I Went From Prison to Professor – Here’s Why Criminal Records Should Not Be Used to Keep People Out of College Stanley Andrisse was once branded a career criminal and served time in prison. Today, he is a professor at two medical schools and an advocate for higher education for those who’ve served time.

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Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions – Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine – I believe this move is a positive one. People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

I make this argument not only as a formerly incarcerated person who now teaches aspiring medical doctors, but also as an advocate for people with criminal convictions. The organization I lead – From Prison Cells to PhD – helped push for the change on the Common Application.

My own story stands as a testament to the fact that today’s incarcerated person could become tomorrow’s professor. A person who once sold illegal drugs on the street could become tomorrow’s medical doctor. But this can only happen if such a person, and the many others in similar situations, are given the chance.

There was a time not so long ago when some in the legal system believed I did not deserve a chance. With three felony convictions, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking as a prior and persistent career criminal. My prosecuting attorney once stated that I had no hope for change.

Today, I am Dr. Stanley Andrisse. As a professor at Johns Hopkins and Howard University, I now help train students who want to be doctors. I’d say that I have changed. Education was transformative.

US incarceration rates the highest

The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education. The country incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.

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Now the Trump administration wants to limit citizenship for legal immigrants The most significant change to legal immigration in decades could affect millions of would-be citizens, say lawyers and advocates.

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Image: United States Citizenship Ceremony with Justice GinsbergNew citizens recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in New York on April 10.Justin Lane / EPA file

The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.

The move, which would not need congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.

Details of the rulemaking proposal are still being finalized, but based on a recent draft seen last week and described to NBC News, immigrants living legally in the U.S. who have ever used or whose household members have ever used Obamacare, children’s health insurance, food stamps and other benefits could be hindered from obtaining legal status in the U.S.

Immigration lawyers and advocates and public health researchers say it would be the biggest change to the legal immigration system in decades and estimate that more than 20 million immigrants could be affected. They say it would fall particularly hard on immigrants working jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families.

Many are like Louis Charles, a Haitian green-card holder seeking citizenship who, despite working up to 80 hours a week as a nursing assistant, has had to use public programs to support his disabled adult daughter.

Using some public benefits like Social Security Insurance has already hindered immigrants from obtaining legal status in the past, but the programs included in the recent draft plan could mean that immigrant households earning as much as 250 percent of the poverty level could be rejected.

A version of the plan has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the sources said, the final step before publishing a rule in the federal register. Reuters first reported that the White House was considering such a plan in February.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said: “The administration is committed to enforcing existing immigration law, which is clearly intended to protect the American taxpayer by ensuring that foreign nationals seeking to enter or remain in the U.S are self-sufficient. Any proposed changes would ensure that the government takes the responsibility of being good stewards of taxpayer funds seriously and adjudicates immigration benefit requests in accordance with the law.”

Miller, along with several of his former congressional colleagues who now hold prominent positions in the Trump administration, have long sought to decrease the number of immigrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year. And even before the rule is in place, the administration has made it more difficult for immigrants to gain green cards and for green-card holders to gain citizenship.

In fiscal year 2016, the last full fiscal year under the Obama administration, 1.2 million immigrants became lawful permanent residents, or green-card holders, and 753,060 became naturalized U.S. citizens, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Data from the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 indicates that the administration is on track for a decline in immigrants granted green cards by 20 percent. Data for the first two quarters of fiscal year 2018 for immigrants obtaining naturalized citizenship shows little change compared to the same period of 2016. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says they expect naturalization numbers to rise in the latter half of the year based on previous trends.

Four immigration lawyers practicing in Massachusetts, Virginia, Tennessee and California told NBC News they have noticed a spike in the number of their clients being rejected when seeking green cards and naturalized citizenship.

In a statement, agency spokesperson Michael Bars said, “USCIS evaluates all applications fairly, efficiently and effectively on a case-by-case basis.”

“Contrary to open borders advocates, immigration attorneys and activists,” said Bars, “USCIS has not changed the manner in which applications for naturalization have been adjudicated, as the law generally requires that an eligible applicant must have been properly admitted for permanent residence in order to become a U.S. citizen. … We reject the false and inaccurate claims of those who would rather the U.S. turn a blind eye to cases of illegal immigration, fraud, human trafficking, gang activity and drug proliferation at the expense of public safety, the integrity of our laws and their faithful execution.”

