After more than two weeks of negotiations during the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, diplomats from almost 200 nations finally agreed on two major points: ramp up the fight against climate change and help at-risk countries prepare. Specifically, governments agreed to meet again next in 2022 with more robust plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030, significantly reduce emissions of methane (which has even more global warming potential than CO2), and nearly double the aid to poor countries to help them mitigate the effects of climate change. Notably, nations agreed to initiate reductions in coal-fired power and to begin slashing government subsidies on other fossil fuels, representing the first time a COP text mentioned coal and fossil fuels.
Alok Sharma, COP26’s chief organizer, called the Glasgow Climate Pact “a fragile win.”
Acknowledging the deal is imperfect, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry registered his support. “You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and this is good. This is a powerful statement,” he said. “We in the United States are really excited by the fact that this raises ambition on a global basis.”
And while the agreement represents a step forward, it has been roundly criticized by scientists, climate activists and representatives from small, poorer nations who will feel the brunt of the climate impacts much sooner than big, richer ones.
Shauna Aminath, environment minister of the Maldives, denounced the final COP26 deal as “not in line with the urgency and scale required.” The Maldives has supported life and human civilization for millennia, but 80 percent of the archipelago of low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean is poised to be uninhabitable by 2050 due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. “What looks balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time,” Aminath said. “It will be too late for the Maldives.”
“COP26 has closed the gap, but it has not solved the problem,” said Niklas Hoehne, a climate policy expert from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Long before the annual climate chinwag, there was an air of futility about what has been described as our “last and best chance” at securing a livable environment for future generations. How could there not be? The leaders of more than 150 countries have been trying to lower humankind’s global warming emissions since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks started more than a quarter-century ago. And since the first summit was held in 1995, global emissions have, instead, skyrocketed.
The summit’s host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson—who joined activists in invoking the mantra “keep 1.5 alive“—was unimpressed with his guests, saying during the G20 summit (held in Rome in the days leading up to COP26) that all the world leaders’ pledges without action were “starting to sound hollow” and criticizing their weak commitments as “drops in a rapidly warming ocean.”
Science has put a deadline on us. In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—a limit decided by the Paris agreement—humankind must achieve “net-zero” emissions (i.e., whatever amount we emit into the atmosphere, we must also remove) by 2050. But that target seems highly unlikely. Big polluting nations like the United States, China and Russia not only continue to burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate but also continue to drill for more oil. China—the world’s biggest emitter, responsible for more than a quarter of humanity’s total emissions—and Russia have pushed their own net-zero targets to 2060. India has pushed it to 2070. That is kicking the climate can down the field, to be dealt with by future leaders. (A quick glance at a graphic created by the Economist showing the quick and steep drop in emissions that China must undergo to achieve its own target underscores the magnitude, and perhaps folly, of winning the war against the climate crisis.)
In the United States, a divided nation has ossified a gridlocked legislature that hasn’t passed many game-changing climate laws. Much environmental protection has been exercised through executive actions, such as regulations imposed by federal agencies, which can be simply overturned by the next administration. When a Democrat is in the White House, environmental protection is higher on the priority list. When a Republican is in the White House, it’s more about protecting polluters. The country lacks the necessary strong federal and state climate legislation to protect people and the environment from toxic, global-warming pollution, protect fenceline communities (which are often poor communities of color and Indigenous communities) and hold polluters to account.
One of the bright spots of the summit was a landmark $19 billion agreement between more than 100 nations—together responsible for about 85 percent of the world’s forests—to end deforestation by 2030. Healthy, intact forests are critical in the climate fight as they prevent around one-third of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
But in a press statement, Dan Zarin, the executive director of forests and climate change at Wildlife Conservation Society, said that the Glasgow Climate Pact “does not mean that the world has solved the climate crisis.” He pointed out that even if all the participating nations’ pledges to reduce emissions (known as “nationally determined contributions” or “NDCs”) were achieved, the world would not hit the 45 percent reduction needed by 2030 to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the Glasgow Climate Pact, countries only agreed to strengthen their NDCs by the end of 2022.
President Joe Biden, who attended the summit, hailed the forest agreement, which aims to restore almost 500 million acres of ecosystems, including forests, by 2030. “We’re going to work to ensure markets recognize the true economic value of natural carbon sinks and motivate governments, landowners and stakeholders to prioritize conservation,” said Biden, adding that the plan will “help the world deliver on our shared goal of halting natural forest loss.”
But activists were less enthused. The forest agreement “is one of those oft repeated attempts to make us believe that deforestation can be stopped and forest can be conserved by pushing billions of dollars into the land and territories of the Indigenous Peoples,” said Souparna Lahiri of the Global Forest Coalition, an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations defending the rights of forest peoples.
“[R]eferences to the rights of Indigenous peoples are relatively weak” in the Glasgow text, said Jennifer Tauli Corpuz, a lawyer from the Igorot people in the Philippines and chief policy lead at Nia Tero, a nonprofit advocacy group for Indigenous peoples. Specifically, she said that “[w]e will have to watch closely the implementation of [COP26’s] new carbon scheme,” referring to the finalization of rules that will manage the creation of the international carbon market, and were part of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
In addition to the lack of Indigenous representation in the final text of the Glasgow Climate Pact, people from poorer island nations that are most susceptible to the impacts of sea level rise were also underrepresented at the talks, mainly due to COVID-19 restrictions. Just three out of 14 climate-vulnerable Pacific island states were able to send delegates to COP26, while the fossil fuel industry sent more than 500 delegates.
