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Utilizing False Information to Make US Afraid

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When you see an immigrant or a foreign visitor, especially from a Muslim country, should your first thought be that you might be looking at a possible terrorist?

Clearly, that’s how the Trump administration wants Americans to react.  It was the message in the president’s first address to Congress a year ago last week when he declared that “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” At that time, he urged that the U.S. immigration system be reshaped because “we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”

By Arnold R. Isaacs

There’s a misleading omission in Trump’s formulation, though: homegrown fanatics have killed many more Americans on U.S. soil than foreign-born terrorists have. The disparity grows much wider if you include mass killings carried out not for any religious or ideological cause but (as we have recently been tragically reminded) by mentally troubled individuals. Indeed, in just two such shootings in the last five months in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Parkland, Florida, deranged shooters with assault rifles killed more than three times as many people as all foreign-born jihadists have killed in this country in the last 16 years.

Another key fact is missing, too: only a fairly small number of those “terror-related” convictions were for acts committed or planned in the United States. Many more involved support, in various forms, for terrorist activity in other countries.

Still, Trump and his associates have repeatedly declared that terrorists sneaking into the country through a too-lax immigration system are a pressing threat to public safety in the United States. That was, for instance, the administration’s principal headline earlier this year when it released a reportfrom the Justice and Homeland Security departments, which claimed that nearly three out of every four individuals convicted in international terror cases in U.S. federal courts from 9/11 through 2016 were foreign born — a total of 402, by their count. Announcing that report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed that it highlighted the ways in which “our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety.” In the same press release, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that the United States “cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists.”

Those and a long list of similar statements range from simply misleading to completely false. The deceptions occur in two stages. As a start, the data compiled within government agencies significantly overstate the incidence of Islamist terrorism in this country. Then the president and his associates regularly misrepresent what that already flawed data actually tells us, leaving the truth even farther behind.


 

“Terror-Related Cases” That Have No Relation to Terrorism 

The basic database on which Trump and his associates rely is the “Chart of Public/Unsealed International Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions.” It’s compiled and updated every year by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and lists defendants convicted on federal charges in cases since September 11, 2001. Despite its title, the list includes a significant number of cases that are verifiably not terrorism-related and a good many more in which a terrorism connection was not only not proved but remains highly unlikely.

Take Ansar Mahmood’s case.  It’s far from the only example, but what makes it unusual is that the public record includes an explicit official acknowledgement that terrorism turned out not to be involved.

Mahmood, a 24-year-old legal immigrant from Pakistan, came under suspicion a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks when he was noticed taking photographs at a scenic spot along New York’s Hudson River. A nervous security guard called the police to report that a Muslim-looking man might be taking pictures of a nearby reservoir and water treatment facility.

He was soon picked up, but investigators quickly concluded that he had no connection whatsoever to terrorism.  They did, however, turn up evidence that he had registered a car and cosigned an apartment lease for a Pakistani couple who had overstayed their non-immigrant visas and were in the United States illegally. He was quickly charged with “harboring aliens,” a deportable offense, and convicted. After a drawn-out appeal process, Mahmood was deported in 2005.

In a letter notifying him that his final appeal to set aside the deportation order had been rejected, William Cleary, a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, wrote: “It was determined that you were not engaged in any terrorist activity and were quickly cleared of any suspicion of terrorist activity.” A few lines later, Cleary added a second time, “I am confident you did not engage in terrorist activity, you have never been charged as a terrorist or accused as being a terrorist.”

There could hardly be more conclusive evidence that Mahmood’s case had nothing to do with terrorism. Yet, years later, his name still appears on that Justice Department list of “Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions.”  His two friends, also deported after being found guilty of visa violations and obtaining false IDs, are on the list, too, although there was absolutely no suggestion of any terror connection in their cases, either.

Nor are these isolated examples. Others on the conviction list who clearly were not terrorists include three Arab Americans, at least two of them naturalized U.S. citizens, convicted for buying a truckload of stolen breakfast cereal, and a group of 20 defendants, predominantly Iraqis, found guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain commercial driver’s licenses and permits to transport hazardous material. There are also cases involving defendants convicted for false marriage claims, foreign students who illegally got jobs in violation of student visa rules, a young man from Saudi Arabia who stored child pornography on his computer, and various others where the record shows no mention of any terrorist link.

