Wednesday, April 05, 2017

No campus should be a ‘no go’ area for Jews

Last week, the London School of Economics hosted a talk on the Middle East conflict by Richard Falk. In case you don’t know Richard Falk’s past, he has suggested that “Tel Aviv” was responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.

He endorsed in glowing terms a book by notorious anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon which claimed the Jews were “the only people who managed to maintain and sustain a racially orientated, expansionist and genocidal national identity that is not at all different from Nazi ethnic ideology”, describing Atzmon as a man whose story was told with “unflinching integrity”.

He has refused to remove comments left on his blog page saying that the notorious Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was “an uncannily accurate description of what is happening right now”. And this is not all.

Falk was strongly condemned by then Prime Minister David Cameron for posting on his blog a cartoon showing a dog wearing a kippah and urinating on a statue of justice.

The LSE certainly did know who Richard Falk was and they were also aware of what he had written and endorsed about Jews.

We know this because we sent them a detailed dossier of the anti-Semitism he has uttered or supported.

We sent the same dossier to Middlesex University and to the University of East London, where Falk was also due to speak.

Both those universities were so shocked by what they read that they cancelled the scheduled Falk events. In stark contrast, the LSE decided to offer hospitality to Falk.

It did so knowing the unease and hurt this would cause to Jewish students on campus and the risk of his appearance acting as a magnet for antisemites to attend.

This is exactly what happened – Atzmon came and abused Jewish students, telling them to read Holocaust denial literature and informing them that “Jews had been expelled from Germany for misbehaving”.

Following Falk’s appearance, the Union of Jewish Students said that “the university failed in their duty of care to Jewish students”. I agree.

These students will have to go lectures this week with the knowledge that those responsible for their education will tolerate anti-Semitism and give a platform to those who whose aim is to promote it.

This is the reason that I recommended that Jewish students should, for the moment, look elsewhere.  If a university in this country cannot make its campus a safe place for Jewish students, how could we recommend it as a place for Jewish students to study?

We need to be absolutely clear that there is and should not be any campus which is a ‘no go’ area for Jews.

However, not only did LSE fail in its duty of care. It made a decision to ignore the concerns put to them by their own students. That is not just negligence. It is a wilful choice to utterly disregard the voice of Jewish students.

I expect to have discussions with the LSE in the near future at which I will put my concerns to them directly.

I will explain to them exactly why Jewish students have been hurt and offended by Falk’s presence and I would hope that the university would pledge to act on these concerns in the future.

There can be no room for complacency on this matter. If the LSE wishes to be seen as a welcoming place to students of all races and religions it must ban racism from its campus.

This is the minimum we should expect.


UK: Fear, lies and abuse: the private school cover-up

When Alex Renton wrote about being abused at school, he didn’t anticipate the huge response. Or that he’d end up breaking down in a police station

It is, they say, good to tell the story. Let it out: nightmares are best cured by daylight. But what do you do next? Three years ago I decided to come out as a survivor of abuse, physical and psychological, at boarding school. I’m a journalist, so I did what comes naturally: I published an article in a magazine. I went back to my famous prep school, where a police investigation had begun. Ashdown House had made the front page of the Daily Mail because Boris Johnson, Damian Lewis and the Queen’s nephew David Linley had been there.

In the piece I detailed some of the emotional and the physical violence that tinged all our lives. I told about Mr Keane, the angry young teacher who used to take us by the ears and throw us around. In calmer moments, Keane would give us sweets in return for a fumble inside our corduroy shorts. I made some wider points about the astonishing fraud practised on rich parents by the boarding school industry in the 20th century, in persuading them that their children would be cared for and safe. All the evidence — with scandal following scandal — now seemed to show that the children in the schools of the privileged were as preyed upon as those in the worst council-run care homes.

The reaction to my story was immediate — and shockingly personal. “You’re a class traitor,” said one friend, whose son had just started at Eton. I thought she might have been joking — but she wasn’t the only one. I was at a smart Edinburgh art gallery a few days after publication, standing with a glass of free wine in a group of people I vaguely know. “Don’t stand too close to Renton!” one of them, an old Etonian businessman, suddenly announced, grabbing my arm. “He might put his hand down your trousers!” Most of the group chuckled.

This — for anyone who needs the explanation — is a stiff-upper-lip joke. You may have to be posh to get it. If you care, or object, you’re not really one of us. At heart, it says: “Let’s not be too serious about things, old chap.” Showing excessive emotion, revealing one’s private troubles to the wider world is a failure, almost a blasphemy. “”It’s not what we do,” said an elderly relative of my revelations. These attitudes, some would say, are what made Britain great and kept the establishment in power. Others might say they are the source of an awful lot of unhappiness.

