Reports in Review

The Public Eye Magazine - Fall 2006

Report of the Month

No College for You

Resilient and Reaching for More: Challenges and Benefits of Higher Education for Welfare Participants and Their Children.
By Avis A. Jones-DeWeever and Barbara Gault, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, D.C., April 2006.

This report is particularly welcome since the Bush Administration is starting to force the few states still supporting college study for women on welfare to drop the program.

Resilient and Reaching for More provides moving evidence that higher education helps raise welfare recipients out of poverty. A joint report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and LIFETIME, a California welfare rights group that supports higher education for those receiving public assistance, it documents the strength and persistence of these "student/parents" in the face of huge odds.

Women who attend college and receive welfare benefits confront obstacle after obstacle, from bureaucratic hassles in both welfare and college administrator offices, lack of adequate child care, and the need to juggle schedules to carve out study time. Plus they are racing against the clock created by a five-year lifetime limit on assistance. One woman interviewed was actively discouraged by a caseworker from entering college using benefits; she didn’t know it was even possible until she joined LIFETIME.

Despite these impediments, the report demonstrates that women who obtain a degree have better job opportunities, earn more than their counterparts who are still in school, and are more successful at obtaining economic self sufficiency and increased self esteem. Sixty-eight percent said they had more financial resources, and 83 percent said they had better job opportunities. Ironically, officials are discouraging the very strategy -- promoting education -- that has proven the most successful in reducing welfare recipients’ reliance on government assistance.

-- Pam Chamberlain

Other Reports in Review

The Jungle, Cajun Style

Risk Amid Recovery: Occupational Health and Safety of Latino Immigrant Workers in the Aftermath of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes
By Tomás Aguilar with Laura Podolsky, UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, June 2006.

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration suspended its safety enforcement regulations in parts of four southern states to allow "faster and more flexible responses to hazards facing workers involved in the cleanup and recovery." The result: deadly health and safety hazards for those doing the massive cleanup and reconstruction. The most threatened are the largely undocumented Latino workers who are doing the fundamental demolition and clean up work.

Risk Amid Recovery presents the shocking working conditions of these day laborers through their own voices. Hired by contractors on behalf of the huge corporations that get the clean up contracts, they strip buildings saturated with mold and toxic mud without protective gear and clothing. This mold can trigger infections. They pay $300 a month to pitch tents in the city park, are spurned payment by bosses, and are harassed by police and employers. Employers often ignore hard-won health and safety regulations that are on the books; but in New Orleans these same regs are simply waived by the government.

The authors recommend educating the workers about their rights, providing necessary protective equipment, and establishing permanent workers rights centers as direct responses to the immediate problems. But they also demand that both the contractors hiring these workers and the government agencies overseeing the process be held accountable.

-- Pam Chamberlain

Not Just a Few Bad Cops

Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the United States
By Amnesty International USA, September 2005, New York. stonewalled/report.pdf

Amnesty International’s two-year investigation of police misconduct and abuse of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals concludes the problem is so severe that it constitutes abuse and torture. Government agencies should thus be held accountable under international agreements on human rights and the prohibition of torture, the organization says in its report Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the US.

It documents two major forms of misconduct: Hostile police single out LGBT individuals for abuse, and complacent police and other agencies ignore hate crimes targeting them. Police assault them, arrest them without grounds, and issue insults. This is true even in cities with LGBT police liaisons and officer sensitivity training.

Amnesty USA argues that anti-gay policing is the result not of isolated rogue police but of systemic homophobia in the culture. Stonewalled particularly highlights the criminalization and profiling of LGBT youth by the police, and documents that "within the LGBT community, transgender individuals, people from ethnic or racial minorities, young people, homeless people and sex workers are at most risk of police abuse and misconduct."

While necessary, working with police departments and civilian review boards is not sufficient. "The issue of police brutality cannot be tackled without addressing both the pervasive discrimination that LGBT face, and the social, economic, and cultural marginalization of many within the LGBT community."

-- Pam Chamberlain

The Campus Right

Turning the Tide: Challenging the Right on Campus: An analysis of the right wing and corporate influences in higher education
By Anuradha Mittal with Felicia Gustin, The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture/Speak Out (Emeryville, Calif.) and The Oakland Institute (Oakland, Calif.), May 2006.

Although student activism is traditionally a liberal landscape, this report documents the growing role of national conservative organizations in promoting campus action. They make major investments: in 2002-2003, Young America’s Foundation dedicated $10.4 million, Intercollegiate Studies Institute spent $6.9 million, and the Leadership Institute spent $6.2 million on campus activities. The total spent by all conservative groups in that year was $36.7 million.

These national groups help spread conservative ideas, including the claim that conservatives are oppressed. They provide speakers, funding for conservative publications, and outside leadership training, while also suggesting tactics like mobilizing alumni.

However, the report doesn’t analyze whether this collegiate conservative insurgence is a wave or a hiccup. Nor does the report include student perspectives or many examples of student-instigated action. This means they miss both key aspects of current student activism and possible recourse. For instance, nowhere do they consider how new technology, especially the internet, has shaped new conservative strategies, or its potential for supporting an effective response.

Instead, they propose creating large-scale national initiatives that mimic those of the conservative groups. Yet is this appropriate given their destructive use by the Right? Above all, the report sounds a call for a war on the Right to block their advance on campuses. Ironically, this approach, along with similar ones from the Right, may itself be creating a new trend: students who utterly reject partisanship outright and strive for a better world through cooperation and perseverance.

-- Sean Lewis-Faupel

The New Spymasters

The State of Surveillance: Government Monitoring of Political Activity in Northern and Central California
Mark Schlesinger, ACLU of Northern California, July 2006.

Since 9/11, this report shows, state and federal agencies have blurred the line between terrorism and dissent, and dropped protective regulations, while the federal government has invested millions in building up local and state surveillance structures. This has led to intensified surveillance on California activists, with governments infiltrating groups, criminalizing legal protest, videotaping, and otherwise monitoring peaceful organizations, particularly those in support of animal rights and against the war.

For instance, during a nonviolent demonstration, police assaulted Direct Action to Stop the War and the International Longshoreworkers Union in Oakland with wooden bullets, after the department had spied on them. Local police in Fresno placed an undercover operative at a student animal rights event.

A new State Terrorism Threat Assessment Center is a central state outpost, and according to the Los Angeles Times, monitored an animal rights rally protesting seal hunting and an anti-war demonstration in Walnut Creek addressed by a Congressman, among other events and groups. The FBI’s anti-terrorism database tracks anti-war groups including ones on the UC Santa Cruz and Berkeley campuses. After Sen. Diane Feinstein lodged a protest, the feds agreed the information was inappropriate.

Much of the information in the report came from news reports, some triggered by whistleblowers, while Freedom of Information requests seemed almost useless. The list of offenses goes on, as do the ACLU’s proposed solutions. Whether the state and federal governments will issue regulations and laws reigning themselves in -- a key demand -- seems unlikely.

-- Abby Scher

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