Even the most dangerous sounding of these, the one involving hazardous-material permits, may sound ominous, but the scam itself occurred in the 1990s, well before the 9/11 attacks, and prosecutors made it clear that there was no link with terrorism. So did the trial judge, who said he could not “characterize this as a successful prosecution of a terrorism case, because it was not.”

None of the 20 defendants who illegally obtained those licenses received any prison time. All were given probation; some paid modest fines. Those sentences would certainly have been far harsher if there had been any genuine suspicion that the defendants might be dangerous. (The driver’s license examiner they paid off at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, an American, remains on the “terror-related convictions” list, too.)

Why Are They on the List?

Given the clear evidence that they were never terrorists, why are Mahmood and his friends, as well as those Iraqi truckers and others in similar cases, still officially identified as having been “convicted of terrorism,” as the Trump White House has inaccurately characterized everyone named on the Justice Department chart? Or, in the only marginally more careful wording used in the list itself, why are they still guilty of “international terrorism-related offenses”?

The immediate reason is that, like Mahmood, they originally came to the attention of investigators looking for possible terrorist ties.  In other words, their cases started out as possible terrorism ones and, under Justice Department procedures, simply remained in that category even when no such ties were found. The broader reason: counting them and others like them that way plays right into the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim agenda.  It magnifies, falsely, the supposed threat of “foreign nationals” connected with “terrorism-related activity” in the United States.

Setting aside the cases that were clearly not in any way linked to terrorism, there are many more on the chart in which individuals were suspected of ties of some kind to terrorism but were never charged. In those cases, the question is simply left unanswered, but there can be no doubt that some of those suspects, too, were neither terrorists nor supporters of terror movements.  In other words, that group similarly inflates the claimed total.

There is another strong hint that many on the Justice Department list are unlikely to have been either terrorists or to have had serious ties to such organizations and it requires no additional research. It’s right there on the chart itself in a column listing the sentences that defendants received for their crimes.  More than 130 of the offenders on the list (both foreign and U.S.-born), when convicted, were given probation but no prison time at all or were sentenced only to time served before trial. Another 45 were sentenced to one year or less, including several token sentences of one day or, in a single case, a week.

Those light sentences — for more than a quarter of all the cases on the chart — certainly seem to indicate that no authority thought the defendants represented a terror threat.

Another Distortion…

Counting cases that have nothing to do with terrorism as “terror-related” isn’t the only way the administration has distorted the facts about immigration and the threat of terrorism. It also counts cases that have nothing to do with immigration.

For example, a White House fact sheet, summarizing the main findings of the January 16th Justice/Homeland Security report, says that 402 foreign-born defendants — the total given in the report — all “entered the United States through our immigration system.”

That is false. The report doesn’t say that at all. You have to look carefully to find it, but the document explicitly says the opposite, stating that along with those defendants who had at one time or another passed through immigration controls, the 402 foreign-born offenders also include individuals “who were transported to the United States for prosecution.” Presumably, some of them were captured overseas by U.S. military or security agencies and some were turned over to the U.S. by a foreign government.

The Justice Department has not disclosed how many such individuals are on the list. The number, however, is apparently substantial. Researchers for the Lawfare Blog, working from an earlier version of the chart, determined that an even 100 defendants (later reduced to 99) “were extradited, or brought, to the United States for prosecution” without going through any immigration procedure. Including those cases as evidence of a lax immigration system is plainly deceptive.

They undercut the Trump administration’s anti-immigration narrative in another way, too. Obviously, defendants who were extradited or otherwise brought into the United States for prosecution were more likely than those on the list as a whole to be charged with serious offenses and to receive much stiffer sentences. So adding them to the overall “foreign-born” figure not only gives a false impression of failures in immigration screening, but also inflates the threat that actual immigrants represent.

… And One More

The Trump administration’s message about “foreign-born terrorists” and the U.S. immigration system is clear enough: dangerous people are coming into this country to do bad things to Americans. Though you wouldn’t guess it from listening to the president or his attorney general and homeland security secretary, a much larger number of cases involved exactly the opposite problem: people leaving the United States, or trying to leave, to do bad things elsewhere.

Only a small minority of the guilty verdicts on the Justice Department’s conviction list were for committing or planning violent acts on U.S. soil. Significantly more defendants were tried for supporting terrorism abroad.

The comparison is dramatically clear in an analysis by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh. Examining an earlier version of the Justice Department’s chart of convictions, he discovered that only 40 foreign-born defendants had been found guilty of “planning, attempting, or carrying out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.” More than 200 were, however, convicted for “material support for foreign terrorists, attempting to join foreign terrorist organizations, planning a terrorist attack abroad, or a similar offense taking place abroad.”

