Saturday, April 16, 2016

militarized policing in Ferguson and beyond

For the 18 August 2014 Old Mole Variety Hour.

There's been much attention of late to what's described as the militarization of the police. As Tamara K. Nopper & Mariame Kaba note in Jacobin, "discussions about America’s militarized police forces" seem to have suddenly become "semi-mainstream," appearing in media like The Economist and Business Insider . "In the wake of the police killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent riots and protests, social media is littered with images of tear gas, tanks, and police in military gear with automatic weapons — all aimed at black people in the city."

Earlier this summer, the ACLU released a report on the militarizing of US policing, confirming the increasing and increasingly indiscriminate use of Special Weapons and Tactics teams. Under a program started in 1990 and escalated after 2001, local law enforcement agencies have been getting surplus military equipment--everything from battering rams and flash-bang grenades to helicopters and mine-resistant armored personnel carriers--Tanks, basically--of which Clackamas County has two! (It turns out, actually, that much of that "surplus" is brand-new, which suggests either that the Pentagon doesn't know how to estimate its own equipment needs, or that this is another strategy for subsidizing defense contractors. It's also apparently an outlet for the tear gas that's been banned as a chemical weapon in war.)

Of course, once police forces have all this new equipment they are eager to use it, and, unsurprisingly, they tend to use it disproportionately on people of color.

The ACLU report is titled "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing," but Nopper and Kaba are wary of the notion that "the war on terror has come home" and of the connections some have been making between Ferguson and Gaza. They stress that "For blacks, the “war on terror” hasn’t come home. It’s always been here."
A recently released report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Vigilantes calculated that "Every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child!"

Nopper and Kaba note that
"Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Radley Balko, and others have explained that the militarization of US police can be traced back to the mid-1960s. For example, in 1968, urban police forces were able to buy new equipment and technologies thanks to funding from the newly passed Safe Streets Act. The social anxiety and fear engendered by the Vietnam War and [by] domestic urban rebellions led by black people provided license for the police to turn these new products on the marginalized populations of inner-city America.
SWAT teams, batterrams, and no-knock warrants . . . all predate contemporary hyper-militarized police forces. Black people have been the overwhelming targets of these instruments of war."

Yasmin Nair is similarly skeptical of the hashtag equation between Gaza and Ferguson, noting that easy analogies erase specificities and thus can make us less able to engage with and eventually end state brutality. But Nair also recognizes that there are some real, material connections between the two. For instance, the Anti-Defamation League and related groups have sponsored trainings in Israel for US police, including for police in St Louis. The militarizing of policing is a global development.

Nair has important things to say about the complex and varied ways that racism and capitalism intertwine. Nopper and Kaba have important things to say about the difficulty American culture has in naming what black people experience in America, and in empathizing with it in ways that are not narcissistic or voyeuristic on the part of whites. Nopper and Kaba point out that
The problem with casting militarization as the problem is that the formulation suggests it is the excess against which we must rally. We must accept that the ordinary is fair, for an extreme to be the problem. The policing of black people — carried out through a variety of mechanisms and processes — is purportedly warranted, as long as it doesn’t get too militarized and excessive.
Attention is drawn to the “spectacular event” rather than to the point of origin or the mundane. Circulated are the spectacles — dead black bodies lying in the streets or a black teenager ambushed by several police officers in military gear, automatic weapons drawn.
As Nopper and Kaba stress, in focusing on the excess, the overkill, of state power, we miss the ordinary, as though without the overkill there could be . . . the right amount of kill? But insofar as the function of a police force is to enforce the interests of capital and white supremacist social order, so the possibility that police might do their job with more subtlety is no real solution for people oppressed by those interests.

At the same time, there really has been an increase in visible authoritarian force, and we can understand it as part of the current neoliberal response to the crisis of capitalism. Militarized policing means not only moneymaking opportunities for those who profit off weapons manufacture and private prisons, but also an escalating response to rising dissent.

The job of the old mole is to persist in that dissent despite its dangers; to make the difficult connections among the varied forms of capital and state power, and among the diversely positioned groups those powers oppress, to support and join with those who refuse servitude and resist injustice, to burrow on.

Ways to help the people of Ferguson

For links to campaigns for Michael Brown's family, bail &  legal support for those arrested, food & supplies for protesters, and petitions:

WRR Feast and Famine, or Culinary Capitalism

For the Old Mole Variety Hour September 15, 2014

Coming to Portland this week is the series of food and drink events called Feast Portland.  It starts Thursday with  something called a "sandwich invitational," for which tickets cost $95, and  the weekend includes tastings, classes, and dinners, with events ranging from 55 to 200 dollars.

