There’s been a flood of local news stories in recent months about FBI raids on charter schools all over the country. From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnatti to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments. “The troubled Hartford charter school operator FUSE was dealt another blow Friday when FBI agents served it with subpoenas to a grand jury that is examining the group’s operations. When two Courant reporters arrived at FUSE offices on Asylum Hill on Friday morning, minutes after the FBI’s visit, they saw a woman feeding sheaves of documents into a shredder.”—The Hartford Courant, July 18, 2014 “The FBI has raided an Albuquerque school just months after the state started peering into the school’s finances. KRQE News 13 learned federal agents were there because of allegations that someone may have been taking money that was meant for the classroom at the Southwest Secondary Learning Center on Candelaria, near Morris in northwest Albuquerque … “—KRQE News 13, August 1 2014
Professor William Robinson of UCSB was the target of a campaign of intimidation, silencing, and political repression that included techniques described in the “Hasbara handbook” by the Israel lobby in contravention of academic freedom and university rules. He describes the experience here. The latest Israeli carnage in Gaza has provoked worldwide condemnation of Israel for its continued war crimes and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. In response, the Israeli state and its allies and agents are stepping up campaigns of intimidation, silencing, and political repression against opponents of its policies. Israel may continue to win military battles – after all, it has the fifth most powerful military on the planet – but it is losing the war for legitimacy. In the wake of its bloody attacks on schools, hospitals and United Nations refugee centers in Gaza, support has intensified around the world for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The BDS campaign in the United States has taken off, above all, on university campuses, which is why the Israel lobby is so intent on targeting academia. Five years ago, I was attacked by the Israel lobby in the United States, led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and nearly run from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), where I work as a professor of sociology, global and Latin American studies. The campaign against me lasted some six months and garnered worldwide attention, but I am hardly alone.
Dozens of Chicago Public School students rallied and marched downtown Monday to demand an elected board of education and student-prioritized funding. More than 200 students have participated in the Chicago Students Union since it was formed in 2013 in response to school closings in the city. But Ross Floyd, a senior at Jones College Prep, said the city’s school board refuses to listen to them. “They continue to move forward with devastating cuts to our schools that hurt each and every student’s education. The reason this happens is because the board of education is only accountable to one man, [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel, and that is not right,” Floyd said. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in a statement the district shares the students’ desire to make sure everyone has access to a high-quality education. “With school starting soon, we hope their passion will inspire other students to return to classrooms ready to focus on their education,” McCaffrey said. Before their planned march to the headquarters of the Chicago Public Schools, the students held a news conference across the street from Daley Plaza. They were joined there by Will Guzzardi, the Democrat who won the March primary for the 39th Illinois House District.
Dear students: Some of you have contacted me after seeing news of my arrest for a nonviolent action around the water shutoffs here in Detroit. While I am touched by your concern, I implore you to reserve your support for those being affected by the shutoffs and your own generation, which, unless things change, is on track to inherit a commodified world in which beauty, nature, life itself will be sold off to the lowest corporate bidder, an affront to all that is good, decent and human. The action in which I and several others engaged was only a small gesture of loving resistance, a humble offering of our own bodies against the dehumanizing and democracy-crushing effects of life under Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager. Pope Paul VI once said the world needs witnesses more than it needs teachers, and in times like these, to be a teacher may mean to move the classroom to the street in order to bear witness to the grave injustices that are harming our neighbors. The glaring disparity between the rich and the poor in Detroit and the breathtaking rapidity with which that gap is widening is downright biblical.
