Category Archives: News

Fort Hood deaths bring new scrutiny to Army

Stretched thin by 2 wars, military may have missed Hasan warning signs
Nov. 14, 2009, 10:30PM

WASHINGTON — At a time when U.S. Army troops are fighting two wars halfway around the globe, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan possessed all the qualifications the military so desperately needs: He is an Arabic-speaking Muslim of Palestinian descent, a doctor, a psychiatrist and a midlevel commander.

But that was before Nov. 5, before, authorities say, Hasan opened fire at Ford Hood, before he was accused of murdering 13 of his colleagues, and before his case raised questions about whether the U.S. military may have relaxed its standards to keep Hasan and others in uniform to meet the unrelenting demand for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The Army is caught in a perfect storm,” says Larry Korb, the Pentagon’s top manpower official during the Reagan administration. “It’s had to lower standards to keep people coming in — and it’s made changes to keep people from getting out.”

Alarmed, the White House and Capitol Hill are vowing to investigate whether warning signs of potential trouble are being routinely ignored in a military stretched to — or beyond — the breaking point.

“The president has asked every agency involved … to investigate why this happened, how this happened, and to ensure that they can tell him that it won’t happen again,” said President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs.

In Hasan’s situation, there are many reasons why Pentagon officials wouldn’t want to lose an officer of his background. Arabic-speaking Muslims are in extremely short supply, as are doctors and psychiatrists.

Indeed, the Army has been trying to train and keep psychiatrists such as Hasan for years amid mounting cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers returning from multiple tours in the war zone.

The ranks of Army psychiatrists suffer some of the most chronic shortages among the Army’s 27 medical specialties, according to the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog. Physicians in general are in short supply. The Army fell short 159 doctors over the eight-year period ending in 2008, meeting only 93 percent of its goal of 2,421 physicians, the GAO found.

Some doctors are being forced to remain in uniform under the Pentagon’s “stop loss” authority that enables the military to keep soldiers beyond their official enlistment limits. At least 11,000 soldiers in the Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard are being retained under “stop loss” rules.

Majors are needed

Hasan also was a valuable find for the military because he helped fill another need: Majors.

Because of enlistment cutbacks dating back to the end of the Cold War, the Army faces a shortage of midlevel officers, including a 15 percent shortage of majors in the medical corps. To ease a looming shortage of 3,000 majors, the Army has put young captains on the fast track to the rank of major. A decade ago, 78.1 percent of captains were promoted to the rank of major. In the past year, that percentage jumped to 94.1 percent.

Because of shortages among specialists — and also to maintain troop levels needed to fight two wars — the Army also has been forced to periodically rewrite standards for incoming recruits to keep up a flow of more than 70,000 enlistees each year.

It raised the maximum enlistment age from 34 to 42 in 2006. Fitness standards have been pushed to the breaking point: 25 percent of prospective recruits between the ages of 17 and 24 are now deemed medically obese — five times the percentage in the 1980s.

Educational standards have slipped, as well. The Army accepted nearly 14,200 high school dropouts among 67,395 incoming recruits without prior military service in 2007, for example.

The Army also has been flexible on recruits’ prior criminal activity. It granted 10,236 waivers for misconduct including felonies and 4,962 medical waivers including failure to pass drug or alcohol entrance tests to enlist 67,395 new recruits in 2007.

“They’ve taken people in who should not be in — and they’re promoting people quickly who should not be promoted,” said Korb, the military manpower expert. “Now we have to live with that.”

An Army Recruiting Command spokesman, Douglas Smith, says the service retains “high recruiting standards” with the quality of the force “always top priority.” But the military also offers “deserving individuals who have overcome mistakes an opportunity to realize their potential to be high performing soldiers.”

The nation’s deep recession has freed the Army to raise entrance standards again as more civilians flee poor job prospects in the economy to join the armed forces.

The Army is drawing its highest percentage of high school graduates since 1996, with 58,836 of the 61,933 recruits in fiscal 2009 holding high school diplomas.

Because of the manpower shortages, some lawmakers are asking if the military is ignoring potential warning signs in individual cases.

Hasan, for example, won a crucial promotion two years after cautioning colleagues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that Muslims needed leeway to leave the Army as conscientious objectors to “decrease adverse events.” He reportedly said that the Koran took precedence over the U.S. Constitution.

But his superiors and his psychiatric colleagues apparently never had him evaluated on either security or psychological grounds.

Background checks

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee panel that handles military readiness, says the Army needs to “conduct a good, good background check on these people.”

“We need to ask, before these people become officers or are accepted into specialty schools like medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, about their commitment to our nation,” Ortiz said.

Hasan’s ability to remain in the military also raises questions about the lack of coordination between U.S. intelligence services. Months before Hasan pinned on the golden oak leaves of an Army major, he exchanged e-mails with a radical Islamic cleric in Yemen who knew three of the 9/11 hijackers and once presided over a mosque in Falls Church, Va., attended by Hasan.

The e-mails came to the attention of a joint FBI counterterrorism task force last year, but the exchange was never shared with intelligence agencies — an oversight that President Barack Obama ordered investigated on Thursday.

Pushing Bush to Attack Iran

By Dan Froomkin

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to use his White House visit today to push President Bush to take a more aggressive approach toward Iran — and there are some signs that he’ll have a receptive audience.