Net proceeds will be donated to two charities, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign; the latter organization has corporate "partners" including Wal-Mart, Tyson, and Sysco.

In the situationist pamphlet Spectacular Time, number 6: Food, we read
The food industry has a problem--no matter how rich we become we can only eat so much. So if we cannot consume more food, we must be encouraged to consume more profitable foods.

It is difficult to see how everyday life is to be reinvented while the most fundamental requirement for the continuation of any kind of life remains a mystified commodity.

Once we have consumed the maximum amount of maximum profit food we are encouraged to buy the surplus as proxy consumers for those too poor to have a demand themselves; we give to charities who buy the market surplus to feed the poor.

Aid and charity --in the society of the spectacle--are necessary to maintain high prices and a stable market. Thus the money from charitable donations and taxes is recycled back into the hands of capital --which at the same time disposes of its previously worthless surplus production.

Charities only attack the symptoms--if we really cared we would attack the disease.
In the summer 2014 issue of the magazine Contexts, we find an essay by  sociologist Shamus Khan called "Culinary Capitalism."  He writes,
There is, perhaps, no greater triumph of capitalism than the culinary realm. Consider supermarkets. Immediately upon entering we are confronted with produce. How refreshing; healthy foods for a healthy lifestyle! But take another look at that banana and recall the ... news about Chiquita providing 3,000 AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition to militias that murdered their farm laborers. Bananas are ubiquitous in grocery stores because they have one of the highest profit margins of any food product..... Even though bananas often must be shipped across the globe, it costs mere pennies to cultivate and bring them to market. Why? Armed insurgencies against workers help keep labor costs down ....

The pictures of green fields that surround you on the produce section banners are absent of farm laborers, who, brutalized by low wages and terrorized by foremen, are kicked out of our nation the moment they stir up trouble or have the misfortune to
physically suffer from their labor. There is a grave cost to our uninterrupted access to year-round cheap produce, and it is the laborers at the base of the production process who suffer it...

Next in our supermarket tour is the animal, far removed from any hint of the festering stench of the feedlot and the routinized violence of the slaughterhouse and sanitized for you in its plastic wrap. The cheapest way to feed livestock is through monoculture: the rotation of just two crops—corn and soy.

Countless acres of land have been ruined by this practice, but it’s cheaper. And the food makes the animals sick, but the pharmaceutical industry has stepped in to keep them alive long enough to pack on the pounds so that we can kill and market them quickly....
“But I buy locally sourced foods, ethically raised, from my local market,” you might protest. So do I. It’s nice to be able to afford this. What about the (cheap) food items the poor buy to feed themselves? The average person on food stamps receives $5 a day for food.

[And how  far away is that market?]

Capitalism provides the wealthier a way to buy moral purity by periodically participating in specialty markets. We don’t transform the system, but we do feel better about ourselves.

Responsible food shopping can be exhausting, so let’s not cook tonight. We’ll go out to eat. Perhaps we’ll go to an authentic Chinese restaurant... where a [meal] is put before me for a mere $5. Why so cheap? Probably because the workers have had their passports seized by their employers and will work for years paying off their migration debt in a modern form of indentured servitude....

Food can create community. It can also be a celebration of culture, artistry, and a daily enticement of the senses. But let us not forget that every time we eat we are implicated in the great capitalist triumph that is our food system. And that system is a deeply violent one.
For challenges to this we need to look not to events like Feast but to ones like last week's Justice Begins with Seeds conference.  We need to look not to charity but to activism, to  organizations of farmworkers like PCUN, to worker cooperatives including the Red & Black Cafe, to movements for food sovereignty around the world.

Gentrification and the Right to the City

The well-read red has been reading about gentrification, as well as seeing plenty of it.

Despite what we often hear in mainstream media, gentrification is not simply a cultural change in a neighborhood, and not simply a matter of individual choices.  Rather, it involves changes in property ownership driven by structural, economic forces and backed by state power.  As Ronnie Flores notes in Socialist, "Gentrification is the result of capitalism, a system characterized by the relentless pursuit of profit." Drawing on the work of  Neil Smith, Flores points out that "When there's a wide enough gap between the current rent in an area and the potential rent that can be made if it were to undergo reinvestment, a project for gentrification is born. This "rent gap" is the mechanism underlying gentrification."

