Monday, June 18, 2018

Ripping Children From Their Parents Is, Unfortunately, Nothing New #DawnlandMovie

Jessica Stewart was handcuffed at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office in South Portland, Maine where she was non-violently protesting separation of children from their families seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.

People are aghast and distraught at reports and photos flowing out of the thousands of detentions of children trying to cross into freedom.

Thousands across the U.S. staged a National Day of Action to protest caging children after ripping them from their parents, sometimes literally from their mother's breast.

Not surprisingly, we find that wealthy corporations like General Dynamics are profiting from the warehousing of human children. My sister supplied contact info to let them know how you feel about their cost of doing business:
Twitter: @GDMS
General Dynamics “Ethics helpline”: 800-433-8442

This is the current events context for my viewing the just released documentary Dawnland in Bangor, Maine on June 14. It demonstrated that while I was living a comfortable existence as a college student in Maine during the 1970's, Native children were being torn from their families by the state. Many were placed in abusive foster homes. All were denied access to their culture, their language and in most cases, their grandparents.

The Maine-Wabanaki Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent two years collecting the horror stories of victims of a practice they decided was accurately described as cultural genocide.

Many interviews had to be suspended because the victims were crying too hard to speak as they revisited traumatic events that had occurred decades ago. (The same is said of women being interviewed after having their children taken from them at the border.)

Denise Altvater's on-camera interview was halted when she was overcome by emotions as she described life with her siblings in foster care. "I never cried. I never cried. We spent four years there and every day was torture."

Georgianna, a Passamoquoddy elder, testified: "I can't get over the nightmares. You can't heal someone who's gone through hell."

Two of the commissioners and several of the Maine-Wabanaki TRC conveners were present for discussion following the Dawnland screening. One viewer asked, We see the truth, but where is the reconciliation?

Commissioner Sandy White Hawk, who is Sicangu Lakota by adoption, was not in Bangor but is seen on camera noting that the healing process might be underway because, "You told your story among your relatives and they heard you." A poem she wrote says, "Once you were children. Then you were victims. Then you were survivors. Now you are warriors."

Commissioner gskisedtanmoogk (key-said-TAH-NAH-mook) is Wampanoag from the community of Mashpee located on Cape Cod, and a family member of Nkeketonseonqikom, the Longhouse of the Otter. 

gskisedtanmoogk said of reconciliation, "That's the long road."

Photo: Gregory Rec, Portland Press Herald
May I live to see the 1,900+ children ripped from their families at the southern border put a foot on that road. A lot of decolonization work will have to happen before that becomes possible. Let's get busy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

This Is Your Government On The Drug Of So-Called Defense Contracting #OnwardKleptocracy

If Senator Susan Collins had to wear her corporate sponsorships for Maine voters to see, this is what it would look like.

Here are videos made at a talk by investigative reporter Alex Nunes speaking at the University of Southern Maine in Portland June 2, 2018.

This version is the whole talk including Alex's response to questions from the audience.

This version has been edited to feature just Alex's remarks about how so-called defense contracting at Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, has infested Maine government. This is a problem at the national, state and municipal leve. 

His focus is on Congress and especially the odious Senator Susan Collins, whose husband profits mightily every time she votes for more Pentagon contractor enrichment.

Thanks to Martha Spiess of Peace Action Maine for both videos.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Chronic Absenteeism -- Is School Seen As Free Public Babysitting?

Chronic absenteeism in Maine's schools -- 16% of students are chronically absent according to a new report that shocked many-- was not news to me. As a teacher I've been bugging school administrators for years about pressuring the families of kids who are missing in action for ridiculous reasons.*

I still remember the first superintendent who patiently explained to me why bringing truancy charges was a waste of time and money: the maximum penalty was $50, seldom enforced.

I am one of those idealistic teachers who changed professions and left the private sector knowing that my family was taking a financial hit that we might or might not recover from.

Homeschoolers reading this are probably wondering why I think the state has any right to require attendance. I support parental rights to educate your own children in your own way, and I've seen some impressive results. (Also some dismal results, like an 8 year old that couldn't read, or a 10 year old who had never heard of slavery or the Civil War.)