Both Olmert and Bush are badly wounded and looking for salvation. Olmert is facing corruption allegations that could drive him from office. Bush is wildly unpopular, desperate to salvage his legacy and fighting irrelevance as the general election begins in earnest — with even the Republican candidate trying to keep him at a distance.

It’s in this environment that the Jewish Telegraph Agency reports: “Ehud Olmert will urge President Bush to prepare an attack on Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported.

“Citing sources close to the Israeli prime minister, Yediot Achronot reported on its front page Wednesday that Olmert, who is due to hold closed-door talks with Bush in Washington, will say that ‘time is running out’ on diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

“The United States should therefore prepare to attack Iran, Olmert will tell Bush, according to Yediot.”

Olmert certainly telegraphed as much in public last night. Matti Friedman writes for the Associated Press that “the Israeli prime minister told thousands of Israel supporters at the annual convention of the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the Iranian threat ‘must be stopped by all possible means.’

For more click here.

Press hails Obama the ‘giant slayer’

(CNN) — History in the making was how many international newspapers viewed Barack Obama’s emergence as Democratic presidential candidate, with the focus on his status as the first ever African-American to win the ticket.

Newspapers described Obama as a “political giant slayer.”

Even before Hillary Clinton admitted defeat in the hard-fought contest, some publications were already dissecting her failed campaign, analyzing where it went wrong and what the future has in store for her political dynasty.

Tuesday’s win “confirms Obama’s reputation as a political giant-slayer, who after less than four years in the U.S. Senate brought down the couple credited with creating the Democrats’ most powerful political machine,” the Guardian newspaper wrote.

The Chinese Xinhua news agency marveled at how “one year ago, it was very hard to imagine that Obama, a young politician without a strong political base and little known to the public can defeat Hillary Clinton, the heir-apparent of the Democratic Party.”

The Times of London saw Obama’s victory as evidence that “the United States remains a land of opportunity.”

“This moment’s significance is its resounding proof of the truism about America as a land of opportunity: Mr Obama’s opportunity to graduate from Harvard and take Washington by storm,” it wrote.

It said his victory also demonstrates “the opportunity that the world’s most responsive democratic system gives its voters to be inspired by an unknown; the opportunity that outsiders now have to reassess the superpower that too many of them love to hate.

“Win or lose in November, he will have gone farther than anyone in history to bury the toxic enmity that fueled America’s civil war and has haunted it ever since.”
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The Financial Times opened a post-mortem on Clinton’s campaign, indicating that her defeat was not about her shortcomings but about Obama’s political potency.

“Analysts will spend years poring over the reasons for Mrs Clinton’s failed bid and probably never reach consensus,” it wrote.

“But almost everyone, including some members of her own staff, would agree that the former first lady’s campaign looked old-fashioned next to that of Barack Obama.”

The Independent newspaper, however, placed the blame on “loyal husband” Bill Clinton who “more than anyone sabotaged his wife’s chances by airing too many outspoken opinions on the way.”

But the paper hinted the Clintons may still have another shot at the White House — although it could be a few years away.

“Hillary has been beaten. Bill has dishonored himself. And Chelsea? Chelsea need have no regrets. She may be the candidate that brings the family back to the campaign trail again. But that drama is for another decade.”

The French newspaper Le Monde also examined Bill Clinton’s role in Hillary’s failure. The former president was both her greatest asset and her worst, the paper said, delivering a blunt assessment of her campaign with an emphatic: “C’est fini.”

Scientists target poor to test sludge theory

from the Cape Cod Times.


BALTIMORE — Scientists using federal grants spread fertilizer made from human and industrial wastes on yards in poor, black neighborhoods to test whether it might protect children from lead poisoning in the soil.

Families were assured the sludge was safe and were never told about any harmful ingredients.

Nine low-income families in Baltimore row houses agreed to let researchers till the sewage sludge into their yards and plant new grass. In exchange, they were given food coupons as well as the free lawns as part of a study published in 2005 and funded by the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The Associated Press reviewed grant documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and interviewed researchers. No one involved with the $446,231 grant for the two-year study would identify the participants, citing privacy concerns.

There is no evidence there was ever any medical follow-up.

Comparable research was conducted by the Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency in a similarly poor, black neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill.

The sludge, researchers said, put the children at less risk of brain or nerve damage from lead, a highly toxic element once widely used in gasoline and paint. Other studies have shown brain damage among children, often in poor neighborhoods, who ate lead-based paint that had flaked off their homes.

The idea that sludge — the leftover semisolid wastes filtered from water pollution at 16,500 treatment plants — can be turned into something harmless, even if swallowed, has been a tenet of federal policy for three decades.

In a 1978 memo, the EPA said sludge “contains nutrients and organic matter which have considerable benefit for land and crops” despite the presence of “low levels of toxic substances.”

But in the late 1990s the government began underwriting studies such as those in Baltimore and East St. Louis using poor neighborhoods as laboratories to make a case that sludge may also directly benefit human health.

Meanwhile, there has been a paucity of research into the possible harmful effects of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, other chemicals and disease-causing microorganisms often found in sludge.

A series of reports by the EPA’s inspector general and the National Academy of Sciences between 1996 and 2002 faulted the adequacy of the science behind the EPA’s 1993 regulations on sludge.