Ultimately, the climate pledges made by nations do not match the climate policies of those nations. And since the pledges are non-binding, there is no legal stimulus to ensure that actual policies line up with those pledges. “The NDCs are voluntary measures,” said Lakshman Guruswamy, an expert in international environmental law at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “There’s no way of implementing, imposing, or trying to enforce a non-binding agreement.”
No penalties, no legal ramifications, no climate court, no climate police. All people have is civil society. It’s up to us “regular people” to stand up, speak up and mobilize; to inspire care for the climate and the environment in young people; and to rethink and retool our own personal behaviors to be in line with the ultimate goals we have for the future. There can be no significant change without the political will behind candidates who will fight against climate change and pressure to hold elected officials to their word. What many U.S. engaged citizens don’t realize is that it’s not enough to participate only once every four years by voting in presidential elections. Real change happens when people take an active role in their local communities. It starts at home, with our families, our friends and our neighbors.
Make no mistake: Our personal decisions as consumers play a decisive role in the state of the global climate. “While large oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, we consumers are complicit,” writes Renee Cho, a staff writer for the Columbia Climate School. “We demand the products and energy made from the fossil fuels they provide. One scientist found that 90 percent of fossil fuel companies’ emissions are a result of the products made from fossil fuels.”
Sadly, according to a recent poll, even though a majority of people believe that climate change is a serious issue, few are actually willing to change their lifestyles to help save the environment. “Citizens are undeniably concerned by the state of the planet, but these findings raise doubts regarding their level of commitment to preserving it,” according to the survey of 10 countries, which included the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. “Rather than translating into a greater willingness to change their habits, citizens’ concerns are particularly focused on their negative assessment of governments’ efforts… The widespread awareness of the importance of the climate crisis illustrated in this study has yet to be coupled with a proportionate willingness to act.”
Even if consumers become more willing to adapt their behaviors to make them more climate-friendly, they are not necessarily knowledgeable as to how to make those changes. “[I]ndividual consumers are not capable of identifying the behavior changes that are really worth doing to help the climate,” writes John Thøgersen, an economic psychologist at Aarhus University, in the journal Behavioral Sciences.
Emmanuel Rivière, director of international polling at Kantar Public, which ran the 10-country survey to coincide with COP26, said the poll results contained “a double lesson for governments.”
First, they must “measure up to people’s expectations… [b]ut they also have to persuade people not of the reality of the climate crisis—that’s done—but of what the solutions are, and of how we can fairly share responsibility for them.”
By Reynard Loki
Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, AlterNet, Counterpunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.
Essential Things Prohibited in Marriage According to Java Tradition and Culture and in Bible’s Point of View
Indonesia is a vast archipelago consisting of more than 17,000 islands, has more than 1340 ethnic groups and tribes, according to the 2010 BPS census.
The Javanese are the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, accounting for 41% of the total population and the most populous population. Java is divided into 5 provinces and one district with a community character that has strong cultural ties is Surakarta or well-known said as Solo.
It is located in Central Java Province and the other city is Yogjakarta in the Special Region of Yogyakarta. It is said that for centuries, culture and beliefs that have been passed down from time immemorial need to be preserved and appreciated, especially in a life event that is predicted to involve bad luck and good fortune. In the marriage culture, there is a sign that there are still many who believe and consider it when they decide on their life’s partner when come to marriage life.
People understand that there are consequences of prohibition in the culture, especially Javanese culture. The author describes things as follows concerning the prohibition of marriage according to Javanese culture.
First: do not hold any celebration especially Wedding Party in “Suro” month (Muharram)
Whoever he is, if he is Javanese and is going to hold a celebration, especially a wedding party, then one thing that must be considered is that every Javanese, whoever and adheres to any religion, this community group must avoid any celebration in the month of Suro or well-known also as Muharram. The month, which is considered sacred for most Javanese people, is believed to bring bad luck or bad things to those who do not heed the prohibitions that have been existing in Javanese society for generations.
It is said that it was Nyai Roro Kidul, the ruler of the Java Sea holds the celebrations in the month of Suro, and therefore ordinary people are forbidden or unable to hold parties/celebrations, or they would get a disaster for ignoring the prohibition.
Second: do not get married if “weton” calculation is not matched
One way to determine a mate is based on a weton compatibility calculation. In Javanese culture, the calculation of “weton” or date and day is very important, let someone a miscalculation, it can damage the marriage life, for example if it does not match the weton of one of the future couple. On the other hand, if the couple is matched according to the calculation of the weton, the two will be in harmony and will live a good life together. If according to Weton, the couple is not compatible and force themselves to get married, it is believed that disaster and disharmony will come in their marriage life. Concerning this weton, the author will continue his description in the next chapter based on calculations and predictions of marriage. 1 dan 1; 1 dan 1 dan 1, 1 dan 3.
