Thursday, November 10, 2011

Building Peace for the Next Generation

A story for Armistice Day.  Thanks to Ray for sending this via Christian Peacemaker Teams:


7 November 2011

SULEIMANIYA/CHICAGO: Building peace for the next generation.

Mohammad Salah Mahdi came to Chicago from Suleimaniya in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to give a keynote address at the CPT Congress 13-16 October 2011. Besides working as the translator, advisor, and driver for the CPT Iraq team, Mahdi teaches English to sixth and seventh grade teachers at Seventh Azar Basic School in Suleimaniya. Before he left Suleimaniya, he asked his students to write letters to students in Chicago and videotaped them singing songs of greeting and friendship in English.

On 12 October, Mahdi visited CICS West Belden School on the west side of Chicago accompanied by CPT Iraq team reservist and Chicago area resident David Hovde. Military recruiters come to the school and Tim Doran, one of the teachers, feels the students may not think they have many alternatives to what the military offers them. Doran’s class of mainly Latino students sat on the floor in the gym to view Hovde’s slides of his time on the CPT Iraq team. Then Mahdi showed the video of his students singing. “The leaders of our countries talk to each other, but the common people don’t. Making friendships between the common people of our countries is a way to make peace,” Mahdi told the students.

One of the students asked what kind of music people liked in Kurdistan. Mahdi mentioned a popular Kurdish musician. A teacher immediately looked the musician up on the web and played a music video on YouTube for the class. While the music played, Hovde suggested that Mahdi teach them Kurdish dancing. Mahdi led a line of students and teachers holding hands and danced with them around the gym as he waved a colorful piece of fabric with his free hand. The demonstration ended with a showdown between Mahdi and one of the male students, with each showing new moves that the other tried to copy. The student won by moving himself along the floor with his hands like a caterpillar, which Mahdi did not try doing.

Mahdi then gave his students’ letters to Doran, explaining to the class that since he is from a Muslim context, his female students wanted their letters to go to female students and his male students wanted their letters to go to male students. As Mahdi and Hovde left the school, the security guard, a veteran of the Iraq war, mentioned he was sorry he could not hear Mahdi’s presentation.

On 19 October, Mahdi and Hovde returned to the school. This time Mahdi spoke to fifth, sixth and seventh graders, giving some of his students’ letters to each class. Mahdi expressed his hopes to the classes that, besides letter writing, the students could also exchange artwork to put on display at the schools. Perhaps in time students could even visit each other’s schools. When asked what his biggest accomplishment was, Mahdi said, “I’m doing it at this moment, building peace between our countries for the next generation.”

photo: students at MLK march, Austin 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Going solar for job training

A friend who lives in the new Mueller development just got a solar panel installed on her roof, and she said that about a third of the home owners in that neighborhood have signed up to have the panels installed through a rebate program with the city.  The solar industry is a good place to look for job training.  See the CoolAustinJobs site for info about this and other green jobs. 

Austin Community College offers programs and scholarships in the renewable energy field.  And there are other ideas in the Texas Green Jobs Guidebook.  Check them out!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Local Marine recruiter charged in sexual assault of high school student

[Update: according to the Austin American-Statesman, in August, 2012, charges against Timothy Craig were dismissed]

The following article about a Marine recruiter sexually assaulting a local 16 year-old high school student was published in today's issue of the Austin American-Statesman.  As the article notes, this is the second time within a year that a military recruiter has been charged with a sexual assault of an AISD student, and in both cases, the recruiters made the initial contacts with the students during high school recruitment visits.

I hope that AISD administrators think about this.  If the recruiters had been affiliated with an organization other than the US military, would that group still be allowed onto high school campuses? 

When this kind of recruiter abuse occurs, the perpetrators are usually deemed "bad apples" whose behavior is not representative of military values.  However, if one takes an honest look at the rates of sexual assault within the military and behaviors that are accepted and often even promoted within the armed forces, such as the use of misogynous cadences, pornography and the solicitation of prostitutes - many of whom, overseas, are underage - then it's not surprising that "military values" could lead to recruiter abuse.

Unfortunately, the US military is a male-dominated institution in which a culture of gender discrimination still prevails, and sexual assault is committed at higher rates than in the civilian world.  This is a serious issue.  It's among the most important reasons that I think high schools should not be used by the US military for recruitment purposes.

Here is the article:

Marine recruiter charged with sexual assault of high school student

by Claudia Grisales  Austin American Statesman   November 5, 2011

Following a weeks-long police and military investigation, a Marine Corps recruiter has been charged and jailed in a sexual assault case involving a 16-year-old female McCallum High student, officials said Friday.

Sgt. Timothy Lamont Craig, 26 , has been charged with sexual assault of a child following a Sept. 22 football game at House Park Athletics Facility, near Lamar Boulevard and Enfield Road, court records and police said Friday.

The case has drawn investigators from the Austin Police Department, the Marine Corps and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which tracked Craig's movements in a government-issued vehicle and cellphone used in contacting the victim, officials said.

"The Marine Corps holds its members to the highest standards," said Marine Corps Capt. Abraham Sipe, a district public affairs officer. "We take these allegations very seriously, and we will ensure the appropriate actions are taken throughout the course of this process."