The chairman of the 2002 academy panel, Thomas Burke, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says epidemiological studies have never been done to show whether spreading sludge on land is safe.

“There are potential pathogens and chemicals that are not in the realm of safe,” Burke told the AP. “What’s needed are more studies on what’s going on with the pathogens in sludge — are we actually removing them? The commitment to connecting the dots hasn’t been there.”

That’s not what the subjects of the Baltimore and East St. Louis research were told.

Rufus Chaney, an Agriculture Department research agronomist who co-wrote the Baltimore study, said the researchers provided the families with brochures about lead hazards, tested the soil in their yards and gave assurances that the Orgro fertilizer was store-bought and perfectly safe.

“They were told that their lawn, as it stood, before it was treated, was a lead danger to their children,” said Chaney. “So that even if they ate some of the soil, there would not be as much of a risk as there was before. And that’s what the science shows.”

Chaney said the Baltimore neighborhoods were chosen because they were within an economically depressed area qualifying for tax incentives. He acknowledged the families were not told there have been some safety disputes and health complaints over sludge.

“They were told that it was composted biosolids that are available for sale commercially in the state of Maryland. I don’t think there’s any other further disclosure required,” Chaney said. “There was danger before. There wasn’t danger because of the biosolids compost. Composting, of course, kills pathogens.”

The Baltimore study concluded that phosphate and iron in sludge can increase the ability of soil to trap more harmful metals including lead, cadmium and zinc, causing the combination to pass safely through a child’s body if eaten.

It called the fertilizer “a simple low-cost” technology for parents and communities “to reduce risk to their children” who are in danger of lead contamination. The results were published in Science of the Total Environment, an international research journal, in 2005.

Another study investigating whether sludge might inhibit the “bioavailability” of lead — the rate it enters the bloodstream and circulates to organs and tissues — was conducted on a vacant lot in East St. Louis next to an elementary school, all of whose 300 students were black and almost entirely from low-income families.

In a newsletter, the EPA-funded Community Environmental Resource Program assured local residents it was all safe.

“Though the lot will be closed off to the public, if people — particularly children — get some of the lead contaminated dirt in their mouths, the lead will just pass through their bodies and not be absorbed,” the newsletter said. “Without this iron-phosphorus mix, lead poisoning would occur.”

Soil chemist Murray McBride, director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute, said he doesn’t doubt that sludge can bind lead in soil.

But when eaten, “it’s not at all clear that the sludge binding the lead will be preserved in the acidity of the stomach,” he said. “Actually thinking about a child ingesting this, there’s a very good chance that it’s not safe.”

McBride and others also questioned the choice of neighborhoods for the studies and why residents were not told about other, possibly harmful ingredients in sludge.

“If you’re not telling them what kinds of chemicals could be in there, how could they even make an informed decision. If you’re telling them it’s absolutely safe, then it’s not ethical,” McBride said. “In many relatively wealthy people’s neighborhoods, I would think that people would research this a little and see a problem and raise a red flag.”

The Baltimore study used a compost of sludge mixed with sawdust and wood chips packaged as “biosolids,” the term for sludge preferred by government and the waste industry.

“What we did was make the yards greener,” said Pat Tracey, a Johns Hopkins University community relations coordinator who recalled helping with the lawn work. “They were bald, bad yards. It was considered sterile fertilizer.”

Baltimore environmental activist Glenn Ross says choosing poor neighborhoods destined for demolition makes it hard to track a study’s participants. “If you wanted to do something very questionable, you would do it in a neighborhood that’s not going to be there in a few years,” he said.

HUD documents show the study’s lead author, Mark Farfel, has pursued several other studies of lead contamination including the risks of exposure from urban housing demolitions and the vacant lots left behind.

Farfel has since moved to New York, where he directs the World Trade Center Health Registry surveying tens of thousands of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. He denied repeated requests for interviews and referred questions to Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute, the children’s research facility that was the recipient of HUD grants with Farfel as project manager.

The institute referred questions to Joann Rodgers, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins. She said a review board within its medical school approved the study and the consent forms provided to families that participated. “The study did not test children or other family members living in the homes,” she said.

Some of Farfel’s previous research has been controversial.

In 2001, Maryland’s highest court chastised him, Kennedy Krieger and Johns Hopkins over a study bankrolled by EPA in which researchers testing low-cost ways to control lead hazards exposed more than 75 poor children to lead-based paint in partially renovated houses.

Families of two children alleged to have suffered elevated blood-lead levels and brain damage sued the institute and later settled for an undisclosed amount.

The Maryland Court of Appeals likened the study to Nazi medical research on concentration camp prisoners, the U.S. government’s 40-year Tuskegee study that denied treatment for syphilis to black men in order to study the illness and Japan’s use of “plague bombs” in World War II to infect and study entire villages.

“These programs were somewhat alike in the vulnerability of the subjects: uneducated African-American men, debilitated patients in a charity hospital, prisoners of war, inmates of concentration camps and others falling within the custody and control of the agencies conducting or approving the experiments,” the court said.

On the Net:
Baltimore study:
East St. Louis project:
Maryland lead lawsuit:
National Academy of Sciences’ report:

For Some Black Parents, the New Home Room is Home

Public schools are failing black boys, say a growing number of parents who are homeschooling

by Chloe A. Hilliard

Say “homeschooling” and what tends to come to mind are the whitest people you know, holding Sunday school every day of the week in their basements, producing kids who can declaim against Charles Darwin for hours on end, but who are so screwed up socially that you can’t imagine them getting a date, except years later as part of a group outing to Christian Day at Disney World.