Third: never marry on position of birth 1st with 1st , 1st with 1st and 1st and 1st, and 1st with 3rd
There are things that are forbidden if the first child will marry the first child (siji lan siji). If they insisted on getting married, then it would lead to bad luck for the future couple. It is believed that they will face disaster or calamity. Usually, for families who believe in their beliefs and follow Javanese culture, that option should be considered. Logically, the burden of the first child will be heavy if the parents are too old or die, then the first child will be responsible for his brothers and sisters including the whole family.
It is also prohibited when 1st gets married with 1st and 1st (siji jejer telu), it refers to couple of 1st child with 1st child and one of their parents are 1st child too. If the calculating is like that, it is better to avoid or not proceed the marriage, it will cause you bad luck and disaster also will threat their relationship.
Another prohibition is when 1st child gets married with 3rd child (siji lan telu), it means if couple is 1st child and 3rd child, and they still insist to get married, only few of this society who believes that their marriage would get a lot of trouble. Maybe Javanese believe that character between 1st and 3rd child is different, therefore will cause lots of problem.
Fourth: do not break the marriage rules because of wrong house’s position
There are interesting things to note about the position of the couple’s home. If this is not taken care of, there will be lack and no happiness in their marriage even their parents will pass away soon.
Marriage cannot be held if house of the couple is face or opposite each other. If they are insist to held a marriage, then one of them have to give in with house renovation and heading the house so it will not face each other. Or one of the couple, have to “thrown out of the family” and take by other family closed to their house but not face each other.
Marriage is not allowed if the house is adjacent to the in-laws’ house. In the prohibition of Javanese customs this must be taken into consideration. If this is unconsidered, the consequences for parents will pass away in short time.
Marriage cannot be held if the prospective spouse’s house is only five steps away.
This prohibition is quite interesting. This means that, it refers to the house around, which incidentally is a close neighbor. Wouldn’t it be closer to understand better the situation or character of a potential partner??? However for those who adhere to Javanese customs, this is prohibited. If they break up, it can give such result like an unhappy marriage, not getting along and there are only shortcomings.
Fifth: prohibit rule that related with day and date of birth
In addition to not being allowed to carry out marriages in the month of Suro (Muharram), there are also based on calculations to determine the hour, day, month; but some are calculated based on the date of birth. Determining the date of marriage for the Javanese, is very important. If you choose the wrong date for the wedding, bad luck will follow you. But if you choose the right wedding date and always get the fortune. In addition to certain days, dates and months, those who follow Javanese custom, it is believed that if the wedding is held on the groom’s birth date, the marriage shall bring the fortune to the couple and keep the disaster away from their marriage’s life.
Sixth: prohibit rule that related with gift
At the time of the wedding, the invited guests usually give the gifts to the bride and groom as an expression of prayer and congratulations. For the present time, it is more in terms of benefit and practically therefore, it is not merely about the form of the gift itself. According to Javanese myth, the first gift that should be opened is the one that will be used first in starting or treading family life. If this is done then the family will get good luck.
Bible and Christianity point of view concerning Javanese culture
Basically, in Bible it was written that every day is a good day (Genesis 1:3, 31 & Galatians 4:9-11). There is no bad day, everything happens is in God hand. Eternal relationship and journey of marriage life become a good events, not because of weton calculation, day, birth position and what would be the celebration, but more to God’s word also put Bible as a guidance in marriage. Put Bible above culture, as form to honor our Almighty God to rule our life (Matthew 15:1-20). More than that, the fundamentals of marriage life are pray, loving, trusting, patient and struggle (1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Galatians 5:22-23). Kindly our Lord the Almighty, be the center of happiness and prosperity.
Editor: Nia S. Amira
Parents Should Use Facts, Not Fear When Deciding to Vaccinate Children
In a paper published in November in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, leading experts in pediatrics, immunology and infectious diseases posed a question that is currently haunting parents everywhere.
“Should children be vaccinated against COVID-19?”
It’s a tough question and, as the experts bleakly conclude, there is no easy answer. There is still “no consensus on whether all healthy children under 12 years of age should be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Parents, few of whom will be equipped to calculate the risk-benefit ratio in question, now face a dilemma, and polls have shown that up to 60 percent of parents are reluctant to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds.
Over the past few months, health authorities in country after country have been opening up their COVID-19 vaccination programs to children as young as five years old.
The majority of parents will be among the estimated 62 percent of the world’s population who have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, having trusted the scientific consensus that the drugs are both safe and effective.
But when it comes to deciding whether or not to have their child jabbed, many parents will be veering instinctively towards vaccine hesitancy – and, say the experts, they might be right to entertain doubts.
The authors of the new study conclude that the case for vaccinating healthy children “is more difficult than for adults as the balance of risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in children is more complex, as the relative harms from vaccination and disease are less well established in this age group.”
Their advice? Well, of course, there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer.
The first question for parents to address is, “Why?” COVID-19 has been seen to be much milder in children than in adults, and even when it is severe, deaths are much rarer.
That, of course, would be no consolation to a family that loses a child, so why not have the vaccination anyway, just in case?
Another good question. After all, the more people, adults and children, who are vaccinated, the more the spread of COVID-19 is hampered.
