Friday, September 2, 2016

American Babylon: Kid Wearing Keffiyeh at Trump Rally Singled Out and Ejected

Posted By on Fri, Sep 2, 2016 at 6:36 PM

Take a look at this video footage which shows a young kid in a Keffiyeh being singled out and ejected by Trump security guards at the Donald J. Trump rally in Phoenix Convention Center on Wednesday, Aug. 31. I spoke with the security guard in the suit in this footage, and he told me: "He's actually a really great kid, he just wanted to watch. But I can't protect him in this crowd when there's like 8,000 people out there." Sad. Disgusting. All of the adjectives Donald Trump For President likes to spew about others.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Tucson and Its Not-So-Accessible Public Spaces

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 3:54 PM

You know, one of my favorite memories of growing up here in Tucson is strolling up and down 4th Avenue on the weekends, and following the underpass into downtown. There were so many places I could explore. Bentley's, Cafe Quebec, the back room of the Chicago Store—they were amazing times. Everything was accessible to me, and I took full advantage of it. Today, not so much. 

Well, let me correct that. Everything is still accessible to me; however, everything is not accessible to my daughter who uses a wheelchair as her main source of transportation. Therefore my statement stands true—not so much. It never dawned on me how much Tucson excludes those who use mobility aids until I took my daughter to the Tucson Children's Museum.

We tried to interact with some of the exhibits they had, specifically, the one where you spin a wheel mounted to the exhibit and made electricity. A typical and perfect example of cause and effect, right? Wrong. My daughter's wheelchair couldn't get close enough to grab the handle and spin the wheel because of the box it was mounted on. Only a slight problem, but not unfixable. I took her out of her wheelchair, propped her up on my knee, and we tried again. However, because my daughter's cerebral palsy greatly affects her motor skills she couldn't maintain a grip on the handle and therefore couldn't spin the wheel that created the electricity.
Tucson Children's Museum Electri-City Exhibit
  • Tucson Children's Museum Electri-City Exhibit

Womp woooommmmppp. Game over. NO ELECTRICITY FOR YOU!

Now, there is an easy fix here, but it requires thinking outside the box. The easy fix might be having something she could stand on (with my assistance) that would simulate the transfer of energy (weight) from her body to the exhibit, and that would stimulate electricity. When I put her back in her chair, the electricity goes out. Same concept of cause and effect, and the transfer of energy to create electricity. Bada Bing Bada Boom and the kid is happy.

Sadly, that is not an offered alternative. Now, some of you might say, well she could have put her hand on the giant "hand" picture, and interacted that way. To you, I say, perhaps. Perhaps she could have, but that would mean moving her far enough from the exhibit so that she could bend over in her wheelchair and maneuver her body in such a way that she could get her hand on it, and not fall out of her chair. And still breathe.

Sounds like a lot for a small child? It is. And it shouldn't have to be. I mean, it is the Children's Museum, which leads one to believe it's open to ALL children, not just able-bodied children, right? Now, before you give me the most wicked side eye in all of side eye history for pointing out a disparity at our beloved Children's Museum, I'm not saying they are the devil.

To our benefit, there are some exhibits that she can interact with, and always has fun with. She always has a blast chasing bugs in Techtopia, picking the giant nose in Bodyology and grocery shopping, where she gets all the things. Literally: She tries to put everything in her little shopping cart. So while this doesn't necessarily make up for the lack of adaptive scissors and art utensil aids in the Imaginarium (art is her favorite thing EVER), it does still allow her to have some fun.

I am simply saying they need to think more often about the kids who interact with the world around them a little differently. 

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Why Go to the GOP Convention?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 1:19 PM

  • Jimi Giannatti
I am writing this as we drive into Cleveland on a dark, damp Monday morning. Photographer Jimi Giannatti and I are two of the thousands of people descending upon Cleveland in time for the first day of the Republican National Convention. Later this week, reality TV personality and real estate salesman Donald Trump is expected to be officially crowned GOP nominee for President.