Months after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said budget constraints forced him to push for pension cuts and mass school closures, an analysis of government documents reveals the city has $1.71 billion in special accounts often used to finance corporate subsidies. While the Emanuel administration has rejected open records requests for details of the subsidies, evidence suggests at least some of them have flowed to companies connected to Emanuel’s campaign donors. The analysis conducted by the TIF Illumination Project evaluated the city’s 151 tax increment financing, or TIF, districts, which divert a share of property taxes out of accounts obligated to schools and into special accounts under the mayor’s control. The report shows $412 million was diverted last year alone into the TIF accounts and out of traditional property tax funding streams, many of which are dedicated to the city’s schools. In 21 of those districts, the report says 90 percent or more of all property taxes were diverted into the TIF accounts. Citing Chicago subsidies offered to S&C Electric Co., LaSalle Street Capital, United Airlines and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, an earlier study from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First found in the last 25 years, $5.5 billion of taxpayer money has gone into TIF accounts, and “much of the city’s TIF revenue was spent on subsidizing corporations, nonprofits and developers.”
This time, it’s different. Since the beginning of the Rolling Jubilee campaign, we’ve wanted to buy and abolish student debt. But most student loans are guaranteed by the federal government, and so they are not available for purchase. As part of our effort to buy private, unsecured student loans, we talked to Doug St. Peters, the Vice President of Portfolio Management at Sallie Mae, who packages that company’s debt into securities and sells your loans on the secondary market. He confirmed that Sallie Mae does sell its private loans to two large debt buying companies. He would not name names, and he refused to sell us any of these portfolios when he learned that we intended to abolish the debt. According to St. Peters, private Sallie Mae loans are sold for as little as 15 cents on the dollar. We repeat: a Vice President at Sallie Mae confirmed that they sell private loans for 15 cents on the dollar. One goal of the Rolling Jubilee campaign has been to educate ourselves and others about how little our debts are actually worth to the creditors who control our lives. If you have a private Sallie Mae loan, you should know that it may be sold at pennies on the dollar, even as the lender and debt collectors demand full payment, plus interest, from you.
During the Iraq War years, pressure from students, parents and counter-recruitment activists forced a number of local school boards across the country to establish guidelines regulating military recruiter access to youth. Such policies are now in place in some of the biggest school districts in the country, including New York, Los Angeles and Fort Worth. In some cases, military recruiters are limited to two visits per year for each branch of the military. In others, they are not allowed to wander the school grounds unsupervised and have to be at their literature tables at all times. While policies vary from region to region, the idea is the same: to make sure recruiters do not overwhelm students with high-pressure sales techniques. But since the end of the Iraq War, less attention has been paid to the issue. In the absence of public scrutiny, military recruiters have in recent years been using a variety of means to circumvent existing school recruiting policies. They volunteer at schools as coaches or teachers, and bend the rules to achieve “total access” to the schools in their recruiting zones. As a result, military recruiters are evading oversight despite warnings about unchecked recruiter access to youth from the American Public Health Association, New York Civil Liberties Union, and other advocacy groups.
THE Canadian Museum for Human Rights will not use the word “genocide” to describe Canada’s aboriginal policies during the last century, including the residential schools system and forced relocations. That’s despite a growing academic consensus Canada did indeed commit genocide, and repeated calls by aboriginal leaders — including, most recently, Phil Fontaine — for the federal government to recognize its role in the destruction of indigenous culture and institutions. “It’s a shame. I think the museum needs to be a leader, not a follower on this,” said University of Manitoba Prof. Adam Muller, a genocide expert. “You look at colonial activity in the Americas and it seems clear to me, at the end of the day, they were trying to destroy a group and way of life.” Those familiar with the museum’s plans to tackle indigenous issues understood the word would be included in its exhibits. But after what spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry said was extensive internal debate and an ongoing process of revision, the museum’s senior staff decided not to use the word. The decision was made about a month ago. Fitzhenry said the museum is not a court or government — the two bodies that have traditionally decided what counts as a genocide. And she said academic research is still evolving.
