Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mediation-Related Cartoons
My students submit their weekly Reflection Papers on blogs they created on Tumblr and by this point in the term they are required to include embedded hot links and images.  Here are three images they included this past week.  We are reading Getting to Yes.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Official Discretion Changes the Meaning of the Law on the Ground
The US Department of Justice issued its report on Ferguson on March 4, 2015.  That report is as much about an aggressive and illegal approach to police work as it about judicial discretion gone awry and city political leaders using police fine collection as a major source of revenue, both reflecting and reinforcing racial bias in the city of 26,000. 

Here is a link to the full report.  102 pages, but well worth a close reading.

Among the numerous disturbing findings in this report, one that stands out for me is this one:  Black residents were more than two times more likely to be searched (among those in vehicle stops) even though black drivers stopped and searched accounted for only 26% of contraband discovered in a search following a vehicular stop. 

Meaning:  not only are blacks stopped more than twice as often, but these stops are a waste of taxpayer funds, because the stops are not linked to crime or contraband…but to race.

Finally, another interesting finding involves the city’s contention that the disparate impact is a result of a ‘lack of personal responsibility’ among blacks in the city. 
“Even as Ferguson City officials maintain the harmful stereotype that black individuals lack personal responsibility—and continue to cite this lack of personal responsibility as the cause of the disparate impact of Ferguson’s practices— white City officials condone a striking lack of personal responsibility among themselves and their friends. Court records and emails show City officials, including the Municipal Judge, the Court Clerk, and FPD supervisors assisting friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and themselves in eliminating citations, fines, and fees” (74).
Somehow the glaring and harmful lack of personal and professional responsibility of white leaders in Ferguson—manifest in the lack of accountability and respect for the law among city, court and police personnel—constitutes leadership?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Yes, this made me laugh today.  Yes, probably because I still do this at 54 years old!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Combating ISIS More Effectively
Have you been following the current debate about ISIS and our president’s choice not to use the phrase ‘Islamic Terrorism?’  There is much to learn by closely examining this debate.  One lesson focuses on the often hidden-in-plain-sight importance of strengthening democratic politics at home and abroad.

When politics and the rule of law fail as our alternatives to violence, we are left with violence to fill that void.  Without effective and functioning democratic political regimes in the Middle East…those with opposing views are left with only violence, which results in increasing the power and influence within opposing groups of those most skilled at violence (rather than those most skilled at the liberal arts central to democratic citizenship and political compromise).

We do not want to exaggerate the role that ordinary citizens actually do play in democratic societies, like our own.  But our democratic institutions are both distant from our platitudes about democracy as government by the people AND yet still powerfully important alternatives to the violence we observe in regions without any semblance of the rule of law or democratic decision making.

So, take a moment to compare a sober view of democracy in America—with all of its challenges—as a functioning alternative to the cycles of violence observed below in societies without democracy.

Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) is critical of the president’s focus on language, and argues that our response to ISIS must focus on the role of political failure in the region, particularly the failures of those regimes who are close allies.

In the Mideast, the appeal of radical Islam has more to do with failed politics than with the Quran. Dictatorships and would-be democracies have failed to deliver prosperity or justice, so Islamic extremists present themselves to disaffected youths as the only alternative.

The nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood movement was elected to power in Egypt but was overthrown in a coup — bolstering the radical claim that parliamentary democracy is useless. The Washington summit, attended by authoritarian regimes like Egypt, didn’t touch on such thorny issues.

Nor did it address the trickiest issue of all when it comes to the spread of radical Islam in the region: the role America’s allies play.

Saudi Arabia, America’s close friend under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, is still financing religious schools throughout the region and the Muslim world that teach the harsh Saudi brand of fundamentalist Islam. This ideology does not condone jihadi violence but still provides the baseline for ISIS thinking. (Saudi Arabia has beheaded nearly 40 people this year, notes Watts, compared with ISIS’ two dozen.)

Thomas Friedman argues, similarly, that the failure of politics or what he calls ‘misgovernance’ is the root cause we continue to overlook, perhaps because our fingerprints are all over it.

