Sunday, June 03, 2012

Support & Encourage immigrants and émigrés of the world to unite and demand better treatment before so-called legal regimes or state governments which disrespect the rule of law and have trashed Article 13


Example of Ziyad: “What Jordanian and Israeli Officials have been doing to Palestinians needs to End—and only the World (including the USA) can End these Tragedies by DEMANDING CHANGE” By Kevin Stoda, Middle East Near where I now live and work in Salalah, Oman lives a Palestinian—let’s call him Ziyad—who has been facing one set of tragedies after another due to the fact that most nations in the world do not respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recently, Ziyad’s wife and daughter of 6 months tried to travel from Oman to Palestine via Jordan. They have been left in Jordanian limbo now for over a week. The Jordanian officials at the Jordan Valley border crossing don’t allow the poor 6-month-old girl to travel without her Oman birth certificate, even though the baby has a Palestinian passport on hand already. From my perspective this blockage of passage to Palestine appears to be an attempt to get Ziyad’s wife to pay a bribe in order to let the baby go through, but Ziyad assures me that similar things have happened before to his children and wife. In the meantime, I ask my readers to recall that Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. & (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. Quite obviously, the Jordanian border patrol ignores blatantly these international rules through arbitrarily creating barriers to movement for Ziyad’s wife and baby daughter. A CASE OF PURSUING HAPPINESS Already some months ago, I learnt much more about Ziyad’s lifelong attempt to pursue work, education, and “happiness”. Along the way, he has constantly been faced with barriers by various governments—but mostly from the Israeli and Jordanian regimes. I think it is appropriate to use the term “pursuit of happiness” to describe Ziayad’s journey from childhood to becoming a university professor. I focus on the “pursuit of happiness” because life has been a struggle for him from early on, starting with his birth in the West Bank of what is now called Palestine under Israeli control. Only struggle can spawn happiness for many peoples like Ziyad. “Pursuit of Happiness” is an American theme, too—and I am from the United States, a country which broke from Great Britain over 225 years ago, according to its own Declaration of Independence, in order to allow its people to “pursue happiness”. Likewise, pursuing happiness is a Jewish concept that has not yet been fully internalized in Israel of this century. http://www.aish.com/sp/f/48968901.html I learnt that the pursuit of happiness was extremely important for modern Israelis (including Zionists) when watching the musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF as a child. In that famous American musical production, which is based on a Russian literary classic by Sholem Aleichem, one of the key figures is the tailor, Motel Kamzoil. In one of the early important scenes of the play, Motel persuades the main characters Tevya and his wife, Golde), to condone his betrothal to Tevya’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel. How does Motel succeed in this? Motel calmly concludes his plea with this rhetorical statement, "Even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness." Isn’t he? The Jewish characters in the play and tale from Aleicham all agree. Likewise, despite his humble surroundings, my friend Ziyad has always had big dreams, especially in terms of education. In the 1980s and 1990s he tried several times to travel from his Israeli ghetto (aka Palestine) on the West Bank to North America in order to try and pursue university degrees. He was first accepted at a university in the United States but Israel reused to provide him the exit clearance, i.e. passport & visa clearance, he needed to leave his Israeli occupied homeland and head to North America. A few years later, Ziyad tried again to leave Israel and travel to Canada where he had again been accepted to study. Once again, Israel would not give him permission to leave. Finally, Ziyad’s luck turned and he was allowed about one decade ago to travel from Israel in order to move to nearby North Cyprus (a country only recognized by Turkey) and begin a doctorate degree there. Happily, this is why Ziyad anticipates the chance to defend his thesis later this summer and to return to Oman with his doctorate degree in hand. In the interim, Ziyad was finally able to marry. His first child, a son, was born a few years ago in North Cyprus. As noted above, his second child—a daughter—was born here in Oman just after Christmas 2011. This birth in Oman is now why the baby girl is now unfairly stuck with her mother in Jordan awaiting an opportunity to visit her grandparents and family on the West Bank this May and June of 2012. THE REST OF THE STORY Sadly, this current freezing-out of Ziyad’s child at the River Jordan is not a “first” for Ziyad and his experience with Jordanian border control personnel. Similar to the Israelis immigration and security apparatus which have been so arbitrary in the past with Ziyad and his lack of free movement globally, the Jordanian immigration officers have often proven quite fickle over the past decades when allowing peoples to pass from Jordan into Israeli or Palestinian territory. I recall that my first attempt to cross into Palestine to Israel from the Jordan Valley about 7 years ago was blocked by Jordanian border control officials who apparently wanted more money for their services. (I refused to pay “what I viewed as a bribe” but came back a year later--and tried again. This time successfully.) Later, a few years ago, i.e. after the birth of Ziyad’s first son while he and his wife were living in North Cyprus, both his wife and the new-born baby boy had made a similar trek to their homeland to visit their family. Ziyad’s boy was only 4 months old at the time. Upon arrival in Amman, the baby was detained by Jordanian immigration, and the mother was told that she would be allowed to enter the country but her new-born could not. Why? Well, the baby had been born in North Cyprus and North Cyprus was not recognized as a country by the Kingdom of Jordan. Therefore, even the baby’s birth certificate was considered invalid. Ziyad’s wife wryly replied, “Here are the baby, the baby’s milk, diapers, and food. I will leave the baby here and you take care of him while I go outside and bring back an official in the government to tell you what you need to do in my son’s case.” The Jordanian official was in shock as the mother began to walk away. (Ziyad’s wife didn’t actually leave the room, but she assure us, “You should have seen the look on the guard’s face as she turned and left the baby on the table in front of him.”) I ask, “Why should the official have been surprised?” “When you drive people to desperation, you should anticipate desperate reactions.” MY EXPERIENCE Naturally, not only are Israeli and Jordanian officials and regimes guilty of trashing the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. In any one year, practically every nation on the planet is guilty of such inhuman shenanigans, such abuse of authority, and continual breaking of international agreements. For example, recently for an 18 month-period, the German authorities in Wiesbaden kept my wife separated from me and off of the continent of Europe. My wife has a Filipino passport and the lowest level German immigration officials in Wiesbaden were allowed to manipulate and reverse decisions for many months at a time. Later, in another incident, one Philippine airline officially arbitrarily decided that my wife could not return on a flight with me to Taiwan—even thought my 7-month-old daughter would be allowed to because she had a USA passport instead of a Filipino one as my wife does. My baby was still nursing. The option for me to travel with the baby was non-existent as our many of the kangaroo-court shenanigans of so many visa and national security officers world-wide. In short, Ziyad and his family are far from alone in feeling internationally persecuted and obstructed in many ways from “pursing happiness.” This is horrendous practice because in any one year approximately 200 million people on planet Earth are immigrating or seeking to become immigrants. [1] I wish to take this time to encourage immigrants and émigrés of the world to unite and demand better treatment before so-called legal regimes or state governments which disrespect the rule of law and have trashed Article 13 of the UN Declaration nearly continuously since its inception over 6 decades ago. NOTES [1] FROM: http://www.globalissues.org/article/537/immigration Why do people emigrate? People emigrate from one country to another for a variety of complex reasons. Some are forced to move, due to conflict or to escape persecution and prejudices, while others may voluntarily emigrate. Although such a move may be necessary, it can be quite traumatic on top of the challenges experienced so far. From another perspective, immigration can also represent an act of courage. For example, • Moving to a different country with different culture and norms can be quite daunting; • The potential loneliness to be suffered is not always easy to overcome; • There may be the additional pressure to earn enough to live (in a more expensive-to-live-in country) and send back meager savings. An economic migrant, a person searching for work, or better opportunities, will be stepping into the unknown—an exciting prospect if the person is already well-to-do, or daunting at least, if out of desperation. Effects of Immigration Immigration can have positive and negative impacts on both the host (recipient) country, and the original country. The recipient country is usually an industrialized country in Western Europe, or the United States. For these countries, immigrants offer various benefits such as the following: • Immigrants will often do jobs that people in the host country will not, or cannot do; • Migrant workers often work longer hours and for lower salaries, and while that is controversial, sometimes exploitive, it benefits the host country; • Immigrants, when made to feel welcome in the host society, can contribute to the diversity of that society, which can help with tolerance and understanding; • For the host country’s economy, immigrants offer an increased talent pool, if they have been well educated in their original country. But there are also numerous drawbacks: • Immigrants can be exploited for their cheap labor; • Developing countries may suffer “brain drain” as the limited resources they spend in educating their students amount to very little if that talent is enticed to another country. (The UK for example is often accused of actively hiring medical staff from developing countries. The previous link details this issue further.) • Immigration can also attract criminal elements, from trafficking in drugs and people to other forms of crime and corruption; • Immigration can become a social/political issue, where racism can be used to exploit feelings or as an excuse for current woes of local population; • Where there is a perception that immigrants and refugees appear to get more benefits than local poor people, tensions and hostilities can also rise; • Concerns about illegal immigration can spill over to ill-feelings towards the majority of immigrants who are law-abiding and contributing to the economy; • Many die trying to flee their predicament, and this can often make sensational headlines giving the appearance that immigration is largely illegal and “out of control.” Despite what appears to be large population movements, Gary Younge, from the Guardian noted some time ago that people still are not able to move as freely as commodities. In some places around the world, there are additional restrictions being put up on people’s movements.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Culture Shock Oman: Modesty in the L