When I hear parents wondering if they should homeschool or send their kids to school my reaction is: Weren't you planning to do both?

But most children kept home from schools where I've worked are not doing educational things. They are playing video games or watching comedy (or worse) on YouTube.

Statistics show that kids have often cited avoiding a bully as a reason for absenteeism, and I don't doubt that. But in the age of cyberbullying, most tweens and teens will experience attacks when they are at home in the privacy of their bedroom. It's one of the things that makes bullying via social media so harrowingIn school there are adults who will confront bullies. Teachers seldom witness bullying for that very reason: bullies know that they are doing something that is not allowed, and that their actions will be addressed.

So many things about public education baffled me after coming from various jobs in corporations, non-profit organizations and government agencies.

Why did public education not fund its initiatives? In any marketing job I ever had, a goal undertaken got a budget and a staff assigned to it. 

Why did public education so poorly supervise workers? In the past my boss had done my job and knew how to support and encourage me to achieve our goals. Over two decades in schools I've received evaluations that rated me from fantastic to meh, often by people who had very little idea what my job actually entailed. I've seen great teachers let go in order to retain desperately bad teachers. I could go on, but I'm straying from my point.

The lens that helped me understand the sorry state of public education in the USA is this: it's actually free public babysitting.

Certainly many parents see it this way. That's why they feel no hesitation at keeping their children out of school for a variety of trivial reasons.*

Certainly many school board directors see it this way. They spend the majority of their time debating sports funding and programs, and will eliminate instructional or social worker positions without even a discussion.

When children miss school for any reason -- including actual illness or family emergency or enriching trip -- it  affects the education of every other child in their class.

The resource in shortest supply in any school is not actually money, it is time.

You can't make more of it, every minute of it is quite expensive when all the overhead has been figured in, and it's almost impossible to plan instruction effectively unless you know how much time is available. 

Here are some of the ways that student absences consume teacher time that could have been spent planning better, more effective ways to create engaging learning experiences for those present: calling to find out why the child has stopped showing up, talking to others seeking information about the missing student, collecting missed work, delivering missed instruction, revising plans for group learning or other activities to accommodate the absence, pulling together packets of work for planned vacations when parents notify in advance (would you be surprised to know that said packets of work are seldom returned completed?).

I set off a twitter storm of disapproval when I observed in the #bc530 early morning edu chat that many see us as providing free public babysitting. But I stand by my analysis. If education were the purpose, then continuity would matter.

If it's just daycare, then keeping your child home all day or routinely sending them two hours late is at parental convenience.

* Ok, here goes with a short list of reasons teachers have heard for why kids missed school when they weren't sick or seeing a doctor or dentist:

  • Had a hair/nail/tanning appointment for the prom that night (many districts require attendance on the day of the prom for this reason).
  • The family was thinking of buying a cow and went to look at it.
  • Child stayed up until 1:00am playing a video game with dad and his girlfriend.
  • Child had to accompany dad on a drug run (excuse me, "family emergency").
  • They were going to be late anyway so they just stayed home.
  • Their aunt claimed they had lice, but they didn't. (Incidentally, this is no longer a reason to miss school in Maine under our newest health protocols from the Dept. of Education.)
  • The after school babysitter had an appointment for her own child in another town.
  • They overslept (the whole day?).
  • Didn't feel like it.
  • Teenager was recently told that a man he has known all his life as a family friend is actually his real father.

Some of these activities are potentially educational, like going to see a man about a cow. But why couldn't they occur outside of school time? My broke parents often took us to museums, parks, beaches and libraries, but the time they took us out of school to go to Disneyland in the off-season was a once in a lifetime event.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Is it too late for me to move to Finland?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Under Regimes Of White Supremacy And Kleptocracy, Suicide Rates Are Skyrocketing -- Even Among Elites

Follow · June 6 
I don't care how you try to spin it. Children are not criminals. They don't belong in cages. Period.