Beyond the “never did me harm” public school types, the article got an extraordinary reaction. The social media postings garnered thousands of shares and comments. In 25 years of investigative journalism, I’d never had such a response. Most of it was sympathetic. Of course, some readers were quick to point out the ironies in a story of “posh abuse”. “Sometimes we do not truly realise how blessed we were to be born into poverty,” said one. Others asked: “So what? Who’s surprised?” Auberon Waugh, the ex-public school boy and satirist, was quoted on the subject: “Of course, the English are famous throughout the entire civilised world for their hatred of children.”

Others made a fair complaint: nearly a quarter of a million children are sexually abused in the UK every year, according to the children’s commissioner, so why should these old stories take up our — and the police’s – time? But the counter view was important too: if this was how the ruling class cared for its children, no wonder the public institutions of Britain that they went on to run — from the BBC to the NHS — seemed so arrogant and so prone to cover-up. We needed to find out what went wrong in the schools of the elite, as much as in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where Jimmy Savile preyed.

Many people emailed to tell me what had happened to them, telling stories that were often of a lifetime’s sorrow and self-doubt. After a few weeks I had several hundred credible accounts of apparent criminal abuse by adults at boarding schools, private and state; three years later the emails are still arriving. Reading through this mail has never been easy. Some accounts are dozens of pages long; I get honed chapters of planned books and crude outpourings of emotion. Many begin: “I’ve never spoken of this to anyone . . .” Reading these can induce crude and obvious nightmares. I am asleep, but aware that something is amiss — many-limbed things scuttering around the room, crawling out from under the bed and on to it.

Our lives became contaminated with the information. I had to explain to my children, who were then 10 and 15, what I had unleashed and what they, both at day school, needed to know about adults. I felt I had to read the letters, and answer them, though my wife — who works in the child mental health services — and others were warning me to be careful. Not just of my own stability, but also with the needs of those who had contacted me.

Most of my correspondents were thoughtful and reflective, but some were angry, scratching at their scabs decades after they had escaped their schools and their abusers. There were stories of paranoia — child abuse breeds that — and others of quite justifiable suspicion. After all, the private school industry’s first recourse at the whiff of scandal was clearly to cover it up. Most importantly I was receiving information about men and women who were clearly still in a position to hurt and damage children. I told those correspondents, as gently as I could, that they should seek therapy and go to the police. But that simple advice was a challenge to me. I left Ashdown House, after five long years, when I was 13, in 1974. Why had I never done anything about what happened to me there — and particularly about the man who abused me?

The answer to that was complex. Like all of us who could, I had turned my back on my schooldays, deciding to ignore and forget the dark things that had happened. I knew I was marked, but Keane’s crude fumblings meant little compared with the anger I felt against Billy Williamson, the headmaster who had beaten and bullied me for most of my time. But what he did was not illegal. Many who wrote to me about the legacy of their schools said similar things — it was the unhappiness and the fear, not the violence, that had marked them most.

But I had to do something about Mr Keane. He was young, only in his twenties, when he taught me. Other ex-Ashdown pupils had written to me remembering his anger and violence as well as the sexual intrusions. This was a relief — because one of the things that bedevils people like me is lack of trust in your own powers of recall. After all, we were told so often as children that our feelings and fears were false. It’s not surprising that most victims of child abuse do not “disclose” for years, if ever: the NSPCC says the average wait is seven years and that one in three will never tell. My correspondents often buried the story until their own children reached the age they had been when adults first violated their childhoods.

I got hold of the Ashdown House Bulletin for 1972. “Mr Keane,” it said, in a list of boys and teachers departing that summer, “will be taking up a post at a boarding school in Bournemouth”. This was a shock. If Keane really had continued all that time in the classroom, this meant that my — and my parents’ — inaction had left children vulnerable to a violent sexual predator for nearly 40 more years.

I went to Sussex police, who already had a full inquiry — Operation Mitre — going on into events at Ashdown House. They sent officers to Edinburgh to take a statement. I was interviewed by two dark-suited middle-aged men in a suite of rooms especially designed for sexual abuse complainants. It looked like a Travelodge, apart from the video cameras. The officers were kind and painstaking, and we talked through in immense detail the afternoon that the maths master had held me to him while he groped in my shorts, then given me a sweet.

They asked where I was standing in the room when Keane assaulted me, what he was wearing, where the window was, what time of day it happened. I found out later that the minor detail is crucial for investigators trying to sort false memories from real in old cases: the sensory memory of assaults remains very vivid in the victim. But the thing that shocked me most was that for a while I could hardly talk for the tears. I cried like I hadn’t since I was a child much smaller than the one who went to prep school. I went on for 10 or 15 minutes. The officers were patient: they had paper tissues ready and an offer of formal counselling.

