CHILDHOOD Under Siege: Joel Bakan

CHILDHOOD Under Siege: Joel Bakan

CHILDHOOD Under Siege: Joel Bakan

CHILDHOOD Under Siege: Joel Bakan

In Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children (Free Press/August 9, 2011/$26.00 hardcover), Joel Bakan reveals the astonishingly callous and widespread exploitation of children by profit-seeking corporations-and also society’s shameful failure to protect them. The creator of the award-winning film and internationally best-selling book The Corporation, Bakan shows how corporations pump billions of dollars into rendering parents and governments powerless to shield children from a relentless commercial assault designed solely to exploit their unique needs and vulnerabilities.

childhood under siege front

Focusing on the United States in particular, Bakan demonstrates how:

  • Marketers target children with increasingly devious methods to manipulate their vulnerable emotions, cultivate compulsive behavior, and addle their psyches with violence, sex, and obsessive consumerism.

  • More and more children take dangerous psychotropic drugs as pharmaceutical companies commandeer medical science and deploy dubious and often illegal marketing tactics to boost sales.

  • Children’s chronic health problems are rising dramatically as corporations dump thousands of new chemicals, in increasing amounts, into the environment, usually with the blessings of industry-influenced governments.

  • Children as young as six are working illegally on farms, getting injured, becoming ill, and dying on the job, while the legal age for farm work remains a shockingly low 12 years old in the U.S.

  • America’s schools are becoming private-sector markets for profit-seeking companies, harnessing education to the needs of industry and promoting increasingly regimented and standardized learning.

  • And more

“As governments retreat from their previous roles of protecting children from harm at the hands of corporations,” Bakan writes, “we, as a society, increasingly neglect children’s needs, expose them to exploitation, and thus betray what we, as individuals, cherish most in our lives.” Childhood Under Siege is a call to action to reverse these trends, and provides the necessary insights, information, and concrete proposals to do so.

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“Joel Bakan’s powerful, well-documented polemic is just what we need to hear right now, if we are to even begin to reverse the toxic consumerist legacy we are bequeathing to future generations.”
Literary Review of Canada

“The information in Bakan’s book is…stunning….The book sounds alarms about issues that go under most parents’ radar.”
USA Today

“Childhood Under Siege” is an essential read for anyone who works for or cares about children because we simply can’t advocate for and teach them effectively if we don’t know what we are up against. As a mother and a teacher, it was sometimes overwhelming to read this book, but for my own work and parenting I forced myself to keep going. At times it was deeply frightening–and I do media literacy training as part of my work. It’s very simple: If you want to be relevant in a child’s life, you need to read this book.”
Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees

“Childhood Under Siege” outlines the powerful strategies at play in the corporate war against children.
This engaging, carefully researched and important book is a call to action to those who believe we have a responsibility to protect all our children with our laws and public policies as well as our hearts.”

Mary Pipher, author of The Shelter of Each Other and Seeking Peace

“The assault on childhood in our corporate-dominated and profit-driven society, painfully dissected in this penetrating study, is a tragedy not only for the immediate victims but for hopes for a better future. It can be resisted, as Joel Bakan discusses. And it is urgent not to delay.”
Noam Chomsky

“Our new century of unlimited private profits has put an end to the era of publicly protected childhood. Separated by corporate design from their parents, kids have become capitalism’s newest, most lucrative, consumers. Joel Bakan offers an angry but careful analysis of how the market flourishes today by selling our children everything from dangerous drugs, toxic plastics and unhealthy snack foods to violent and addictive video games and for-profit standardized tests. If they read Bakan carefully, once they get over their rage, both parents and policy makers may be ready to lift the corporate siege that is threatening not just our children but childhood itself.”
Benjamin R. Barber, author of Consumed: How Markets Infantilize Adults, Corrupt Children and Swallow Citizens Whole

“Childhood Under Siege” is a compelling call to arms in the covert war for our children’s minds, health, and future. Joel Bakan empowers us all to stop lamenting the destruction of childhood and do something to rescue it.”
Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., Educational Psychologist and author of Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Your Child’s Learning Problems

