Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people, for this opens a window projecting how that society operates generally.

Adultism, as defined by John Bell includes “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.” Within an adultist society, adults construct the rules, with little or no input from youth, which they force young people to follow.

Even the terminology our society employs to refer to youth betrays a hierarchical power dynamic. For example, we refer to young people as “kids,” a term originally applying to young goats. By referring to youth as farm animals provides adults cover in controlling and maintaining unlimited power over human beings. (We must treat and respect animals more than we do as well.) Even the term “child” implies an imbalance of power. When people refer to an individual of any age as “the child of,” we automatically place that individual in a diminutive form.

Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization), and to sustain the life of the individual.

We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and enters into the realm of domination, control, and oppression).

Reading and watching The Hunger Games series of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins released in 2008 and recently made into a sequence of movies, I was quite fascinated by what I interpreted as a commentary on our oppressive (surplus-repressive) society. The author presents the story through the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, which takes place in Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the former countries of North America once existed. The Capitol (as it is named), a technologically advanced metropolis, exerts total political control over the entire nation. The Hunger Games denotes an annual event in which one young woman and one young man aged 12-18 from each of the twelve districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised brutal and deadly battle. Of the 24 “contestants,” only one will survive, though in the initial installment of the series, two contestants contest this rule, and they begin to forge a crack in the wall of domination.

One of the primary ways oppression in any and all of its varieties operates is when the dominant group, in this case adults, pit members of minoritized groups, in this case youth, against one another through competition for gold stars and grades, for supposedly scarce resources, for attention, love, and affection, for financial and career success, and, in the metaphor of The Hunger Games, for life itself.

In terms of education, however, philosopher and author Alfie Kohn calls for a radical rethinking of the competitive structure on which our educational system is based, away from what he calls the “I win, therefore, you lose” viewpoint. Kohn refers to competition as a “disease,” an “addiction,” a “poison” on which we are raised, something trained and not born into us. He argues that students and workers can enjoy, learn, and produce more with other people rather than against them, and he advocates for cooperative education.

In addition, those of any age who bully often do so, though sometimes unconsciously, to reinforce dominant group scripts established and forced onto minoritized individuals and groups to memorize when they enter the stage called “life.” When youth bully other youth, very often those who bully “pass down” the bullying they receive from others, often from adults. Youth killing other youth, as depicted in The Hunger Games, epitomizes the most extreme form of bullying.

Teräshjo and Salmivalli argue that those who bully fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing social norms. They found that students often justify bullying behaviors by blaming the targets of their attacks, and emphasizing that they somehow deserve the peer aggression or that they in some ways deviate from the established social norms. This I contend is a form of ruthless socialization.

Social rank theory, as used by Hawker and Boulton, proposes that aggressive individuals actually hold a higher rank, power, or status within a social group. Therefore, aggressive behavior, and bullying in particular, may provide those who engage in aggressive behaviors a sense of belonging. Hawker and Boulton contend that peer victimization serves a number of functions. First, it establishes and maintains a social hierarchy within a given group (an “in-group”), and second, it maintains distinctions between members of the in-group, from members of other groups (“out-groups”).

Adultism also operates as a continuum from subtle to extreme, from adults ignoring or neglecting young people, to statements like “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re too young to do that,” and “Just grow up,” to “You’re stupid,” and “You’re ugly,” to “When you are living in my house, you follow my rules,” to circumscribed or qualified love, to corporal punishment, and eviction by family from one’s home, to sexual and other violent assaultive acts, to murder. As a society, we deprive youth of their basic civil and human rights only somewhat less than we deprive these rights from convicted prison inmates.

What if, however, youth joined together to defeat adultist oppression – the surplus repression establishing and maintaining adult privilege and control over youth? More generally, what if all minoritized groups joined together to challenge dominant group privilege and oppression in all its forms?

In actually, youth and other groups of our vast society are, indeed, standing up, speaking out, and joining in coalition to contest the barriers built throughout time and space. This is true in The Hunger Games as it is outside of science fiction tropes.

As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the downfall of the once virtually impenetrable Berlin Wall, we must join together to take down the “freedom” of people to deprive other people of their freedoms. In other words, we need to dismantle the walls constructed by individuals, institutions, and societies that stand only for the purpose of maintaining power and control over others.

We can begin by considering our real motives next time we attempt to restrict or punish a young person.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on  Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

“Go f-ck yourself,” Jon Stewart said in a moment of perceptible anger.

This wasn’t the usual, lighthearted barb during a satirical segment, nor a playful expression of ire diluted by audience laughter. It was sincere and seemingly raw, uttered during an interview with Jon Dekel and directed toward those Jews who have called him anti-Semitic, self-hating, or a kapo for critiquing Israel on The Daily Show.

The verbal barb didn’t come out of left field during Dekel’s interview, conducted in advance of the release of Stewart’s movie, Rosewater. It came near the end of a series of focused questions posed to Stewart on the topic of attacks he’s withstood from the American Jewish community. Attacks he’s suffered for treating Israel honestly on his show, for having the temerity to highlight its misdeeds.

They are the same attacks I have felt repeatedly, both for my own critiques of Israel and for my reconciliation with a Palestinian family after an encounter with terrorism. They are the same attacks an increasing number of committed Jews are feeling – Jews invested in Israel who are willing to speak out about Israel’s misdeeds. Of course, anyone who critiques Israel these days is subject to such attacks, from Steven Salaita to Conflict Kitchen.

However, as a Jew, Stewart passionately focused on those attacks which have been made against him by fellow Jews. In doing so, he crafted a rebuttal so on-point that I felt as though he were speaking not just for me, but for the countless other Jews who have critiqued Israel and paid a price for doing so.

Responding to the idea that ‘pro-Israel’ Jewish institutions and hawkish Jews now gauge one’s Jewishness by a political metric – a willingness to fervently back Israel’s government – Stewart first offered a measured insight:

It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are … You can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

Stewart’s analysis is spot on. As I’ve written in the past, the conflation of Israel with all Jews, itself an anti-Semitic trope, has become a staple for ‘pro-Israel’ discourse. Israel is viewed as the ‘Jew’ amongst the nations by such people, which means that anyone who critiques or condemns Israel’s actions are, by definition, attacking the Jewish people. Within the Jewish community, that means anyone – even someone like myself, a Jewish educator and author – can not only be smeared as anti-Semitic, but castigated as a Jew worthy of being exiled from the community.