Badass Teacher Association (BAT): This association is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning… Join Us!! The BATs protested the devastating educational policies of the United States Department of Education and Arne Duncan today! The Rally lasted from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and drew over 550 teachers, parents, and educational activists from 38 states. BATs demanded such things as ending federal incentives to close and privatize schools, promote equity and adequate funding for all public schools, and ban all data sharing of children’s private information. BATs asked and were allowed to enter the USDOE at 3:30 to meet with the Civil Rights Department Senior Advisors. The BAT delegation included Tennessee BAT Larry Proffitt, Co-Founder of BAT Mark Naison, Connecticut BAT Yohuru Williams, New York BAT Marla Kilfoyle, Chicago parent activist Shoneice Reynolds, and Chicago student activist Asean Johnson.
UC Berkeley students, alumni and a group of lawyers in the Bay Area initiated an online petition last week to rescind UC Berkeley School of Law professor John Yoo’s recent faculty chair endowment. Students and anti-torture groups protested Yoo’s role in drafting the legal documents in 2002, which advised on the use of controversial interrogation techniques while he was deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. The San Francisco chapter of national anti-war group World Can’t Wait led a demonstration in 2012 against his employment at UC Berkeley.
At national conventions of the two major teacher unions this month, controversy flared over the Common Core, a standardized curriculum largely funded by the privatizers at the Gates Foundation. Motions at the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers proposed to resist the program because of its link to standardized testing. In the AFT, two militant locals, the Chicago Teachers Union and United Teachers Los Angeles, led the Common Core fight. There were competing motions, with the passage of the weaker one reflecting the position of AFT President Randi Weingarten that Common Core is viable if it’s not connected to standardized testing. While there were not equivalent motions at the NEA Assembly, the debate on Common Core was still very vigorous, especially concerning its funding by the Gates Foundation.
The Committee to Save Cooper Union is pursuing legal action as a last resort after Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees and administration proceeded with their plans to abolish a 150 year tradition of free tuition enshrined in the Charter of the school, refusing alternatives that would preserve free tuition. A Working Group of faculty, students and alumni elected by their respective constituencies had developed a sustainable plan for preserving free tuition that was supported by the Faculty Union, the alumni association and students. The President and Board refused to accept this plan and chose to press on with their plan to charge tuition. After carefully evaluating all of the legal options for both legal and cost-effectiveness, the Committee to Save Cooper Union decided that the best approach is to seek an injunction against charging tuition in New York Supreme Court. This option also allows us to petition the court for formation of “The Associates of Cooper Union” as required by the Cooper Union charter. The Associates would serve as a check on the Board of Trustees since the Associates’ elected Council can remove Trustees by majority vote. This route also allows us to petition the court for an audit, as provided for in the charter, to help provide more detail on the fiscal mismanagement happening at Cooper Union.
A petition demanding that the University of Arizona reinstate a research scientist fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Dr. Suzanne Sisley, a Department of Psychiatry faculty member and researcher at the school, was suddenly terminated last week for reasons she maintains were related to her research. She won federal approval in April for the long-delayed veterans study, when the Department of Health and Human Services signed off on the project. Ricardo Pereyda, an Iraq war veteran with PTSD who said he’s been treating his symptoms with marijuana since 2010, started the Change.org petition to reinstate Sisley, which had nearly 28,000 signatures Tuesday night. “The university must reinstate Dr. Sisley, providing her with the necessary space and resources she needs to conduct her research,” Pereyda wrote in the petition. “Her study could mean life or death for many veterans.
Governors from across the country are in Music City to tackle key issues including education, health care and jobs. Saturday, protestors gathered outside the Omni Hotel demanding to be a part of the conversation. Legislative Plaza served as a meeting point for the hopes and dreams of dozens who gather under a collective front called the Freedom Side. With signs and tape over their mouths they walked in silent protest through downtown to the Omni, straight for the National Governor’s Association meeting. “We just want to talk to the Governors about four issues,” protestor Jayanni Webster said, “The criminalization of black and brown youth, living wage jobs, equal education and democratic rights.” Protesters were greeted by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who created a barrier to prevent them from entering private property. After learning no one would come out to speak to them, five protestors tried to walk inside and were arrested and charged with trespassing.