New America Media

Rev. William Barber: 'Voter Suppression Hacked Our Democracy'

Although alleged Kremlin connections may ultimately sink Trump's Presidency, Rev. William Barber II contends that homegrown voter suppression poses a greater threat to US democracy than Russian election tampering.

"Voter suppression hacked our democracy long before any Russian agents meddled in America's elections," said Barber, who has gained national interest through his vocal opposition to restrictive voting laws.

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Trump and the GOP's Relentless Assault on Immigrants Could Come Back to Haunt Them

Immigrant rights advocates say that despite the cloud of fear hanging over communities in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, there is also a growing and increasingly organized resistance. 

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people apprehended for removal,” Melissa Chua, immigration director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told reporters on a national press call organized by New America Media and Ready California. “It’s not just growing infrastructure [for future deportations]…we’re seeing it in reality.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 21,362 arrests from January 20 to March 13 of this year, a third more than during the same period in 2016, according to numbers requested by The Washington Post. The figures include 5,441 non-citizens with no criminal record, double the number during the same time last year.

The statistics reflect a shift in priorities from the Obama administration, which sought to prioritize certain criminals and recent arrivals for deportation. Under Trump, the deportation priorities have expanded so much that they can be used to target almost any undocumented immigrant.

Immigrant and refugee rights advocates say the effect on immigrant communities is palpable.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), described it as “one of the most horrendous periods in American history for immigrant families.”

“What we’re seeing,” explained Salas, “is just a harsher way by which DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is dealing with all matters of immigration, especially when it comes to stays of removal or requests for relief.”

Over 38 percent of the individuals detained in the Feb. 9 ICE raids in Southern California, for example, had only minor infractions, many of them from years ago, according to Salas.

“The other thing that we’re seeing,” she said, “is that they’re being harsher when it comes to individuals who had … stays of removal.

“ICE enforcement is going back and making decisions about those cases,” Salas explained. “Instead of continuing their stays of removal, they’re challenging their stays of removal, their administrative closure.”

Since taking office, Trump has signed executive orders that call for “sweeping changes on immigration,” said Chua of IRC, adding, however, that “many of these proposed changes face some real, significant hurdles.”

Some, like the construction of a border wall, can’t be implemented without funding. Others have been blocked by the courts, including the administration’s attempt to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities; and both versions of Trump’s “travel ban,” which aimed to curtail travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries and lower the number of refugees allowed admission into the United States. 

“While many of the changes proposed by the administration may threaten refugees, immigrants and their families,” said Chua, “there still exist some real barriers to implementation, offering some real avenues of hope for immigrant communities.”

Advocates say many of these signs of hope lie outside of Washington.

“The immigrant rights movement is getting more organized, more powerful,” said Salas, pointing to local and state efforts that seek to protect the rights of immigrants across the country.

“What is incredible is the many cities and schools defending immigrants,” she said.

On May 1, she noted, about 30,000 people marched in the streets of Los Angeles to defend the rights of immigrants.

“California is moving forward a different vision, a different agenda,” said Salas. The state legislature has proposed various bills that seek to defend immigrants’ rights, from Senate Bill 54 (the California Values Act), introduced by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), which would prevent state and local resources from being used to cooperate with deportations, to Senate Bill 6, by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would provide funding for legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

By contrast, Texas’ state legislature is moving further to the right on immigration. Texas Republicans just passed Senate Bill 4, a new law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, which threatens law enforcement with jail time if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“In the mid-90s, California looked a lot like Texas does today,” said Salas, when California voters passed Prop 187. That ballot measure helped get its supporter, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, elected. But it led to an even bigger backlash against the GOP in the state, and is largely credited with the mobilization of Latino voters who have changed the face of California politics. 

“Our community [in California] became engaged,” Salas said. 

Texas, which has the nation’s second-largest Latino population after California, could see a similar backlash. “What we’re seeing in Texas is the same kind of mobilization,” she said.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates are helping their communities stay informed. 

“There are many families that are afraid,” said Adriana Guzman, immigrant outreach coordinator with Faith in Action Bay Area. “Our message to them is that there are steps they can take right now.”

Guzman said she is encouraging individuals to talk to a trusted legal services provider to see if they qualify for immigration relief, to make a family preparedness plan, including who will take care of children if something happens to their parents, and to carry the number of a trusted immigration attorney they can call in case of an emergency.

Most importantly, Guzman said, individuals should know that they have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of their immigration status. These include the right to remain silent, the right to not open the door to agents without a warrant signed by a judge, the right to speak to a lawyer and make a phone call, and to not sign anything they don’t understand or that isn’t true.

“Thousands of community outreach workers are spanning their communities, delivering Know Your Rights presentations,” said Salas of CHIRLA. From helping eligible immigrants become citizens and register to vote, to protesting in the streets and supporting legal challenges in the courts, she said, immigrant rights advocates have been able to “make a statement in these very difficult days.”

In Havana, Fear the Trump-Putin 'Bromance' Will Lead to Invasion

Cubans fear the bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could result in a U.S. invasion of the communist island.

A day after American voters elected Donald Trump, President Raúl Castro placed the Cuban military on high alert and announced military exercises. Then, to mark the revolution’s anniversary on New Year’s Day, Cuba’s military marched through downtown Havana in a show of force.

It may appear unreasonable to most Americans that Cuba expects Trump to invade the island, yet many Cubans believe this is a possibility. 

Cubans are fearful, dreading the worse. 

“Trump’s policies are very aggressive,” Pedro Machado, a retired engineer, told Britian’s Independent. “We’ll have to see what he actually does. But it certainly looks like bad news for Latin America and for Cuba in particular.… The United States has acted as an empire, and that’s what Trump represents. Given what he has said, the future is not looking great.” 

That sentiment is widely shared. Joaquin Villanueva, who moonlights as a taxi driver in front of the Hotel Inglaterra, worries about a possible invasion: “We’ve always been told to prepare for an invasion, but with Trump it looks more likely.” 

On Monday, when Cuba commemorated the 58th anniversary of the revolution, the Cuban people were told to prepare for the worst from the incoming Trump administration. “We are braced for conflict with the USA; we always have been,” Marcial García, 70, told reporters. “But I hope Trump will instead follow the path ... towards normalization.”

It is a fear fueled both by historical precedent and paranoia.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bypassed Fidel Castro and negotiated with John F. Kennedy directly. Gilberto Bosques, the Mexican ambassador to Havana, was charged with keeping Fidel Castro in the dark while Khrushchev and Kennedy ended the crisis.

Now, Raúl Castro fears a quid pro quo will result in Trump and Putin negotiating a deal in which Cuba is sacrificed, in order to cement relations between Washington and Moscow.

The idea of invading Cuba may have a certain appeal to some of Trump’s advisers. After all, it would be a grand gesture that serves the can-do image the incoming administration is cultivating.

During the New Year’s party at Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, cocktail chatter among some guests noted that America’s military is best when it invades countries in Latin America, a person in attendance reported. Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in October 1983 was “easy,” remembered as “a lovely little war” and George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama in December 1989, named “Operation Just Cause,” is fondly remembered as a success, some guests reportedly reminisced.

Now a few advisers to Trump believe “liberating” Cuba is a “just cause” long overdue that would be a way for Trump to signal to the world that American military power is great again.

Proponents argue a military operation against Castro would truly “open up” Cuba in a way Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations has failed to do. Indeed, in the year and a half since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, apart from U.S. airlines commencing regular service and Starwood announcing a contract to manage one hotel, nothing has been achieved. 

Cubans are exasperated. A measure of their discontent can be seen in one startling fact: the number of Cuban refugees following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. In 2014, for instance, fewer than 25,000 Cubans sought political asylum. In 2016, that number had almost doubled to more than 45,000. Critics point to this mass exodus as proof of the failure of Obama’s overtures to the island nation. And in an unthinkable act, Fidel Castro’s tomb was vandalized just over a week after El Comandante was laid to rest.

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A week after Fidel Castro's funeral, his tomb was vandalized with the words, "Abajo Fidel" (Down with Fidel).

Meanwhile, the Cuban regime is lashing out at critics and opponents: more than 10,000 Cubans have been arrested by security forces since diplomatic ties were restored.

Some in Trump’s transition team see the mass exodus of Cubans, the crackdown on political dissent and the brazen acts of defiance as a signal that a swift military action can be a quick affair. There are strong domestic and foreign reasons coalescing around this idea.

Trump’s estate in Palm Beach is less than 300 miles from Havana; the White House is 860 miles away. Last week there was talk of the convergence of interests: “Liberating” Cuba would reward the Cuban exile community in South Florida whose votes put Florida in Trump’s column. It would cement Trump’s credentials among conservatives, finally delivering on a promise that has not been kept since Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion. It would ensure that the two Cuban-American senators in Washington, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, would support Trump’s agenda for years to come. And it would allow Cuban Americans, among the most educated and wealthiest Hispanic constituency in the United States, to put their capitalist skills to work in Cuba.

There are also powerful foreign policy incentives at play. Russian leader Vladimir Putin loathes Raúl Castro. Putin is still furious that Russia had to write off $32 billion in Cuban debt he inherited from Soviet Union. Trump advisers bet the Russian leader wants revenge. Why? Putin, like Trump, holds grudges and loves to dole out payback.

Putin has tolerated Raúl Castro because he had hoped to use Cuba as a listening post to spy on the United States. With Trump, an ally, in the White House, that may no longer be necessary.

More thought provoking is the hypothetical that invading Cuba could be the first Trump-Putin cooperative venture: Russia’s intimate knowledge of Cuba’s military, which it helped build over decades, could be used to expedite any invasion. Trump would get his first foreign policy win, defeating communism on America’s doorstep, opening a virgin market for American goods and rewarding those conservatives and Cuban Americans who supported him. Putin would exact revenge on a deadbeat nation he despises and he would curry Trump’s support for Russia’s own ambitions for the former Soviet republics on its borders.

Raúl Castro understands—and fears—his predicament. He is well aware of the seductive quid pro quo in the works: Putin will allow Trump’s “liberation” of Cuba and in return Trump will recognize Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

“Getting rid of Castro would be like finally swatting an annoying mosquito that has been buzzing around for far too long,” said an unnamed source close to the Trump transition team. “And if Putin wants Crimea, well, why shouldn’t he have it?”

Realpolitik comes to Washington.

Cuba: Now That Fidel is Gone What Comes Next?

New York—Fidel Castro, El Comandante of the Cuban Revolution, died Friday, November 25, three days before American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United began to resume regularly scheduled airline service between the two countries, and 17 days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in a stunning upset.

Perhaps Fidel didn’t want to live to see the changes that now threaten to undo his Revolución.

What can Cuba expect in a matter of months when Donald Trump takes office?

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” President-elect Trump tweeted on November 28, 2016.

This was more than posturing for negotiations. Before running for office, in technical violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Donald Trump, the businessman, had explored the possibility of investing in Cuba. 

Yet, there are stark realities hampering “progress” on Cuban fronts—and for both Havana and Washington.

Cuba demands the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty before anything else is negotiated—including direct foreign investment and privatization. The U.S., for its part, insists on a program to compensate American citizens and companies whose assets and properties were nationalized or seized by the revolution.

This is statement that has no resolution. And it is a stalemate further complicated by the U.S. embargo—which was amended by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 which requires that both Castro brothers be removed from office before the embargo can be lifted.

It would take an act of Congress to repeal Helms-Burton first before the embargo itself could be lifted. It would be political suicide for Raúl Castro to back away from demanding the return of Guantánamo Bay.

In March 2016, during the primaries, Donald Trump’s campaign reached out to Cuban-Americans, realizing they needed to consolidate the Cuban-American vote in South Florida in order to carry Florida in the general election.

As part of those discussions, it became clear that Trump could easily reverse Barak Obama’s opening to Cuba—which was done by executive order to circumvent a recalcitrant Congress.

What makes reversing Obama’s opening easy is the lack of progress made since July 2015, when diplomatic relations were restored. The embargo is still in place, ordinary tourism by U.S. citizens remains illegal, and there is, apart from half a dozen token deals, no progress in commercial investments.

This week, when U.S. airlines begin to fly to Cuba, they will land, refuel, and depart. The only “investment” is leasing counter space in Cuban airports. The only hotel “deal” is Starwood’s contractto manage a single hotel. Starwood neither owns the property nor has authority to hire employees; it is a minority partner with the Cuban government. The sale of American agricultural products continue under a preexisting protocol designed to unload surplus U.S. agricultural production and prevent a humanitarian crisis in Cuba.

President-elect Trump sees this lack of progress as evidence of everything that is wrong with Washington, where nothing gets done.

