The Guardian 8 March, 2006
TV programs worth watching
Sun March 12 — Sat March 18
There is not a lot of interest on the ABC this week, so we’ll concentrate on SBS instead.
The USA today is experiencing a series of crises which are all part of a general crisis. Youth in particular are feeling the effects: lied to by their leaders, fed bullshit and pap by the media, and facing an increasingly bleak future as jobs vanish. They are angry, frustrated and rebellious.
But, hey, this is the USA, so it can’t be capitalist society that needs reforming, it must obviously be the kids themselves. They need "behaviour modification". And there are plenty of outfits willing to provide it.
On SBS Television on Tuesday, 14 March at 8:30 pm Tranquility Bay, which screens this week in the Cutting Edge timeslot (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday), looks at the growing private reform-school industry in the USA.
With exotic names like Tranquility Bay and Paradise Cove and beachside locations in countries like Jamaica, Fiji and Western Samoa, these institutions are designed to suggest to parents that if they fork out anything up to $25,000 a year in school fees their troubled-teens will find an idyllic and understanding academic paradise where they can reform.
Parents attend seminars where they are sold the concept that behaviour modification programs can change their children for the better. Just sign the contract.
Instead the pupils behind the schools’ barbed wire fences have been subjected to abuse and half of the schools have been forced to close.
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP) is the leading provider of these programs for American teens. At the helm of a company which earns $95 million per year is Robert Browning Lichfield, a Utah resident and Mormon, who has built his fortune through the numerous WWASP programs that are located throughout the world.
Parents suckered into signing contracts with WWASP discover that the organisation is not liable for any harm the child should suffer while in its care and that the company is allowed to use pepper spray, electronic disablers, mace, mechanical restraints and handcuffs to enforce good behaviour.
The schools have been attacked for lacking a comprehensive academic curriculum, operating without a licence from the education ministry and offering student qualifications that aren’t officially recognised, even in the USA!
At WWASP, punishments are of a physical nature and designed to inflict extreme pain on the receiver. Misbehaviour such as talking at inappropriate moments is punished by relegation to the "dog cage" — a small boxed area where a student is forced to lie face-down for hours, days or months, in extreme heat conditions. One female student was subjected to this punishment for 18 months.
Although foreign authorities have been sufficiently concerned with the activities of the schools to shut down WWASP establishments in Western Samoa, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Czech Republic, complaints of physical and sexual abuse are allegedly ignored by American authorities. In total, six out of 12 WWASP schools have closed amidst allegations of child abuse.
The program claims that the profitability of WWASP goes a long way to explaining why American authorities have not mounted investigations into its activities. An examination of personal finances of school executives, such as Robert Browning Lichfield, indicates that they are amongst the biggest donors to the Republican Party and gave over $1 million in political donations in 2002-2004. They also fund the missionary work of the Mormon Church.
In 1995, Texas became the third state in the US to make the advocating of "strict abstinence until marriage" the only legal form of sex-education permitted in its schools. This despite the fact that each and every day in the US, some 10,000 teens get a sexually transmitted disease (STD), 2400 get pregnant, and, tragically, 55 contract HIV. But not in Texas, presumably.
As a student says in The Education Of Shelby Knox (SBS 10.00pm Friday), if a student in Texas asks a teacher about sex, "the teacher by policy is required to answer with ‘Abstinence is the only way to prevent STDs and teen pregnancy’.... If they don’t, they’re in danger of losing their job."
The Governor of Texas who signed that blinkered, unrealistic law into the statutes was George W Bush. The documentary, The Education Of Shelby Knox (SBS 10.00pm Friday) looks at how sex is everywhere in the US — in music, television, fashion and movies, everywhere except where it really matters: the US education system.
Shelby Knox is a 15-year-old girl in the town of Lubbock. Aware that Lubbock’s STD and teen pregnancy rates are among the highest in the nation, Shelby takes on the school Board.
At first deeply devout and politically conservative, she nevertheless is convinced that a comprehensive, fact-based approach to sex education would more adequately confront Lubbock’s soaring teen pregnancy and STD rates.
As the campaign broadens, Shelby decides she must finally confront her conservative Southern Baptist family and the local minister.
The Potsdam Agreement of 1945 divided Germany into four zones of Occupation — Soviet, French, British and American. Even as the Agreement was being negotiated however, prominent sectors of US and British imperialism were preparing for a new war, a war to destroy the Soviet Union and eliminate the "abomination" of socialism.
Within months, the US and Britain were fighting against their former Communist allies in Malaysia, the Philippines and Greece. A Bay of Pigs-style invasion of Albania was attempted. The US attempted to launch a Kuo-min-tang invasion of China from Taiwan and Thailand.
Imperialism started new colonial wars in Indo-China, Indonesia, North Africa. War to "roll back Communism" was prepared for Korea.
In Berlin, provocation followed provocation, as the city’s four power occupation status and open border between zones gave imperialism ready access to the "Soviet zone". Then the imperialists arbitrarily joined their three zones and created West Germany.
The German socialists quickly formed the German Democratic Republic, and Germany was split. In Berlin, however, provocation and economic sabotage was still carried on against the GDR.
The metro, run for the whole city by the East Germans, was bombed. There was a highly publicised "uprising" by disgruntled middle-class elements and Nazi sympathisers in 1953.
One of these was a shopkeeper named Danschke. He was involved in the preparations for this attempted putsch, but was dobbed in to the authorities by pro-GDR workers. The putsch that Danschke and his co-conspirators attempted was part of imperialism’s efforts to start a new war with the USSR, an atomic war while the USA still had a huge nuclear advantage, almost a nuclear monopoly still.
Nevertheless, Danschke was only sentenced to three years. His wife is quoted in Life Behind The Wall (SBS 7.30pm Saturday): "I had a goal: when my husband was released, we would escape to the West…".
They are typical of the "victims" of 40 years of socialism who retail their stories in this latest piece of new cold-war propaganda. Described as "the work of a unique team of young authors, directors and scientists" it treats the citizens of the GDR as "those imprisoned behind the Wall".
The result is a mixture of crude and sophisticated Cold War propaganda, a program almost certainly linked to recent (unsuccessful) attempts in Europe to get "the crimes of Communism" condemned and if possible to get Communist parties and their ideology banned.