For Whom the Bell Tolls

A 15-year-old girl works on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. July 2013. © 2013 Human Rights Watch

For whom does the bell toll? These days it tolls for our children, gunned down in our streets and schools because of gun violence. And as if this were not enough, there are the child laborers among us and the rollback of protections proposed by atavistic lawmakers. Child labor is not a thing of the past and it is on the rise.

Know Their Names

Just in late June and July of this year, three boys died while working on the job in violation of state and federal law. Duvan Thomas Perez, 16, died after being caught by a conveyor belt while cleaning machinery in a poultry processing plant. Michael Schuls, 16, died after being trapped under machinery at a logging company. Pinned between a trailer rig and its trailer, Will Hampton, also 16, died while working at a landfill. Continue reading

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August/September Issue Back Cover

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Summer Issue Front Cover

FAREWELL TO DANIEL ELLSBERG

Daniel Ellsberg on March 19, 2011, speaking at a rally near the White House to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other potential fronts, such as Libya. (Photo courtesy of Ben Schuman/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Ellsberg and co-defendant Anthony Russo

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US/NATO Proxy War in Ukraine: Continuity in US Foreign Policy

President Jimmy Carter’s adviser “Zbigy” Brzeziński (right) defended the decision to provoke the Russians into invading Afghanistan, despite the cost to the Afghan people

The war in Ukraine is barbarous and awful beyond comprehension. The formula in the US media that the attack was unjustified is true, but its frequent corollary, that it was completely unprovoked, is not. This is Noam Chomsky’s and Daniel Ellsberg’s assessment, but is unheard in US media, as usual. Jeffrey Sachs on Democracy Now! pointed out that the New York Times has used the word “unprovoked” regarding this invasion 26 times in its editorials, its opinion columns, and its invited guest op-eds.

The Eisenhower Media Project (EMP)’s May 16 full-page ad in the Times called for the US to be an agent for peace in the world, and suggested that the expansion of NATO over the last few decades was indeed a factor in the escalation of the violent impasse into a full onslaught in Ukraine. The EMP was consequently attacked for echoing Putin’s talking points. The expansion of NATO has been consistent US policy from the neoconservative Republican George W. Bush administration up to the liberal Democratic Joe Biden administration today. The neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC), established in 1997 as a US foreign policy think tank, was a key influence on the Bush administration, specifically in support for the US attack on Iraq. The persistent presence of Victoria Nuland in the State Department—advised by her husband Robert K. Kagan, cofounder of PNAC—is the supreme example of the continuity of neocon influence. For the PNAC, nothing but complete US dominance in the world is acceptable. Any competitor of any kind must be dealt with in terms that ignore blowback and the devastating consequences for people throughout the world. Continue reading

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Frozen Conflicts, Flashmob Militants, and the End of the Gunpowder State

This 2016 effort by Bellingcat is one of many to try and make sense of the hundreds of militias operating in Syria during the past decade

Syria, Libya, Yemen . . . and now Sudan. Sudan has the unhappy potential to become the next of the intractable conflicts that have unfolded over the past decade. These multisided struggles involving a cocktail of militaries, militias, and mercenaries drag on year after year, producing destabilizing waves of refugees, flourishing criminal cohorts, and a plague of outside meddling. Explanations abound: neglect from the outside world, interference by the outside world, weak states, overpowered states, a need for military training, an excess of military training, and the perennial favorite of West-centric analysts: the historic legacy of . . . something. It doesn’t matter what is demonized: culture, religion, colonialism, or some other trait—the key is that chaos is attributed to vestiges of an undead past.

But what if the foreign policy imagination has been looking at these wars the wrong way? What if these wars can tell us more about the future than the past? Transformations emerge at the margins of systems, but are seldom recognized by those invested in existing paradigms. 19th-century leaders in Vienna, for example, dismissed nationalist movements as delusional, yet the nation-state replaced empire as the political norm within a few decades. Continue reading

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Daniel Ellsberg: “The Most Dangerous Man in America” and Heroic Whistleblower

Ellsberg with Howard Zinn (left) and Noam Chomsky (right) at 1971 May Day anti-war protest. Courtesy of University of Massachusetts Archives

“Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?” Daniel Ellsberg, 1971

“I was PFC Manning.” Daniel Ellsberg, 2011

“The current risk of nuclear war, over Ukraine, is as great as the world has ever seen.” Daniel Ellsberg, 2023

Daniel Ellsberg recently made public his terminal cancer diagnosis. [Ellsberg died on June 16—eds.] It is an appropriate time to look back on his heroic accomplishments. Continue reading

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Anti-Abortion Centers Mislead People at Their Most Vulnerable

Reproductive justice: the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.