Like adults, children also transmit the coronavirus if they’re infected, even if they have no symptoms.
In October, the US Food and Drug Administration said that vaccine safety and effectiveness had been studied in a group of almost 3,100 children, and the drugs had been found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
There are other benefits to vaccinating children, such as minimizing disruption to education.
So what about the downsides of vaccination – the threat of possible side effects?
The emerging reality is that these are extremely rare in children. A child might suffer pain at the injection site or could feel tired for a while. Headaches, achy muscles or joints, and even fever and chills, are also possible, but are almost always short-lived.
The worst possible side effect, of course, is death. As one meme on Facebook put it, “We are being told to line up our children to get something that might kill them, to protect them from something that can’t kill them.”
But this is demonstrably false scaremongering. A review of COVID-19 deaths in England, published in November 2021, found that 25 infected patients under the age of 18 had died from having the virus. At the same time, of three million children having been given the vaccination, not one had died as a result of the jab.
In December, UK medicines watchdog the MHRA approved use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds, following a review of safety data that took account of the fact that at that point over 5.5 million dosages of the vaccine had been given to 5- to 11-year-olds in the US alone, with no adverse consequences.
For some, there is a moral dimension to hesitancy. Is it right, they are asking, for adults to protect themselves by subjecting children to vaccination?
The answer is “yes”. Vaccinating children protects the whole community, not just the adults. Plus, the more comprehensive a vaccination program, the less likely it is that other variants will emerge – variants that might pose threats to specific groups, including young children.
Others fear that giving their children a “new” drug, without any data on its long-term safety, might be a risk, but this is to misunderstand the nature of the vaccines.
The mRNA technology that lies behind vaccines such as the Pfizer-BioNTech jab – on offer for young children in the UAE and Saudi Arabia – is not new, and neither is it introducing potentially hazardous substances into the body.
Some vaccines work by introducing a weakened or inactivated virus into our bodies to trigger an immune response. On the other hand, vaccines based on mRNA merely teach our bodies to recognize the proteins produced by viruses or bacteria and trigger an immune response.
Ultimately, though, the decision about whether to vaccinate children must lie with their parents – and here’s where I must declare an interest.
I am the fully-jabbed father of a 7-year-old daughter and, after much soul-searching – and a great deal of research – my wife and I have decided that she should have the vaccine.
We have reached this decision on two grounds. The first is that she is more at risk – albeit only a tiny risk – from COVID-19 than she is from the vaccination.
The second is that her inoculation will represent a tiny but significant step towards humankind’s ultimate victory over a virus that, to date, has claimed almost six million lives.
Ultimately, of course, it is your choice. Just be sure your decision is informed by facts, and not by unfounded fears.
By Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.
This article was produced by Syndication Bureau to publish on Telegraf.
Kamala vs. Mitt: Two Different Viewpoints of Family Planning Prefigure Different Futures for Planetary Health
Forget their policies for a moment, and consider how two politicians’ lives foreshadow our ecological future.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris does not have any biological children and grew up middle-class. Meanwhile, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a Mormon with five kids, was born into wealth and has substantially increased it for his family.
Their lives prefigure very different futures for the country and its children.
If those in the U.S. who are privileged enough to be able to follow Romney’s example of having unearned family privileges and a large family choose to do so, then the entire country will eventually arrive at an ecologically degraded and unsustainable future, as well as a crowded political system, where the day-to-day reality of life is defined by massive inequity driven by family wealth. The increase in population, which is “rising unevenly,” is one of the contributing factors leading to an “unprecedented” decline in nature that is “accelerating” species extinction rates, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The continued and unchecked growth of the human population might exacerbate this situation further.
Meanwhile, if we follow Harris’ example, and especially if she uses her earned wealth to further social justice in her current position, we arrive at a more sustainable future and an optimal world population, where every vote counts, and privilege is earned rather than inherited.
Which of these two futures do parents want for their children?
Parents have a right to protect their children’s future by not following the example and choices of people like Mitt Romney, whose life is like a microcosm of what it means to exploit the environment and capitalize on one’s birth position.
In March, the Senate passed legislation, urged on by Romney, that while appearing to lift children out of poverty, is probably better characterized as an attempt to nudge people to have more kids. The legislation does nothing to truly eliminate child poverty by moving toward recognizing every child’s right to a fair start in life and does not help to promote smaller and more sustainable families amid the climate crisis or provide solutions for preventing future population-driven pandemics. The legislation also does nothing to address fundamental problems that will continue to grow with the push for more babies. It does nothing to prevent child abuse and the horrific acts of torture some children continue to face at the hands of their caregivers. It does nothing to restore the natural world that previous generations enjoyed and that is likely to be stolen from future generations if nothing is done to remedy the situation.
What can people in the U.S. do to fight for their rights to a natural and democratic future when even a more progressive Congress ignores them? While many have lauded President Joe Biden’s plans as a modern-day New Deal, there is also a need to envision a more physical and intergenerational revision of the social contract where the people of this country can prioritize children’s right to an ecologically and socially fair start in life simply because future children represent the constant restarting of the agreement. The rights of the children, in this sense, override all competing rights, including the rights of the uber-wealthy—like those paying millions to be space tourists—to hoard resources that could instead be used for improving family planning.
