Dear NYC, This is a public service announcement: 

Want your kids to get into the Specialized High Schools? Make sure they attend school at least 90% of the time, prepare them for exams in the 4th and 5th grade and apply for the DOE’s free 22-month prep program. While there are inherent biases and historic inequities in public education, advanced public schools are currently the only affordable alternative to expensive elite private high schools. 

 

Posted at 12:24am and tagged with: education, doe, nyc doe, Public Schools, race in america,.

no comment. 

Posted at 12:04pm and tagged with: ukraine, john kerry, vladimir putin, russia, hypocrisy, Iraq War,.

no comment. 

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(image source: Bravo Pueblo)

Latin America’s veins are open yet again and the bleeding may start closer to home than you think.

Before you share another post or video about the tragic events unfolding in Venezuela, consider that your share and the perception it elicits may be in the aid of forces currently obscured to you. Know this, what is happening in Venezuela today is far more complex than the newspapers let on. As a member of the internet community, your social media sharing matters.  

Latin American Historical Context

The nature of Latin American history is such that the United States is never far from the scene of the crime. In fact, there are number of verifiable instances in which the United States has actively meddled in Latin American democracies. Here are just a few:

Exhibit A: Guatemala and the CIA backed coup that led to the ousting of democratically-elected Jacobo Arbenz in favor of a military dictatorship that supported US corporate interests. The Guatemalan elite and Eisenhower administration labeled Arbenz a communist. The result was a military dictatorship responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people. You can read more on the CIA and Arbenz here.

Exhibit B: The 1973 coup of democratically-elected Salvador Allende in Chile that led to the brutal Pinochet dictatorship was at the very least financially linked to the Nixon administration. Nixon also instructed the CIA to destabilize Chile by making “the economy scream.” Allende’s crime was a socially progressive platform that emphasized public spending and nationalization of copper and utilities to fund a social democratic state.  

Exhibit C: Brazilian president Joao Goulart was ousted in 1964 by a US backed coup in which “the CIA encouraged street rallies against the government and provided fuel and arms to those backing the military.”Goulart was replaced by a military dictatorship that lasted almost 20 years.

The aforementioned governments had one thing in common, their interests were not directly aligned with those of the United States government and American corporations.

Venezuela Today

What we do know is that the oil-rich country of Venezuela is divided. Current president, Maduro, won a special election by less than 2% of the vote. Prior to that, Chavez won the election by about 10%. Henrique Capriles-Radonski, Governor of the state of Miranda, Chavez’s main opposition won a larger percentage of the vote than any opponent Chavez had previously faced. The late president’s death further destabilized the Venezuelan political scene as Maduro was unable to garner much of the support Chavez had enjoyed.

The mission to destabilize the Venezuelan government goes back to Chavez’s earliest days when the US backed a failed coup in 2002. As Venezuelan sociologist and former University of Toronto professor, Maria Paez-Victor, has discussed in an excellent piece, Venezuela’s government has been under economic attack by the country’s elites. The economic warfare has taken the form of currency speculation and the pretense of scarcity as merchants artificially choke the supply of corn flour, sugar, salt and toilet paper. These measures have been instrumental in fostering conditions that lead to social protest.  

The current string of protests first began when student activists decried public safety issues and free speech in the wake of a sexual assault on a female student. These actions were quickly repressed by government forces, which in turn led to protests by other student groups across the country. The opposition to socialist President Maduro, has seized upon the protests in an already destabilized country.

Subsequent protests have been met with state repression and violence. The truth is usually murkier than it seems. As a report by researcher Jerome Roos indicates much of the violence has been perpetrated by right-wing factions and a significant number of the victims have been government supporters. Additionally, government officials, such as the Attorney General, have been assaulted by opposition members. It is clear now that both opposition groups and the government forces have engaged in violent tactics. For his part, President Maduro has stated that violence against peaceful protestors will not be sanctioned, furthermore he has detained security agents seen firing at protesters and replaced his intelligence director.Perhaps this all a ruse, a play at taking the higher ground. We don’t know.

Back to the opposition, upon losing the election, Capriles has taken reconciliatory steps with the Maduro government, in hopes of open political dialogue. Fellow opposition member and former mayor of one of Venezuela’s wealthiest subdivisions, Chacao,  Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza has taken another route, that of protest and some say violence, in hopes of instigating an insurrection. He recently turned himself in to charges of arson and conspiracy. He turned himself in on his own terms and has been treated gently by the Venezuelan government careful of turning him into a martyr for the opposition. Lopez is an American educated member of Venezuela’s old aristocracy and as Professor of History at Drexel University, George Ciccariello-Maher put it in a Democracy Now interview:

Leopoldo López represents the far right of the Venezuelan political spectrum. In terms of his personal and political history, here’s someone who was educated in the United States from prep school through graduate school at the Harvard Kennedy School. He’s descended from the first president of Venezuela, purportedly even from Simón Bolívar. In other words, he’s a representative of this traditional political class that was displaced when the Bolivarian revolution came to power.

