Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Anti-Monsanto Demonstration Draws Over 200

Speakers Target Corporate Giant’s Dominance Over Factory-Style Farming


Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Carrie Driscoll

Hugh Moore

Tanya Mack

“Sustainable Santa”

The Bronner brothers

Donna (right) says “Occupy Monsanto!”

The bee die-in, protesting the mass death of honeybee colonies because of pesticides made by Monsanto and other giant corporations

“Monsanto Makes Hitler Look Good”

The “Frankenfood” Monster

Monsanto Owns the FDA

“Monsanto Kills”

“My children are not lab rats!”

Over 200 people gathered at the water fountain in Balboa Park Saturday afternoon, October 12 for the second major demonstration in five months targeting the Monsanto Corporation. Featuring many of the same speakers who’d appeared at the previous anti-Monsanto demonstration on May 25 in the same location, the opening rally contrasted Monsanto’s vision of the future of agriculture — massive uses of Monsanto pesticides over fields of a Monsanto-patented single variety of every sown crop, genetically engineered by Monsanto researchers to resist Monsanto’s chemicals, with every farmer in the world paying royalties each year and buying only Monsanto-owned seeds — with the speakers’ preferred alternative. That is a biologically diverse network of small farmers, growing on whatever land they can use, planting different varieties of crops and saving seeds for reuse in next year’s planting.
The opening speakers — Ray, Michelle and Jennifer from Blue Sky San Diego — announced that Monsanto had just bought a company called Climate Corporation for $1 billion. Climate Corporation’s goal is to combat human-caused climate change with more human-caused climate change. Specifically, according to the Blue Sky Project spokespeople, Climate Corpiration is spraying “aluminum oxide and other toxic chemicals” into clouds. From this, they said, the aluminum oxide would fall to earth and some of it would settle in trees. “Trees containing aluminum catch fire,” they explained. “We need to stop the geo-engineering projects. They will contaminate the soil, and then we’ll have to rely on Monsanto’s seeds.”
The speakers generally portrayed a dark future in which Monsanto’s network of patent-protected seeds and pesticides holds so total a grip on the world’s agriculture that literally no one will be able to eat anything that doesn’t contain Monsanto-owned genes. They quoted authorities as diverse as Thomas Jefferson and Henry Kissinger saying that anyone who controls the food supply controls the people. “Thank you for joining us in an action against the most evil corporation in the world,” said an early speaker, a woman who was identified only as Chris.
According to Chris, over one million people participated in anti-Monsanto demonstrations worldwide on May 25. Among their demands was repeal of the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” officially known as the “Farmers’ Assurance Provision,” that was slipped into a must-pass farm bill in June 2012 but — at least as of October 12 — wasn’t contained in the Senate proposal that ended the government shutdown. It basically said that Monsanto and other companies selling genetically modified seeds could continue to do so even if a federal court reversed the decision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approving them.
“"Essentially, what that Monsanto Protection Act rider said is that even if a court were to determine that a particular product might be harmful to human beings or harmful to the environment, the Department of Agriculture could not stop the production of that product once it is in the ground,” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told CNN last May 28. “So you have deregulated the GMO industry from court oversight, which is really not what America is about.”
At the October 12 rally, Chris hailed the death (at least for now) of the Monsanto Protection Act but warned, “The fight for our rights is not over until Monsanto’s GMO seeds are gone. The food [containing Monsanto’s GMO’s] is being sold openly without us knowing. Monsanto’s seeds are subsidized by the taxes we pay our government. Many countries are passing laws against GMO’s — including, just yesterday, Mexico. In California, Mendocino, Marin and Tulare Counties have made it unlawful to propagate or grow GMO’s.” She called on the participants in the protest to lobby the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to pass a similar ban here.
Hugh Moore, an activist and spokesperson for the Green Party of San Diego County, said, “The bad news is the corporations own government.” He warned that even if the bill to reopen the government and raise the U.S. debt ceiling doesn’t contain the Monsanto Protection Act, the next farm bill to come out of Congress probably will. “Back in May over two million people gathered in over 50 different countries” to protest Monsanto, Moore reminded the crowd. “We need to keep this pressure up. Seven highly-placed figures from Monsanto have been hired by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA no longer works for you; it works for Monsanto.”
Among the people Moore cited were Margaret Miller, who as a Monsanto employee wrote the memo asking the FDA to declare that genetically modified foods were safe — and then, as an FDA staff member, was assigned to “review” and approve her own memo! “You’re the start of the revolution,” Moore said, “but many people are still supporting the Republican and Democratic parties. The Green Party at this point is a protest vote.”
Moore said that rather than electoral politics, “the first step is protesting and the second step is civil disobedience: standing in the way of the machine.” Moore cited a paper by self-proclaimed “ecosocialist” Chris Williams (International Socialist Review, May 2013: http://isreview.org/issue/89/what-ecosocialism-and-how-do-we-get-there), and endorsed the article’s call for a “System Change, Not Climate Change” movement. “We have to move on from a government that works for the corporations and works for capitalism,” Moore said.
Ned Barnaby, self-described “anti-media” activist, reminded the audience that at the May 25 rally he’d given a report on how little coverage the mainstream corporate media give to GMO’s in general or Monsanto in particular. “None of you heard of this march on TV,” he said. “The mainstream media are in bed with Monsanto, just like the government. If the media were covering this story, we wouldn’t have former Monsanto executive Michael Taylor running the FDA and former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.”
Questioning how “the same people who were trying to start a war in Syria two months ago now say they don’t have the money to keep the government running.” Barnaby said, “We can’t trust the government to regulate our food supply. We have to grow our own food. The government gives people tickets for growing food and vegetables in their front yards. We have to end this.”