“I DID EVERYTHING THEY ASKED ME”

Charles, the Haitian green-card holder who works as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric hospital near Boston, said he was stunned to learn his application for citizenship had been denied. He had used a fake passport given to him by smugglers when he entered the U.S. from Haiti in 1989, but confessed to border officers and received a waiver from USCIS absolving him of his wrongdoing and allowing him to obtain a green card in 2011.

Now 55, Charles is a homeowner and a taxpayer and thought obtaining citizenship would be a smooth process. “I thought in this country everything was square and fair,” Charles said.

But when he went for his citizenship interview in August 2017, the USCIS officers told him they were going to revisit the decision to waive the fake passport incident, meaning he could potentially lose his green card as well

Then he received a letter in September telling him his request for citizenship had been denied.

“I was devastated. And I’m not sure exactly why they did it. I did everything they asked me to.”

He appealed the decision, but as he waits for a final verdict, his lawyer says his green-card status may also now be in question.

In late November, the Trump administration announced they would end temporary protected status for Haitians who came to the U.S. after the deadly 2010 earthquake. Charles’s wife was a recipient of that protection and without him becoming a citizen, he would be unable to vouch for her.

But Charles’s biggest concern is his daughter. Although she is in her 20s and a U.S. citizen, she has severe disabilities that make it impossible for her to live by herself.

Charles is unaware of Miller’s new plan to limit citizenship for immigrants who have used public assistance. But it is likely to affect him because he has used public assistance to help care for his daughter, so she could end up further hurting his chances for citizenship.

Though its effects could be far-reaching, the proposal to limit citizenship to immigrants who have not used public assistance does not appear to need congressional approval. As the Clinton administration did in 1999, the Trump administration would be redefining the term “public charge,” which first emerged in immigration law in the 1800s in order to shield the U.S. from burdening too many immigrants who could not contribute to society.

Rosemary Jenks, executive vice president of NumbersUSA, which promotes limited immigration, said the new rule and the increased scrutiny around green card and citizenship applications are all part of a new focus at DHS on enforcing the law and preventing fraud.

“Applications for renewal or adjustment of status that have been filed with the government before are being re-examined to look for fraud,” Jenks said.

In light of this, immigration attorneys are cautioning their clients before moving from green-card status to citizenship.

Rose Hernandez is the supervising attorney at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition’s naturalization clinic. She said the clinic’s model has completely changed in light of the crackdown. She now sends six information requests to government agencies to check on green-card holders’ backgrounds before she advises them to file for citizenship. If the government finds something she doesn’t, the fear is the applicants could lose their green cards and be sent home.

And other immigration attorneys are preparing to push back fiercely against the public charge rule.

“Any policy forcing millions of families to choose between the denial of status and food or health care would exacerbate serious problems such as hunger, unmet health needs, child poverty and homelessness, with lasting consequences for families’ wellbeing and long-term success and community prosperity,” said the National Immigration Law Center in a statement.

By Julia Ainsley/NBC
Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Con of Diversity

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Mr. Fish / Truthdig

In 1970, when black students occupied the dean’s office at Harvard Divinity School to protest against the absence of African-American scholars on the school’s faculty, the white administration was forced to respond and interview black candidates. It asked James Cone, the greatest theologian of his generation, to come to Cambridge, Mass., for a meeting. But the white power structure had no intention of offering Cone a job. To be black, in its eyes, was bad enough. To be black, brilliant and fiercely independent was unpalatable. And so the job was given to a pliable African-American candidate who had never written a book, a condition that would remain unchanged for the more than three decades he taught at Harvard.