Full disclosure: I oppose the candidacy of Donald Trump and everything it has come to stand for. Back in March (ancient history in the current news tempo) I protested loudly and visibly against Trump at his rally in Tucson. I was assaulted violently by one of Trump's supporters and the video of the attack went viral, forever changing my life and the life of the man who assaulted me. Trump just kept rolling until he had conquered internal GOP opposition to his candidacy and secured the required number of delegates for the nomination. All of which has led Jimi Giannatti and me to be traveling at high speed in the looming darkness outside of Cleveland, on our way to report on the convention for the Tucson Weekly.

Around 9 a.m. Sunday morning the horrific news broke that six Baton Rouge police officers had been shot by a gunman wielding a rifle. Three of the officers died, adding to the five killed in Dallas two weeks ago, in the process managing to add further volatility to an already kinetic security situation at the convention, which is being staged at the Quicken Arena downtown. The head of the Police Officer's Union in Cleveland sent a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich pleading with him to suspend Ohio's open carry law for the duration of the convention. Kasich immediately refused, saying he does not have the authority to circumvent the open carry laws in his own state, further increasing the dominant hold the 2nd Amendment has over all other Amendments and considerations and rights, including the right to life.

Governor Kasich's refusal to act ensures that people will be allowed to openly carry rifles and handguns anywhere they please during the convention, outside of a small security zone in the immediate vicinity of Quicken Arena and within the arena itself. It is notable that Kasich himself was one of Trump's opponents for the GOP nomination and is reportedly not attending the convention or endorsing Trump for President. Governor Kasich's personal safety is not at risk, which puts him in stark contrast to everyone who will be attending either to support or oppose or report or provide security during the proceedings.

No political neophyte in American politics has had the sort of impact that Trump has had in terms of sheer amperage and hysteria and coverage. Where Trump goes, protesters and supporters and the media follow. Perhaps the only guarantee at this convention is the presence of people protesting against Trump. I have attended three Donald Trump rallies before this convention and spoken with many people, supporters of Trump and those who protest against him. The protesters come from an extremely diverse set of backgrounds. There is no "generic Trump protester"—this is actually true of his supporters as well, contrary to the perception among those who have not actually talked to any Trump supporters.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Apparently These People Think It's a Good Idea to Bring Dolphins to Arizona for Entertainment Purposes

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Humans, keep us the hell away from the desert and your cruel aquatic parks. - PHOTOSPIN
  • Photospin
  • Humans, keep us the hell away from the desert and your cruel aquatic parks.

The Mexico-based Dolphinaris is bringing a "swim with the dolphins!" park to the Arizona desert.

Here's the company's mission statement on the upcoming Dolphinaris Arizona, set to open this summer next door to the OdySea Aquarium, which is also currently under construction, near the 101 and Vía de Ventura in Scottsdale:
Dolphinaris is developing the “next generation” of dolphin experiences in Arizona, providing an opportunity for visitors to interact with dolphins, learn about this amazing species, and be part of ocean conservation efforts.

The mission of Dolphinaris Arizona is to amaze, inspire, and empower guests, encouraging them to become stewards of the oceans and its inhabitants. We hope to deepen respect for dolphins and our natural world, and encourage visitors to take actions, large and small, that can make a difference.
So, they want to promote the conservation of the sea and ocean species by placing 12 dolphins in captivity and forcing them into fake bodies of water in the desert?

PETA refers to marine-mammal theme parks like Dolphinaris as "part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them."
Wild orcas and dolphins live in large, complex social groups and swim vast distances every day in the open ocean. In captivity, these animals can only swim in endless circles in tanks that are the equivalent of bathtubs, and they are denied the opportunity to engage in almost any natural behavior. They are forced to perform meaningless tricks and often torn away from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life span.
These aquatic parks are unnecessary, antiquated and cruel. And I am still unsure of the life-changing effects swimming with dolphins in captivity brings to a human's existence. Better get a dose of Blackfish.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In Defense of Marijuana: #FreeKyleCatlin

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 2:53 PM

Kyle and his mom Suson. - KYLE CATLIN FACEBOOK
  • Kyle Catlin Facebook
  • Kyle and his mom Suson.

Suson Catlin has been writing letters to the Governor's Office hoping someone out there will help get her 27-year-old son, Kyle, out of prison—where he's been since mid-January over nonviolent marijuana felony charges. Unsurprisingly, she hasn't received a response. But as I imagine most mothers would, Suson is willing to exhaust all options. Hope dies last.