The same pattern is evident even in the recent Justice/Homeland Security report, despite all the accompanying dire rhetoric about threats to public safety in America.

The report summarizes eight terror-related cases as “illustrative examples” of crimes by foreign-born offenders. Not one of those crimes caused harm to a person or damage to property in the United States itself. Three of the eight defendants came to the United States as young children. No immigration process, no matter how rigorous, could have screened them out. The same is true of a significant number of others on the Justice Department’s list. Just one of the eight defendants — the only offenders actually identified in the report — had anything resembling a concrete plan for a terror attack in this country. Of the other seven, one made vague threats about carrying out “an act of martyrdom” in the United States, but only if he wasn’t able to go to Syria to join jihadist forces there. The other six cases involved individuals accused of supporting terror groups in other countries, with no mention of any possible acts inside the United States. The case summaries give no indication that any of the eight killed or injured an American anywhere.

A Chilling Footnote

There is one other revealing thread in the administration’s campaign to link immigration to terrorism. In the Justice/Homeland Security report’s statistical breakdown of terror-related convictions, a footnote to the last line, which shows that 147 defendants were “U.S. citizens by birth,” says: “Information pertaining to the citizenship status of the parents of these 147 individuals was not available at the time of this report’s issuance.”

The White House fact sheet repeated that point in its summary of the report, noting that it “does not contain information regarding the number of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses committed by individuals who are the children of foreign-born individuals.” It then added: “Terrorist attacks carried out by children of foreign-born individuals include the attack in Orlando by Omar Mateen, which killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others, and the attack in San Bernardino, California, by Syed Rizwan Farook, which killed 14 people and injured 22 others.” (For the record, and it’s odd the White House didn’t mention it, Syed Farook’s wife, who accompanied him in the San Bernardino shootings, was an immigrant.)

Neither the report nor the White House statement explained what crimes committed by U.S.-born shooters have to do with its declared subject: terror-related acts by “foreign nationals in the United States.” Nor, obviously, does a mass shooting by a killer born in Chicago (Farook) or Long Island, New York, (Mateen) tell us anything about the effectiveness of immigration screening procedures or any other aspect of the U.S. immigration system, though it does fit a Trumpian vision of a world under threat from dangerous Muslims.

Perhaps those references to the “children of foreign-born individuals” were not meant to cast suspicion on the entire Muslim-American community. Possibly the White House and the Justice Department were not intentionally stoking public hostility and fear by implying that all Muslims, whether immigrants or born in the United States, should be regarded as potentially disloyal or dangerous. But if there was a less chilling motive, it’s hard to imagine what it might be.

Arnold R. Isaacs, a journalist and writer based in Maryland, has written widely on refugee and immigration issues. He is the author of From Troubled Lands: Listening to Pakistani and Afghan Americans in post-9/11 Americaand two books relating to the Vietnam war. His website is www.arnoldisaacs.net.

Copyright 2018 Arnold R. Isaacs

Source: Tom Dispatch

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The “Myth” of Independence (When in Reality, We are Interdependent)

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The disastrous burden of exploitation and the plundering of ill-distributed wealth is a historical burden whose influence on backwardness, misery and neglect is an indisputable argument for rejecting the claims of independence and freedom of the ruling castes, who are primarily responsible for the shameful conditions in which the future of the peoples is plunged.

Without sustainable development for all, it is not valid to boast of independence.


The Tale of Independence

Claudia Aranda
(Image by Claudia Aranda)

Independence festivals celebrate the greatest myth in history.

The dates represent only a symbolic reference in the course of history, which is why the Independence festivities, celebrated in these days of September in some countries of the continent, should become a turning point; a turning point in the right direction and the beginning of a new era for the peoples who observe, with a mixture of envy and hope, the advances in other corners of the planet.

Latin America has suffered genocidal dictatorships, foreign invasions marked by economic and geopolitical interests, devaluation and annihilation of its millenary cultures, plundering of its natural wealth and constant intervention in its development plans by financial organisations controlled by the great world powers. However, the moral strength and the yearning for freedom of their peoples are the decisive resources for consolidating that real and concrete independence for which they all yearn.

The examples of economic, industrial and cultural development in some of our nations show how a potential value can become a tangible reality, provided that the political actions of their leaders are underpinned by a firm resolve to fight for their homeland. In this sense, the defense of and respect for the constitutional rule, the consolidation of the rule of law, the recognition of the intrinsic human and cultural values of their communities and the firm purpose of achieving Latin American unity, the only possible way to face the challenges of globalisation, are essential.