Similarly, Gavin Mueller in Jacobin observes that "Gentrification has always been a top-down affair, not a spontaneous hipster influx, orchestrated by the real estate developers and investors who pull the strings of city policy, with individual home-buyers deployed in mopping up operations."

Focusing on the example of Washington, DC, Mueller points out that
The first installment of DC gentrification began as the smoke lifted after the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination. Large parts of the black areas of the city . . . were burned. With the fear of urban insurrection hanging in the air, property values plummeted, paving the way for local real estate magnates to snap up hugely lucrative portfolios.

Developers succeeded in getting the city government and banks to assist in their purchases, promising community projects, like homeless shelters and hospitals, that they rarely delivered before they flipped the property....

Currently the area’s fortunes are managed by the Downtown DC Business Improvement District [or BID]....

Among their tactics: implementing mandatory fees to price out small businesses; hiring non-union workers to pick up trash and check parking meters; encouraging crackdowns on poor and homeless residents to push them out. The Downtown DC BID was one of the first organizations to raise an alarm about Occupy DC’s encampment.... and ... to insist on a police response throughout the entire occupation....

 A powerful capitalist class of bankers, real-estate developers, and investors is driving gentrification, using a mixture of huge loans (to which only they have access) and government funding to push land values higher.

This leaves DC’s professional class with a choice. If their household income is in the six-figure-range, they can generally secure mortgages in gentrifying neighborhoods, buy property, have low-wage workers fix it up for cheap, and [reasonably hope to] ride those property values into a secure position in the middle class. Or they can pay exorbitant rent until they move back to Peoria. Not much of a choice. If they buy, they’re putting everything on the line, albeit a line that, in [DC], has only gone one way in the past decade....
Tying up your assets, your middle-class future, in home values does something to people. It alters their interests. It sutures a professional class, of liberal and even progressive beliefs, to the rapacious capitalist expansion into the city. The people who move to gentrifying areas tend to have liberal, tolerant, cosmopolitan sympathies. But they are aligned materially with reactionary and oppressive city restructuring, pushing them into antagonism with established residents, who do nothing for property values....

This produces racism. Racism isn’t just a bad feeling in your heart, as a liberal believes when she insists that she isn’t at all racist. It’s a force that emerges from the pressures of maintaining one’s own position, and the resentments that spring forth from this process. It produces fear and hatred of the poor for being poor, for having any pretense of being on equal footing with the propertied. It is a hatred for the potential threat to the property values which underpin a tenuous future among the professional middle class: blackness.

This bubbles up into everyday life in all sorts of ways. ...

Mueller describes the discomfort--the rage and fear--shown by a nice white man in response to the noisy black and brown kids in the neighborhood.
Young black bodies have been mass culture’s symbol for irrational, savage violence for decades, for centuries. And so the whites fear them, and this fear can manifest as anger, as callousness, as hatred. And yet, Washington’s rate of violent crime against whites is lower than the national average. White skin is quite literally a protection from harm. But it doesn’t insulate your property values. That requires extra vigilance.

Noting that really the teens of color "have much more to fear from the whites living alongside them," Mueller continues,
We can leverage state violence against them — we can call the cops. On message boards, police officers urge gentrifiers to report any “suspicious activity,” which includes legal activity such as walking, talking, and standing. Smoking weed in the alley? Call the cops. A group of teenagers talking loudly? Call the cops. Litter? Call the cops, just whatever you do, don’t actually approach people! State repression is the solution to all problems....

The liberal discourse on gentrification has absolutely nothing to say about finance or prison, the two most salient institutions in urban life. Instead, it does what liberal discourse so often does: it buries the structural forces at work and choreographs a dance about individual choice to perform on the grave. We get tiny dramas over church parking lots and bike lanes and [soccer fields]. Gentrification becomes a culture war, a battle over consumer choices: gourmet cupcake shop or fried chicken joint? Can we all live side by side, eating gourmet pickles with our fried fish sandwiches? ....

“What choice do I have?” ask the liberal gentrifiers, if you press them a bit. “This is the only place I can afford to live!” This sums everything up perfectly, puncturing the bubble of individual choices that make up liberal politics.

You have no choice; everything’s been decided ahead of time. If you want the American dream of a middle-class life with a home you own in the city in which you work, you have few other choices than to join the shock troops of the onslaught against the urban poor. Align with big capital and the repressive state in the conquest of the city, and maybe you’ll have enough equity to send your kids to college.