The night of June 23, Suson got a phone call from Kyle, saying he had been charged with assault after anotherp inmate in the Marana Community Correctional Facility jumped him and split his lip open. In response to the altercation, which Kyle repeatedly told his parents he didn't do anything but take the punches, Kyle was placed in "protective custody," also known as "the hole," or solitary. The inmate who assaulted Kyle was placed in solitary first, so he and friends threatened to kill Kyle for being "a snitch." 

After Suson made several frantic phone calls to the correctional facility, guards moved Kyle to the hole, where he remained for about a week.

To make matters worse, Kyle got transferred back to the first correctional facility he stepped foot in—the Arizona Department of Corrections' Whetstone Unit off of South Wilmont Road and East Old Vail Road. While there the first time, an inmate jumped Kyle and hurt his head. One hopes the correctional system would have enough common sense to not send a nonviolent inmate back to a place where his safety was jeopardized. But, really, they could give a shit. It is not their son. It is not their brother. It is not their friend.

"I'm not giving up, I am going to fight even more to get my son out of that hell hole," Suson wrote on Kyle's Facebook after her son told her he'd be transferred again.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Navigating Priorities in the Wake of the Shooting at Pulse in Orlando

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 4:00 PM

A small group of attendees gathered at the Water of Life Sanctuary last Saturday to honor the lives of those lost on June 12 in Orlando, one of multiple prayer vigils held in Tucson last week.

Candles were passed at the door and Amazing Grace was sung from the pulpit, while the faces of the 49 victims flashed on a projector at the front of the hall. A few speakers expressed their sadness, confusion, and hope in the face of yet another act of senseless violence on United States soil. After a final prayer, names of victims were read. One man, from Puerto Rico, was in town for a Selena Gomez concert. Another had just bought his first home for his mother. One couple had just opened their own beauty salon.

When the floor opened up to members of the congregation, a man approached the podium to speak not for Republicans or Democrats, but simply for people facing a violent reality where guns have been increasingly falling into the wrong hands.

The NRA has been working overtime in the wake of the Orlando massacre to urge constituencies to oppose legislation which would tighten restrictions on gun acquisitions and ownership. Democrats staged a 15-hour filibuster during an appropriation bill debate to shift focus to gun laws. Republicans cry terrorism, Democrats scream gun access.

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On Camps, Traffic and Reporting in the Middle East for the First Time

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:00 PM

On a hilltop overlooking informal settlements near El Kaa in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley - FOUAD HIJAZI
  • Fouad Hijazi
  • On a hilltop overlooking informal settlements near El Kaa in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

I’ve come to believe that drivers in Beirut are all in on a giant game of Chicken that the rest of the world hasn’t really caught onto yet. Just how close can one get to the other drivers on the road before a vehicular accident is inevitable? Or worse, scratch the paint on the Mercedes.

Cars bob-and-weave through uneven lines of traffic at stressful speeds, getting close enough to pudgy delivery drivers to watch their rolls bounce with the tut-tut-tut of their rickety mopeds. Traffic lanes are painted on the asphalt but are entirely invisible to the average Lebanese motorist. My cousin, a true Beiruti to his core, rocks his steering wheel back and forth within centimeters of oncoming drivers if he feels I’m falling asleep in the car. The Lebanese, not unlike the very pulse of the country itself, are determined to keep you on your toes.

I’m in Beirut filming for my master’s project on the Syrian border and have found that, as a student journalist on her own, reporting in the Middle East for the first time entails a similar chaos to be found on Beiruti freeways. Plans and expectations, no matter how many or how well laid out, are often followed through about as well as Beirut’s fading white traffic lines.

A young boy plays around at an old high school now functioning as a refugee camp in Baalbek, Lebanon. - JENNIFER HIJAZI
  • Jennifer Hijazi
  • A young boy plays around at an old high school now functioning as a refugee camp in Baalbek, Lebanon.

My third day in Lebanon I travel to Baalbek, a town in the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut to gather footage from refugee camps in the area. The Lebanese government does not allow for the foundation of formal refugee camps, a paranoia still seething in the wake of Palestinian camps-turned-cities in Beirut and beyond. The valley is dotted with tent villages of all sizes, many set between open agricultural fields.

