if my fellow officers and I are keeping our fingers in the cracks of a dam to prevent it from breaking. Though many people may not realize it, we are in the throes of a mental health state of emergency.
An extremely marginalized class of the Central City East community today is vulnerable to the criminal element that operates in Skid Row. That segment of the community is the mentally ill.
"We have done the best that we can," Joseph wrote. "It is not the LAPD that has failed the mentally ill or the public. It is our society that has failed them."
There is of course a good deal of truth to that -- American society has failed the poor and mentally ill -- but it's a self-serving truth that glosses over the fact that it is the LAPD which everyday harasses the homeless residents of downtown Los Angeles, keeping them from sitting or lying on the street during the day; it is men and women with badges who put the mentally ill in jail. The police are not a benign force on Skid Row, but an active participant in the efforts to clear the homeless out of sight in order to clear the way for developers and upper-middle class gentrifiers.
Indeed, 2 days after Joseph's Op-Ed, "Skid Row residents met . . . with Los Angeles police to protest the death of a mentally ill homeless man who fell off a rooftop after officers shocked him with a Taser as he attempted to avoid arrest," according to The Los Angeles Times:
[Carlos] Ocana, known to his friends as Amado Ocania, was one of a group of Cuban emigres who spend their days at the skid row intersection.
Roberto, a member of the group who would give only his first name, said in an interview that Ocana had scrambled up the billboard after a security guard discovered him sleeping on top of the one-story building, which houses a mini-market, and called police.
Roberto, speaking through an interpreter, said Ocana had taken off his shirt and was waving it in an obvious signal of surrender when he came down the ladder. He also said Ocana had longstanding mental health issues that were well-known to the officers, and that police refused to let his friends try to talk him down.
"He was scared. SWAT came with big guns -- real, real guns," Roberto said.
Go ahead and blame "society" for willfully neglecting its poor and disenfranchised -- society deserves it -- but don't forget that the police and their big guns are the armed wing of those among us who care the least: the rich.

'Democracy Now! internships are paid'

Progressive newscast Democracy Now! has updated the language it uses to describe its internship program, reflecting an apparent decision to start paying its interns.

As I reported last year in a piece for Vice, the show, hosted by Amy Goodman, used to pay interns $15 a day, but then made it so interns had to work at least two months unpaid, in New York City, before being eligible for that stipend; at the same time, Goodman doubled her salary and the program moved to an expensive new studio in Manhattan.

The new language suggests things have changed for the better:
Democracy Now! internships are paid, 20 hour per week, temporary work placements to help students, people early in their careers and career changers to gain entry-level skills and experience in the fields of outreach, social media, education, fundraising, translation and archiving in a non-profit setting.
I asked Democracy Now! what exactly they are paying these temporary workers in a non-profit setting; I’ll let you know if I hear back. Assuming, though, that “internships are paid” means something other than “$15 a day after two months,” Democracy Now! would be the third news organization now to have altered its internship program since my article was published last December.

The first to change was Mother Jones, which announced on the day my article ran that it was going to give its “fellows” a $500 a month raise, though its spokesperson claimed it was planning to do so all along and it wasn’t at all shamed into doing it – nuh-uh, no way. A couple months later, The American Prospect quietly changed its own program so that interns who receive college credit would no longer be denied the $200 a week stipend available to other interns, a fact I discovered after reading a strikingly familiar piece in the Prospect on how unpaid internships act as a socio-economic filter favoring the white middle class at the expense of those too poor to work for free.

It should nonetheless be noted that neither Mother Jones nor The American Prospect pay the legal minimum wage, while Democracy Now!’s ambiguous language and lack of interest in responding to inquiries makes me doubt that they do either, so while things have changed, that’s not to say things are now good.And that’s a shame because all these organizations have the money to do better, and espouse politics that might make you think they’d try harder to do so, but choose instead to mirror the society they critique and generously reimburse those at the top while exploiting those on the bottom.

Update: The New Republic now pays some of its interns (however, "Part-time internships used for course credit are not paid."). Previously, when I asked the magazine -- owned by a Facebook millionaire -- why it didn't pay, its response was to edit its internship description to remove the word "unpaid." When I asked if that reflected  a change in policy, they said no. I like this last change better.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Non-American had rights, court finds

A US court has ruled that a Mexican teenager who was shot dead, in Mexico, by a US Border Patrol agent had the same rights as an American-born human being, reports the Associated Press:
U.S. District Judge David Briones found in 2011 that the family could not sue because the shooting's effects were "felt in Mexico." But the appeals court said that "territorial approach" would allow agents to establish "zones of lawlessness."