On this topic I get pretty emotional sometimes. Stewart eventually did as well when Dekel confronted him with the idea that he’s not only less Jewish because of his critiques of Israel, but an outright enemy of the Jewish people. Witness Stewart’s emotions crescendo as he opens up:

How are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that [other Jews] can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

I always want to say to people when they come at me like [I'm an enemy]: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

How dare they, indeed.

Such people who are otherwise often rational individuals, sometimes even deeply liberal or progressive, become deeply hateful and irrational when it comes to Israel. And it’s an irrationality borne out of fear. Fear developed by a history of trauma. Fear borne in the Holocaust’s wake. Fear for the existential survival of Israel – the metaphorical lifeline for some American and diaspora Jews who constantly wait for the rug to be pulled from underneath them.

On this point, Stewart had his most poignant thought:

I think [their irrationality] comes from abuse. The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.

This is precisely why I challenge Israel’s occupation, its settlement expansions, and those Jewish organizations which stand idly and silently by as the country devolves into a one-state entity.

I refuse to stand silently by as the once-oppressed, my people, become oppressors.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Brittany M. Powell, originally published in The Bold Italic

In 2012, after struggling with a significant loss of income from my photography business following the 2008 economic decline, my debt skyrocketed, and I made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy. This inspired my interest in investigating how debt affects our identities and how we relate to the world. Debt is publicly enforced and highly stigmatized but is almost always privately experienced. It is in many ways an abstract form without material weight or structure, yet it has a heavy physicality and is a burden in a person's everyday life.

The Debt Project is a photographic and multimedia exploration into the role that debt plays in our personal identities and social structures. I began the projectby asking subjects to sit for a formal portrait in their homes, surrounded by their belongings, in a way that's reminiscent of the early Flemish portrait-painting tradition, and answer a series of questions on camera about their debt. I also asked them to handwrite the amount of debt they are in and tell the story behind it.

So far, I have shot thirty-two people in the Bay Area, New York City, Portland, and the Detroit metro areas.My goal is to photograph ninety-nine people across the US in order to bring people together to talk about and recontextualize an abstract, often shamed condition. It is my hope that by having a platform to discuss this issue, it will encourage the viewer and participants to question and reframe our perceptions of debt and how we contribute to its power and role in society today. Below is a compilation of the Bay Area participants and their stories.

I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund completion costs of the project. Please feel free to donate if you like the project.Or if you are interested in participating in this project, please contact me at Brittany@brittanympowell.com

To see more of Brittany M. Powell's photos, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

Subscribe to Tikkun's special Winter 2015 issue on Jubilee and Debt Abolition here.

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on  Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Eli Zaretsky

This election is a call to progressives to strengthen their own identity, as separate from the identity of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The worst outcome of the debacle of the Obama presidency is that it will be used to discredit the Left. In fact, the only way the country can begin to move from the terrible course it is now on is if progressives develop an independent voice, free from both Obama and the Clintons. The beginning of a path toward an independent Left is to remind ourselves why we supported Obama in 2008 and to face the fact that his disappointing performance since then is his responsibility, not ours.

Few things are more telling about the vacuity of the American public sphere today than the liberal mantra that leftists and progressives were naïve to get their hopes up in 2008. On the contrary our realization that the country was moving in a very bad direction and needed a radical turn in a new direction led to the enthusiasm for Obama and the initial hopes for his presidency. We have to look into the hopes we felt at that moment and own them as part of our identity. Three aspects of 2008 are particularly important.

First, we were right to look to the presidency, though obviously we vastly overestimated Obama as a person. The American presidency is a unique institution, which has evolved precisely to meet the kinds of crises that 2008 represented. To see this, we have to see how conservative the American Constitution is. The Supreme Court was devised to protect property rights, especially after John Marshall's reign. The Court has always been a force for extreme conservatism, with the exception of the Warren Court, which was essentially the product of the New Deal. The second branch of government, Congress, has also always been as we see it today: a "club of millionaires," special interests, narrow thinkers, opportunists, businessmen, sharpies, confidence men, and lawyers. By contrast, from Jefferson on, the presidency evolved into a special kind of democratic institution, one that gave the country the opportunity to bet on an individual periodically - to say, in effect, lead us somewhere new. It was for this reason that Hannah Arendt could offer the US as a real alternative to the European revolutionary tradition; in a sense it contained the possibility of permanent revolution. Sometimes the institution lent itself to right wing populism, as with Andrew Jackson, but mostly the great presidents were forces for progress. Obama failed, but that does not mean that we were wrong to hope that a first-rate individual would fill the office. This brings me to my second point, the role of the Left in American history.

The American radical tradition is one of the glories of the world. In its diversity and breadth,it includes abolitionism, trade unionism, socialist feminism, gay radicals and, of course, the African-American freedom struggle. It is one reason that Leftists, facing the disasters of the twentieth century, can persist. The American Left will always be a minority, but a very special one, one that comes to the fore in moments of crisis and helps define the long-term meaning of structural reforms, like health care and financial reform. It was the current incarnation of the American Left - the antiwar Left of the Democratic Party - that gave the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, and it did so because Hillary Clinton continued to defend her support for the Iraq intervention. We did that not only (though partly) for the symbolic value of electing the first Black President, but also because Obama (or at least Axelrod) explained that the problems did not start with Bush; they started with Clinton and Reagan and that we need not just a new policy but a new mindset. Obama's failure to honor the words with which he defeated Hillary Clinton is the basic cause of his failed Presidency.

