Documentary Stirs Up Controversy Among Education Leaders

[It is way past time for everybody to take a close at our educational system, or lack thereof.  The policy of promoting "excellence," through special programs or charter schools, is a policy which promotes failure, as well as division.  We must have an educational system that promotes excellence in all students, instead of one which finds and rewards the easiest children to teach.  The over-achievers are children who are eager to learn, despite the difficulty.  Most kids are not like that.]

Documentary Stirs Up Controversy Among Education Leaders

By Annamarie Iannetta

MISSOULA, Mont. — The documentary, “Waiting for Superman”, is centered on America’s public schools. It follows families of several inner-city school students who entered lotteries to attend charter schools in their cities. And it is debuting in Missoula this weekend. School leaders are planning to view it and then discuss the material next week.The families featured in the film believe public schools have failed and their only chance to get their children a better education is attending a charter school.Some think the film is unfair to public schools. Others feel like it addresses valid problems.”It is controversial. I know that it takes a side and I know that not everyone agrees with that, and I’m looking forward to finding out what the other folks in the community think about it,” says Missoula Education Foundation Executive Director Dave Chrismon.”It may not apply to what we have in our school district here, so I think they’re being proactive and having a panel put together like that so people have an avenue to ask questions and voice concerns,” says Missoula resident Pattie Corrigan-Ekness.The Missoula Education Association is hosting a public panel on the documentary Monday, December 13th. It will start at 6:30pm at the Wilma Theater. The discussion will allow members of the public to ask questions and voice concerns.

VU students protest “School of Assassins”

VU students protest “School of Assassins”

By Jon Christian

School of AssissinsCaitlin Mitchell

Demonstrators were arrested as they made their way back to the parking lot

On a sunny Saturday afternoon a few days before Thanksgiving, Katy Savage found herself in Muscogee County Jail in Columbus, Georgia. Savage, who traveled to Columbus with eight Vanderbilt students to take part in the annual School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) vigil, never imagined she would be arrested during the course of the demonstration.

“I said ‘you guys aren’t doing the [civil disobedience] thing, are you?’ and they said ‘no, no, we’re just standing on the sidewalk,” Savage said. 30 seconds later, I was arrested.”

The School of the Americas, which was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) in 2001, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located near Columbus. Human rights activists have called for the school to be closed for years due to widespread reports of graduates committing war crimes upon their return to Latin America. Graduates of the academy include Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega and Raúl Iturriaga, director of the secret police under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

SOAW was founded in 1990 by Catholic priest Roy Bourgeois in order to draw attention to the institution’s record of human rights abuses. This year’s vigil was the organization’s twenty-first protest.

Vanderbilt sophomore Caitlin Mitchell, who took a lead role organizing the trip to the vigil, first became interested in SOAW when Bourgeois gave a presentation at her high school. She attended the vigil for the first time in 2009, and decided to mobilize a larger number of Vanderbilt undergraduates to attend the event this year. Working with Vanderbilt Students for Nonviolence, she pulled together a group of nine Vanderbilt and Nashville activists who pooled their resources to make it to this year’s vigil.

For Mitchell, taking part in nonviolent demonstrations like the SOAW vigil is both about enacting political change and learning what other activists are doing at the grassroots level around the country and the world. She used her own excitement about demilitarization, education and peaceful demonstration to inspire fellow students to do the same.

“I told potential participants that they would get a chance to learn about U.S. policy in Latin America, and that they would get to meet activists from all over the United States and Latin America,” Mitchell said. “It was less about saying ‘get angry at this,’ and more about ‘hey, look what cool things you can do.’”

The School of the Americas Watch vigil is characterized by a bold artistic sensibility which incorporates elaborate costumes, large-scale puppets and theatrical performances.

Traditionally, a large number of activists at the vigil would climb over the barbed wire fences separating WHISC from the protest zone. Following 9/11, the penalty for doing so was raised to 6 months in prison, and only a few protesters scaled the fence this year. On Saturday, however, a number of demonstrators – some wearing massive puppet costumes – moved to the edge of the protest zone and blocked traffic.