This change can come from the grassroots, not just by telling political leaders what’s important to them, but also by engaging in their communities to spread information about the connection between ensuring a better future for children in terms of climate, democracy, and other opportunities. Given what’s at stake, it would be immoral not to recreate the social contract to make it fair from the start and move the country as a whole a bit more toward making choices that are represented by Harris rather than Romney.
Regardless of the action that people take and the example that they choose to follow, between Harris and Romney, they now have starkly different examples of the kinds of lives children can lead, and what they represent for the future of humanity at large.
By Carter Dillard is the policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement. He served as an Honors Program attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal.
How Community Schools Are Helping a Hard Hit City Dig Out of Tough Times
Rocked by vanishing industries and charter school expansions, Erie public schools are fighting back with a “transformative” education approach.
Days after the GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, announced a round of crippling layoffs in 2013, an employee was found hanging from a crane in “Building 20,” according to the Erie Times-News. The image of a dead worker dangling from a crane in a dying factory seemed symbolic of a city going ever deeper into the depths of despair.
GE Transportation, once the largest employer in the county, has been shedding jobs for years, dropping from 20,000 workers, who were employed when the company was at its peak, to 3,000 in January 2017 after it “laid off 1,500 of its remaining 4,500 workers,” according to Yahoo News. Other plants in Erie—Hammermill Paper Company, a paper mill; Lord Corporation, a maker of industrial coatings, adhesives, motion management devices, and sensing technologies; and Zurn, a plumbing equipment manufacturer—were also shedding jobs or closing completely, according to a 2018 Associated Press article that appeared in the Pennsylvania newspaper the Morning Call. The layoffs and shutdowns affected blue-collar and white-collar workers alike.
As good-paying jobs left Erie, families increasingly left the local schools. By the 2016-2017 school year, the district estimated its schools were 5,000 students below capacity, reported the Erie Times-News, which meant less money was coming into the district from the state, compounding the district’s long-standing funding deprivation from the state—among the lowest in Pennsylvania, according to the Erie City School District’s assessment.
Asking local taxpayers to dig deeper was not an option in a city where almost 28 percent of residents lived below the poverty level, the median home value was significantly below the state average, and an abundance of government-related buildings made almost a third of the real estate tax-exempt.
Erie’s school district was also bleeding money to an expanding charter school sector, one of the largest in the state. In the 2015-2016 school year alone, Erie paid more than $22 million to charter schools.
Students remaining in district schools tended to be the ones who were the costliest to teach. In a 2016 report using data from the 2014-2015 school year, 80 percent of Erie K-12 students were classified as poor, and 17.6 percent qualified for special education services. The district was also in the top 3 percent among Pennsylvania school districts for the number of English language learners.
By 2016, the combination of the cratering local economy with declining school revenues had resulted in the district accumulating a debt load of $9.5 million in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Erie Times-News.
So dire were Erie’s financial straits that in 2016, the then district superintendent, Jay Badams, went to the state legislature in Harrisburg, NPR reported, and threatened to close the district’s high schools unless the state came up with emergency funding.
When I interviewed Badams in 2017, he told me his startling proposal was an “ethical decision,” because the more affluent school districts that Erie students would transfer to were more generously funded and offered richer learning opportunities.
Shortly after our conversation, Badams announced he would leave the district at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, partially due to his frustrations with funding. But before he left, he put into place two innovations that would help pull the district out of its nosedive.
First, a fiscal rescue package that included state emergency funding and a plan to consolidate schools resulted in the district rebounding from a deficit to a budget surplus of nearly $714,000 going into the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Erie Times-News.
The second innovation would take longer to bear fruit but would nevertheless show how public schools can be a rallying point for communities traumatized by wrenching change.
‘A Greater Sense of Hope’
“The biggest difference between Erie schools in 2016 and now is that there’s a greater sense of hope and a feeling that we’re having a more positive impact in the community,” says Joelyn Bush.
Bush is the director of marketing and communications at United Way of Erie County, a local nonprofit that teamed up with Erie’s Public Schools in 2016 to help implement the second innovation Badams proposed before he left—a pilot project at five Erie schools testing an approach called community schools that helps schools in a high-poverty district address the needs of students who have increasingly difficult lives.
“In 2016, we knew the biggest challenge Erie families faced was growing poverty,” Bush recalls. “Whatever we chose to do would have to address that.”
The model would also need to work within the district’s ongoing financial constraints.
The community schools approach matched the district’s criteria because, by design, it repositions schools as neighborhood hubs, not only for education, but also for integrated health, nutritional, and social services. And rather than requiring significant new outlays from local taxpayers, the funding model relies by and large on establishing a network of donor sources, primarily government grants and donations from local businesses and nonprofits with strong ties to the community.
In Erie’s case, seed money of $1.5 million for the pilot was provided by local and regional nonprofits, according to the Erie Reader, and each school implementing the approach was paired with corporations and nonprofits that pledged to cover ongoing costs of $100,000 per school, per year. The entire effort would be coordinated and managed by the county United Way.