To be a child today, even in affluent countries like ours, is no longer a time of innocence, idyll and discovery, as Bakan reveals in “Childhood Under Siege”. Most children today grow up on a planet in which billions of tons of toxic chemicals have been poured into the air, water and soil; in a big city where the opportunity to encounter nature has been replaced by concrete, fast cars, video games and shopping malls; in a world in which childhood represents a marketing challenge and opportunity. Read this important book and then start working for change.”
David Suzuki, Co-Founder, The David Suzuki Foundation

In “Childhood Under Siege”, Joel Bakan documents and depicts a modern disaster-in-the-making as ominous as our society’s assault on the natural environment: the social and economic destruction of the conditions for healthy childhood. An eloquent and prophetic work we need most urgently to heed.
Gabor Maté M.D., author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

Bakan offers passionate argument and copious research in this compelling call for parents to stand up for their children.
Vanessa Bush, Booklist, starred Review


Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

Originally posted on

In this undated image provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, a protective custody cell like the cell where Hulk Hogan's 17-year-old son, Nick Bollea is being held in the county jail in Clearwater, Fla.  A judge on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 denied Bollea's request to change the conditions of his eight-month jail sentence because solitary confinement is causing him "unbearable anxiety." Bollea had pleaded no contest to causing a car crash last year that seriously injured a friend. (AP Photo/Pinellas County Sheriff's Office)

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office/AP

Cruel and Unusual


Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

After a half-decade and a mandate by the U.N. to investigate solitary confinement practices, U.N. torture rapporteur Juan Mendez had to find a backdoor into an American jail. Today, his findings are released in a report.
In 2010, Juan Mendez was appointed Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Degrading and Inhumane Treatment by the United Nations. His mandate is wide in size and scope—to expose and document torture wherever it exists on the planet today.Since the beginning of his mandate Mendez has made criticizing the overuse of solitary confinement a priority. In 2011, he issued a report stating that 22 or 23 hours a day alone in a prison cell for more than 15 days at a time can cause permanent, lasting psychological damage and can constitute torture.

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Last Friday, HB 618 passed out of the house by an overwhelming majority! 129 delegates voted in favor of keeping youth out of adult jails and only eight opposed it. Here is the bill as it was amended.

We’re going to the Senate!


Let’s get this bill passed through the Senate. Every call and email counts. Please email your senator and help keep youth out of adult jails and safely and securely in juvenile detention centers.

Senator Bobby Zirkin, Chair us (410) 841-3131
Senator Lisa Gladden us (410) 841-3697
Senator Jim Brochin us (410) 841-3648
Senator Robert Cassilly us (410) 841-3158
Senator Michael Hough michael.hough@senate.state.  (410) 841-3704
Senator Susan Lee (410) 841-3124
Senator Anthony Muse anthony.muse@senate.state. (410) 841-3092
Senator Victor Ramirez victor.ramirez@senate.state. (410) 841-3745
Senator Jamie Raskin jamie.raskin@senate.state. (410) 841-3634
Senator Justin Ready
(410) 841-3683



Sentenced: Bribed to Send Black Kids to Jail*

Sentenced: Bribed to Send Black Kids to Jail*

Originally posted on Hwaairfan's Blog:

Sentenced: Bribed to Send Black Kids to Jail*

By Emily Smith

In 2009, I wrote about Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, one of two Pennsylvania judges who was paid bribes by a private prison contractor to send black children to prison and keep the for-profit prisons full. Ciavarella, who once sent an African-American child to jail for three months for posting negative comments about her assistant principal on MySpace, has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was convicted of racketeering, and has been stripped of his state pension.

But after a federal investigation, it was discovered that Ciavarella and his colleague, Judge Michael Conahan, received more than $2.6 million from privately run youth centers owned by PA Child Care. In 2011, Ciavarella was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was also forced to pay $1 million in restitution.

Once Ciavarella was convicted, the Pennsylvania…

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“Former inmate says new King County youth jail is a mistake!”

“Former inmate says new King County youth jail is a mistake!”

Former inmate says new King County youth jail is a mistake

Seattle kids listen to Heirius Howell talk about his experiences in the King County youth jail during an MLK day rally earlier this year. (Photo by Alex Garland)

As a young man, Heirius Howell spent a lot of time behind bars. He was locked up so often that he can’t remember exactly how many different times he saw the inside of King County Juvenile Detention Facility, but he guesses somewhere around 14.

Now 26, Howell says the pathway into the criminal justice system for most kids starts just like his did: they aren’t getting the attention they need at home because their parents are struggling mentally or financially. The kids go to school and act out, and the eventual result is incarceration.