Finally, we were right to turn to the African-American freedom struggle in our search for a usable past and present. Since this is a country founded for centuries on slavery, a country for which the term genocide can be considered (the slave population having gone from eleven million to six million in the course of a colonial century), for such reasons African-Americans have played a unique role in American politics. While the African-American community has produced many conservative figures, Booker T. Washington most preeminently, every African-American politician that achieved national leadership, in the sense of having followers and supporters from both races, has been on the Left. I am thinking of people like Frederick Douglass, WEB Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. When Obama ran in 2008 he signaled that his candidacy should be looked at in this context by the very shrewd tactic of describing his background as that of "community organizer," instead of what he really was:a Harvard lawyer and second-level Chicago politician. Community organizer is a buzzword for the collective unconscious, one that took us back to the Sixties, and even the Thirties. Obama's failure to keep faith with this tradition does not mean that we were wrong to look to it.

These points need to be kept in our minds as we move forward into a new presidential election. To be sure, no one will make the same mistake about Hillary Clinton that we made about Obama. She is running far to the right, and anyone can see that. But the hopes that inspired us in 2008 should still guide us. We need to be far more tempered in our hopes for what the presidency can accomplish, but more importantly we have to see that the country needs a Left more than ever.

Eli Zaretsky is the author of Why America Needs a Left

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

The fatal police shooting of a 22-year-old minority last night, this time caught on video, has once again brought angry community members into the streets to protest in dramatic fashion. This time, however, it’s not the streets of St. Louis which are burning, but those in the Arab village of Kfar Kanna near Nazareth in Israel, where Jesus turned water into wine in the Gospels. Today the streets are running red with blood and rage.

On Friday night, Israeli police entered the village to arrest someone involved in a family dispute. After the arrest, an angry family member, Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan, emerged from a house and began hitting a police van with a small metal object, which residents claim was a bar and police claim was a knife. Soon after, al-Hamdan was dead, shot several times in the back by police.

Law enforcement claimed afterward that their lives were in danger, and that they fired warning shots before shooting the Arab youth. However, CCTV video footage shows none of these claims to be true. Instead, officers broke protocol by by emerging from the van, their lives not in danger, and immediately shooting al-Hamdan, who was backing away and fleeing when he was shot in the back several times. Officers then drug al-Hamdan’s body to the police van rather than calling for medical personnel to treat the victim at the scene.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets and clashed with police after video surfaced of the killing of a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli citizen in Kfar Kanna.

As a result of the shooting and the video footage which has emerged, approximately 100 Israeli-Arab residents of the Galilee region have taken to the streets, clashing with law enforcement outside a local police station and blocking roads. The killing, and resulting unrest, comes just days after Israel’s Public Security Minister endorsed extra-judicial killings by police of Arab murder suspects in the wake of a suspected terror attack in Jerusalem.

In the past three years, 45 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police or soldiers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, many of whom who were protesting Israel’s occupation. In that same period, 261 civilians (67 children) have been wounded by live fire, and over 8,000 (1,500 children) by other means, such as rubber bullets and tear gas.

It’s within this context, as well as near-daily clashes now found in Jerusalem and a growing rage found amongst Palestinians, that al-Hamden’s death is now being placed. Israeli police, recognizing the severity of the anger amongst Palestinians and its wrongful killing of al-Hamden, have opened up an immediate investigation.

Palestinians have little faith in the justice system, though, where just like in the United States, convictions for such shooting deaths are extremely rare, which is why the investigation is unlikely to ease tensions. Palestinian media are also characterizing the anger and rage within Palestinian society today as exceeding that of the 2002 intifada, anger which is intensifying due to incitements by Israeli politicians and ongoing oppression resulting from Israel’s occupation.

Unless an immediate shift occurs, such as a dramatic, diplomatic breakthrough leading to an end of the occupation or a shift in the way law enforcement treats minority residents in Israel, unrest is likely to grow in East Jerusalem, Kfar Kanna and Israel. Unfortunately, with inciting statements by public security officials embracing extra-judicial killings and Israeli politicians (including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) stating that Israel will never give up military control of the West Bank, the prospects of political leadership easing tensions is unlikely.

It is entirely possible that unrest and instability will spread dramatically throughout Israel and the West Bank, creating a crisis the White House will no longer be able to address with vanilla statements and inaction.

By then, it will be too late to quell what should have ended long ago.

                                                                      -§-

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Two brothers, Pape, 13-year-old eight-grader, and Amidou, 11-year-old sixth-grader, reported being attacked and bashed by a mob of their classmates on the playground of their Bronx, New York Intermediate School 318. Pape and Amidou, who were born in the United States, lived in Senegal in West Africa for a time to learn French. They moved back to the U.S. one month age to rejoin their father, Ousmane Drame, a Senegalese American.

Throughout the violent attack, classmates taunted the brothers with chants of “You’re Ebola!” The boys were rushed to a local hospital with severe injuries. During a press conference at the Senegalese American Association in Harlem and flanked by community leaders, the boys’ father, a 62-year-old cab driver, reported that “They go to gym, and [taunters] say, ‘You don’t touch the ball, you have Ebola, if you touch it we will all get Ebola.’” The elder Drame claimed that the school did nothing to prevent or to intervene in the attack, and did not even write an incident report.

Though one case of Ebola was reported earlier in Senegal, this month the World Health Organization declared Senegal free of Ebola virus transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, a Senegalese mother announced that her 9-year-old daughter was bullied at her Harlem school, and when she came home, her daughter asked, “Mommy, do I have Ebola?”

The vast majority of people with Ebola are limited to the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. A person may contract the virus from one who is infected only if that person displays symptoms (including heightened fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash, and red eyes – which indicate a number of other diseases as well) and comes into contact with the infected person’s bodily fluids. Ebola is not an airborne infectious disease, like the common cold or the flu, and cannot be transmitted through casual contact.

Kaci Hickok, a nurse who treated people with Ebola in West Africa, and who shows no signs of the illness, is threatening legal action against Maine state officials who have requested she undergo a 21-day quarantine confinement in her home. She and her legal team assert that her treatment raises “serious constitutional and civil liberties issues,” and makes no sense medically or scientifically. Kickok declared that she “will not sit around and be bullied by politicians.”

Though the New York school students and Kari Hickok do not carry the Ebola virus, a virus of fear and suspicion seems to have infected not only these schools, but, rather, reflect the spreading epidemic of fear rapidly transmitting across the nation.

