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Angered by increases in tuition and cuts in state financing, thousands of students, parents and faculty members protested across California on Thursday at colleges, universities and even elementary schools to plead for help with the state’s education crisis.


Called a “strike and day of action to defend public education” by organizers, the demonstrations were boisterous and occasionally confrontational — campus and building entrances were blocked at several schools — but they were largely peaceful for most of the day.
Late Thursday afternoon, however, more than 150 people were arrested after they stopped traffic along an interstate in Oakland, according to the California Highway Patrol. There was also one injury. Protesters in Davis, outside Sacramento, also tried to block an interstate but were rebuffed by the authorities using pepper spray. One student protester was arrested.
Scattered tuition protests occurred in other states, too, with at least 16 people arrested at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, when protesters tried to force their way into administration offices and threw ice chunks at campus officers, according to a university spokesman.
One of the largest demonstrations in California took place here on the north steps of the Capitol, where more than 1,000 people used drums, bullhorns, and scores of young voices to try to get their message across.


“How are we going to save the future if we can’t even get into our classes?” said Reid E. Milburn, the president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, referring to tuition increases and reductions in the number of courses. Her comments drew a large cheer from those in the crowd, many them students avoiding classes in a show of protest.
California’s public education system has been racked by spending cuts because of the state’s financial problems, which include a looming $20 billion budget deficit. Layoffs and furloughs have hit many districts and school systems, along with reductions in course offerings and grants.
On Wednesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican in his last year of office, said the layoffs and reductions in courses carried out by some schools in the state were “terrible.” The bottom line, he said, was that “they need much more money.”
Where that money might come from is unclear. Alberto Torrico, the Democratic majority leader in the State Assembly, has proposed a 12.5 percent tax on the state’s oil producers, which he says could raise $2 billion for higher education. But with any new tax in California requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature, its prospects are uncertain.
Educators said the 23-campus California State University system — which has more than 425,000 students and lower fees than the 10-campus University of California system — was being hit particularly hard by cutbacks.
Julie Chisholm, an assistant professor of writing at one Cal State institution, the California Maritime Academy, in Vallejo, was struggling with 1-year-old twins at the Sacramento protest. She said that her $60,000 salary had been cut 10 percent by furloughs, but that she had chosen to take her furloughs on nonteaching days to avoid inconveniencing her students.
“Our students are getting hit, too, with higher tuition,” she said.
In Santa Cruz, the surfing town south of San Francisco, protesters effectively shut down access to the University of California campus there by blocking entrances, according to a message posted on the university’s Web site. Protesters also broke at least one windshield and intimidated visitors, the message said.


Santa Cruz and several other University of California campuses were the sites of demonstrations last fall when the State Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase in undergraduate fees, the equivalent of tuition.
Several hundred students also protested at Bruin Plaza at the University of California, Los Angeles, where people in one group had painted skulls on their faces. And at the university’s Berkeley campus, Rafael Velazquez, 23, a graduate student in the school of education, who plans to be a public high school teacher, was one of hundreds protesting.
“I plan to be a teacher, but it’s not my job prospects I’m worried about,” said Mr. Velazquez, who has a brother in fifth grade in San Lorenzo. “It’s the whole system.”
The cuts are also being felt in economically depressed areas like Richmond, near San Francisco, where unemployment is 17.6 percent and violent crime and poverty are common.
“Kids come to school hungry; some are homeless,” said Mary Flanagan, 55, a third-grade teacher from Richmond. “How can we deal with problems like that with as many as 38, 40 kids in a class?”
Protesters said they would continue to press their case with more demonstrations, including what was expected to be a well-attended protest on Thursday evening in central San Francisco. But at San Francisco State, where about 150 students, faculty members and administrators had joined to form an “informational picket line,” some were skeptical that anything — other than a sudden influx of money — would be effective in swaying state leaders.
“We’ve had tons of protests here, and it doesn’t do much,” said Maura Geiszler, 22, a senior studying music. “All they’ve got to do is turn off the news.”
Reporting was contributed by Malia Wollan from Berkeley, Calif.; Jennifer Steinhauer and Rebecca Cathcart from Los Angeles; and Gerry Shih from San Francisco.


By JESSE McKINLEY-NYT (SACRAMENTO —March 4, 2010)

It has been three years since the Supreme Court’s conservative majority abruptly departed from precedent to uphold a federal ban on a particular method of abortion. Emboldened, foes of reproductive freedom are pressing new attacks on women’s rights and health.