“If you have enough money to build a new youth jail, you have enough money to change a kid’s life,” Howell says. “Instead you lock them up. You’re telling them you don’t care about them… and you don’t want to take the time to find out what they need.”

He’s talking about the contract for development of a new “Children and Family Justice Center,” approved by the King County Council last month.

The Council’s unanimous vote came after hours of opposing testimony by activists sharing positions similar to Howell’s — that arresting and detaining youth just perpetuates a vicious cycle, and that the $210 million tax levy approved by voters in 2012 for the construction of the new jail would be better spent on things like 1,000 full-ride scholarships to the University of Washington or by feeding 8,000 families of four for a year.

Speaking from experience, Howell says he believes the new youth jail will continue to reinforce criminalization of at-risk and troubled youth.

Although he was first locked up at the age of ten, Howell’s struggle started long before that. When his family first moved to Seattle from Chicago and they had to live on the streets and in shelters for five years before finally making it into transitional housing.

A 2011 study by the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) found that about 70 percent of youth arriving at the doors of King County Juvenile Detention Center already had some type of interaction with services provided by the child welfare system, like foster care or child protection assistance.

According to the study, this subset of juvenile detainees faced a higher recidivism rates and was more likely to spend longer periods of time inside the facility.

Heirius Howell, who says he was in the King County Juvenile Detention Facility about 14 times as a child, addressed the crowd at an MLK Day rally in January. (Photo by Alex Garland)

Howell believes his life would be significantly different if he could have avoided juvenile detention to begin with.

When the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance allowing the construction of the youth jail last October, Council Member Kshama Sawant, was the only member to vote against it. She’s argued that the system is “stacked against Black youth.” Citing data collected from King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention by advocacy group EPIC, Sawant said two-thirds of youth booked in 2012 were classified as people of color and 42% of those incarcerated children were Black, even though Blacks make up less than 10% of the people living in King County.

“If these were the statistics for White youth, we would be talking about an urgent crisis,” she said.

Sawant isn’t the first one to point out that the King County justice system appears biased against racial minorities. The NCJJ study found that Black and Native American youth with a history in the welfare system were “75 percent and 79 percent respectively” more likely to end up back in the corrections facility than those of other races, whether or not they had a history with the child welfare system.

The study recommends that at-risk youth in King County need “earlier, more effective and more timely intervention” to halt their advancement into the system.

Shaakirrah Sanders is an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho College of Law and a former public defender for King County, where she worked with many young men in situations similar to Howell’s.

“For a long time there have been allegations that young men, young men of color in particular, are not treated the same in the criminal justice system overall,” said Sanders. “They’re punished more harshly for misdemeanors and statistics appear to make it clear when it comes to investigation and apprehension that young African-Americans and Latinos are pursued more harshly.”

Howell can recall a time span when he was 12 years old where every week for two months he was at the detention center to receive punishment or go to court. Not only does he feel it wasn’t effective, but his record has haunted him into his adult life.

“All those Assault 4’s… They just piled up,” he said. “I had a cop at the precinct tell me my record was as thick as a Sunday paper.”

In 2004 at the age of 15, Howell says he was admitted to King County Jail on robbery charges with a bail set at $100,000. He believes his lengthy record from juvenile detention weighed on his case during trial. He says he was found guilty for being an accomplice to a robbery because wouldn’t tell authorities who had actually committed the crime.

After four and a half years he was released at the age of 19, only to be booked again six months later, he said. Another robbery charge led to another five and a half years behind bars.

Because he was in the system from the age of 15 to 19 and didn’t have an opportunity to get any work experience, Howell believes he never really had a fighting chance.

You don’t teach someone what they need when they’re inside, but then you expect them to get out and be better. It doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Now he’s been out since March of 2014 and plans to keep it that way. Still, he feels the system is working against him. Because of his record he says he can’t find a steady job. And while he has changed for the better, he doesn’t credit it to his time behind bars.

King County officials say the current detention facility is beyond repair and that it makes more sense fiscally to build a new one. Those oppose say it's perpetuating a broken system. (Photo by Alex Garland)

“It was not the key to a jail cell that changed him, it was the key to his heart,” said Howell’s pastor, Doug Wheeler.

