Soldier faces charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ by downloading and leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents
The trial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked a trove of state secrets to WikiLeaks, could set an ominous precedent that will chill freedom of speech and turn the internet into a danger zone, legal experts have warned.
Of the 21 counts faced by the Army private on Monday, at his trial at Fort Meade in Maryland, by far the most serious is that he knowingly gave intelligence information to al-Qaida by transmitting hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the open information website WikiLeaks. The leaked disclosures were first published by the Guardian and allied international newspapers.
Manning is accused of “aiding the enemy”, in violation of Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. By indirectly unleashing a torrent of secrets onto the internet, the prosecution alleges, he in effect made it available to Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, for them to inflict injury on the US.
Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be the foremost liberal authority on constitutional law in the US and who taught the subject to President Barack Obama, told the Guardian that the charge could set a worrying precedent. He said: “Charging any individual with the extremely grave offense of ‘aiding the enemy’ on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that the individual posted leaked information on the web and thereby ‘knowingly gave intelligence information’ to whoever could gain access to it there, does indeed seem to break dangerous new ground.”
Tribe, who advised the department of justice in Obama’s first term, added that the trial could have “far-reaching consequences for chilling freedom of speech and rendering the internet a hazardous environment, well beyond any demonstrable national security interest.”
“Aiding the enemy” carries the death penalty. Though the US government has indicated it will not seek that ultimate punishment, Manning still faces a maximum sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole.
Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 was subjected to an aborted trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War to the New York Times, said that the Manning prosecution was far tougher than anything that he had endured.
“This is part of Obama’s overall policy of criminalising investigative reporting on national security,” he said. “If the government has its way, it will become very hard in future to expose official corruption or disclose information in the public interest other than leaks made by the administration itself.”
Manning’s trial, which is slated to last three months, opens against a backdrop of mounting unease about the increasingly aggressive stance the US government is taking against official leakers. The Obama administration has launched six prosecutions under the Espionage Act, twice as many as all previous presidencies combined, of which only Manning’s has gone to trial.
The Department of Justice is already under fire for its controversial secret seizures of phone records of Associated Press reporters and of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, investigating North Korean nuclear tests.
In the course of pre-trial hearings, military prosecutors have outlined the basic skeleton of their case against Manning. They will seek to show that Osama bin Laden personally instructed an aide to download elements of WikiLeaks, including the Afghan war logs, on to digital storage devices so that he could read them.
The court will hear – either in person at a secret session of the trial, or in an affidavit – from an anonymous witness called only “John Doe”, who is believed to be one of the 22 US Navy Seals who killed Bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The witness will testify that he retrieved from the compound three items of digital media that contained WikiLeaks material.
The prosecution will present evidence to the court that the items retrieved from Bin Laden’s compound included a letter written by the al-Qaida leader to an aide, asking for them to download US defence information from WikiLeaks. The same al-Qaida operative then replied to Bin Laden attaching the Afghan war logs and department of state information released by WikiLeaks.
Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding over the court martial in the absence of a jury, has ruled that for Manning to be found guilty of “aiding the enemy” the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly gave helpful information to al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a third terrorist group whose identity remains classified. The route by which Manning communicated with al-Qaida can be indirect, through Wikileaks, the judge has directed, though the soldier must have had a “general evil intent in that he had to know he was dealing with an enemy of the United States”.
A defence motion calling on all reference to al-Qaida to be ruled inadmissible on grounds that it was irrelevant and prejudicial was denied by Lind in an earlier hearing.
Manning has already pleaded guilty to lesser offences, that he transmitted classified information to WikiLeaks carrying a possible maximum sentence of 20 years. Between November 2009 and May 2010 he downloaded massive files, stored in secure US intelligence databases, from his computer at an army operating base in Iraq, where he was working as an intelligence analyst. He then transmitted the files to an encrypted whistleblower channel set up by WikiLeaks.
Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who represented two of the six leakers who have been prosecuted – National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake and former CIA operative John Kiriakou – said the broad legal implications of Manning’s trial were frightening. “If Osama bin Laden or any other suspected terrorist happens to have read a New York Times article on the internet, the government can now go after the paper for ‘aiding the enemy’. That’s a big problem.”
In the course of legal argument in pre-trial hearings, one of the prosecution lawyers was asked whether Manning would have been prosecuted in the same way had he leaked to the New York Times as opposed to WikiLeaks. The prosecutor replied: “Yes.”
Radack said that the case has sent a chill through investigative reporting. Several potential whistleblowers have approached her in recent weeks, she said, expressing great trepidation about leaking to any news outlets because “they fear they will become the next Bradley Manning”.
Do you want to quiz the political forecaster who predicted the result of the US election? Here’s your chance
Nate Silver‘s accurate forecasting of Obama’s election victory last year brought him acclaim, and it also highlighted the importance of statistical literacy in our data-heavy age. The amount of data in our world is growing by 2.5 quintillion bytes a day – so the tools and skills we use to sort what Silver calls the signal from the noise are increasingly vital. Since the election Silver has continued to sift and predict on his blog at the New York Times, analysing topics such as the US vote for same-sex marriage, the election of the new pope and pet subject, baseball.