So, with that admittedly over-broad stereotype in mind, it’s something of a shock to see the lessons in progress at Bread Stuy, a small café in Brooklyn, where customers sip at their coffee and read newspapers, unaware that a woman named P. Aurora Robinson is holding a homeschooling class in their midst.

Her two teenagers, working at laptops, are tapping away at their writing assignments for the day. They’re a little young for coffeehouse literary types, but otherwise look the part: Deion in a baseball cap, Tau wearing his hair in twists, both hunched over their screens, glasses resting on the tips of their noses. They’re slender, studious, and seriously into their work.

And they’re black.

Robinson, like a small but growing number of black parents, has chosen to take her son Tau out of the public-school system and teach him on her own (Deion is a cousin’s child she’s also teaching).

In the 2006–2007 school year, the city’s Department of Education says that 3,654 students in New York were homeschooled. Most are white, but a growing number are African-American. Black parents tend to take their children out of the schools for other than religious reasons, and homeschooling groups say black children taught at home are nearly always boys. Like Robinson, some of New York’s parents have concluded that the school system is failing the city’s black boys, and have elected to teach them at home as an alternative.

Robinson’s motives were even more specific: She wanted to cushion Tau from the serious culture shock of moving from rural Missouri to her hometown of Brooklyn.

She had been teaching in Springfield, Missouri, as a professor of architecture at Drury College, the only black member of the architecture faculty. Her son, meanwhile, was teased in the usual way for being one of the few black students in a white school. Tau says he had to explain to his teachers and fellow students that just because he was black didn’t mean that he was from “the ‘hood.”

“Somehow, he was supposed to serve them better if he was more ghetto,” says his mother. “We were out there on our own in the badlands.”

Robinson decided she’d had enough of Missouri, left her job, sold her home, and brought Tau back to Brooklyn. To prepare her son for the change, she decided to teach Tau at home and live off her savings.

“I’ve been living off of my savings for two years, which has been interesting. But that is who I am. I’m capable of living off of my savings and enjoying life regardless of it,” she says.

Tau would have been entering the seventh grade, but instead of sending him to school, she shelled out $1,200 for a full-year curriculum from a company called Calvert Education Services, which included textbooks and lesson plans. She had to make sure that Tau kept up with his counterparts at junior high school: In New York, children who are homeschooled must still meet public-school requirements. There are quarterly reviews and year-end tests that must be completed and reported to the DOE before a child can move to the next grade. And with the Calvert materials, Robinson felt Tau would keep up. And, of course, she could add her own preferences to what he was learning.

For the second year of his homeschooling, Tau was joined by Deion, a cousin, who had been attending P.S. 35, which is directly across the street from Bread Stuy, the coffeeshop that they use frequently. Comprising grades six through eight, P.S. 35 is 89 percent black, and until he was pulled out of it, Deion spent his seventh grade being chased home by bullies.

“When his parents requested a relocation to another school, they were given a letter saying, ‘At this time we are unable to do this, and maybe in January we can re-evaluate the situation.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but at that point it meant, ‘Oh, fuck you’,” says Robinson.

So she has taken on the teaching of both eighth graders in the coffeeshop near the school they would otherwise be attending.

Their assignment today was to write an essay describing the first time they had won while playing a video game. Another time, she asks them to describe the origin and definition of the slang word po-po, short for “police.”

She tries to make the lessons fun and informative. “I have them reading books like The Other Toussaint,” she says, referring to a biography of Pierre Toussaint, the Haitian slave who became a free—and rich—man in early-19th-century New York. “I want them to have a more Afrocentric perspective and understand who our writers were and how they come about documenting our history.” She also takes the boys with her when she reads to young children at a bookstore, and as she participates in other community activities.

There are cello classes for Tau at the Brooklyn Music School. Deion is interested in video-game design. The boys have taken classes in rock climbing, Japanese sword fighting, architecture, American sign language, film, and acting since they began homeschooling. And last year they completed and screened a film project they worked on with other black homeschooled children from Brooklyn African-American Homeschooler Connections, a support group that Robinson joined.

“The boys, we travel,” says Robinson. “We’ve gone down to the science museum in Baltimore. Last year, Tau and I went up to Montreal for our French immersion.” But then, she’s always been immersing her son in higher learning—while earning her master’s degree from Pratt Institute, Robinson brought Tau to class. He was five then.

During a two-hour conversation at Bread Stuy, Tau and Deion barely lift their heads from their laptops. But it’s clear they’re listening; they throw out corrections to Robinson or remind her of specific anecdotes to share.

“One of the biggest problems that parents have out there,” Robinson says, “is that their children are so sneaky that they have no safe space. Now, with all his nonsense on YouTube, and—what’s the other one?”

“It’s called MySpace, Mom,” says Tau, who wasn’t allowed to have an e-mail address until last year, and only after he sent out a message informing his friends and their parents that he was going to respect his new freedom by not abusing it.

Later, while the boys were working, a woman burst into the coffeeshop and asked to use the telephone, startling everyone. Trailing behind her was a young Latino boy making a long face.