When Europeans landed in North America with their heads full of white supremacy and colonialism, it was the beginning of a long demise. For them and for everyone unfortunate enough to be in their path to conquest.

The places where white supremacy and unregulated capitalism have brought us are dismal. 

Dismal for everyone. This is the part elites don't get: a society ruled by racist kleptocrats is not worth living in. The suicide rate in the U.S. has risen dramatically in the last two decades, and elites are far from immune from this particular disease of despair.

From the Center for Disease Control:

If you need help for yourself or someone else, please contact the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Talk: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Emulating my shero Cecile Pineda, here's a rose among thorns from Maureen Ostensen of Maine's Smilin' Trees Disarmament Farm. May it give you hope for the future!
Frances [high school daughter] participated in a forum for Democratic candidates for governor.  Each student wrote questions for one candidate, and Frances wrote the questions for Mark Dion.  She asked him how he voted on the tax break for BIW and why.  He responded that he is one of five Democrats who voted against the tax break calling it corporate ransom.  He said there is no need to take money from the tax payers in Maine to give a tax break to a corporation whose CEO earned in excess of (I think he said $20 million).

With this statement he received almost a standing ovation from a large crowd of pretty affluent Democrats. 

I wanted to share this with you, as I was impressed at how well the crowd understood the issue.  I do not think there would have been that kind of recognition had you [Bruce Gagnon] not made such a valiant effort to publicize the issue.

I have to believe there are pockets of support for a more human approach to weapons and war out there who are beginning to make connections to BIW.

My note: BIW refers to Bath Iron Works which is a subsidiary of super wealthy weapons manufacturer General Dynamics.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Treating A Press Release As News: Building Nuclear Weapons Of Mass Destruction Reported As A Win-Win

Attending investigative reporter Alex Nunes' talk in Portland last night was well worth being up past my bedtime. Nunes (who pronounces his name Noonz) reports from the Providence area on federal contracts and state and local subsidies for weapons manufacturer General Dynamics. GD does business in Rhode Island and Connecticut as Electric Boat and in Maine as Bath Iron Works. Nunes' investigative reporting for the Providence Journal is worth a read for anyone tracking the influence of money in politics.

Much of the data he shared wasn't new to me as I've been following the reporting on his website, Nunes' Weekly, which he created to share stories that editors delay or avoid publishing altogether. Reflective of a sociology major who went on to earn a masters degree in journalism, Nunes has a tendency to look at the connected big picture when reporting a story. For instance, how Maine taxpayers vigorously pushed back against the most recent tax giveaways to GD, which at the state level took the form of bill LD1781. By contrast, job training grants to GD in the millions were suddenly announced and drew minimal resistance in Connecticut and Rhode Island (a legislative bait-and-switch maneuver preceded the Connecticut announcement).

Since state and local officials in New England always claim to support tax giveaways for wealthy corporations like GD because they create jobs, Nunes decided to report on them from a business angle. (Talk of patriotism is left to congressional delegations.)

Nunes noted that most media take press releases with vague claims about GD creating "good jobs" or "middle class jobs" as gospel and don't bother to look below the surface at the realities underpinning the public relations hype.

His investigations found that many Electric Boat workers, who start at salaries around $35,000, have low enough incomes to qualify for Medicaid and public housing.

It was last night's lively discussion around why journalists ignore truth in favor of regurgitating corporate press releases that interested me most. Once trained as a journalist, now working as an educator in the public schools, I monitor the control of information as a key element in our downslide toward kleptocracy.

One audience member asked Nunes, who is also an adjunct professor, what journalism schools today are teaching when their graduates seem content to "regurgitate talking points" e.g. Rhode Island's governor calling an Electric Boat contract a win-win being reported widely as if the announcement in itself were news. His reply: "Communications degrees have become more cookie cutter, merging public relations and journalism" also noting that it's likely that "the general corporate brainwashing that has gone on in this country has seeped into news rooms."

"Pack journalism" also manifests; the competition is to be the first to print a story that other media outlets will also report, but "no one wants to be out on a limb with a story no one else is covering."