Wheeler works at Christian Restoration Center Church of Seattle. He is a former parole officer and one of the developers behind Program 180, designed to keeps about 350 youth facing low-level misdemeanors out of the system each year by helping them “make a 180-degree change in the direction of their own lives.”

Wheeler has known Howell for 17 years and watched his transformation first hand. He said the support Howell received from his community during his time in jail made him realize his value and inspired him to change.

Wheeler also believes King County needs more than a new detention facility to help reform at-risk youth.

“What we really need are programs to keep kids out of jail in the first place,” he said. “We need to give them a pathway to correct their behavior, not a lock up facility. We need a treatment facility.”

Based on her experience as a public defender, Sanders agrees.

“If there were more resources towards… programs that don’t emphasize in incarceration, there would be fewer juveniles in the system,” said Sanders. “Diversion courts emphasizing in rehabilitation more than punishment would be helpful in preventing recidivism or committing offenses in the first place.”

County officials insist that construction of the new youth facility is moving forward without a doubt. But activists are still fighting it.

On Saturday, March 28th, they’re planning to hold a “People’s Tribunal on the US Juvenile Justice System” at Seattle University. The youth-led event will feature workshops, performances and testimony for and against the new youth jail from politicians, developers and community members.

“Spilt Arts gives a Direct Voice to Children who are not often heard and the Stories they tell are harrowing, moving and necessary.”

“Spilt Arts gives a Direct Voice to Children who are not often heard and the Stories they tell are harrowing, moving and necessary.”

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Inside the mind of an undocumented kid

Inside the mind of an undocumented kid

Inside the mind of an undocumented kid

by Ted Hesson

Melissa Garcia Velez hadn’t really considered her immigration status until she started looking at colleges. Her high school counselor told her she wouldn’t be eligible for financial aid unless she could prove she was in the country lawfully.

This was traumatic news for the now 22-year-old New Yorker.

“At that point, I thought of quitting and simply saying, I’m just going to go back to Colombia and start from scratch,” she said. “I didn’t think I was worth it. There were a lot of feelings of I don’t deserve to be here.”

Her experience is relatively common for young people growing up without legal permission to reside in the U.S. The move to a new country may begin full of hope and excitement for children, but when the reality becomes clear — no college, no job, no driver’s license — the impact can be psychologically devastating. Beyond the obstacles to success, there’s an even more immediate worry: families can be torn apart at any time by deportation.

While you can’t generalize the wildly different backgrounds of the country’s 1.5 million undocumented immigrant children, there appear to be certain psychological stages kids go through as they learn to negotiate their status, according to Lisa Fortuna, the medical director for the Brighton-Allston Mental Health Association.

The stages are important because they provide a “new language” to understand what children might be experiencing psychologically, Fortuna said.

“If young people don’t have a way to communicate things and we don’t have a way to ask about them, what young people tend to do is act out,” she said. “What is ‘act out’? That usually is risk behavior.”

Research in this field is still in its infancy, but Fortuna, who specializes in Latino mental health research, was able to walk us through the experience so we might better understand it, too.

Stage One: The Honeymoon

Life in the U.S. started on a high note for then-8-year-old Melissa. She was reuniting with her mother, who had left their family’s home in the small Colombian town of Buga three years earlier.

“I was ecstatic to see her and to be with her,” she said.

Credit: illustrations by Victor Abarca/Fusion

Melissa entered the U.S. on a tourist visa, accompanied by a family friend who guided her to Queens. The good feelings she experienced were part of what Fortuna would describe as the “honeymoon” period, when an undocumented young person is still unaware of the deeper implications that go along with the lack of legal status.

“We never spoke about it at home,” Melissa said. “She never brought it up and I wasn’t conscious of it.”

Stage Two: Awareness

In 2007, then-15-year old Mariana Anguiano got into the car with her brother and mother and drove 26 hours from southern Mexico to Houston.

Mariana’s mother was clear from the beginning: the family had entered the country on a tourist visa but did not have legal documentation to live and work in the U.S.

“She has always been very honest with us,” Mariana said. “She explained that when we made the decision to stay here without any sort of permit or any sort of documentation, we had to live this life now.”

Still, the reality of their situation didn’t hit until a few years later, when Mariana saw her new friends applying for driver’s licenses and getting their first jobs. The worry came to a head when she started searching for colleges and realized landing financial aid would be an uphill battle because of her immigration status.