To boast of independence when our political castes are capable of negotiating the future of generations with entities whose interests are totally opposed to development – such as the World Bank – and subjected to the arbitrary conditions of powerful governments, focused on making the most of their institutional and political weaknesses, is an insult to intelligence. It is therefore imperative to update concepts and to understand that a country’s freedom to decide on its present and future is a pending issue throughout the third world.

The celebration of national independence has become established as a populist device and needs to be thoroughly revised. Military parades, so typical of the image of strength and power imprinted in the collective imagination, are today one of the most serious offences against peoples who have experienced the cruel repression of military dictatorships, a dark shadow that stains the history of all our countries. Patriotic pride should not rest on weapons or violence, but on culture, traditions and unrestricted respect for human rights.

The disastrous burden of exploitation and the plundering of ill-distributed wealth is a historical burden whose influence on backwardness, misery and neglect is an indisputable argument for rejecting the claims of independence and freedom of the ruling castes, who are primarily responsible for the shameful conditions in which the future of the peoples is plunged.

Without sustainable development for all, it is not valid to boast of independence.

Source: Pressenza

Carolina Vásquez Araya

Journalist and editor with more than 30 years of experience, whose professional achievements in the development of highly successful projects endorse her qualities of leadership, creativity and public relations. She has contributed her knowledge in projects of organizations with interests oriented to the social, cultural and economic development of the country, with special emphasis on the sector of culture and education, entrepreneurship, human rights, justice, environment, women and children. She is Chilean in Guatemala. elquintopatio.wordpress.com

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Scientists: Make it Easier for the Public to Understand Your Reports!

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Carbon neutral? Mitigation? People don’t know the words scientists think they do.

If you’ve ever furrowed your brow trying to remember what “mitigation” meant, you’re not alone.

Many people don’t understand key terms experts use to talk about climate change, according to a recent study from researchers affiliated with the United Nations Foundation and the University of Southern California. Some of the most difficult-to-understand words were mitigation, referring to efforts to reduce emissions to slow down climate change, and carbon-neutral, when there’s no net increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

Experts in a given field might think that technical language is more precise or more efficient than commonplace alternatives. But subjecting normal people to obscure terms can leave them feeling confused and disengaged and can sometimes encourage a head-in-the-sand response. Everyone has heard the advice “know your audience.” That’s easier said than done, especially since many specialists may not even realize what counts as jargon, with their non-expert days long in the past.

“Some of the people in our study were really concerned about climate change,” said Wändi Bruine de Bruin, a professor of psychology and behavioral science at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. “If they don’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, you could be missing an opportunity to make a difference.”

The researchers landed on a shortlist of terms for the study by talking with experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of U.N. scientists that released a dire report last month warning that greenhouse gas emissions were quickly destabilizing the climate with devastating and “irreversible” consequences. They picked words and phrases that were important for understanding climate policy but tend to get misinterpreted, like tipping point, carbon dioxide removal, and adaptation. Then the researchers interviewed 20 people, picked to provide a diversity of views, asking them to define these words and rate how easy they were to understand. The takeaway from the study: “many of the terms were unfamiliar or perceived as needlessly complex.”

More than half of the participants turned out to be unfamiliar with the meaning of mitigation in its climate change context, instead associating it with law or insurance, where the term refers to minimizing losses. “Mitigation, oh God I hate this word,” one person said. Another third appeared to conflate it with the similar-sounding “mediation,” where a neutral party helps resolve a conflict through discussion.

An informal survey by Grist of folks around Seattle revealed similar problems. Bud Goodwin, owner of Rising Sun Farms & Produce in Seattle, feels strongly that something needs to be done about climate change. Worsening droughts, wildfires, and heavy rains have hit the farmers who supply his fruits and vegetables. He said he’s heard the terms tipping point, carbon-neutral, and adaptation in the context of climate change. But he was stumped when it came to mitigation. “The only thing I can think of is ‘mitigating circumstances,’” he said. “That’s the only time I’ve heard of that used. And I don’t know if that’s the right context.”

Theo Henderson, who works at Third Place Books in north Seattle, was unsure what to make of the phrase tipping point when it’s used so widely in other contexts, like epidemiology, Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book, and iconic moments in sports. “It’s used in contradictory ways,” he said. “It’s almost like you just don’t want to say it anymore, because it means different things to different people.”

