Category Archives: Noteworthy

America’s poor children dwell in ‘book deserts’


Even the good doctor finds himself homeless in America's poorest neighborhoods.

Even the good doctor finds himself homeless in America’s poorest neighborhoods.

During our own childhood, many of our greatest pleasures were found in books, both function and non-fiction.

Books gave us inspiration as well as solace, and they’ve remained a constant in our life ever since.

But for the children of America’s poorest families, books are a rarity, as new research from New York University confirms [emphasis added]:

A study led by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds a startling scarcity of children’s books in low-income neighborhoods in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

The lack of children’s books was even more pronounced in areas with higher concentrations of poverty, according to the findings published online in the journal Urban Education.

“Children’s books are hard to come by in high-poverty neighborhoods. These ‘book deserts’ may seriously constrain young children’s opportunities to come to school ready to learn,” said Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

Residential segregation has dramatically increased in recent years, with both high- and low-income families becoming increasingly isolated. In their study, the researchers looked at the influence of income segregation on access to children’s books, a resource vital to young children’s development.

Access to print resources—board books, stories, and informational books—early on has both immediate and long-term effects on children’s vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension skills. And while public libraries are critically important in giving families access to books, research has shown that the presence of books in the home is related to children’s reading achievement.

However, a 2001 study by Neuman found a sharp contrast between low- and middle-income neighborhoods when it came to being able to buy children’s books. In a middle-income community, thanks to plentiful bookstores, 13 books for each child were available. In contrast, there was only one age-appropriate book for every 300 children in a community of concentrated poverty.

To create a national picture of “book deserts,” the new study, funded by JetBlue, examined access to children’s books in six urban neighborhoods across the United States, representing the Northeast (Washington, D.C.), Midwest (Detroit), and West (Los Angeles). In each of the three cities, the researchers analyzed two neighborhoods: a high-poverty area (with a poverty rate of 40 percent and above) and a borderline community (with a roughly 18 to 40 percent poverty rate).

Going street by street in each neighborhood, the researchers counted and categorized what kinds of print resources—including books, magazines, and newspapers—were available to purchase in stores. (While online book sales have grown in recent years, three out of four children’s books are still bought in brick and mortar stores.)

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Trump or Clinton: To Mexico, they’re all the same


John Ackerman is one of the leading legal lights of Mexico, serving as professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico [UNAM] and as editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review. He is also a columnist for Proceso magazine, source of some of the finest investigative reporting in North America, and for the La Jornada newspaper.

He is also a relentless critic of the corruption of the government of President President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In a recent essay for the Dallas Morning News, he attacked his government’s role in the investigation of the 26 September 2014 disappearance [previously] of the 43 students, still missing and presumed dead, from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

The [Inter-American Human Rights Commission] panel has discovered that many of the key witnesses in the case were tortured, key evidence was likely planted on the scene of the crime, and the government’s story about what happened to the students (their bodies were supposedly incinerated at a garbage dump) is scientifically impossible.

Significantly, the panel also has discovered the complicity of federal forces with the disappearances. During the night of Sept. 26, the Federal Police and the Army, which has two large military bases in the vicinity, were constantly tracking the students’ movements in real time and even made themselves physically present on various occasions.

The evidence points to an intentional act of aggression by government forces — local, state and federal — against the group of student dissidents. Just as occurred frequently during the “dirty war” of the 1970s, the government took advantage of the relative isolation of the mountains of Guerrero to eliminate its political opponents. The good news is that this time someone was watching.

In the light of government repression and cover-ups like this one, it should come as no surprise that the public approval ratings for Peña Nieto have reached the lowest point for any Mexican president in recent history. Only 30 percent approve of his performance and only 13 percent believe that Mexico is today “on the right track,” according to a recent independent poll.

Regardless, the U.S. government irresponsibly continues to cover the back of the Peña Nieto administration. In its most recent Human Rights Report, the State Department claims that during 2015 “there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees” and that the Mexican government “generally respected” freedom of speech and the press. Congress also continues to funnel millions of dollars of support to Mexican law enforcement through the Merida Initiative.

Ackerman argues that it may make little difference who is elected president in the United States, since both politicians favor policies that can only bring more harm to his country.

Instead, he calls for a Mexico/U.S.-disconnect, given that the corruption in Mexico is aided, abetted, and even created by U.S. neoliberal politicians and their corporate sponsors.

Similarly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will only deeply the wounds already inflicted on Mexico by NAFTA.

The TPP contains the same provisions as NAFTA for a establishing a secret tribunal where corporations can sue nation states for policies created to protect their citizens. Currently Mexico is being sued for blocking radioactive waste dumps, a measure that interferes with corporate profit potential.

And those panels work only in one direction: Nations can use them to sue corporations for harming their citizens.

But there are signs of hope.

Ackerman outlines his views in this very important interview from the Keiser Report, and it’s well worth your time.