For example, President Barack Obama pushed back against New York Governor Mario Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s mandatory quarantine of health care workers returning from Africa. “American in the end,” said Obama, “is not defined by fear.”

Obama might be correct in his assessment that the U.S. “in the end” “…is not defined by fear,” but on its way to that “end,” the process of nations coming to terms with disease is often circuitous and awash with dread, loathing, prejudice, scapegoating, blame, stereotyping, and discrimination. For example, Jews were once erroneously blamed for causing and spreading the plague, syphilis, and trachoma; Asians for infesting others with hookworm; Mexicans with infecting people with lice and Dengue fever.

Our path toward understanding Ebola mirrors, in numerous ways, our coming to know HIV/AIDS a mere generation or so ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) undertook the first comprehensive national survey in 1990 addressing the issue of prejudice against people with HIV/AIDS and their health care providers. According to the report, “Epidemic of Fear”: “This study shows how extraordinarily persistent discrimination remains in this country, even after science has provided there is no risk of casual transmission.”

In California alone, within thirty months of HIV coming to light in the U.S., legislators introduced three statewide ballot initiatives that, if passed, would have effectively imposed quarantine on people with HIV/AIDS.

Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS pandemic was detected and spread, had not formally raised the issue until April 1, 1987 in a speech to a group of physicians in Philadelphia — a full seven years after the onset of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Before this, however, when it was seen as a disease of primarily gay and bisexual men, Pat Buchanan, “serving” as Reagan’s Chief of Communications between 1985-1987, was quite outspoken, referring to AIDS as nature’s “awful retribution,” and saying it did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response.

Writing in his syndicated column in 1986, Buchanan wrote: “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution (AIDS).”

In his response to HIV in 1987, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms proposed that “Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to quarantine people with AIDS,” and for over 20 years, he consistently opposed expanded federal support and funding to AIDS research. In 1987, Helms spearheaded an amendment in the US Senate, prohibiting federal funding for AIDS educational materials that “promote or encourage…homosexual sexual activity.”

Under Helms’s sponsorship, Congress passed an amendment in 1989 to restrict all National Endowment for the Arts funding of any art deemed “homoerotic” or “religiously offensive.” In 1990, he referred to gay and lesbian people as “weak, morally sick wretches,” and has accused them of “engaging in incredibly offensive and revolting conduct.” He warned against “homosexuals, lesbians, disgusting people marching in the streets, demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other.”

In her book, Sex and Germs: The Politics of AIDS, Cindy Patton argues: “The belief in dirty individuals who leave germs in their wake creates a terror that anyone a little different harbors disease, and has the power to invade the human body. Honest concern about real illness blurs with the need to separate from people feared for racist, sexist, or homophobic reasons.”

Patton asserted that by deploying the label “disease,” society, through it leaders, justifies “genocide, ghettorization, and quarantine.”

Though no one can reasonably argue that infectious diseases pose no concern or risk of spreading, I argue, though, that as a nation, we much investigate the rational science of transmission and avoid acting on fear, baseless speculation, and apparent political expediency. What we need, instead, is a consistent and unified policy and messaging coming from leaders in medical science and in government.

Though we may pass laws designed to ensure people’s civil and human rights, conduct educational and diversity training sessions, and though times may have changed somewhat for the better, as the proverb attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

I hope in the case of Ebola, we can prove Karr wrong.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Over 60,000 people in New York's Central Park and millions more around our planet were treated to the eclectic sounds of world-class performers at the third Global Citizens Festival on Saturday, September 27. Performers included Jay Z, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, The Roots, Tiesto, No Doubt, Sting, and Alicia Keys.

The organization Global Citizen, whose goal is to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, sponsored the event to shed light on poverty, which continues to affect an estimated 1.2 billion people, and to empower individuals and the world community to take concrete actions to end this scourge. Specifically, Global Citizen urges people to contact world leaders to focus on issues of providing vaccines, education, and sanitation to all the world's citizens.

Internationally, more people have mobile phones than have clean potable water and sanitation facilities. An estimated 3.4 million people die each year of diseases caused by lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation infrastructures. This shortage kills people around the world every four hours. This lack of clean water and vaccinations significantly lowers a person's chances for quality education, keeping them in extreme poverty. The vicious cycle continues.

Part of the Global Citizen Manifesto reads:

"I believe that 1 BILLION PEOPLE continuing to live extreme poverty is an affront to our COMMON HUMANITY AND DIGNITY. That it is unfair, unjust and unnecessary."

These words, "unfair," "unjust," and "unnecessary" have particular resonance for me as I learned that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes recently refused to prevent city officials in Detroit, Michigan from shutting off water to customers who cannot afford to pay the skyrocketing costs of services, which have increased rapidly since the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy last year. Monthly charges for water and sewer services in Detroit average $70.67 per household. In his ruling, Rhodes asserted that people do not have a fundamental right to water services. Since the shutoffs over the summer, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.

In the wealthy suburbs circling Detroit, though, residents fill their enormous residential and country club swimming pools and artificial lakes around their pristine golf courses, as people in the inner city desperately lack water for drinking or bathing. And the tremendous income gaps ever expand within the U.S. and internationally.

Unfair

While city officials have negotiated long-term payment schedules for some customersthey rated "delinquent" on past payments, a number of residents, often through no fault of their own, simply do not have the funds necessary to pay for water. They regularly have to choose between putting food on the table for their children or paying for clean water. No one should have to make this choice!

Unjust

By shutting off the valves, city officials have consigned residents to increased rates of disease, dehydration, and lowered chances of escaping poverty. When children and adults are deprived of the basics to sustain life, their health suffers, which greatly impacts their educational and overall life opportunities.

Unnecessary

Our nation must redirect its priorities directly to serve its people through infrastructure improvements so cities like Detroit do not have to solve these problems in isolation resulting in forced terminations of clean and potable water. President Obama has urged Congress since he entered office to release the funding to upgrade our crumbling sewer systems, roads, bridges, and power grids, which as they currently exist, have put our nation at increased risk. Unfortunately, Congress seems unwilling to get to work, which stands in stark contrast to the vast number of our residents who live below the poverty line, and who often work multiple jobs, yet still barely getting by.