“They’re across the street beating up on him, and the security guard is just standing there!” The woman was handed a phone by a waiter who looked like he experienced this kind of thing all the time.

“Who can you call?” she asked as she handed the phone to the boy.

“My father.” He dialed the number and asked for his father. He didn’t go into detail about getting his face pounded, or that he’d suffered further embarrassment by being dragged by a strange woman into Bread Stuy.

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. They used to chase him home from that school every day last year,” says Robinson, pointing to Deion. “That’s why we pulled him out of that school.”

After the boy’s phone call, his benefactor took him in hand. “I’m going to walk you home, OK?”

“A parent has a right to homeschool,” says Lillian Garelick, the Department of Education’s director of mandated responsibilities. “We can’t say, ‘No, you can’t.’ We’re not in a position to say this is a good thing. The number who do homeschool is relatively small. From a fiscal perspective, it’s not that large.”

New York, in other words, considers the phenomenon so limited that it’s not worth really worrying about. Which is much different than the situation in California, where a recent court decision has homeschooling parents enraged. A state appellate judge found that in order to teach at home, a parent needs to have the same credentials as a teacher at a public or private school. And not only would parents need a teaching certificate, but they would also need to submit lesson plans to the state for approval.

“This kind of ruling is meant to keep [the teaching] industry thriving. As an educator, I find it sad to accept that people believe that parents should not be capable of educating their children,” says Robinson, who in addition to teaching Tau and Deion also conducts GED courses at City College. “Why are we, as parents, supposed to trust educators when they cannot extend the same courtesy to parents?”

Jennifer James is a mother in North Carolina who chose to homeschool her children and also founded the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance. “African-American homeschooling is definitely growing all over the coutry,” she says, estimating that black children make up about 10 percent of the nation’s 150,000 homeschooled kids. “I suspect it’s because more and more African-American families have finally realized that home education is an option for every American family, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”

Parents that the Voice talked to listed various reasons for pulling their kids out of New York’s schools—the lack of resources and diverse curriculums, overcrowding, violence, and an emphasis on standardized testing and not individual achievement. Combine those concerns with financial limitations that can make private school an unattainable option and you have more black families teaching their kids at home.

Not that the public schools aren’t at least trying to address the concerns of black parents about their boys. Clyde Cole is the founding principal of the Academy of Business and Community Development, an all-boys public school serving grades six through 12 that was built to address fears that the school system was failing black boys.

“It’s not that [all] boys don’t do well; it’s that many of them don’t do well,” says Cole. “Getting up without permission to do whatever—look at what your friend is doing, throw something in the garbage—all of those kinds of things boys typically do is unacceptable now.” But besides the behavioral problems, Cole says that schools have been doing a poor job because of today’s emphasis on standardized testing, which limits what teachers can do. Understanding the unique needs of boys, the ABCD Academy spends a great deal of time and resources to instill a moral code, character development, and social skills. “I think that schools that focus on character development serve students better in the long run. Kids that come with ‘home training’ tend to do better. If kids don’t come with that, they don’t know what to do. It’s not that boys are worse-trained at home, but their behavior stereotypically is not conducive to the ‘little red schoolhouse’ mantra.”

While the school system continues to grapple with its problems, some black families are planning well ahead of time to keep their kids away from it, preparing to homeschool their children from birth.

On a weekday afternoon, Mocha Moms of Harlem, a support group for stay-at-home mothers, is having a play date in the nursery of Abyssinian Baptist Church. The chapter’s co-chairs, Felicia Bradford and Christine Garrison, have already begun plans to homeschool their sons coming this fall. Having both worked in the public-school system, they believe it would be a bad fit for their sons. “I don’t want anyone to kill his quest to learn,” says Bradford, a mother of two boys ages three and a half years and eight months. “For black boys, expectations are so low. I just want him to be able to function and learn more about his culture.”

“Public schools that are good are few and far between,” says Garrison. “I remember working in schools and thinking, ‘If I ever had a child, I would never send them to public school.’ ” She met parents who were teaching their own children and says she started wondering if she had the skills to do that herself. She eventually decided that she does, and she and Bradford have recruited other families to join their future school, which will be located in Bradford’s home.

“I’m nervous,” admits Bradford. “When you homeschool, you push your kid a little bit more.” Their planned curriculum will offer classes in yoga, African-American history and the African diaspora, plus swimming and karate. “When I got pregnant, I decided I was staying home. In Harlem, there’s a white-teacher influx; they think they are here to save us.” Bradford’s husband, ironically, is a math teacher in a public school; Garrison’s husband is a minister. Together, they agree that homeschooling is what they plan to do until at least the fourth or seventh grade. Afterwards, they are open to having their sons attend public school. “My son’s first teacher needs to be black,” says Bradford.

Other black parents are forming connections through homeschooling. Yoidette Erima founded Parents as Primary Teachers, a free program that offers music, art, and storytelling classes. She’s a mother of two young boys anda former teacher. “As I prepared to have children, I didn’t think public or private school was best,” says Erima. “We need to improve the public-school system—I’m not promoting letting it go. Most parents can’t deal with not working.” Erima and her husband live in Bedford-Stuyvesant and are self-employed; she runs PPT, and he’s a community economic-development lawyer. They seem like ideal people to take on the tough job of teaching their own children.

But does this mean that anyone can do it?