Culture Shock Oman: Modesty in the LR By Kevin Stoda, Dhofar Although I have traveled to or lived in more than 100 countries over the past 4 decades, I still run into culture shocks. (This is part-and-parcel of my personal lifelong learning project in any case. In short, I am committed to learning about new places, ways of life and different ways of thinking.) Culture shocks used to take me down—get me depressed for quite some time. However, nowadays, I usually try to take the bull by the horns and turn things around as fast as I can, i.e. chalking such “shocks” all up to experience and to the fact that the planet is filled with thousands of cultures. If we are all going to get along, we have to be tolerant and open to different ways of doing (and thinking about) many things. I want to share the following anecdote about an experience in a men’s locker rooms at a major international hotel chain, a hotel which is not far from where I live in Salalah, Oman. I do this—not because the incident in itself is all that profound--, but rather, it is how I responded and began to search for explanation behind the “culture shock” and how I sought to recover from it which are a model for what I suggest you follow when living and working abroad, especially in the Arab world. The Arab world is far from being a unified culture. This is something almost any guidebook will note. Such a situation is inevitable when one considers that there are some 22 countries which speak Arabic or Arabic dialects as their primary language of communication. Nonetheless, even though I have lived and worked in Arab countries most of the past 15 years, this diversity within the Arab world is something that I can forget or fail to take into context from time to time. I need to note that I have worked in Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE since 1999. In addition, I have traveled to other Arab speaking lands--as diverse as Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Lebanon. I should also explain that in most of these countries, I have undertaken my favorite hobby: swimming. For various health reasons, I have undertaken swimming to relieve stress and to tone muscles. SWIMMING IN ARABIA Quite obviously, swimming procedures for females in the Arab world are certainly more proscribed than the procedures for males. In many of the stricter Islamic countries, women must swim fully clothed. Whereas, men can simply wear shorts in most places. On the other hand, bikini shorts are out in most any place for both genders and men often need to cover themselves with at least a robe or t-shirt when leaving the area of the pool or the beach. Of all the Arab lands I have swum in, the one where I swam in the most often was Kuwait. This is, naturally, because I lived in Kuwait the longest—five whole years. I swam year round there on the Persian Gulf—either at the sea or in the municipal public indoor/outdoor swimming pool in Salmiya. That particular public pool in Salmiya, by the way, had an enormous men’s locker room—where one could both shower and change. Within this particular locker room, life functioned as would be the case in most public locker rooms I had grown up in back in the USA, my homeland. An individual simply changed from one’s street clothes or swimshorts (and visa versa) in front of one’s own locker. In other words, there was no area for private locker space, e.g. with private doors for individuals to change or dress behind. Sadly, most Arab countries do not usually have public swimming pools, like Kuwait had. This is likely due to the modesty of dress and garb for which much of the Islamic world is renowned. SWIMMING IN OMAN On public beaches in Oman, the situation is quite similar to that found in Kuwait and other Gulf state Arab countries. However, the Dhofar region (where I live now) is known a bit more for its conservative and traditional rural lifestyle. Nonetheless, I, myself, from January through March of this year swam at Haffa Public Beach in Salalah. I would often bicycle 2km from my house wearing a swimsuit, t-shirt, and sandals to the sea. I should note that such behavior (of wearing shorts) is totally acceptable for Westerners living in this tourist city of 150,000. There have been enough foreign visitors, tourists, and workers over many decades to this part of the Dhofar region to create an acceptance for men wearing shorts—even away from the seaside and away from the football pitches. At the sea, other swimmers, even a few fisherman, and I would take off our shirts and swim in the waves at the Haffa from late October through March. More fully clothed women and children would occasionally swim, too. Alas, by April each year the waters around Dhofar begin to get rougher--and starting in late June people are no longer even permitted to swim in the sea due to safety concerns. This is due to the rise of Monsoons coming off the Indian Ocean. Finally, in late April, after getting beaten by the strong waves one-too-many-times, I decided or chose to become a member at the local Crown Plaza Resort. The offers a health club, pool, tennis and golf. This was the first time in nearly 25 years that I had decided to join a private health club, so I tried to watch what others were doing so as not make any faux pas. Nevertheless, one Friday evening this may, I was blindsided and almost became angry. A SHOCK OF MODESTY During the weekdays, I usually swim in the mornings (before work), and after my swim and shower I often found the men’s locker room all too myself. However, on weekends, I often came later in the day. On the fateful Friday night in question, I went swimming around 6:30pm and later found myself back in the men’s locker room. Initially, when I walked in, I was likely the one who should have been most upset or disturbed. This was because other members of the club—probably youthful ones who did not know any better—had hung up their underwear, clothing, and robes in front of the showers and not in the lockers nearby, i.e. as decorum would have them do. As I readied myself to shower, I went with my key to my locker and took out the resort’s towel which I had borrowed when I had arrived earlier in the evening. Next, I entered the shower area and pulled a curtain closed. At that point when I showered, I was still wearing my swim trunks. Meanwhile, I had left my towel hanging at my locker rather than across from the showers, i.e. because the inconsiderate youth had disgracefully left their belongings occupying that space. Upon finishing the shower, I was still wearing my swimwear. I walked a few yards back to my locker where now another man was standing. He was trying to put clothes on under a large brown-grey dishdasha (robe). I didn’t think anything about it at the time. I quickly began to dry off with the towel I had hung over my locker door a few minutes earlier. Next, I took off the swimwear in order to continue drying myself more thoroughly and in order to change relatively quickly into my street shorts. At that moment, another local Arab who had come into the small locker room turned and went out quickly. Within a single minute, I found myself confronted and attacked by a loud angry Arab, who was wearing blue squash shorts and shirt, yelling at me, “This is not your home. This is not allowed. It’s unacceptable.” He almost seemed to be wanting to hit me and wanting to grab me and throw me. This man had apparently been called in because he could speak some English. Neither of the two men worked for the health club. Despite my attempts at quiet protest at such a treatment, the loud Arab repeated his mantra four more times, “This is not your home. This is not allowed.” When I enquired with justification where and how I should change my clothes, the man had no insight to offer. He simply repeated, “This is not your home. This is not allowed.” I proffered the solution, “Perhaps I should change in the toilet stall.” However, the man did not condone this either. With the towel placed quickly over my waist, I put my shorts on—with the angry Arab man’s outrage ringing in my ears. Quite obviously, the man felt he was speaking for all Arab’s in the Health Club. I felt unfairly targeted and abused. HOW I PROCEEDED Initially, my anger almost got the better of me. I entertained thoughts of complaining and demanding my money back for my membership immediately. I proceeded with all my belongings to the check-in desk and asked to speak to the manager, who turned out not to be there. I then asked for a pen and paper and wrote up an “incident report” and asked the manager to call me back over the next few mornings. In the report, I asked the manager to look into what had happened and to take time to explain to me the cultural context of the verbal assault I had just faced. Moreover, the bottom-line for me would be “What did I need to do in order to change clothes and not feel like a donkey when I left the club each time?” At the reception, I also asked for the name of the manager, and I was informed that his name was Yosef. I asked whether he was from Oman and was told he was not. He is from Lebanon. A few days later, I finally received a phone call from the manager. By the time, I had finished that call with the Health Club Manager (Yosef), it was clear to me that culturally speaking, the Lebanese Arab was baffled by the behavior of the local Arabs. Yosef said he would look into the matter and get back to me. In the meantime, Yosef made the suggestion and provision that I change my clothes in the massage room area until the matter was cleared up. Interestingly, on my subsequent morning visit to the Health Club, I ran into Manager Yosef from Lebanon for the first time personally. After hearing my description, Yosef had to ponder and ask himself aloud, “How do the locals change?” It turns out that Yosef had only worked in Oman for 8 months and was not aware of any local locker room behaviors that were different from Lebanon and Oman, i.e. until the incident in the locker room occurred the week before. Next, we met with a long-term Omani staff member at Crown Plaza who came to the locker room and discussed locker room protocol with him. The local Arab explained that what I had done in the locker room was haram (forbidden) locally. Our next question was to ask how local Omanis change and use the locker room. I won’t go into any more details here but this process of interviewing a local person to become-in-the-know is someone that everyone needs to contact after one has experienced an incidence of culture shock. In conclusions, I just wish to suggest that next time you, too, experience any form of culture shock, try these steps: (1) Recognize that getting angry or emotional may only escalate stress and pain in the long term—as well as in the short term. In other words, fleeing or fighting are not your best choices. (2) Try to write down and rehearse exactly what happened so you can talk to others about it. Do this immediately after the incident or incidents so that you don’t get into the habit of collecting cultural stresses that will blow up later in unanticipated ways. (3) Decide what is most important for you to achieve some sort of closure or resolution to the stresses and shocks. For example, I decided to focus on three points in my initial letter to the manager and I stuck with them for several days until some sort of solution to my stress was found or achieved. These points were (a) inform the manage what occurred, (b) ask the manager to help me find a solution so I could continue to be a member and go swimming, and (c) find out what the underlying cultural assumption about behavior was. In the case referred to in this lengthy anecdote above), I discovered that the local definition of “Arab Modesty”, i.e. as defined by locals here in Dhofar, is quite different than in Kuwaiti or Lebanese locker rooms for men. In short, not all Arabs nor all Arab cultural practices are the same.

Monday, May 21, 2012

NATO has no Place in Our World in this Century


INTERVIEW from: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/16/as_nato_meets_in_chicago_activists BERNARDINE DOHRN:We’re deeply involved because NATO is a global secret cabal. It is the military arm of the global 1 percent. And really, I think NATO has become background to how we hear the news: "NATO forces, NATO bombings." And when you try to find out what NATO is, you realize that it is the largest global military alliance in human history and that its key elements are that it is about permanent war, it is about dirty war, it is about nuclear war, and it is about hot wars—really four of them right now. So we don’t really know what it is. They are secretive. And when I first went to look at a NATO website to see what it was, a dove floats across the screen on the first page of the official NATO website. By the end of the NATO website, it’s helicopters, fighter planes and drones. So, we, I think, are not made safer by NATO. It is secretive. And it is opposed to peace and to our future. So, a wide array of Chicagoans have come together in a coalition, meeting really for nine months, to stand up and ask for peace, to really say, "We don’t need NATO. We need an end to the war in Afghanistan. We need a complete end to the war in Iraq. We need to rethink what just happened in Libya and what’s going on every day in Pakistan." So there’s an array of events happening, beginning with a National Nurses Association rally, a permitted rally on Friday. I think the support of unions and workers, the support of African-American activists in the city and Latino and immigrant groups, a wide array of women’s and activist groups and Occupy and students, and, in a way, most importantly, the Iraqi and Afghan vets against the war, who will be leading the big demonstration on Sunday when NATO opens its meeting here. NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Bernadine Dohrn, what are the activists who are gathering in Chicago—what are they calling for NATO to do? How do they want the organization to become more accountable? BERNARDINE DOHRN: Well, we think that NATO should be meeting, you know, in an underground bunker or on a remote island. The idea that NATO has been invited to Chicago to have the kind of war games that have been going on here for the last six months and now accelerated this week, so that we have restricted zones, and we have the shutdown of universities and colleges, the shutdown of businesses, the closings of the major museums here, it is being treated as really a practice military zone. And we actually feel very strongly—I think the way Americans feel—that we want an end to these wars. These wars are hated by the American people. They don’t make us safer in any way. In fact, they jeopardize our safety. Bombing foreign countries, occupying other countries in the world does not make us safer. Killing civilians without any accountability makes people angry. And so, our resources, this enormous amount of money and resources, and suddenly we don’t have money here for mental—community mental health clinics. We don’t have money for public libraries or for schools. We don’t have money for public transportation. But somehow we have the millions of dollars necessary, or the mayor accessed the money, to hold this event right here in the city of Chicago. So we want peace and not this wars—permanent wars abroad and military war games and national security state at home. BILL AYERS: Yeah, we would like to see an end to NATO. And we would like to see—in every country, every member country of NATO, there’s a popular movement to ask its government to leave NATO. We want NATO disbanded. NATO is an instrument of war. And after 9/11, it transformed itself. I mean, its name is historical, you know, anomaly, but it’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But after 9/11, the Bush administration invoked Article 5, and it became the instrument of permanent war, pre-emptive war, and it really has no place in a free and peaceful and democratic world. AMY GOODMAN: Well, then, Bill Ayers, let me get your comment on Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO, on why NATO continued to exist after the end of the Cold War. He recently wrote, quote, "NATO needed no external reasons to exist. Yet history would provide them soon enough. "In Bosnia and Kosovo, NATO intervened to stop massive human-rights violations. In Libya, we enforced a [United Nations] Security Council resolution to protect civilians. And in Afghanistan, we are denying a safe haven to extremists." Again, those are the comments of the head of NATO; those are the comments of Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Bill Ayers, your response? BILL AYERS: Yeah, I mean, the problem with all of those is that they’re rationales, and they’re self-affirming. They don’t have any transparency in the sense that people or governments can intervene and say, "No, this is wrong. We don’t want to be a part of that." In fact, I mean, Bernardine began by talking about these kind of four aspects: permanent war, dirty war, nuclear war/nuclear preparation, and then hot wars. What NATO does is it allows every government deniability. So the United States and every other country in NATO violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they do it by saying, "It’s not us who are violating it, it’s NATO is doing it. It’s not U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe, it’s NATO bombs in Europe." Well, that’s just completely false. Afghanistan is a case in point: 90,000 American troops; the next largest force is Great Britain, 9,000. And that coalition is unraveling. The headlines in all the local papers are about the attempt of NATO to hold together through this summit. The election in France of the Socialist party gives new urgency to the fact that NATO is unraveling at the top. People are not in favor of these wars anywhere in the world. And in the United States, there’s only something like 27 percent of Americans support these wars, and yet the wars go on—a real crisis for democracy, a crisis for the peace movement. AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back— BERNARDINE DOHRN: I want to emphasize its secrecy, because this is a meeting that is not open— AMY GOODMAN: Bernardine, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We are joined by Bill Ayers, retired education professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, and Bernardine Dohrn, clinical professor at Northwestern Law School. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with them in a moment, and we’ll also be speaking with a soldier who served in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003 who will be returning his medals at the NATO protests this weekend. Stay with us. [break] AMY GOODMAN: Our guests in Chicago, who are preparing for mass NATO protests this weekend ahead of the largest-ever NATO summit—it’s happening in Chicago starting on Sunday—our guests are Bill Ayers, retired education professor at University of Illinois, Chicago, author of many books, including Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom, as well as Fugitive Days: A Memoir — we are also joined by Bernardine Dohrn, clinical professor at Northwestern Law school, founded Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center. They are two veteran activists, well known for their activism in the 1960s, from SDS to the Weather Underground, deeply involved in the NATO protests this weekend. Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch accused NATO of failing to properly investigate at least 72 civilian deaths in its bombing of Libya last year. In a new report, Human Rights Watch said seven out of the eight NATO bombing sites were found to lack clear military targets. Fred Abrahams authored the report. FRED ABRAHAMS: We have questions that NATO has not yet answered, and we’re calling for prompt, credible and thorough investigations to understand why these 72 civilians died. And until now, NATO has taken a position of denial. They refuse to acknowledge that civilians died. They refuse to give information about how they died. And they refuse to investigate. And it’s this lack of transparency that’s deeply troubling. And I think it will lead to unnecessary civilian deaths in the future, if NATO refuses to look at what went wrong and make corrections. AMY GOODMAN: As part of its investigation, Human Rights Watch interviewed survivors of the August 2011 bombing that killed 30 civilians east of the capital Tripoli. ALI HAMID GAFEZ: [translated] Why did they bomb me? The NATO forces came to fight in order to protect civilians. Because Libya is under satellite surveillance, it’s right in front of them. They can see everything. So we wonder, how is it possible that they could have bombed us? How could they bomb us?