In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has signed a bill that would criminalize certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. It was prompted by a sad and strange case last year in which a teenager who was seven months pregnant sought to induce a miscarriage by hiring a man to beat her. The measure exempts lawful abortions, and particularly worrisome language about “reckless” acts has been removed. But the law still raises concern about zealous prosecutors using a woman’s difficult choices to open an investigation.

In Oklahoma, the Center for Reproductive Rights succeeded last week in blocking a burdensome measure designed to discourage abortions by requiring preprocedure sonograms and exempting physicians from liability for failing to disclose fetal abnormalities. But the ruling turned on a technical flaw in the law, and its supporters are expected to try again.

An even more ominous assault on reproductive freedom is looming in Nebraska. A blatantly unconstitutional measure moving through the State Legislature would ban abortions at 20 weeks’ gestation — before viability and earlier than constitutionally allowed. Its narrow health exception excludes mental health. Indeed, the bill prohibits doctors from performing an abortion to avoid a serious risk that the woman may commit suicide.

The obvious goal here is to present the Supreme Court with a new vehicle for further watering down Roe v. Wade. That is troubling enough, but lately another tactic is being deployed to demonize abortion and abortion providers and further polarize the nation.

Citing the disproportionately high number of African-American women who undergo abortions, for example, abortion foes are hurling baseless charges of genocide and racial discrimination. Since last year, a staff member of Georgia Right to Life has been traveling to black churches and colleges, spreading the lie that abortion is the key to conspiracy to kill off blacks. Recently, the group posted dozens of billboards around Atlanta that proclaim, “Black children are an endangered species.”

In fact, of course, there is no conspiracy. The real reason so many black women have abortions can be explained in four words: too many unwanted pregnancies.
Even in this charged debate, phony accusations of genocide should be out of bounds, but political forces that oppose abortion are pursuing a focused, often successful campaign. Americans who support women’s reproductive rights need to make their voices heard.

Editorial-NYT (March 10, 2010)

It’s hardly a secret that taking cocaine can change the way you feel and the way you behave. Now, a study published in the Jan. 8 issue of Science shows how it also alters the way the genes in your brain operate. Understanding this process could eventually lead to new treatments for the 1.4 million Americans with cocaine problems, and millions more around the world.

The study, which was conducted on mice, is part of a hot new area of research called epigenetics, which explores how experiences and environmental exposures affect genes. “This is a major step in understanding the development of cocaine addiction and a first step toward generating ideas for how we might use epigenetic regulation to modulate the development of addiction,” says Peter Kalivas, professor of neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina, who was not associated with the study. 

Though we think about our genes mostly in terms of the traits we pass on to our children, they are actually very active in our lives every day, regulating how various cells in our bodies behave. In the brain this can be especially powerful. Any significant experience triggers changes in brain genes that produce proteins — those necessary to help memories form, for example. But, says the study’s lead author, Ian Maze, a doctoral student at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, “when you give an animal a single dose of cocaine, you start to have genes aberrantly turn on and off in a strange pattern that we are still trying to figure out.”
Maze’s research focused on a particular protein called G9a that is associated with cocaine-related changes in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region essential for the experience of desire, pleasure and drive. The role of the protein appears to be to shut down genes that shouldn’t be on. One-time use of cocaine increases levels of G9a. But repeated use works the other way, suppressing the protein and reducing its overall control of gene activation. Without enough G9a, those overactive genes cause brain cells to generate more dendritic spines, which are the parts of cells that make connections to other cells.
Increases in the number of these spines can reflect learning. But in the case of addiction, that may involve learning to connect a place or a person with the desire for more drugs. Maze showed that even after a week of abstinence, mice given a new dose of cocaine still had elevated levels of gene activation in the nucleus accumbens, meaning G9a levels were still low. It is not known how long these changes can last. Maze also showed that when he intervened and raised G9a levels, the mice were less attracted to cocaine.
It’s a big leap from a mouse study to a human study, of course — and an even bigger leap to consider developing a G9a-based treatment for addiction. The protein regulates so many genes that such a drug would almost certainly have unwanted and potentially deadly side effects. But a better understanding of the G9a pathways could lead to the development of safer, more specific drugs. And studying the genes that control G9a itself could also help screen people at risk for cocaine addiction: those with naturally lower levels of the protein would be the ones to watch. Still, there’s a lot to be learned even from further mouse studies — particularly if the work involves younger mice, unlike the adults used in Maze’s research. (See the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2009.)