In the back row of a darkened screening room, Stephanie Green is taking notes. A couple of times a week, she screens films, describing herself as a freelance entertainment reporter and movie critic. The flexibility of her part-time work, Green says, gives her the time to homeschool her 14-year-old son, Talon, even though she’s a single parent. On busy days, when she can’t get home until the evening, she checks on his progress by mobile phone.

“Did you finish reading the book?” she asks when her son calls to give her an update while she’s out having lunch. “OK, well, you can go outside now.”

Prior to having Talon, Green worked at Nickelodeon, where she sometimes dressed as the network characters for publicity events. Today, she picks up freelance PR work and event-planning assignments. Like Robinson, a family friend, she’s a native of Brooklyn and a product of the public schools. The two women are the same age and began homeschooling their children at the same time, but with different resources. It’s been several years since Green has held a full-time job, and she’s learned to stretch a dollar. “I can’t stop doing my work, even though I don’t have the school materials I need for him.”

Except for a short time when her son was in the second grade, Green gave up working entirely while Talon went from kindergarten to sixth grade so she could be with him at school every day, becoming an unpaid parent volunteer. She worked at the main office, assisted teachers, and did whatever else it took to be near her son.

Green says she named her son after Chrysler’s sports coupe the Eagle Talon, but pronounces his name tuh-LOHN. The kid’s big for his age, and when he speaks it’s easy to imagine that he’s older than his 14 years. Like most teen boys, he’s something of a know-it-all, but charming. And what he has to say about the public-school system so completely fits his mother’s views, it’s hard to tell if he actually came up with those ideas himself or is just repeating what Stephanie told him. The two are almost preternaturally close, hanging out together and even dressing alike, with matching baseball caps, jackets, book bags—all of it swag from the films that Green screens.

Talon spends his days at home working on whatever assignments Green can pull together with borrowed textbooks, information from websites, trips to the public library. She can’t afford something like the Calvert system, and, unlike Robinson’s students, Talon isn’t taking on many outside activities. But he seems content with his situation. When Green is asked whether Talon has friends, she says, “Talon never had a lot of friends. I don’t know—you’d have to ask him.”

After 9/11, Green took Talon out of his Greenwich Village elementary school, a school with good resources and an inspiring environment, to P.S. 11 in Clinton Hill. She considered it a good school, but not up to the level of the Manhattan school. Meanwhile, as Talon entered the second grade, she took a full-time job. When she was later laid off, she returned to volunteering at his school as he completed his grammar-school education.

When it came time to decide on a junior high, she looked at two schools and found problems with both.

“The first, Satellite East, was just too far by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and I didn’t like the area,” she says, pointing out that the Farragut Housing Projects were across the street. Her next stop was P.S. 35, the same school that Robinson’s students, Tau and Deion, have opted out from. Talon didn’t last a year. She pulled him out and began teaching him herself.

“I believe if you make a child, you raise that child,” says Green. “Before kindergarten, he’d never been to a public parks—germs.” She’s unapologetic for what she understands others might perceive as a smothering nature. “If you have child, do you want them socializing with psychopaths?”

Green is petitioning the Department of Education to provide more materials and support for homeschooling families of limited means. “I can’t afford a $250 program to get books and lessons,” she says. “I’m in the process of writing a letter to [Schools Chancellor] Joel Klein to get products and books.”

One of the few extracurricular programs that Green found for Talon recently was last year’s New York Association of Journalists high-school journalism workshop. In a writing exercise, Talon revealed his thoughts on school in an essay entitled “My Life in the School System”:

As of February 2006, I became a home-schooled student. My main career goal is to become a successful graphic artist. I also have interests in astrophysics, oceanography, geography, and biology. I also have a yearning to learn about prehistoric creatures, mainly dinosaurs, which I believe is called paleontology . . .

When I initially began school for kindergarten, I was 4 years old. I was the youngest student in my class (which at that time bothered me). I attended the Greenwich Village Elementary School, P.S. 41, located on 11th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan . . .

Due to the events of September 11th, I was soon transferred to P.S. 11 on Waverly Avenue in Brooklyn. My first response was fear because it was a new school and I had to make friends with people that were unfamiliar to me . . .

During the middle of sixth grade, my mother decided to take me out of the public school system in order to home-school me. The reason she took me out of the public school system is the debauchery that would take place on a daily basis at JHS 35. Many of the students would disrupt the class, often begin fights with each other, use profanity towards the teachers, etc. This she felt was immoral, and she choose to remove me from an environment that was not conducive to the manner in which she wanted me to be taught in . . .

Tau and Dieon want folks to understand that just because they are homeschooled, it doesn’t mean they are freaks. “I hate explaining that I do get to do activities,” says Tau. “I am not in the house all day working.”

“I hate explaining that I do get to socialize,” says Deion. Next fall, both boys look forward to attending high school. It’s not exactly what Robinson wishes for them, but she is willing to defer to their wishes. “I think that I have learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and being able to handle different problems as they come to me,” Deion explains.

“I’m interested in filmmaking, and I found a new school in Long Island City that specializes in careers in film and television,” says Tau. “I will be one of 108 first-time students in this school—a wonderful opportunity.”