I cried because, quite simply, someone in authority was listening to me. At last. It was that simple. Others who have been through the process felt the same — it was a monumental moment for the unheard child, even 40 or 50 years later, to find an ear belonging to someone with the power to put things right.

At the police interview I cried like I hadn’t since I was a child
Of course, that was the best moment of my experience of seeking redress through the law. A little over a year later, a kindly female detective rang from Sussex and asked me to be ready to hear “some bad news” — so bad that in fact she would have liked to have flown to Edinburgh me to tell me it, had there been enough budget. She had to tell me that they had found that Mr Keane had died five years earlier. On his death certificate his profession was listed as teacher.

I was disappointed. I would have liked to have faced him in court. I would like to have my questions answered. I have not been able to find out what Mr Keane got up to, as a teacher, in the years between 1972 and his death in 2012 — I don’t know where he died; I still don’t know his first name. The detective promised to send me a copy of his death certificate, but she never did. But I was also relieved. The hundreds of accounts I’ve received from adults detailing the abuse they suffered at school often told of attempts to seek criminal investigations or formal apologies. Some wanted vengeance, some compensation, but most just sought to try to understand.

But that understandable urge meant, for the great majority of them, more pain. Schools, nervous of their liabilities, prevaricate and dodge responsibility. Police investigations drag on for years, then often come to nothing at the door of the court. I wrote up the awful story of two girls who were raped at Gordonstoun as 12-year-olds who found their case collapsed when it was decided that one of them was too mentally fragile to face her attacker in court; the accused is still at large in the community. When people write to me now, I tell them that the best way forward is through counselling. Going to the law is important, but it is rarely good therapy.

Like children still, we all want things to be fair. But they never will be. My inbox is still full of stories from frustrated, hurt people now convinced that the authorities have conspired against them, both when they were children and now. That is not irrational, looked at dispassionately. The law is not reliable. At Ashdown House a criminal investigation drags on and on, 14 years since ex-pupils first went to the police. A civil compensation case has stalled because the school’s present owner, Cothill Educational Trust, has not admitted liability for its predecessors. (This may be related to the fact that another school the trust owns also faces allegations.) The ex-pupils’ lawyers have been trying to identify Ashdown’s insurers with little assistance from the school.

In England and Scotland there are now public inquiries into the abuse of children in institutions. Many of the “survivors” groups have already given up hope in them — given the disastrous start that the inquiries have had, with counsel and chairpeople sacked and quitting, that’s hardly surprising. But we must have faith. In 2015 I offered both inquiries the evidence that I’ve gathered of cover-up and possible conspiracy. I’ve yet to hand it over. For me, and thousands of others seeking peace, the questions remain unanswered.


In Trump era, tech visas get a hard look

Does the technology industry have such a shortage of qualified Americans that it needs to import thousands of workers from halfway around the world?

For years, that’s been the sector’s central argument in favor of the federal H-1B visa program, which lets US employers hire up to 85,000 skilled guest workers each year, mostly in high-tech fields.

But some economists and labor experts say the numbers simply do not support claims of a broad talent squeeze. Rather, these skeptics argue, data suggest that the H-1B program is often a source of captive, lower-wage labor that displaces American workers.

“The notion that there just aren’t enough decently qualified people in the US, and that’s why you have to go overseas, I think is hype,” said John Bound, a University of Michigan economist.

On Monday, employers begin their annual scramble for H-1B visas, submitting applications for the upcoming federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Companies typically submit so many applications that officials must hold a lottery to determine which ones get the visas.

The process is under heightened political pressure this year as the Trump administration seeks to implement immigration and economic policies that create or protect American jobs. And that’s putting a new spotlight on the tech industry’s claims of a talent crunch.

Critics of the program have pushed for more regulations, including higher pay requirements, arguing that could keep H-1B workers from weighing down overall wages.

President Trump has seemed sympathetic to that argument, saying during the campaign that he would “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.”

Many economists who are skeptical of the tech industry’s assertions still say the H-1B program is a net positive for the economy, allowing companies to grow quickly, keep prices lower, and produce software and gadgets that make other fields more productive.

But they also say there’s evidence of a large, underused pool of domestic workers who could be tapped instead of guest workers.

Census figures, for example, show that half of the nearly 2 million college graduates with degrees in computers, math, or statistics do not work in STEM, the sector that encompasses science, tech, engineering, and mathematics jobs.