“We know that the greatest vulnerability [to addiction] occurs when adolescents are exposed,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study. “Would you see the same results in adolescent [mice]? And what happens during fetal exposure?”
New treatments are definitely needed for cocaine addiction: there are helpful medications for addiction to heroin and similar drugs, but so far, none are particularly useful against stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. And with federal reports now showing that more than two-thirds of all cocaine in the country is cut with a veterinary deworming drug called levamisole, which can cause potentially fatal immune-system problems, the risks from cocaine are greater — and the search for new answers more urgent than ever.

 

* By Maia Szalavitz Friday, Jan. 08, 2010

Mr Ratzon declared: “I’m perfect … I have all the qualities a woman wants”
Residents of Tel Aviv’s quiet Hatikva neighbourhood were shocked yesterday to discover a self-styled Jewish sage living in their midst with a harem of 30 women kept as “slaves” in squalid apartments.
Goel Ratzon, 60, is accused of fathering 37 children since 1993 with his “wives” and daughters. Mr Ratzon, who was dubbed by the local media as “Israel’s Josef Fritzl”, is under arrest on suspicion of incest and sexual abuse.

“The evidence shows the suspect controlled his women with a firm hand, including their possessions and their money,” police said. Mr Ratzon even wrote a list of commandments to ensure that the women were kept in “conditions similar to slavery”, police said.
In addition to turning over all their wages, the women were forbidden from making telephone calls or talking to men other than Mr Ratzon. If they broke the rules they would pay a fine or receive physical punishment.

Mickey Rosenfeld, the Israeli police spokesman, said that Mr Ratzon convinced his victims that he had godlike status. “The women didn’t really understand what their situation was, they didn’t understand what freedom was,” Mr Rosenfeld said.
In one case, police raided a three-bedroom apartment where 10 women and 17 children were found living in “horrible conditions”.

The women wore conservative orthodox dresses covering their entire bodies and bore tattoos of their captor’s face — and name. He was married to 17 women but it was unclear how many others he had relations with, police said. All his offspring had names with a variation on his — Goel, which means redeemer in Hebrew.

Mr Ratzon’s family had been known to the Israeli public for some time. Last year he and several women appeared in a television documentary in which the women informed viewers that Mr Ratzon was the Messiah.

It showed the women brushing his hair and feeding him while they declared: “He is the Messiah everyone is talking about . . . The day he decides to reveal himself, the land will shake.”
Mr Ratzon made no claims of deity, but declared: “I’m perfect . . . I have all the qualities a woman wants.” When asked about the commandments, he said: “It’s like a state — I have to uphold my principles, order and laws.”

Neighbours gleaned some details about Mr Ratzon’s communes. One said that he had learnt hypnosis in India and used the technique to subjugate women. “We never heard them, they made no noise at all,” a neighbour told The Jerusalem Post. “The women made a living by cleaning homes, but they were not permitted to work for men.”

Another neighbour said: “Whenever I saw the kids, they were quiet. Sometimes I heard them crying.”
Police said that they delayed arresting Mr Ratzon despite evidence of abuse in the documentary, because they had reports that the women would attempt collective suicide.

Mr Ratzon made it clear in the documentary what the women should do if he was taken away. “When I die . . . you are to lead peaceful and constrained lives . . . but if the state harms me, go out and strike them as much as you can. Even at the cost of shedding your own blood,” he told one woman.
Police said that he preyed on young vulnerable women from broken families. If he was displeased they would harm themselves with razors or burn themselves.

All the women were registered as single mothers, making it impossible to prosecute them under Israeli polygamy laws, but a law passed recently against human trafficking allowed prosecutors to press enslavement charges against Mr Ratzon.
Several women had complained of mistreatment. Two of Mr Ratzon’s “wives” were being questioned on suspicion that they facilitated his crimes. The other women and children were put in the care of social services.

Mr Ratzon will be defended by a woman lawyer. “As far as he is concerned, no sexual crimes have been committed. The women consented willingly to relations,” Shlomtzion Gabai, the lawyer, said.
The Channel 10 documentary showed Mr Ratzon’s nightly ritual. “Do you want to come with me?” he asked one woman in her mid-20s. “Yes,” she said, smiling and hugging him. The other women appeared devastated.