On 3 May he’s visiting the UK and there are two opportunities to see him talk probability, prediction and poker in person. At lunchtime he’ll be talking at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, then later in the day he’ll be in Shoreditch, London speaking at an event organised by Nesta called How to Think About the Future: Give Me the Numbers.
To warm up for the event, Silver will be answering some of your questions about statistical matters in next Sunday’s Observer. So please post a question below, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @ObsNewReview by 8 April.
The Savile affair joins Hillsborough, MPs’ expenses, banking disasters and events leading up to the Leveson inquiry. Ed Jacobs, the Northerner‘s political commentor, on a possible common culture behind the separate threats to public trust?
A year ago this coming Monday James (Jimmy) Wilson Vincent Savile died aged 84. In life, over a period spanning decades, the Leeds-born and bred celebrity is now accused of committing a massive con-exercise on the public.
Support for numerous charities and good causes, including the Leeds General Infirmary in his home city, led many to consider him eccentric, but with a good heart. Such was the respect people had for him that he was given what amounted to a lying in state at the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds, with 5,000 mourners passing his coffin before his burial on a Scarborough hilltop.
A year on, that legacy has turned into one of trauma and destruction. As police investigate the sickening possibility that he led a double life, involved in repeated child abuse, Scotland Yard has said that it is investigating around 300 potential cases. Across the country, men and women have come forward to tell heart-wrenching stories of times when on public property, including that of the BBC and the National Health Service, Savile allegedly abused some of the most vulnerable children in society in the knowledge that that same society was unlikely to believe their word against his.
At the time of his death, the Guardian‘s obituary noted:
Many considered that there was something strange about Savile. His enthusiasm for spending quite so much time in the hospital environment had a touch of the macabre about it.
This comment goes to the heart of the case: that while rumour and speculation existed, Savile had done enough to ensure that those who had their concerns did not feel they had sufficient evidence to make public accusations of the kind that, with hindsight, they should have made.
Coupled with the scarring of lives, the affair risks a loss of public trust in that cherished institution, the BBC. So loved that we know it as Auntie, it now faces questions over the future of its new director general, George Entwistle, and the chair of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten. The issue has spread to the New York Times and the role of Mark Thompson, appointed as the paper’s chief executive just last month, who was the BBC’s director general at the time of the issue of whether Newsnight should or should not have televised its investigation into Savile.
The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has raised “real concerns” about the loss of “public trust and confidence in the BBC” and this leads to the wider point. The Corporation is not the first public institution in current and recent times to lose the confidence of the public that it is there to serve.
The debate over Hillsborough in the House of Commons on Monday reminded many of the difficult questions being asked of senior serving police officers, leading to the resignation this week of Sir Norman Bettison as chief constable of West Yorkshire. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, found himself apologising in the same debate for the errors identified in the Hillsborough report in the way that another cherished institution, the National Health Service, responded to the disaster.
Add to that the sapping of confidence in the banking system following a meltdown which had its roots in the 1980s culture of making a fast buck; an MPs’ expenses scandal which developed over many years as politicians of all parties were encouraged to increase their expenses so that their wages could be kept down to avoid public opprobrium; and the loss of a substantial amount of public trust and confidence in the press, as the Leveson Inquiry has unearthed all sorts of skeletons in closets. Is the sum of these a perfect storm?
Our politicians, elected to govern; our media, called upon to tell truth to power; our police, in place uphold the law; and our banks, in which many had trusted to protect their savings, have one by one found themselves undermined by events many years in the making.
As a child born in the mid-1980s I have no recollection of much of those origins; but what does seem increasingly clear is that there was a culture, something within a number of our public services, that seemed to accept police colluding to denigrate fans crushed to death at a football match; to ignore the likely consequences of celebrities using their sex appeal with children; and to think that getting stinking rich by risking everything was OK.
Once we truly get to the heart of both Hillsborough and Savile, and justice in those individual cases is done, a much bigger argument therefore awaits us. What was it with society then? How could so many of our public and financial institutions have failed in the way that they did? And most importantly, have we changed sufficiently to make it impossible for such events to occur again?
As a nation and as a society we must learn the lessons so that those fundamental pillars of democracy – Parliament, the press, the police and financial institutions – can once again be held in the esteem that should be theirs.
Paid-for digital subscriptions reach almost 600,000 but advertising suffers year-on-year declines
The New York Times has reported an 11% increase in paid-for digital subscriptions to almost 600,000 in the three months to the end of September.
However, both print and digital advertising at the paper suffered year-on-year declines. The Times reported a small profit of $2.28m (£1.41m) in the third quarter. Digital subscriptions rose 11% between the second and third quarters to 592,000 with Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman and chief executive of the New York Times Company, saying that digital subscription trends have “remained robust”.
A breakdown shows that paid subscribers to the New York Times and its sister paper, the International Herald Tribune, amounted to 566,000, an increase of 57,000 or 11%, quarter on quarter. Paid subscribers to the NYT-owned Boston Globe were 26,000 at the end of the third quarter, up 3,000 or 13% compared to the previous three months.