I personally abide by the entire Global Citizen Manifesto, especially this section:

"THE WORLD'S POOR ARE LEADING THIS PROGRESS FOR THEMSELVES, but they can't finish the job without the rest of us. I am committed to changing the systems and policies that keep people poor."

We all can and must end this worldwide unfair, unjust, and unnecessary travesty of extreme poverty. This reminds me of a TV commercial I watched last night for pistachios when Steven Colbert, seated beside an American Bald Eagle perched above, declares: "The pistachio: it's just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that's when the nuts come out!"

On issues of poverty and for the sake of humanity, we all must work on the same side.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

On Saturday night, I looked out upon a standing-room-only audience, people fidgeting and giddy, barely able to conceal the significance of what was about to occur. I was on stage, the hall at Harvard University electric and buzzing, flanked by three distinguished professors – Judith Butler, Steven Cohen and Shaul Magid – the four of us representing various streams of Zionist, post-Zionist and anti-Zionist thought.

At first, I was awed by the company I had been asked to join, thinking, What on earth am I doing here? That thought was quickly replaced by another as the room erupted with boisterous cheers when a student organizer stepped to the microphone: this is a historic moment, a thought I Tweeted when the feeling came over me, a thought five days removed I still deeply believe.

So what occurred which was so historic? This: on Saturday night, a grassroots-led and student-driven movement called Open Hillel launched a three-day conference, determined to create what Jewish institutions have largely refused to permit: dynamic spaces where both Zionists and anti-Zionists can come together and discuss Israel as equals, with equally valuable perspectives as respected members of the American Jewish community.

The Open Hillel conference certainly succeeded in creating such spaces, where for three days rooms were packed to hear Jews and Palestinians discuss Israel openly and honestly. However, the conference also ended up creating something even more powerful than just spaces: a representative community of 350 committed, questioning Jews who demonstrated not just how out of step institutional Jewish organizations have become by exiling critical and post-Zionist voices, but how those organizations are going to have to change to remain viable, whether they like it or not.

Right now, these organizations are refusing to change, refusing to acknowledge that Jews who fervently critique Israel’s policies, who consider themselves post-Zionists or support BDS, are not anti-Semites, but valuable members in a growing segment of the American Jewish community. Hillel International is one such organization, and the one around which the Open Hillel movement is organized. Hillel is the world’s largest umbrella organization for Jewish life on college campuses, supporting over 550 student centers on campuses in North America and beyond. It purports to be a pluralistic organization, with a tent large enough to house every Jew and every perspective imaginable. Unfortunately, for Hillel, one’s Israel politics trumps its pluralistic ideals, for it has established Israel Guidelines which direct student centers to refuse partnership or cooperation with any student, speaker or organization which, among other things, apply a “double standard” to Israel, support BDS, or have post-Zionist political leanings.

It’s why students from Jewish Voice for Peace, which embraces both anti-Zionist and Zionist students who wish to dialogue openly about Israel, and happens to be the one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in America, have been barred from Hillel. It’s why Jewish scholars have had book events cancelled at museums and Jewish musicians barred from JCC events. It’s why even someone like myself, a Jewish studies teacher and two-state Jew who supports Palestinians’ right to boycott Israel, has had book events cancelled on multiple occasions.

This isn’t new. For over 40 years, Jewish institutions have attempted to define one’s Jewishness and value to a community based solely on one’s Israel politics. In 1974, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published The New Anti-Semitism, which attempted to redefine anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel rather than the vile hatred which has led to so many horrors visited upon my people, including the Holocaust, which took half of my family. The goal of this redefining was to shield Israel from critique by designating Israel as the “Jew among the nations,” conflating all Jews with the country and turning anti-Israel critiques into anti-Semitic sentiments.

What’s interesting is this: in 1974, supporting a two-state solution would have earned the charge of anti-Semitism and blacklisting. Today, the two-state solution is considered a dogma in the American Jewish community, with shifting politics propelling ‘new anti-Semitism’ proponents to smear those who empathize with Gaza, support Palestinian human rights or question Zionism as anti-Semitic.

But anyone who was at the Open Hillel conference knows that such charges are false. Indeed, this is precisely what Peter Beinart noted after speaking there on Sunday:

The young American Jews at Open Hillel who are flirting with anti-Zionism are not anti-Semites. (Although, of course, some anti-Zionists are). They are merely doing what young people always do: Challenging settled assumptions based on a different life experience. They don’t need the American Jewish establishment’s legitimization; that establishment is illegitimate to them. What they need, in the best Jewish tradition, is to be argued with.

But I’m not sure the American Jewish establishment knows how. For years, mainstream American Jewish groups have short-circuited discussions about Zionism by accusing its critics of anti-Semitism. They’ve grown so dependent on that rhetorical crutch that they rarely publicly grapple with how Zionism – a movement that privileges one ethnic and religious group – can be reconciled with the pledge in Israel’s declaration of independence to offer “complete equality of social and political rights irrespective of race, religion or sex.”

Indeed, many of those who were at the Open Hillel conference this past weekend are among the most committed Jews in America. And they bristle (as do I) when someone charges them with anti-Semitism for questioning institutional assumptions about Israel and Zionism. What’s different about what happened this past weekend, and what made it such a historic moment, is that student activists coalesced for the first time in memory to explicitly and directly challenge the American Jewish community from within, as opposed to from without.

These Jewish Americans, who represent significantly growing numbers, symbolically knocked on the door of institutional Jewish organizations and yelled, We are the Jewish community, and you will either embrace us or embrace a fear of dialogue – the least Jewish of things – and the shrinking numbers such a fear will bring.

Why does this matter? From a political perspective it matters because, as Professor Steven Cohen said from the stage on Saturday night, American Jewish opinions on Israel deeply affect American policy, which in turn affect Israeli policy, something I have been trumpeting for years. From a communal perspective, it matters because the face of the American Jewish community is changing. Jewish institutions have demanded, for decades, that Israel be placed at the center of Jewish life, and at the center of one’s Jewish value to a community. Today, at a time in which Israel’s policies, from the continued occupation to settlement expansions, are generating increasing critiques from American Jews, Israel has become just that – the center of Jewish life for many. Only, not in the way the ADL envisioned in 1974. Instead, Israel is being placed at the center by those who do not support its misdeeds, and who demand a change for the sake of both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians.