He promised the Cuban exile community that the status quo—where Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida have been waiting for Godot for six decades—will end with his “can do” administration.

The brash billionaire businessman, as part of the frustration of the “do nothing” politicians in Washington that catapulted him to victory, is determined to “put an end” to the “Washington’s incompetence in dealing with a communist regime on American’s doorstep.”

In other words, the incoming Trump administration is leaning toward confrontation and not accommodation in its dealings with Havana.

“Why can’t Spain or Mexico give Raúl Castro political asylum?” a source inside the Trump campaign asked in March 2016, a clue as to where Trump’s advisors are thinking: Cuba without the remaining Castro—and without a one-party government, the Communist Party of Cuba.

The implication is that Trump’s advisers do not rule out military intervention—and military occupation—of Cuba to achieve this “opening” and move to “democracy” on the island nation.

This attitude is emboldened by the reality that since the War on Terror was declared following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has become desensitized to wars of invasion and military occupation throughout the world.

As Trump said in a statement over the weekend, “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.” 

And, as everyone knows, Havana deserves a Trump hotel.

Fidel's Long Goodbye

I only met Fidel Castro once, in 1992, and I asked him only one question: “What will it take for Cuba to reconcile with the U.S.?”

He didn’t hesitate to answer: “When the U.S. agrees to return Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty, then that will be proof that the U.S. has overcome its imperialism.”

Decades later, when Havana and Washington were negotiating the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in Canada, the first thing the Cubans wanted was the return of Guantánamo Bay. That was the first thing the Obama administration swept off the table.

Fidel was no longer in charge, and Raúl agreed to press forward nonetheless. But it came as no surprise when Fidel refused to meet Barack Obama in March 2016 when the American president visited Cuba; Fidel Castro was not prepared to shake hands with Obama who, by refusing to return that disputed speck of land to Cuban sovereignty, had proven to be a “false friend.”

“No necesitamos que el imperio nos regale nada,” Fidel said, meaning, “We do not need the Empire to give us anything,” his final rejection of reconciliation with his enemy.

And he was right: Guantánamo Bay rightfully belongs to Cuba.

It was this adherence to his ideals that stood out, conviction without pragmatism becomes stagnation. And Cuba, under his care, stagnated. Admirers in the United States are quick to point to the public education system and national health care as achievements of his Revolution. These admirers, however, have never been to a Cuban clinic or spent a day at a Cuban high school. Cubans have to wait months for a prescription medication and years for surgery; students are taught to read and write, but are forbidden to read or write what is not sanctioned by the state.

These limitations, of course, Fidel blamed on the embargo: When Michael Moore traveled to Cuba for his documentary, Sicko, the non-Spanish speaking American leftist didn’t’ fully understand that there are two health care systems in Cuba; one for Cubans and one foreigners with hard currency. What he was shown was the health care system for foreigners, not the one for the Cuban people.

And so it goes: On every trip to Cuba, I have prescription medicines for relatives of friends who have been waiting for months, if not years. I have been approached on the streets of Havana by ordinary Cubans who ask me to enter hotels—which they are barred from entering—to purchase sundries in the lobby shops.

And the crony communism and corruption continue: Raúl Castro has maneuvered to pass Cuba’s richest assets to a company controlled by his son-in-law; drug trafficking continues to be a source of income for the Cuban state—despite the “outraged” show trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, who was sentenced to death by firing squad in 1989.

Sixteen years after I met him, I received an invitation to travel to Cuba. No reason was given, but during the week I was there—February 20-27, 2008, it was announced that Fidel Castro was stepping down. I was one of the few journalists in Havana on February 23, 2008, his last full day in power.

Now, eight years later, Fidel Castro has died.

A feeling of ambivalence best characterizes the mood of those I know, Cubans both on and off the island. For the new generation, there is indifference; an old man, distant and aloof, is gone. For Cubans who lived—and suffered through the Revolution—there is catharsis.

It is ambivalence to experience this death, so long expected, so slow in coming; it’s been exactly one decade that Fidel Castro became too ill to continue in power. And this slow decline, demise, eclipsing also characterized the passions surrounding what he did and what he failed to do.

There is, undeniably, exhaustion, a familiar exhaustion to anyone who has seen a relative die, finally, after a prolonged illness, whether it is Alzheimer’s or a protracted, and lost, battle against cancer. Fidel, as one of the principal figures on the world stage for the second half of the twentieth century—only Queen Elizabeth has ruled as sovereign longer than Fidel Castro did— outlived his time, and his own legend.

He left many unanswerable questions.

Can Raúl Castro hold it together? Without the forceful personality of Fidel Castro to bind the Revolution to continual national sacrifice to the point of exhaustion, can the government continue to govern—and will Raúl Castro be able to ensure that the Cuban Communist Party remain in perpetual power?

What will the incoming Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba be? Will it sever diplomatic relations? Will it let them continue to wither away, the way Obama has not made much of this missed opportunity? Will an indifferent stalemate across the Straits of Florida continue? Or will his Revolution also, along with him, die?

CA Leads Way in Solar Tech but Communities of Color Left Behind

SAN FRANCISCO -- California is the leader of solar technology and one of the wealthiest states, yet its poorer communities in large part don’t have access to this expanding technology.

The Mission District, recognized for its Latino community, has for some time been battling the powerful push from the tech industry. From an environmental standpoint, the question is being raised, “What can be done to protect the very basic rights of its lower income citizens?”

The answer is complex, but increasingly it comes down to including low-income communities and communities of color in the legislation being passed regarding solar technology, and actively including them in the solar workforce.

Jeanine Cotter, president and CEO of Mission-based Luminalt Solar Energy Solutions and an advocate for solar in her community, recognizes the key importance of creating jobs in solar, not just in the field but also in the office.

“Most workforce development programs in solar focus just on the ‘boots on the roof’ and don’t focus on all of the other jobs that are required to design and build systems,” said Cotter, who believes it’s important to develop careers in all aspects of solar for diverse local communities.

Cotter works in her community to create initiatives that will allow more communities to have access to solar technology.

“We were part of a group of solar advocates and environmental advocates and workforce development advocates to start GoSolarSF,” Cotter said.

GoSolarSF is an incentive program that aims to localize solar, allowing low-income homeowners to save on the installed cost of solar electric systems.

Ensuring that everyone can benefit

The Greenlining Institute works for racial and economic justice, helping under-represented communities to be included in important legislation being passed in California.

“We’re in this period of really great transition and the question, the big picture that we all need to be tackling is, ‘Is this transition going to be just?’” said Joel Espino, who is part of the environmental equity legal counsel for Greenlining Institute. “Is it going to be equitable, is it going to be diverse?”

Espino and his colleagues are trying to ensure that communities of color have a voice in the solutions that are being produced. “We want to make sure that they have a seat at the decision making table,” he said.

Daniel Kammen, professor of energy at University of California Berkeley, explained that California is winning the war locally on the environmental front, with more jobs than ever being produced, but that environmental laws didn’t go as deep as they needed to on a social and economic level.

“One example of something which has been very important on the environmental injustice front has been to look at which policies have worked well but have not pushed hard enough into disadvantaged communities,” Kammen said, referring to an ongoing program Cool California, which uses tools to chart where the high emitting areas are.

Including communities who can’t afford their own home, however, is a challenge.

“A lot of the efforts now are [to] make programs that work well if you’re a homeowner, available to apartment dwellers and those that don’t own,” said Kammen. “And that is a direct play to how do we make this more socially and racially just.”

The Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program is another attempt at giving homeowners the chance to invest in solar, but Kammen sees inequality in that as well, because of the inherent wealth gap between those who rent and those who own.

Joshua Arce, who is running for District 9 Supervisor in San Francisco, began working with his godmother Espanola Jackson, the late longtime civil rights and community leader in Bayview-Hunters Point, on the Brightline Defense Project in 2009.

Working on issues surrounding housing discrimination, environmental issues and equal access to jobs for workers of color and women, the Brightline Defense Project serves those who would otherwise not have the voice to impact such decision-making.

“I got involved with her [Jackson] 10 years ago in an effort to stop the city from building dirty power plants in her neighborhood,” Arce said.

Jackson and Arce helped close the Hunters Point Power Plant in 2006, and worked with environmentalists, community members, and solar leaders, such as Cotter from Luminalt. Arce also worked on GoSolarSF.

Arce called GoSolarSF environmental justice, because the incentives increase progressively for communities that have “historically born a higher share of the city’s pollution than other neighborhoods.”

Many communities however, even with incentive programs still cannot afford to invest in solar.

Yet GoSolarSF, The PACE Program, The Greenlining Institute, Luminalt Solar, Brightline Defense Project and others are attempting to remind the community that without incorporating legal protection for its most vulnerable people, the movement towards clean energy—and in particular solar—cannot be just.

This story was written for the green energy fellowship for New America Media, sponsored by PG&E

Doctors Agree With Sanders on Universal Health Care

Presidential hopefuls have their own ideas on what to do with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature legislation, when they move into the White House.

Sen. Bernie Sanders thinks it should be replaced with a single-payer health plan of the kind Europe and Canada have. This federally administered universal health care program would eliminate copays and deductibles. There’s currently a move afoot in Colorado to have such a plan.

Secretary Hillary Clinton would like to keep the ACA, with a few fixes.

Donald Trump says he will uproot the ACA, get Congress to allow the sale of health insurance across state lines and allow individuals to take tax deductions for insurance premium payments. But that would not help low-income Americans because they do not pay much in income taxes.

This week, the American Journal of Public Health carried a proposal by a working group of more than 2,000 physicians nationwide titled: Moving Forward from the Affordable Care Act to a Single-Payer system. The physicans warn that the risks of continuing the ACA will leave millions uninsured indefinitely.

NAM health editor Viji Sundaram interviewed Dr. Adam Gaffney, a co-chair of the working group.

Viji Sundaram: Your proposal calls for a single-payer health care plan for the United States. Obamacare has helped 16.9 million people become newly insured. Would it not be less disruptive to expand the provisions in the ACA instead of repealing the law and replacing it?

Dr. Adam Gaffney: The U.S. health system is highly disruptive as things stand now. You’re liable to lose your insurance at any time—for instance, if you change your job or get divorced. Similarly, those purchasing plans on the “marketplaces” may find that they can keep down premium increases by changing plans on an annual basis. Every time your insurance plan changes, you may need to change all of your doctors and hospitals in order to stay “in network.” This is enormously disruptive to people’s health care. In contrast, in a single-payer system, everyone has free choice of doctors and hospitals. 

VS: Your proposal promises health coverage for all. Does this include undocumented U.S. residents?

AG: Yes, it would. The single-payer national health program we envision would include everyone regardless of country of origin, including undocumented residents. If we believe that health care is truly a human right, then this is the right thing to do. At the same time, it is also financially achievable. Immigrants, on average, have lower health care spending as compared to those born in the United States. One study demonstrated that immigrants actually pay more into Medicare than what they use in terms of health care. Everyone would be included in the national health program we envision.

VS: Why do you think there would be no additional government spending if the United States has a single-payer health care plan? Countries such as Canada and the England run their national health program on the backs of taxpayers. Will that happen in the United States as well? Can it be done without raising taxes?

AG: There would be additional government spending with a single-payer plan, but this would be offset by the elimination of spending by individuals and employers on premiums, co-payments, and deductibles. We can expand coverage to everyone in the country and eliminate co-payments and deductibles, and at the same time keep overall current health care spending roughly unchanged.

VS: Some providers criticize single-payer plan as one that will force them to contract with the one payer available. Currently, providers have some choice of insurers. They can even opt out of Medicare and Medicaid. 

AG: There are many benefits for practices to have to contract with only one payer: it’s much simpler and is less costly from an administrative perspective.

VS: How would you respond to the criticism of the single payer program as having the capacity to get doctors to sign in with fairly attractive reimbursement rates, but once in, those rates can come down, leaving providers helpless? 

AG: Because the vast majority of the nation’s doctors would participate in the national health program, there would be a powerful lobby fighting to ensure that reimbursements remain fair.

VS: In countries that have a single-payer health care system, there seems to be a long waiting period before a patient can see a doctor. How can we keep that from happening in this country?

AG: The problem of waiting times for care in other nations is often exaggerated. Moreover, where there are excessive waiting times for elective procedures, it is often due to underinvestment. We spend much more than other countries on health care, and have the resources to ensure that waiting times for elective procedures are reasonable. It’s also worth noting that we have waiting times in the United States also, though they are not as visible. Indeed, if you have the wrong insurance plan [currently], the waiting time for some providers may, so to speak, be infinite.

VS: The UK allows people to be in both the national health plan as well as subscribe to a private insurance plan, which they can fall back on for expedited care. But your plan calls for an end to commercial insurance.