The U.S. keeps repeating the same mistake in the Middle East: overestimating the power of religious ideology and underappreciating the impact of misgovernance. Sarah Chayes, who long worked in Afghanistan and has written an important book — “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” — about how government corruption helped turn Afghans away from us and from the pro-U.S. Afghan regime, argues that “nothing feeds extremism more than the in-your-face corruption and injustice” that some of America’s closest Middle East allies administer daily to their people.”

Quoting a global consultant, Friedman notes that “The Arab peoples have been mostly ruled by radicals or reactionaries. And without the prospect of a legitimate politics “that genuinely responds to popular grievances,” no amount of top-down attempts to engender moderate Islam will succeed….”

American foreign policy, like the foreign policy of any nation, has a limited capacity to remake the world.  But we likely have a better chance of influencing our allies than we do persuading our enemies to change their behavior.  

The president appears to be choosing not to make salient a religious war by choosing to avoid the phrase Islamic terrorism, but is he doing this in order to displace this 'clash of civilizations' conflict with a focus on the deeper, and more challenging (but more important if Rubin and Friedman are right), conflict over creating and sustaining stable democratic politics and the rule of law…as our best alternative to violence, including the violence associated with terrorism?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Appreciating Our Local Newspaper
We are fortunate in Northeast Ohio to have a daily paper like the Akron Beacon Journal.  Even though a friend recently responded with surprise when I told him my paper was not delivered today (‘you still get a daily paper,’ he asked??!!), I look forward to reading my ABJ every day.

There are many reasons.  One reason is the coverage of our struggles in Ohio to provide a quality education to our children worthy of this great state.  You can go to the ABJ page and search under Doug Livingston to read a body of work on education that is among the best journalism I have ever read and almost single-handedly makes up for the inexplicable retention of Bob Dyer on the staff of any newspaper.

Today we see another important piece from Livingston explaining that out-going speaker of the state house, William Batchelder, has taken a job as a lobbyist for a former major campaign contributor who runs the for-profit company soaking the state for hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars to provide among the lowest performing schools in the state. 

The charter school is called Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) and its management companies are Altair Learning Management and IQ Innovations.  William Lager, the founder of IQ Innovations, has contributed millions to Ohio candidates, mostly Republican, and more importantly including more than $40,000 to Bactchedler.

This type of revolving door is not new.  That makes it no less disturbing.  The former speaker will be lobbying to channel tax-payer dollars to the for-profit company running one of the worst schools in the state, presumably in the name of ‘parental choice,’ the rallying cry for vouchers and charters in the state.  What it even more disturbing, however, is the responses Batchelder gave to questions.  See the full text via the hot link above.  It sounds like his understanding of online education comes from a pamphlet written in 1950.

Earlier this week, the ABJ covered two stories (one as news and one in an editorial) that we should think about together.  In the news story, the ABJ reported on a meeting between our local police department and citizens concerned about police racial profiling.  Here is how that article started…

‘What is the Akron Police Department doing to dismantle the systemic racism in the department?
That question, posed by an audience member Monday night at a town hall meeting on police and community relations, didn’t garner a warm response from Akron Police Chief James Nice.
“I do not accept that there is racism in the Akron Police Department,” Nice said. “I take that as an insult.”’

In the editorial section of the paper, an EJ Dionne commentary provided this description of a recent speech by the Director of the FBI.

‘“All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,” Comey said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”
He explained why he keeps on his desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of Hoover’s request to wiretap Dr. King: “The entire application is five sentences long, it is without fact or substance, and is predicated on the naked assertion that there is ‘Communist influence in the racial situation.’ ” He calls agents’ attention to the document, he said, “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.”
And who would think an FBI director would cite Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, a song from the Broadway hit Avenue Q? His point: “Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face.”’
Let’s assume no one in either story changes their perspective on this conflict, but the only change is the way the chief chose to frame his response.  If he chose to frame it in a way that is consistent with everything we know about racism and profiling, as the director did…what impact might that have had on the tenor of the conversation and the outcome of that meeting?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Focus on Reducing Harms
Today’s Akron Beacon Journal ran a story on page three of the B section about the rising number of fatalities in Ohio workplaces this year.  In the first month of 2015, seventeen Ohioans have died on the job as a result of fatal workplace accidents.  For the full year of 2014, 46 deaths were the result of unsafe work conditions.