The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America

The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America When workers drilling tunnels at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, began to die, Union Carbide had an answer. It hadn’t been taking adequate precautions against the inhalation of silica dust, a known danger to workers since the days of ancient Greece. Instead, in many cases, a company doctor would simply tell the families of the workers that they had died of “tunnelitis,” and a local undertaker would be paid $50 to dispose of each corpse. A few years later, in 1935, a congressional subcommittee discovered that approximately 700 workers had perished while drilling through Hawk’s Nest Mountain, many of them buried in unmarked graves at the side of the road just outside the tunnel. The subcommittee concluded that Union Carbide’s project had been accomplished through a “grave and inhuman disregard of all considerations for the health, lives and future of the employees." Despite the “Hawk’s Nest Incident” and thousands of Depression-era lawsuits against foundries, mines, and construction companies, silicosis never disappeared. In the decades since, as TomDispatch authors David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz have repeatedly demonstrated, industry worked tirelessly to label silicosis a “disease of the past,” even while ensuring that it would continue to be a disease of the present. By the late 1990s, the Columbia University researchers found that from New York to California, from Texas all the way back to West Virginia, millions of workers in foundries, shipyards, mines, and oil refineries, among other industries, were endangered by silica dust. Today, there’s a new silicosis scare on the horizon and a new eco-nightmare brewing in the far corners of rural America. Like the Hawk's Nest disaster it has flown under the radar -- until now. Once upon a time, mining companies tore open hills or bored through or chopped off mountain tops to get at vital resources inside. They were intent on creating quicker paths through nature’s obstacles, or (as at Gauley Bridge) diverting the flow of mighty rivers. Today, they’re doing it merely to find the raw materials -- so-called frac sand -- to use in an assault on land several states away. Multinational corporations are razing ancient hills of sandstone in the Midwest and shipping that silica off to other pastoral settings around the United States. There, America’s prehistoric patrimony is being used to devastating effect to fracture shale deposits deep within the earth -- they call it “hydraulic fracturing” -- and causing all manner of environmental havoc. Not everyone, however, is keen on this “sand rush” and coalitions of small-town farmers, environmentalists, and public health advocates are now beginning to stand firm against the big energy corporations running sand-mining operations in their communities. Ground zero in this frac-fight is the rural Wisconsin towns to which TomDispatch’s roving environmental reporter Ellen Cantarow traveled this spring to get the biggest domestic environmental story that nobody knows about. Walking the fields of family farms under siege and talking to the men and women resisting the corporations, Cantarow offers up a shocking report of vital interest. There’s a battle raging for America’s geological past and ecological future -- our fresh food and clean water supplies may hinge on who wins it. Nick Turse How Rural America Got Fracked The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About By Ellen Cantarow If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out. As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand -- and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep. Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Military Fights Global Warming


Military Fights Global Warming by Dominique Browning Is the Navy greener than California? As more polls show that a majority of Americans want action on carbon pollution and global warming, leadership on fighting climate change is coming from surprising places—starting with the military. At a recent reception held by Environmental Defense Fund in Washington D.C….Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a speech in which he connected the dots between climate change, energy and security issues. He became the highest-ranking official in the Obama administration to do so. Panetta explained that his Department of Defense is facing a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion because of unexpected fuel costs. “I have a deep interest in more sustainable and efficient energy options,” he said. Secretary Panetta went on to describe how the U. S. military will be called on for humanitarian assistance in the face of rising seas, longer droughts, and more frequent and the severe natural disasters that are a result of global warming. Secretary Panetta was followed on the podium by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who has served since May 2009. In 1987, the Harvard-trained lawyer became the youngest governor in the nation when he won office in Mississippi. Mabus declared, in an inimitably rich Southern drawl: “We buy too much fossil fuel from the most volatile places on earth.” He emphasized that “drilling alone will never solve our national security concerns over foreign oil.” Mabus went on to announce that the Navy has made a commitment to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources, like biofuels, solar and wind, by 2025. That’s the most ambitious goal for renewable energy in the country—higher even than California’s! Mabus pointed out that the Navy has always led in pioneering new sources of fuel, whether it was from moving from sail to coal in the 1850s, to oil in the 20th century, and nuclear energy in the 1950s. “Every time, there were doubters and naysayers,” he said forcefully. “Every time. And every single time, they were wrong and they will be wrong again this time.” Mabus vigorously countered the argument that renewable energy is more expensive. “Well of course it is! Every new technology is more expensive. What if we hadn’t started using computers because they were more expensive than typewriters? What if we hadn’t started using cell phones because they were more expensive than land lines? Where would we be?” Both Panetta and Mabus are on the front lines again—in a battle that will help us curb carbon emissions and lead us to energy independence. Anyone want to join the notoriously craven science deniers at the Heartland Institute in their claim that any leader who fights global warming is no better than tyrants and killers like Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden and Unabomber Kacyznski? Go ahead. Make Secretary Mabus’ day. Photo: Pamela Davis Photography PLEASE TAKE ACTION WITH MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE: EPA COMMENT ON CARBON POLLUTION