The Positive Alternative: Grow Your Own

Throughout the 85-minute rally there was this continual yin and yang, with some speakers denouncing Monsanto and its cozy relationship with the government agencies supposedly “regulating” it, and other speakers — sometimes the same ones — urging people to opt out of the commercial food system, either by growing their own or buying direct from farmers through so-called Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
“We can grow food instead of lawns,” said Barnaby. “You can grow food inside your apartment.” Barnaby particularly promoted a system called “aquaponics,” which involves growing both food crops and fish in water-filled tanks. “It’s a closed-loop system with living fish creating the fertilizer for your plants,” he explained. “You can grow organic food and fish, and eat the fish as well.”
“I didn’t know my grandfather was pulling seeds and feeding his family with the same varieties his dad did,” said Carrie Driscoll of the San Diego Seed Company. “That kind of life has been lost as we’ve moved to cities and convenience has become the number one factor in how we feed ourselves.” Driscoll was particularly critical of Monsanto and other giant seed companies for reducing the number of different varieties of farm crops, to promote an industrial model of agriculture in which farmers plant the same variety year after year — and have to buy new seeds from Monsanto or its competitors every year.
“The Potato Famine and the Dust Bowl both occurred because of the lack of seed diversity,” Driscoll said. “Because industrial agriculture has made many crops less genetically diverse, I started San Diego Seed Company to bring back diversity to San Diego.” One risk of losing genetic diversity and shifting to what’s called “monoculture” — in which every seed for a particular crop is of the same variety — is if a pest comes along that attacks that variety, there are no other types of that crop to replace it. The Potato Famine was caused by a pest that attacked the kind of potatoes Irish farmers were growing in 1846 — and it ended when new varieties of potatoes were brought in from South America and proved resistant to that pest.
Alicia Sachs brought two large blue bins and held them up — they were empty — to demonstrate what she gets from participation in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA is a system by which a group of consumers pay one or more farmers to grow crops in advance, then get regular shipments from that farm, either delivered to their homes, picked up at the farms, or picked up at farmers’ markets. But she warned that some of the “farmers” who offer food for sale that way don’t farm organically, and others are hustlers or con artists who don’t have farms at all.
“You have to ask where their farm is, and if you can visit it,” Sachs warned. “My first CSA farmer was mostly fruits, and I wanted vegetables. The CSA I belong to now is J. R. Organics. You can take a tour and see their compost pile. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.” She also recommended shopping either at farmers’ markets or at stores like the Ocean Beach People’s Food Co-Op. If you buy food from CSA’s or other non-traditional sources, “you become a better cook,” she said. “Sometimes I get stuff and I don’t know what it is, but if it tastes good I can put it in juice or a smoothie. I can shell beans — and you can’t be on your computer or make a phone call while you’re shelling beans.”
A man who introduced himself as “Sustainable Santa” and came more or less dressed for the part — he didn’t wear a long fake beard or a pointed hat but he did have a beard (a real one) and a red shirt — credited his vegan wife with putting him on a healthier diet that helped him lose 75 pounds. “Leave an apple, not a cookie, for Santa, and tell him next time you want to see 25 pounds less of him,” he said. “The guy who’s a role model for kids should not be someone who looks like Rush Limbaugh.”
“I am living proof that any and all diseases can be cured by working with nature,” said Susan McKenzie. “Life has been around for billions of years. Its intelligence knows what works for our bodies and what doesn’t. Our body is programmed to work best on natural food. Fifty years ago, we didn’t have ‘organic’ food. All food was ‘organic.’ Have we forgotten we are raw, living organic beings, too? Everything we put in our bodies either feeds or fights life. Unnatural substances in our bodies cause stress. Our immune system responds to them as if they’re foreign invaders. We are beings whose bodies are at war with themselves. These chemicals just make things worse.”