In its current state of crisis, Venezuela’s democratically-elected government is faced with civil strife, student protests, an aggressive opposition, and a faltering economy. The government response has been to consolidate power in a way most aptly described as authoritarian. Not too different from the response to Eurozone protests in Greece, Italy, and Spain. We must certainly be wary of that.

We must also be wary of political leaders like Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza, usurping the momentum of student protests in the interest of a power grab for Venezuela’s elite. One must question just how organic Lopez’ leadership can be when the United States is funding the opposition, as President Obama’s budget indicates.

So when the smoke clears and the dust is settled, don’t be surprised if the political landscape in Venezuela shifts greatly, back in favor of Venezuelan aristocrats and US hegemony. And if  Uncle Sam’s fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime the mainstream press will pretend it was none the wiser.

Posted at 8:36pm and tagged with: venezuela, venezuela protests, latin-america, foreign policy, leopoldo lopez, nicolas maduro, social movements, democracy, sosvenezuela,.

Bell Hooks

Posted at 11:35pm and tagged with: identity, hybridity, race in america, critical theory,.

Sadly, at a time when so much sophisticated cultural criticism by hip intellectuals from diverse locations extols a vision of cultural hybridity, border crossing, subjectivity constructed out of plurality, the vast majority of folks in this society still believe in a notion of identity that is rooted in a sense of essential traits and characteristics that are fixed and static.

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Today marks the 49th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. Often dismissed as Dr. King’s radically-violent counterpart, Malcolm X was a complex political thinker whose evolution into a transformational figure challenged the power structure of American hegemony. His legacy has since been hijacked; school-aged students are taught that Malcolm was a separatist and a member of the Nation of Islam who espoused the belief that all whites were devils. He is propped up as an unfortunate example of Black radicalism whose misguided movement made King’s movement necessary. This dangerously oversimplified narrative serves to mute both leaders’ true messages. Students are not taught that Malcolm X renounced the Nation of Islam, worked on voter education and registration initiatives, and sought to link the Civil Rights movement to struggles against oppression in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Sure, Malcolm wasn’t your friendly neighborhood nonviolent, but neither was the America he lived in. Malcolm’s cause was justice in an unjust, inhumane, and violent country.

Here are a few more things to think about:

On Differences

“Whether we are Christians or Muslims or nationalists or agnostics or atheists, we must first learn to forget our differences. If we have differences, let us differ in the closet; when we come out in front, let us not have anything to argue about until we get finished arguing with the man.”

On Human Rights

“So those of us whose political, and economic, and social philosophy is black nationalism have become involved in the civil rights struggle. We have injected ourselves into the civil rights struggle, and we intend to expand it from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights. As long as you’re fighting on the level of civil rights, you’re under Uncle Sam’s jurisdiction. You’re going to his court expecting him to correct the problem. He created the problem. He’s the criminal. You don’t take your case to the criminal; you take your criminal to court.”

“And one of our first programs is to take our problem out of the civil rights context and place it at the international level, of human rights, so that the entire world can have a voice in our struggle. If we keep it at civil rights, then the only place we can turn for allies is within the domestic confines of America. But when you make it a human rights struggle, it becomes international, and then you can open the door for all types of advice and support from our brothers in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere.”

On Voting

“Our internal aim is to become immediately involved in a mass voter registration drive. But we don’t believe in voter registration without voter education. We believe that our people should be educated into the science of politics, so that they will know what a vote is for, and what a vote is supposed to produce, and also how to utilize this united voting power so that you can control the politics of your own community, and the politicians that represent that community. We’re for that.

And in that line we will work with all others, even civil rights groups, who are dedicated to increase the number of Black registered voters in the South. The only area in which we differ with them is this: we don’t believe that young students should be sent into Mississippi, Alabama, and these other places without some kind of protection.”

On Segregation

“I say again that I’m not a racist, I don’t believe in any form of segregation or anything like that. I’m for the brotherhood of everybody, but I don’t believe in forcing brotherhood upon people who don’t want it.”

When you read this, note that Malcolm X’s security entourage was infiltrated by the FBI and that it’s counter-intelligence program used some of the same agents to later infiltrate the Black Panthers. Malcolm died on stage at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, but he dies a second death every time his story is simplified to one about a violent radical.

Posted at 4:54pm and tagged with: malcolm x, civil rights, social justice, race in america,.