Harvard got what it wanted. Mediocrity in the name of diversity. It was a classic example of how the white power structure plays people of color. It decides whom to promote and whom to silence. When then-Maj. Colin Powell helped cover up the 1968 massacre of some 500 civilians at My Lai in Vietnam he was assured a glittering career in the Army. When Barack Obama proved obedient to the Chicago political machine, Wall Street and the Democratic Party establishment he was promoted to the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

Diversity in the hands of the white power elites—political and corporate—is an advertising gimmick. A new face, a brand, gets pushed out front, accompanied by the lavish financial rewards that come with serving the white power structure, as long as the game is played. There is no shortage of women (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile), Latinos (Tom Perez and Marco Rubio) or blacks (Vernon Jordan, Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson) who sell their souls for a taste of power.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in his book “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” writes that “Barack Obama is directly responsible for the rise of a crop of black writers and journalists who achieved prominence during his two terms.” But this was true only for those black writers like Coates and Michael Eric Dyson who were obsequious cheerleaders for Obama. If, like Cornel West, you were black and criticized Obama you were isolated and attacked by Obama surrogates as a race traitor.

Chris Hedges/Truthdig/rest of story

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Is This the Summer of Snitches? Meet Burrito Bob, Permit Patty, and other vigilante informants

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A man wearing a Hawaiian shirt on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) went viral earlier this month after calling the cops on a man eating his lunch. A video posted to Reddit shows an angered passenger, who is now referred to as Burrito Bob, confronting another passenger on a BART train for snacking while traveling on the Dublin/Pleasanton line, close to the famed Fruitvale Station. BART currently has rules against eating and drinking; violations carry a fine of $250.

“You can’t wait? A sign says no eating and drinking. You don’t get it? You don’t get it. You must be stupid. I’ve seen people like you on TV,” he tells the passenger.

Bystanders look on and laugh when the man announces that he’s going to contact authorities. Burrito Bob proceeds to use the train’s emergency contact system to ask for an officer, saying: “Please, can you get a policeman on board? We’ve got somebody dining on the first car.” While Burrito Bob waits, surrounding passengers encourage the man to “eat your burrito, bro,” including one drinking from a nearly empty Starbucks cup. Burrito Bob continues to defend his position, saying that the passenger should wait to nourish himself in the appropriate venue.

Burrito Bob now joins a growing list of alliterative offenders who have attempted to use authorities to enforce petty regulations this summer.

BBQ Becky: In late April, a woman called police on black barbecuers at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, after claiming that they were not allowed to operate a charcoal grill in the area. When police did not take the call as seriously as she’d hoped, she broke down into tears. Oaklanders threw a cookout called “BBQing While Black” in response.

Permit Patty: In June, a woman called police on a young black girl selling water without a permit. The woman later argued that she did so because the girl’s mother was “screaming for hours.” Some noted the hypocrisy of the call after it was revealed that she was the CEO of a “kind of like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell'” pet weed business.

Pool Patrol Paula: Also in June, a woman threatened to call police after telling a black teen that his friends were “punks” who “didn’t belong” at a community pool in Summerville, South Carolina. In a video, she’s visible striking in the general direction of the teen at least twice. When investigators in the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office attempted to serve her a warrant for third-degree assault, she picked up some additional charges after fighting back.

Honorable mentions go to a Philadelphia Starbucks employee who in April called police on two black men while they were waiting in the coffee shop for a meeting and Ohio neighbors who called police in June after a 12-year-old cut the grass on their property by mistake—the young man’s business ended up growing as a result.

Even CountryTime lemonade has gotten involved, promising to pay the fines of children who have the police called on them for running unlicensed lemonade stands.

These stories are a part of a phenomenon that Reason‘s Mike Riggs has dubbed the “Nation of Narcs.” Riggs offers a number of solutions to scale back the problem, one of which is reducing the scope of government:

The second project is a political program: to drastically scale back the police powers of every arm of the state. Not just the police police, but the health police and the tax police and the zoning police. All those agencies work in concert. The person who refuses to pare back her garden gets a fine. If she doesn’t pay the fine, she loses her driver’s license. If she drives regardless, because her job or family needs her to, she gets arrested. The police state is a hydra, so let’s treat it like one.

By Zuri Davis/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Democratic Party is White Supremacist, Too

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“Neither party gives a damn about Black people’s right to self-determination.”