From RT:

Keiser Report: US, Mexico & walls

Program notes:

In this special episode of the 2016 Summer Solutions series of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy talk to John Ackerman, professor, columnist and the Mexican Law Review’s editor-in-chief, about the economic relationship between Mexico and the United States. Ackerman has a plan to cut off the flow of funds from America to the Mexican government and he also responds to Donald Trump’s wall. Like Trump, however, Ackerman believes Nafta has been devastating… both to the American worker and to the population in Mexico. They conclude with solutions to the consequences of neoliberal capitalism and dodgy trade deals.

German spooks want to target foreign reporters


And for the same reason they targeted German reporters until they were slapped down by the Bundestag. . .for that matter, for the same reason Richard Nixon illegally spied on reporters in the U.S.

What’s the German word for Plumbers? Oh, yeah: Klempner.

You remember the Plumbers, don’t you?

They were the squad of ex-spooks and other devious souls dispatched by the Nixon White House to find out who was leaking embarrassing things to the White House press corps.

Targets included reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

One special target, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, was even earmarked for assassination before it all went bad for tricky Dick.

So what about those Klempner?

German spooks slapped down

From the 27 May edition of Deutsche Welle:

The German government’s parliamentary committee has confirmed allegations that Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) agents illegally spied on journalists to expose their sources.

The 180-page parliamentary report made public determined that measures taken by the BND against German reporters in an effort to shut off leaks violated the law.

“Regarding the accusations in the press that the Federal Intelligence Service … illegally spied on journalists in order to expose their sources, it is to be ascertained that such observations did take place … these measures were predominantly illegal,” the report read.

BND agents picked through the journalists’ rubbish and traced their research, the report stated. While none of the reporters were bugged, agents used other measures against them to try to uncover their sources, including stealing a box of his papers that one journalist had thrown away and tracing another’s research in the federal archive.

The report, compiled by Gerhard Schäfer on behalf of the committee, also called for the agency “to formally apologize” to the journalists whom it spied on.

>snip<

The head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, apologized to the media shortly after it was released and promised to take steps to prevent such abuses in future.

“As president of the BND, I apologize for all rights abuses that resulted because of steps taken by the service,” he said.

If at first you don’t succeed. . .

Caught black-handed and dressed down for spying on their own country’s journalists, Germany spooks are trying an end run by getting legislation to spy on non-German reporters covering their country.

During our own journalism career, we’ve encountered lots of reporters from other countries, and one thing we can say for certain is that there’s always a lot of communication between foreign correspondents and domestic reporters in the countries they’re covering.

So spying on the foreign correspondents is sure to turn up a lot of information on and communications with the German press corps.

But the whole idea of spying on the Fortuh Estate has raised a lot of hackles, including officials of the world’s largest intergovernmental security agency, with responsibility for arms control, press freedom, human rights and the promotion of human rights, and fair elections

From the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an official body with representatives from 57 jurisdictions:

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about a proposed law on the German Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND, Bundesnachrichtendienst), which was debated in the Bundestag, Germany’s Federal Parliament, today.

“Increasing surveillance capabilities of journalists is a clear threat to media freedom,” Mijatovic said. “This draft law runs counter to the very core of fundamental freedoms such as media freedom and freedom of expression.”

The draft law increases BND’s capabilities to place foreign journalists under surveillance. Moreover, no exemption is made for the work of journalists, and journalists without citizenship of the European Union can be subjected to surveillance without an explicit court order.

“I call on the German Bundestag to revise the current draft law and ensure proper the protection of journalists regardless of their nationality,” Mijatovic said.

More opposition to the law

Needless to say, journalists themselves are up in arm, as is a leading journalism NGO.

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the German ruling coalition’s parliamentary groups to immediately amend a proposed law on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, in order to prevent the BND from spying on journalists.

The bill empowering the BND to place foreign journalists under surveillance is to be debated in parliament.

Instead of clarifying issues, the federal government has completely abandoned the protection of foreign journalists and is poised to legalize measures that would constitute grave violations of two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and media freedom.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Things once unseen. . .


To date, according to the Guardian, 561 people have been fatally shot by police in the United States. with California reporting the largest number of fatalities at 72, as might be expected from the nation’s most populous  jurisdiction, while New Mexico records the most killings per capita.

But video cameras are changing the game, allowing the public to see the shootings and their aftermaths first hand and raise questions that previously might never have been raised.

From today’s London Daily Mail, the first of two homepage screencaps [story here]:

BLOG Shoot one

And the second [story here]:

BLOG Shoot two

From the Los Angeles Times, another event where the video has yet to be released:

Cellphone video shows police fatally shooting unarmed 19-year-old Fresno man

New cellphone video shows police officers shooting an unarmed 19-year-old Fresno man lying on the ground at a gas station.