My fixer, a local videojournalist, agrees to take me to the Syrian border near Arsal, where we surreptitiously set up my virtual reality camera out of range of the military presence at the border gate. Every so often my fixer will take out his own credentials and “film” the street to deflect attention from the blinking Freedom360 rig we’ve set up facing the barbed wire concrete wall from the median a block down. After a few minutes, I hurriedly set up the camera from another angle across the busy street, praying to the journalism gods that I can stow away all of my equipment in the SUV before a guy in uniform shows up.

A ten minute drive from the border takes us to a camp in El Kaa, an informal tent village baking in blazing Bekaa sun, surrounded by Lebanese fields to the west and Syrian mountains to the east. Children, playing barefoot in the dirt, spot my cameras and begin following closely at my heels. One boy in a striped polo and munching on biscuits observes me synchronizing my 360 camera and quickly memorizes the steps, pointing at each GoPro as I turn them on, just in case I miss one. An invaluable camera assistant for the day.

I take a moment of hesitation to consider my next few shots, long enough for a young man to come bounding up the dirt road from the entrance to the camp. He gestures to my cameras and begins speaking to my companions in Arabic. My translator turns to me and says “Let’s go.”

Frustrated and slightly concerned, I shove both of my tripods in the car, cameras still on from the last shot. I am told as we exit that the informal camp “chief,” or shaweesh as they are called here, has been watching us from his perch on a nearby hill and has requested the pleasure of our presence. We declined.

Going through footage back in Beirut a day later, away from shaweesh threats, border guards, and impatient fixers, I take a moment and decompress. Some of my interviews are just a hair too dark, some b-roll just a little shaky, and I’m pretty sure you can see my feet in at least one 360 shot. I resist the urge to hurl myself into the Mediterranean while I peruse my photos and replay the long tape of expectations and shortcomings I had in my head before heading to the Bekaa.
Three boys living in an informal refugee settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. - JENNIFER HIJAZI
  • Jennifer Hijazi
  • Three boys living in an informal refugee settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

A few more scrolls and deep breaths later, relief sets in.
From the last camp, three boys pose for a picture, full of pent up energy and curiosity. In another frame, a group of women sit beside each other outside a small market, lined up to be mic'ed and interviewed. Still one more shows a string of drying laundry and a playful kid at the end of the hall, his gleeful grin obvious even out of focus.

Despite all the missteps, close calls, and missed opportunities, my latest trip to the Middle East proved invaluable in ways that I'm still rediscovering miles away back in my own desert. Perhaps the most profound of which is the trust given to me by the many people I met along the way to tell their stories. I am eternally grateful for their time and patience.

For young international journalists, I would advise constant preparedness without the burden of well-laid plans. Be ready and open for anything to the best of your ability, but don't rely heavily on expectations. Give yourself plenty of time, always say "yes" within reason, and always check your equipment before heading out. Most importantly, make sure the people and their stories remain your constant guide and purpose, that above all will keep your work moving forward.     

And Beirut driving does not translate well back home in the States. Trust me. 

A group of Syrian children at an informal settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. - JENNIFER HIJAZI
  • Jennifer Hijazi
  • A group of Syrian children at an informal settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Caterpillar Concerns: You Should Also Look into the Manufacturer's Unwelcomed Presence in Gaza Strip, West Bank

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 12:00 PM


I recently wrote about a Menlo Park Neighborhood Association meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago, where Menlo residents and Rio Nuevo Board representatives discussed mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar's regional headquarter's upcoming move to West Side Tucson.

Much of the city is celebrating the fact that Caterpillar chose the Old Pueblo over others like Phoenix and Denver to bring what could mean $600 million in economic impact and 600 well-paying jobs—many of which will already be taken by existing Caterpillar employees, who will begin relocating to Tucson this summer.

My focus of the article revolved around a handful of residents who are concerned about what this will mean to the historic Menlo Park: everything from hikes in property tax and rent costs that will push old-time residents out to environmental and gentrification concerns. (Is this part of the trend to kill as much of Tucson's Native American and Mexican American cultural heritage as possible?)

Abby Okrent with the Jewish Voice for Peace-Tucson pointed out another huge issue of much global scale regarding Caterpillar and whether or not a city like Tucson should be rejoicing over their move here: there is a global campaign against Caterpillar for "its complicity in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

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