The Democrats suffered a serious setback at the U.S. Supreme Court, this week, as the Justices unanimously ruled that the party’s plaintiffs had not proven they had been harmed by Wisconsin’s Republican-crafted State Assembly district map. The high court also ruled unanimously against a Republican challenge of a Democrat-crafted Maryland congressional district, but on the more narrow ground that the GOP had waited too long to seek an injunction. As a result, there is still no U.S. Supreme Court standard for determining what constitutes “gerrymandering” — unlawfully drawing legislative maps to the detriment of…whom?

The “whom” is most important. In the Wisconsin case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “This court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences. The court’s constitutionally prescribed role is to vindicate the individual rights of the people appearing before it.” Such a narrow interpretation is designed — like most of the court majority’s legal reasoning – to frustrate challenges based on alleged harms to groups of plaintiffs. Although protections for Black people’s voting rights are well established in U.S. law, the high court appears reluctant to extend protections to “generalized” groups defined by their “partisan preferences” — like Democrats and Republicans.

Both parties, however, are intent to preserve the duopoly system that splits the U.S. polity between them, for the benefit of their corporate masters.”

There is no question that Republicans have rigged the electoral map, wherever possible, to favor whites and rural voters — as is enshrined in historical U.S. electoral structures, most notably, the wholly undemocratic U.S. Senate, which allocates two senators for each state, regardless of population, and the Electoral College, which gives citizens in overwhelmingly white and rural Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota three times the presidential voting power of citizens in polyglot New York, Florida, and California. Democrats rig the game, too, when they get the chance, although it’s an uphill race. Both parties, however, are intent to preserve the duopoly system that splits the U.S. polity between them, for the benefit of their corporate masters. And neither party gives a damn about Black people’s right to self-determination — which includes the ability to elect representatives and executives of their choice, unless that choice is a Democrat or Republican.

On this issue, the Democrats’ principled stance is worse than the Republicans. The Democrats consistently oppose Black “super-majority” voting districts that empower African Americans to elect candidates of their choice without significant non-Black support, while the GOP favors such districts. The Democratic Party abhors deep concentrations of Black voters, preferring to spread the Black vote over a number of districts to enhance Democratic legislative prospects, statewide. Republicans want as many Black votes as possible locked up in a few super-majority districts, rendering the rest of the legislative map an electoral battleground among whites, where Republicans can expect to fare well.

“Choice” vs “Influence”

The Democratic Party is determined to deny Blacks decisive electoral power. The Party fights tooth and nail to limit the number of voting districts in which Blacks have sufficient numbers to elect candidates of their “choice.” Instead, the Party preaches that Blacks are better off spread out in districts where they make up 20 or 30 percent of the vote, but can “influence” more elections. The Democrats’ preference is to dilute the Black electorate so that no “choice” remains but to vote for whatever candidate is put forward by the fat cats that control the reins of the Party.

Democratic districting schemes are designed to reduce Blacks to captive vote-fodder, dependable ciphers to shore up Democratic weakness among whites.

The very concept of Black self-determination is anathema to the Democratic Party — just as it is on the Republican side of the duopoly. However, the GOP can live with — and gain some legislative advantages from — the creation of Black majority districts, since they are the stronger party among whites in most states. Democrats demand that Blacks surrender the power to conduct their own political battles in majority Black environments and choose officeholders that reflect Black people’s evolving political will. Instead, Blacks are relegated to the status of yes-men to the Party — a political captivity dressed up as “diversity.”

“Democratic districting schemes are designed to reduce Blacks to captive vote-fodder.”

And “yes-men” and women is what we’ve gotten from this deal with the Democrats. The Black Misleadership Class is steeped in subservience to the Democratic Party, which has been its connection to the ruling classes of U.S. society. In that sense, the Party is the root of corruption in the Black polity. The other main conduit of corruption, the GOP, is effectively off-limits, since its organizing principle is white supremacy. The duopoly system locks Blacks in the Democrats’ foul and abusive embrace.