Ratzon’s rules
1 No women shall marry nor shall any woman attack another, either verbally or physically.
Fine: 2,000 shekels (£330) into the family kitty
2 No woman shall question another about her whereabouts.
Fine: 100 shekels
3 No conversation is permitted in rooms other than the living room. It is forbidden to talk nonsense.
Fine: 200 shekels
4 No woman shall sit idle when there are dishes to be washed, cleaning to be done, children to look after etc.
Fine: 2,000 shekels
5 Any two women caught fighting will be punished equally.
Fine: 2,000 shekels
6 It is absolutely forbidden to question Ratzon on his whereabouts or intention.
Fine: 400 shekels
7 It is permissible to ask to accompany him; but refusal is to be accepted without appeal.
Fine: 300 shekels
8 No woman shall interrupt Ratzon or intervene in matters not concerning her.
Fine: 500 shekels
9 All orders are to be obeyed immediately.
Fine: 300 shekels
10 No woman shall work while a man of over 12 years of age is in the house.
Fine 3,000 shekels

 

* From The Times by Yossi Zeliger/EPA, January 15, 2010

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My mother had always feared domestic animals, but now as a plump neighborhood cat ran up our driveway, she gazed at the feline, and revealed that 70 years ago she had had a pet cat. Her 87-year-old eyes teared up. Her cat was white, she said, and so thin you could see its ribs.

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Still, she loved to cuddle it. It wasn’t a house cat – it couldn’t have been, because she was imprisoned at the time, in a forced-labor camp the Nazis set up in Poland, the country where my mother was born and raised. Back then she was as emaciated as the cat, but still she shared her food with it. It gave her comfort she said, and it was a way of fighting back, to help this animal that, like her, the Germans planned to let die.

The need for control can inspire great achievements, such as dams, medicines and chocolate soufflés, but it can also lead to sub-optimal behavior

The psychologist Bruno Bettelheim concluded that survival in Nazi concentration camps depended on “one’s ability to arrange to preserve some areas of independent action, to keep control of some important aspects of one’s life despite an environment that seemed overwhelming.”

Studies suggest that, even in normal conditions, to be happy, humans must feel in control. We are currently confronting economic hardship that, though a far cry from the horrors of World War II, has eroded the feeling of self-determination for many of us.

Eliminate control, and people experience depression, stress and the onset of disease. In a study of elderly nursing home patients[1] , one group was told they could decide how their room would be arranged, and could choose a plant to care for.

Another group had their rooms set up for them and a plant chosen and tended to for them. Eighteen months later 15 percent of the patients in the group given control had died, compared with 30 percent in the passive group.

The need for control can inspire great achievements, such as dams that prevent flooding, medicines to ease our lives, and perfectly confected chocolate soufflés. But it can also lead to sub-optimal behavior.

Though people generally view “control freaks” in a negative light, that need makes us all vulnerable to making bad decisions – especially when it comes to money. Studies show that people feel more confident they’ll win at dice if they toss the dice themselves than if others toss them [2], and that they are likely to bet more money if they make their wager before the dice are tossed than afterward (where the outcome has been concealed)[3].

They’ll value a lottery ticket more if they can choose it than if it is given to them at random[4].

And in a well-known 1975 study in which Yale University students were asked to predict the results of coin tosses, a significant number of presumably intelligent Yalies believed their performance could improve through practice, and would have been hampered if they’d been distracted.[5]

In each of these situations, the subjects knew that the enterprises in which they were engaged were unpredictable and beyond their control. When questioned, for example, none of the lottery players said they believed that being allowed to choose their card influenced their probability of winning. Yet on a deep, subconscious level they must have felt it did, because they behaved as if it did.

That people are prone toward feeling in control even when they are not probably endowed our species with an advantage at some point in our evolution. Even today, a false sense of control can be beneficial in promoting a sense of well-being, or allowing us to maintain hope that a bad situation can improved.

My mother’s illusion came to an end when, one day, her labor camp cat stopped coming. She never learned exactly what happened to it. Unfortunately, that became a template for nameless outcomes by which her sister, her father, and most of her friends disappeared.

Of her many illusions of youth that the Nazis snuffed out, the feeling that she could control her destiny was one of the most difficult to accept. But for my mother, and for all those who lived through similar experiences, surviving meant not only possessing a special toughness of body, but also of mind. She found a way to face the world without the illusion of control, of dealing with life as it comes, day to day, without expectation.

On a far different scale, we face losses today. To economists our plight is a “severe downturn,” but to me it feels like a roller coaster ride in which I discover, first, that I have no seat belt, and then, that the concession operator is Norman Bates. Given my jitters, it is a comfort to know that my mother survived a far worse experience and yet maintained the capacity to be happy when, for instance, her grandchildren hug her, or she discovers a tasty new sugar-free dessert. But more important is what I’ve learned from the fact that the current events don’t seem to bother her.