“We knew we had people, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that wanted to help Erie schools,” says Mike Jaruszewicz, vice president of community impact for United Way of Erie County. “The community schools model provides the framework to do that, so people who want to help see how they can.”
“This wasn’t just a patchwork of programs to implement here and there,” says Bush; it was a way to have “real collective impact.”
Erica Erwin, currently the coordinator of public relations and strategic communications for Erie’s Public Schools, was an education beat reporter for the Erie Times-News when the district announced its pilot program. “The idea that there was a way to address barriers to learning, like poverty, by establishing a network of partners to help address the barriers was fascinating to me,” she recalls. “The idea seemed transformative.”
‘Thank God You’re Here’
But if the community schools approach were to fulfill its lofty promises, it would need to be workable for the people who had to implement it.
One of those people was Amy Grande, the community school director at McKinley Elementary School, one of the five schools in the initial pilot.
Born and raised in Erie, Grande has lived in the community her whole life. Prior to being hired for her job at McKinley, she had volunteered in the district starting in 2009, and then was hired as a gym teacher and an athletic coach.
Although she felt she knew her community and its problems—and felt confident that the community schools approach could help address those problems—she wasn’t sure how teachers would welcome having yet another program come into their school, especially one that saddled the school with the responsibility to address community conditions outside of the school.
It turned out she didn’t need to worry: “The teachers’ first reactions were, ‘Thank God you’re here,’” she says.
What teachers appreciated about the community schools approach and Grande’s role was that it gave them a way—and a person—to address the nonacademic issues that interfere with student learning but can’t be addressed by time- and resource-constrained teachers.
For instance, because Grande took her position midyear, during the typically harsh Erie winter, there were students who came to school late, or not at all, because they lacked warm clothing.
“Right away, I had 30 students who needed coats, boots, gloves, and hats,” she recalls.
What also quickly came to her attention were the school’s ongoing needs for basic food items supplied by the in-school pantry. Safety issues—such as lighting, security, and accessibility—also needed to be addressed. Eventually, she found herself helping families with things like utility bills and homelessness.
Sometimes, the issues were more complicated than what Grande and the school’s partnership with the United Way of Erie County could handle. But the community schools approach offered ways to take on and address those bigger challenges, too.
A Walking School Bus
“Transportation is a huge barrier for our families,” Grande says.
Getting to and from school became harder for Erie families when the city’s financial collapse caused the district to limit school bus service to only those families living outside a one-mile radius of the school. Later, that limitation was raised to 1.5 miles.
“At McKinley [Elementary School], that excludes most of our families,” Grande explains. “So, you’re talking about children as young as kindergarten having to cross dangerous roads, including highways, to get to school. That’s an incredible impediment to attendance.”
Consequently, McKinley Elementary School averaged only 73.5 percent of its students attending regularly in the 2018-2019 school year, which was well below the statewide average of 85.7 percent, according to an email sent by Jaruszewicz.
To begin to tackle the challenge, Erie educators and administrative staff, along with the support of their United Way partners, secured a grant to conduct a safe routes assessment to note where students live, the intersections they had to traverse, and the stoplights and sidewalk conditions students encountered along the way.
To address how students would get to and from the school, Erie schools and United Way of Erie County staff created a walking school bus.
“A walking school bus is a bus without the bus,” Grande explains, adding that a walking school bus consists of a group of students walking to school escorted by one or two adult “drivers.” The “bus” has designated “stops” in the morning where children “board” and proceed to the next stops along the way to school.
When school ends, students gather with their fellow “passengers” and are escorted back to the stops closest to their homes. Bus routes change based on safety conditions and the transportation needs of families from year to year.
Adult escorts for the walking school bus were recruited from a local service-oriented organization called the Blue Coats. The Blue Coats, Bush explains, was an entity born out of the need for Erie to address issues of unruliness and violence in the schools. The organization recruited volunteers, mostly men, to stand on street corners and other key traffic areas to monitor the behavior of students going to and from schools.
In 2015, the Erie school district credited the Blue Coats “with a sharp decline in violence in and around the schools,” according to an Associated Press article that appeared in the Washington Times, prompting a local philanthropy to award the Blue Coats a $300,000 grant, “to shepherd Erie children” through school.
McKinley Elementary’s first walking school bus started in February 2021 with only four students enrolled, but by the end of the school year, there were 30 students enrolled, according to Jaruszewicz. Of the 30 students enrolled, 26 increased their attendance, and the average number of students attending McKinley regularly jumped to 86 percent by the end of the school year in 2021, besting the state average.
Other Erie schools involved in the community schools pilot had similar success with raising student attendance rates. Strong Vincent Middle School saw chronic absenteeism decrease by 20 percent, according to Jaruszewicz. Edison Elementary School saw chronic absenteeism rates drop from 22 percent to 11 percent between 2017 and 2020.
Giving Erie a Fighting Chance
In 2018 and 2019, Erie’s Public Schools added one new school each year to its group of schools using the community schools approach. In July 2021, the district announced it would expand the approach to five more schools, based on the success of its pilot program, according to the Erie Times-News.
The short-term goal of the approach is for all students entering Erie High School to have attended a community school in their elementary and middle school years, according to the article. But “the long-term goal is to grow academic success,” says Jaruszewicz.
