The U.S. Navy has decided it will go ahead with underwater explosions and ear-piercing sonar in the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary despite protests by environmentalists that the training exercises would hurt orcas and other imperiled marine creatures.
Curiously, the decision has yet to prompt any news coverage that I can find. And yet we’re at a crucial juncture because the National Marine Fisheries Services is finalizing its proposed conditions for allowing the Navy to go forward with beefed-up training efforts in its Northwest Training Range Complex.
Earlier this month a bunch of environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council appealed to Northwesterner Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (and therefore NMFS), not to allow the Navy to harm orcas, whales, and other marine creatures.
Among their comments to Lubchenco:
From former P-I foreign editor Larry Johnson’s blog: Looking for Trouble.
Good news from the Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons:
The United Nations First Committee has voted, by an overwhelming margin, for state users of depleted uranium weapons to release data on where the weapons have been used to governments of states affected by their use.
136 states last night voted in favor of a resolution calling on state users of depleted uranium weapons to release quantitative and geographical data to the governments of affected states. The resolution will now go forward to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for a second vote at the end of November.
Although UNGA resolutions are non-binding, they are a useful means of focusing attention on key issues. In this case the ongoing failure of the US to release data on its use of depleted uranium in Iraq and concerns over the use of the weapons in other conflicts, such as the interventions in Somalia in the mid-1990s. The resolution was submitted by Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The resolution was opposed by only four states – the US, UK, France and Israel. These four also voted against previous resolutions accepting that DU has the potential to damage human health (2007) and calling for more research in affected states (2008).
For a full rundown of the results visit: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/348.html
Here is a link to a recent study of cancer and birth defects in Iraq:
And here are links to stories I’ve published about depleted uranium:
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Nick Kristof of the New York Times recently wrote a popular article about individuals launching humanitarian efforts that he celebrated as the “D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution.”
The humanitarians he profiled (most were women … Kristof’s thesis is that women are more focused on helping the most vulnerable, which are usually women) were an impressive lot. One was a Seattle couple, Eugene and Minhee Cho, who ask people to donate one day’s wages to help fund certain causes they vet and select.
Many of my friends said they found the article inspiring and encouraging. As Kristof put it:
“It’s striking that the most innovative activists aren’t necessarily the ones with the most resources, or the best tools…. Rather, what often happens is that those best positioned to take action look the other way, and then the initiative is taken by (these lone activists) of the world, who are fueled by some combustible mix of indignation and vision.”
All of these efforts are admirable, but something about this DIY aid idea bothered me. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read this article “Don’t Try This Abroad” by Dave Algoso in Foreign Policy magazine.
Algoso says he, too, gets all “warm and fuzzy” reading about these people trying in some small way to make the world a better place. He acknowledges that many great movements begin with a single step taken by one person.
But Algoso said he was disturbed by Kristof’s simplistic description of the problems of poverty and the “implicit arrogance” that a groundswell of well-intentioned outsiders represents a solution.
ALSO BY TOM PAULSON OF KPLU’s HUMANOSPHERE:
Tirth Raj Pokhrel pushed his resume across the table like anyone else in need of work.
For the 42-year-old Bhutanese refugee, the hope of employment was a lifeline that could mean the difference between keeping a roof over his family’s head, and homelessness.
Pokhrel had volunteered in a nursing home and was training to be a nursing assistant. But at the end of July, Pokhrel and his family were cut off from public assistance at a time when even service and manual labor jobs are hard to find for someone with limited English.
With his wife at home in Seattle taking care of his parents and two children, one of whom is disabled and in a wheelchair, Pokhrel’s family represents a community of refugee and immigrant families with limited language skills who are at risk for future homelessness.
It’s an especially invisible population, and one that faces huge barriers that range from learning English to dealing with culture shock and the aftermath of trauma.
In 2009, the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWa), where Pokhrel has been attending ESL classes for the last nine months, reported a 25 to 30 percent increase in homeless refugees and immigrants. Because refugees and immigrants are often placed in transitional government-sponsored housing or double up with relatives, they are not included in Washington’s One Night Count of the homeless and often go unreported.
When they do seek help, much of the mainstream system is not linguistically prepared to help them. Washington’s 211 telephone hotline for housing services, for example, offers referral support in English and Spanish, but East Africans and Southeast Asians, who reflect a greater linguistic diversity, make up a large fraction of those in need of housing assistance.
The Department of Social and Health Service’s Strategic Plan for 2007-2011 reports over 40 percent of people receiving Refugee Cash Assistance in fiscal year 2005 came from East African countries. Another 28 percent came from Eastern Europe, and 13 percent from Russia.