Jewish institutions have gotten what they asked for: Israel as the communal fulcrum point. But the balance is shifting. And the Open Hillel conference signaled that such shifting isn’t just reactive, but coordinated and communal.

People are shifting together with intentionality.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Credit: Creative Commons / Wikipedia

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity.... It challenges all forms of discrimination in schools and society through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice.

- National Association for Multicultural Education, emphasis added

October is LGBT History Month. It originated when, in 1994, Rodney Wilson, a high school teacher in Missouri, had the idea that a month was needed dedicated to commemorate and teach this history since it has been perennially excluded in the schools. He worked with other teachers and community leaders, and they chose October since public schools are in session, and National Coming Out Day already fell on October 11.

I see this only as a beginning since lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, (LGBTIQ) history is all our history and, therefore, needs to be taught and studied all year every year. Why do I feel this way?

A few years ago, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Alliance at a private Boston-area university asked me to give a presentation on LGBT history at one of its weekly meetings. During my introductory remarks, in passing, I used the term "Stonewall," when a young man raised his hand and asked me, "What is a 'Stonewall?'"

I explained that the Stonewall Inn is a small bar located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York City where, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, during a routine police raid, patrons fought back. This event, I continued, is generally credited with igniting the modern movement for LGBT liberation and equality.

The young man thanked me, and he stated that he is a first-year college student, and although he is gay, he had never heard about Stonewall or anything else associated with LGBT history while in high school. As he said this, I thought to myself that though we have made progress over the years, conditions remain very difficult for LGBT and questioning youth today, because school is still not a very "queer" place to be.

In my own high school years during the 1960s, LGBTIQ topics rarely surfaced, and then only in a negative context. Once, my health education teacher talked about the technique of electro-shock treatment for "homosexuals" to alter their sexual desires. In senior English class, the teacher stated that "even though Andre Gide was a homosexual, he was a good author in spite of it." These references (within the overarching Heterosexual Studies curriculum at my high school), forced me to hide deeper into myself, thereby further damaging my self-esteem and identity.

I consider, therefore, the half-truths, the misinformation, the deletions, the omissions, the distortions, and the overall censorship of LGBTIQ history, literature, and culture in the schools as a form of violence.

I am seeing increasingly an emphasis within the schools on issues related to bullying and harassment prevention. Current prevention strategies include investigation of issues of abuse and unequal power relationships, issues of school climate and school culture, and how these issues within the larger society are reproduced in the schools, among other concerns. Often missing from these strategies, however, are multicultural curricular infusion. Unfortunately, still today educators require courage to counter opposing forces, for example, the current attacks on Ethnic Studies programs underway in states like Arizona.

Throughout the United States, under the battle cry of "preserving traditional American family values," conservative and theocratic forces are attempting to prevent multicultural curricula from being instituted in the schools. On the elementary school level related to LGBTIQ issues, they are targeting books like And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, a lovely true story about two male penguins in the New York City Central Park Zoo raising a baby penguin; also, King and King, by Linda de Haan, about a king meeting his mate, another king. Not so long ago, the Right went after Daddy's Roommate written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite, about a young boy who spends time with his father and father's life partner, Frank, following the parents' divorce, and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride by Lesléa Newman, with illustrations by Russell Crocker, a story of young Gloria who lives with her two mommies: Mama Rose, a mechanic, and Mama Grace, a nurse.

For LGBTIQ violence and suicide prevention strategies to have any chance of success, in addition to the establishment and maintenance of campus "Gay/Straight Alliance" groups, on-going staff development, written and enforced anti-discrimination policies, and support services, schools must incorporate and imbed into the curriculum across the academic disciplines and at every level of the educational process, multicultural perspectives, including LGBTIQ, age appropriately from pre-school through university graduate-level programs and courses, from the social sciences and humanities, through the natural sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). LGBTIQ experiences stand as integral strands in the overall multicultural rainbow, and everyone has a right to information that clarifies and explains our stories.

I was encouraged to see one state, California, leading the way. The California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2011, SB 48, the first in the nation statute requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other educational materials in social studies courses that include contributions of LGBT people.

For LGBTIQ, questioning youth, and allies, this information can underscore the fact that their feelings and desires are in no way unique, and that others like themselves lead happy and productive lives. This in turn can spare them years of needless alienation, denial, and suffering. For heterosexual students, this can provide the basis for appreciation of human diversity and help to interrupt the chain of bullying and harassment toward LGBTIQ people, for in truth, very few real-life families resemble the mythical "Brady Bunch," the Andersons in "Father Knows Best," or the Huxtables of "The Cosby Show."

No matter how loudly organizers on the political and theocratic Right protest that this is merely a "bedroom issue," we know that the bedroom is but one of the many places where we write our stories. Therefore, while each October is a good time to begin the classroom discussions, I ask that our full stories be told throughout the year. For what is true in AIDS education holds true for our history as well: "Silence = Death."

For my two-part LGBTIQ PowerPoint presentation, go to my blog site at: www.warrenblumenfeld.com. On the right side, click "Slide Presentations," which will take you to LGBTIQ History parts 1 and 2. Enjoy!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Paul Koberstein

The bodies and minds of children living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i are being threatened by exposure to chlorpyrifos, a synthetic insecticide that is heavily sprayed on fields located near their homes and schools.

For decades, researchers have been publishing reports about children who died or were maimed after exposure to chlorpyrifos, either in the womb or after birth. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm. But researchers are finding that children aren't safe when the insecticide is applied to nearby fields.

Like a ghost drifting through a child's bedroom window, the airborne insecticide can settle on children's skin, clothes, toys, rugs, and furnishings.

In fact, it's likely that the only people who needn't worry about exposure to chlorpyrifos are adults living far from the fields in which it is sprayed. That includes civil servants who work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the stuff, and executives with Dow Chemical, the company that manufactures it.