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

May 8 and May 9: Sort of Bookends in Our Lives

May 8 and May 9: Sort of Bookends in My (Our) Life By Kevin Stoda It had been said, “Explaining a metaphor to someone is like chewing someone else’s food for them”. Nonetheless, when I claim to see May 8th and May 9th as bookends of important events in my life and of important events in modern world history, I do have to take time to explain. By the way, May 9th is my birth day and May 8th is the birthday of my one and only child. History—in the broad, abstract meaning of the term, as well as in the sense of personal history—looms large in my life (and should loom large in all our lives as we are part of a humongous narration dating back to before the creation of the stars). I felt impelled at an early age to view history as important while at the same time I was living constantly under the shadow of post-WWII nuclear annihilation that always swung like a the universe’s largest dagger over my planet Earth, i.e. through the end of the Cold War. In short, the End of History that the planet Earth faced in those years when the West and the East were at each others throats colored most of my living years, i.e. as our humanity was expected to be destroyed at the hands of a global winter created by both my homeland, the USA, and the Soviet Union. I was born in 1962—the year of the infamous October Nuclear Showdown between the USA and the Soviet Union over the position of nuclear missiles in Cuba. As noted above, I was born on May 9, which was and remains the day when the Russians and many in Eastern Europe celebrate the end of the continents bloodiest conflict. MAY 8TH IN RECENT GLOBAL HISTORY In short, the West celebrated VE-Day or Victory in Europe Day on May 8 and saw the war end on the European continent as ending at midnight on May 8, 1945 (Berlin Time), but since then the East has always celebrated it as occurring a day later—as the Moscow time zone is several hours ahead of Berlin’s. Hence, technically, the war against the Soviet Motherland had ended a day later in the East than in the West. Such is the relativity of history. Like two ying and yang bedfellows—or bookends--, a divided continent could not agree on the exact date for celebrating or recognizing the end of a catastrophe that had led to the death of 50 million peoples or more. It has now been well over half a century since the clocks in war-torn Europe ticked down for Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day). That was May 8th 1945. I should also note that Harry S. Truman, the then serving 33rd President of the United States (1945-1953), was born near Lamar, Missouri in Jasper County (only a few miles from where my own mother lives) on May 8, 1884. On his birthday in 1945, President Truman announced in a radio address that World War II had ended in Europe. Marshal Wilhelm Keitel surrendered to Marshal Zhukov. Germany surrendered and Victory in Europe was achieved by the allies. The May-8th-born Truman would permit the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan three months later. http://www.history.com/topics/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/videos#manhattan-project Those events would discolor the end-of-war celebrations for the next decades as a Cold-War Curtain of Distrust divided not only Europe—but the World for the next four and a half decades. Albert Einstein rightly complained that nuclear weapons—which should have ended all wars but failed to, in fact bring any lasting peace to our planet. Einstein stated, “The release of atom power has chan¬ged everything except our way of thinking…the solu¬tion to this pro¬blem lies in the heart of man¬kind.” Soon the nuclear arms race was on and people were having nightmares of global annihilation. This fear-fascination would create endless-war mobilization for my homeland and its people—the USA. For example, by May 8, 1950, the US Government had become officially convinced that neither national independence nor democratic evolution existed in any area dominated by Soviet imperialism. They considered the situation to be such as to warrant sending “economic aid and military equipment to the Associated State of Indochina and to France in order to assist them in restoring stability and permitting these states to pursue their peaceful and democratic development.” This decision and a series of decisions there-after would lead to what Americans came to know in the 1960s as the Vietnam War. By the way, on May 8, 1967, Boxer Muhammad Ali (b.1942) was indicted for refusing induction in US Army. He (and thousands of other Americans) refused to fight in the Vietnam War out of conscience. I should also add that on May 8, 1952, allied fighter-bombers staged the largest raid of the war on North Korea.) Then six years later, on May 8, 1958, Vice President Richard Nixon of the USA was shoved, stoned, booed and spat upon by anti-American protesters in Lima, Peru. This latter event demonstrated that American politics in the Cold War had lost the hearts and minds of many in the world—kind of like in our present decade—by using the CIA and other forces to overthrow elected leaders and manipulate other country’s politics around the world in the name of fighting an Endless War on Communism. Incidentally, twelve years later, on May 8, 1970, massive anti-war protests again took place across the United States and around the world—i.e. in the wake of the shooting of a number of unarmed protesting students at Kent State university a few days earlier. MAY 9TH and 1962 The ending of WWII in Europe on May 8th and 9th 1945 meant that Germany (and Europe) had been spared the dropping of Atomic bombs that were soon destined for Japan. In the states where I was to grow up (Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois) , the message was made clear. Winston S. Churchill arrived at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, 1946. There he stated, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Triest in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe.” In reply, the Missourian, President Harry S. Truman, responded in 1947, “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.” This Truman Doctrine would be expanded endlessly over the next half century—leading to entangling alliances and wars in almost every corner of the globe. One piece of good news for the word was the rise of rock n roll in the 1950s and other cultural revolutions in the 1960s. Later, on May 9, 1960, the world saw another earth-changing event. That was the day that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the pill Enovid as being safe for birth control use. The pill was made by G.D. Searle and Company of Chicago. “The Pill” created not only a sexual revolution across the globe but also changed the destiny’s of men, women and children alike forever. One woman has noted, “[B]esides the technology [of the Pill], it is[was] also a conceptual leap larger than the fall of communism, larger than the advances in communication that we hold so vital. Women were hitherto enslaved by biology; and suddenly we weren't.” Luckily, despite the presence in the USA of “the Pill”, I was born on May 9, 1962-- two years later—about 60 miles from Chicago and the location of the already famous and wealthy G.D. Searle company. 1962 was a turning point year for the world, too. “ The Cold War continued to worsen when the Russians placed Ballistic Missiles on Cuban land just 90 miles away from the coast of Florida in and JFK called the bluff by threatening war unless they were removed which they were but for a short time the world was on the brink of nuclear war and self destruction. The president then set a goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade and became more involved in politics in Southeast Asia by training South Vietnamese pilots.” http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1962.html 1962 became the first year that both the Soviet Union and the United States decided that M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) or brinkmanship was not necessarily the best strategy for the Cold War Arch Enemies in either the short or the long-term. May 8 and May 9 of 1945 had seen an end to war in western and central Europe, but the USSR and the USA would continually bring the shadow of nuclear holocaust back to that continent—while sharing the possibility of global destruction to others over the next thirty years. http://www.history.com/topics/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/videos#atoll-atomic-test-explosion In many ways, the Cold War and the on-and-off nuclear arms race is simple to comprehend for the children of 2012. Th pre-1990 period in modern history saw the rise of a “Balance of Terror”—with nuclear weapons and destruction as the promised future for several generations. Things were so bad for me mentally as a child of the 1960s that I really thought or felt that with the simultaneous existence of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the interracial war at my home-front and the post-colonial wars everywhere, I really thought by my 3rd and 4th grade school years that the planet was in the midst of WWIII. Growing up, many adults had to explain to me that WWIII did not, in fact, already exist. Finally, in the early 1970s the USA bailed out of Vietnam and several African wars while signing détente with the Soviet Union. This provided my generation and I a breather before the massive Carter-Reagan-Brezhnev Arms build-ups of the late 1970s and early 1980s reversed the positive trends of my early teenage years. By 1983, I would join the Menschenkette and anti-Missile marches in Germany. My friends would march in massive demonstrations in New York and elsewhere. Similar to the ill-fated antiwar marches and protesters of 2003 in the run-up to George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion, many generations of peace-seekers were ignored by the politicians in early and mid-1980s in Europe and Latin America. The USA became once again the supreme global arms merchant and went after the heartland of the Soviet Union by gambling on its ability to outspend the Communists and bleed them to death in Afghanistan. Finally, people power began to win out in the late 1980s as many of the East European anti-nuke activists aligned themselves with democratic forces and toppled regimes across the region. Only starting in early 1990 could I—for the first time in my life—look forward to a future that would not be overshadowed full-time by nuclear winter. Interestingly, despite the rise of terrorism and the growing militarization of my homeland, the USA, I can look forward to a long future, which I am again celebrating this May 9, 2012 (for the 50th time). I was married four years ago and now have a daughter, who was born on May 8, 2010. I celebrate her birthday today with my lovely wife. My daughter and I are the bookends with my wife in the middle. We still have hope for the future—despite possible rise of nuclear attacks from Israel, Iran, Saudi, the USA or anywhere. I encourage you to get to know history and teach your children well the narration of their lives and how we—humanity—all fit into each others stories. NOTES Factoids are collected from this website for May 8 http://timelines.ws/days/05_08.HTML and May 9 http://timelines.ws/days/05_09.HTML More on history and fallout from the Atomic Bomb Decision is here: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm

Saturday, May 05, 2012

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT–CAN IT BE DONE WITH HIGH ABSENTEE RATES?