The DSHS reports many of these immigrants have low English proficiency and low levels of education, which can pose barriers to self-sufficiency. But the state’s requirements for translation services, offered in Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Korean, and Russian, no longer reflect the demographics of new immigrants.
Someone like Pokhrel, whose native language is Nepali, has little choice but to learn English in order to understand letters from DSHS, healthcare providers, and future employers.
The responsibility for helping recent immigrants and refugees falls to agencies such as ReWA, and Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS), which combined, offer case managers and translators in more than 40 languages, and to El Centro de la Raza and Consejo, which help low-income and immigrant Latino families.
One of the ironies of helping these populations find stable housing is that they often do not fit the traditional definition for “homelessness.” Immigrant and refugee families often don’t hesitate to take in extended families members in need of housing. But doubling up or couch surfing can lead to overcrowding, stressful situations for families and developmental delays for children already in crisis.
Tesfaye Sisay, another ESL student at ReWa, worked as a driver, teacher, and carpenter in his native Ethiopia, but since moving to the U.S. three months ago, he and his family of six have been living in the downstairs of his relatives’ house until they can afford to move. During this summer’s heat wave, the family’s tight quarters and discomfort made Sisay realize he doesn’t want to inconvenience his family for much longer.
“I want housing, I want work,” Sisay said, “I want to live here.”
Sisay can read and write English well, but has difficulty speaking it. He enrolled in ReWa’s classes with the hope of improving his chances of getting a job, but still aren’t sure where he is headed.
“I don’t know who can help me,” Sisay said, “Right now, the government supports me.”
Nastejo Jama, a young single mother from Somalia who has been in the U.S. for five years and has taken ESL classes for two months, echoes Sisay’s sentiments.
“It’s just me and the government,” Jama said.
With her husband in Kenya and her family in Texas, most of her social and emotional support in Seattle comes from ReWa. Jama is looking for work that will not aggravate an old back injury.
Like Sisay, Pokhrel wants to make a self-sustaining life here.
Pokhrel’s son, who attends Seattle Community College, can find improved healthcare for his disability in the U.S. and Pokhrel intends to work toward becoming a citizen.
But the choice to stay can bring more complications than comforts. Staying, for refugees and immigrants, who may have experienced anything from political persecution, homelessness, hunger, sexual and domestic violence and racism, can also bring an onset of social and emotional disorders and problems that are difficult to treat from a purely Western perspective. Refugee and immigrant women across the U.S. experience domestic violence at rates of 30 to 50 percent, putting them at risk for unstable housing.
ReWa, ACRS, El Centro de la Raza and Consejo hire leaders from within their own communities, but Natividad E. Lamug, an education coordinator in ACRS’ Behavioral Health Program, said there are still higher barriers to self-sufficiency for immigrant and refugees, even with their own leaders helping them.
Naty’s clients, many of whom had long and difficult migrations, have witnessed horrors that range from war to rape to cannibalism. As a result, many suffer from a variety of disorders that might appear to be standard PTSD, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but have no real counterpart in standard, Western psychological texts.
“There are no equivalents of these mental illnesses in mainstream culture,” Lamug said. “Only symptoms, no translation.”
For Asian immigrants in particular, Lamug said mental illnesses can lead to ostracization, homelessness, and shame.
To help their clients acculturate, Lamug and her colleagues encourage them to tell their stories of pre and post-migration. ACRS’s case managers and psychologists are “culturally competent” to help their clients interpret these stories, Lamug said. Such story-telling can begin the healing process.
Holly Merrill, ESL and WorkFirst instructor at ReWa, also encourages her adult students to tell their stories. In Merrill’s first-level class, many immigrants and refugees are pre-literate and must learn to associate the written word with meaning, often while dealing with their own crises outside of the classroom.
At the second and third-level ESL classes at ReWa, activities are centered on acquiring the vocabulary of the workforce, learning practical vocabulary, including words for transportation and occupations. But in the beginning, it’s often more about gaining the courage to use English.
“I try to make them believe they have something to say,” Merrill said. “We talk about what it means to be a survivor. I try to make them see themselves as survivors.”
Perched on a stool in the front of class, Merrill leads her students through the alphabet. The students often cluster together by nationality and Nepalese and Somali is mixed with English. But within sometimes only a few months of classes, students in third level ESL are mixing with peers from other counties, sharing their hopes for employment and their children’s education.
Many of her students could tell their story of survival in their native language, but learning English becomes more than a tool for accessing social services. It’s also a way of telling others their story and building a community that will help them stabilize in housing.
Like Merrill, Lamug and her colleagues see the acculturation and English acquisition process as just that—a process. Though Lamug can recognize symptoms of trauma in her initial interactions with a client, much is hidden until they can learn to open up and share their story.