It’s not that my mother hasn’t lost money, or that she doesn’t need it. She isn’t bothered because her early experiences of utter powerlessness taught her to give herself up to what she calls fate. Understanding my own need for control – and exactly why I cannot have it – I now take comfort in letting go of the illusion, and accepting that despite all my efforts and planning some aspects of my future are beyond my sphere of influence. That realization has given me permission not to kick myself for the losses I have incurred. That can be a liberating thought in trying times like these, or any times at all.

* Text  By Leonard Mlodinow June 15, 2009
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For the curious reader, here are the studies referred to above:
[1] Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin (1977). Long-Term Effects of a Control-Relevant Intervention With the Instituitonalized Aged. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35, 12, 897-902)
[2] Dunn, D. S., & Wilson, T. D. (1990). When the stakes are high: A limit to the illusion of control effect. Social Cognition, 8, 305–323
[3] L.H. Strickland, R.J. Lewicki, and A.M. Katz (1966). Temporal orientation and perceived control as determinants of risk-taking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2, 143-151.
[4]Ellen J. Langer (1975),The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32, 2, 311-328.
[5] Langer, E. J. & Roth, J. (1975). Heads I win, tails it’s chance: The illusion of control as a function of the sequence of outcomes in a purely chance task. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34, 191-198

Leonard Mlodinow teaches randomness to future experimenters at Caltech. His books include “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives” and “Euclid’s Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace.”

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The murder of Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death as he stood in the foyer of his church in Wichita, Kan., on Sunday morning, was a reprehensible act of domestic terrorism directed toward the dwindling cadre of physicians who risk their safety to perform legal medical procedures.

Dr. Tiller’s death, the fourth killing of an American abortion provider since 1993, was the first since 1998 when a sniper gunned down Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home in the Buffalo area. For Dr. Tiller, and physicians like him, the threatening protests and incidents of violence and harassment never really stopped.
For his principled devotion to women’s health and constitutionally protected rights, Dr. Tiller was the target of protests at his clinic, his house and his church. In 1986, his clinic was bombed, and, in 1993, an abortion opponent shot him in both arms. He was forced to fend off trumped up legal challenges aimed at shutting down his operations. Last month, vandals attacked his clinic. Nevertheless, he somehow persevered in a state that is one of the battlegrounds in the fight to restrict abortion.
Responding to Dr. Tiller’s slaying, President Obama expressed shock and outrage and said that profound differences over issues like abortion “cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.” Mr. Obama recently called for Americans to find common ground on reducing the need for abortions. In that spirit, abortion opponents should refrain from the “baby killer” rhetoric that inflames an already heated debate.
Attorney General Eric Holder says the United States Marshal Service will begin protecting certain abortion clinics and doctors. Mr. Holder should consider taking the additional step of revitalizing the National Task Force on Violence against Health Care Providers that former Attorney General Janet Reno established during the Clinton years. There must be a sustained focus by federal and state officials to prevent further acts of violence and intimidation. If it turns out that additional laws are needed, Congress should take action.


Over time, the combination of anti-choice restrictions and ongoing harassment by protest groups even short of violence have served to make abortions harder and harder to obtain. That trend must be stopped.


* EDITORIAL New York Times (NYT), June 2, 2009

THERE is no abuse of government power more egregious than executing an innocent man. But that is exactly what may happen if the United States Supreme Court fails to intervene on behalf of Troy Davis.

Mr. Davis is facing execution for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah, Ga., even though seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony against him. Many of these witnesses now say they were pressured into testifying falsely against him by police officers who were understandably eager to convict someone for killing a comrade. No court has ever heard the evidence of Mr. Davis’s innocence.


After the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit barred Mr. Davis from raising his claims of innocence, his attorneys last month petitioned the Supreme Court for an original writ of habeas corpus. This would be an extraordinary procedure — provided for by the Constitution but granted only a handful of times since 1900. However, absent this, Mr. Davis faces an extraordinary and obviously final injustice.

This threat of injustice has come about because the lower courts have misread the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, a law I helped write when I was in Congress. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, I wanted to stop the unfounded and abusive delays in capital cases that tend to undermine our criminal justice system.

With the effective death penalty act, Congress limited the number of habeas corpus petitions that a defendant could file, and set a time after which those petitions could no longer be filed. But nothing in the statute should have left the courts with the impression that they were barred from hearing claims of actual innocence like Troy Davis’s.