One Woman’s Toxic Story

Tanya Mack knows all about a body being at war with itself. Hers has been at war with itself since she was born. Her father was a Viet Nam War veteran who had been in charge of dispersing Agent Orange — a combination of two herbicides, 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T, one made by Dow Chemical and one by, you guessed it, Monsanto — over Viet Nam. It was part of U.S. war strategy to starve the opposition as well as destroying the rain forest in which enemy fighters hid. Her presentation was a litany of medical horrors she’s dealt with all her life, including four total and 15 partial hip replacements and a series of cancers, including a particularly terrifying one called “multiple squamous-cell carcinomas.”
There are, Mack explained, only two ways you get the sort of cell mutation that gives you multiple squamous-cell carcinomas. One is by inheritance; the other is by exposure to toxic chemicals, either personally or via your parents. “There is no history of these cancers in my family,” Mack recalled. So her doctors sent her to UCLA for genetic tests — and they found that she had a brand new cancer mutation most likely caused by her dad’s exposure to Agent Orange in Viet Nam.
“In 2010 I was diagnosed with melanoma,” Mack said. “I was fortunate in that it was caught early, before it spread to my lymph nodes. In 2011 I was diagnosed with another cancer, one caused by arsenic, which makes up 35 percent of Agent Orange. In 2012 I had to have my gall bladder removed.” That year she was also put on a clinical trial for a new cancer drug. The good news was that the drug worked: it brought all her cancers under control. The bad news was that once the FDA approved the drug, she could no longer get it for free as she had during the trial. Now it costs over $12,000 per month — and she can’t afford it.
“So for the last five months, I have had my cancers return,” she said. “I have had 282 biopsies, of which 189 were positive for cancer. My medical needs have hurt my family, both physically and psychologically. In 2009 I applied to the Veterans’ Administration (VA) for care and was denied because my biological mother had not served in Viet Nam. In 2010 my father died at 100 percent disability.”
Mack explained that children of women who served in Viet Nam can get coverage for cancer, but the only disabilities the government recognizes for the children of male Viet Nam veterans are two types of spina bifida. Why? Pure economics, Mack said; 2.8 million American men served in Viet Nam, as opposed to just 8,000 women — and if the government were to open the floodgates of VA coverage to the children of male Viet Nam vets their expenses would go through the roof.
“During Viet Nam servicemembers were told that Agent Orange was safe,” Mack recalled. “They did not wear protection when they handled or applied it. There was even a press conference where a scientist said you could drink it. An estimated 19 million gallons were used in Viet Nam during the war.” The U.S. military stopped using Agent Orange in Viet Nam in 1971, but it’s been the gift that keeps on giving not only for children of American Viet Nam vets but for the Viet Namese as well. “Children in Viet Nam are still being born with [Agent Orange-related] birth defects,” Mack explained. “The U.S. government did not admit Agent Orange had health effects until 1995, and they refuse to do research that could show damage to children and grandchildren.”

What Else You Can Do

Michael and David Bronner talked up a campaign to pass a citizens’ initiative, I-522, in Washington state to require that foods with genetically modified ingredients be labeled. A similar bill, Proposition 37, went down to a narrow two-point defeat in California in November 2012 after what the Bronners called “junk-food manufacturers and pesticide manufacturers” funded a $47 million campaign against it. “If GMO’s are labeled up there, they’ll be labeled down here,” Michael Bronner said.
“American farmers need to get off this pesticide-GMO treadmill,” David Bronner added. “Americans need to wake up to the secret changes the chemical industry are making in our food, and demand food labeling. As soon as we get that right, most people are going to say maybe I’m not going to have the genetically engineered tofu. That’s what happened in Europe. They didn’t ban it; they labeled it, and the market evaporated. This is why [the industries] is fighting us. … They’ve got $17 million already because they’re desperate. They know if a state like Washington goes, the sky’s not going to fall, prices aren’t going to go up, and we’re going to have national labeling.”
The Bronners urged people to visit the I-522 campaign Web site, http://yeson522.com/, for information and volunteer opportunities. They also promoted the http://occupy-monsanto.com/ site through which the international anti-Monsanto actions October 12, of which the San Diego event was a part, were organized, and recommended that people view the video on http://occupy-monsanto.com/ of what they called the “Monsanto’s Minions Awards,” a mock ceremony on October 10 in which activists presented phony “awards” to Congressmembers especially friendly to Monsanto.
Chris, who had spoken earlier in the event, came out again after the Bronners’ presentation. “If we label GMO’s, who’s going to buy them?” she said. “Those who can’t afford organic food are going to be forced to buy GMO’s. I say ban them! If there are countries around the world that are banning GMO’s, then why are they legal here? Monsanto had its chance to label GMO’s. Right now we should aim for the sky and protect nature, because nature doesn’t have a voice.”

Immigrants’ Rights March Draws 10,000

Big Turnout Demands Pathway to Citizenship for the Undocumented


Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Father T.J.