“While our results for the third quarter reflect continued pressure on advertising revenues, total circulation revenues rose led by the expansion of our digital subscription base,” Sulzberger said. Total revenue fell 0.6% year on year to $449m as the tough advertising market continues to batter the publishing company. Total advertising revenues fell 8.9% year on year in the third quarter to $182m.Print advertising at the company’s newspapers, slumped by 10.9% year on year in the third quarter. Digital revenues fell 2.2% year on year to $44.6m mainly because of lower national display and property ads. Digital ad revenues account for 24.4% of total ad revenues. The publisher said this was “largely due to the challenging economic environment, ongoing secular trends and an increasingly complex and fragmented digital advertising marketplace”.
Circulation revenues increased a healthy 7.4% year-on-year to $234m, thanks to print cover price increases and growth in digital subscriptions. The company said that it expects circulation revenues to increase in the “mid to high single digits” in the final three months of 2012 thanks to the growth in digital subscribers and print price increases.
Ad revenue declines are expected to be about the same in the fourth quarter as they were in the three months to the end of September.
The company said it had completed the sale of how-to web operation About Group for $300m.
Greg Smith’s book is remarkably short on details – and some of those it does contain have been challenged
Last March banker Greg Smith delivered a broadside to his former bosses at Goldman Sachs. The morally outraged banker could take no more of the bank’s “toxic and destructive” environment, he said via the New York Times’ editorial page. But it was the muppets that caught everyone’s attention.
With the financial crisis still rocking the world and bankers held up as public enemy number one, Smith claimed Goldman bankers branded clients “muppets” – a derogatory term in British English – and secretly despised them as they ripped them off.
But now the early reviews are in and it looks like Smith’s turn to be called a muppet. William Cohan, author of the definitive Goldman Sachs history Money and Power, has blasted Smith as a “hypocrite”, his facts are being questioned and the bank has cast Smith as a disgruntled one percenter who turned nasty after his bosses turned down his call for a $1m bonus.
A lot of the book is a rehash of Goldman’s recent troubled history that could have been done from newspaper reports. There’s some stuff about Smith’s once promising table tennis career (no joke) and his career struggles. There’s a topless woman in a hot tub in Las Vegas (just the one?) but little else in the way of sex – unless you count the revelation that Goldman’s boss Lloyd Blankfein likes to “air-dry” by walking around the bank’s gym locker room naked. Gordon Gekko’s Wall Street it ain’t.
Smith doesn’t help his cause with a book that is remarkably short on details of wrongdoing – and the few it does contain have been challenged. Problems set in at the beginning with an anecdote about his apprenticeship in Goldman’s tough 10-week internship programme. One intern “starts to tear up and runs out of the room” after a grilling about Microsoft stock. Another flounders badly as he is quizzed about “risk arbitrage”. Smith then reveals that the intern, “Josh”, is the son of a billionaire “and one of the most powerful financiers in the world”.
In the New York Times, James Stewart, best-selling author of Den of Thieves and other titles, challenges Smith’s account. In a damning review headlined: A tell-all on Goldman has little worth telling, Stewart says the only billionaire’s son in Smith’s intern programme was Teddy Schwarzman, son of Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive of the asset management firm Blackstone Group and certainly “one of the most powerful financiers in the world”.
“I was never grilled on risk arbitrage, or asked to give a presentation on it,” Schwarzman told Stewart. “I realise it was a long time ago, but I would certainly have remembered it if I had floundered.” Stewart said no one in the class that he spoke to could recall such an episode.
Later Smith talks of a town hall meeting in London – a meeting that he says was instrumental in his decision to quit his $500,000-$750,000 a year job. “What is the firm doing to address the fact that the culture is dying and our reputation is deteriorating?” asks one woman. “Absolute silence followed,” he writes.
In fact the questioner asks about the “perception” that the culture is deteriorating, according to audio heard by the Guardian. There is a short pause before the Goldman execs answer with some banalities but hardly “absolute silence”.
According to Goldman, Smith’s town hall hero is the same woman that only a few pages earlier Smith describes as a “vicious boss” nicknamed the “Black Widow” for her “penchant for trying to get colleagues fired”.
Unsurprisingly Goldman has its own harsh critique of Smith’s account. An internal review of Goldman’s emails found 99.7% of references to “muppets” were related to 2011′s outing for the puppet characters in which Miss Piggy, Kermit and Co reunite to save their old theatre from a greedy oil tycoon.
The bank also said it undertook peer review polls and said Smith’s average rating of his colleagues was nine – the highest mark on their nine-point scale.
“We thoroughly reviewed Greg’s claims and found no evidence whatsoever to support them,” said Jake Siewert, Goldman’s corporate communications chief. “We were hampered by the fact that there was little that was specific. We found no evidence that he raised concerns while at the bank but he did express concerns about his career.”
For Cohan the problem with Smith’s book is that it is a morality tale that doesn’t work: “He spent 12 years taking their money and suddenly the scales fall from his eyes?”
According to Cohan Goldman has been rife with conflicts of interest throughout its 143-year history. “This is not a charitable institution,” he said. He said it was “hypocritical” of Smith to take Goldman’s salary, complain about his bonus and then turn around and kick his former employer. “Wall Street has huge problems and he is exhibit A,” said Cohan.