Craig had been a campus senior recruiter for the branch's North Austin recruiting substation since April 2010 , Sipe said. He recruited at McCallum, Anderson and LBJ high schools and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in the Austin district and at Round Rock's Westwood High, he said.

Craig, who joined the Marines from California in 2004, visited one or two campuses a week during lunch periods or at other times allowed by the schools, Sipe said.

The teen told police she had met Craig at a recruiting booth at school, the affidavit said, though it did not say when. The pair exchanged hundreds of text messages starting in July and at least a half-dozen phone calls in September, according to court records.

Austin school officials said Craig visited McCallum twice, in September 2010 and 2011.

The Austin district "had no knowledge of any concerns with this recruiter prior to this incident," the district said in a statement. "As soon as the district was made aware of the situation, AISD police took immediate action to prevent this particular individual from entering our campuses."

The district did not have additional information about Craig's visits to other campuses. A call to the Round Rock district was not answered Friday afternoon.

According to the affidavit, the teen had made plans to meet Craig during the game, where she thought she was going to do a workout for the Marines. After she was dropped off, she met Craig in his government-issued vehicle, and he drove her to a nearby alley, the affidavit said.

There, Craig made a sexual gesture toward her before they engaged in sexual intercourse, the affidavit said.

The teen's guardian contacted police in late September after overhearing her discussing the incident, an arrest affidavit said, and Craig was contacted about the allegations Oct. 11.

Craig was booked into the Travis County Jail late Thursday night on $100,000 bail, jail records show. He was in jail records Friday night.

He has been removed from his position pending the outcome of the investigation, said Sipe, the Marine district public affairs officer.

"This is a joint civil and military investigation," Sipe said. "We will continue to cooperate, and once it is completed, we will decide whether there will be additional adjudication within the Marine Corps."

This is the second time this year that a local military recruiter has been charged in connection with a sexual assault of a high school recruit. In April, Staff Sgt. Roland Benavides was charged with sexual assault in a 2009 incident involving an Akins High School student. Benavides is awaiting trial.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Youth video artists! Second Annual "If I Had a Trillion Dollars" Video Contest

Calling all video artists ages 23 and younger!  This just in from the good folks at the National Priorities Project:

It seems that these days, everyone has an opinion about how our federal budget should be spent, cut or balanced. Youth are disproportionately affected by budget cuts, but often don't have a voice in the debate -- until now.

The American Friends Service Committee and National Priorities Project are pleased to announce the second annual If I Had a Trillion Dollars (IHTD) national youth video contest.

The IHTD Youth Film Festival asks young people to speak out on the federal budget and to consider how our nation prioritizes spending and revenue generation.

Who? The contest is open to individuals and groups of youth age 23 or younger; actress and activist Susan Sarandon heads up an esteemed panel of judges

What? Videos must be 3 minutes or less in length and chronicle how the video maker(s) would spending $1 trillion

When? Videos must be received by January 15, 2012

Where? April 7 to April 10 -- AFSC and NPP will hold a youth leadership conference, film festival and screening for members of Congress in Washington, DC. Those whose videos are curated into the festival are invited to attend.

What else?

AFSC and NPP offer a host of resource materials available on the federal budget and critical issues often missing from the debate such as tax cuts for the wealthiest and war spending.

Travel scholarships are available.

To see last year's winners, visit the IHTD 2010 winners page.

For more information about If I Had a Trillion Dollars, click here.

The U.S. federal budget is not just a bunch of numbers. It's a blueprint of what we value as a nation. If I Had a Trillion Dollars asks young people to understand their budget and tell us if it represents what they believe is most important -- most needed -- at this critical moment in history.

What would the next generation do with $1 trillion dollars?

Please join us and help us spread the word about this important project!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The GI Rights Hotline: a great resource for soldiers and their families

Yesterday, during our school visit at LBJ High School, a student made a beeline for our table and told me that her brother was in the Marines and that he was having trouble.  I told her about the GI Rights Hotline, which can be reached online or by phone at 877-447-4487.  The calls are free and confidential, answered by non-military volunteers who are trained in military regulations and can answer questions about many kinds of problems GIs face in the armed forces.

The kinds of trouble reported by enlistees include sexual trauma, hazing, racial discrimination, physical injuries from training exercises, psychological injuries, family problems and changes in core beliefs about killing in war.   

As we tell students, after bootcamp, it's usually very difficult to get a discharge from any branch of the military, but the counselors who answer the GI Rights hotline can help by listening, presenting options and describing the possible consequences.

For students who have signed a DEP contract, but who have not yet begun bootcamp, it's important to know that you CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND.  At any point before your report date, you can decide to not go. It is legal and there is no punishment.  You can just not go.  You can call the GI Rights Hotline to speak with a counselor if you wish, who can help explain this crucial aspect of the Delayed Entry Program.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tabling at LBJ/LASA HS

We had a table today at LBJ/LASA HS and student interest was strong among LBJ students.  Quite a few opted to take part in the stencil-your-own paper folders, and, as always, it was great to see how creative the students were.  We brought some Americorps brochures to the career counseling room because we are noticing that schools don't tend to have Americorps information available for students.  The brochures can be ordered from Americorps in bulk for no charge.
We added a new "Food Not Bombs" design to the stencil art.  The panda designs and "Peace Takes Courage" are still the most popular. 
Thanks for welcoming us to your school, Jaguars!