That may “take years for the results to show,” he readily admits, and certainly the interruption posed to in-person learning as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help.
But the progress Erie schools have made on improving student attendance is encouraging, as numerous research studies have found a close association between attendance in the elementary grades and achievement and social-emotional outcomes in later grades.
But Erie advocates for the community schools approach also tend to frame their efforts in a narrative about the city’s financial comeback.
“The work of community schools is also an economic development initiative,” says Jaruszewicz.
Erwin elaborates, “Improving the walkability to the school campus has ripple effects on family employability. If parents know their children have safe routes to and from school, they know they are free to be at work. When we add after-school programs for kids, parents know they can work afternoon shifts.”
Bush says, “The community schools approach is not just a school issue; it’s a community issue and an economic development issue. Investing in these students and families now will pay off in the long run because, through the model, we’re supporting the community’s future workforce.”
If Erie still has a fighting chance, it will need that.
By Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.
Biden’s Botched Withdrawal From Afghanistan Is Consistent With Two Decades of America’s Missteps There
The criticisms against Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan are coming from all corners. But most are missing the point.
President Joe Biden is under a tremendous amount of pressure from his own Democratic Party and the liberal media establishment for daring to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and allowing the country to fall back into the hands of the fundamentalist Taliban regime. Biden, in a statement on August 14, said, “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.” Just two days later, after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban stormed into the capital, Kabul, President Biden in a speech from the White House defiantly maintained that “there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” but was forced to admit that the Taliban resumed control of Afghanistan “more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Republicans predictably jumped on this demonstrable foreign policy failure, neglecting to mention that it was Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump who laid the groundwork for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and worked with the Taliban to do so. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expostulated, “This debacle was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen,” as if Trump would have done any better as a second-term president. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace chimed in, saying, “It looks like the Biden administration has just failed in its execution of its own plan,” even though of course the Democratic president was essentially carrying out Trump’s plan. The Republican National Committee has now deleted a page on its website that had celebrated Trump’s dealings with the Taliban, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
The corporate media was equally unforgiving of Biden. The Washington Post’s editorial board issued a scathing opinion blaming Biden for any future deaths, saying that the U.S. “assumed at least partial responsibility for all Afghans. Leaving them now means walking away from that responsibility.” The Post also worried about America’s global prestige, saying, “at risk is the United States’ reputation as a partner, as would-be allies around the world watch and calculate the value of an American commitment.”
In a similar vein, the New York Times’ Bret Stephens demanded to know, “What on earth was Joe Biden thinking—if, that is, he was thinking?” Like the Post, Stephens was deeply concerned about the nation’s reputation, asking, “What kind of ally is the United States?”
Such criticisms miss several glaring points. First, if a foreign military occupation made no progress toward democracy and human rights in 20 years, it is unlikely to do so in 20 more. Second, they are more concerned about the U.S.’s reputation as a global superpower (which is what the term “ally” really implies) than human lives. And third, although a majority of Americans once supported the Afghanistan War and occupation, today most Americans want the occupation to end.
Moreover, most critics of Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan appear to have missed the fact that the entirety of the occupation has been flawed and led to the debacle of the Taliban’s resurgence. Biden’s missteps were apropos of the entire occupation. Every step of the way, the United States made the wrong choice, regardless of which president, Republican or Democrat, was in power, from George W. Bush’s decision to work with corrupt and violent warlords, to Barack Obama’s choice to validate the Taliban by being the first to engage in peace talks with the ostensible enemy forces.
Biden’s fellow Democrats also joined in the criticism against him but got much closer to the questions that really need to be asked about the disastrous turn of events in Afghanistan. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal.” More importantly, he made the astute observation that “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”
Even though the U.S.-backed Afghan government has been ineffectual and corrupt directly as a result of choices that successive administrations made over the years, the Biden administration could have chosen to coordinate more closely with the institution if only to ensure that billions of dollars of U.S.-bought weapons would not fall into Taliban hands. Instead, according to Associated Press, “the ultimate beneficiary of the American investment [in Afghanistan’s military] turned out to be the Taliban,” who “grabbed not only political power but also U.S.-supplied firepower—guns, ammunition, helicopters and more.”
To summarize, the U.S. went to war against Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to punish the Taliban and Al Qaeda for the September 11 terrorist attacks, spent nearly two decades fighting a “war on terror,” and ended up leaving its ostensible enemy empowered both politically and militarily. American taxpayers, who naively backed the invasion and occupation, spent trillions of dollars in a brutal decades-long exercise in futility that resulted in lost lives, a traumatized Afghan population and a renewal of the forces that terrorized them.
The Taliban couldn’t have asked for a better war
It may be hard to believe that things could have been even worse under Trump. But if the former Republican president were in power now, it is likely we would be witnessing a similar situation but with even more violence. Former Secretary of State Pompeo in his Fox interview advised the Biden administration to “crush these Taliban who are surrounding Kabul,” adding, “We should do it with American airpower, we should put pressure on them, we should inflict cost and pain on them.” Past wars have demonstrated with striking reliability that such infliction of pain is never precise and always results in so-called “collateral damage,” a euphemism for civilian casualties. Trump had a proven penchant for using massive firepower with no regard for civilians, and with Pompeo offering him advice, we would likely have seen the same situation as we are seeing today but with the added horror of bombs falling on people attempting to flee the Taliban.