Joe Leimert

Mayoral candidate David Alvarez (right)

Standing on the side of love

I am a voter

March kicks off

These people picked the wrong day to move!

March heads downtown

The size of the march as it heads downtown

Citizenship is an American value

Demand justice!

We are human

Demando justicia!

Immigration is natural

¡Immigrantes si, dronas no!

“We’re going to preach with our feet,” said Father T.J., one of several ministers and other clergy members from the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice at the outset of a large immigrants’ rights demonstration in San Diego October 5. “We’re going to march. … We have waited so long for justice. Eleven million people are living in shadows. Only roaches should be living in shadows. We want peace, but there can be no peace without justice.”
March they did. Over 10,000 people, some bused in from other parts of San Diego and southern California, joined the protest as it started at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street in Balboa Park, took 6th to Ash Street, then headed down 5th to Broadway, went to the waterfront and reached its destination at the County Administrative Center. Two rallies were held as part of the action, a morning one at 6th and Laurel and an afternoon one at the County building.
Many of the people speaking at the morning rally compared the event to the galvanic May Day, 2006 marches for immigrants’ rights which helped derail the reactionary anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill in Congress. “In 2006 we had our last march, and I spoke with Archbishop Corleone in San Francisco,” recalled another minister, Father Henry, who said he was speaking on behalf of the local bishops. “Let our voices be heard in Washington, D.C. We want to make this nation a precious home for all.”
“It is the Jewish Sabbath,” noted Rabbi Laurie Coskey, one of the Interfaith Committee’s key organizers. “I come to you with blessings from an ancient Jewish tradition. We are all immigrants, too. My father was born in Turkey, my mother on the island of Rhodes and I in Los Angeles.”
“This is known as an immigrant country,” said a young man from Somalia who identified himself as “Sofreso” and wore a T-shirt identifying himself as a member of the self-help group Great Lakes Union for Development (GLUD). “No one has the right to push anyone out. This is a country of opportunity. GLUD was formed in 2010 because when we came to this country, we got no help. Some of us spent two days without food or drink.”
Lee Hall of the United Church of Christ’s Christian Fellowship Congregation hailed California Governor Jerry Brown for signing the Trust Act that morning. The Trust Act is designed to keep law-enforcement officers in California from cooperating with the Obama administration’s aggressive deportation program, which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to put a 48-hour hold on any undocumented immigrant legally stopped by police or accused of a crime, however minor — a step that usually leads to the immigrant’s deportation.
Under the Trust Act, “immigrants in this country illegally would have to be charged with or convicted of a serious offense to be eligible for a 48-hour hold and transfer to U.S. immigration authorities for possible deportation,” explained reporter Patrick McGreevy for the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-brown-immigration-20131006,0,4208269,full.story).
The Trust Act is one of several bills Governor Brown has signed to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants in California. In addition to signing a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, Brown also signed two other bills Hall mentioned: AB 1024, which allows undocumented immigrants who otherwise qualify for law licenses to become attorneys; and AB 1159, which regulates immigration attorneys so undocumented immigrants don’t become victims of fraud.
“My daughter was brutally shot nine times by a Border Patrol agent in Chula Vista, and they try to tell me that’s their training? That’s what they’re supposed to do?” said Riverside County resident Valentín Taquín, who had come to San Diego last July to tell his grim story at a rally protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin. “We all commit errors and make mistakes. They made a mistake, and now they want to justify their mistake by saying my daughter deserved to die. I’m not going to believe that lie! Enough is enough!”
According to Taquín, his daughter was just one of 19 people unjustly killed by Border Patrol agents in the last three years. “Is your life better than mine?” he said. “We are all equal.”
Other speakers included Joe Leimert of the San Diego Poetry Slam Team, who read a poem denouncing the high cost of college and the outrageous student loan debts most modern-day collegians accumulate before they graduate; Eloy Hernandez of the Service Employees’ International Union; and a D.J. from Los Angeles. Both Hernandez and the D.J. spoke in Spanish only.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Arizona Teachers Battle for the Soul of America

Gonzalez, Arce Come to San Diego to Defend Mexican-American Studies


Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

José Gonzalez

Sean Arce

Police attack student supporters of Mexican-American Studies outside the Tucson school board

A boy being wanded at the entrance to the school board meeting

A display of books that have been banned in Arizona schools

1933: Texas Rangers lynch Mexican-Americans (from Martinez: 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, 1991)