“The way the protest was set up is they had the street up to the gates and the first intersection blocked off as the official protest zone. Afterwards, a group of 12 people were going to march out of the protest zone and block traffic in the street,” Mitchell said.

When demonstrators stepped off the curb, police moved in and began to arrest people both on and off the protest zone. In addition to activists, police arrested journalists, photographers and one local man who was not involved with the SOAW vigil but who stepped out of a local barber shop to take a photograph of the chaos.

“The police were blaring speakers, saying that if we left the protest zone we could be arrested,” Mitchell said. “I was just standing at this gas station, and there were people right in front of me getting arrested.”

In the confusion, somebody handed Savage the arm of an elaborate, multi-person puppet. The police apprehended her almost immediately.

“What’s astonishing to me is that at this point, they’re not evening making up things that people were arrested for like disorderly conduct or disrupting the peace or anything like that,” Savage said. “They’re actually arresting people explicitly for following their First Amendment rights. I don’t know why that isn’t more of a big deal to people.”

That evening, a number of Vanderbilt students joined a rally of several hundred across the street from Muscogee County Jail, where Savage was being held, to show their support for the people who were arrested. Police emerged with riot gear and dispersed the gathering.

“People started to realize, ‘wait, what if they arrest us too?’” said Tristan Call, a graduate student with the Vanderbilt Department of Anthropology. “It was a major reality check for a lot of us. If you’re involved with a movement like this in the United States, your constitutional rights don’t exist. Or, they only exist until after you’ve been arrested.”

Savage spent a day and a half in jail before going to trial with the other 25 activists who were taken into custody on Saturday. None of the police could remember where she had been apprehended or any specifics of the arrest, but she was charged with unlawful assembly, picketing and demonstration without a permit. In total, 25 out of 26 arrested individuals were penalized with jail time or fines – including the local man from the barber shop.

“It takes them about a half an hour to ring up a credit card in jail,” Call said with a laugh. “It takes 30 seconds at Subway, but in jail – we were literally there for six hours paying fines for everybody to get out.”

The group returned home determined to bring an even larger group to the vigil next year. In spite of her ordeal, Savage says that she’s glad to have shown support for victims of WHISC and for all that she learned over the weekend.

“The conferences that they hold before and during [the vigil] are what I really relish,” Savage said. “[and the opportunity] to learn about things that people are doing, and ways that you can connect with people.”

For more information about SOA/WHISC, visit soaw.org.

Adiala Jail Missing Prisoners and Holding ISI Accountable Under Pakistani Law

Fabrications and plain lies

The case of the Adiala Jail missing prisoners has taken a bizarre turn. In the November 24 hearing of this case, the attorney general had stated on behalf of the intelligence agencies that they did not have the prisoners in their custody. These prisoners had been acquitted by the Lahore High Court, but had not been released from Adiala Jail, from where they mysteriously disappeared in May. In a hearing held on the request of the government, the counsel for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) submitted before the Supreme Court (SC) that the two intelligence agencies now have custody of the missing prisoners. Does the tale that they have been arrested during a special operation in the tribal areas conducted after the last hearing of the case sound plausible? Based on the track record of the intelligence agencies, it appears a hastily put together face-saving lie that does not stand up to the test of scrutiny.

It is not a coincidence that the intelligence agencies consider themselves above the law. After independence, it was inevitable that the over-developed state structure inherited from the British in the presence of weak political and social institutions would lead to the dominance of state institutions unaccountable to the public. The protracted authoritarian rule of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and later Pervez Musharraf made them even more accustomed to acting independently, without any fear of accountability. That this attitude has trickled down to the lowest levels of the law enforcing apparatus could be gauged from the thana culture, where even a station house officer considers himself above the law. It is pertinent to mention that during the hearing of the missing persons’ case in 2007, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had said that the Supreme Court could summon the directors general of the intelligence agencies to answer the court and account for the disappeared persons. It is thus entirely likely that the ISI and MI already had custody of the Adiala Jail prisoners, but did not want to admit it at first.