Sure, you may feel a bit of guilt, but when it comes down to it, you’re still calling the cops at the slightest provocation. After all, it’s not just trendy bars and cafes at stake — it’s the yuppies’ privileged position in ruling class administration, one of the dwindling means towards any semblance of economic and social stability in this time of crisis. ...

Marx called the violent expropriation of the poor from their lands “primitive accumulation.”

But as Mueller notes, it is not "a one-time sin, in the distant past"; it "accompanies capitalist development every step of the way, wherever valuable land meets valueless humanity."

Because of this,  David Harvey has suggested calling this process instead "accumulation by dispossession."

Harvey is among those who have taken up the work of Henri Lefebvre, whose 1968 text on The Right to the City has provided a name for movement against the projects of  urban dispossession and neoliberal gentrification.

Harvey notes that

The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.

The  World Charter of the Right to the City, that came out of the World Social Forum in 2004, seeks to promote the

just distribution of the benefits and responsibilities resulting from the  urbanization process; fulfillment of the social functions of the city and of property; distribution of urban income; and democratization of access to land and public services for all citizens, especially those with less economic resources and in situations of vulnerability.

In the US, the national  Right to the City Alliance affirms "that everyone, particularly the disenfranchised, not only has a right to the city, but as inhabitants, have a right to shape it, design it, and [put in practice] an urban human rights agenda."

Here in Portland, the Right to the City Coalition  "commits to empowering working class people in Portland’s political process" and promoting a progressive vision different than that of "Portland’s current elected leaders who are primarily responsive to big business."

Their next meeting is Sunday November 9 at 3pm at Concordia University's Library.  Check their website for more, at

[image above by Mark Nerys for Portland Right to the City]

Against Teach for America

For the Old Mole Variety Hour January 12, 2015 (audio here)

It has come to my attention that not everyone has heard the criticisms of Teach for America that have been raised in recent years. Since the end of this month marks one of their due dates for applications, I want to take this opportunity to advise those considering applying for the program, or considering writing recommendation letters for those who are applying, to think carefully about these critiques, which argue that the program is bad for those who teach in it, bad for the students they teach, and, most persuasively to my mind, bad for public education in the United States.

Founded twenty-five years ago with the stated aim of recruiting recent graduates of elite colleges to serve as "lightly trained" teachers in difficult districts that were, at the time, facing teacher shortages, Teach for America has received lots of positive press--and has worked hard to maintain its positive image, despite increasing criticism.

Much of the criticism comes from former TfA recruits. "Corps members," as they are called, are given too little training and too little support: "They get just five short weeks of training before classroom placement, as opposed to the years of training for professional teachers, including a term of up to one year working in the classroom under the supervision of an experienced teacher."

Moreover, not only is the training brief, the limited classroom time included in that training is generally under very different circumstances than those they will face in the schools where they are placed--involving not only different student-teacher ratios but often different age groups and sometimes different subject areas.  As one former TfA teacher put it, "Training was like leading us to the top of a cliff before we had to jump off into the reality of our own classrooms. . . . the mountain was high and the fall was hard."

In addition to the lack of adequate preparation, TfA participants have complained of lack of focused support, isolation, shame, guilt, and burnout. While nearly half of all teachers leave the classroom after five years, for folks in TfA the figure is over eighty percent. Even the Onion has recognized the burnout problem, back in 2005 running a story titled, "Teach For America Chews Up, Spits Out Another Ethnic-Studies Major."

The Daily Dot notes that many "TFA Corps members are white men coming from privileged backgrounds . . . giving TFA a whiff of the White Savior." This does seem to be one of the few criticisms the organization has taken on board, and more recent recruits are increasingly of diverse ethnicities. But as Jodi Melamed has argued, "neoliberal multiculturalism"
sutures official anti-racism to state policy in a manner that hinders the calling into question of global capitalism, it produces new privileged and stigmatized forms of humanity, and it deploys a normative cultural model of race . . . as a discourse to justify inequality for some as fair or natural. (Social Text 89, Vol. 24, No. 4, Winter 2006, 14)
Or, in other words, having a Black president makes it that much easier to keep incarcerating inordinate numbers of poor, mostly black and brown people, and killing black, brown, and disabled bodies.

But the school-to-prison pipeline is a slightly different topic.