“The entire time since we came, all I wanted to do was belong,” she said. “And you join all these organizations and you do all your work, and you go to class and make friends, but then at the end, there’s always this thing that you have no control over that makes you different.”


At some point, undocumented young people will realize their immigration status sets them apart from others, Fortuna said. Kids will start to comprehend the dangers and roadblocks set before them.

Stage Three: Coping

Mariana began to resent her mother for bringing the family to the U.S.

“For her work, she was cleaning apartments at that time,” Mariana said. “She would ask me to help her, and I would do it, but I was not happy about it. She said that we were coming to the United States to have a better life — then why were we cleaning toilets and houses? That’s not what I picture as having better opportunities.”

She would argue with her mom about work, trying to reconcile her role at home with her life at school, where other students were preparing for college.

Kids at this stage can either rebel or grow closer to their parents, according to Fortuna. “The kid is trying to figure out where they fit,” she said.


In Mariana’s case, she initially rebelled, but then realized her mother was doing what she thought was best for the family. “I didn’t understand,” she said. Now, she speaks with her mother on the phone every day.

Stage Four: Identity

Born in Brazil, Wei Lee moved to San Francisco at age 15. His family — ethnically Chinese — had been robbed several times and felt unsafe in their home outside Sao Paulo.

Although he was glad to leave Brazil and reunite with relatives in San Francisco, he was quickly thrust into a challenging world. His family entered the country using tourist visas, but when those expired, they were placed in deportation proceedings.

At the same time, he struggled to adapt socially. He was placed in ESL classes at his high school, but the students largely spoke to one another in Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin, while Portuguese was his first language. He felt like an outsider because of the language barrier, but also because of his immigration status.

“In high school, I didn’t have a lot of friends or anything like that,” he said. “I would pretty much go home to school, school to home.”


He retreated inward, spending most of his free time playing computer games or surfing the web. Wei felt helpless to improve his situation.

“I didn’t have a lot of control of my own future,” he said. “I feel like I sheltered myself in, I built these walls, these boundaries.”

The identity stage is a crossroads for undocumented immigrant children, according to Fortuna. Kids are faced with huge obstacles that stop them from integrating into American society and they have to decide how to proceed.

They might choose to “make lemonade out of lemons” and find a way to surmount the difficulties presented before them, Fortuna said. But it’s not always so easy.

“The other side of that could be a sense of hopelessness,” she said, “because there are such barriers to goals.”

Stage Five: Integration of self

Wei gradually adapted to his new home during high school and college; he learned English, made some friends and turned to the Internet for information about his immigration status. Eventually, he began helping his father deal with the family’s immigration lawyer.

But he reached a turning point when he joined a volunteer group led by undocumented young people who were Asian and Pacific Islanders. I always thought I was the only one, he remembers thinking.

“That’s how I found other undocumented Asians,” he said. “I started learning more about my own identity by talking to them.”

The group, called ASPIRE, put him on a path toward activism. Together with other young people in the organization, he went public with his immigration status in 2011 — a bold move that transformed his life.

The sense of helplessness began to dissipate. Instead of hiding his immigration status, he used publicity as a way to protect himself. “If you put up a fight, it’s going to be a lot harder for people to deport you,” he said.

Wei eventually qualified for a visa and now works as a development assistant at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a group that seeks to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.


All three undocumented young people cited in this piece attended college and have worked with immigrant rights groups in one form or another.

Melissa graduated from Lehman College in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and can be employed legally under a deportation relief program for young people announced by President Obama in 2012. She works at the non-profit Immigrant Justice Corps, which provides legal assistance for undocumented immigrants.

Mariana is set to graduate from Texas A&M with her master’s degree in civil engineering in August; hypothetically, she believes she would be covered by an expanded version of Obama’s deportation relief program, but the expansion is currently tied up in litigation. Unless the court battle is resolved, she won’t be able to work legally when she graduates and wonders if she’ll need to seek a job as a babysitter or housecleaner. She’s also considered moving to a country where she can work legally.

In the final developmental stage outlined by Fortuna, a child integrates their present self and who they are becoming. The outcome isn’t always positive — just as a person could move into the realm of activism, he or she could also slide into despair and become marginalized.

“At each one of these stages, there are different places it can go,” Fortuna said. “I think it really depends on the family and how the family functions in supporting that young person.”