The death of Arthur Sulzberger and departure of Marjorie Scardino have sparked palpitations at the New York Times and FT – because the number-crunchers might now take over
Two-and-a-half pretty significant things happened last week, all of them illuminating one of the great media conundrums of this or any other time. Who should be allowed to own newspapers? What’s the sanctified way of becoming that otherwise most loathed of all species: the press baron?
Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger, the old (86 years) lord of the New York Times manor was a very good baron indeed. But would he have relished the send-off his beloved Gray Lady gave him, the endless pages of eulogy, the miles of roseate remembrance?
I rather doubt it. Sulzberger was a quiet, self-effacing chap who (as his executive editor Max Frankel recalled) would occasionally submit a little piece for publication – and never complain when it didn’t appear. He pottered the back roads of New York society, making connections, soothing irate advertisers, but otherwise he left his journalists to get on with it. He just watched their backs.
And he also built in a doughty “A” and “B” share stock structure that allowed the ruling family to survive as guardians of their treasure. “As many other well-known newspaper families have abandoned the business – most recently the Bancrofts of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal – so the Sulzbergers have remained steadfast in their belief that they were put on this earth to preserve and protect the New York Times“, wrote the Times business guru, Joe Nocera.
Shall we see Punch’s like again, many other NYT writers seemed to ask between the lines. Probably not: his son, Arthur Jr, is hands-on, occasionally maladroit and indubitably less revered. Now dad’s gone, no one can be utterly sure that the curse of the Bancrofts won’t eventually point its moving finger at the Times. Change in the highest reaches is always unsettling – which is absolutely the point about Marjorie Scardino’s retirement as chief executive of the Pearson Group, sparking palpitations at the FT.
The Financial Times accounts for only 4% or so of Pearson revenue. It makes useful money today, but it has lost pots of cash through some of the years Scardino was in overall charge. Come rain or shine, though, she stuck by it resolutely. The FT, she said, would only be sold “over my dead body”. She was a manager with a special gift for, and understanding of, journalism. She and her husband had a Pulitzer prize to prove it. But her successor is a finance man from Pearson’s dominant education division. He says how highly he values the Financial Times. Others think that could mean a £750m sale when the time is right. Come in Thomson Reuters? Bloomberg versus Dow Jones versus Reuters is all the pluralism the markets may think they need. We’ll see; but the bulwarks of passionate commitment may have weakened.
Meanwhile, over at the Independent Alexander Lebedev is under intense pressure. Prosecutors gather to charge him with hooliganism and assault after a John Prescott moment on a TV chat show. He says he’s making “contingency plans” for the papers he owns. He doesn’t deny that his businesses in Russia are losing cash, or difficult to sell. It’s only half a significant switch as yet. Since nobody can be quite sure why Lebedev bought the Evening Standard and Indy in the first place, nobody can tell how staunchly he’ll stick by them. But more uncertainty, more anxiety, more contingent fretting inevitably follow.
So there stand our three benign barons: a family stalwart, a corporate wizard, an unexpected oligarch. Some of the praise heaped upon them – by Nocera over Sulzberger’s share structure, for instance – is a touch astigmatic. Think of all the Wall Street wrath about Rupert Murdoch’s A/B shareholding that makes News Corp a family fiefdom. Think, too, of the Daily Mail and General Trust voting arrangement that sees Rothermere dominance go on and on. Was Punch Sulzberger a hero for never telling his editors what to do? So why can Jonathan Rothermere be criticised for not calling Paul Dacre to account over his paper’s McCann coverage?
The plain fact from this week of change is that there is no template for media ownership, constructed and imposed. Pluralism arrives from all points of the human compass. And if there’s one true enemy of journalism’s variety and independence, it enters wearing a white collar and dark suit, accompanied by accountants.
Just turn to the Economist of a few days ago and see what the phone-hacking furore and subsequent putative separation of News Corp into entertainment and newspaper divisions has meant out there on the stock exchanges: the “A” shares up 53% in a year and changing hands at $25 a time – the best since before credit crunching began.
Investors love what the hacking furore has forced Murdoch to do. It’s a split they’ve pushed for all along. Who wants to be wasting good money on words and pictures when cable TV and the rest are so much more profitable? Who wants to pay for Times of London or New York Post losses at a moment when (as Lebedev mordantly observes) “nobody’s buying newspapers”? Only, you fear, the best of the barons: the ones who put journalism first.
? Diversification is the name of the survival game. But even so, you have to roll an eye over the Washington Post’s latest commercial buy whose profits will help to keep the paper going (or not). Yes, it’s a hospice.
Authorities reportedly set to crack down on banks for failing to monitor whether cash was being used to launder dirty money
Major US banks are being investigated for insufficiently safeguarding against being used by drug dealers or terrorist groups to launder dirty money, it was reported Saturday.
An article in the New York Times suggested that federal and state authorities were ready to launch an aggressive crackdown on the failure to monitor transactions, in a move aimed at flagging to financial institutions that weak compliance is unacceptable.
Officials told the Times that regulators are close to taking action against JP Morgan, while other firms including Bank of America are also being investigated over perceived shortcomings when it comes to putting a check on money-laundering activities.
It comes just months after a Senate committee roundly criticised HSBC for ignoring warning signs that it was being used by money launderers and drug cartels in Mexico.