MISSING CLASSES by Kevin Stoda, Salalah, Oman According to Alexander Astin’s work on improving student involvement and his work towards a better theory of tertiary developmental education, “If an institution commits itself to achieving maximum student involvement, counselors and other student personnel workers will probably occupy a more important role in institutional operations. Because student personnel workers frequently operate on a one-to-one basis with students, they are in a unique position to monitor the involvement of their clients in the academic process and to work with individual clients in an attempt to increase that involvement. One of the challenges confronting student personnel workers these days is to find a ‘hook’ that will stimulate students to get more involved in the college experience: taking a different array of courses, changing residential situations, joining student organizations, participating in various kinds of extracurricular activities, or finding new peer groups.” Alas, in both paternalistic and traditional tribal societies of all kinds, the university and schools are not emphasized as places where students belong so much as a place where they simple must go to in order to obtain a diploma, which will buy them a rung in their next position in life. TEACHING IN SUCH SOCIETIES Since 1999, I have taught in 3 Middle Eastern countries. I have taught primarily at the tertiary level but have also taught at the primary and secondary levels. In every one of these locations—i.e., in Oman, in the UAE, and in Kuwait—one singular phenomenon has been the almost universal: This phenomenon involves problems of truancy from classes. As a professional in the field of international development in education, I have been concerned with this matter for several reasons. On the one hand, the problem of absenteeism limits the students’ foreign language acquisition. The one main reason for this deficit is that time-on-task undertaking ever-more-difficult exercises (or activities) is considered the number one variable in second language acquisition world-wide. (Krashen, 2003) On the other hand, the habits which one enquires in one’s youth often continue to dominate later in life. So, if I am not concerned with the short-term problems of absenteeism, the long-term results of absenteeism should be of my greatest concern. For example, absenteeism amongst Gulf nationals in Oman, Kuwait, and UAE personnel has been so high historically that foreign and national firms do not often like to hire them—and often give them jobs of few consequence because of the fear of high absenteeism and lack of commitment to being on the job when needed. Here is a headline story from Kuwait this past winter: “Kuwait's public sector operated with half of its staff after around 160,000 employees failed to show up for work on Tuesday following a four-day holiday. Excuses for the high-level absenteeism included trips abroad and sick leaves, local Arabic daily Al Jarida reported.” http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/kuwait/kuwait-pledges-administrative-action-against-absenteeism-1.988046 By the way, “The highest levels of absenteeism were recorded at the ministries of education and information, followed by higher education and health.” Interestingly, not all educational faculty, professors and administrators are equally concerned with the issues of either tardy-ism or absenteeism. Typical of these instructors is Dr. Ibrahim Inwa, head of the anatomy department at the Sultan Qaboos College of Medicine. In one recent newspaper interview, Dr. Inwa stated, “The causes of absenteeism that I usually hear included: I have overslept because I spent the whole night studying.[or ] I think I am not benefiting from the classes, or I have a problem with transportation. The most common cause I commonly hear from the student is we have an exam after the lecture and we are preparing for it.’” Dr. Inwa continues, “Inactive classes are really a serious problem for the instructor themselves. However, students shouldn’t be forced to attend the lecture. I believe attending the lecture shouldn’t even be compulsory and attending classes is directed by the way the student likes to learn in. There are so many different ways of learning and lectures are just one. The only solution is to make the classes more interactive and enjoyable. ‘Team based learning’ makes students attend classes and this was applied for the last two semesters in the course of “introduction to anatomy’ where the attendance was almost full.’” INSUFFICIENCY OF TEAMS WITHOUT ATTENDANCE While I agree that team-based learning which is combined with team-work (individual and group-work) evaluations can motivate students to attend classes, and through teamwork, they can become involved more in improving their own life-long learning habits. Nonetheless, short-term absentee issues can lead to long-term absenteeism in most any setting where students do not actually learn to study better or are not motivated to take charge of their own study habits or lives in any serious manner. I find it more than a bit cavalier in a developing land (or even in any so-called developed country) to assume that good study habits come by a sort of osmosis. It might be acceptable at the most elite colleges or school to assume that most every student comes into the classroom as sort of wind-up-machine which simply needs to be wound-up to operate properly. However, such an assumption is dangerously naïve concerning almost any other educational or developmental setting. Nonetheless, too many teachers, professors, and Middle Eastern students state through both voice-and-action that they, too, see no link between attendance and success in education. Concerned about this very issue, I have recently written two articles: The first is called Group Evaluations that Support and Clarify Professional Practices and Soft Skills for Students http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=149541 How important is Classroom Attendance for University Students? http://www.opednews.com/articles/How-important-is-Classroom-by-Kevin-Anthony-Stod-120425-216.html The second simply raised this attendance question for global discussion: How important is Classroom Attendance for University Students? Good study habits—just like good work habits—are often time-sensitive phenomena and need to be treated like that. This is true even as we simultaneously teach or train students on a daily and a weekly basi--while attempting to encourage them to see life as a life-long learning undertaking. When the first industrial revolution took place in the UK, clocks began to sprout up all over the place to help people to become a bit more aware of time and to see time as a commodity. According to one article concerning architecture in India, "The clock tower was devised in the aftermath of the industrial revolution because it highlighted the importance of time. This western concept was integrated in urban planning as an architectural landmark.” A similar phenomenon has occurred in Oman since it began its path to modernity some four decades ago. Every major road crossing has a famous clock placed at it. However, in Islam, telling time has always been important. That’s why prayer clocks had come into vogue throughout the Middle East long before clock towers had. Nowadays, every cell phone has a clock and many Omanis have more than one cell phone. In short, being conscious of time and place is not all that new a concept to the greater Middle East. WATCHES AND NO-WATCHES, TIME AND NO-TIME My own brother, Ronald Paul Stoda, who has been teaching math to others for well over 25 years in both in the Navy and the United States, has not worn a watch, and he seldom consults a cell-phone—unless he makes a phone call or answers one. He has his own inner clock that he had acquired over his formative student (and early work years. This is sufficient for him to work with others—i.e. focusing on their learning and personal needs, while usually trying not to be tied to the ticking sound of any particular far-off deadline or time clock. My brother adapts to new student’s needs and expectations as the years, decades and generations roll on. This does not require strict adherence to clocks, time nor attendance, but it does require time spent teaching and learning. Naturally, what my brother’s life illustrates for me is that becoming time-centered in one’s work or classroom does not mean one needs to be time-centered in all facets of one’s life. In a-sort-of-rebellion to our time-centeredness world and in order to divorce a positive focus on people from negative time-laden disciplines of our lives, many others of us have taken to not wearing watches nor using cell-phones for weeks, months or years at a time. “Why should we?” we ask. We can ask other people the time when we need to, can’t we? Meanwhile we focus on what is important and life-long learning is important. In order to keep on track, we need to focus our efforts not simply on time but on quality time. Don’t you agree? Through whatever means, an instructor or professor must enable his or her students to have a quality experience in the time they are assigned or allotted to work with students. However, if students enter the high school, the university or his work-world totally insensitive to school or workplace’s expectations of time, the need to develop and appreciate quality time should be sacrosanct. If we don’t both offer and participate in great learning moments—then we are doing everyone a disservice. Interestingly, even in developing countries or traditional societies, there has been a growing awareness that time-lost related to absenteeism or tardy-ism is detrimental to the total human development (which most of us our seeking in 2012). Dr. Rahma Al-Mahroqi, who is a professor in the English department at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in Muscat notes, “Students always have the same justification for their absenteeism. I think absenteeism could be a symptom for more serious problems, so it has to be dealt with. Those students who regularly are absent are wasting not only their time, but they also waste the money that the university spends for them.” Dr. Al-Mahroqi adds that the university administration and her department might share in the blame for continuing some instances of the lack of attendance in some classes. She says, “If it [lack of attendance] is done of our carelessness, it is a sign of disrespect for the teacher and for learning. . . .. Teachers can reduce the rate of absence in their classes simply by applying the clear SQU policies regarding absenteeism and students should be familiar with these rules. Teachers must design their classes with fun and enjoyment, so students would be motivated to attend these classes.” However, many students at Sultan Qaboos University (and other Omani universities and schools) need more support and stricter application of good attendance rules from staff and administrators, i.e. students and administrators should not just simply demanding more-interesting classes. For example, one student in the college of education, Salim Al-Shuraiqi, claims, “The high rate of absence among students happens because the policy of attending classes is not strongly emphasized and sometimes doctors do not follow it. Being sick or having accidents are the main causes for students to not attend their classes. The students will exploit their doctors if they do not deal with this issue strictly and they will keep missing classes. Students should be aware that being absent will affect them negatively.” Affecting them “Negatively” could mean the dropping of a student from a course—immediately after a few absences. Currently, the number of absences permitted in many Omani universities for students is well over 25% of all classes. No wonder attendance is not taken seriously! This contrasts with where I attended in the USA—where absenteeism of over 2, 3, or 5 percent of all classes was just not permitted. Moreover—I should note--, I had attended a small university in the USA and it was not uncommon for a student to regularly run into one’s instructor on a regular basis outside the classroom or outside his or her office hours. So, the teacher and student had a lot more opportunity through regular contact to build rapport and respect. This building of rapport and respect is what students, themselves, are eliminating as a possibility in their academic and university careers when they maintain approximately 25% or more absences in a term—simply because the current administrative system at a particular university (or their family obligations) encourages them to do so. Importantly, I should note that family obligations, such as “having to drive a sister to a hair salon or out shopping”, is currently enough in many Gulf State Arab societies fro administrators to forgive a student for missing several afternoon classes in a row. This reflects societal preferences of putting the family ahead of all-things or most-things educational. One other student at Sultan Qaboos University, Mana Al-Aufi explains, “ Students usually miss classes because there will be an exam after the missing class. I think that the acceptable excuses behind being absent are mainly medical or social ones [from the administration’s perspective]. I consider students’ attendance as an issue which is primarily controlled [though] by the student’s attitude For SQU students, I think missing classes will be a time and money consumed, especially if lectures and resources were already prepared for students to attend and very little students actually attend the classes.” Quite obviously, absences at work and at schools are not taken seriously because neither a carrot or stick is being used by society and administrators to maintain serious levels of attendance. This leads students and families to continue with a social attitude and set of behaviors that are disrespectful to the work place and the teachers who are seeking to build rapport or seeking to development motivating and interesting lessons. EXAMPLE Here is a concluding example of how many Middle Eastern students are not trained prior to arriving at universities to comprehend what the true costs and values of education are. Last Wednesday, I had painstakingly prepared a quiz for my two dozen students based upon a reading assigned as homework on Tuesday. At class time on Wednesday afternoon, only two students showed up for class. These more-serious students then noted—as usual—that unnamed classroom leaders had determined that the entire class should skip that day, i.e. with the hope of persuading either the teacher or the administration not to count that class period absent. Some excuses could be concocted at a later date for the absences when-and-where needed. This occurred exactly one day after both an administrator and counselor had come to talk to them about their behavior attendance and other issues. I tried in vain to get these two particular students to take their quiz for that day—for their own good. Moreover, I could then decide whether they had understood the material at home or not. (The quiz was a listening task that basically replicated the reading topic from the night before.) These students refused—knowing or believing that Omani group sense of respect and tribal pressures are more important than what a foreign teacher has to tell them. Finally, after it became clear that I would neither cancel the class nor cancel the quiz, these two male students said good-bye and went home. Later, I declared my consternation to my local administrator. He simply shrugged, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” In short, the administrator had already warned that particular group of students about the importance of attendance and of the importance of keeping up with assignments, which we are trying to instill in these students through the practice of continuous assessment. He wasn’t going to waste another word on them. I was left with no evidence of learning for the day. Hopefully, these students will get the message when their (low) marks for the term come around—because, in this society, they are quite likely to bamboozle their way out of any attendance warnings they receive. NOTES Astin, Alexander W. (1999) Student involvement: a developmental theory of higher education, Journal of College Student Personnel, 40 ( 5), 518-529. Krashen, Stephen D. (2003) Principles and Practices in Second Language Acquisition, University of Southern California, http://www.sdkrashen.com/Principles_and_Practice/Principles_and_Practice.pdf

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is it really important for university students to attend classes?


Attendance Issues Plagues Indian Universities too By Kevin Stoda, an American who has taught at universities in Asia, the Americas, and Germany. In test-driven educational settings, like in Japan and Korea, attendance in university classrooms has historically been de-emphasized or neglected historically. Only recently have some Asian countries begun to see the light as to lost-time-on-task for language and theoretical acquisition. In the Middle East and in Europe, especially in Germany, lack of attendance of university classes by students has been an issue for decades (if not centuries). Now, I have learnt it is also an issue in India. See link: Attendance issues flare up again at Delhi University In the 1980s, I studied in Germany and discovered that there was a very big problem with attendance and seriousness in classroom studies. I have since taught in Oman, the UAE, and Kuwait–where very big attendance problems adversely affect foreign language acquisition–even at universities that have the primary teaching language as English ( a foreign language for most). The central European attitude was that the good student studied a lot on their own and in teams. This is somewhat the case in the Middle East but has proven unsuccessful as an approach to learning in every Gulf State I have taught at. The whole lack of time-on-task spent practicing the target language has killed achievement levels at many Gulf State universities. In many American universities and private universities in Mexico, attendance is taken much more seriously. This has led to greater improvements by students in a shorter prior of time. This emphasis on study and practice-time mandated in the USA classrooms may be one reason why USA universities are appealing to foreign students from across the globe. The emphasis on attendance is high in Indian schools but not at the tertiary level. Perhaps, the Indian students who are missing more than 30% of their classes need to reflect on why so many of their peers go to the USA to study, i.e. the culture of studying is more serious (and costly). What is your slant? Is it really important for university students to attend classes?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Thought for the Day from the Middle East: Surra 109.6 Despite specifically strong Koranic texts demanding tolerance of Muslums towards other faiths, some so-called Islamic leaders and states ignore the Koran and call for the destruction of churches, temples,and peoples of other faiths. Get back to the source, please. :::::::: Is each person be free to believe as he or she wishes? (109:6) “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.” CONTEXT: 109: The Disbelievers 109:1 Say: O disbelievers! 109:2 I worship not that which ye worship; 109:3 Nor worship ye that which I worship. 109:4 And I shall not worship that which ye worship. 109:5 Nor will ye worship that which I worship. 109:6 Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion. NOTE: A sura (also spelled surah, surat; Arabic: سورة‎ sūrah) (pl. Arabic: سور‎ suwar) is a division of the Quran, although it can be approximately referred to as a chapter. The term chapter is sometimes avoided, as the suras are of unequal length; the shortest sura (Al-Kawthar) has only three ayat (verses) while the longest (Al-Baqara) contains 286 ayat. An ayat means “verse” in the Koranic text. This thought for the day was looked up & noted in the wake of the abusive misinterpretation of the Quran by a so-called Grand Mufta in Saudi Arabia last month. Perhaps the Grand Mufti should resign and apologize or be replaced. what do you think?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