It’s not clear whether José Gonzalez and Sean Arce, two of the leading teachers in the now-defunct Mexican-American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) in Tucson, Arizona, purposely scheduled their appearance at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park for October 2. But both Gonzalez and the event’s MC, San Diego State University Chicano/Latino Studies professor Roberto Hernandez, pointed out the significance of the date: the 45th anniversary of the massacre of protesting students at Tlateloco Square in Mexico City in 1968. The students, Hernandez explained, “were protesting the millions of dollars spent on the Mexico City Olympics versus the lack of attention to Mexico’s poverty” — a situation he sees echoed in the U.S. today when you look at “which offices are open and which ones are closed” in the current federal government shutdown.
“How appropriate that we are having this talk on October 2,” Gonzalez said. He said the story of the Mexico City massacre was just one of many facts that are “being kept from our students in Arizona” now that the state legislature has banned virtually all ethnic studies programs.
The issue has been publicized in a film from 2011 called Precious Knowledge and an episode of the now-canceled PBS news program Need to Know in February 2013. But not many people outside Arizona know what happened to the state’s ethnic studies programs — even though Gonzalez and Arce both regard HR 2281, the bill that enacted the ban, as at least as significant an attack on the Chicano community as the far more famous SB 1070. That was the Arizona state law that required law enforcement officials to check anyone they arrested or stopped for their immigration status when there was “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be an undocumented immigrant.
Arce called the ban on ethnic studies in Arizona “a really critical issue” — which, since he got fired by TUSD after 17 years teaching in their schools and since hasn’t been able to find a teaching job again, is something he knows personally. “We taught a rigorous curriculum relating to our history as a colonized people, and academic achievement was one of the results,” he explained. “We thought we would be serving our students if we addressed their educational, social and cultural needs.”
The Arizona state legislature felt differently. They passed HR 2281, authored by Tom Horne — then Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction and now the state’s attorney general — and signed into law May 10, 2011. The law banned the teaching of any classes in Arizona public schools that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment towards a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
Though a broad-based coalition of teachers, students and parents mobilized to keep the Mexican-American Studies program at TUSD on the basis that it really didn’t do any of the things singled out in Horne’s bill, Arce and Gonzalez conceded that in some respects the program was guilty as charged. “We are trying to overthrow the schools — not violently, but to make our education for and about the children,” Arce explained. As for the charge that Mexican-American Studies promoted resentment towards a particular race or class, he said that it’s the standard curriculum, centered on the achievements of white Europeans, that promotes resentment among Mexican and Chicano students.
At one point during the talk Gonzalez noted the irony that their program was being bashed by people on the Right who often make the sorts of seditionist, anti-American statements of which his program and its teachers were accused. “Texas Governor Rick Perry has actually threatened to leave the United States, yet we get saddled” with the charge of promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government. “We’re just trying to get our kids to stay in school and go to college,” Gonzalez said.
And, according to Gonzalez and Arce, the Mexican-American Studies program did just that. “Our students have graduated at a rate of 97.5 percent, compared to a national average of 46.0 percent for Mexican-Americans and 52.0 percent for Latinos in TUSD,” said a slide they showed as part of a PowerPoint presentation that accompanied their talk. “Over the last six academic years, slightly more than 70 percent of our students have enrolled in post-secondary education after graduation, versus the national average for Mexican-American college enrollment at 26 percent and 28.0 percent for students in TUSD.”
Ironically, they added, much of the data supporting the program came from studies the state commissioned hoping to show the program was either useless or counterproductive to academic achievement. “They did an audit in the spring of 2011, and the auditors recommended expansion of the program,” Arce said. That study showed students in the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program scoring 20 to 30 percent higher on standardized reading and writing tests over students enrolled in the conventional curriculum. Another study, by Cabrera et al. in 2012, showed “a significant positive relationship” between participation in the program and passing the standardized reading test in two of the four years studied: students in MAS in 2008 were 168 percent more likely to pass the test and in 2011 were 101 percent more likely.
So if MAS helps students graduate, pass the standardized tests that have become the be-all and end-all of educational evaluation these days, and go on to college, what’s the problem with it? According to the Need to Know report, hosted by John Carlos Frey, the controversy began when Dolores Huerta, co-founder with César Chávez of the United Farm Workers, came to speak at an Arizona high-school assembly in 2006, in the middle of the controversy around the anti-immigrant bill SB 1070. “Republicans hate Latinos, O.K.? Republicans hate Latinos,” Huerta said, according to a recording of her speech.
Tom Horne heard about the Huerta incident and sent his top deputy, a conservative Republican Latina, to the same school to deliver a rebuttal speech. “She said that she was a proud Latina and a proud Republican and she didn’t hate herself,” Horne told Need to Know. “In the middle of the speech, the students in what they call the Raza studies program, the Latino part of ethnic studies, stood up, turned their backs on her and put their fists in the air. The principal asked them to sit down and listen, and they walked out on their principal. I’ve never seen kids be rude to a guest speaker before that incident or after.”
According to Horne, the response of the students to his attempt to present a Latina Republican speaker led him to investigate the course materials used by ethnic studies in general and programs like Tucson’s MAS in particular. “I was very shocked by what I saw,” Horne told Need to Know. “The materials are extremely racist. People would be very surprised to hear this.” He said the ethnic studies teachers are “very radical” in that “they are people to whom race is very important to self-identity. And they want to instill that in the kids. My view of what America is all about is the opposite. I believe that what’s important about us is that we’re individuals. What matters is what we know, what we can do, and what is our character — not what race we happen to have been born into.”
But Gonzalez and Arce say you can’t teach a standard curriculum to Mexican-American students and expect to reach them if you can’t relate it to what they and their ancestors have been through as a people. In the Need to Know report student Mayra Feliciano is presented as one of their success stories. The daughter of a gardener and a housekeeper, she regularly ditched school — “I didn’t feel I had a purpose there,” she told Need to Know — until she enrolled in MAS and her attendance, grades and test scores zoomed up. She particularly recalled a history class that taught her “there’s so many people’s histories — not just European-American, but African-American and Mexican. And they’re all tied into what has helped America grow.”
Likewise, the Chicano authors she was introduced to in MAS’s literature classes spoke to her in ways the white authors taught in the standard curriculum hadn’t. “I started reading all these stories of people who’ve had the struggles that I’ve had, too,” she told Need to Know. “I was just, like, ‘I’m not the only one who goes through this.’” Feliciano said that she “was never told [in MAS classes], ‘Oh, you have to hate America, because the government is totally trying to screw you over,’” but she gave the program credit for teaching her a different perspective from the mainstream view that “America never did anything bad.”
One of the most shocking slides in Gonzalez’ and Arce’s PowerPoint presentation shows a band of Texas Rangers lynching Mexican-Americans in 1933. It came from a book that was taught in the Tucson MAS and which was banned by the Tucson school district after the program was closed. “I don’t know if this picture promotes resentment against white people,” Arce said, “but it is a standard historical document. These are the types of things that were used as ‘evidence’ against the program.”
Arce also said the reason the Arizona legislature acted against MAS and other ethnic studies program is that they’ve been too successful. They’ve interfered, he argued, with what he called the “pipeline” that channels Chicano kids from poverty to poor schooling to dropping out to prison, all to benefit the big private prison companies that benefit from the U.S. having the highest percentage of its population behind bars of any country in the world. “Schools are set up to fail Black and Brown kids,” Arce said bluntly. “Administrators will say we’re crazy, but look at the results. Schools are set up to reproduce inequality.”