In a bit of irony, even the phrase used to talk about talking about climate change — “climate communication” — confounded some people on the streets of Seattle.

That general sense of confusion was reflected in the study. When asked about tipping point — a point of no return for ice shelves, ocean patterns, rainforests, or other systems central to life on Earth — people didn’t always see the link to the warming planet, instead thinking of a seesaw, a sudden change of mind, or difficulty going back to how things were before. Only 15 percent of those interviewed in the study mentioned climate change in their initial definition.

Another inscrutable phrase for some was carbon neutral, with just under half of people in the study understanding it right off the bat. Some people found the shorthand use of carbon confusing. “I know carbon is used in front of a lot of words, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide … Carbon neutral means – I don’t know,” one participant said.

Even putting the tricky words and phrases in context — the classic vocab-learning trick you learned in school — often failed to help people understand their meanings. The example sentences, pulled from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, were long and wordy and often filled with other jargon. See for yourself. Does the following sentence help you understand what sustainable development means? “Natural hazards, climate change, and societal vulnerability can pose fundamental limits to sustainable development.” (If you’re curious, the study describes sustainable development as “meeting the needs of people living today without compromising the needs of people living in the future.”)

Companies have helped muddy the picture by using buzzwords to tout their sustainability cred. You can buy “carbon-negative” hand sanitizer or a “climate positive” burger. In a recent survey commissioned by Yeo Valley, an organic dairy company in the United Kingdom, 79 percent of people said that eco-friendly jargon should be translated into plainer language.

There are plenty of ways to phrase things more simply, and communication experts have long advised specialists to do so. But the problem is, Bruine de Bruin said, scientists might not even realize which words are coming across as gibberish, having used mitigation for so long that they think it’s a simple, straightforward term. The concrete examples of misunderstandings quoted in the study, she said, and are “more powerful than people coming in saying, ‘Look, don’t use jargon.’”

Source: Grist

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Current education systems inhibit identity development

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Current education inhibits identity development

Note from Publisher: When we look at society as a whole, we could take a good look at a dysfunctional education system which is failing children and the whole of society.  If we are to truly evolve and transform as a society, education needs to transform from linear thinking to holistic thinking, seeing all life on the planet as ONE WHOLE SYSTEM, otherwise we are bound to continue the insanity of repeating our problems and crises over and over again.  True transformation begins with a shift in how we view and act in the world.

Education systems have undergone a great change in the last 40 years. Along with the massification of supply, education has become dehumanised, strongly influenced by mercantilist logics that have associated quality only with cognitive learning. The focus on subjects and the neglect of holistic education inhibits the development of identity.

Today’s schools are more like a production line than a community of people in search of human growth and development. Like any production line, the aim is to obtain a “product” that is as homogeneous as possible and that can be evaluated in the successive quality controls that are applied over the years. For example, the SIMCE and the PDT.

A homogeneous product allows comparisons to be made which, in the case of individuals, is always odious and discriminatory. The idea of a “good quality product” in education, measured through standardised tests, has proved to be a perverse incentive for educational communities. Teachers and education professionals have put the education and social-emotional development of their students on the back burner. Mums, dads and parents focus their attention on what they believe will be financial security. And, children and youth see school as a boring, creativity-limiting obligation.

Instead of a “standard product”, at Fundación Semilla we promote the formation of unique individuals through pedagogical support methodologies that open spaces for children and young people to advance in the development of their own individual traits or characteristics that allow them to distinguish themselves from others in a group. In other words, in the development of their identities.

Schools that assume their educational role in a comprehensive manner become protective factors because the development of identity allows one to value oneself and recognise oneself as unique in the group. Without identity there is no sense of belonging. Without identity you are invisible to others.

Whenever I talk about identity and a sense of belonging, I am reminded of heart-wrenching testimonies such as that of a boy: “the first time someone told me I was good at something was when I shot a gun and hit the target” or that of a girl: “having sex makes me feel that he cares about me”.

This is not to dismiss learning in mathematics, reading, writing or other subjects, but to reduce content in order to have more time to humanise education. Having spaces to dream and create, to talk and reflect, to play and sing, to meet other people and to recognise oneself.

Putting children and young people at the centre and the first priority is much more than obtaining good scores in the transition test (ex PSU and ex PAA) and as long as political authorities do not change their educational paradigm, education will continue to inhibit the development of identity and a sense of belonging with the dire consequences that this implies for society as a whole.

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