Would they homeschool their own children? Deion answers, “I had never thought about homeschooling before my cousin told my parents about it. I looked at it as a relief from the pain I was having at P.S. 35, Decatur Middle School. If my children have any difficulty with school, I will make sure that I find a good place for them to learn and grow. I have been in private school also, and that doesn’t always work either.”

“Since I felt uncomfortable with the middle-school system, I felt pushed out, pushed upon, and very disappointed that people could be so rude and unfair,” says Tau. “If my children in the future have the same issues, then I will have to make the learning experience comfortable and best for them. If homeschooling is the only option available, then I will give that to my children.”

Obama Camp: Clinton Tactics ‘Damaging to the Party’

Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) campaign manager asserted in a conference call this morning that the tactics employed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in regard to the fight for Democratic delegates has the potential to fracture the party heading into the November election.

“This is a disturbing pattern,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe after the Politico’s Roger Simon reported that the Clinton campaign was preparing to woo pledged Obama delegates if the nomination fight lasts until the convention. He decried such tactics as “trickery” and added that this sort of “grasping at straws is very harmful to the party.”

David Wilhelm, an Obama co-chairman and former Clinton official, was even more vehement. “Sometimes nominations are not worth having [if they come] at the cost of ripping the party apart.” he said.

The Clinton campaign immediately pushed back on the Politico report. Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman, insinuated that it is actually the Obama camp that has designs on delegates pledged to another candidate:

“We have not, are not and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama. It’s now time for the Obama campaign to be clear about their intentions regarding our pledged delegates.”

During the conference call Plouffe was asked directly whether the Obama campaign had plans to go after Clinton’s pledged delegates. Plouffe would only say that his team is focused on winning as many elections as possible in order to accrue the most delegates.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor later said the campaign is not going after Clinton’s delegates:

“We would absolutely not use these sorts of tactics. Senator Obama is focused on winning contests and earning the support of pledged delegates.”

With the nomination headed into March 4 — when Texas and Ohio vote — and likely to last all the way through the Pennsylvania primary (April 22) and perhaps to the convention in late August, the two sides are battling over the ground rules going forward.

The fact that the rules are debatable means that we are entering a realm of ambiguity when it comes to how a candidate properly competes for the nomination. Why?

(1) No race in the modern era has ever been as protracted as this one.

(2) As signaled in today’s back and forth, pledged delegates may end up being up for grabs (see Simon’s piece for an explanation of how “pledged” delegates aren’t actually pledged to anyone).

(3) “Super” delegates — which are now being courted by both sides — are a relatively new creation within the party rules (the idea was developed after the 1980 election).

[Check out a quick primer on super delegates and view our entire list of all 796 of them.]

In spite of the latest salvos over pledged delegates, by far the biggest buzz and controversy surrounds super delegates and their proper role within the process.

The Obama campaign has argued — and did so again today — that super delegates must heavily weigh the will of the people when making decision about which candidate to back. Wilhelm said that following the will of his or her home state should not be the only consideration for an undecided super delegate, but it should be one of the main factors.

The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, points out that super delegates were created in order to allow an independent analysis of who would be the best representative for the party — not simply to follow the preference of voters in individual states. (While that argument is technically true, in practice it may become difficult for super delegates to follow it due to their own local concerns, as we explained earlier.)

The contest over delegates is the ultimate process fight and, therefore, not a concept that naturally appeals to average voters. That fact should be seen as a warning to both Clinton and Obama. While their campaign staffs continue to hold conference calls in order to fight over what the correct procedures are regarding delegates and super delegates they must also make sure that they are out on the stump talking to voters about things like health care, the economy and the war in Iraq.

If one of the campaigns falls into the trap of focusing too much on process, voters are likely to turn off.

The Already Big Thing on the Internet: Spying on Users


In 1993, the dawn of the Internet age, the liberating anonymity of the online world was captured in a well-known New Yorker cartoon. One dog, sitting at a computer, tells another: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Fifteen years later, that anonymity is gone.

It’s not paranoia: they really are spying on you.

Technology companies have long used “cookies,” little bits of tracking software slipped onto your computer, and other means, to record the Web sites you visit, the ads you click on, even the words you enter in search engines — information that some hold onto forever. They’re not telling you they’re doing it, and they’re not asking permission. Internet service providers are now getting into the act. Because they control your connection, they can keep track of everything you do online, and there have been reports that I.S.P.’s may have started to sell the information they collect.

The driving force behind this prying is commerce. The big growth area in online advertising right now is “behavioral targeting.” Web sites can charge a premium if they are able to tell the maker of an expensive sports car that its ads will appear on Web pages clicked on by upper-income, middle-aged men.

The information, however, gets a lot more specific than age and gender — and more sensitive. Tech companies can keep track of when a particular Internet user looks up Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, visits adult Web sites, buys cancer drugs online or participates in anti-government discussion groups.

Serving up ads based on behavioral targeting can itself be an invasion of privacy, especially when the information used is personal. (“Hmm … I wonder why I always get those drug-rehab ads when I surf the Internet on Jane’s laptop?”)

The bigger issue is the digital dossiers that tech companies can compile. Some companies have promised to keep data confidential, or to obscure it so it cannot be traced back to individuals. But it’s hard to know what a particular company’s policy is, and there are too many to keep track of. And privacy policies can be changed at any time.

There is also no guarantee that the information will stay with the company that collected it. It can be sold to employers or insurance companies, which have financial motives for wanting to know if their workers and policyholders are alcoholics or have AIDS.