AG: First, if providers must bill and contend with multiple different insurance plans, we lose the efficiency savings that come with a single universal system. Second, if we give the rich preferential access to superior and expedited care while relegating everyone else to an inferior tier, we make a mockery of the idea of an equal right to health care. Third, the best way to ensure that the quality of health care is superb is having everybody—whether rich or poor—in the same system together.

VS: Medicaid and Medicare depend on the cost shift from private payers. Some providers say the only way doctors are willing to get into the Medicare network is because they get higher payment from commercial insurers.

AG: Doctors would continue to do well under a Medicare-for-All system. The transition to a single-payer system would eliminate the need to bill and contend with a multiplicity of payers, producing substantial savings for practices (and hospitals). 

VS: How much could the United States save by switching to a single-payer health plan? What does it currently spend?

AG: It is estimated that upwards of $400 billion a year could be saved from reduced spending on administration and billing that would occur through the transition to a single-payer plan. Additional money could be saved when the national health program enters into direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices. These savings could then be used to cover everybody in the country, while at the same time eliminating copayments and deductibles. Overall health care spending, at the end of the day, would be approximately the same as it is now, but nobody would ever again have to worry about losing insurance, about paying a big deductible if they got sick, or about not having access to the doctor or hospital of their choose. 

Cavities, Cavities, in Kids' Mouths - and Not an Affordable Dentist to Be Found

Farmworker Maria Flores’s face breaks into a broad smile when she is told that soon her 14-year-old Mexico-born daughter, Ana, will be eligible for the state’s full-scope Medi-Cal program, under the Health For All Kids program set to launch May 16. 

Most importantly for Flores it will mean the teenager can soon have much-needed dental care.

“Every time we take her to the dentist we have to pay from our pocket and we really can’t afford it,” Flores, an undocumented, fruit packaging plant worker here says in her native Mixteco through an interpreter. “It’s hard to pay because we make so little.” 

Flores’ emphasis on dental care is echoed by four out of the five farmworker women—almost all undocumented—interviewed on a recent Saturday afternoon gathering at a local elementary school organized by the Oxnard-based Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP).

Farther north, in the farming community of Reedley outside of Fresno, mothers attending an ESL class for parents at the Jefferson Elementary School say the same thing. And at a day laborer center in Hayward, Calif., parents say they would be willing to set aside their fears over outing themselves as undocumented if their children would become eligible for dental care via Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal is California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

Eligibility Vs. Access

But eligibility for dental care and access to dentists are two separate issues. 

Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, who was once a Denti-Cal (the dental arm of Medi-Cal) provider, says: “Beneficiaries are often frustrated to find out that having insurance coverage does not equate to easy access to care.” 

A scathing report out recently by the Little Hoover Commission (LHC), an independent oversight state agency, blasted the Denti-Cal program as being “dysfunctional” and having too few dentists in its network. 

“In California, we have kids’ teeth rotting out of their heads,” LHC Chairman Pedro Nava is quoted in a news report as saying.

Nava said that because of its “dreadful” low reimbursement rate—35 percent of the national average of $61.96 per patient, a rate that has not been raised since 2000—California dentists want nothing to do with Denti-Cal, making it virtually impossible for the more than 13 million current Medi-Cal enrollees, including 5 million children, having few places to use their coverage. 

In 11 of California’s 58 counties, there are no Denti-Cal providers at all, or no providers willing to accept new patients, according to a 2014 state audit. In Ventura County, for example where Flores and her family live, 53,000 kids are enrolled in Denti-Cal, but only 86 dentists accept it. Alpine County does not have a single dentist and in Imperial County, there is only one dentist for every 4,166 people, according to a UCLA Center for Health Policy Research report.

The Hoover report says the blame for Denti-Cal’s shortcomings could be shared by the state Department of Health Care Services—the agency that runs the program—the legislature and the Governor’s office. Decades of neglect and strategic misdirection have caused the Denti-Cal program to deny hundreds of thousands of people the oral health care they need.

Assemblymember Wood says “the legislature has made it clear through multiple hearings that restoring Denti-Cal rates [to pre-recession rates] should be made a priority. Unfortunately, so far it has not been a priority for the administration and the Governor.”

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We're Learning the Wrong Lessons About Terror - and It's Going to Cost Us

In the wake of Brussels—at least for now—we’re back in the bad old days of the War of Civilizations narrative.

In the face of terror most foul, fury and vengeance are once more in the air. It’s not quite Christianity versus Islam, but it’s close.

Some anecdotal evidence. Two comments on a story in The Independent, worlds apart, suggest that two great swaths of humanity are once again on an unnecessary and tragic collision course.

Bobby said: “All the whole Mideast and ALL their ilk are hated by me and mine.”

Ceycey replied: “Is your humanity only for Europe?”

Both commenters were responding to a story in the British newspaper written by Yasmin Ahmed in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Belgium.

Ahmed pointed out that just before ISIL operatives set off bombs in Brussels, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks detonated a car bomb in Turkey near a transportation hub, killing 37 and injuring 70 more. A closely-timed second attack killed four more people. In fact, Turkey has been beset by a spate of bombings by Kurdish separatists and ISIL, who in 2015 alone killed 141 and injured 910 others.

In both Brussels and Ankara, innocent people were killed indiscriminately by fanatics who believe political causes sanctify murder.

But what struck Ahmed was the profound difference in the Western reaction to these atrocities. In social media there were safety check-ins on Facebook, hashtags on Twitter, and shared cartoons in response to the bombings at Zaventen Airport and Maelbeek metro station. In fact, “Brussels” garnered 17.5 million more Google news results than “Ankara.”

Global media funerals for some, mute indifference for others

While the world mourned Brussels, Ankara was treated as a mere regional event. Case in point: After this week’s Brussels bombings, European countries raised the Belgian flag above their national monuments—a fitting tribute. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Belgian flag, as was One World Trade Center in New York (though in truth, the colours looked more like red, white and blue). So Yasmin Ahmed posed an awkward question: Why didn’t Downing Street raise the red and white Turkish flag after the atrocities in Ankara?

Ahmed’s unease was mirrored by a young woman who knows a thing or two about being victimized by terrorism. Malala Yousafzai blazed to international fame after standing up for education for girls in Afghanistan and getting shot by the Taliban for her defiance.

She too has spoken out about the dangers of dividing the victims of terrorism between East and West, providing global media funerals for some, mute indifference to others.

“Do you not see that this indifference to the non-Western lives is EXACTLY what is creating and feeding terror organizations like ISIL? … If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it, because that cannot stop terrorism,” she said.

And that raises an interesting question. Is the West mute on the subject of innocent lives lost to terrorists in Turkey because the motivations behind those attacks were different from the reasons behind the killing in Europe—or because Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim? Has the West’s accusatory finger moved from ultra-extremist groups like ISIL and al Qaida to designate the members of an entire religion—again?

In this season of presidential politics in the United States, the answer is, sadly, "Yes."

Trump and anti-terrorism: Zero experience

CNN, which fielded carpet-coverage of the Brussels bombings in a way that repeated rather than advanced the story for three gruesome days, has already come up with a poll showing that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is now the first choice of Americans on anti-terrorism matters.

That is astonishing for a few reasons. First of all, Trump has zero experience in fighting terrorism in any official capacity. He has never held public office, and his chief advisor on foreign policy is The Donald. Trump has been widely denounced by military, national security and senior police leaders for his unconstitutional, illegal and flatly dangerous approach to some of America’s deepest problems.

The list is well known. So far Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, deporting 12 million illegal aliens, building a wall on the Mexican border, bringing back torture and instituting racial profiling in Muslim communities in the U.S. Now he has added that he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIL. That’s right—nuclear weapons.

In the flash of two bombs, the world is suddenly standing back in the rubble of 9/11 with President Bush repeating his With Us or With the Terrorists ultimatum. All the old, familiar and—I might add—failed solutions are once more being put forward by a real estate mogul who is being embraced as though he were King Solomon.

Though there are many particulars to the new fundamentalism for defeating terror, it comes down to the familiar mantra of guns, gates and guards. If the police just had enough unconstitutional powers, if free citizens just gave up enough civil liberties, if the West could just exert enough hard power against Islamic terrorists, if only there could be more forced regime change, if only Muslims would begin denouncing the evil-doers in their communities, the world would never have to see the cities of Europe and the United States burning again.

Those answers have been tried for 15 blood-soaked years and all the West has to show for it is millions of deaths, trillions in squandered treasure—and ISIL.

The time has come to recognize solidarity with all the victims of terror. As James Taylor, a U.K. citizen living in Ankara, posted on Facebook, “You were Charlie, you were Paris, will you be Ankara?”

Apparently not.

Cuba: Island of Broken Hearts, Including Castro's

When U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Havana on March 20, 2016, the first visit by a sitting American president to the Caribbean island nation in 88 years, he arrived on an island of broken hearts.

The Cuban revolution is a melancholy one. Broken promises. Broken dreams. Broken hearts.

The despair is seen in the unloved buildings, apart from the ones spruced up for Obama’s benefit, which reflect decades of social and political upheaval in which multitudes of Cubans were forced to abandon their homeland against their will. It is seen in the faces of Cuba’s youth, anxious for the past to be put far behind them and for their “future” to begin. It is also seen in the long lines of Cubans at embassies throughout Havana who, not willing to let life pass them by, are desperate for a visa that will let them leave.

And as the United States and Cuba move towards normalizing relations, and Obama even declared that "the embargo is going to end," the end of the Castro regime also draws to a close. 

So it’s instructive to reflect on a little-known story of how a Mexican woman broke Fidel’s heart.

On July 7, 1955, Fidel Castro abandoned Havana, exiled to Mexico by Fulgencio Batista and landed in Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula. He would return to Mérida, at first on reconnaissance missions, and then because he met a young woman with whom he fell in love: Lía Cámara Blum.

She was 18 years old, a young teacher. She spotted him at the bus station in Valladolid. Fidel Castro was traveling throughout the peninsula, careful to evade Batista’s spies, who were everywhere. He wanted to determine if the Yucatán was suitable for launching an attack on Cuba. Having concluded that leaving from either Cozumel or the ports of the Mexican Caribbean would be too risky, he was taking the bus to Mérida.

When he boarded that bus on a Saturday afternoon in Valladolid, Lía Cámara Blum, a passenger, stared at Fidel Castro as he walked down the aisle.

She smiled at him. He smiled back.

Then he sat next to her, introduced himself as “Alejandro González,” and, after finding out she was a teacher, asked if she minded talking about history. “Of course not,” she said. Then he began to ask her about the Mexican revolution.

They immediately liked each other.

He found her intelligent and well-spoken. She found him polite, well-educated, and inquisitive.

When the bus arrived in Mérida, she told him she lived on Calle 61 in the city’s historic center. He told her he would be staying at the Hotel Reforma. He asked if he could have her telephone number. She consented. He wrote her telephone number on a box of matches and he invited her out on a date.

She said she would be delighted and that he could come by that evening.

He arrived at her family’s home at 9 PM. She answered. Accompanied by her mother, Socorro Blum de Cámara, the young couple went out for dinner.

In 1955, the Tulipanes, a restaurant that showcased popular bands and dancing, was one of the most popular places in Mérida. Apart from the music and dancing, they enjoyed venison and she introduced him to regional appetizers that reflected Maya cuisine. In the course of the evening, he confessed he was divorced and had a son. She said she didn’t care.

Lía Cámara Blum recounted, decades later, that she knew “something big was going to happen in his life.”
The following day, Sunday, he showed up at her home after breakfast. Pedro Cámara Lara answered the door. The Cuban exile asked if he could have permission to take his daughter, with his wife as chaperone, to the port of Progreso.

Don Pedro was impressed by this polite Cuban visitor and agreed.

The young man intended the trip to be a final reconnaissance of the facilities at the port of Progreso; being accompanied by two Yucatecan women would be a great cover. He was concerned that Batista’s spies, who wanted him dead, were following him.

The Cámara Blum family did not appreciate the danger they incurred by being in his company until, years later, Batista’s secret files were opened and their names were included in secret reports.

Alejandro González would visit the family whenever he was in Mérida.

He and don Pedro became friends. Alejandro González admired Mexico and the Mexican revolution. Decades later, Fidel Castro wrote: “Mexico was a country that had carried out a great revolution in the second decade of the twentieth century, a revolution that had a lot of prestige and left behind a lot of progressive thinking and a stable government. Every other nation in the region was ruled by tyrants.”

Ridding Cuba of a tyrant, Fulgencio Batista, would be the purpose of his return to Cuba once his preparations were finalized. Don Pedro dismissed such talk as nonsense, the exuberance of a youthful dreamer, a “crazy idealist”—and advised him against wanting to change the world.