US politicians also accused HSBC of circumventing US sanctions on countries including Cuba and Iran – a charge that has also been levied against JP Morgan.
The Senate report was also highly critical of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), stating that the regulator needed to take “stronger action” on banks that exercise poor anti-money laundering controls.
The OCC is now leading the crackdown on non-compliant banks, according to the New York Times report.
It suggested that a “cease-or-desist” order could be issued against JP Morgan in the coming months, forcing the bank to review its checks, and implement measures to firm up its safeguards.
Prosecutors from the justice department and the Manhattan district attorney’s office are also investigating lapses at a number of financial institutions, it was reported.
If action is taken against JP Morgan it will comes as a further blow to a bank still reeling from a $5.8bn trading loss that led to a political firestorm in the US and led to a tighter regulation of Wall Street.
Anthropomorphising cattle won’t improve farm animal welfare: agribusiness needs a business reason to reform
This week, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D Kristof told a truly heartwarming tale about his high-school friend Bob Bansen, a “third generation dairyman”, who earns “a good living running a farm that is efficient but also has soul.”
In the piece, “Where Cows Are Happy and Food is Healthy“, Kristof especially relishes in the rarity of writing an uplifting food column. Indeed, he initially laments that the subject “can be depressing. If it’s tasty, it’s carcinogenic. If it’s cheap, animals were tortured.”
With Bansen, however, Kristof sees the potential for family farms to prompt positive environmental and ethical reforms in American agriculture. That’s because Bansen, who has opted not to use antibiotics or lock his cows in a barn, claims that:
“For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows … if a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”
For Kristof, smaller, indie operations such as Bansen’s – where these gleeful, freely roaming livestock even have names – prove that
“[F]ood need not come at the cost of animal or human health and welfare. We need not wince when we contemplate where our food comes from.”
Of course, all of this sounds great: who wouldn’t support profitable and sustainable food production that also safeguards cute farm animals from harm (and the very justified warm-fuzzies that go along with that)?
However true Kristof’s thesis might be – and I do agree with his point wholeheartedly – the way he executes his argument is more suited for a feelgood vegetarian camping trip than the kind of logical analysis that should influence business practices and public policy. In fact, it should be irrelevant whether we think cows are “happy” when we talk about green farming, because anthropomorphizing animal emotion is both beside the point and possibly even a setback to the cause.
The reasons are pretty simple, and rooted in rhetorical best practice. Obviously, if there’s a strong likelihood that the audience of an argument already backs said argument’s thesis, you don’t need to do all that much convincing. So, in this context, blatant appeals to emotion – which the author seems to recognize he’s doing – probably won’t prompt outcry. Sustainable farming and animal welfare sympathizers probably aren’t going to roll their eyes at excessive sentimentality.
But these aren’t the people whom Kristof and like-minded thinkers need to convince. Agribusiness perpetuates dirty, mean, exploitative and environmentally deleterious practices because executives’ definition of the “best” way to farm is driven by competitive pressures and the bottom line (read: most profitable). They are in business to make money and, driven by the logic of capitalism, will likely act “heartlessly” or, at best, faux-conscientiously so long as it produces a profit. That’s both the ugliness and beauty of this situation: businesses really do not care about non-monetized forms of value – such as the intrinsic value of pastoralism or the pride people take in owning their own business or in how they perceive their animals “feel” about it. And businesses have little incentive to do anything that interferes with the key objective of making a profit.
So, when it comes to advocating in favor of earth and animal-friendly farming practices, the most effective way of doing so would be to play up their benefit to the bottom line, for which there is evidence. It’s similar to how debate over organic food’s benefits misses the point – a lot of people eat organic for political, ecological and moral reasons, not health reasons. Heartstring-tugging neglects a key component of farming controversy: many, if not most, of the influential stakeholders in this industry are motivated by money, not emotion.
Some will surely counter this by saying that talk of happy cows is fact-based, and that evidence supporting animal cognition and emotion – hence our moral obligation to them – is plentiful. Even for an animal lover such as myself, such claims still remain philosophical hard sells. If you really want to change the way the industry does business, and its approach to animal welfare, you’re better-off with economics, not ethics.
In the aftermath of the Olympics, it’s important to look into funding and to understand how to encourage more participation
Last week, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen tweeted that the Olympic Games had transformed Britain from “gloom to a grin” in the flicker of an eye.
One source of pride has been the (almost) faultless execution of the Olympic competitions. The capital has not ground to a halt. Instead, the Games have made it seem a friendlier and more welcoming city, illuminated anew – even for those who live there – under the gaze of the many visitors, both competitors and fans.
A second cause for celebration has been the enormous and multifaceted success of Team GB, which has thrown up multiple and competing inspirational stories.
There has been the thorough and incremental approach of cycling’s Dave Brailsford and the seemingly unstoppable rise of our elite sportswomen; stories of dedication big and small, adversity overcome and defeat accepted with sportsmanship and charm. The Games have told us something about who we are as a nation – with the triumph of athletes such as Mo Farah, who came to the UK as a child from Somalia, a rebuke to those who would have sought narrowly to define ideas of what Britishness should be.