CONVERSATION ON AMERICAN POVERTY as 1 in every 2 AMERICANS are now Poor

This is the most important conversation, America. Get talking and get demanding and get marching.--KAS Part 2: Tavis Smiley & Cornel West on Growing Up Poor, Occupy Wall Street and Trayvon Martin Cas In part two of the DEMOCRACY NOW interview, Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West discuss growing up in working-class households. “I saw so much poverty growing up,” says Smiley, who lived with 13 family members in a three-bedroom trailer and learned that even when he was not optimistic, he could be hopeful. “Hope needs help,” Smiley notes. West recalls how he worked with the Black Panthers to organize a general strike while growing up in Sacramento, California, in order to push for African-American studies programs in local high schools. Looking at current events, Smiley and West cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s comment that “war is the enemy of the poor” and compare the amount of money spent in Iraq and the 2012 presidential campaign to funding for programs that assist the one in two Americans who are now poor. They also discuss the Trayvon Martin case and react to Ted Nugent’s potentially threatening comments about President Obama at the recent National Rifle Association meeting. Click here to see Part 1 of this interview. AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, as we continue with our conversation with PBS broadcaster, NPR broadcaster, Tavis Smiley, and Princeton University professor and preacher, Cornel West. They have written their first book together, though they have written many books separately, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. You know, this is your first book together, and I was wondering if you could each talk about your own lives, because you talk about each other’s lives in the beginning of the book. But Tavis, talk about where you grew up and the circumstances, your family. TAVIS SMILEY: Let me just say, given that I regard Dr. West as the leading public intellectual in our nation, that I regard him as a Du Bois of our time. For all the good work we’ve done together for 25 years, nothing has delighted me more than to have my name on the cover of a book next to his name, because I so love and respect and revere Cornel West and his contributions to this great nation and the world, for that matter. So, to get a chance to sit and write a book with him, where we bring our shared experiences and individual experiences to bear on a topic like poverty, was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. And our upbringings are very different. We are brothers connected at the heart. We grew up in very different environments. He can speak about his own. But I grew up as one of 10 kids. I’m the eldest of 10 kids, grew up in a three-bedroom trailer, my seven brothers and me in one bedroom, my two sisters and my maternal grandmother, Big Mama, in the second bedroom, and my mother and father, Joyce and Emory Smiley, in the third bedroom—13 people in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom trailer. That’s how I was raised, in a trailer park with all white people. We were the only black family for miles around in this white trailer park. The good— AMY GOODMAN: Where? TAVIS SMILEY: In Indiana, North Central Indiana. The good news about that is I learned at an early age that we can get along, if I could take Rodney King’s question and answer it: yes, we can get along. America is a nation where black and white and red and brown and yellow can come together for the sake of making America a greater democracy. So I’ve always believed in the best of America. In that sense, I resonate with Martin’s dream, rooted in the American Dream. I resonate with Dr. King in that regard. On the other hand, though, I saw so much poverty growing up, because I lived that story growing up. And I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve been blessed. And the short answer is, I know that, even when we can’t be optimistic—and Doc makes this point all the time—even when we can’t be optimistic, we can always be hopeful. And I’m a witness, I’m an example, that you can build an entire life on hope. As I’ve gotten older, though, I realize, though, that hope needs help. And those of us who have the platform and have the opportunity to speak for those who don’t have a voice, Doc and I believe and argue in the book, that is, the telling of truth that allows suffering to speak, so that the suffering is never heard, much less addressed, if those of us who have platforms, like Democracy Now!, don’t raise our voices to speak out on their behalf. That’s why I celebrate what you do and celebrate the opportunity to do this book with Dr. West. JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Cornel West, the amazing thing about this is that poverty is no stranger to either of you. Talk about your upbringing. CORNEL WEST: Well, I didn’t grow up in the same kind of poverty this brother did, though. He was broke as the Ten Commandments financially. We had some flow of resources, you know what I mean? It was more working class, lower middle class. But most importantly, we were spiritually rich. We were morally rich. Irene and Clifton, my parents, my brother Cliff, my sisters Cynthia and Cheryl. I’m the father of Zeytun and Cliff and grandfather of Kalen. I’ve lived an extremely blessed life, even though I come out of that—both stable working class, lower middle class. When I met this brother, we decided—what, 25 years ago? AMY GOODMAN: You grew up in Sacramento. CORNEL WEST: Sacramento, California, yeah. It was 25 years ago, I say, “We are going to live and die to keep alive the legacy of Martin King and Fannie Lou and [inaudible]— AMY GOODMAN: You were fighting from when you were in school. You were what? President of your class, but fighting to include African-American studies? CORNEL WEST: Yeah, we had a general strike, absolutely. AMY GOODMAN: What year was it? CORNEL WEST: That was 1969. We shut the whole— AMY GOODMAN: And why did you strike? CORNEL WEST: —city down to make sure they had black studies in every high school, who wanted it. We weren’t authoritarian to coerce everybody, you know. But already, you know, we had been set on fire by not just Martin King, but I was working closely with the Black Panther Party, as a Christian, of course. We had wonderful tensions, but I was working the breakfast program, working with them every day trying to ensure they had black studies. And so, when Tavis and I come together, he’s from Kokomo, Indiana—Sacramento, California—boom! King legacy 2012, in our own feeble way. I mean, you know, we’re just doing what we could do before we die. JUAN GONZALEZ: And we’ve been covering extensively on Democracy Now!, when you talk about fighting for black studies in the schools, the battle in Arizona in Tucson over the state legislature passing a law— CORNEL WEST: Oh, yeah, absolutely. JUAN GONZALEZ: —that essentially bans Latino studies in the city of Tucson in the public schools there. CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. AMY GOODMAN: And the books that are the heart of the curriculum. CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, and they banned the books that are the curriculum. CORNEL WEST: But as you point out in your magisterial text, old brother, in some ways, that’s a compliment, because when the powers that be want to suppress the truth, we know truth crushed to earth shall rise again. The truth is dangerous. JUAN GONZALEZ: Right. CORNEL WEST: The truth is—pushes people against the wall. AMY GOODMAN: You both, in your book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, refer to Dr. King. I wanted to play a clip of Dr. King. You talk about his campaign against poverty. This was the speech he gave not far from here, Riverside Church, April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans. That is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. King, April 4th, 1967. Tavis Smiley, it’s not the speech we usually hear when referring to Dr. King. TAVIS SMILEY: It is the most courageous speech that Martin King ever gave in his life. And for giving that speech, he was demonized. We talk about this in our work. King, in the last poll taken in his life about his acceptance in popularity in the country, 55 percent of black had turned against black people because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. Seventy-two percent of Americans across the board had turned against Dr. King because of his opposition to the war. JUAN GONZALEZ: New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized against him. CORNEL WEST: Oh, man. TAVIS SMILEY: They killed him. CORNEL WEST: Basically him a communist, basically called him a communist. TAVIS SMILEY: They absolutely did. They did. That speech is, again, the most courageous speech he ever gave. And there’s one line in that speech—many lines, but one that always resonates with Dr. West and myself, and we talk about it in this book, we quote him in this text: “War is the enemy of the poor.” That’s Martin King. “War is the enemy of the poor.” And the two of you, given the fine work you do here on this Peace Report every day, you understand that. All the resources, the trillion-plus dollars we’ve spent in these military excursions—you can’t even call them “excursions” now, because we’re now—this is the longest war in the history of this country; it’s not an excursion anymore. CORNEL WEST: Invasion, occupation. TAVIS SMILEY: Exactly, without, obviously, an exit strategy. But think of all the money spent there that could have been spent on programs here for the poor, number one. Number two, now that we’re no longer in Iraq, as we once were, at least, how will that money be spent domestically that was being spent in Iraq? And since I’m talking about money, and we’re talking about this campaign for the White House, if Mitt Romney is going to raise, as the papers suggest, about $600 million this time around, Barack Obama last time raised $750 million and will raise more now that he’s an incumbent—I’m no math major—you put those two together, you’re talking a billion-plus dollars. Think of how much money—what that money could be used for vis-à-vis programs in this country. But there’s so much money in our politics, both parties beholden to big business and to corporate America, and that’s not even mentioning all the money now being activated by these super PACs. But just think about all that money to run a campaign for the White House and what that money could be used for. It’s sickening to me, quite frankly. JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the amazing thing to me also is, in the midst of this crisis, all of these governments, both the federal government and the state governments, talking about cutting back expenditures, all aiming at the pension funds, the pension funds of city workers, of teachers, of other folks, a way to actually accelerate the move toward poverty, not to pull it back. CORNEL WEST: That’s right, because then we’ve got to think we know that the austerity cuts just reinforce recession, reinforce depression, make it more difficult to generate demand on the part of working people, having resources to spend even. So this is even within the capitalist framework, it reinforces the race to the bottom, without any serious consideration of not just taxes on the wealthy, but attempts to restructure the economy in such a way that something called “public interest” has real small substance. AMY GOODMAN: And then, what about the crackdown on dissent in this country? CORNEL WEST: Oh, yes. AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we see the report just came out of UC Davis, the—very critical of the administration for the in-the-face pepper-spraying of these students who were protesting tuition hikes. CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. AMY GOODMAN: You see the encampments of Occupy wiped out around the country. You see police forces in this country—you talk about the war abroad and the billions that go into that—police forces in this country that are getting millions of dollars. They’ve got drones. They’ve got tanks. And then you— JUAN GONZALEZ: The surveillance of the Muslim community, right? By the New York Police Department. CORNEL WEST: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. AMY GOODMAN: That’s right, the Associated Press just winning the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the monitoring of the Muslim community. CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. You know, I’m very blessed to stand with Brother Christopher Hedges and Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg and others against the U.S. government in terms of this National Defense Authorization Act. We were just in court here, 500 Pearl Street, a few weeks ago, and we’ll come back. Meaning what? Section 1021, 1022: U.S. government has the right to detain persons without trial, without due process, without judicial process, if you are in some way associated with associate forces of terrorist groups or have some connection with terrorist groups. Which means, in the ’80s, I’m going straight to jail, because nobody is going to stop me from being in contact with Nelson Mandela, and he’s on the terrorist list for 20-some years. That’s sponsored by the U.S. government. So that is part of the criminalizing of dissent. And we always know, in the middle of these kinds of cultural and political and outright military wars, truth is always the first casualty. AMY GOODMAN: We have been covering a case that happened on November 19th. This whole country knows about Trayvon Martin, not because in Florida they decided to prosecute the shooter, George Zimmerman, but because, first, people rose up all over the country. TAVIS SMILEY: That’s right. CORNEL WEST: That’s right. AMY GOODMAN: And although the special prosecutor, when she said, you know, “This is not because of outcry; this is because we’ve looked at the facts” — that’s clearly the case, they looked at the facts, but what got it into the hands and the purview of a special prosecutor, what it takes in this country—Juan and I have been looking at this case of a man named Kenneth Chamberlain in White Plains, New York, not far from here, lived in a public housing project, 68 years old. He was a corrections guard, before that a Marine. He was also a heart patient, and he wore a medical alert pendant. He rolled over on it, apparently, or something triggered it at 5:00 in the morning on November 19th. It alerted the life alert company. They couldn’t reach him on the little box in the dining room that, you know, speaks to the person who’s in the room, so they called police, said, “Not a criminal issue. It’s a medical emergency. Get over there.” They got over there. They started slamming on the door, and then they really started slamming. Yes, Chamberlain got up. He said, “I’m OK. I’m OK.” Life alert company called the police, said, “Hey, cancel the call. He’s OK. We are talking to him.” He’s telling the police, “I’m OK. I’m OK.” He’s saying “Semper fi, Semper fi, I’m OK.” They take the door off its hinges. They take a taser gun, and you see the video of the taser gun that the DA now has, and it shows him in his boxer shorts, according to his lawyers and his son. And they tase him. But that was not enough. They then shot him dead, this heart patient. Within an hour, this happened. And this is a case that’s now before a grand jury in White Plains. It hasn’t got as much— JUAN GONZALEZ: It happened in November. AMY GOODMAN: Right, and it finally got to the grand jury many months later. It’s not clear what will happen. Juan, reporting for the New York Daily News, found the name of the police officer who shot him dead, Anthony Carelli. JUAN GONZALEZ: Who also happened to have already a federal case against him for beating up two Muslim brothers in another arrest case, and he’s about to go to trial on that case. CORNEL WEST: Wow. JUAN GONZALEZ: And meanwhile, he’s the one who shot— AMY GOODMAN: And this was very embarrassing to the police, when Juan found the name of the police officer, because it just so happens, on April 23rd, they have sued him. He was calling them “rag head.” We have pictures of their faces beaten. This is the same officer who shoots him dead. And you hear on the tape—by the way, LifeAid was recording everything in the room, because that’s what they do, because they’ve got a patient on their hands. JUAN GONZALEZ: But again, it was only the public uproar—once the family was able to see the tapes, the public uproar that developed afterwards, that even, you know, got to the point now where a grand jury is sitting hearing the evidence, but no guarantee of what’s going to happen. CORNEL WEST: But also, it’s the crucial role of the courageous investigation that the three of you represent. We’ve got three of the most progressive journalists willing to tell the truth, and then allows the information to come to light, then the public outrage. Then the status quo has to respond in some way. And you hope then that rule of law will not be arbitrary, but actually be fair. AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Trayvon Martin and what this case signifies? TAVIS SMILEY: The case you’re referencing now, though, let me just say that—and I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few months, of course—I’m always looking for that proverbial, you know, silver lining inside the dark cloud. And I hope that the Trayvon Martin case, the case that you’ve just referenced now, Occupy movement, reminds the American people that we do have agency, that we do have access and the opportunity to raise our voices, to exercise our right to vote, to take to the streets. And we’re in a moment, as Doc says all the time—and we, again, talk about this in the book—that this really is a moment of fightback. We are in a moment of fightback in this country. And that’s why we said earlier in this conversation that we are on the precipice of losing our democracy. When you start seeing people’s civil liberties sacrificed in the way they are, being sacrificed, to your point earlier, Amy, when you see this kind of dissent, when you see poverty run amok, and half of us are in or near poverty—this democracy is very fragile. It’s very fragile. Doc says all the time, we’ve grown older, and we have grown wiser, but we’ve not grown up, after all the years of being in this democracy. And so, I hope that this moment at least underscores and reminds us that we do have a role to play here, that we do have to raise our voices, again, that we do some agency here. My read of history suggests to me that there’s no empire in the history of the world that at some point did not falter or fail. And for whatever reason, call it American exceptionalism, we don’t even want to think about the fact that we, as a nation, as a democracy, could be right at the edge, could be on the precipice of something very dangerous. But all these examples that we’re talking about right now and the wonderful work that you do here on The War and Peace Report, on Democracy Now!, underscores that our democracy is very, very fragile. And the Trayvon Martin case is just another example. Twenty years after the Rodney King riots in L.A.—I live in L.A., as you know. We’re on that anniversary now. Twenty years ago, our city burned, because we couldn’t get justice with those officers in the Rodney King beating. And we learned from that, apparently. We learned nothing from O.J. And God knows what and if we’ll learn anything from Trayvon Martin. But this democracy is in trouble. And those of us of conscience have got to start—got to start speaking up. AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Ted Nugent, Romney supporter, NRA activist—this weekend, the Secret Service is investigating him for making potentially threatening comments about President Obama at this recent NRA meeting. TED NUGENT: If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. You’re—why are you laughing? You think that’s funny? That’s not funny at all! I’m serious as a heart attack. Isn’t the enemy that ruined America, it’s good people who bent over and let the enemy in. If the coyotes in your living room [expletive] on your couch, it’s not the coyotes’ fault; it’s your fault for not shooting him. So, it’s an important time. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Am I—any questions? AMY GOODMAN: That is NRA activist, Mitt Romney supporter, Ted Nugent. Professor Cornel West? CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean, you know, he’s just—he’s a right-wing crusader, full of a lot of hate, full of a lot of venom, a lot of vitriol. I think even back to Trayvon Martin. We look at the parents, Sister Sybrina, Brother Tracy, dignity. In the face of hatred, love and justice. Nugent, full of a lot of hate. It’s cowardly. It’s spiritually immature. It’s morally backward. It reflects his own insecurity. And yet, that’s very much part what we’re up against. AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Professor Cornel West and Tavis Smiley— CORNEL WEST: Thank you. We salute both of you, salute both of you. AMY GOODMAN: —have written a book together for the first time, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Thanks so much. TAVIS SMILEY: Thank you. AMY GOODMAN: I know you are busily going on your tour, so thanks so much for stopping by. TAVIS SMILEY: Our pleasure. GUESTS Tavis Smiley, TV and radio broadcaster. He hosts the TV show Tavis Smiley on PBS and two radio shows, The Tavis Smiley Show and Smiley & West, which he hosts with Cornel West. Together they have written the new book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Cornel West, professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. He is author of numerous books and co-host of the radio show Smiley & West with Tavis Smiley. Together they have written the new book,The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.