Fighting Back

Needless to say, Gonzalez, Arce and the other teachers who had created MAS didn’t take its abolition lying down. Gonzalez vividly recalled the school board meeting at which that decision was made. It took place in a heavy-duty “security” atmosphere, with armed guards at the doors of the building and police snipers on nearby rooftops.
“They scheduled the meeting to kill our classes on Cinco de Mayo,” Gonzalez said. “Originally they were going to do it on April 11, but the students put chains on themselves and so they rescheduled it for May 3. Our students turned out in force. They demonstrated and were arrested. One of my students was literally thrown down by police.” Gonzalez included a picture of that incident in his slide show to underscore what he said was the brutality with which the people he’d taught were treated by law enforcement.
The MAS teachers tried to keep their program alive in the courts. Claiming that the elimination of MAS violated both Chicano students’ 14th Amendment rights and the federal desegregation order issued against TUSD in a previous case, Sean Arce and his daughter Maya became the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2012 against Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, after TUSD refused to challenge the Superintendent’s finding that MAS violated HR 2281.
Gonzalez and Arce were particularly incensed by an argument by the Superintendent’s attorney that said, “I would argue that the state has a legitimate interest in [ensuring] that the courses in our schools do not teach racist values. If what we were dealing with was a course designed by the Ku Klux Klan, everybody would see it’s obvious that the state has that legitimate interest. I think in this case we have shown that this is a course that promotes racist values that the legislature has a valid interest in preventing.”
Arce and the other teachers were told by the courts they didn’t have standing to sue because, as public employees, they were not allowed to challenge their bosses’ decisions in court. The case with Maya Arce as lead plaintiff was heard in court, but on March 8, 2013 a judge ruled that TUSD had a “legitimate pedagogical concern” over the content of MAS and therefore it was within their rights to eliminate it.
Unable to get MAS reinstated in the courts, its supporters fell back on the electoral route. “We worked hard to get a three-vote majority on the TUSD school board,” Gonzalez said. “The new board hired a Latino superintendent, H. T. Sanchez from Texas. Because TUSD was in violation of federal law, they had to reinstate the program, but they’re calling it ‘Culturally Relevant Curriculum for Latino Students,’ and they’ve also had to create a new department called ‘Culturally Relevant Curriculum for African-American Students.’”
Gonzalez and Arce have been hurt personally by the controversy. Arce hasn’t been able to land a teaching job in Arizona since TUSD fired him. He’s convinced he’s been blacklisted because his daughter is still the lead plaintiff in the case against Arizona’s school system, now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after the loss in the trial court. Gonzalez is still teaching in TUSD middle schools, but it’s clear that after his experience opening the hearts and minds of his students in MAS, having to teach the standard white-centered mainstream curriculum doesn’t give him the sense of pride and joy he had as an MAS teacher.