But, the Democrats don’t just corrupt Black officeholders; they distort and deform the Black political conversation, through unrelenting suppression and cooptation of the Black Radical Tradition. Blacks are the most left-leaning, socialist-friendly, pro-peace ethnic constituency in the country, by far — but that is not reflected in Black electoral politics. The Democratic Party is the duopoly system’s mechanism to snuff out Black radicalism. Black Democratic officials and operatives have, for the past four decades, overseen the day-to-day maintenance of the Black Mass Incarceration State in the inner cities, on behalf of the Lords of Capital. The Democratic Party is, in truth, the long arm of the ruling class, reaching into every political nook and cranny of Black America and strangling every radical Black political tendency in its crib.

“The Democratic Party is the duopoly system’s mechanism to snuff out Black radicalism.”

Black majorities, unrestrained, tend to hatch radical approaches to capitalist and white supremacist-inflicted problems. Is it any wonder that the self-proclaimed “most radical city on the planet ” is 80 percent Black Jackson, Mississippi? Or that Amiri Baraka’s son is the hugely popular mayor of Newark, New Jersey, the state’s largest city, where whites make up only 13 percent of the population? Or that the Bay Area Center For Voting Research found, back in 2005, that

“The list of America’s most liberal [sic] cities reads like a who’s who of prominent African American communities. Gary, Washington D.C., Newark, Flint, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Birmingham have long had prominent black populations. While most black voters have consistently supported Democrats since the 1960s, it is the white liberals that have slowly withered away over the decades, leaving African Americans as the sole standard bearers for the left….” — (See The Black Commentator, “Where the Left Lives ,” by Bruce Dixon.)

It is the Democratic Party’s job — its division of labor under the duopoly electoral arrangement — to subvert and suppress those radical tendencies, and to dilute the power of Black majorities wherever they exist. The Party has blunted the radicalism of the leftist city halls in Jackson and Newark, and seeks to bleach out “too-Black” legislative districts wherever possible.

Therefore, the American electoral duopoly is composed of two white supremacist parties: the Republicans, for whom white supremacy is an organizing principle, and the Democrats, the party that claims the allegiance of virtually all Black voters, but whose mission is to politically pacify and neutralize Blacks, in service of the ruling class.

By Glenn Ford/BlackAgendaReport

Posted by The NON-Conformist

What is Juneteenth? We explain the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery

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Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19 that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Across the country, the day is marked with events and parades.

“As a Nation, we vow to never forget the millions of African-Americans who suffered the evils of slavery,” President Donald Trump said in a statement Tuesday recognizing the holiday. “Together, we honor the unbreakable spirit and countless contributions of generations of African Americans to the story of American greatness. Today we recommit ourselves to defending the self-evident truth, boldly declared by our Founding Fathers, that all people are created equal.”

Here’s everything you need to know about Juneteenth:

What is Juneteenth? 

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, to inform a reluctant community that President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier had freed the slaves and to press locals to comply with his directive.

Why did it take so long for the news to get to Texas? 

There is no one reason why there was a 2½-year delay in letting Texas know about the abolition of slavery in the United States, according to Juneteenth.com. The historical site said some accounts place the delay on a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news, while others say the news was deliberately withheld.

Despite the delay, slavery did not end in Texas overnight, according to an article by Henry Louis Gates Jr. originally posted on The Root. Gates said after New Orleans fell, many slavers traveled to Texas with their slaves to escape regulations enforced by the Union Army in other states.

The slave owners were placed with the responsibility of letting their slaves know about the news, and some delayed relaying the information until after the harvest, Gates said.

Where does the name “Juneteenth” come from?

Juneteenth, which is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” in honor of the day that Granger announced the abolition of slavery in Texas.

How do people celebrate? 

On social media, many shared photos and videos of their local Juneteenth celebrations.

Warming up to go live on #News4 at 6am for #Juneteenth2018 . Let’s get ready for the Strike Force Drum 🥁 Line @pgparkshttps://t.co/mlUf8D4fuPpic.twitter.com/V5PFkTn4Ie

— Molette Green (@MoletteGreen) June 19, 2018

Berkeley, Ca is BEAUTIFUL!
Black, White, Hispanic, Asian!
One Love✊🏾 #Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/tl8BQwvboB

— JunBug (@DaTruJBUG) June 17, 2018

#Juneteenth Parade festivities are beginning on South State St. from Dunbar Center! Cheer on the many organizations and smiling faces from all over our City and Region. #Juneteenth2018#SyracuseJuneteenthpic.twitter.com/fQEFEhVACy

— City of Syracuse (@Syracuse1848) June 16, 2018

Others called for Juneteenth — which some see as a second Independence Day — to be named a national holiday.