In Mérida, Alejandro fell in love with Lía. They would go out to dinner, have ice cream in the park, and see movies at the Cinema Mérida. It was in the darkened Cine Mérida movie house that he declared his love for her.

Lía told him she was in love with him as well.

They kissed.

But he also told her his love for his country was equally strong: He would have to leave Mexico, but he would send for her. When she asked why he had to leave, he quoted José Martí: “We light the oven so that everyone may bake bread in it.”

He promised again he would send for her.

Lía was stoic.

It would not be until he overthrew Fulgencio Batista, months after he returned to Cuba—and his photograph was flashed in headlines around the world—that Lía learned Alejandro González’s true name: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.

Months of silence between the lovers followed.

Not until he consolidated power in Cuba did he send Lía a note inviting her to travel to Havana. She arrived in Cuba in 1960 for the Latin American Youth Summit. She was welcomed as a “revolutionary.”

Ernesto “Che” Guevara introduced her as the future First Lady of Cuba.

All the while, she had doubts as the revolution began to take a more sinister, authoritarian turn.

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California Bill Would Fund Trauma and Mental Health Services for Students

California schools will once again be able to offer mental health programs for students in kindergarten and grades one to three who are struggling with anxiety and other trauma or stress related symptoms, if a bill introduced in the legislature [last month] passes.

AB 1644 was introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and is co-sponsored by Children Now, a statewide youth advocacy organization headquartered in Oakland, and by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“The evidence is clear that when we don’t intervene, many children are more likely to be either victims or perpetrators of crimes,” Harris said in a statement.

“We view early childhood trauma as a public health crisis,” noted Ben Rubin, senior associate of neurodevelopment and health with Children Now. He said adverse childhood experiences (ACE) lead to long-term mental and medical health effects.

Bonta’s bill would restore funding for mental health services that were once offered on 464 school sites around California under the state’s Early Mental Health Intervention (EMHI) program launched in 1992. The state gave matching funds to schools that provided intervention programs. AB 1644 is estimated to cost the state about $1 million a year.

In 2012, the state defunded the program, citing budgetary reasons. Research showed that 79 percent of the children who received those services improved their behavioral and social skills.

According to a Kidsdata.org study, more than half of all California elementary school staff reported that mental health is a problem at their school. And just over 70 percent of the state’s elementary school teachers say that their school “emphasizes helping students with emotional or behavioral problems.”

Early childhood mental health advocates say the teacher training and funding isn’t adequate to support young students who are experiencing symptoms resulting from stress and trauma. In its 2016 California Children’s Report Card, Children Now gave the state a D minus when it comes to spending on assessing and treating children who have mental health challenges.

The Children Now report warns that if kids struggling with mental health disorders don’t get the treatment they need, they are more likely to be hospitalized, drop out of school and become “involved with the justice system.” The report also says that only 40 percent of children under the age of six with mental health issues get the support they need.

California has the highest student-to-counselor ratio in the nation, with an average of 1,016 K-12 students per counselor, according to EdSource. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 to one.

The question of a school's responsibility to provide services to students suffering ACE related trauma is at the core of a lawsuit filed against the Compton Unified School District in Los Angeles. Five students and three teachers there have sued the district for allegedly failing to provide adequate training and resources for coping with trauma. The CUSD, the plaintiffs say in the federal lawsuit filed last year, is setting them up for academic failure.

Robert Hull, a school psychologist in Prince George’s County in Maryland, who has extensively researched the impact of complex trauma on childhood development, observed: “There’s a huge number of children walking into kindergarten with trauma. They’re just sitting in the classroom trying to make it through the day, not profiting from the instruction, however good it may be.”

By providing them early intervention, he said, “you are moving them from a survival mode into a learning mode.”

Bonta’s bill would establish a four-year pilot program in schools that are serving students who have experienced high levels of childhood trauma and adversity, expand the EMHI program to include younger children, and provide regional trainings and support to schools on mental health and trauma.

At Last, Some Good News on the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The nation recently got a firsthand view of what advocates have dubbed the “school to prison pipeline” when a video went viral of a South Carolina school police officer slamming a teenage girl to ground, then dragging and handcuffing her. Her crime had been chewing gum, texting on her cell phone, and refusing to leave her desk in her classroom. For that she was physically assaulted and arrested. And so the pipeline begins.

Studies show that the vast majority of youth in the juvenile justice system were suspended from school before winding up incarcerated or on probation. And the majority of adult inmates in state prisons around the country were once in the juvenile system. Hence the pipeline – from school suspension to juvenile hall to the penitentiary.

But, just like school suspensions can lead to youth detention, reducing suspensions can have the opposite effect.

In Los Angeles, with the second largest school district in the country, the number of school suspension days reduced by an astonishing 89 percent over the last five years, from seventy-four thousand per year down to 8,000. And sure enough, the rate of youth in the juvenile justice system has also plummeted in Los Angeles County. Over the past five years, the number of youth incarcerated in the county’s juvenile detention centers and camps have been cut in half, according to LA Probation Department reports.

In Oakland, CA, a similar pattern has occurred. Suspensions dropped 15 percent the last school year, which was the second straight school year that suspensions decreased. The federal Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights has threatened to sue the District for its historical disproportionate suspension of African-American students. Since the Oakland school district entered an agreement with DOJ, suspensions of Black students have dropped precipitously, from 1,050 in 2011 to 630 in 2014.

According to data from the Alameda County Court, the number of new delinquency petitions, meaning the number of new charges filed against youth, has dropped 54 percent in the past six years. Less than half of the number of youth are being charged with crimes today in Alameda County (Oakland) than they were in 2009.

In 2004, a large political fight was brewing after Alameda County officials announced plans to build the largest per capita juvenile detention center in the country, with a capacity of 560 beds. A successful campaign by youth advocates resulted in the building of a smaller facility of 340 beds, though there were warnings of overcrowding. The new juvenile hall has never been full and today holds just 110 youth.

School suspension and expulsion rates have gone down statewide. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced in January, “a dramatic 20 percent drop in the number of students expelled in 2013-14 and a 15.2 percent decline in the number of students suspended. This marks the second year in a row of declines in both areas.” This meant that 49,987 fewer students were suspended in 2013-14 compared to the year before.

And of all of the statistics cited in this article, the dramatic decline in the number of youth incarcerated in state juvenile facilities is most notable. In 1996, there were more than 10,000 youth in the California Youth Authority’s juvenile prisons – today, there are less than 700. And all the youth have not just been transferred to county lock-ups. A report released last year by Commonweal revealed that the total population of youth detained in all county facilities across the state is only at half of the capacity of those combined institutions.

Much of this decline is about better decisions being made by systems. In the last two years, the School Boards in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland have all voted to eliminate “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend a student, which used to account for up to half of all suspensions. The broadly interpreted willful defiance policy was often students “talking back” to teachers. Probation Departments are also making better decisions, not admitting into their juvenile detention centers youth charged with low level offenses like shoplifting or school yard scuffles.

But youth are also making better decisions. A recent report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that juvenile crime in California is at an all-time low, with less youth crime today since statistics were first collected in the 1950s.

This is all reason to celebrate. But while we acknowledge the progress that has been made, we must recognize how much further we have to go. There remains just over two million youth arrested each year in America. This would include the South Carolina girl and many like her where no video was taken. On any given day, there are nearly 70,000 youth incarcerated in the United States – six times the rate of England.

School suspensions still lead to justice involvement and the racial disparities in all of this is astronomical. In Los Angeles, where suspensions have plummeted and youth incarceration is dropping, the situation is still urgent. Six out of every 10 Black male students drop out of high school in Los Angeles. Noted Harvard criminologist Bruce Western has found that 60 percent of Black male high school drop-outs in their early thirties have spent time in prison. Not just on probation or in county jail – in state prison!

Numerous recent studies have shown that youth incarceration is not just ineffective, but incredibly harmful. And it is excessively expensive. California spends more than $200,000 annually on each youth in its state juvenile facilities. Counties spend on average $135,000 per year for each youth in its facilities.

As the number of youth incarcerated throughout the state decline, the massive amount of money being saved should be reinvested into the very communities that have had the high percentage of juvenile delinquency, which of course are the same communities with high rates of poverty and high school drop outs. Though juvenile crime remains low in California, as overall crime has begun to creep up in some cities, reinvesting youth incarceration spending into youth development, family support, and community revitalization will help continue to drive youth delinquency down and graduation rates up.

Why Are U.S. Farmers Still Using a Pesticide That Has Killed Many People Around the World?

On a cool November day in 2009, farmworker Jovita Alfau was transplanting hibiscus as she’d been instructed in a section of Power Bloom Farms and Growers nursery in Homestead, Florida.

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How Digital India Is WhatsApping Mob Violence and Lynching

We are not a country of beggars and elephants and snakecharmers.

This is a new India of Whatsapp and smartphones and MyGov.in. That’s the Digital India Narendra Modi sold, to a starstruck Silicon Valley just the other day.

Mr Modi told an inspiring story about an India where farmers in Maharashtra are on a Whatsapp group to share agricultural tips and techniques.

Days later barbaric violence erupted in Dadri village, not too far from Delhi. A mob, apparently fired up by announcements of cow slaughter made at the local temple, barged into the house of the Muslim ironsmith, convinced that he had beef in his refrigerator. Soon the iron smith was dead, his son in hospital and #DadriLynching was the latest hashtag of shame on Twitter.

It sounds medieval but this too was powered by Whatsapp and social media.

The villagers of Bisada, writes Betwa Sharma in Huffington Post, have pictures of meat and bones, clinching proof in their minds that Mohammad Akhlaq’s family slaughtered a cow. “The photos have spread like wildfire across the village, and almost everyone has images on their own phones,” writes Sharma. Pictures circulated via Whatsapp.

Vandana Rana, the sister of Vishal Rana who has been named in the police FIR as being part of the lynch mob, tells Supriya Sharma of Scroll that she often gets messages and videos on the subject of cow slaughter. “The videos are from Kashmir, from Muzzafarnagar, basically from Mohammedan areas, where cows are being killed," she says. She gets the images via Whatsapp.

Whatsapp is just technology. It’s neither good nor bad. It just depends on how we use it - to share farming tips or get blood boiling. The government is not unaware of its power for rumourmongering. At the height of the Hardik Patel reservation agitation in Gujarat, there was a clampdown on social media, such as Whatsapp and Facebook.

But the larger and more troubling issue outlives the ban. There is a whole alternate media universe that has been spawned via social media where rumours, Photoshopped pictures and canards go viral faster than a news story can. This is a global phenomenon. A decade old picture of two Hmong children comforting each other in north Vietnam has been peddled on the Internet as “two Burmese orphans”, "victims of the Nepal earthquake" and even the Syrian civil war.

In India we have seen again and again, the deadly consequences of this alternate media underworld. In 2013, a Whatsapp video of two boys being beaten, fanned the Muzaffarnagar riots. By the time it was determined the video was at least two years old, filmed perhaps in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it was too late. It had served its deadly purpose. “"We did not imagine so many people would have access to the net on their mobile phones and WhatsApp,” a police offer admitted to Indian Express. Is the uber-connected digital India Mr Modi plans going to be as swift to burst these bubbles as a politician is about using Section 66A against someone forwarding a cartoon?

When Mr Modi tells the Silicon Valley technorati about how Twitter has turned everyone into a reporter, he misses a very important caveat. It is a “reporter” who is in the end unaccountable, whose “report” does not have to stand the scrutiny of a newsroom and an editor.

News trader. Presstitute. Paid media -- All these epithets are used routine and with relish, not just by trolls but even by ministers. In the civic elections in Bengal this weekend, a female journalist was threatened with gangrape allegedly by Trinamool goons and others were beaten up for daring to take pictures of outsiders at polling booths. It might suit a political party to take potshots at the media, and sometimes those potshots might even be deserved, but the more we vilify media as a whole, the more we ensure that conspiracy theories and Photoshopped pictures thrive. Their oxygen is this distrust of mainstream media.
It should give us pause that ordinary people accept something blindly because they “saw it on the Internet” while they dismiss everything they don't like in the papers or on television as "paid news". As Shashi Tharoor writes in India Shastra, a friend’s father says once he did not believe anything if it was not in the Times of India. Now he does not believe anything if it is in the Times of India.

The quip always elicits a chuckle. But the consequences of that, and media has indeed played its own part in its degradation, are devastating for all of us. “Even if one felt that Hinduism was under threat, that media was engaged in a conspiracy against the current regime” it should have been easy, writes Santosh Desai in The Times of India, to say “‘you cannot get together in a mob and stone a man to death because of what he eats. It is wrong’.”