The latest census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty — or could be classified as low income. THIS DIRECTLY HAS HURT AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOMS, TOO!

Even though the presidential candidates are leaving poverty off the agenda in 2012, Americans cannot. This conversation (below) from Democracy Now is a must for you to peruse–and to be more informed as a REAL AMERICAN.–KAS Tavis Smiley & Cornel West on “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto” The latest census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty — or could be classified as low income. We’re joined by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, who continue their efforts to spark a national dialog on the poverty crisis with the new book, “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.” Smiley, an award-winning TV and radio broadcaster, says President Obama has failed to properly tackle poverty. “There seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Washington that the poor just don’t matter. President Obama is a part of that,” Smiley says. “I take nothing away from his push on healthcare, but jobs for every American should have been primary issue, number one.” West, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, says that after the historic U.S. struggles against monarchy, slavery and institutionalized racism, “the issue today is oligarchy. Poverty is the new slavery. Oligarchs are the new kings. They’re the new heads of this structure of domination.” Click here to see part two of this interview. GUESTS: Tavis Smiley, TV and radio broadcaster. He hosts the TV show Tavis Smiley on PBS and two radio shows: The Tavis Smiley Show and Smiley & West, which he hosts with Cornel West. Together they have written the new book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Cornel West, professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. He is author of numerous books and co-host of the radio show, Smiley & West, with Tavis Smiley. Together they have written the new book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to an issue seldom talked about on the presidential campaign trail by President Obama or any of his Republican rivals. The issue is poverty. A recent article in the Chicago Reader described poverty as “the forgotten issue in the presidential campaign.” Census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty or could be classified as low-income. Thirty-eight percent of African-American children and 35 percent of Latino children live in poverty. In February, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney openly declared he is, quote, “not concerned about the very poor.” AMY GOODMAN: We’re now joined by two guests, Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, who are attempting to start a national dialog on poverty. Last year they took part in a 10-state poverty tour, and they’ve just published a book on the issue called The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Cornel West is a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, author of many books. Tavis Smiley is an award-winning TV and radio broadcaster. He hosts the PBS TV show Tavis Smiley and two radio shows, The Tavis Smiley Show and Smiley & West, which he hosts with Cornel West. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! CORNEL WEST: Thank you. A blessing to be here. TAVIS SMILEY: Delighted to be here. Thank you both for having us. AMY GOODMAN: Well, you are on a whirlwind tour. The title, Tavis, The Rich and the Rest of Us. TAVIS SMILEY: That’s what America looks like right about now. There is this gap between the haves and the have-nots, a growing gap, in fact. When 1 percent of the people control 42 percent—own and control 42 percent of the wealth, that’s a problem. When one out of two Americans is either in or near poverty—you take the perennially poor or the persistent poor, on top of them the new poor—we argue in this book the new poor are the former middle class—and the near poor, folk who are a paycheck away, that’s 150 million Americans wrestling with poverty. Mitt Romney, who Juan referenced earlier, wants to call this the “politics of envy.” But we think it’s about fundamental fairness, and that’s what we’re trying to talk about in the book. AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s an astounding figure. I just want to stop and not let it go by. TAVIS SMILEY: I say the same thing. AMY GOODMAN: One in two Americans? TAVIS SMILEY: Exactly. One out of two of us, 150 million people, is either in or near poverty. So, you’ve got half of your democracy fighting to get out or to stay out of poverty. And what we argue in this book is that poverty threatens our democracy and that poverty is a matter of national security, that poverty is no longer color-coded. Americans of all races, all colors, all creeds. As you mentioned, Amy, on our poverty tour last summer, 11 states, 18 cities, we saw all kinds of Americans wrestling with this issue. And finally, we saw on this tour poverty that was so extreme, Juan, that it’s clear to us that a slight uptick in our economy, the kind of which we’re experiencing now, a slight uptick, is not going to do much of anything to really alleviate or to address the kind of poverty that we saw. This poverty is not a character flaw anymore. It’s a societal crisis. JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Cornel West, it was half a century ago that President—another president, Lyndon Johnson, declared a war on poverty. And you, in the book, talk about how that war has progressed, supposedly, or has not progressed. CORNEL WEST: Well, we know, as a result of the social movements, led by Martin Luther King Jr., but connected Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan and others, that we went from nearly 24 percent of Americans living in poverty to 11 percent—Michael Harrington, Frances Fox Piven, others playing a crucial role. Social movements make a difference. But also, greed at the top has social consequences. This is issues of economic injustice, issues of class inequality, 1 percent of the population having 42 percent of the wealth. 2010, the top 1 percent got 93 percent of the income. And we’re not talking about wealth at this point. Income. Now that’s morally obscene. You have 22 percent of our children of all colors, each one precious, living in poverty. That’s an ethical abomination. AMY GOODMAN: Now, we’re not just going to talk about presidential politics; we also want to talk about Occupy. But on the campaign trail, I want to ask about presidential front-runner Mitt Romney. In February—well, at least front-runner for the Republicans. In February, he told CNN’s Soleded O’Brien he’s not concerned with the poorest Americans. MITT ROMNEY: I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: You just said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that? MITT ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Got it. OK. MITT ROMNEY: The challenge right now—we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and—and there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. My campaign—I mean, you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans. AMY GOODMAN: All right, there you have it. That was Mitt Romney. Tavis Smiley? TAVIS SMILEY: It was—I recall seeing that when it aired. It was so hard to just intake that comment, because it shows a certain callousness, a cavalier attitude toward the poor. And we argue in this book that the poor in this country are not a priority, in part because of that kind of arrogance and the criminalization and the demonization of the poor. To just say that “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” just uttering that phrase, “I am not concerned about the very poor,” ought to arrest every single one of us, number one. Number two, he says, “if there is a social safety net.” Well, first of all, there ought to be. There ought to be no question of “if there is.” We ought to have a social safety net for those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in poverty. Nobody in this country wants to be poor. And for so many millions of Americans who now find themselves poor, it was not their choice. They didn’t choose to ship their job abroad. They didn’t choose to have their 401(k) raped and pillaged by their employers. They didn’t choose to have a catastrophic illness which bankrupt them. So, Americans are not poor, again, because of character flaws, so many of them. And thirdly and finally, when Mitt Romney suggested he’s concerned about the middle-income America, well, as we said a moment ago, the new poor are the former middle class. So when, in presidential politics, Amy, when Romney and Obama, presumably, will be on the campaign trail this summer talking about the economy and wanting to speak specifically to the angst of the middle class, they have to recalibrate that conversation, because if the new poor, again, are the former middle class, then who are you talking to? We cannot abide another campaign for the White House where the issue of poverty is not addressed, Juan. Very quickly, in the last race for the White House, between Obama and McCain, three presidential debates—we point this out in the text—three presidential debates, the word “poor” or “poverty” does not come up one time. Obama doesn’t utter it. McCain doesn’t reference it. The moderators don’t even ask about it. Fast-forward four years, half of us are in or near poverty. Our democracy is threatened as a result. We can’t have another campaign this year where poverty doesn’t get on the agenda. JUAN GONZALEZ: But interestingly, in the book you mention this Matt Taibbi article where he was—where he was attending a Tea Party gathering and where they were attacking government subsidies, and he noted how many of them had Medicare wheelchairs and how many of the Tea Party people were actually dependent on government but not even recognizing it. CORNEL WEST: That’s right. I mean, that’s what you get in right-wing populism, that on the one hand you have a certain suspicion of elites, but on the other hand, when those elites are still providing programs that support you, you embrace them. But I think there’s a sense in which the words of all of these politicians, of both parties, are superstructural and epiphenomenal. What I mean by that is, we’ve got to keep track of their policies, their deeds, their actions. There’s a sense in which he didn’t need to say that. All you need to do is look at his policies, and you see they have very little concern about poor people, you see. When Barack Obama engages in populist rhetoric — “I love poor people” — where is your policies? “I love investment bankers,” we see your policies. So it’s a real question here of looking at the base, the real, on-the-ground policies, deeds and actions. And that’s true with not just poor people here; look at the innocent civilians, with the drones dropping bombs now, expanded, don’t have to identify, CIA calling for that today. Very clear. “We fight for freedom. We’re concerned about innocent people.” No, you’re killing innocent people in the name of fighting terrorism. That’s a moral issue for somebody like me. TAVIS SMILEY: If I can add a— CORNEL WEST: That’s a— TAVIS SMILEY: If I can add—I’m sorry, if I can add right quick to that, when Doc says that both parties, quite frankly, have been bankrupt in this conversation, starting, first of all, with the language. Our language, our glossary of terminology around this conversation, is so bankrupt. What does it mean to be “working poor”? If you work, you ought not to be poor. Minimum wage? No, how about a living wage? What is a “jobless recovery”? It ain’t a recovery if it’s jobless to the average American. But to Doc’s point about the fact that, beyond the language, both parties have been ideologically lacking in terms of imagination and vision and creativity for putting poor people back to work, just yesterday, the House Republicans in the Agriculture Committee voted, as you know, to tighten restrictions even further on food stamps. Now we already know that there’s a dramatic increase