It would seem in everyone’s interest to find out as best we can what really happened that night 20 years ago in a dim parking lot where Officer Mark MacPhail was shot dead. With no murder weapon, surveillance videotape or DNA evidence left behind, the jury that judged Mr. Davis had to weigh the conflicting testimony of several eyewitnesses to sift out the gunman from the onlookers who had nothing to do with the heinous crime.

A litany of affidavits from prosecution witnesses now tell of an investigation that was focused not on scrutinizing all suspects, but on building a case against Mr. Davis. One witness, for instance, has said she testified against Mr. Davis because she was on parole and was afraid the police would send her back to prison if she did not cooperate.

So far, the federal courts have said it is enough that the state courts reviewed the affidavits of the witnesses who recanted their testimony. This reasoning is misplaced in a capital case. Reading an affidavit is a far cry from seeing a witness testify in open court.
Because Mr. Davis’s claim of innocence has never been heard in a court, the Supreme Court should remand his case to a federal district court and order an evidentiary hearing. (I was among those who signed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Davis.) Only a hearing where witnesses are subject to cross-examination will put this case to rest.

 


Although the Supreme Court issued a stay of execution last fall, the court declined to review the case itself, and its intervention still has not provided an opportunity for Mr. Davis to have a hearing on new evidence. This has become a matter of no small urgency: Georgia could set an execution date at any time.

I am a firm believer in the death penalty, but I am an equally firm believer in the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution. To execute Troy Davis without having a court hear the evidence of his innocence would be unconscionable and unconstitutional.
By BOB BARR, NYT, June 1, 2009

Bob Barr served in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990.

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder.

Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.
There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:
“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”
The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.
The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.
“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”


Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.
“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

By BOB HERBERT, NYT, May 30, 2009

Photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse which U.S. President Barack Obama does not want released include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Thursday.

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The images are among photographs included in a 2004 report into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison conducted by U.S. Major General Antonio Taguba.

Taguba included allegations of rape and sexual abuse in his report, and on Wednesday he confirmed to the Daily Telegraph that images supporting those allegations were also in the file.

“These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency,” Taguba, who retired in January 2007, was quoted as saying in the paper.

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He said he supported Obama’s decision not to release them, even though Obama had previously pledged to disclose all images relating to abuses at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one,” Taguba said. “The sequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere depiction of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

The newspaper said at least one picture showed an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Others are said to depict sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

The photographs relate to 400 alleged cases of abuse carried out at Abu Ghraib and six other prisons between 2001 and 2005.


LONDON, (Reuters) –
May 27, 2009
(Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Jasmine Caldwell was 14 and selling sex on the streets when an opportunity arose to escape her pimp: an undercover policeman picked her up.
The cop could have rescued her from the pimp, who ran a string of 13 girls and took every cent they earned. If the cop had taken Jasmine to a shelter, she could have resumed her education and tried to put her life back in order.

ATT00062
Instead, the policeman showed her his handcuffs and threatened to send her to prison. Terrified, she cried and pleaded not to be jailed. Then, she said, he offered to release her in exchange for sex.
Afterward, the policeman returned her to the street. Then her pimp beat her up for failing to collect any money.
“That happens a lot,” said Jasmine, who is now 21. “The cops sometimes just want to blackmail you into having sex.”
I’ve often reported on sex trafficking in other countries, and that has made me curious about the situation here in the United States. Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed). But the scene on American streets is still appalling — and it continues largely because neither the authorities nor society as a whole show much interest in 14-year-old girls pimped on the streets.
Americans tend to think of forced prostitution as the plight of Mexican or Asian women trafficked into the United States and locked up in brothels. Such trafficking is indeed a problem, but the far greater scandal and the worst violence involves American teenage girls.
If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.
These domestic girls are often runaways or those called “throwaways” by social workers: teenagers who fight with their parents and are then kicked out of the home. These girls tend to be much younger than the women trafficked from abroad and, as best I can tell, are more likely to be controlled by force.
Pimps are not the business partners they purport to be. They typically take every penny the girls earn. They work the girls seven nights a week. They sometimes tattoo their girls the way ranchers brand their cattle, and they back up their business model with fists and threats.
“If you don’t earn enough money, you get beat,” said Jasmine, an African-American who has turned her life around with the help of Covenant House, an organization that works with children on the street. “If you say something you’re not supposed to, you get beat. If you stay too long with a customer, you get beat. And if you try to leave the pimp, you get beat.”
The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.
It’s not solely violence that keeps the girls working for their pimps. Jasmine fled an abusive home at age 13, and she said she — like most girls — stayed with the pimp mostly because of his emotional manipulation. “I thought he loved me, so I wanted to be around him,” she said.
That’s common. Girls who are starved of self-esteem finally meet a man who showers them with gifts, drugs and dollops of affection. That, and a lack of alternatives, keeps them working for him — and if that isn’t enough, he shoves a gun in the girl’s mouth and threatens to kill her.
Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.
“The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews,” notes Stephanie Davis, who has worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin to help coordinate a campaign to get teenage prostitutes off the streets.
Two amiable teenage prostitutes, working without a pimp for the “fast money,” told me that there will always be women and girls selling sex voluntarily. They’re probably right. But we can significantly reduce the number of 14-year-old girls who are terrorized by pimps and raped by many men seven nights a week. That’s doable, if it’s a national priority, if we’re willing to create the equivalent of a nationwide amber alert.
 