A related story a few days earlier noted that OSHA had “cited and fined a Northeast Ohio company for failing to protect employees after a worker was crushed to death in an industrial machine last year.”

“OSHA issued a statement Wednesday that said it’s recommended a $28,000 fine for BRT Extrusions in Niles for six serious safety violations that the agency found after a 49-year-old man was killed in August while reaching into an aluminum extrusion press to remove unprocessed parts.

The statement said the company did not ensure that the machine was powered off completely during maintenance. The statement said a supervisor had switched the machine to automatic mode while employees were on a lunch break.”

A $28,000 fine does not seem proportionate the harm caused.  Where is the cacophony of moral outrage we routinely hear when a young black man kills a liquor store clerk during a robbery?  Why do we not read in the newspaper about our president or governor launching a ‘War on the Unsafe Workplace?’

While we are subjected to a near constant barrage of outrage about violent street crime, about police officers dying in the line of duty, and about both government over-reach and government failure to reduce the violence…let’s take a moment to review the relative magnitudes of harms caused by our most routine sources of violence.

While we should mourn and be outraged about a police officer being killed on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the highest death-on-the-job numbers by occupation in the US in 2013, police officer deaths are not even close to the highest magnitude of workplace harm.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Data on Workplace Deaths by Occupation, 2013
Transportation & Material Moving
Construction & Extraction
Installation, Maintenance & Repair
Building & Grounds Maintenance
Fisheries, Farming & Forestry
Law Enforcement

4, 405

And if we look beyond workplace deaths to other causes of harm in the US, we can see that our near exclusive focus on street crime and homicides, again, draws out attention away from other sources of harm that cause many, many times more damage to American families and communities.

According to CDC data we need to move very far down the list of leading causes of death in the US in 2013 before we get to homicides.  And the CDC list fails to highlight (among other causes, indented below) what would be third on the CDC list: deaths that result from preventable medical error. 

CDC Data on Leading Causes of Death in US, 2013

Heart Disease
     Preventable Medical Error
Respiratory Disease
     All Firearm Deaths
     Gun-Related Homicides

*Actually best estimates provide a range of deaths due to preventable medical error from 210,000 to 440,000 in 2011.
Indented causes of death on this list were not included in CDC list as separate items.

We invest billions in a failed War on Drugs and a War on Terror that created ISIS in Iraq in response to an attack from Saudi Arabians and focuses on Muslim extremist in the US when most domestic terrorism has been perpetrated by white, right-wing, Christian, males—although these are not the characteristics highlighted in our analysis of terrorism…except when the terrorist is a dark and Muslim.

A report commissioned by the second Bush administration found “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

Citing data from this report, Thinkprogress reported that “Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, as compared to 30 percent by ecoterrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. Right-wing extremism has been responsible for the greatest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. in 13 of the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.

My point here is not to jump to the conclusion that being the highest source of harm-causing behavior means that this must be the focus of our policy debates and where we invest our tax dollars. 

My point is, given the wide discrepancies between the data on highest sources of harm and what we do debate about and invest in, that we should not merely accept that the issues on our agenda are just given or natural or the only possible options. 

We should expect persuasive explanations from elite agenda-setters and do our best to reduce the most harmful forms of violence victimizing American families and Communities.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Average Folks
Huckabee made another crazy, far-right, non-sensical point about, this time, Beyonce...and it seems even far-right voters in Iowa think he went too far.  Way to go regular Americans.

Why is there so little discussion of the fact that we would likely not be faced with the ISIS threat if Cheney has not chosen to invade Iraq (a country with no involvement in 9/11 and with no terrorist activity when we attacked)?  Cheney should apologize for all the young men and women who have died as a result of this ill-advised invasion...and all those currently dying in the battle against ISIS. Regular folks can see this, but Cheney and others like him cannot or refuse to see it.

The president took the radical position of supporting vaccinations today.  It is hard to believe that there are educated elites out there willing to pander to anti-science.  Clarification:  this is not to say science has resolved every question.  But where science is 90+% in agreement (climate change, vaccinations), to stand against this position is lunacy and anti-American.  This is NOT just a case of holding a contrary view; it is calculated and phony and deeply damaging to democracy.