Even if we concede that the ISI-MI lawyer’s submission is correct, it leaves many questions unanswered. Why did the provincial authorities continue to detain these prisoners when the court had ordered their release? How could the jail authorities allow any intelligence agency’s officials, fake or real, to spirit away prisoners? If the intelligence agencies are so efficient as to track down these people within two weeks, why did they wait so long to do it? Can these people be tried under the Army Act in a General Field Court Martial, as the ISI-MI counsel contended before the court, when in the past all civilians involved in terrorism were tried in anti-terrorist courts? The overbearing attitude of the intelligence agencies exhibited in the last two hearings amounts to contempt of court. This is now a question of the judicial system’s prestige because these prisoners were kidnapped from judicial custody. A judiciary restored on the slogan of the rule of law, should not allow a flouting of the law by the law enforcement agencies themselves.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature of Thursday’s hearing was an unconditional admission by the ISI-MI counsel that the intelligence agencies are answerable to the courts and the law. If the military and intelligence agencies are convinced that the detained individuals are indeed involved in various attacks on military targets, they should present evidence in the court. If the existing laws are inadequate and allow terrorists to go scot-free, then perhaps parliament should consider specific legislation aimed at removing the loopholes in the laws concerning terrorist cases. Acting above and beyond the law, and then spinning contradictory stories to get themselves off the hook, as our spooks appear to be doing, is simply unacceptable.

Bomb Attack On CM Raisani Conspiracy To Trigger Pakistani Civil War

Murder attempts conspiracy to trigger civil war: BA

* Raisani says he will discuss CSS issue with prime minister

By Mohammad Zafar

QUETTA: The Balochistan Assembly has condemned the assassination attempts on Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi and Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani and termed it part of a conspiracy to push the province towards civil war.

The session met under the chairmanship of Speaker Aslam Bhootani on Friday.

The assembly unanimously adopted the adjournment motion moved by Sheikh Jaffar Mandokhel to condemn the attempt to assassinate Nawab Magsi and Raisani.

Taking part in the debate, Provincial Health Minister Ainullah Shams said that foreign elements were involved in creating serious law and order situation in Balochistan. He said it was necessary that the government should hold talks with ambassadors concerned about their alleged involvement in the internal affairs of Pakistan.

“A committee must be formed, comprising members of the Balochistan Assembly, to hold talks with ambassadors,” he said and also suggested to call an all parties conference in Balochistan to evolve a strategy. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam will support and take part if any one announces the all parties’ conference. “I do not agree with those who say that law and order is provincial subject because provincial forces have better coordination with federal forces and they must expedite their efforts to maintain law and order situation,” the health minister said.

The legislators also passed an amended criminal procedure code bill and two resolutions on CSS issue. Minister for Prosecution, Rahila Durrani, moved a resolution, which read that 14 candidates, out of 34 from Balochistan, who had passed the CSS exam, had yet to get posting. The resolution recommended to the provincial government to approach the federal government to seek posting for the 14 remaining candidates besides ensuring posting on vacant seats in the Balochistan Police.

The chief minister said he would discuss the CSS issue with the prime minister soon. Minister for Irrigation Sardar Aslam Bezinjo tabled Criminal Procedure Code 1898 (Balochistan Amendment), which was passed into law unanimously.

U.S. Special Envoy Holbrooke in Intensive Care After Falling Ill at Office

U.S. Special Envoy Holbrooke in Intensive Care After Falling Ill at Office

By Indira Lakshmanan and Flavia Krause-Jackson
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, according to a hospital official who asked not to be identified.

Holbrooke, 69, has spent the last two years traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and seeking support from allies to help promote economic development and stabilize the neighboring countries that have been plagued by terrorism.

Holbrooke felt ill while working today on the seventh floor of the State Department headquarters, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office is located, said Philip J. Crowley, the department spokesman.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was also admitted today to George Washington University Hospital in northwest Washington for surgery to remove a kidney stone.

Holbrooke is a veteran diplomat who, as an assistant secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, was the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia in the 1990s. He later served as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

He was a diplomat in President Jimmy Carter’s administration and was in charge of U.S. relations with China when the U.S. normalized ties in December 1978.

Over the last several months, Holbrooke has been preparing a report for President Barack Obama on the current state of governance and development in Afghanistan. The U.S. and allies have a combined force of about 150,000 troops to turn back Taliban advances and train Afghan soldiers and police.