Lamug and her colleagues focus on what is positive and familiar in their clients’ lives—ACRS, for example, offers Eastern-based health practices such as meditation, cupping, tai chi and acupuncture.
When an immigrant’s primary concerns are to stay housed, fed and safe, it can be difficult to maintain ties to native cultures.
James at El Centro de La Raza said her clients’ Spanish literacy can atrophy as they learn English, acquire work and become American citizens. El Centro, like Consejo, offers a wide array of activities to strengthen and maintain Latino culture in Seattle.
For Pokhrel, simple matters—housing, food, and education – are his most pressing concerns.
Pokhrel recently found on-call, part-time employment with an industrial cleaning company. Though the public assistance that formerly paid for their rent has been cut, Pokhrel is confident that between his part-time work and his wife’s caregiving, they will continue to pay the rent. His family will continue to receive food stamps from DSHS until December.
Previously employed as a security guard and water management specialist in refugee camps in India and Nepal, Pokhrel is not intimidated by the physical labor.
“I can handle the work,” he said.
Though he is still looking for another job while attending English classes at ReWa, Pokhrel is less worried about the immediate future and can focus on the long-term. His two high-school age children are about to finish and hope to go to college.
“Before we were working to survive,” Pokhrel said, “Now I am working for my children’s education.”
InvestigateWest interns Emily Holt and Cassandra Little, both 2010 graduates of Seattle University, spent three months working on a project about family homelessness as part of Seattle University’s Journalism Fellowship on Family Homelessness. Seattle University received funding for the fellowship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. InvestigateWest reporter Carol Smith worked closely with Holt and Little as they developed sources. Smith, who has years of experience reporting on complex social issues, mentored the Seattle University fellows as they explored different aspects of homelessness. Their work took each of them into the field where they spent hours observing and interviewing subjects for their stories. The story above is a look at some of their work. Photo and caption material are from Refugee Women’s Alliance, not InvestigateWest.
This story originally appeared here at InvestigateWest.
The story of this election is the role of outside money. Undisclosed donations have provided millions of dollars for independent expenditures — much of it in television advertising — being run by trade associations and political non-profit groups.
But while the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision largely frees corporations to bankroll third-party ads out of their corporate treasuries, a significant percentage apparently have not done so, if an informal Center survey is any indication.
Many news articles have speculated on which corporations are bankrolling the deluge of independent advertisements jamming TV airwaves this cycle. But it seems like almost no one has bothered to actually ask them.
So we did.
The Center contacted the 50 largest companies in the 2010 Fortune 500 list.
When WikiLeaks released a trove of nearly 400,000 military field reports  from Iraq last week, much of the initial focus was on civilian deaths and the abuse of detainees in Iraqi custody.
The New York Times pulled out another part of the story —multiple accounts of questionable shootings by private military contractors. One incident report for a July 2009 shooting involving contractors noted, “It is assessed that this drunken group of individuals were out having a good time and firing their weapons.”
Given the big accountability questions that remain regarding the use of private contractors, we contacted David Isenberg, an independent analyst and author of the book “Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq .” Isenberg, who also blogs on private contractors for The Huffington Post , gave his take on what the WikiLeaks documents reveal, what the current situation with contractors is in both Iraq and Afghanistan and why he’s often irked by media coverage of the subject.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Maybe we should start by defining “military contractors.” Not all contractors are armed contractors, but do we know roughly what proportion of them are?
The shorthand is that private military firms or contractors refers to people who are doing any of a myriad of functions that military used to do, whether it’s working on water purification, or translators and interpreters; it could be setting up a forward operating base, it could be delivering petroleum.
Private security contractors are the guys with guns, they’re a subset of PMCs. Numerically, they’re a small subset, but they monopolize 90 percent of attention simply because somebody dies when they’re potentially doing what they’re supposed to do.
In a wax and wane, depending on what region and whether forces are increasing or decreasing, but generally, on any given day, PSCs make up somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of all the PMCs out there.
Some of what the WikiLeaks Iraq documents show is previously unreported incidents involving private military contractors. What do you make of these incidents?
I look at it from the perspective of someone who’s been studying this for a while. Over the course of years, much of what happened on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan never made it into reports from the media.
But if you had taken the time to look at the boards or e-mail lists devoted to private security contractors, you would’ve seen discussion of a lot of incidents and a fairly free acknowledgment that most of what happened never saw the light of media day. So in that sense what WikiLeaks reported is confirming what we knew.
What WikiLeaks reveals is that a lot of stuff — a lot depends on how you look at total number of incidents — where shots were fired and reports were subsequently filed and did not get released publicly for people in the media, or they didn’t bother paying attention to it. Some incidents simply happened and the State Department just chose not to report it.