But a bitter flavour has been introduced in recent days by the jostling politicians who have sought to make political capital out of the Games, wrapping themselves in both its success and the prospect of future achievement.
The question of how British sport should build on the Olympics last week triggered an unseemly competition between David Cameron – who even donned a Team GB tracksuit top at one point – and London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, over how much compulsory physical education children should be obliged to do, a debate packed full of canards and fraudulent facts.
By yesterday, Cameron’s “policy” had settled on a vague, un-costed notion that all primary school children should be compelled to take part in competitive team sports, an idea that comes out of the same box as his desire for all 16-year-olds to do national service.
The reality is that Cameron and Johnson’s stated desire to provide a legacy of continued sporting excellence through a “cultural change towards more competition” in schools is at odds with their party’s policies on sport in school, not least the scrapping of targets for the amount of sport children do in schools.
As highlighted recently, the worst decline in school sports participation was under the last Conservative prime minister, John Major, the same man who has been lauded for the national lottery that has funnelled funds to the elite athletic endeavour that flowered at London 2012.
It is worth noting that when the coalition came to power, 90% of children were doing two hours of sport a week, a minimum this paper has campaigned for. Under the present government, however, funding for organising school sports under the School Sport Partnerships is in the process of being cut from £162m to just £9m next year.
If some of the figures that have been bandied round in the last few days have been bogus, then the terms of the debate – at least among our political classes – have not been much more edifying. For while British success in the medals table is to be applauded for those who have put in so much effort, it ignores the fact that, while their achievements are inspirational, they often have little connection with why the vast majority participate in sport or active pastimes.
Indeed for many, especially girls and young women, there is strong evidence that far from encouraging a lifetime participation in sport, compulsory, competitive school sport can often be deeply alienating. All of which leads to a more profound question – how do we see the wider contribution of sport in our society in a country where one in four adults is classified as obese and where almost a fifth of people report negligible physical activity?
And while almost 7 million Britons participate in sports three times a week, according to the latest figures collected by Sport England – an increase of more than 600,000 over 2005/6 – the organisation also noted a worrying decline in participation by 16- to 19-year-olds, many saying they could not afford to take part in the current economic climate.
Research conducted three years ago by Louise Cox, Lester Coleman and Debi Roker into why some adolescent girls are more active than others suggests far more complex factors at work than compulsion or a competitive culture at school. Instead, those girls playing the most sport were identified as coming from homes and social circles where sport was viewed most positively and where there were close role models. By contrast, those who never participated – while often still reporting a positive image of sport – had few friends or family actively involved.
Why increasing participation matters is not simply because of medals and glory. Although increasing the number of young people drawn into sport widens the pool of those with the potential to be elite athletes, wider benefits can be felt. Labour, whose record on school sport has been more intelligent, recognises this, insisting that it is exercise, not competition, that is the key.
What is required, in the aftermath of the Olympics, is a proper debate about how we fund and encourage sport. It should not simply focus on what we already do well, which is effectively directing money at sports in which there is the promise of medals. We need to identify where strategies are failing. That will require the far more inventive approach Cox and her colleagues suggested that encourages families with low levels of participation to be more active.
There needs to be a more complex understanding too about why some people are put off sport in school, often by precisely the prescriptions that Cameron and Johnson are suggesting, and better funding found for alternative activities that might attract those people, particularly young women.
That will require more investment, more facilities and not more cuts to be filled by vague notions of volunteering. The Olympic Games have provided a golden opportunity, raising awareness about a host of sports and drawing huge audiences. A fitting legacy to all of those who have been involved in this extraordinary event – athletes, their families and coaching staff, sports administrators and volunteers – would be one that declaims a message of sport for all and not just for the excellent few, a policy that would enrich all our lives.
Around half the students at one pioneering Wisconsin high school are gay, many of them dropouts from mainstream education. But is this just a new kind of sexual segregation?
In the first graduating class at Milwaukee’s Alliance High School, the valedictorian – the year’s most distinguished student – scored a D+. “They were smart,” recalls Tina Owen, the school’s founder and lead teacher. “But a lot of them had not been going to school because they were being bullied, and a lot of them had problems at home. That year we had 15 kids. Five of them had lived with me at some point during the year, for one reason or another.”
Alliance is not a regular school. Its aim is to cater to a community that is at best ignored and, at worst, is actively denied its existence – lesbian and gay youth. Call it a gay school and you will be promptly corrected. There’s no entrance criteria on the grounds of sexual orientation or anything else. The school building, an unassuming brick block set back from a main road, doesn’t fly rainbow flags or emblazon its walls with posters of pink triangles. Owen guesses about half the students are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender). “If you are gay, no big deal,” she says. “If you aren’t, no big deal.”
But the school, which is funded by the state of Wisconsin, is self-avowedly gay-friendly. “Here they can talk about a relationship or a break-up without worrying about how that’s going to be received,” explains Owen. The posts of Prom King and Prom Queen are open for anyone to run for, regardless of their gender. A mural at its entrance bears the words “knowledge, respect, peace”, and a sign saying Stonewall Inn. It’s a small school – just 165 students – where everybody knows each other. The corridors host more than the regular share of boys with shoulder-length hair or painted nails. All together it adds up to a critical mass of children who say they felt they didn’t fit in elsewhere – whether they are goths, punks or nerds – which makes being a non-conformist at Alliance the norm. The school’s art teacher affectionately described the school to Time magazine as “the island of misfit toys”.