This past January, on the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective convened a summit to envision new futures for reproductive justice. The original framework, established in 1994 by Black women including SisterSong’s co-founder Loretta Ross, insisted that the fight for reproductive rights be combined with human rights and social justice activism. The right to an abortion, for example, while foundational, does not address the broader circumstances under which a person chooses to keep or end a pregnancy. Thirty years after first calling for reproductive justice, the 2023 summit reaffirmed their commitment while envisioning “a future rooted in human dignity and worth, bodily autonomy, joy, love, and rest.” Continue reading

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Profiting Across the Autism Spectrum

Demand for ABA practioners, including Board Certified Behavior Analysts, soared after 2014; more than 70 percent work with the autistic. From thetreetop.com/statistics/aba-therapist-demographics

Driving through north Champaign last winter I noticed a new business in a strip mall near Denny’s. At first, I assumed it was some sort of sports store due to the all-caps signage: “TOTAL SPECTRUM.” But this was not a purveyor of football helmets and jockstraps, but one of many licensed providers of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the only state-approved “treatment” for those on the autism spectrum. As it turns out, jockstraps may be more strictly regulated than this rapidly expanding industry built upon the needs of vulnerable clients. My brief employment as an ABA “clinician” convinced me that more transparency is needed both on this industry and the therapy it markets.

Autism Speaks and the ABA Endorsement

Parents often hear about ABA through the well-known advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Their website explains ABA almost as a form of positive reinforcement: “when a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior.” ABA proponents claim their Pavlovian approach is the only way for an autistic person to make “progress” in socialization, life skills (tying shoes, brushing teeth, etc), or academics. Continue reading

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Diesel Therapy

US Marshals loading prisoners for transport. From usmarshals.gov/what-we-do/prisoners/transportation

The odyssey of Urbana resident Shamar Betts continues. Betts was arrested for authoring a Facebook post at age 19 in the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison and charged with repaying nearly two million dollars for damage committed by many in C-U during this emotional time. His accounts of his prison experiences have been slightly edited for space. You can read more here, and find previous Public i articles on the Betts case here. Diesel therapy is slang for a form of punishment in which prisoners are shackled and transported for days or weeks.

I’m not sure what I expected jail to be like, but I know it wasn’t this. My first two months confined were some of the worst days of my life. I spent 21 days in Madison County, Mississippi, where I was placed alone in a unit designed for 14 inmates. The guard who booked me in put my picture on the door with a sign that read “Warning! Accompany inmate with 2 guards and 2 sets.” Continue reading

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UIUC GEO Wins a Progressive Contract

GEO rally on the quad before the December 1, 2022 bargaining session

Graduate workers across the US have been hard-hit by the skyrocketing inflation induced by federal mismanagement of monetary policy that is being felt by all too many working-class people. The laughable wage increases that were “handed” to many low-paid workers do not adjust to inflation, leading many to have to draw from the little savings they have. All of this is happening as the University of Illinois’s president received a $40,000 bonus and the Executive Director of Labor and Employee Relations was awarded a $5,000 bonus. To add salt to the wound, labor unions since 2018 have been bargaining with the Supreme Court’s anti-labor ruling in Janus v. AFSCME—a decision that has hindered unions from collecting union dues from non-members (called “fair-share dues,” since negotiated contracts cover members and non-members alike). As a result, union membership across the US has dwindled. UIUC Graduate workers bargained for a whole year to win a contract that current and future graduate students will benefit from.