But that did not happen. In an anguished piece after visiting Basehara village, NDTV’s senior executive editor Ravish Kumar asks “How is it that I didn't find a single person who looked ashamed or had even a shred of remorse? Why was no one distraught that thousands of people from the village could have been transformed into a killer mob?”

The answer could lie in what they are reading and watching. Why do they believe their phones and not his channel? Why is Whatsapp the paper of record? In our haste to determine via forensics what the Akhlaq family was eating, we forget to check what the mob that attacked them was being fed.

This is where the silence of Narendra Modi becomes damning. He cannot be responsible for every Whatsapp rumour. But he has the bully pulpit to do his best to puncture its bubble. And every day he tweets about Safaigiri awards, the World Billiards championship and Sushma Swaraj’s UN speech but not Dadri, the bubble grows bigger. Every time he vilifies media, the bubble grows stronger.

Until one day it gains enough power to leap outside the virtual reality of a mobile phone and go into a man’s house, ransack his refrigerator and beat him to a pulp with a sewing machine.

“The pace at which people are taking to digital technology defies our stereotypes of age, education, language or income,” Modi had said proudly at a gathering of Silicon Valley CEOs.

He was right. Dadri, Muzaffarnagar,Vadodara proved it. Chillingly so. And it will happen again.

Islamophobia Rages from Texas to India

Mahesh Sharma, India’s Culture minister, and a high school in Irving, Texas have more in common than they realise. On the face of it, the two incidents appear poles apart.

Ahmed Mohamed, a fourteen-year-old freshman in a high school in Texas, was handcuffed and detained by police after he took a homemade alarm clock to school to show his engineering teacher. But another teacher thought it looked like a bomb and called the police. The boy in his NASA T-shirt was interrogated and taken to a juvenile detention centre, triggering off a huge row about Islamophobia and stereotyping.

Meanwhile over in India, Mahesh Sharma, the culture minister who has recently found his tongue with a vengeance, tells India Today TV that it makes sense to rename Aurangzeb Road after APJ Abdul Kalam because Kalam “despite being a Muslim” was a great nationalist and humanist. Sharma was actually trying to deliver a compliment. The Texas police were reacting to young Mohamed as a threat but both responses draw from the same wellspring of prejudice.

Both see being Muslims ultimately from a base level of suspicion. The Texas authorities might insist anyone carrying a contraption with wires to school would be subject to the same treatment but they will never be able to demonstrate that Ahmed’s name and religion were not factors as well. “I like science, but I look like a threat because of my brown skin,” said Ahmed. He is not just a teenager building a clock, he is a Muslim teenager building a bomb-like device. As has been pointed out, if it was indeed a bona fide bomb scare, why was the school not evacuated? why was a bomb squad not called? And if it was a bomb hoax, why would the perpetrator call it a clock and defeat the point of a hoax?

Sharma might insist he was trying to prove that he, in fact, had no prejudice towards Muslims by making Kalam the "good" Muslim to Aurangzeb’s "bad" Muslim. That was belittling enough to Kalam’s memory but Sharma took it a step further because as Siddharth Vardarajan writes in The Wire, “In the Culture Minister’s perverted worldview, being Muslim is a handicap that the former President had to overcome in order to serve the country.” That's a fine message to send out to the country's Muslims.


The point of the story is the stereotypes we harbour. And that includes Taslima Nasreen who tweeted out, “If I could see Ahmed Mohamad’s home made clock, I would hv mistaken his thing for a bomb. Why ppl think Muslims can bring bombs? Cause they do.” But Muslims don’t bring bombs. Bad people, who come in all shapes, sizes and denominations, do. Just because there are terrorists who find their inspiration in their religion does not mean Ahmed Mohamed deserves to be interrogated for building a clock. America’s greatest school tragedies have not been caused by Muslims bringing bombs. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Springfield. Blacksburg. Those shooters had names like Eric Harris, Dylan Kiebold, Adam Lanza and Seung-Hui Cho.

Ahmed, however has been flooded with support from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to President Obama. “Cool clock, Ahmed,” tweeted President Obama. “Want to bring it to the White House?” It’s unlikely the Indian Prime Minister will say anything to Sharma. PM Narendra Modi, after all, is the face that launched a thousand #DespiteBeingAWoman hashtags after telling Sheikh Hasina, “I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism.”

Of course, it's also highly unlikely that Ahmed would have gotten anywhere near the White House with his contraption without triggering a security alert. But the point is the context. An unknown person with a jerry-rigged device with wires sticking out near the White House is clearly not the same as your fellow student bringing a clock to school and showing it to the engineering teacher.

Let’s be clear. No Qurans were desecrated here. No mosques vandalised. No one was beaten up for wearing a headscarf or a “beard like Osama”. But these forms of covert prejudice are more insidious and all the harder to root out because someone like Mahesh Sharma probably genuinely believes he was paying an ex-President a well-deserved compliment. Just as Ahmed’s high school, in a display of obdurate tone-deafness, has issued a statement without even a hint of apology, patting themselves on the back instead for “always” taking “the necessary steps to keep our school as safe as possible.”

Ahmed says he can “never look at the world in the same way”. But he is fourteen and hopefully the scars will fade and the support he has received is also unprecedented. As for Kalam, he is beyond caring about what anyone thinks of him. But what do we do about a Culture Minister who, despite being a Culture Minister, seems to show little appreciation for the breadth and diversity of India’s culture? Ahmed's clock was just a clock, but given his slew of explosive statements, Mahesh Sharma seems to be a ticking time bomb.

White House Conference on Aging Emphasizes Private-Sector Solutions for Elderly

Amidst President Obama’s celebratory summer--with Supreme Court victories on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, his bold stance on prison-sentencing reform, and Confederate flags widely furled and stored--a curious off-note soured his standing on one of the Democratic Party’s signature issues--old-age security. â€¨â€¨

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UC President Janet Napolitano Urges State To Fund Expanded Enrollment

One of occasional series of NAM interviews with UC President Janet Napolitano. 

NAM: More students of color are graduating from California high schools than ever before who want to go to college. That’s good news. Is UC able to accommodate the demand?

Napolitano: We’re seeing increasing numbers of California high school students graduating…and they’re increasingly diverse. The fastest growing are Latinos, but we’re also seeing growth in applications from Asian Americans – Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese and others. More and more students are taking the required courses so they’re eligible and they’re applying. We want to enroll as many of these students as we can.

NAM: What are you asking the state to do?

Napolitano: We have a plan that would enable us to meet the demand. We’ve asked the legislature to increase state funding by $50 million this year and $50 million next year to expand in-state student enrollment by 10,000 students over the next four years.

NAM: What’s your read on what the legislature will do?

Napolitano: Sacramento has realized that higher education has to be a priority. I’m sympathetic to the legislators because they have so many conflicting demands.Nonetheless when you look at the prison budget and compare it to higher education, that needs to change. The legislators have the opportunity to expand enrollment to the best university in the world.

NAM: There’s some concern that students who do get accepted don’t get their first choice of campuses…They want to go to UC-Berkeley or UCLA but they are assigned to Merced.

Napolitano: The schools in the UC system are at different levels of maturation. The student experience at Merced is exceptional because it’s the newest campus and a smaller student body. Students who attend are pioneers, building the kind of legacy that the older campuses already have. The number one major at Merced is biology – so it’s drawing large numbers of students who want to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

NAM: UC is the premiere institution training the future educated class in California. What are you seeing that encourages you and what worries you?

Napolitano: Some 42% of our students are first-generation collegestudents. That’s an astounding number. Our applications are at record high numbers led by the growth in Latinos and Asians… I am worried about our African American communities. The number of African Americans going to four year colleges is dropping across the nation, particularly African American males. The dramatic increase in Latino enrollment reflects in part the growth in that population. That’s not been true for African Americans.

NAM: Is UC actively involved in trying to address these disparities?

Napolitano: We’re actively reaching out to communities across the state. There are so many families that think they can’t afford UC. We’re letting them know that we offer substantial financial aid…We’re also doing a lot with community colleges., We have identified community colleges that aren’t sending many students to UC campuses and we’re looking to expand that effort.

NAM: Many middle class parents feel their children won’t get into the UC—they’re not poor enough to get scholarships and they’re not rich enough to afford it.

Napolitano: Housing costs are a key factor since a number of our campuses are located in very affluent areas like La Jolla and Santa Cruz. We’re looking to build more housing dorm units. We’re also actively looking at ways to ensure students don’t graduate with debts, although I always remind students that getting a diploma with debt is very different than buying a new car with debt. With the diploma the value only increases, whereas the car loses value the minute you drive it out of the dealership.

NAM: More women are now enrolled in college than men. Are you seeing an emerging gender gap in UC admissions, with women on the ascendance and does that worry you?

Napolitano: That’s an important question. I want to look into that.

NAM: There’s some concern that foreign students and out of state students are taking up the slots of in-state students. What’s your perspective?

Napolitano: Foreign students, out of state students, enrich the entire college experience. UC is very much a global university.
I like to say that we teach for California, we research for the world.

NAM: CP Snow’s Two Cultures 70 years ago warned against an imbalance between science and the humanities in our culture. Today, we are witnessing technology in the ascendance, and the humanities feeling very threatened. What’s UC doing to address this?

Napolitano: One of our goals has to be to produce well educated people. There’s no question that students graduating with a computer engineering degree will earn more money than the student with a degree in English. But there’s more to life than how much money someone makes.

NAM: What’s your greatest source of satisfaction after two years as UC president?

Napolitano: Furthering the mission of educating today’s students. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and this is the most satisfying.

What It Means For Your Health When Your State Refuses to Expand Medicaid

Even though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions of people get health insurance, quality health care is still out of reach for a large number of people of color, low-income families and those with language barriers. The high cost of insurance premiums and co-pays was the main reason cited for those who remain uninsured. The complexity of the enrollment process was also a deterrent.

Those were some of the findings in a report released Thursday by the Alliance for a Just Society (AJS) that interviewed 1,200 low-income people in 10 states, including California.

The report indicated that people who were hurting the most were those living in states that had not expanded Medicaid.

As the ACA was being rolled out, states were given the option of whether or not to expand their Medicaid program. Twenty-two states have chosen not to. The expansion allowed people whose income fell below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,000 for an individual and $33,000 for a family of four) -- up from the earlier requirement of 133 percent -- to enroll. It also removed the asset cap and the requirement that individuals had to have a child in order to qualify for Medicaid.

Nearly 60 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of Latinos live in states that have not expanded Medicaid.

A total of 2.2 million people have been denied access to health care because nearly half the states have chosen not to expand Medicaid, noted Gary Delgado, the report’s author. Nearly half of the respondents said they live with a chronic health condition, while 16.5 percent of Latinos, 18.7 percent of African Americans, 20.9 percent of whites and 22.2 percent of people who identified as mixed race reported living with two or more chronic conditions.

In Mississippi, a state that refused to expand Medicaid, there is a high incidence of infant mortality and diabetes among immigrant workers, said panelist Antron McKay-West of Upgrade Mississippi. Not all homes have Internet access so they can’t enroll online.

At 33 percent, Latino respondents had the lowest percentage of email addresses, followed by African Americans at 50 percent.

During Open Enrollment time, many people in Mississippi were told to “go the library and use the Internet.”

“In the neighborhood where I grew up, the library is 15 miles away,” McKay-West said.

A very small percentage (8.5 percent) of survey respondents said they had to travel about an hour to see their health care provider. But the percentage of Native American respondents (26.3 percent) was almost three times that of any other group.

Delgado, who is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Social Change at the University of California at Berkeley, said that for the ACA to be successful, the program needs to be retooled in such a way that it makes it easier for communities that have historically been left out of the American health care system to be included in it. The ACA has not addressed health care disparities – something it said it would do -- making it a “valiant attempt to build a new house with old bricks,” he said.
 

#JeSuisCharlie? No, I'm Really Not Charlie Hebdo--And Here's Why

Je suis Charlie?

Well, not quite. I really am not Charlie Hebdo.

Nothing - no cartoon, no book, no song – justifies the kind of shooting rampage that happened in Paris. As Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy mosque in Paris says, “These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their souls to hell.”

And he is not talking about the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. He is talking about those who mowed them down and fled.

But the spontaneous outpouring of the #JeSuisCharlie hashtags also elides over the really thorny issue of free speech. While we want free speech to be absolute, in the real world, it is not. And even as we stand with Charlie Hebdo we cannot pretend not to understand that.

Today, as a tribute to Charlie Hebdo, outlets in India like Mint and NDTV have published a sort of collector’s edition of some of their cartoons. It’s a respectful gesture but it’s also somewhat misleading.