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (NYT;May 7, 2009)

******************************************************************

Some comments  from  Editors’ Selections NYTimes, than  aim to highlight the most interesting and thoughtful comments that represent a range of views.

Prostitucion

I live in New Zealand where prostitution is legal. This has helped sex workers in many ways although problems remain. It’s legalization hasn’t started NZ down any sort of moral slippery slope and in fact (as an American expat) I find my new homeland to be a much more moral place than the US (although again certainly not perfect).
— David, Rotorua, New Zealand

How come no one ever writes about young teenage boys ‘on the street’?…..it’s just as much a problem in the the USA, as it is in Thailand, or other exotic sex tourism locations that do get written about.
— Tim Hughes, Amesbury,England,UK

 

Many state have laws allowing newborns to be abandoned at hospitals to prevent them from being discarded into dumpsters. These children are placed in protective custody by the state. How about making similar laws to protect girls who are in forced prostitution? They would just need to show up at any emergency room to escape their abuse. I have never heard of any state allowing children 13 yrs old to consent to sex. The pimps, johns and corrupt police officers need to be prosecuted as high-level sex offenders. It is immoral to not offer strong protection and care to these children.
— Minta Keyes, Tucson, AZ


My parents through me out of the house after failing freshman year of college 43 years ago- a teen as an adult I had no idea what to do. Raped, pregnant they wouldn’t let me back. But as others say – the goverment can help but also the biggest help is good people – not just nonprofit charities – just people – friends to drive you to the hospital, a man who hires and trains you for a small job, neighbors to babysit…allows you to move on to a better life. So now I try to help others since I got into a good life – after many years.
— Karenna, Witherbee, NE

 

Nice sentiment, but don’t the thousands of men who USE prostitutes also share some blame? Would you hang out and play poker with a guy who cheats at cards? Why is it so easy to hang out with guys who use teenage girls for sex? Only men can change this horrific cultural phenomena by ostracizing men who think a few moments or evening with a prostitute is acceptable entertainment. Why don’t you write that column Mr. Kristoff? Are you willing to point out that the customer is a MAJOR abuser too? If men recognized that paying for sex is a morally depraved act and called each other on it, the pimps, cops, social workers, etc. would be out of a job.
— Sandy McIntire, Mount Hope, WV

In 2003 I went to Atlanta representing the Department of Justice to a meeting about the problem of juvenile prostitution. In a room were school officials, the police, child welfare representatives, a judge from the juvenile court and several other people from other agencies. All of these agencies could not figure out why children “disappeared” from the system. The schools could not track dropouts, the police laughed at the 15 year old on the street with her pimp leering over the door of the car, the child welfare people whined about the case loads and the judge passed stern judgement on the children who came before her court while the child welfare agency released the children into the tendure care of their pimps. I pointed out repeatedly to OJJDP and the people that the view was agency centered rather than child centered. I also pointed out that many european countries are now bar coding children to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. No, their systems are not perfect but they sure seem superior to the period “crises” which we seem very adept and rediscovering. See Every Child Matters in the United Kingdom. Last year we discovered 4 children who had been murdered in Washington DC and discovered in a freezer. That was the ultimate example of children falling through the cracks. We can track stolen cars but not missing children in those cracks.

 

Michael Wiatrowski, Ph.D.
Woodbridge, Virginia

 

 

Thank you for showing that forced child sex slavery happens not just across the globe but also across the street.

You wrote: “Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed).”

Sadly, prostitution here IS as brutal. In this country–in my own state and in yours–young girls ARE routinely kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured by brothel owners. And yes occasionally even killed. These are US citizens as well as internationals. This brutal treatment is not an exception or occasional rare case, but a regular part of child prostitution in the US. How else would the brothel owners control them?