Nunes discussed his own experiences with editors responding to his investigative pieces. 
He observed that if a reporter writes a piece saying how great a senator is doing, that's seen as commentary and it's okay. But reporters are "controversialized if you write a piece that's critical of what your senator is doing. That's not seen as news, that you being an activist.

Challenging the status quo or challenging authority I guess is something you're not supposed to do."

Not if you want to work for corporate media anyway. Nunes was fired as a stringer for one news outlet who cited reporting published on his website as making editors uncomfortable, and offered a job by another if he would "tone it down" on criticizing corporate entities in his state; he declined.

Noting that it was an ironic thing to say to a roomful of peace activists at USM last night he described the situation with a metaphor: "It's like journalists have gotten themselves into a position where they're in a fight with both hands tied behind their back."

The disconnect between treating a press release as news rather than digging into the facts concealed by the public relations is starkly evidenced by bland corporate reporting on Electric Boat's new contract to build nuclear weaponized submarines. Local news outlets gush over the great jobs created without appearing to notice that the workers will be engaged in building weapons of mass destruction.

Nunes commented, "I wanted to cover that story because I believe if a community is building nuclear weapons, there ought to be a discussion on it."

Amen to that.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

We Fight Each Other With The Pieces Of Our Broken Hearts (I Will Survive)

Photo: Ben McCanna, Portland Press Herald

Austerity in the form of homelessness is a particularly ugly manifestation of capitalism and especially neoliberal economic policies. 

The U.S. is a wealthy nation that lacks universal health care, affordable housing, tuition free education through college, child care, public transportation to get to said job in most areas, and a guaranteed minimum income -- all things other wealthy nations offer in exchange for taxes. It's no surprise that, without these social safety nets, a lot of people end up homeless. Some of them are addicts, and some suffer from mental illness -- and neither of those health conditions is adequately addressed by federal, state or local governments.

Many homeless men and women are veterans of U.S, imperial wars, who joined out of economic distress in an attempt to get a college education afterwards. Or maybe just a pickup truck.

So when NIMBY motivated residents in, say, Los Angeles, pitch a fit about locating temporary emergency homeless shelters in their neighborhood, they look callous and uncaring.

But the reality is that a homeless shelter can turn a neighborhood into something a homeless veteran described as worse than anything she had ever seen in the many other countries she had visited. As explained by social workers, it's the predators who move in to exploit vulnerable people who do the most to erode living conditions in the blocks around a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

Photo: Ben McCanna, Portland Press Herald

No one who has heroin addicts congregating in their apartment's laundry room to shoot up can be blamed for objecting.

Those of us fortunate enough to own our (mortgaged) homes watch with dismay as the value of our property falls away when a homeless shelter is introduced to the area. 

These structural problems with the U.S. economy are not accidental.

When homeless people and working class homeowners are pitted against each other, the wealthy can sit back and watch the show.

I'm reminded at times like these of the Occupy Oakland revision of Gloria Gaynor's old disco hit: I Will Survive...Capitalism. The line "we fight each other with the pieces of our broken hearts" has stayed with me since I first heard it during the heady days of 2011's Occupy Wall St. movement.

While the demagogue with bad hair initiates trade wars with friend and foe alike, austerity like nothing we've seen in decades is waiting in the wings. Military spending gallops along, and state lawmakers fall all over themselves offering tax giveaways to weapons manufacturers.

Image: Suzanna Lasker

Will we make common cause and support each other, or fight it out while the wealthy continue to hoard housing, health care and higher education for their families?

My husband asked me recently what form of education I thought could possibly equip children to face the world of climate collapse and food shortages looming on their horizon. He's a grandparent but not an educator, and he's asking me because I'm a teacher struggling with the unmet needs of my high poverty school.

Learn to be flexible problem solvers and, above all, learn to cooperate and collaborate with other people.

Those are the main skills I can think of passing on for survival in the cruel new world we're passing on to the children. Who know what tomorrow will bring? Our love and intelligence are the only things we can really count on.