Assuming most readers in India are not regular consumers of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, it gives them a more sanitized, PG-rated impression of their fare. As Jacob Canfield writes in the Hooded Utilitarian, “its cartoons often represent a certain virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally’, the cartoons they publish are intentionally ‘anti-Islam’ and frequently sexist and homophobic.”

And that’s putting it mildly.

In reality, some of Charlie Hebdo’s most offensive cartoons would not be published in most parts of the world. Few media outlets would print a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad crouched on all fours with his genitals bared or show the Father, Son and Holy Ghost sodomizing each other. For that matter, most will balk at a cartoon like the one Onion put out showing a Lord Ganesha, Jesus, Moses, and Buddha all naked with erect phalluses having an orgy in the clouds? Now, that’s being equal opportunity offenders but that remains way outside the pale for most of the world. Anyway, in a freedom of expression absolute, it should not matter if you are an equal opportunity offender or a one-sided offender.

Let’s make no mistake - these cartoons are offensive to most people. And they are meant to be that way. They exist almost as a way to test freedom of expression to its limits rather than to make a satirical point. “This is the hardest part, the murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good,” writes Canfield. “Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist and remains racist.”

But that does not mean they deserved it. Not at all. The true mettle of freedom of expression is always tested against what we consider offensive or hateful or repugnant. That’s where the protection of freedom of expression actually means something. It’s easy to stand up for freedom of expression when we agree with the view point being depicted or do not care about it one way or the other. It gets far trickier when we are called upon to defend the right of someone to say what offends us deeply – whether it’s about our religion, our mothers, or our national leaders. The right to offend always butts up against the right to be offended.

In India, the latter routinely trumps the former. We prescribe to the thumb rule – when in doubt, ban. A publication putting out something like the cartoons Charlie Hebdo was infamous for would be picketed and shut down in double quick time. Our laws protecting “communal harmony” have far more teeth than our laws protecting freedom of expression. That’s why an NDTV or a Mint has to be careful about what images it selects from the Charlie Hebdo cartoons even as it wants to show solidarity.

As much as we might want to say “Charlie Hebdo tum aagey badho, hum tumharey saath hain” we cannot pretend that freedom of expression in India is the same as freedom of expression in France is the same as freedom of expression in the United States.

In an ideal world, the response to a cartoon that offends should be another cartoon. The response to a book that offends should be to not read it. The response to a film that offends could be a #BoycottPK social media campaign.

But the reality is there is no absolute right to free speech.

And yes, we forget that even France, which has become the embattled bastion of freedom of expression today, wears its own limits on its sleeve. Its staunch defense of freedom of expression did not prevent it from passing a ban on the niqab even though it was deliberately veiled as a ban on “clothing intended to conceal the face.” “Bans like these undermine the rights of women who choose to wear the veil and do little to protect anyone compelled to do so, just as laws in other countries forcing women to dress in a particular way undermine their rights,” says Izza Leghtas at Human Rights Watch. Between April 2011 and February 2014, French law enforcement fined 594 women for wearing the niqab.

A Reuters report points out that many of the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo got their start in another satirical magazine called Hara Kiri which proclaimed its aim to be “inane and nasty.” That magazine was banned in 1970 after printing a mock death notice for General Charles de Gaulle. Its reincarnation after the ban was as Charlie Hebdo.

Everyone will read the lesson they want into the tragedy in Paris. Some will see it as proof that Muslim immigrants can never be truly French because they do not get what former President Nicholas Sarkozy called an “old French tradition, satire.” Some will see it as evidence of France's xenophobic attitude towards immigrants coming home to roost. Salman Rushdie sees the attack as “the deadly mutation in the heart of Islam” and how “religious totalitarianism combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedom.” Of course, that “threat” is not news in many parts of the world. People being killed in Iraq and Syria by Isis or in Afghanistan by the Taliban have known that for a long long time. It just hits us harder when it hits us in Paris. Or Sydney. Or London.

And very ordinary Muslim immigrants minding their own business will probably bear the brunt of the backlash as Arabs and Sikhs in the US did post-9/11 for as Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo once told Le Monde while defending his right to offend that “when activists need a pretext to justify their violence they will find it.”

But that argument offers us no answers to the knotty question of freedom of expression, an idea to which we all think we subscribe. Those JeSuisCharlie profile pictures on Facebook, perfect little squares all of them, create an image of geometric uniformity as if we subscribe to that right in equal measure. But if anything this tragedy forces us to admit that when it comes to what constitutes freedom of expression, most of us are not even close to being on the same page.

I think of myself as a staunch supporter of freedom of expression but I realize the disquieting truth that I could never publish some of the cartoons Charlie Hebdo did. It would go against every fiber of my being. But I will defend their right to exist and condemn what happened to them with every fiber of my being as well. But I just cannot say #IAmCharlieHebdo.

#JeSuisCharlie? No, I'm Really Not Charlie Hebdo: Here's Why

Je suis Charlie?

Well, not quite. I really am not Charlie Hebdo.

Nothing - no cartoon, no book, no song – justifies the kind of shooting rampage that happened in Paris. As Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy mosque in Paris says, “These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their souls to hell.”

And he is not talking about the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. He is talking about those who mowed them down and fled.

But the spontaneous outpouring of the #JeSuisCharlie hashtags obscures the thorny issue of free speech. While we want free speech to be absolute, in the real world, it is not. And even as we stand with Charlie Hebdo we cannot pretend not to understand that.

Today, as a tribute to Charlie Hebdo, outlets in India like Mint and NDTV have published a sort of collector’s edition of some of their cartoons. It’s a respectful gesture but it’s also somewhat misleading.

Assuming most readers in India are not regular consumers of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, it gives them a more sanitized, PG-rated impression of their fare. As Jacob Canfield writes in the Hooded Utilitarian, “its cartoons often represent a certain virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally’, the cartoons they publish are intentionally ‘anti-Islam’ and frequently sexist and homophobic.”

And that’s putting it mildly.

In reality, some of Charlie Hebdo’s most offensive cartoons would not be published in most parts of the world. Few media outlets would print a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad crouched on all fours with his genitals bared or show the Father, Son and Holy Ghost sodomizing each other. For that matter, most will balk at a cartoon like the one Onion put out showing a Lord Ganesha, Jesus, Moses, and Buddha all naked with erect phalluses having an orgy in the clouds? Now, that’s being equal opportunity offenders but that remains way outside the pale for most of the world. Anyway, in a freedom of expression absolute, it should not matter if you are an equal opportunity offender or a one-sided offender.

Let’s make no mistake - these cartoons are offensive to most people. And they are meant to be that way. They exist almost as a way to test freedom of expression to its limits rather than to make a satirical point. “This is the hardest part, the murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good,” writes Canfield. “Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist and remains racist.”

But that does not mean they deserved it. Not at all. The true mettle of freedom of expression is always tested against what we consider offensive or hateful or repugnant. That’s where the protection of freedom of expression actually means something. It’s easy to stand up for freedom of expression when we agree with the view point being depicted or do not care about it one way or the other. It gets far trickier when we are called upon to defend the right of someone to say what offends us deeply – whether it’s about our religion, our mothers, or our national leaders. The right to offend always butts up against the right to be offended.

In India, the latter routinely trumps the former. We prescribe to the thumb rule – when in doubt, ban. A publication putting out something like the cartoons Charlie Hebdo was infamous for would be picketed and shut down in double quick time. Our laws protecting “communal harmony” have far more teeth than our laws protecting freedom of expression. That’s why an NDTV or a Mint has to be careful about what images it selects from the Charlie Hebdo cartoons even as it wants to show solidarity.

As much as we might want to say “Charlie Hebdo tum aagey badho, hum tumharey saath hain” we cannot pretend that freedom of expression in India is the same as freedom of expression in France is the same as freedom of expression in the United States.

In an ideal world, the response to a cartoon that offends should be another cartoon. The response to a book that offends should be to not read it. The response to a film that offends could be a #BoycottPK social media campaign.

But the reality is there is no absolute right to free speech.

And yes, we forget that even France, which has become the embattled bastion of freedom of expression today, wears its own limits on its sleeve. Its staunch defense of freedom of expression did not prevent it from passing a ban on the niqab even though it was deliberately veiled as a ban on “clothing intended to conceal the face.” “Bans like these undermine the rights of women who choose to wear the veil and do little to protect anyone compelled to do so, just as laws in other countries forcing women to dress in a particular way undermine their rights,” says Izza Leghtas atHuman Rights Watch. Between April 2011 and February 2014, French law enforcement fined 594 women for wearing the niqab.

A Reuters report points out that many of the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo got their start in another satirical magazine called Hara Kiri which proclaimed its aim to be “inane and nasty.” That magazine was banned in 1970 after printing a mock death notice for General Charles de Gaulle. Its reincarnation after the ban was as Charlie Hebdo.

Everyone will read the lesson they want into the tragedy in Paris. Some will see it as proof that Muslim immigrants can never be truly French because they do not get what former President Nicholas Sarkozy called an “old French tradition, satire.” Some will see it as evidence of France's xenophobic attitude towards immigrants coming home to roost. Salman Rushdie sees the attack as “the deadly mutation in the heart of Islam” and how “religious totalitarianism combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedom.” Of course, that “threat” is not news in many parts of the world. People being killed in Iraq and Syria by Isis or in Afghanistan by the Taliban have known that for a long long time. It just hits us harder when it hits us in Paris. Or Sydney. Or London.

And very ordinary Muslim immigrants minding their own business will probably bear the brunt of the backlash as Arabs and Sikhs in the US did post-9/11 for as Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo once told Le Monde while defending his right to offend that “when activists need a pretext to justify their violence they will find it.”

But that argument offers us no answers to the knotty question of freedom of expression, an idea to which we all think we subscribe. Those JeSuisCharlie profile pictures on Facebook, perfect little squares all of them, create an image of geometric uniformity as if we subscribe to that right in equal measure. But if anything this tragedy forces us to admit that when it comes to what constitutes freedom of expression, most of us are not even close to being on the same page.

I think of myself as a staunch supporter of freedom of expression but I realize the disquieting truth that I could never publish some of the cartoons Charlie Hebdo did. It would go against every fiber of my being. But I will defend their right to exist and condemn what happened to them with every fiber of my being as well. But I just cannot say #IAmCharlieHebdo.

15 Calif. School Districts Begin Serving Locally Grown Foods to Students

SAN FRANCISCO -- Last week, 15 school districts across California began serving their students school lunches made from foods grown in California and prepared freshly just for them.

“We are going beyond the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act,” said Jennifer LeBarre, executive director of the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) Nutrition Services. President Obama signed it into law by in 2010 and it was championed by his wife, Michelle Obama.

Actually, OUSD rolled out the “California Thursdays” school lunch program one year ago, and its success encouraged other school districts to emulate it. Aside from such large urban school districts as Los Angeles, Oakland, Riverside and San Diego, California Thursdays has also begun in rural school districts such as Alvord, Hemet and Coachella.

Planners of the program initially decided to offer locally grown food just once a month – “a bite-sized implementation strategy” as Chris Smith, program and resource director with the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy put it. Then they decided to do it one day a week, randomly picking the day, Thursday, and calling the program California Thursdays.

“Thursday just seemed the right day,” Smith said, adding: “The name stuck.”

LeBarre said that even though California schools launched the healthy meals school lunch program two years ago, not all school districts served foods grown locally and many served processed foods. Some of the foods were grown as far away as in South America and shipped to China for processing. Schools microwaved the frozen prepared foods and served them to children.

The recipes for "California Thursdays" meals have been student-tested and options include fresh chicken fajita bowls, Asian noodles with Bok Choy, and pasta penne with chorizo and kale.

“Whenever we serve fresh, locally grown food to children with these recipes, they devour it,” said Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy.

Planners saw that the program, aside from helping children stay healthy and thereby help improve their academic performance, made good economic sense. They say that every $1 spent on local food fosters $1.86 in local economic activity. Every job created in the production of local food also leads to an addition of two or more new jobs within the community, according to a press release put out by the Center for Ecoliteracy.

“The California Thursdays program will help the local economy and the environment,” LeBarre said.
If the program is successful, this could become a regular part of menus for students across the state, and also every day of the week. Even as it is, some school districts serve fresh locally grown food more than one day a week, Smith said.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Cross Block Grant Program, The California Endowment, TomKat Charitable Trust, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Center for Ecoliteracy provided free tool kits to California school districts “to put together the resources” needed to launch California Thursdays, Smith said.