For more information on the fate of Mexican-American Studies [MAS] in the Tucson Unified School District [TUSD], visit the MAS supporters’ Web site at www.saveethnicstudies.org

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Government Shutdown: Triumph of the Rand

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org
I will not live my life for any other man, nor ask any other man to live his life for mine.
— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
As I’m writing this, it’s the eighth day of the shutdown of the federal government, and there’s no end in sight. What’s more, unless Congress acts to expand the so-called “debt ceiling” — the total amount of money the federal government can borrow to fund its current obligations ­— by October 17, the U.S. could default on its loans for the first time in its history. Economists and businesspeople are warning that this could be catastrophic for the future not only of the U.S. but the entire world’s economy. As Douglas Cote, chief market strategist for IMG Investment Management U.S. in New York — not exactly your most flaming liberal or Leftist source — was quoted in the October 3 Los Angeles Times, the politicians who have brought about the government shutdown and are threatening to force the U.S.’s first-ever default are playing “a form of Russian roulette with a loaded gun.”
Not that this matters a damned bit to the Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives — a minority of the total body but a majority of the Republican caucus — who have forced the shutdown and are threatening to bring about the default. They are playing a longer game than either the President, the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, or the mainstream business community (including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) that recoils in horror at the thought of a U.S. default. They subscribe to a radical libertarian ideology that regards all government intervention in the economy as not only bad policy but downright immoral. They believe the only legitimate functions of government are national defense, law enforcement and maintenance of a judicial system to settle contract disputes between individuals and corporations in the private sector.
This ideology of the modern-day radical Right was first put before the general public by 20th century political writer and novelist Ayn Rand. In her two major novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), she expressed an extreme individualist philosophy she called “Objectivism” but which has become better known today as libertarianism. Rand, who was born in Russia and fled the Soviet dictatorship in 1928, drew on the work of Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Like them, she argued that value was not created by the workers who actually mined ore, smelted metal, cut trees, built houses or assembled cars. Rather, value was created by the handful of genius capitalist entrepreneurs who invented those industries as well as the products they produced. Therefore, she said, as superior humans the capitalists were entitled to everything their genius produced.
These ideas led Rand to reject not only Marxism’s call for a more equal distribution of wealth and income but also all liberal efforts to regulate capitalism. She opposed public education, minimum-wage laws, protection of workers’ rights to form unions, and any other measures that might allow what she called the “moochers” and “leeches” to claim a greater share of society’s prosperity. When asked whether she thought society had an obligation to take care of the sick and disabled, she answered, “Misfortune does not justify slave labor.” She meant that any taxation of the rich to pay for social programs to benefit the not-so-rich turned the rich into slaves by forcing them to give some of their wealth to their inferiors. And while she said it was O.K. for her successful capitalist heroes to give to charity if they chose to do so voluntarily, she made it clear in the plots of her novels that the rich she most admired were those who didn’t give any money away.
Rand’s ideas permeate the Republican party today. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and chair of the House Budget Committee, reportedly gives copies of Atlas Shrugged to everyone he hires for his staff to make sure they understand where he’s coming from and what he wants from them. Romney himself, in his infamous meeting with fellow fat cats in Florida in May 2012, struck Randian notes — even though he didn’t credit her — when he said, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. … My job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Romney played from Rand’s songbook again in November, when he said he lost because Obama was “giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
It is impossible to understand America’s modern-day radical Right in general, and the Tea Party in particular, without knowing Rand’s ideas. It’s true that the radical Right is a sometimes unwieldy coalition between the Randian libertarians who want government to get out of the way of private enterprise and stop funding a welfare state, and the social conservatives of the religious Right who want a highly activist government when it comes to policing people’s private lives, both in terms of whom they’re allowed to have sex with and how they deal with the consequences therefrom. (Rand herself was an atheist who believed that if two adults wanted to have sex with each other, it was nobody’s business but theirs.) But that seemingly contradictory coalition has held strong — and has, indeed, dominated American politics — for over three decades, ever since it came together to elect Ronald Reagan President in 1980. Indeed, ask virtually any Right-wing political activist what are the two books that most influenced them and best express their philosophy of governance and a just society, and they will name the Bible and Atlas Shrugged.
The plot of Atlas Shrugged offers some striking insights into why the modern-day radical Right, including the Tea Party extremists who dominate the House Republican Caucus, are so anxious to bring the U.S. government to a standstill and even wreck America’s credibility in the world financial markets. It deals with a group of Rand’s super-capitalists who gradually withdraw from the rest of the world and found their own libertarian utopia in Colorado. Their head is John Galt, a mysterious, reclusive genius who invented a motor that runs entirely on air — the fact that Rand believed the spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism was so powerful it could literally defy the laws of physics goes a long way to explain the modern-day Republicans’ vicious anti-environmentalism — but refused to allow it to be used under the collectivist governments he and his fellow capitalists were determined to destroy. At the end of the book — after the world has almost totally collapsed from the absence of Rand’s capitalist superheroes — Galt emerges and serves notice: “If you want to have an industrial society, you will have to have it on our terms.”
That is what the Republicans in the House of Representatives are saying to America: if you want to have a government at all, you will have to have it on our terms. The battle over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling is only incidentally about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” which the House majority has voted to repeal an astounding 41 times. The battle is really about repealing the very notion of a social welfare state, getting rid of any laws protecting workers or the environment, eliminating virtually all taxes on the well-to-do, and essentially remodeling society according to Rand’s notion of a libertarian utopia, what Garrett Epps in the current issue of The American Prospect calls “tough-luck libertarianism” in which if you get sick, disabled or unemployed, it’s your own damned fault and nobody is going to help you but yourself.
So when Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus wrote on September 30 — the eve of the government shutdown — that he couldn’t understand how Senator Ted Cruz (R-FL) could compare Obamacare to the Nazi dictatorship, he was missing the point. “Never mind that we willingly rely on our government to provide health care for seniors, low-income people and the disabled; to shield seniors from poverty; to protect us from unsafe food, water, medicine and consumer products; to maintain public order; and to perform countless other tasks,” Lazarus wrote. He either ignores or doesn’t realize that in the kind of libertarian state Cruz and his fellow Tea Partiers want, government would do none of those things except maintain public order. They’re not upset about Obamacare because they want to destroy the signature domestic-policy achievement of his first term, as Lazarus argued. They’re against Obamacare because it threatens to extend the social-welfare state the libertarian Tea Partiers want to smash once and for all.

