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.

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Families rally for Gaza, old people for Israel

14) - 26I don’t know if the media narrative on the asymmetric Israel-Palestine conflict is in fact changing for the better, though it does seem as if there are more and more reports in the mainstream press depicting Palestinians as people capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion. What seems apparent, though, is that the Palestinian cause is attracting the young of all races while the pasty-white “pro-Israel” crowd ages into irrelevance.

Young people just aren’t as into Israel as their parents, as I saw at a rally for Gaza that was held this past Sunday in Los Angeles. Though the crowd of several hundred people appeared to be predominantly Middle Eastern, there was a significant contingent of 14) - 6whites and Latinos of all ages and at least one adorable dog showing solidarity with the people of Palestine. Protesters holding signs along busy Wilshire Boulevard received enthusiastic honks from what seemed like every other car that drove by; the only negative response I saw was an old woman in a Lexus who extended her middle finger and yelled “terrorist!” at my partner, her role in Islamic terrorism deduced from her wearing a keffiyeh.

The only real counter-protesters that I saw walking on their own two feet were a couple of 14) - 29guys holding hand-written, multi-colored signs that projected an image of fringe crackpot-ery, as if they could have seamlessly shifted from defending the slaughter in Gaza to explaining how the Muslim Brotherhood uses chemtrails to promote anti-Semitism. Granted, this was a pro-Palestine protest, but look at the faces of those “standing with Israel” and the story is almost always the same: they’re older, white, and display all the defensive hostility  that comes with knowing that support for their cause is slipping away faster than it takes for the IDF to bomb another hospital.

Amid the horror of all that’s happening in the world, there’s some comfort in that — though until it results in in meaningful change, it’s of course little comfort to those having bombs dropped on them.

See more pictures from the rally here.

UPDATE: Statistical evidence backing my anecdotal experience.

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The modern American breadline

bread-line1During the Great Depression, poor Americans would line around the block waiting in line for a bit of bread, photos of which are taken as evidence of just how bad things got during the 1930s. Today, there is still poverty in the United States – about 50 million Americans are poor, according to the official account – but we don’t have bread lines (too much gluten); instead, as I saw Thursday at a farmers’ market in Los Angeles, we have “WIC” lines, in which hundreds of women with young children waited nearly 2 hours for just $20 in vouchers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

At first, I thought maybe I’d stumbled across some sort of radio promotion or, this being LA, the taping of some mediocre television. There was a crowd of around 200 people 2014-07-17 15.51.31outside the East Hollywood subway station when I got there and the crowd kept growing, a stark sight at three in the afternoon, a time when, if people had jobs, they would probably be at them. But jobs are hard to come by these days, particularly in this part of town home to a large number of immigrants from Thailand and the Americas but very few employers – and even fewer willing to offer more than $9 an hour for a retail job.

What I came across was the modern equivalent of the breadline. Minutes after arriving, I noticed there were several women making their way through the crowd wearing bright orange shirts emblazoned with “WIC” on the front of them; as it turns out, they were setting up a table not to give away a Kia, but to distribute vouchers for the adjacent farmers’ market as part of the federally-funded “Women, Infants and Children Program,” an initiative to provide poor mothers with healthy food. The program has nearly 1.5 million participants in California alone, most of whom appeared to be in East Hollywood that day.

2014-07-17 15.51.09The striking thing about it all, the thing that made me realize yet again that things are much worse than portrayed on the evening news, is that these impoverished women with young children waited in line for hours for just $20. Speaking to one of the woman, I learned they had actually been promised $40 in vouchers: $20 from WIC and another $20 from a program called “Market Match,” which had a table right next to the women with orange shirts. Unfortunately, the Market Match program only had $260 to hand out, which meant just 13 out of the hundreds of women who came got the full $40. “Come back next week,” they were told.

About an hour after I arrived, two deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department showed up; someone had called to complain about the sizeable crowd and so the armed wing of the government dutifully came looking to see if the actually-doing-some-good arm of the state had all the proper permits.2014-07-17 16.55.39

“Don’t you actually have any real crime to investigate?” one of the young mothers waiting in the WIC line asked the deputies, who were polite enough – a little apologetic, actually – but certainly not a welcome sight to those who are part of communities that the police traditionally like to harass. The deputies pretended not to hear the question, which was probably for the best (one of the young questioner’s friends told her to quiet down, pointing out she couldn’t take care of her kid if she were in jail).

The proper permits had been obtained, so the police soon left and money for the farmers’ market continued to be handed out. It was encouraging to see some good being done, even if it was only $20 worth of good, and reassuring to see that people actually do want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables – if they can afford them. Of course, the discouraging thing about it all was that any of it was necessary; that women were being forced to wait hours for a paltry amount of money to feed their babies. But such is life for the millions of poor in this, the richest country in the world.

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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)

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LA residents denounce the deportation of migrant youth

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 noLA rally for migrant youth - 4t 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.

“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 LA rally for migrant youth - 9was 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:

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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.

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‘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.

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