The end of slavery should be a national holiday with celebrations on par with July 4th. Why isn’t it? #Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/tOsP8KUz9E

— LaneBrooks (@lanebrooks) June 19, 2018

Juneteenth Should Be A National Holiday: https://t.co/hEe5dI95fJ#Juneteenth#Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/dhwrCn0VbV

— Unapologetically Us (@unapologetic_us) June 19, 2018

Many use the holiday to call attention to modern racial inequality.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation from slavery in the US, but the fight for racial and economic justice continues. Celebrate freedom! Yet, may we all continue the work to liberate all who are oppressed. #Juneteenth2018

— Juliana Stratton (@RepStratton5) June 19, 2018

Happy Juneteenth ✊🏾 The day the last of the slaves were freed . Although slavery ended & turned into mass incarceration. Keep fighting for justice & celebrate your freedom. #Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/wwS5kor11U

— Ayesha 🌻👑 (@Prettie_Dope) June 19, 2018 

From USA TODAY Editors
posted by The NON-Conformist

Was Autism a Nazi Invention?

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Hans Asperger, left, working with a boy in the Curative Education Clinic in Vienna.CreditPictorial Press

ASPERGER’S CHILDREN
The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna
By Edith Sheffer
Illustrated. 320 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. $27.95.

In February 1981, a British psychiatrist named Lorna Wing published an academic paper highlighting a 1944 clinical account of “autistic psychopathy” by a recently deceased Austrian physician named Hans Asperger. It wasn’t an obvious piece of work to single out: As Wing acknowledged, Asperger’s study had received almost no attention from English-language researchers in the decades since publication.

That was about to change. Wing argued that the disorder that Asperger had described was a unique syndrome, distinct from autism, and should be considered as one of “a wider group of conditions which have, in common, impairment of development of social interaction, communication and imagination.” Wing, whose daughter had been diagnosed with autism in the 1950s, understood from her own experience that this was a disorder with multiple gradations, which affected people across the full spectrum of intellectual abilities. But this was a radical notion: At the time, one of the dominant paradigms for understanding autism was that the condition was caused by “refrigerator mothers” — emotionally frigid women who were not warm enough to nurture developing children.

It’s impossible to know why Wing chose to ground her report in Asperger’s rather flimsy research — his paper, after all, had referenced just four patients — rather than relying solely on her own, significantly more impressive work. (It is worth pointing out that then, as now, virtually all eponymous psychiatric conditions were named after men.) Whatever her motivation, Wing’s efforts were successful: “Asperger’s syndrome,” the term she proposed, soon entered the clinical vernacular. By the 1990s, it was recognized around the world as an accepted diagnosis — and autism was no longer viewed as a singular condition.

Wing, who died in 2014, spent the rest of her life as one of the world’s leading autism researchers and advocates. Asperger, on the other hand, after 1945 and until his death 35 years later, didn’t do any significant research on the condition that would bear his name. But it was Asperger, and not Wing, who came to be seen as the patron saint of the neurodiversity movement.

That could be about to change. In April, an Austrian historian named Herwig Czech published evidence of Asperger’s long-rumored collaboration with Third Reich murderers during World War II. Specifically, Czech uncovered proof that in 1942, Asperger was one of the members of a commission that screened and classified more than 200 Viennese children with mental disabilities. Thirty-five of the children in that pool were labeled “uneducable” and “unemployable”; as a result, they were sent to the notorious Am Spiegelgrund clinic, where they were ultimately slaughtered.

Image

The historian Edith Sheffer’s new book, “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna,” builds and elaborates on these new revelations. (While Czech had not yet published his findings when Sheffer’s book went to press, he did give her access to his research.) But Sheffer has larger goals than highlighting Asperger’s complicity in wartime atrocities; she also wants to upend notions of autism as a legitimate diagnostic category by locating its source in Nazi notions of mental health and sickness.