In a regulatory process known as re-registration, the EPA will decide in 2015 whether it still agrees that chlorpyrifos is safe for farming, or whether it will order a complete ban, as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pesticide Action Network have demanded in lawsuits filed in 2007 and in 2014.

Dow has long insisted that its chlorpyrifos products are safe, despite tens of thousands of reports of acute poisoning and multiple studies linking low-level exposures to children with lower IQ. The company also has a long history - going back decades - of concealing from the public the many health problems it knew were linked to chlorpyrifos.

In 1995, the EPA found that Dow had violated federal law by covering up its knowledge of these health problems for years. In 2004, then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had been lying about the known dangers of the pesticide in its advertising for nearly as long. Together, the EPA and the State of New York have levied fines against the company approaching $3 million.

On Kaua'i, subsidiaries of four transnational chemical companies - Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF - spray chlorpyrifos and several other potent pesticides to protect their experimental genetically engineered crops (GMOs) against a wide variety of bugs and weeds. Because of the heavy pesticide use, Kaua'i's GMO testing fields are among the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture. The island, with its precious ecosystems and diverse wildlife, seems particularly ill-suited to be a laboratory for such experiments.

In two incidents in 2006 and 2008, all students at the Waimea Middle School on Kaua'i were evacuated and about 60 were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms like dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Many people in town blamed the outbreak on chlorpyrifos dust and vapors that they believed had drifted from the nearby GMO test fields. The corporations denied that any illnesses were caused by their products and officials only tested for a few of the possible chemicals that could have contaminated the school and children.

The companies conduct their experiments on Kaua'i because it has a 12-month growing season, and they can get in three or four crops each year. As Steve Savage, a former research manager for DuPont, has stated that they protect their GMO crops with chemicals to protect their large investments.

"The pesticides used on the seed farms are mostly just there to protect these very valuable seeds from pest damage," he said. "That is more challenging because there is no winter to set-back the populations of things like insects. Some of the tropical weeds are also very challenging to control."

There's no doubt that chlorpyrifos is efficient at killing insects. But the question before the EPA re-registration process is, "What is it doing to children?"

The EPA's Tepid Investigation of Dow

The last time chlorpyrifos went through the re-registration process was in 2000. (The EPA is required to do that every 15 years.) At the time, Dow was fighting off several lawsuits from families with children poisoned by the chemical. It also faced an almost certain regulatory crackdown by the EPA. A large number of children and adults were being poisoned by more than 800 different chlorpyrifos-containing products that were commonly used around the house, including Dursban, Raid, Black Flag Liquid Roach and Ant Killer and Hartz Mountain Flea and Tick Collar. Chlorpyrifos applied by pest control operators also often led to serious health effects.

Under the terms of an agreement between Dow and the EPA, chlorpyrifos products for indoor use were taken off store shelves at the end of 2001 and were banned in schools, parks, and at day care centers. They continued to be used on the farm under the trade name Lorsban.

Dow Chemical started selling chlorpyrifos in 1965. In 1972, when the EPA banned DDT and other bug-killers, chlorpyrifos was there to take their place. There was a time when chlorpyrifos was invited into most homes in America on a daily basis. Approximately 21 to 24 million pounds were used annually in the U.S., of which about 11 million pounds were applied in the home, where the chemical's main job was to kill termites.

Because of its extensive use in the home before the ban in 2000, the vast majority of the U.S. population was exposed to chlorpyrifos or its environmental breakdown product, trichloropyridinol (TCP). A 1998 Minnesota Children's Exposure Study found that 92 percent of the 89 children evaluated had measurable amounts of TCP in their urine. A 1998 study of 416 children in North and South Carolina found TCP in the urine of all the children evaluated.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates, which are designed to interfere with the way insect brains operate. They can also interfere with human brains. Some people are more sensitive to chlorpyrifos based on their genes, according to the EPA.

A 2000 EPA review of "incidents" caused by chlorpyrifos notes, "Children under six were three times more likely to be hospitalized, five times more likely to beadmitted for critical care in an intensive care unit (ICU), and three times more likely to have experienced a life-threatening outcome or death when exposed to an organophosphate than when exposed to non-organophosphate pesticides."

By 1984, the number of chlorpyrifos poisonings in the home had begun to rise, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The Poison Control Centers found that the annual number of reported chlorpyrifos poisoning cases before 2000 was close to 7,000. Many of these exposures involved small children who never developed symptoms, but several hundred cases per year were serious enough to require special medical attention. At least three children died. For example, in 1996, among the victims who received medical follow-up care, 567 experienced moderate, major, or life-threatening effects.

"These data do suggest that inhalation or dermal exposure can lead to life-threatening effects," the EPA said in 2000.

The EPA accused Dow of concealing what it knew about the negative health effects of chlorpyrifos from 1984 to 1994 when CBS News investigated an incident in which the parents of a disabled child obtained a judgment against Dow for injuries that a court found were caused by a prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act (FIFRA), the nation's main law regulating pesticide use, pesticide manufacturers like Dow are required to report to the EPA any complaints they receive about pesticide poisonings within 30 days. The law is designed to warn the EPA of all known health dangers associated with a product so it can prevent further poisonings and save lives. The EPA fined Dow $876,000 for 327 violations of FIFRA, but it failed to investigate any deeper.

The EPA never determined how many lives were ruined or lost as a result of harm caused by chlorpyrifos or Dow's cover-up. Nor did the EPA ever open a criminal investigation to find out who at the company knew about the health problems or why they didn't report them to the EPA. The EPA never determined whether responsibility for the cover-up extended all the way to the top of the corporate ladder or was limited to lower-level employees.

The EPA's disinterest in investigating Dow was shared by Congress. A review of the Congressional Records from 1994 to 2014 revealed that only one Member of Congress - Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont - spoke out about any concerns over chlorpyrifos. Congress' indifference toward the chlorpyrifos poisonings stands in stark contrast to its recent grilling of General Motors CEO Mary Barra over the deaths of drivers caused by accidents due to faulty ignition switches.

It may no longer be possible to conduct such an investigation. The EPA has destroyed many of the relevant documents, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi.