My anti-trafficking work has taken me to 40+ countries including many of the ones you mentioned. My organization is a member of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and sadly we see the same brutal treatment that happens in other countries happening right in our backyard.

Thank you again for continuing to shine light on the darkness of child sex slavery. We appreciate your work very much.

Diana Scimone
President
Born to Fly International, Inc.
Stopping child sex trafficking…setting kids free to soar
http://www.born2fly.org
http://www.dianascimone.com
— Diana Scimone, Orlando, FL

In trying to figure out how we can defeat sex trafficking, a starting point is to think like a brothel owner.
My guide to that has been Sok Khorn, an amiable middle-aged woman who is a longtime brothel owner here in the wild Cambodian town of Poipet. I met her five years ago when she sold me a teenager, Srey Mom, for $203 and then blithely wrote me a receipt confirming that the girl was now my property. At another brothel nearby, I purchased another imprisoned teenager for $150.

brothellarge

Astonished that in the 21st century I had bought two human beings, I took them back to their villages and worked with a local aid group to help them start small businesses. I’ve remained close to them over the years, but the results were mixed.
The second girl did wonderfully, learning hairdressing and marrying a terrific man. But Srey Mom, it turned out, was addicted to methamphetamine and fled back to the brothel world to feed her craving.
I just returned again to Ms. Khorn’s brothel to interview her, and found something remarkable. It had gone broke and closed, like many of the brothels in Poipet. One lesson is that the business model is more vulnerable than it looks. There are ways we can make enslaving girls more risky and less profitable, so that traffickers give up in disgust.
For years, Ms. Khorn had been grumbling to me about the brothel — the low margins, the seven-day schedule, difficult customers, grasping policemen and scorn from the community. There was also a personal toll, for her husband had sex with the girls, infuriating her, and the couple eventually divorced bitterly. Ms. Khorn was also troubled that her youngest daughter, now 13, was growing up surrounded by drunken, leering men.
Then in the last year, the brothel business became even more challenging amid rising pressure from aid groups, journalists and the United States State Department’s trafficking office. The office issued reports shaming Cambodian leaders and threatened sanctions if they did nothing.

girlslarge

Many of the brothels are owned by the police, which complicates matters, but eventually authorities in Cambodia were pressured enough that they ordered a partial crackdown.
“They didn’t tell me to close down exactly,” said another Poipet brothel owner whom I’ve also interviewed periodically. “But they said I should keep the front door closed.”
About half the brothels in Poipet seem to have gone out of business in the last couple of years. After Ms. Khorn’s brothel closed, her daughter-in-law took four of the prostitutes to staff a new brothel, but it’s doing poorly and she is thinking of starting a rice shop instead. “A store would be more profitable,” grumbled the daughter-in-law, Sav Channa.
“The police come almost every day, asking for $5,” she said. “Any time a policeman gets drunk, he comes and asks for money. … Sometimes I just close up and pretend that this isn’t a brothel. I say that we’re all sisters.”
Ms. Channa, who does not seem to be imprisoning anyone against her will, readily acknowledged that some other brothels in Poipet torture girls, enslave them and occasionally beat them to death. She complained that their cruelty gives them a competitive advantage.
But brutality has its own drawbacks as a business model, particularly during a crackdown, pimps say. Brothels that imprison and torture girls have to pay for 24-hour guards, and they lose business because they can’t allow customers to take girls out to hotel rooms. Moreover, the Cambodian government has begun prosecuting the most abusive traffickers.
“One brothel owner here was actually arrested,” complained another owner in Poipet, indignantly. “After that, I was so scared, I closed the brothel for a while.”
To be sure, a new brothel district has opened up on the edge of Poipet — in the guise of “karaoke lounges” employing teenage girls. One of the Mama-sans there offered that while she didn’t have a young virgin girl in stock, she could get me one.
Virgin sales are the profit center for many brothels in Asia (partly because they stitch girls up and resell them as virgins several times over), and thus these sales are their economic vulnerability as well. If we want to undermine sex trafficking, the best way is to pressure governments like Cambodia’s to organize sting operations and arrest both buyers and sellers of virgin girls. Cambodia has shown it is willing to take at least some action, and that is one that would strike at the heart of the business model.
Sexual slavery is like any other business: raise the operating costs, create a risk of jail, and the human traffickers will quite sensibly shift to some other trade. If the Obama administration treats 21st-century slavery as a top priority, we can push many of the traffickers to quit in disgust and switch to stealing motorcycles instead.

* By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (NYT, January 11, 2009)

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