A call to action: Children prey to chemical mayhem


BLOG Kids

As folks who’ve read this modest little blog know by now, one of our most passionate concerns is the vulnerability of children to chemicals that we spew almost unchecked into their environments.

Only now are we discovering that many everyday compounds, from plastics to fire retardants and soaps powerful alter the development of growing bodies, and especially nervous systems.

As you will read in the following statement by some of the nation’s leading healthcare providers:

The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

First, the announcement of the statement from the University of Maryland:

An unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, medical experts, and children’s health advocates, including Devon Payne-Sturges, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, agree for the first time that today’s scientific evidence supports a link between exposures to toxic chemicals in food and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders.  The alliance, known as Project TENDR, is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals to protect brain development for today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and other maladaptive behaviors, and learning disabilities.

Prime examples of the chemicals and pollutants that are contributing to children’s learning, intellectual and behavioral impairment include:

  • Organophosphate (OP) pesticides
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants
  • Combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

“The public health disaster in Flint, Michigan has reminded the American people and our leaders the importance of preventing children’s exposures to neurotoxicants in our environment. But lead is not the only neurotoxicant to which we are routinely exposing our children,” says Payne-Sturges, one of the authors of the consensus statement. “We must address the cumulative exposures to multiple chemicals in our air, water, food and consumer products that harm brain development. We are all exposed to multiple chemicals and we know now that these have synergistic effects and our children are the most sensitive to those effects.”

Dr. Payne-Sturges, who is part of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the UMD School of Public Health, helped draft the Project TENDR statement on air pollution risks and contributed expertise on cumulative risk assessment to the scientific consensus.

“This is truly an historic agreement. It’s the first time so many leaders in public health, science, and medicine agree on the message from the scientific evidence: that toxic chemicals are harming our children’s brain development,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, TENDR Co-Director and environmental epidemiologist at UC Davis. “Ten years ago, this consensus wouldn’t have been possible, but the research is now abundantly clear.”

“This national problem is so pressing that the TENDR scientists and medical experts will continue their collaboration to develop and issue recommendations aimed at significantly reducing exposures to toxic chemicals that are harming children’s brain development,” says Maureen Swanson, TENDR Co-Director and director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “Calling for further study is no longer a sufficient response to this threat.”

Project TENDR is a joint endeavor of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) and the University of California Davis MIND Institute (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders).

And the statement itself, as published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Read the full statement, with links, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: America’s deep racial divide


Following up on our previous post, few have expressed the deep nature of the impact of America’s deep racial divide than a former Philadelphia high school teacher.

Jesse Williams, who plays Dr. Jackson Avery in ABC television’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy, has devoted much of his recent time to involvement in Black Lives Matter, producing and narrating a documentary film, Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, for BET, where it aired last month.

Sunday night Williams was honored by BET with its Humanitarian Award, and his acceptance speech is one of the best statements we’ve heard in recent years on the plight of black Americans:

“Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

“Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.

“Now, I got more, y’all.

“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So, I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him , so I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television, and then going home to make a sandwich.

“Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012, than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

“Now, the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back. To put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid with brands for our bodies. There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we pay all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here.

You’re free, they keep telling us, but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.

“Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter but, you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple of things straight here, just a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us. Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

We would have loved to have included a video of the speech, but, alas, WordPress allows us to post only YouTube and Vimeo offerings.

When we searched YouTube, all the video postings had been replaced by this:

BLOG Jesse

Viacom, the owner of BET and its brand, is, in turn, owned by a very old, very rich white man, Sumner Redstone, who also owns the Los Angeles Clippers.

And who is Redstone?

Well, consider his remarks recorded by then-companion V. Stiviano, herself of African and Hispanic heritage:

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to? You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”

You can hear the whole recording here.

Quote of the day II: Google, the imperial censor


From Robert Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California, writing in U.S. News & World Report:

Google, Inc., isn’t just the world’s biggest purveyor of information; it is also the world’s biggest censor.

The company maintains at least nine different blacklists that impact our lives, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency. Google is not the only company suppressing content on the internet. Reddit has frequently been accused of banning postings on specific topics, and a recent report suggests that Facebook has been deleting conservative news stories from its newsfeed, a practice that might have a significant effect on public opinion – even on voting. Google, though, is currently the biggest bully on the block.

When Google’s employees or algorithms decide to block our access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, opinions and votes can shift, reputations can be ruined and businesses can crash and burn. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed. Eventually, authorities will almost certainly have to step in, just as they did when credit bureaus were regulated in 1970. The alternative would be to allow a large corporation to wield an especially destructive kind of power that should be exercised with great restraint and should belong only to the public: the power to shame or exclude.

If Google were just another mom-and-pop shop with a sign saying “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” that would be one thing. But as the golden gateway to all knowledge, Google has rapidly become an essential in people’s lives – nearly as essential as air or water. We don’t let public utilities make arbitrary and secretive decisions about denying people services; we shouldn’t let Google do so either.