Dow, meanwhile, asserts that chlorpyrifos has never been proven to be a danger to public health, despite the fines. "The information in question involved unsubstantiated allegations made in the course of litigation," said Dow spokesman Garry Hamblin. He claimed the company "never agreed that this material represented 'factual information' which the company needed to report to EPA. As a means of resolving the dispute, [it] paid a negotiated settlement for late delivery of information and changed its reporting practices to better address EPA's expectations."

But Dr. Janette Sherman, an internist and toxicologist with a workers' compensation practice in Detroit and Maui, disputes Dow's assertions of innocence. She examined some of the most seriously injured victims, including:

  • 9-year-old Joshua Herb of Charleston, West Virginia, who became a quadriplegic after his home was treated with chlorpyrifos. He had been exposed in utero to Dursban and another organophosphate, propetamphos. A court found that animal tests performed at Duke University showed that chlorpyrifos, when combined with the other chemical, caused "catastrophic destruction" of the nervous system in lower doses than it would have alone. Dow settled his case for a reported $10 million; and
  • The Ebling sisters in New Albany, Indiana. Connie, 9, and A.J., 6, had developed seizures, incontinence, and learning disabilities after their apartment was repeatedly sprayed with Dursban. One day, Connie was admitted to a hospital following a round of intense seizures. "I found her face-down in her eggs," her mother told a reporter in the hospital room one evening. The young girl sat on her bed, gaping at a visitor, drooling, and hooting as she struggled to assemble a simple puzzle.

"The children were the most tragic," said Sherman. "These kids had no future whatsoever. None."

Sherman developed medical histories of the victims and testified about them in court. She also wrote about them in 12 articles that were published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

In 1999, an article in the European Journal of Oncology described eight children with a pattern of similar birth defects. Each had a history of in utero exposure to chlorpyrifos during their first trimester. All eight had birth defects of the brain, including four who had a missing or defective corpus callosum, the band of nerves connecting the two hemispheres in the brain. Five had heart defects. Other defects affected the eyes, the face, and the genitals. All of the children were developmentally disabled, and all but one required feeding, diapering, and constant monitoring.

Sherman explored family histories for alcohol consumption and maternal smoking for possible alternative explanations. She interviewed parents and other family members, reviewed medical files, and conducted physical examinations of six of the children.

Monitoring for pesticide levels was not conducted during any of the pregnancies. Thanks to Dow's failure to report the incidents in a timely manner, a significant amount of time elapsed before pesticide contamination was even considered as a possible cause, or before other parents could be warned about the hazards known to be associated with exposure to chlorpyrifos, according to Sherman.

In advertisements, Dow tried to assure the public that when used as directed, chlorpyrifos is "safe." The state of New York deemed that such claims were false, and in 1994 Dow agreed to stop making them.

But a 2004 investigation by then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had continued to make misleading claims for a decade, including these statements:

"Chlorpyrifos is one of the most important, safe and widely used insecticides in the country."

"No significant adverse health effects will likely result from exposures to Dursban, even at levels substantially above those expected to occur when applied at label rates."

Spitzer's office fined Dow $2 million for making these and dozens of other "fraudulent" safety claims. "Pesticides are toxic substances that should be used with great caution," Spitzer said at the time. "By misleading consumers about the potential dangers associated with the use of their products, Dow's ads may have endangered human health and the environment by encouraging people to use their products without proper care."

Chlorpyrifos Today

The EPA says that the number of chlorpyrifos poisoning reports in home settings declined by 95 percent in the decade after 2001, when urban uses were banned.

In 2004, researchers at Columbia University found that babies born in upper Manhattan after January 1, 2001 were larger and longer - and had less chlorpyrifos in their umbilical cord blood plasma - than babies born before that date.

Several recent studies show that chlorpyrifos, as it is used today, still harms the developing brains of children.

"Toxic exposure during this critical period can have far-reaching effects on brain development and behavioral functioning," said Virginia Rauh, a professor at the Columbia University's School of Public Health. "Some small effects occur at even very low exposures."

In 2008, another Columbia University study of 265 children found that, after pregnant women were exposed to chlorpyrifos, their babies had a lower intelligence rating.

In 2011, researchers at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York linked chlorpyrifos to a reduction in a child's ability to solve problems.

From 1998 to 2011, the CHAMACOS (Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) studies were conducted on farm workers near Salinas, California. The studies examined associations between prenatal and postnatal exposure to low levels of organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos and cognitive abilities in school-age children. The studies found that higher concentrations of chlorpyrifos in the mothers' urine were linked to declines in working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, and IQ of their children. Children of mothers with the greatest urinary concentrations had an average deficit of seven IQ points compared with those in the lowest concentrations - the equivalent of being a half-year behind their peers, according to The Nation.

The EPA says it will consider these human epidemiological studies before it makes a final re-registration decision. But according to a June 25, 2014, memo written by the agency's Health Effects Division, the EPA appears ready to dismiss them in favor of two unpublished, non peer-reviewed studies conducted by Dow scientists in 2013.

These studies claimed that chlorpyrifos cannot possibly do any harm to bystanders, even at "the highest possible concentration in the air," the EPA memo said. It reasoned that, "if there is no hazard to the vapor for these pesticides, there is no risk."

The memo goes on to say, "The results of these studies have significantly changed how [the] EPA considers the hazard to chlorpyrifos."

The two Dow reports were based on the company's own experiments with five groups of lab rats. Sherman said a peer review would have questioned some of the assumptions made by the authors of the study. The lab rats were given chlorpyrifos through the nose but, in reality, children also absorb the chemical through the skin, by putting toys in their mouths, by rolling around on the rug, and even through breast milk. She also said that the sample size - five groups of eight rats each - is not statistically significant.

While the EPA so far seems content to rest its decisions on industry-sponsored studies with lab rats, independent research clearly shows that chlorpyrifos can put children's futures at risk. Advocates, meanwhile, wait for the EPA to rule on their seven-year-old petition, demanding that the pesticide be banned completely, on farms as well as in houses.

This article is part of a collaborative effort by The Media Consortium investigating corporate control of our democracy and our dinner plates, made possible in part by the Voqal Fund. To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.