It "would establish a perverse rule that would treat differently two individuals subject to the same conduct merely because one managed to cross into our territory," the appeals court ruling says.


Extending that right to people injured across the border by U.S. agents standing on U.S. soil, would inform the officials that they are not allowed to arbitrarily inflict harm . . . ."
I like this ruling almost as much as I like the AP's headline, "Court: Teen in Mexico shot by US agent had rights." Given the fetishiziation of the "founding fathers," it's sort of amazing that this ruling would be controversial, particularly among the "patriot" set," given that the likes of Thomas Jefferson wrote -- if didn't actually believe -- that all human beings are endowed with certain inalienable rights by "their Creator," not by governments which grant said rights based on which side of an arbitrary political border one's mother gave birth.

More interesting, though, is how the court picked up on the fact that not acknowledging that Mexicans have rights would allow US border agents to act with impunity, knowing that their actions against a certain group of people -- those on that side of a line on a map -- could never be challenged in a court of law. That would be a real problem, wouldn't it? Of course, we need not imagine what would happen if that were the case; we need only look to Afghanistan or Iraq or Pakistan or Yemen to see what happens with Americans with weapons are given license to do whatever they please without consequence (for them). If they're far enough away, not even American citizens have rights; the family of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen killed by US bombs in Yemen, doesn't even have standing to challenge his killing. He was unilaterally declared a threat by the executive branch and there's nothing anyone can do about it now.

"But international law!" shouts some pipsqueak in the bleachers. Well, listen here, nerd: International law is for losers, not the imperial powers which draft and enforce it. It's for war criminals in Africa, not the war criminals in Europe and America. The only law that one needs to know is that if the United States does something, that means it's legal. How many divisions does the president of Amnesty International got?

While Mexicans along the US border may have just been granted rights -- let's wait to see how the appeal turns out before celebrating -- the rest of world is one big zone of lawlessness for those killing on behalf of the US government.

Dead foreigners don't tell jokes

How seriously do serious American journalists take the fact that the 1990 Gulf War, ensuing sanctions regime and the 2003 invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people – men, women and children with hopes and fears who were just as real as your or me? Choose from the following options:


With Iraq once again the precipice of national disintegration after Islamic insurgents swept through and captured much of the country's territory in the north from the central government in Baghdad, President Barack Obama announced he was dispatching hundreds of troops and military advisers to protect US interests in Baghdad. Drones are being deployed and air strikes are in the offing, which leads to the obvious question: Why don't we have a funny name for this half-assed intervention? And because we Americans are generally terrible and lack the ability to perceive the victims of imperial aggression outside our borders as real live human beings -- as Westerners -- a contest was thus born.

Operation Shiite Storm,” is what one anonymous reader -- let's call him "John Stuart" -- came up with, which two employees of The Washington Post thought was so god damn funny – “genius,” actually, and “so inspired” – that they asked the rest of their readers to weigh in on what funny name they would give this latest military operation. A heads up: none of them are remotely clever or funny because no one who works for The Washington Post is clever or funny and no one who thinks a Post employee or their stupid naming contests are funny or clever can themselves be funny or clever.
I mean, look: “Operation Baracking Bad." That's what someone came up with and some other people decided to publish, the humor derived from the fact that there was a show called “Breaking Bad” that aired for 5 seasons on AMC that had nice cinematography and which many people liked very much. A quick Internet search finds at least 4,500 other instances of this joke.

People. Aren't they the worst?

Of course, it's best not to think too much about these things -- why is that even funny, tell me, tell me why -- lest you become a dour, humorless leftist who gets all upset because a major publication deems it acceptable to recycle a 2003 joke comparing hundreds of millions of Shiites to fecal matter. You might become such a buzzkill that you'd point out that -- actually! -- the current "storm" in question, the one which the United Stages is deploying troops to Iraq in response, is largely the result of Sunni insurgents who hate Shiites.

Before the last of my faith in the Washington press corps was destroyed by my working in the Washington press corps, I would have said that Post reporters should quit the comedy contests and stick to their day jobs, but then this is sort of their job, or at least their function: to make light of the evil so that the public may remain ignorant of the unrelenting horror that is American foreign policy. Turn a war crime into a series of .gifs from "Saved by the Bell" and you just might have a future in Bezos-backed journalism; "speak truth to power" by speaking the truth about what the United States has done to the Sunnis and Shias of Iraq -- and a million dead Iraqis is no joke -- and, well, gosh: you're no fun. But maybe pitch it to Counterpunch?