It could also end up with the government, which needs only to serve a subpoena to get it (and these days that formality might be ignored).

If George Orwell had lived in the Internet age, he could have painted a grim picture of how Web monitoring could be used to promote authoritarianism. There is no need for neighborhood informants and paper dossiers if the government can see citizens’ every Web site visit, e-mail and text message.

The public has been slow to express outrage — not, as tech companies like to claim, because they don’t care about privacy, but simply because few people know all that is going on. That is changing. “A lot of people are creeped-out by this,” says Ari Schwartz, a vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology. He says the government is under increasing pressure to act.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed self-regulatory guidelines for companies that do behavioral targeting. Anything that highlights the problem is good, but self-regulation is not enough. One idea starting to gain traction in Congress is a do-not-track list, similar to the federal do-not-call list, which would allow Internet users to opt out of being spied on. That would be a clear improvement over the status quo, but the operating principle should be “opt in” — companies should not be allowed to track Internet activities unless they get the user’s expressed consent.

The founders wrote the Fourth Amendment — guaranteeing protection against illegal search and seizure — at a time when people were most concerned about protecting the privacy of their homes and bodies. The amendment, and more recent federal laws, have been extended to cover telephone communications. Now work has to be done to give Internet activities the same level of privacy protection.

TransAtlantic Slave Trade

TransAtlantic Slave Trade

The transatlantic slave trade is a major element of global history. The forced movement of West African people across the Atlantic resulted in unprecedented forms of cruelty and subjugation, racism, inequality, shifts in cultural identity, a marked decline in the West African population and significant economic and agricultural developments in the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas.

Little is known about the 400-year long transatlantic slave trade and its lasting consequences felt throughout the world, or of the contribution of slaves to the building of the societies that enslaved them. This lack of knowledge of history has had multiple negative effects. Most importantly, it has served to marginalize people of African descent across Europe and North and South America, as well as to normalize notions of superiority among some populations.

On 28 March 2008, high school students assembled at UNHQ will have the opportunity to interact with peers around the world who have been studying the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Students from the following locations will be participating in the 28 March videoconference:

· Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
· Freetown, Sierra Leone
· Bristol, England
· Oslo, Norway
· Cape Verde
· Castries, St. Lucia

Some of the students are traveling on a replica of the Amistad which is retracing the Slave Trade Route. The Amistad began its voyage in New Haven, Connecticut on 21 June 2007. Since then it has sailed to Canada, crossed the Atlantic to England as part of Britain’s observance of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, docked in Portugal, Sierra Leone, Goree Island, Senegal and Cape Verde. On 28 March it will be in Castries, St. Lucia where students on the ship will participate in the live videoconference.

Click on the following links for more information about the TransAtlantic Slave Trade:

Breaking the Silence

TransAtlantic Slave Trade Education Project

Slave Routes

Lest We Forget

Federal Judge forbids poor Black mothers from naming their own children


The following is being circulated as a legitimate news story. It is, in fact, SATIRE. Check out The Peoples News where it originated.

After Judge Cabrera’s historic ruling, little Clitoria Jackson will likely undergo a name change.

(DETROIT) In a decision that’s expected to send shockwaves through the African-American community-and yet, give much relief to teachers everywhere-a federal judge ruled today that black women no longer have independent naming rights for their children. Too many black children-and many adults-bear names that border on not even being words, he said. “I am simply tired of these ridiculous names black women are giving their children,” said U.S. Federal Judge Ryan Cabrera before rendering his decision. “Someone had to put a stop to it.” The rule applies to all black women, but Cabrera singled out impoverished mothers. “They are the worst perpetrators,” he said. “They put in apostrophes where none are needed. They think a ‘Q’ is a must. There was a time when Shaniqua and Tawanda were names you dreaded. Now, if you’re a black girl, you hope you get a name as sensible as one of those.” Few stepped forward to defend black women-and black women themselves seemed relieved. “It’s so hard to keep coming up with something unique,” said Uneeqqi Jenkins, 22, an African-American mother of seven who survives on public assistance. Her children are named Daryl, Q’Antity, Uhlleejsha, Cray-Ig, Fellisittee, Tay’Sh’awn and Day’Shawndra.

Beginning in one week, at least three white people must agree with the name before a black mother can name her child. “Hopefully we can see a lot more black children with sensible names like Jake and Connor,” Cabrera said. His ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a 13-year-old girl whose mother created her name using Incan hieroglyphics. “She said it would make me stand out,” said the girl, whose name can’t be reproduced by The Peoples News’ technology. “But it’s really just stupid.” The National Association of Elementary School Teachers celebrated Cabrera’s decision. “Oh my God, the first day of school you’d be standing there sweating, looking at the list of names wondering ‘How do I pronounce Q’J’Q’Sha.’?” said Joyce Harmon, NAEST spokeswoman. “Is this even English?” The practice of giving black children outlandish names began in the 1960s, when blacks were getting in touch with their African roots, said historian Corlione Vest. But even he admits it got out of hand. “I have a niece who’s six. I’m embarrassed to say I can’t even pronounce her name,” said Vest, a professor at Princeton University.”Whenever I want to talk to her, I just wait until she looks at me and then I wave her over.” Cabrera’s ruling exempted black men because so few of them are actually involved in their children’s lives.