The UIUC Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) is a democratically run labor union that represents graduates who work as teaching and graduate assistants. The bargaining team (BT) was elected by GEO members in 2022, and they immediately met for extended hours to draft a new contract, since the extant contract was due to expire that August. Five months prior to that date, the administration and the BT had their first bargaining session, where the GEO offered a comprehensive proposal. To the GEO’s dismay, the next five months saw the administration come unprepared to the bargaining sessions, with no counterproposal and instead only endless unfocused and irrelevant questions. The GEO’s proposal included an increase in wages exceeding inflation; year-round health care (graduate workers are covered for the duration of their employment, and many do not have summer appointments, which means no health insurance in the summer); modifications to understandings of discrimination; extended leaves and holidays; and adjustments to the grievance procedure. Continue reading

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Carbon Capture, Illinois’ Biggest Coal Fired Power Plant, and the Prairie Research Institute

How a carbon capture system works—and its dangers

Carbon capture has become the divisive hot topic in Illinois climate policy over the last year. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included substantial subsidies for carbon capture that have created an industry gold rush looking to build and operate carbon capture systems (CCSs), carbon pipelines, and carbon sequestration. One such project proposes to put carbon capture on Illinois’s largest coal-fired power plant. It is being led by UIUC’s Prairie Research Institute (PRI), but there are reasons to be skeptical of the project.

Carbon capture and storage is the process of isolating carbon dioxide (CO₂) either at a source (power plant or factory) or directly from the air. Then the captured CO₂ is transported, often through a pipeline, and stored, usually in underground geological formations such as saline reservoirs or depleted oil reservoirs. Continue reading

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Summer Issue Back Cover

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May/June Issue Front Cover

US INVADED IRAQ 20 YEARS AGO. WHERE IS THE DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY?

Anti-war protest in front of the White House, October, 2002. Over the next few months, millions across the US and around the world demonstrated against the US invasion of Iraq

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Silence and the Continuing Legacy of the US Invasion of Iraq

US Soldiers searching civilians, Baghdad. Photo by Stacy Pearsall, care of US National Archives

The twentieth anniversary of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq slid by with an encore performance of the arrogance that characterized the invasion itself. In 2003 that arrogance disregarded inconvenient international norms as easily as it disregarded the Iraqi victims caught in the path of “shock and awe” bombardments. The arrogance was not only deadly to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (the majority of them civilians), but a delusional basis for policy. The war turned out to be no walk in the park showcasing American technology; the US created chaos that raged for decades, destroying lives and the social fabric of the region while reshaping the rules of conflict around the world.

Twenty years later Americans are still mired in self-absorption. Those who think of the invasion at all (and few of my university students can even find Iraq on a map) regret only the disappointing outcome. Most now admit “mistakes were made” (bad decisions from the White House, poor intelligence, a mismanaged occupation . . .), but only to distance themselves from accountability. American introspection on Iraq is limited to weighing the war in US lives and dollars lost and judging it pricey for the booby prize of Iraqi ingratitude. This is not progress, it is petulance, and it bodes ill for a declining America’s interactions with a complex world. Continue reading

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Should Ukrainians Surrender for World Peace?

Illustration by Kamshat Nurlanova, care of LeftEast.org

The February 24 one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine saw no respite for either the volunteer and professional Ukrainian troops or the civilian population. The Russian-occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine and the areas along the military front have become a veritable wasteland; basic infrastructure, the economy, and everyday life have been hobbled by with those civilians unable or unwilling to flee surviving in the most primitive conditions, if at all. They and civilians across the country are subject to the random terror of air and artillery attacks on apartment blocks, schools, hospitals, and markets; Russian targeting of civilian infrastructure, especially energy, has made life tenuous and nerve-racking even far from the front. The steady and horrendous toll of Ukrainian military casualties has been surpassed by those on the Russian side, many of them forced recruits or prisoners thrown into suicide missions as human decoys. And there remain some eight million Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, outside the country, and six million internally displaced—together, almost one-third of the country’s pre-war population.

I wrote about the dilemmas inherent in the Western Left’s initial response to the invasion and war in the May 2022 Public i. One year on, the divisions over the issue among US progressives are as big and as heated as ever. The pages of publications like The Nation, Jacobin, and Counterpunch feature dueling opinions and analyses, with diametrically opposed positions appearing in close proximity within each. While this shows a welcome diversity of views—not always a characteristic of Left discourse—it also indicates the complete lack of a united position, that could lead to an active and effective politics. The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele writes that the Left has been “uncharacteristically subdued” on the issue, and fallen into “silence.” Continue reading

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The Lavenders: Past and Present Queer Journalism in Champaign-Urbana