Sheffer starts her narrative in the early 1940s, with Asperger examining one of the children he would highlight in his 1944 paper, before pulling back to describe the milieu in which Asperger operated. She is at her best when she unpacks how the Third Reich created what she calls a “diagnosis regime” by labeling anyone who disagreed in any way with Nazi aims, achievements, or ideology as being fundamentally ill. This was done primarily through the use of two catchall terms: Volk, which referred to the importance of the German national character and its people, and Gemüt, a word the Nazis used to indicate a person’s “fundamental capacity to form deep bonds with other people.” Viewing the world through these lenses led to the medicalization of any and all dissent: Anything less than full-throated chauvinism meant a person was deficient in Gemüt, which, in turn, was potentially damaging to the Volk. The most primal end to this line of thinking was that threats to the Volk had to be exterminated.

Sheffer’s account of the “program of systematic child killing” that grew out of this mind-set is chilling. Starting in the summer of 1939, a Nazi decree mandated that all physicians, nurses, and midwives report any child under 3 with mental or physical disabilities. Sheffer goes on to explain: “The children would enter one of the Reich’s 37 ‘special children’s wards’ for observation and, regularly, medical murder.” Her descriptions of children’s pleading letters home or parents’ confusion as to their children’s sudden deaths are devastating in their routine matter-of-factness.

Sheffer’s pivot from describing deadly Nazi conceptions of community to Asperger’s complicity with the Reich’s killing machine is less effective. Because Asperger did not have a direct hand in any of the more than 700 children who were murdered in the regime’s child euthanasia program, she is left relying on conditionals and suppositions: An educational society Asperger helped found “may have disseminated the child euthanasia directive behind the scenes”; surviving documents “suggest” Asperger “had a hand” in transferring dozens of children to a killing pavilion. On one page, Sheffer states that a transfer to Am Spiegelgrund was a “lethal prescription”; on another, she writes that seven out of nine children the “staff” on “Asperger’s ward” transferred there did not die, although “it is possible that Asperger’s clinic still marked some of them for death.”

None of this is to say that Asperger’s actions during the war were blameless — or even that he was not guilty of crimes against humanity. But a more nuanced approach would have further examined the other, conflicting evidence that Asperger was able to save the lives of some disabled children who had been marked for death. It is this evidence, after all, that was pointed to when Asperger was hailed as a hero.

Even more disconcerting than Sheffer’s approach to Asperger’s wartime actions is her attempt to ground the notion of autism in Asperger’s World War II-era work. Because Asperger relied heavily on notions of Gemüt in his treatise on autistic psychopathy, Sheffer argues that he defined the condition “in terms of Reich rhetoric and values.” Fair enough — but she goes on to claim that today, almost three-quarters of a century later, “his final 1944 description has had a lasting impact. His words live on, shaping the lives and the self-images of millions of individuals.”

Even the most cursory comparison of Asperger’s work, which is peppered with descriptions of “sadistic traits” and children who “delight in malice,” with Wing’s groundbreaking paper reveals that it is her research that has helped shape our modern-day understanding of the autism spectrum. (Asperger’s paper wasn’t even translated into English until 10 years after Wing’s 1981 report — and it was done then only at her behest.) What’s more, “Asperger’s syndrome” is no longer even a recognized diagnosis in the United States: In 2013, it was one of three conditions that were folded into a more expansive diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder.”

Sheffer is a careful and nuanced researcher, which made her clumsy effort to “destabilize” our notions of autism feel all the more out of place. Then, on the very last page of the book, at the bottom of her acknowledgments, she tells readers that her now-teenage son, to whom the book is dedicated, was diagnosed with autism when he was an infant. “Autism is not real,” she quotes him saying. “It is not a disability or a diagnosis, it is a stereotype for certain individuals…. It made me feel humiliated, and I wanted to put an end to the label of autism.” I was glad to hear his voice: Too often people diagnosed with autism are excluded from discussions about the condition. But I wish Sheffer had trusted her readers enough to let us know about her personal connection to this story at the outset of her book instead of inserting it as a concluding aside, where it became an unsettling coda to her ardent effort to undermine our notions of autism and its origins.

By Seth Mnookin/NYTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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