Wages in some key tech jobs haven’t grown dramatically in years, indicating the industry isn’t holding on to pricey, experienced workers or jacking up pay across the board to woo employees from other fields, experts said.

Moreover, tech companies routinely lay off thousands of workers each year, creating a large potential surplus of workers who could be retrained. And the industry has made little progress in diversifying its mostly white, male employee base.

While there are probably tight supplies of qualified workers in certain technical subfields, experts said many H-1B workers are performing less specialized work that could easily be done by US employees.

“What the tech companies mean is ‘there aren’t enough domestic workers to fill the jobs at the current wage,’ ” Rutgers University economist Jennifer Hunt said. “They could find more native workers by raising wages, but at some point raising wages becomes unprofitable.”

Industry leaders maintain there are gaps in US workers’ skills, pointing to thousands of unfilled job openings and employer surveys listing hiring as a top concern. And there are economists who argue H-1Bs don’t necessarily crowd out US workers or depress wages.

But the tech industry also thinks criticism of the visa has become overheated, since the program amounts to 85,000 additional workers each year in a sector that employed more than 6.7 million people in 2016.

“We’re sometimes kind of shaking our heads about the consternation over this small fraction of the potential workforce that’s being impacted,” said Todd Thibodeaux, chief executive of the Computing Technology Industry Association, an influential trade group. “These people are not here taking any large numbers of jobs.”

The H-1B program requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and “highly specialized knowledge.” The visa allows companies to keep overseas workers in the United States for up to six years.

The government caps the number of H-1B visas for commercial employers at 65,000 annually, with another 20,000 available for workers who have a master’s degree from a US college. The cap, which has been higher in the past, has not changed since 2004.

The tech industry has lobbied to increase the visa cap and boost the domestic labor pool by improving US education and training programs. CompTIA, the trade group, recently called the shortage of qualified tech workers “our industry’s paramount challenge.”

The problem, skeptics say, is the numbers don’t necessarily back that up. For example:

 *  In 2014-2015, the average unemployment rate for recent college graduates with computer science degrees was 4.2 percent, roughly the same as for philosophy majors, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

 *  Tech companies also are prolific job-cutters. Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc., a job-search firm that compiles data on workforce reductions, found that technology companies have cut more than 413,000 jobs since 2012, including more than 96,000 in 2016.

 *  Despite years of discussion about the industry’s lack of diversity, women are still being left behind. Although they make up about half of the overall labor force, women hold just 25 percent of IT jobs, census figures show — and their share of the tech workforce has actually declined since 1990.

 *  Tech-industry wages, generous compared with those of other professions, haven’t shown dramatic growth.

Census figures compiled by William Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, show that average inflation-adjusted pay for software publishing and computer system design jobs increased just 5.3 percent and 4 percent, respectively, between 2001 and 2014.

Pay for computer programming dropped 1.2 percent over the same span.

Average income for all households, meanwhile, dropped by 2.7 percent.

In a dire labor shortage, with companies desperate for workers, you instead might see much higher wages, higher worker retention and retraining, lower unemployment rates for recent graduates, and a rising number of women, said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University.

“You’re not seeing any of that kind of corporate behavior,” said Hira, a prominent critic of the H-1B program.

Instead, some academics say, the tech industry’s claim of a talent shortage is mostly political cover for guest-worker programs that deliver tens of thousands of overseas workers who are paid low wages and crowd out domestic workers.

A 2011 Government Accountability Office audit of the H-1B program, the most recent such report, showed that 54 percent of prospective H-1B workers in 2009-2010 were considered entry-level, qualifying for the lowest possible pay. Another 29 percent were in the second-lowest of four pay brackets. Just 6 percent were considered “fully competent,” the highest pay grade.

Experts note the largest number of H-1B visa requests often comes from IT outsourcing firms, not employers seeking to build in-house talent. Outsourcing companies made 13 percent of the H-1B visa requests in New England from 2010 to 2012, higher than the national rate, according to a 2014 study by the Boston Federal Reserve.

Employers also benefit from the fact H-1B workers can’t easily change jobs because the company, not the worker, controls the visa.

“Claiming shortages works, politically,” said Michael S. Teitelbaum, a Harvard Law School demographer. “If you just say, ‘Well, we think it would be great to have more H-1B visas because it would increase our profits,’ that’s not going to work very well.”

Despite the arguments, employers still say restrictions can force them into expensive work-arounds.

Mohamad Ali, CEO of the Boston data-backup company Carbonite, said he hired about 250 people in 2016. This year, he plans to hire around 200 more. But if he can’t get them admitted to the United States, he’ll staff up at Carbonite offices in Canada and Europe. “If we are forced to have to do that, it’s bad for America,” he said.


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