At a time when sexual diversity has never been more accepted in the US, the emergence of such schools – there are a few around the country – seems paradoxical. “What does it say about our country that we have schools like this?” asks Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor of developmental psychology at Cornell university, and author of The New Gay Teenager. They have come under fire from social conservatives, religious groups and some in the gay community.
Owen admits it is not to everyone’s liking. One boy called home after his first few days there and said: “Dad, get me out of here, these kids are freaks.”
But to others it’s literally a lifesaver. Dylan Huegerich’s long hair and occasional use of makeup made him the subject of frequent taunts in school in the small town of Saukville where he grew up. “It hurt so bad,” he said. “I hated my life. I hated everything. When his mother complained to the school she was told he should cut his hair and try to act “more manly”. Every morning, she told Time, “I knew I was driving him back to this place where he was hurting. Oh, they beat you up? Here, go there again. My heart broke every time he got out of the car.”
She decided not to enroll him for eighth grade. “I felt like if I turned in those forms, I was giving him some kind of a sentence.” So he went to Alliance, a 90-minute commute away.
The school, founded in 2005, was modeled on Manhattan’s Harvey Milk High School, which was named after the late San Fransisco gay activist whose story was the basis for the award-winning film Milk, and which became fully accredited in 2002. It started as a high school (ages 14-18), expanded to include middle school-age children (11-14) as well, and is now about to revert to being just a high school again.
Michael Freytes, 17, who is straight, says he likes Alliance because he doesn’t feel judged. “When I was in middle school I was being bullied a lot. I tried to fit in but I couldn’t. But if there’s a problem like that at Alliance the other students don’t tolerate it and the teachers take care of it.” The students resolve conflict through what they call “restorative justice”, though a “justice circle”, governed by students, which Freytes says “tries to figure out the problem and then fix it without things getting out of control”.
The primary justification for the existence of schools such as Alliance is safety – an institutional response to the pervasive bullying experienced by LGBT youth and others in mainstream schools.
The problem seems severe. A 2009 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) revealed that 9 out of 10 LGBT students said they had experienced harassment or bullying. Almost two-thirds claimed they felt unsafe in school, while one in five said they had been physically assaulted. A 2007 survey revealed that 39% reported physical assaults and, of those who told teachers or administrators about the bullying, only 29% said it resulted in effective intervention. The 2009 survey also found that the frequency with which LGBT students experienced more severe forms of bullying and harassment had held steady over the previous decade.
Last winter, 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn killed himself after he came out at his Iowa high school. Anonymous threats on his voicemail were followed by yelling and physical harassment that got so bad teachers had to stand guard in the hallways. Kenneth eventually hung himself in his parents’ garage.
Even when parents aren’t prepared to accept their children are gay, says Owen, they understand the need to put their child in a nurturing environment. “They want their kid to be safe. They want to know that their child is not going to be spat on or kicked just because of who they are.”
Attitudes towards homosexuality are changing radically in the US, even in midwestern states such as Wisconsin, and even if every time gay marriage has been put to the vote at a state level, it has failed. President Obama recently came out in favour of gay marriage, which is legal in six states and Washington DC, covering 12% of the country. According to Gallup, today almost two-thirds of people in the US believe lesbian and gay relationships should be legal, compared with fewer than half in 1977.
Today more than half (54%) believe homosexuality is morally acceptable, compared with 40% in 1977. And the people most likely to be comfortable with homosexuality as a fact of life that should enjoy equal rights and protection are the young.
Predictably, social conservatives are not enamoured with this trend or this educational response. The chairman of the Conservative party of New York State, Michael Long, said the establishment of the Harvey Milk School amounted to social engineering. “Is there a different way to teach homosexuals? Is there gay math? This is wrong … there’s no reason these children should be treated separately.”
Nonetheless, they are often treated differently, and Chad Weiden, who led efforts to set up a gay-friendly school in Chicago, says that part of the skill in teaching is making sometimes abstract issues accessible to students. “It’s all about making it relevant to kids. If you’re doing probability in math, you could illustrate it by looking at GLBT suicides or stop-and-frisk or unemployment. A good curriculum would also deal with issues of sexual orientation when covering things like evolution, biodiversity, anthropology, history and literature. That should be true of any school, not just one that considers itself gay-friendly.”
But behind these conservative attacks lie two broader motivations. The first, underpinned by the notion that homosexuality is wrong, is that any mention of homosexuality “normalises” gay identity, and might encourage impressionable young people to become gay who otherwise wouldn’t.
“What about that girl who is a virgin, who is being harassed by lesbians and guys to have sex, and yet you’re going to build a gay school?” a Chicago minister, Wilfredo de Jesus, asked the Chicago Journal. “It’s not fair.”
Such accusations, says Savin-Williams, are absurd. “There is absolutely no evidence that gay or straight kids can be created in that way, let alone converted. It’s a nonsense.”