Not, of course, that they can destroy the welfare state all at once. The Tea Partiers are aware that millions of Americans still depend on Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation and all those other dreadful mechanisms for enslaving the rich into the service of the not-so-rich. So they’re seeking to kill these programs through what Sax Rohmer, the British novelist who created the character of Dr. Fu Manchu, called “the death of a thousand cuts.” They’ve already had experience with this strategy in regard to women’s right to reproductive choice. Though the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t yet formally overruled Roe v. Wade, states have artfully hedged the right to abortion with residency requirements, “waiting periods,” forcing women to watch horrifying (and scientifically inaccurate) videos, on up to the Virginia legislature’s recent attempt to require women seeking abortion to have transvaginal probes inserted inside them first. They’ve been helped by a complaisant Supreme Court that has upheld most of these restrictions as “reasonable” and a terrorist campaign by anti-abortion extremists against doctors and clinics. The result has been that up to 85 percent of all U.S. women no longer have access to a safe, legal abortion within a convenient distance from where they live.
More recently, the Congressional Republicans’ wish list for keeping the U.S. solvent and letting the government reopen has been released — and it’s breathtaking in the scope of its ambition. Under “Economic Growth,” it demands increased offshore oil drilling, more energy production on federal lands, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (which climate-change activist Bill McKibben has called “game over for the climate”), prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, and an end to “Net neutrality” regulations so Right-wing media conglomerates can make the Internet as much of a transmission belt for Right-wing propaganda as all other electronic media are already. Under “Non-Health Care Reforms” it calls for eliminating the Dodd-Frank act — Congress’s one attempt to re-regulate the financial industry to prevent another 2008-style economic meltdown — eliminating funding for public broadcasting, getting rid of block grants to the states for social services and requiring that people claiming a child tax credit have a Social Security number. Under “Health Care Reforms” it demands making it harder to get Medicare or Medicaid, making it harder to sue doctors for malpractice and eliminating funding for public health.
Ignore much of what you’ve read about the government shutdown and the alleged long-term problems of the Republican Party. Though the Republicans and the radical-Right Tea Party that dominates them may loathe what Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler stood for, they’ve learned from them as strategists and tacticians. From Lenin they’ve learned “democratic centralism,” the art of settling their differences behind closed doors and presenting a solid front of unanimity to the outside world. From Hitler and the Nazis they’ve learned the art of using their power in the legislature deliberately to sabotage the government and run the economy into the ground, thereby creating chaos and then presenting themselves to the people as the only people who can fix it. Though the Tea Party’s libertarian utopia would be a very different place from the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, they have absorbed Lenin’s and Hitler’s examples of how a sufficiently determined and united minority can impose their will upon a majority. And since they already own the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court, they are just two elections away from capturing the Presidency and the Senate — and implementing a far-reaching radical-Right agenda that will erase the social gains of the last 130 years and return America to what the Right thinks are the good old days of the 1880’s robber barons.