Arundhati Roy

Posted at 5:08pm and tagged with: valentines day, happy valentines day, love, arundhati roy,.

The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

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On what would be Abraham Lincoln’s 215th birthday, it’s nice to remember the good folks that were really rooting for the end of slavery. That’s right it was your friendly neighborhood Marxists! In the case of Karl, it was NOT a matter of political or military convenience like the Emancipation Proclamation would later be, but because it undermined human dignity and “defile(d)… [the] republic.” 

Marx never actually wrote Lincoln for his birthday, but did to congratulate him on reelection. The mandate of his victory, Marx said, was “Death to Slavery!”, and he continued:

While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

And guess what, Lincoln’s people replied! You can read the rest of the correspondence here.

Posted at 7:23pm and tagged with: abraham lincoln, lincoln's birthday, karl marx, POTUS,.

demand-progress:

The NSA “is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” (Washington Post)

Join us in protesting the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging invasion of privacy.

Take action →

Posted at 11:31am and tagged with: NSA, snowden, surveillance, george orwell, fight back, the day we fight back,.

demand-progress:

The NSA “is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” (Washington Post)
Join us in protesting the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging invasion of privacy.
Take action →

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 I’ll begin with the thesis: fuck Coca-Cola.

The ‘Murican leviathan of racism hath reared its ugly head yet again. There has been quite some racist hoopla surrounding a recent Coca-Cola advertisement. The advertisement featured “America the Beautiful,” a patriotic hymn, sung in English, Spanish, Hindi, Keres, Tagalog, Senegalese French and Hebrew. If that wasn’t enough to rile up conservatives, the ad included a same-sex couple. Right-wingers bashed the commercial as “un-American” while spreading the curiously-named hashtag #speakamerican. The racist, xenophobic, small-minded Twitter reactions might be upsetting if not for the fact that the people who posted them clearly don’t have a mastery over the language they’re up in arms for:

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A response to this would be too easy, too simple, and yet still necessary. Many have already pointed out that the United States is not the birthplace of English, that the only indigenous languages to this region are Native American tongues, and that there are over 30 linguistically-diverse countries in the Americas—this one just happens to be the United States of America.

 On the other side of the argument, many have applauded the apparently progressive advertisement. The commercial, supporters say, affirms multiculturalism, LGBT communities, and perhaps even immigration reform.

Cool story. I see an advertisement by a Fortune 500 company, a culturally-savvy advertisement at a time when younger generations are voting in the direction of this same message. I see a company trying to rebrand itself using inclusivity, acceptance, and multiculturalism to attract more consumers in a globalized marketplace.

 Let’s call BS on this one.

 Here are some reasons Coca-Cola is full of shit:

 1)   Guatemalan Death Squads: Coca-Cola has been and continues to be implicated in the murder, rape, and kidnapping of labor rights activists at Coca-Cola bottling plants the world over. This sweet, dark beverage has a blood-soaked history of exploitation in Latin-America. According to the Global Labor Institute, when faced with organized labor in Guatemala, Coca-Cola reacted without regard for human rights and employed the use of local death squads:

"Three General Secretaries of their union were murdered and five other workers killed. Four more were kidnapped and have disappeared. Against all the odds they survived, thanks to their own extraordinary courage and help from fellow trade unionists in Guatemala and around the world."

2)    India: Coca-Cola depletes public water supplies, erasing productive farmlands and leaving barren wastelands to starving agrarian communities. As Coke’s presence in India continues to expand, so does the rate of farmer suicide.

 3)   People of Color: In general, soft drink advertisements target people of color.  Hispanics and Blacks are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to drink soda. We’re also more likely to contract and die of diabetes-related issues due to overconsumption of processed, sugary beverages. So, yes, Coca-Cola disproportionally harms people of color. 

Let’s be real about this. The presence of multinational companies like Coca-Cola in the Global South does not improve the lives of these populations; that’s just a myth. Instead, multinationals reinforce harsh corporate cruelty on desperate workers and violently crush their attempts at attaining improved working conditions. Coke saps countries of natural resources and pushes for trade policies that shatter local economies, producing a global class of landless people. When they arrive as immigrants in the United States, their languages and heritage are co-opted to capture the public imagination and disguise corporate greed behind the veil of multiculturalism.

Coca-Cola is an irresponsible company with a cruel past and a dangerous present. Don’t let it tell you otherwise, in any language.