Feds Kill Funds for Most Successful Senior Housing Project

When construction started in mid-October on Heritage Park Senior Village in Taylor, Michigan, it marked the end of 55 years of effort by the federal government to make sure low-income elders can live out their years in decent housing.

The development getting underway 18 miles southwest of downtown Detroit is one of the very last to be constructed under a federal housing program that dates back to 1959.

The Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program produced 20,000 housing units per year at its peak in the 1970s. It provided public housing agencies and nonprofit groups with grants that covered the cost to build decent rental housing, as well as subsidies for people who were too poor to pay market-rate rents for comparable housing.

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Why the Nobel Peace Prize is a Red-Faced Moment for Pakistan and India

This may well go down as the Line of Control Nobel Peace Prize.

Even as India and Pakistan talk tough and lob shells at each other across the border, here comes the Nobel Peace Prize committee doing their version of marriage counseling.

A joint Nobel Peace Prize for Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi -- a Pakistani and an Indian. Now if that doesn't embarrass the two belligerent armies into a ceasefire, what can?

The wild celebrations are already breaking out on social media at least. The Aam Aadmi Party has let Sh. Kailash Satyarthi know that “All of India is proud of you.” What AAP didn't say is most of India went “Kailash who?” before they were proud of him.

Chalo. On a day when one India-born Satya (Nadella of Microsoft) covered himself with ignominy and Twitter-shame for his comments about women in tech, another Satyarthi has redeemed our national honour. Satyameva jayate one way or the other.

But even as we puff up with pride we have to admit that this award is rather embarrassing on both sides of the border albeit for different reasons. It's a bit of a rude shock for most Indians to realise they know way more about the Pakistani Nobel winner than they do about their own home-grown one. Malala on the other hand gets a lot of coverage in India because the West has already turned her into a global icon. And as Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy know western attention automatically translates into fame at home as well.

We know about the Narmada Bachao Andolan but few Indians know about the Bachpan Bachao Andolan and fewer still about Kailash Satyarthi and that includes many of us in the media including this sheepish writer. We are righteously aghast at the Taliban's brutal attempts to prevent a girl from getting an education in Pakistan, and laud Malala's guts but Satyarthi too has faced risks to his life trying to rescue trafficked children from factories. But we are inured to the child slavery in our midst because it's so ubiquitous from tea shops to carpet factories. Three quarters of domestic workers in India are believed to be between the ages of 12 and 16 and 90% of them are girls. The Indian government's 2001 census says 12.6 million minors between the age of 5 and 14 are in the workforce. When a fifteen-year-old is rescued from Vasant Kunj with bite marks and head wounds infested with maggots and says she was kept naked by her mistress so she would not escape we call her a “maid” but in reality she is a “slave”.

Child slavery in India for most of us is one of the myriad “jholawalla” problems that's keeping the country down. Who knew that within that field there exists someone the committee found Nobel-worthy? Some will see in this Nobel, after the initial euphoria has died down, as yet more proof of a vast conspiracy to keep the international image of India as poor, ragged and starving as opposed to prospering, aspiring and Madison-Square-gardening.

But the larger embarrassment is while we rebuke a Maria Sharapova for the temerity of not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is, we have been caught with our pants down as we desperately Google our first 100% pucca desi Nobel Peace prize winner. (Dr Rajendra Pachauri won in 2007 but it was really the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which he was chairing.)

But Indians can console themselves, as they often do, by looking across the border and saying the Pakistanis have it worse. We can be embarrassed about not knowing our Nobel laureate but at least we didn't drive our Nobel laureate out of the country to Birmingham.

For Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai's award hardly covers the country in glory. It really reiterates a horrible shocking and festering reality - the simple act of trying to get an education can get a girl shot in the head.

When Malala Yousafzai got the 2013 Ambassador of Conscience award she said she had written a short speech because she had to finish her homework. She said “With this powerful weapon of knowledge and education, we can fight against wars, terrorism, child labour and inequality” thereby unwittingly joining cause with Satyarthi's mission long before this joint Nobel. Now the Nobel has joined them together formally.

We may choose on both sides of the border to regard these Nobels as a way of humiliating our respective nations by only seeing our ugliest problems. Or we may regard the prize as a shining light on what should be a blight on our collective conscience.

That choice, and that challenge is up to us. As Satyarthi tweeted when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister:
A tea-boy dares his detractors by becoming the PM of India. Now it's his turn to ensure that no child is forced to become a child labourer.

That didn't make news. He was just another jholawalla NGO-type then though the issue of child slavery was as unconscionable then as it is now. But perhaps now that we have all Googled him we will take him more seriously today.

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California Bill Aims to Help Incarcerated Kids Stay in School

If there is one group of students with the most to gain from staying in school, it is those minors transitioning out of the juvenile justice system. Yet of the roughly 42,000 youth who attend California’s juvenile court schools each year, only 20 percent successfully reenroll within 30 days of their release from the system.

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High Stakes Testing is 'Toxic' Warns New NEA President

Stories about Lily Eskelsen García typically mention the fact her career began as a lunch lady in a local school in her native Utah. But the new head of the nation’s largest teacher’s union, the National Education Association, offers a slightly different take: “I was the salad girl,” she said. “They wouldn’t even trust me with hot food.”

On the urging of a kindergarten teacher she later returned to school, paying part of her way by singing folk songs in coffee shops around Salt Lake City. Nine years later Utah named her Teacher of the Year.

This September, she takes the helm of the 3 million-member NEA. As the first fluent-Spanish speaker to hold the post, she comes in just as a majority of the nation’s public school students will be non-white for the first time in the country’s history. She also comes in amid heated political battles over the future shape of U.S. classrooms, from the Common Core education standards to legal tussles over teacher tenure rules and the growing charter school movement.

Speaking at a briefing for ethnic media in Los Angeles Wednesday, Eskelsen García acknowledged the challenges ahead of her. “What we’re up against,” she said, “are people who use good words like reform, and accountability, and progress.” But their real meaning will be to “narrow what it means to teach a child to fit on a standardized test.”

Eskelsen García believes the push toward high stakes testing and efforts to measure teacher performance on how well students do on these tests is "poisoning what it means to teach and learn in this country." She points to Texas, where she says teacher salaries have been determined by test results, leading many to artificially inflate scores. In Oklahoma, some 8000 third graders were held back because they failed to “hit a cut score that some politician decided meant something.”

Eskelsen García described such practices as “toxic.”

Echoing her comments, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Thursday stated that high stakes tests were “sucking the oxygen out of rooms in a lot of schools.” He also said states could delay for another year using tests in teacher performance ratings. The move is sure to please NEA members, who last month approved a resolution calling on Duncan to resign.

Meanwhile states across the country continue to roll out new standardized tests aligned with the Common Core. California will introduce its own version of the Common Core test, known as the Smarter Balance, next spring. The new tests will be computer-based and will require students to articulate their answers in writing, instead of filling in bubbles. California is still working out how to use the tests in teacher evaluations.

Eskelsen García told audience members Wednesday that she was initially “as critical as anyone” of the Common Core standards, which were designed to revamp the way schools instruct and assess students. She has since come to support them, though she said her fear is that they will be “corrupted” by efforts to limit what textbooks schools could use and to create “cut scores that determine if a student gets punished.”

Eskelsen García spoke alongside Mikki Cichocki, secretary treasurer for the California Teachers Association (CTA), and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President Alex Caputo-Pearl. The briefing was held at the UTLA offices in downtown LA and was organized by New America Media.

Caputo-Pearl, who taught for 12 years at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles and has two kids enrolled in the district, said many in the education reform world liken test scores to “profit margins,” taking a “top down corporate” approach to addressing educational issues. “Schools aren’t businesses,” he said. “They are more like families.”

He also laid out some of the areas UTLA plans to focus on, including an emphasis on increasing staff around music and the arts, as well as enhancing afterschool and extended learning programs that are culturally relevant to the students they serve.

Asked about the recent Vergara vs. California decision on teacher tenure laws, Cichocki said the ruling was “incredibly disappointing.”

The case, brought by students in the Los Angeles Unified School District and several advocacy organizations, challenged state laws around layoffs and seniority, as well as due process and tenure for teachers after two years. A superior court judge gave a tentative ruling in favor of the plaintiffs earlier this year, saying the laws were harmful for students. A final ruling is expected later this month.

“The [case] focused on all the wrong problems, and offered the wrong solutions,” said Cichocki, who stressed the importance of “teacher driven change.” Eskelsen García was more blunt, calling the decision an “absurdity” that did not take into account ways to “protect good teachers.”

The child of immigrants, Eskelsen García also acknowledged the challenge around serving an increasingly diverse student population even as teacher ranks remain predominantly white. She noted part of the problem stems from the high costs for college that “block out a lot of minorities,” an issue the NEA is looking to tackle through its new Degrees Not Debt campaign.

“We want to work to identify not just problems, but solutions,” she said. “A huge part of the solution will involve reaching out to minority communities.”

50 Years Later, Federal Program to Place Low-Income Students in College Still Vital

Fifty years ago this year, the federal government created Upward Bound, a program to help low-income students enroll in college. Today, with poverty rates again soaring and college a distant dream for too many, the need is as critical as ever.

Without Upward Bound, I would not be where I am today.

As a high school freshman I was anything but a serious student. Graduation was not even on the radar, nevermind college. Instead, my main concerns were figuring out which ditching party to attend and making sure my parents didn’t get the call from school letting them know I was absent.

Thankfully, on the urging of my counselors I applied to Occidental College's Upward Bound program. I had heard participants get to live away from home for five weeks with other high school students from Los Angeles. It sounded a lot like MTV's The Real World -- I was sold! What I did not anticipate was the structured academic and social challenge, far beyond my high school experience, that OxyUB would provide me during those five weeks and the following two years.

OxyUB's summer program offered three courses for high school credit, ranging from math, English, science, and reading seminars. These were no typical high school courses, though. They were taught at a college pace and the workload was akin to what you would expect at a university. Each course was three hours long, with a regular school day starting at eight in the morning and finishing up with a third course by nine in the evening. Once the classes were done for the day, it was time to head to the dorms to work on projects, reading assignments, math computations, and essays. As if the course load was not enough, OxyUB's summer program provided a host of cultural experiences, social activities and field trips to other college campuses.

For the students in the program, mostly low-income and first generation, these experiences were vital to making the dream of college more of a reality.

OxyUB hired an amazing staff of college students that lived with us and acted as our support providers, mentors, tutors, and advisors. A majority of them were OxyUB alumni and provided guidance on how to survive the tremendous academic rigor, and fostered leadership skills within us. They became our role models, individuals from our very own neighborhoods who had graduated high school and were attending colleges and universities in California and beyond. The staff opened my eyes to the idea that graduating high school was not the end of the road but only the beginning.

The summer program culminated in an awards ceremony that was completely student-centered; honoring our accomplishments, highlighting the most improved and outstanding students in all the courses, and listening to student speeches. By the end of the five weeks, my life had changed.

And although the summer program was over, OxyUB staff were gearing up for the services they were going to provide us throughout the academic year at our high schools and during Saturday sessions back at Occidental College. During the academic year, I received individual mentoring, tutoring, academic counseling, financial aid workshops, and during my senior year support with the college application process. By the time I graduated high school, I had successfully completed two summers with OxyUB and had been exposed to numerous hours of guidance, academic workshops, and college planning.

Upward Bound programs started at the height of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in response to President Johnson's “War on Poverty.” The following year it served 2,061 students at 17 locations; and by 2013 it had grown to serve about 76,000 students at more than 1,000 locations in 50 states. In all, more than 2 million students have benefitted from Upward Bound programs.

The most recent OxyUB data from 2013-2014 showed 100-percent of the program’s students graduated high school, as compared to the LAUSD rate of 82-percent. Ninety-three percent of seniors who participated in OxyUB enrolled in post-secondary education upon graduation from high school, and 78-percent of the seniors did not require remediation upon entrance to their post secondary institution.

But despite its success and the growing need, last year the government cut 5 percent from Upward Bound, a reduction that caused enrollment to drop to 75,996 students, down from an all-time high of 79,672 in 2012.

The former director of OxyUB, Susan Madrid-Simon, represents an empowering group of educators who have fulfilled their passion of transforming the lives of students who could have easily fallen through the educational cracks of urban schooling. Instead, heroes like her have taught us skills to not only make it through the journey of attaining a college education, but foster our leadership capacities to impact our communities in meaningful ways. With that said, cheers to OxyUB and all Upward Bound programs, and may their services continue to provide positive influence on the students they serve.
 

What a New Generation of Muslim American Leaders Wants You to Know About Who They Really Are

When an acquaintance recently quipped that Salmon Hossein had adopted the “Taliban look” because of his newly acquired beard, it was something of an aha moment for the Bay Area native.