Some would rather that gay youth were neither seen nor heard. A network of gay-straight alliance clubs have sprung up in schools around the US, to provide peer-group support for lesbian and gay students. But their emergence has often been challenged by school authorities and conservative parents, forcing students to the courts to defend their right to self-organise, as happened last year in West Bend, Wisconsin, just 45 minutes’ drive from Alliance.
The right calls efforts to recognise sexual diversity “pushing a gay agenda”. When Weiden was trying to set up his school, conservatives tried to provoke them into saying they would promote gay lifestyles. “They were just goading us. ‘Say it, say it, will you teach gay lifestyles.’ I could have said: ‘I’m gay, the kids are going to be gay, it’s going to be the biggest flaming school in the city.’ But we were just not going to say that.”
The second motivation, however, is steeped in a far more pervasive belief that gay teens and pre-teens are simply not in a position to fully understand and label their sexual orientation: that like being a goth, punk or nerd, it might just be a phase they were going through. This partly resides in the anxiety most parents have about their adolescent children’s burgeoning sexuality.
But it is also a function of associating an awareness of being gay with being sexually active, and holding gay identity to a different standard to heterosexuals. A 12-year-old boy expressing a furtive interest in girls or vice versa would provoke little concern. Indeed, the issue of his straightness wouldn’t even come up. A 12-year-old boy who finds himself attracted to other boys, however, would not have that luxury. Since sexual identity is fluid there is, of course, the possibility that preferences may change. But that is no less true for the straight boy than the gay one. And, the chances are that, whichever gender they are attracted to, both may well still be waiting for their first kiss.
“No one says to [a straight teen or pre-teen boy]: ‘Are you sure? You’re too young to know if you like girls. It’s probably just a phase,’” Eileen Ross, a director of the Outlet Program, a support service for gay youth in California told the New York Times. “But that’s what we say too often to gay youth. We deny them their feelings and truth in a way we would never do with a heterosexual young person.”
In previous generations young people would wait until college to come out. Now they feel sufficiently emboldened to come out in middle or high school – at an age and in a place characterised by teasing, bullying, sexual exploration and hormonal turbulence. “Kids are definitely coming out earlier, and middle school is definitely the worst time for bullying, whether you’re straight or gay,” says Savin-Williams. There are several summer camps around the country, that cater to transgender children as young as eight.
“We always knew middle school was a time when kids struggle with their identity,” one middle-school counsellor told the New York Times, confessing that her school was “totally unprepared” for openly gay students, “but it was easy to let anti-gay language slide because it’s so imbedded in middle-school culture, and because we didn’t have students who were out to us or their classmates. Now we do, so we’re playing catch up to try to keep them safe.”
But gay-friendly schools have also met resistance from members of the gay community who believe that such schools amount to segregation, simply sheltering gay youth from the realities of homophobia while letting mainstream schools off the hook.
Savin-Williams is skeptical about the purpose of gay-friendly schools. “Most of the kids who are at these schools are there not so much because they are gay, but because they are very gender atypical [not conforming to traditional stereotypes]. That’s not most gay kids. Where does it stop? Do you have a school for fat kids and annoying kids and all the others who just don’t fit in?”
In Chicago the combined opposition of religious, conservative and gay opposition scuppered plans to build a similar school.
“There was push back from the gay community,” says Weiden, who pioneered the effort. “The elders were against it. They thought it was segregation. ‘If you create this school,’ they said, ‘then you don’t make other schools accountable.’ But kids are scared now. They’re hurting now. Making the schools accountable will take years. I hope that in 10 years you wouldn’t need our school anymore. But they need it now.”
Owen agrees. “As much as it should be being addressed in other schools, the fact is that it isn’t,” she says. “And it’s not as though our students were unaware of what was out there. That’s why they’re here. They say: ‘We do the world everyday. We know what the world is like.’ And the reality is that the world outside high school is much more like this. It’s much more gay-friendly than high schools are.”
Gay youth and British schools
More than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have experienced homophobic bullying at school in the UK, according to a survey published by Stonewall earlier this month. Almost all of the 1,600 young people questioned said homophobic name-calling is common, a finding backed up by a recent Ofsted report that found widespread use of the word “gay” as an insult.
Wes Streeting, Stonewall’s head of education, said: “We’ve found that homophobic bullying is lower in schools that explicitly state homophobic bullying is wrong and where incidents are dealt with swiftly and seriously. The best schools are those that go beyond tackling bullying by celebrating difference and addressing gay issues in a positive way across the curriculum.”
At one primary school that successfully countered bullying, Ofsted inspectors said pupils were comfortable about rejecting stereotypes – a six-year-old boy wore a tutu without comment from classmates, while a girl wrote a fairy story that ended with the marriage of two princesses. Children in Year Six learned about gay role models such as the actor Ian McKellen and the rugby player Gareth Thomas (pictured).
At another school where many pupils had anti-gay attitudes – children frequently used terms such as “batty man” and “queer” – the headteacher used the curriculum to explore gay topics; studying Alan Turing’s life in technology lessons and the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in history. The school brought in external role models including a black lesbian rapper and a gay Muslim group.
Ofsted found a “significant decrease” in bullying in the school, while staff and pupils who were lesbian or gay were able to be more open about their sexuality without fear of harassment. Jeevan Vasagar