in—Mr. Gingrich’s nasty, vitriolic comment notwithstanding, calling the President the “food stamp president,” we know that more Americans are applying for food stamps than ever before. Feeding America, who we work with, will tell you that more Americans are trying to find food. There is clearly a food insecurity problem, Juan, in this country. And at that very moment, here we now get this austerity conversation underway in Washington, and they start tightening the belt—not on defense, but on food stamps. There’s a problem with that. AMY GOODMAN: O’Reilly on Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly—and I know you’ve been on his show—slammed President Obama’s policies on poverty. BILL O’REILLY: In a free society, people have a right to be a moron, and no government can stop irresponsible parenting. So, what is the solution? President Obama believes that the federal government should give money to the poor, hand it right to them, in a variety of ways. Problem with that is that many of the poor will use the money irresponsibly. The high rate of alcohol and drug addiction and other social problems assure a massive amount of waste in the entitlement arena. Americans are the most generous people on earth, but the truth is that income redistribution doesn’t work. For what this Feds spend now on entitlements, every single poor person in America could be handed almost $21,000 a year. AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill O’Reilly, Fox News. Professor Cornel West? CORNEL WEST: Well, we’ve got a section in this book where we talk about the myths and lies told about poor people in poverty. One is that poor people have character flaws and make bad decisions. I know a lot of oligarchs and plutocrats who have character flaws, make bad decisions, and still get bailed out, still have access to healthcare, still have socialism for them, as it were. So, Brother O’Reilly, he just falls right into the right-wing trap in that regard. And he talks about income redistribution. What we’ve seen is the most massive income distribution from poor and working people to the well-to-do. So he’s not against income distribution. It’s just when it’s top-down he’s against it. When it’s bottom-up, he’s all for it, in essence. In fact, he sees it as a natural process of the free market and so forth. So we have to shatter the myths that he’s putting forward. And Brother Tavis and I have been blessed to go at that dear brother directly, face to face and soul to soul. TAVIS SMILEY: On that very issue, as a matter of fact, and he keeps raising that issue about substance abuse. That’s an insult to everyday Americans who have been laid off, been downsized, have lost their homes, have lost their savings, are now just trying to hold on to their dignity. We believe, as Dr. King did, that there is dignity in labor, that there is dignity in working. These are Americans now just trying to hold onto their dignity. With all due respect to Mr. O’Reilly, for him to suggest once again, as he’s been doing consistently, that these are persons who are engaged in substance abuse, I mean, it’s just insulting. Most Americans who are poor right now are not poor because they’re drug users, because they’re alcoholics. They are poor because they don’t have jobs, because of these greedy corporations in the country who are making more money at home, sending more jobs abroad. I was so heartened to see this pushback the other day here in New York by these shareholders about these—about this CEO, CEO pay. AMY GOODMAN: Citigroup. TAVIS SMILEY: I think, to your point, Amy—yeah, Citigroup. To your point, Amy, I think that the Occupy movement is resonating. And this is another example. And I’m glad that the New York Times, at least in their coverage, highlighted and shouted out, as it were, Occupy for their message starting to take hold now, where shareholders and pension plans and other entities invested in these companies are saying, “Hey, enough is enough.” JUAN GONZALEZ: But the complicity, though, as you alluded to earlier, of so many of the commercial media reporters, in terms of not focusing or not raising the issue of the poverty divide in the country in these debates or in investigative articles that look at the various aspects of it, how does—Occupy Wall Street, you feel, has had a major impact on at least awakening the press, it seems to me, in terms of some of these issues? TAVIS SMILEY: I think so. I mean, there’s no doubt about the fact—and Doc and I discuss this all the time—that we are seeing at least more conversation about poverty than we have in a long time. But one of the reasons for that—we talk about in this book—one of the reasons for that, Juan, though, is because poverty, again, is no longer black and brown. There are so many of our fellow citizens who happen not to be black and brown who now find themselves poor, and so these voices are being raised. To your point about Occupy, you know, while it is a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic entity, the overwhelming number of persons who started this and who sustain this happen to be young white Americans. And so, now that we see, again, that poverty is engulfing millions of us, all of us, from California to the Carolinas—again, we saw this on our poverty tour—because so many Americans of all races are being impacted by this, now we see the media starting to take this conversation more seriously. The ultimate question is, can we move from conversation to action? And that’s why, in this book, we talk about a portrait of poverty, how we got here. We talk about the poverty of opportunity, but then, beyond that, a poverty of affirmation, a poverty of compassion, a poverty of truth, a poverty of vision, a poverty of imagination. We shatter these lies told about poverty and the poor. Then we close this book with the real manifesto, which is these 12 points that we think—12 issues that must be addressed immediately and seriously, if we’re going to reduce and eradicate poverty in this country. CORNEL WEST: I mean, to put it in the history of America, that we began after we mistreated our precious indigenous brothers and sisters, subordinated them, genocidal attack. But we had to deal with monarchy, British imperialism. Overthrew the monarchy. Next came slavery. Had to break the back of slavery. Jim Crow and James Crow, slavery by another name. Had to break the back of slavery. The issue today is oligarchy. Poverty is the new slavery. Oligarchs are the new kings. They’re the new heads of this structure of domination. And we’ve got to coalesce in our critique of oligarchs and oligarchy and plutocracy, without hating oligarchs and plutocrats. JUAN GONZALEZ: So what happened to the “audacity of hope”? CORNEL WEST: Of Barack Obama? JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. And— CORNEL WEST: Well, it’s a wonderful language. He got it from Jeremiah Wright, our dear brother Jeremiah Wright. Jeremiah Wright comes out of a black prophetic tradition that talks about hope, not cheap American optimism. So he borrows the language of Martin King, he borrows the language of Jeremiah Wright and a whole host of others, Fannie Lou Hamer and others—blood, sweat and tears, critiques of oligarchy and critiques of patriarchy and critiques of anti-Semitism, anti-Arab, anti-terror, anti-Latino racism and so forth. So we get these mainstream politicians, these neoliberals, who preserve oligarchic rule, use the language of progressives, and think that somehow they will not be disclosed for what they are: neoliberals still tied to the status quo. AMY GOODMAN: What about President Obama, Tavis Smiley, and where he has gone in this administration, and your criticism of him as he runs for re-election? TAVIS SMILEY: Well, the argument we advance in the book is not that he has done nothing. We don’t advance an argument that he has had a sort of antipathy toward the poor. We simply argue that he hasn’t done enough. And we suggested earlier in this conversation that there seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Washington that the poor just don’t matter. President Obama is a part of that. We argue in the book, and I think many Americans agree, that the first priority should have been jobs, jobs, jobs. I take nothing away from his push on healthcare, but jobs for every American should have been the primary issue, number one, particularly and especially if the Supreme Court ends up gutting this law by declaring unconstitutional the mandate. The mandate goes, the whole thing collapses, basically, and then we’re back to square one again. So all that time, all that energy and all that effort ends up being for naught. And Americans still, now, don’t have jobs and don’t have access to healthcare in the short run or the long run. And we know that healthcare bankrupts so many Americans trying to just stay alive. They end up with these catastrophic illnesses that end up costing them their homes, their savings and everything else. So we know the role that healthcare plays in this process. The bottom line is that he hasn’t done enough on the issue of poverty. Of that list of 12 things that we say has to be done to reduce and eradicate poverty, one of those things, Amy, one of the 12, is the calling of a White House conference on the eradication of poverty. This is not rocket science. In the vernacular of our conversation today, this really is low-hanging fruit. To your point, Juan, the last time we had a real conversation about poverty from the White House down was during the Johnson years. And there have been Republicans and Democrats, of course, who have occupied the Oval Office since then, but no real commitment to the poor. So what we’re calling for is the next president of these United States to do the same thing that Barack Obama did when he got elected the first time, Amy, when he, first and foremost, signed Lilly Ledbetter, as he should have, to protect women in the workplace. The next president, as his first official act, ought to be the signing of an executive order establishing and calling for a White House conference on the eradication of poverty. Bring all the experts together, and let us create a national plan that all of us are going to engage to reduce and eradicate poverty in this country over a time certain period, 10, 15, 25 years. Now, here’s the bottom line. These plans already exist. Jeffrey Sachs here at Columbia in New York has one. Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund, has one. Catholic Charities has one. Jim Wallis’s Sojourners has one. There are all kinds of institutions and think tanks who have created these plans to reduce poverty in this country, but nobody at the White House level, nobody at the federal government level, has said, “Let’s all get in a room and create a national plan that we’re going to rally around to reduce poverty in this country.” They’ve done it in other countries. Chile comes to mind. Between ’87 and 2009, they went from about 48 percent poverty to 11 percent poverty. And Doc makes the point, and we do in the book, that after the Johnson war on poverty, we reduced poverty in this country. Again, this is not a skill problem; it’s a will problem. We need a national plan to get serious about this issue. AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. Cornel West, Occupy—I saw you down at Occupy Wall Street, and you traveled around the country. The significance of this movement? CORNEL WEST: Oh, it’s the historic movement, democratic awakening taking place among everyday people straightening their backs up. And it’s a beautiful thing to witness. And it is coming back stronger than ever. And I’m blessed to be there. I’ve got my cemetery clothes on and my jail clothes on and my street clothes on. Even as we write our books, and even as we listen to Richard Wolff talk about Democracy at Work, new important book, Paul Krugman, [End] This Depression Now, new important book, connection of mind, body and soul. AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to do part two, and we’re going to post it on our website at democracynow.org. Check it out. The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.