Posted at 7:38pm and tagged with: coca cola, coca cola super bowl ad, people of color, racism, globalization, poc, america the beautiful,.

image(image source: Tulane Public Relations)

The salesman knows nothing of what he is selling save that he is charging a great deal too much for it.” Oscar Wilde

If you’re like most Americans, the vast majority of Americans that is, you’re feeling a little squeezed by the world you live in. You probably can’t put your finger on the cause of your predicament, because like most Americans, you don’t know much about the structures that constrain your opportunity, your wallet, and your whole outlook - but you’re probably broke, or close to it. All that being said, you DO know a lot. You know about hard work, paying rent, student debt, and hope. It’s that last one, the hope part,  that keeps you going. It keeps your bloodshot eyes open long enough to apply to the thirtieth job of the day, it’s the source of the gusto you summon to chase the bus to work after dropping your toddler off at daycare, it’s why you pay off the interest on your almost-maxed-out credit card, all because one day you’ll be middle class, really middle class, whatever the fuck that means.

Now, what if I walked in to your living room on one of your rougher days, after you’ve cried out to the universe that you can hardly take your overnight security job anymore, and offered to change everything for the better, like a fairy god daddy? Too good to be true? You bet. You’d probably beat me into a bloody pulp and call the police, or at the very least ask me to leave. But what if I sold you on it, what if I told you things you’ve always known to be true, things you thought were unattainable to you? What if your high school diploma wasn’t cutting it and I told you I could get you into a college that would change your life? Maybe, just maybe, you’d listen.

That’s the schtick that for-profit college admissions representatives use to get you to listen to their pitch. They’re going to change your life, that’s what they say.

For-profit, or proprietary, colleges are dangerous places. The big ones are the University of Phoenix, Corinthian Colleges Inc, Devry, and Kaplan. But there are many more and they sneak up on you.

For-profit colleges don’t literally come banging on your front door, but in some ways they do. Instead they opt for both traditional and nontraditional advertising strategies. Most people are acquainted with them from commercials, radio ads, billboards, subway advertisements, and online banners. It’s the latter, the internet, that provides recruiters at these schools with the leg up. Lead generators, or companies that collect data and then sell it to these schools, target people who click on banners or links about changing their lives through education and getting a higher paying job.

Once the recruiter gets your number, he or she tries to get to know you, asks you about your life, your job, your family, and your struggles. The recruiter might even go as far as to ask a highly personal question like: “don’t you want to change your life?”

Since most people view education as a virtue, they listen to the recruiter. Reading off of a script, these charlatans extol the benefits of a college degree. They’ll go as far as to point to Department of Labor statistics that indicate higher incomes for college-educated workers.

They make the mark feel like he or she can’t waste any more time, and this college, one the target has probably never heard of before, is the ticket out of poverty and a dead-end job. The mark is scheduled for multiple appointments, the school even has someone sit with and guide him or her through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and student loan forms. That means that billions of dollars in taxpayer money goes to these places.

Why are they so bad?

1) They only graduate about ¼ of their students.

2) They account for almost ½ the student loan repayment defaults since 2009 while producing less than ten percent of the students.

3) Many of these schools are open-admission, meaning you need to meet the basic criteria of having a pulse, a social security number, and a high school diploma or GED. They accept students who do not stand a chance academically.

4) There is nothing wrong with giving high-need students opportunity, but for-profit colleges don’t adequately support them. They usually operate with 3 times as many recruiters as student support staff. They spend less than 10% of their budgets on academics and almost 23% on marketing. They basically create subprime students. 

5) As profit-seeking entities, they recruit aggressively and pressure students into taking out federal and private loans. After all is said and done, industry wide they net a profit margin of about 19%. For comparison, in 2013 the evil behemoth Walmart saw a net profit margin of about 3%.

6) They drain students’ federal aid, making it harder for them to attend college later.

7) Some are not accredited, meaning even if you earn your degree, it isn’t worth the mountains of debt you’ve piled on.

8) Most students at for-profit colleges are low-income and less likely to have the means to pay off even a small debt, let alone the debt they accumulate at these sham houses. Thanks to federal laws that exempt student loans from bankruptcy, financially-ruined students see their wages and even social security garnished.

9) Recruiters at these colleges must hit enrollment targets, creating a high-pressure situation that is ideal for neither the recruiter nor the student. Recruiters are often dishonest about the school and misleading about job prospects.

10) As profit-seeking institutions, most of their faculty are underqualified part-timers; they might mean well, but they lack the pedagogical skill to remediate students who need a lot of help.

With the specter of student debt looming over 40 million Americans, institutions that recklessly cajole students into horrible situations can’t be left to decimate the future for so many people. Many people hope to start their lives after school - they can’t start anything if these places take them for everything they hope to have.




Posted at 11:23pm and tagged with: college, student debt, for-profit, university, student loans, higher education, for-profit colleges, debt, loans, financial bubble, inequality,.