And it’s fair to point out that a lot of the people in the industry weren’t eager to talk about it. The government wasn’t eager to talk. There was some deliberate avoidance.
What about accountability? It seems like in many of these cases, very little action was taken after the incidents.
Bear in mind that some of the incidents that WikiLeaks’ revelations are talking about occurred years ago, starting in 2004. What the oversight and accountability framework is now compared to then is totally different universes.
None of that is to say that things are peachy-keen and there won’t be any oversight and accountability issues in future. But compared to the way it was back in 2004, 2005, 2006, even 2007, it’s a lot different now.
The problem has always been, even back then, it was more an issue of political will rather than a lack of law. I’ve always maintained that when it suits [the State Department], it slaps down Blackwater and other security contractors, says their actions have been disgraceful, and then it tells them to shut up and not speak in public about what’s in their contract and what we’ve told you to do, which is get our people safe and do what you’ve got to do to do that. It’s hypocrisy. There’s a lot of blank space between what the State Department wants contractors to do and what it says about them in public.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said in August he would ban private security contractors  from operating in the country. How does this change the situation over there?
It’s a little bit more complex in Afghanistan because when you talk about PSCs there, you have a higher proportion which are Afghan PSCs, which have been set up by various Afghan people, some of whom are friends or relatives of Karzai or former warlords, but are still working on U.S. government contracts.
So that means that operationally, you’re probably having less quality control with your PSC workforce, because you’re having to take the word of the people who employ them, who have not been vetted by the U.S. government bureaucracy. So in terms of background checks or clearance, none of that is happening, and it presents quality control difficulties.
Don’t we already know that some of our contractors in Afghanistan had ties to the Taliban?
A recent report by the Senate Armed Services Committee was quite explicit on that point , yes. And you can also say the same thing with regard to a report released earlier in the year by [Rep. John] Tierney about the Host Nation Trucking contract .
Warlords who had set up companies to transport and provide security were helping the Taliban, if only to make payoff payments to them, which they had to do to get the convoy through. If that wasn’t an example of Joe Heller Catch-22 irony, nothing is. We were making payments to them [for safe passage] to transport equipment to fight them with.
Given the scale of reliance on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, do you have any sense that contractors are used politically, to say we’ve withdrawn or are scaling down our troops?
It’s not an attempt at deceit. It’s simply a realization that private contractors are so thoroughly intertwined with military forces that it has no other choice. PSCs are the Pentagon’s American Express card. It can’t go to war without them.
They’re long past the day of making a deliberate policy choice. Obama has tried to bring some things back in-house, and some of that has happened, but the government never said it was going to cut it all off because it can’t. That process is too far gone.
You’ve criticized what you consider to be sensational and misleading coverage of private military contractors. Can you give some examples of stuff that irks you?
That whole “private military and security contractors are thinly veiled mercenaries” is just wrong. There is a clear, global definition of what constitutes a mercenary in the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions . There are six points to that which must be cumulatively fulfilled… None of the people working as private security contractors are legally mercenaries.
That’s not to say they’re great guys. It’s just to say they’re not mercenaries. If you can’t understand that, it just says to me you’re unwilling to do dispassionate and objective reporting on the subject.
Just like on the pro-contractor side, the people who say these guys are just a bunch of patriots. I was in the service. Admittedly, I was in the Navy, not the Army, but no self-respecting contractor — if you had them talking off the record over a beer — they’re not going to say that. They understand it’s all about the money.
Private security contractors and the private military contractors doing logistics work are oftentimes doing fairly rough jobs in not-nice conditions, and some get highly paid, some don’t get paid very well at all. … I’d simply say some of them take advantage of the situation, but most are trying to do the best job they can in difficult circumstances. We don’t need to make them into heroes or vilify them unfairly either.
Contrary to earlier reports, the cholera outbreak in Haiti is not under control and is likely to spread into the capital Port-au-Prince, which probably means many more deaths and illness.
It is because of the earthquake, which in January devastated much of Haiti, that the world is paying attention to this outbreak.
But the cholera outbreak is not the result of the quake. Rather, the fecal bacteria V. cholerae took advantage of the quake. (more)
ALSO BY TOM PAULSON
We live in the era of the education test. Education reformers want to measure how kids are learning and how teachers are teaching. While data is great, what can be lost in this drive to measure every step in school is the importance of social and emotional development in learning.
This importance is increasingly backed up by research, a new report says.
Mastery of socio-emotional skills is linked with better performance in the classroom, while a lack of development can lead to academic problems, the report says.