“It was a person I knew and respected, someone familiar with the intricacies of the Middle East, and even they were saying that,” recalls the University of California, Los Angeles alumnus.

Hossein, 26, is currently pursuing a dual Master’s degree in law and public administration at UC Berkeley and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He says part of what drives him is the desire to counter some of the prevailing notions of Muslims in America.

It’s part of the reason he first grew his beard.

“I was told [by a friend] that I wouldn’t be able to succeed in corporate America with a beard,” he says. “I took it as a personal challenge to grow the beard to disprove my friend and dispel stereotypes.”

Those stereotypes have helped drive ongoing Islamaphobia in the country. A recent study of Bay Area Muslims found that 60 percent had experienced prejudice because of their religion.

Muslim community members and organizations have also been the target of government surveillance and political campaigns aimed at conflating Islam with terrorism. A recent online campaign called for a boycott of the annual White House iftar dinner, when the president meets with Muslim leaders to mark the end of Ramadan.

In a commentary for Al Jazeera, Associate Professor Sahar Aziz of Texas A&M University slams the “usual suspects” invited to the White House for “failing to take a more assertive and defiant approach to defending Muslim communities.”

The controversy over the meal, she adds, reflects a “broader need for more effective and creative forms of advocacy, community mobilizing, and representative leadership” from a new and gender-diverse generation of Muslim Americans now coming of age.

It’s the kind of message that resonates with young Muslims like Hossein, who describes public policy as a “passion.” Like others of his generation, growing up in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 prompted a very personal reckoning between his faith and his role in society.

“I was in middle school when 9/11 happened,” he says. “I became the de facto representative of the Muslim, the Afghan.”

But Hossein remains cautiously optimistic about changing American attitudes. He says he’s seen in recent years an increase in understanding about Islam, and with it a growing tolerance. He also knows that more needs to be done to dispel some of the lingering “mistruths” surrounding his community.

“I see so many people talking about Islam, but there are so few Muslims at the table,” he says. “There are so few people who have a background or expertise in that area of the world, who live, breathe and speak it … who are able to contribute their voice to make a difference.”

Hossein credits Islam with inspiring him to work for change. Citing a quote from the Prophet Mohammed that urges believers to make change first with their hand, then their tongue and, failing these, then within their own heart, he says lessons like these “pushed me towards a very social justice bent.”

He also credits UCLA with showing him “what I could do with my faith.”

The child of Afghan refugees, Hossein grew up in the Bay Area. His parents were determined to send him to college. But after graduating valedictorian from high school and applying to universities, rejection letters began coming in.

UCLA was the first to open its doors. “It was the first university to take a chance on me, to see something in me and to believe in me,” he says. “I almost begrudgingly went there, but it turned out to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.”

Resolved to “make good” on the school’s faith in him, Hossein became active in student government and in local campus organizations. With a double major in political science and international development studies, he volunteered his time teaching in local public schools and working with community service organizations.

During the holy month of Ramadan, a time of daylong fasts and communal evening meals, Hossein admits it was the “free food” on offer at the local Muslim Student Association (MSA) that first drew him in to connect with fellow Muslims.

“I didn’t want to break my fast alone,” he explains. “I used to break fast with my family. The MSA filled the hole left by being away from them.”

Bonding with others in the group, Hossein discovered a community of “like-minded fellow Muslims who want to make a difference in the world,” individuals drawn together by a shared faith and also by some of the “negative experiences” encountered because of that faith.

Today he divides his time between Boston and Berkeley, a hectic shuttling back and forth across the country that leaves little time for socializing. “I feel almost like a nomad,” he jokes. “My best friends have become Craig from Craigslist and BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit].”

In the last year of his Master’s program, Hossein says he plans to sit for the bar exam before embarking on the “bar trip,” that period when aspiring lawyers hit the road as they wait for the test results. He’d like to go to Europe, where he has never been. 

As for the broader Muslim community, he sees among his peers a growing awareness of “their powers of activism, diplomacy and outreach … they realize they can make a difference.”

And he plans to keep the beard.

For New Grads, Depression After the Diploma

For Dolaphine Kwok, the euphoria of graduating from college was quickly replaced by a growing unease about the road ahead.

“You just feel scared. Your academic bubble is popped, you feel unsure of yourself,” says the 22-year-old California native who graduated earlier this year from the University of Arizona with a degree in Optical Engineering.

The uncertainty eventually led to doubts about her choice of career path. “You feel trapped by your degree, and you wonder if you are really doing the right thing for yourself.”

Her experience is not unique. Many young people experience post-college depression.  For most, the period marks the first time outside of a school setting, causing an identity crisis of sorts. No longer students, work becomes the next foundation upon which to build a life.

But with youth unemployment persistently high across the country, a number of new graduates are struggling to make the transition from student to professional life. Many are returning home instead, with one-in-five Americans under 30 now living with their parents. That’s up from one-in-10 a generation ago.

And while overall unemployment numbers have dipped recently, for 18-29 year olds it continues to hover around 16 percent. For Hispanics and African Americans in the same age bracket the figures are even higher, at just under 16 and 24 percent, respectively.

The consequences for the economy are dire: apart from the billions in lost taxes, studies show billions more in lost earnings and lost years of potential experience for young people who remain unemployed for extended periods.

“I graduated a quarter early to hopefully get a head start on finding a job,” says Bowen Tan, 22. With a degree from UC Santa Cruz in Business Management, Tan says the job search has taken longer than anticipated. In the meantime, he’s returned to his parent’s home in the Bay Area. “It was pretty stressful, but after I moved back home, the anxiety hit hard, it felt like the stress doubled.”

Like Kwok, Tan says coming home after four years in college has led him to question the value of his time in school. “You lived here before you went you college, and now, you’re living here after college. It almost feels like my four years at college were a waste.”

UCLA psychology graduate TK Truong spent two years on the Student Advisory Council for the school’s mental health organization Active Minds. She says a lot of students don’t talk about depression, whether during school or after graduation.

“Depression is many times pushed to the side [because of the] negative stigma around it,” she says. “At a lot of big schools, mental health is also combined with general health services” and so gets less attention.

As for graduation, she says it’s a time when “everyone is taking pictures, asking about future plans … there is so much pressure.”

Glenn Matchett-Morris, associate director of Counseling and Psych Services at the University of Arizona, agrees. “Graduating is a major life transition,” he explains. “It actually is similar to college freshman moving away from home to go to school, but … scarier.”

As Matchett-Morris notes, returning home can be troubling for students who see no alternative. “You think going home is like it was before you went to college, but everything has changed. In your mind, it isn’t a safety net anymore. Suddenly, you think to yourself, ‘even home isn’t okay.’”

Matchett-Morris adds that if left unaddressed, these bouts of post-graduate depression can lead to more serious issues, including disruption of sleep patterns and withdrawal from daily social activities.

That’s what happened to Jeff Clear, who recently finished his degree in computer science. After returning to his parents’ home in Tucson, Clear, 22, took to video games and streaming movies on the Internet. “I would kill a season in a few days, and would just keep watching,” he says. “When I finished, I would immediately try to find another show to watch.”

Enrique Morales works as an academic counselor at City College of San Francisco, where he says he sees an increasing number of these kinds of cases. He warns parents not to ignore signs of possible depression in their kids, including excessive gaming or sleep.

But he adds that not all new grads are taking things lying down. Many are returning to school to gain skills employers are looking for. “There’s been a ridiculous amount of college graduates not being able to find work,” he says, and so they come to places like CCSF, which offers skills-based courses that can lead directly to jobs.

At the height of the Great Recession community colleges across the country saw spikes in enrollment ranging anywhere from 5 to 10 percent. While those numbers have dipped, Morales says there remains a steady stream of college graduates aged 22 to 25 without work and in need of additional training.

Many, he notes, tell him they are “scared about their future.”

Shift to High-Tech Jobs Leaves Latinos Behind

Job numbers are bouncing back to 2008 levels, but the recovery isn’t being felt evenly by everyone. While new jobs are being added to the rolls, many occupations remain in decline, leaving those with a high school degree or less struggling in the job market.

According to Erin Currier, director of financial security and mobility research at The Pew Charitable Trusts, there’s no question that everyone has been hit in the economic recession. Across the board higher rates of unemployment, lower wages and lower average work hours are affecting workers. But, the impact is most pronounced among those with less than a four-year college degree.

"Those who have access to some higher education are significantly more upwardly mobile," she said.

For Latino immigrants with a high school degree or less and for recent Latino high school graduates, the changing landscape of the economy poses a tough challenge.

Latinos work in construction; restaurant and hotel industries; wholesale and retail trade; and professional and other business services—some of the sectors most impacted in the recession.

Disappearing Jobs

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, during the recession, the construction sector shed more than half a million Latino immigrant workers. As of 2013, these construction jobs had not returned.

From 2000-2013, many entry-level jobs, including Word processor operators and telephone operators, declined by 60 percent.  

Meanwhile, jobs that required more specialized training, such as systems managers, software engineers and data analysts, popped up in nearly every industry. And the trend is growing.

"Two thirds all jobs are going to require some kind of post secondary education, some kind of degree or some kind of credential," said Kent McGuire, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Education Foundation. "The sooner you get kids thinking about this, the better."

The High-Tech Jobs Shift

According to Professor Anthony P. Carnevale, who directs the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the loss of entry-level jobs can be traced back even further.

In the 1970's, he says, 70 percent of high school graduates could expect to obtain a middle class living without additional education. And, four-year college graduates could expect to earn even more, almost regardless of what they studied in college. All that changed when automation came in and global trade increased, thereby igniting the American transition from an industrial nation to a post-industrial service economy.

The New Job Market

Today, as many are saying across the internet, the extraordinary is the norm. And the new technology and service industry jobs are popping up faster than there are experts to train new workers for those jobs.

This makes for a system where what you study (whether via courses, certificates or degrees) is crucial to being able to access the labor market.

The White House has tried to bridge jobs gaps by bringing attention to ways to train older workers for new skills and underprivileged youth for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

In Miami, even the parks service has gotten involved by opening new computer centers throughout the city’s parks, in the hopes of getting more youth involved in coding.

That’s because we know that the opportunities lie in particular fields. In the current economy, two fields dominate in terms of earnings potential: STEM and business.

Highest Degree Does Not Equal Higher Pay

Making matters worse, many college graduates and even master’s degree holders are vying for the few entry-level jobs that are left.

"There is a fundamental change in the opportunities of the U.S. economy, such that college degrees don’t mean as much as they used to. Whether it’s a certificate, bachelor's or master’s—more and more what you make depends on what you take, on your field of study; the second reality is that you don’t earn the most money by having the highest degree level,” said Carnavale.

In the 2013 study, “Why are recent college graduates underemployed? looking at university enrollments and labor market, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity notes that more than a third (37 percent) of U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests require less than a four-year college education.

Career Prospecting

What can you do? In the short-term, experts foresee a continuation of the current trends. Job growth and pay is expected to be strongest in the STEM and business. Additionally, teaching, and healthcare fields are expected to see an increase in employment - especially as current workers retire.

Jimmy Pastrano, coordinator of Graduate Studies at the Florida State University Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, says that the key is getting experience in the field you want to work in and diversifying the courses you take in your post secondary studies and training. If your desired field is education for example, you should take a few teaching courses along the way.

"A geography major, for example, might want to consider adding education courses, so that when they graduate they can compete for cartography jobs and also for teaching jobs,” he said. “There's a great benefit in diversifying the courses."

Georgetown’s Carnavale adds that in order to meet the new realities, it's important to keep in mind how much your school of choice intends to invest in your education.

"Since 1994 more than 80 percent of young white Americans have attended the top 500 four-year colleges (these spend 2-5 times more per student). But, more than 72 percent (this is even higher for lower income students) of Hispanics go onto a community college or open admissions four-year college, even when their scores show they are capable of attending a top institution." 

The issue according to Carnavale is that community colleges and open-admissions schools don't have enough funding and thus Hispanics who attend these schools receive increasingly less attention and resources. The impact translates, in part, to lower employment and wages in the future.

All of the experts interviewed for this story concluded that education was crucial in overcoming a tepid jobs recovery and taking advantage of the opportunities unfolding in the new market. The key then may be for students to do their homework on educational opportunities as related to schools, programs of study, skills and the jobs outlook in their state and nationally.

Currently 10 states are developing websites to help students carry out these comparisons. In Virginia, for example, you can visit one site to see how many students graduate from a specific program and how much they earn after graduation. And you can compare that program to others in the state. But, we are still a long way from public access to such comparatives at the two year college level and at the credential level, such as with certificates. So far the sites only focus on four year institutions.

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