When the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) went down to defeat, ERA activists showed their disapproval by writing the names of their opponents in pigs’ blood outside the governor’s office on June 25, 1982. Left to right are Ann Casey Elder, Sue Yarber, and Mary Lee Sargent. From the Mary Lee Sargent photos at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum site

On February 23, UCIMC Executive Director Miriam Larson hosted a virtual conversation with representatives of two generations of activists in Champaign-Urbana. Mary Lee Sargent, former director of Parkland College’s Women’s Studies Program (now residing in New Hampshire), was one of the early writers for the CU Lavender Prairie News. Current Urbana resident Jada Fulcher has revived the publication as The Lavender for today’s Queer community.

ML: I’m excited for this intergenerational conversation and meeting of the Lavenders! Mary Lee, you said you weren’t involved in starting the Lavender Prairie News?

MLS: No, but I was involved in the women’s community, which was really 99 percent lesbian, and I was intimately involved in all the activities it reported on. I wrote for it a lot. Continue reading

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Faculty and Staff Strike at Eastern Illinois University

Members of EIU UPI at Morton Park, Charleston, Ill., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Photo provided by EIU UPI

Eastern Illinois University University Professionals of Illinois (EIU UPI, IFT Local 4100) members went on strike on April 6, after more than a year of fruitless bargaining, which forced faculty and staff to work without a contract since September, 2022. Key issues were compensation and workload, with the university’s last pre-strike offer constituting an effective pay cut for all members of the union. The strike was suspended after a tentative agreement was reached on April 13.

Faculty and staff also went on strike at Chicago State University on April 3, and at Governors State University on April 11. Northeastern Illinois University held a strike vote and authorized a strike if no progress is made with a mediator soon.

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Slaves—Our Ancestors

An example of the author’s artwork

We give praise to those who came before us, fighting for the right to be free. Who were they? They are our ancestors, who suffered unendurable pain. Pain, from the snake-like whip that mutilated their flesh as it bit into their body and soul. Branded with hate, leaving a scar of ominous fear that breaks down the spirit of men who no longer have free will. They were people with their own customs of the spirit. Warrior ancestors, believers in the power of the earth and spiritualism. They were people of strength, bonded by family unity, nature, and their ancient beliefs—until the Europeans invaded them and broke their customs and chained them with unjust, inhumane punishment and torture. Beaten down to nothing by the hearts of barbarous men. Continue reading

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Growing Up “Unlucky”: Putting a Human Face on Bureau of Labor Statistics

Three quarters of a century after this demonstration against workplace racism, African American youth joblessness is still twice that of other races. Photo by Joe Schwartz, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Numerous options for employment abound in our small metropolitan area nestled amid the farmland of eastern central Illinois. From warehouses to food establishments to car repair shops, job seekers have many a choice for offering their time and effort. Yet, even for those of us with much to provide prospective bosses, it can seem that seeking the perfect candidate renders some of us simply “unlucky.”

Economists in the Bureau of Labor Statistics claim that unemployment has dropped drastically since the worst moments of the pandemic, settling at 3.4 percent in January. However, for a nation with an official population of more than 334 million, that percentage still translates into more than 11 million of our neighbors as jobless—only about one million less than the entire population of our state of Illinois. While we can feel good about shrinking unemployment numbers from the over 14 percent in April, 2020, we should not lose sight of the implications these numbers still have upon our society. Continue reading

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Rescuing the Embarras River

Walking through the wooded bottomlands of the Embarras River near Charleston, IL

Tucked into the southwest corner of the University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus, just beyond student housing and mostly hidden by roadside grasses, a ditch runs along a solar farm and through research farmland. This is the humble beginning of the 125-mile-long Embarras (pronounced “AM-bra”) River, which drains over a million and a half Illinois acres into waterways that flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Embarras river is home to colonies of the endangered Indiana brown bat and the northernmost, and only, population of harlequin darters (a small, colorful, ray-finned fish). A band of the Miami Tribe, the Piankashaw, built a major settlement at the mouth of the Embarras on the Wabash River in the 1600s. And In the 1700s, George Rogers Clark and his army followed the Embarras to the Wabash to Vincennes, securing the territory for the American side in the Revolutionary War.

But today this river is in trouble. Continue reading

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