The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul is being likened by many to the fall of Saigon. Before the Afghanistan War, there was the Vietnam War. And there were many other wars during and before Vietnam and Afghanistan that garnered less attention. If there is a lesson that Americans as a nation ought to take away from these devastating militaristic exercises that consistently do more harm than good, it is to ensure we never again rally behind a desire to bomb, raid, occupy and militarily strike another nation. This means standing up to the liberal and conservative establishments that find a detached comfort in the cold calculus of warfare with no concern for life, safety, or democracy.
By Sonali Kolhatkar
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.
Comparisons with Saigon Are Wrong, Afghanistan Won’t Have a Future Like Vietnam
The exit of a superpower. The abandonment of allies. A scramble to the helicopters as gunfire erupted over frightened crowds. The fall of Kabul on August 15 certainly looks a lot like the fall of Saigon, 46 years ago. Yet there is one major difference between the two conflicts, the US’s two longest wars, and in particular between the two American adversaries. The North Vietnamese were fighting a political war; the Taliban are fighting a cultural one. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong had a vision of what the country’s future could be. But in Afghanistan, the Taliban only have an imagined past.
The Vietnam conflict was long and shockingly brutal, but, at the heart of it, were two political projects: in North Vietnam, it was a revolutionary one, seeking to bring about an independent communist society; in South Vietnam, it was a capitalist and pro-American project. It was a political war.
The Taliban’s long battles in their country were, instead, cultural wars. First, to bring their vision of cultural stability to a 1990s Afghanistan ravaged by civil war, and then to expel the foreign soldiers that had toppled their “Islamic emirate.” There was no political project at the heart of it.
Vietnam’s political project allowed it the possibility of change, and indeed just over 10 years after the war ended, the communist ruling party – the same one that had won the war – made changes that ushered in the “socialist-oriented market economy” in place now. A political project at the heart of the conflict allowed that transition.
Not merely is that unlikely to happen with the Taliban, it may be philosophically impossible.
The Taliban are not an organized group with a coherent ideology, certainly not one that is amenable to political change. Instead, their guiding doctrine has been politics informed by faith, but crucially involving complete submission to the interpretations of the emir, the head of the Taliban, and without any structural mechanism to change or reinterpret his decisions.
The nearest thing the Taliban movement has to a codified ideology or set of laws is the layha, a published code of conduct for Taliban fighters that defines aspects of fighting, justice and even governance in accordance with Islamic principles. It is one of the few ways the Taliban leadership can ensure a measure of consistency in how their fighters behave with civilian populations across vast distances.
Even during the five years of Taliban rule in the late 1990s, there wasn’t a central government that imposed standard laws across the country. On the contrary, rules were decided on a more local level, with the inevitable result that more remote communities were much more conservative than major cities.
But the layha is revised centrally and without public discussion. The religious scholars who update it are appointed by the head of the Taliban. Indeed, the text itself says that if fighters face a situation not covered by the layha, they should ask the leadership for answers rather than interpret the text themselves.
This constant need to seek guidance from the leadership will make governing a country of millions, with court cases, foreign treaties, business disagreements and everything else, close to impossible. Assuming the current courts system is allowed to continue, there will be a dual track, parallel justice system. One, riddled with corruption but ultimately backed by the current Afghan constitution, the other a sharia courts system that delivers swift justice, but that has at its head a single man.
That excessive reliance on the judgement of the emir is the primary problem with the Taliban takeover of the country. It means that the assurances, such that they are, made both in this week’s press conference and in previous Taliban statements, that they would respect women’s rights “within the framework of Islamic law” need to be considered carefully – because it will be up to the emir to decide what falls within that framework.
To judge by the photographs of Kabul shopkeepers painting over advertising images of women and reports of people burning their papers and scrubbing their online profiles, Afghans are not waiting to find out what he decides.
Without a political project to steer the country and with a guiding ideology that seeks little more than ridding the country of vaguely defined “foreign influences,” the Taliban have come to power offering nothing other than a return to a long-distant past. Unlike in Vietnam after 1975, there is little chance of their political vision being enlarged or reimagined. That even means the potentially ameliorative influence of other Muslim countries could be limited, because the Taliban are not seeking to emulate or learn from other political projects.
In an article for The New York Times in February of last year, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban, wrote that “if we can reach an agreement with a foreign enemy, we must be able to resolve intra-Afghan disagreements through talks.”
There is, certainly, a future for Afghanistan that reconciles the rights enshrined in the 2002 constitution with Afghanistan’s culture and customs, one that could be discovered through negotiations. But the Taliban didn’t fight a war for 20 years in order to start negotiating now.
By Faisal Al Yafai
Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East. He is also a frequent commentator on international TV networks such as CNN, the BBC and France 24. Al Yafai has been an investigative journalist for The Guardian, a documentary journalist for the BBC and a writer for other news outlets. He is also an essayists and playwright. Al Yafai has reported from across the Middle East, and from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. He served as a Churchill Fellow in Lebanon and Indonesia.
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