Anyway, Teach for America corps members have increasingly organized resistance--holding a summit at the 2013 Free Minds/Free People education conference, and starting the twitter hashtag #ResistTFA. There are movements organized by United Students Against Sweatshops and Students United for Public Education, as well as individual testimonies by TFA veterans, with titles like,Why I Did TFA and Why You [Should Not] ; and  "How Interning for TFA convinced me of its injustice"; and  McTeaching with Teach for America and  This former TFA Corps Member Thinks you should join City Year Instead; and  I Quit Teach for America; and so on.

Their recruitment has fallen off so much that they are closing their New York City training center.

On the other hand, if you're interested in resume-building and connections with the rich and powerful, TfA can be a useful stepping stone, offering prestige and access to elite patronage networks. TfA alumni include former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee, LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer, and KIPP charter school founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. By 2011, there were 56 TFA alums in public office: on school boards, on school and neighborhood councils or other local boards, as well as two state senators, a constable, a judge, and a justice of the peace. By last year the number was over 70, including two assistants to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as education policy advisers and associates in the offices of Senators Harry Reid and Al Franken and Representative George Miller.

Whether those resume-building years were good for the students in their classes is a different question. (The Onion has covered that, too, with an opinion piece titled Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?)  Research suggests that TFA participants do about as well as other comparably trained and experienced teachers. But that's a pretty low bar.

In fairness, those ratings seem to be at least partly based on value-added measures of student success on standardized tests, which are themselves a poor measure of real learning.

But, Julian Vasquez Heilig, co-author of two of the peer-reviewed studies of TFA, is convinced enough of the problems with the program that much of his own blog, Cloaking Inequity, is devoted to debunking the TfA brand; and he's described the program as a glorified temp agency.

Moreover, the pedagogical model favored by TFA, like that in KIPP schools, tends toward what one alumna describes as "chanting, rote, and in general the sort of bunch o’ facts education that none of its wealthy backers and cheerleaders would EVER accept for themselves or their children". Andrew Hartman in Jacobin describes it as a program of perpetual "surveillance" and "Taylorist institutionalization" designed to adjust "poor children to the regime otherwise known as the American meritocracy." What TFA calls its Academic Impact Model "leaves no space for whether some nights a student goes hungry, whether she’s experienced the trauma of a death in the family or a natural disaster."

And that helps to explain what all those TFA alumni are doing in public office. Like the organization's paid lobbyists, they are rationalizing inequality, arguing for privatizing public education, for increasing standardized testing, and for union busting.

The increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing has led to a number of cheating scandals:
with increasing frequency, student scores on standardized exams are tied to teacher, school, and district evaluations, upon which rewards and punishments are meted out. Obama’s “Race to the Top” policy — the brainchild of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the former “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools — further codifies high-stakes testing by allocating scarce federal resources to those states most aggressively implementing these so-called accountability measures. The multi-billion dollar testing industry — dominated by a few large corporations that specialize in the making and scoring of standardized tests — has become an entrenched interest, a powerful component of a growing education-industrial complex.

Cheating has now been confirmed not only in Atlanta, but also in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Dallas, Houston, Dayton, and Memphis, education reform cities all. Rhee’s DC “miracle” has also been clouded by suspicion: impossibly high wrong-to-right erasure rates indicate that several of Rhee’s “blue ribbon” schools might have cheated their way to higher test scores. Such accusations are nothing new to Rhee. The legend of how she transformed her Baltimore students — a fable resembling the Hollywood drama Stand and Deliver, based on East Los Angeles math teacher Jaime Escalante’s work in helping several of his underprivileged students pass the Advanced Placement Calculus exam — has been called into question by investigative reports that suggest fraud.

As George Joseph puts it in the Nation
For decades, sociological research has shown that anti-poverty measures, not energetic young college students, are the driving factors in improved education outcomes. Yet for over twenty years TFA’s organizational model has been based upon the idea that a college student, fresh from a five-week summer camp, could swoop into an poor, overcrowded classroom and inspire her students to overcome all barriers of structural inequality. Thus, the fundamental premise of Teach For America elides this need for wealth redistribution, perhaps explaining TFA’s massive corporate donor appeal.
United Students Against Sweatshops, in an open letter to TFA's leaders, argues that in many cities the recent "epidemic of school closings, teacher firings, and union busting"
has been directly connected to Teach for America. For instance: in Chicago, at the same time that the budget for public education was being slashed and teachers were being laid off, the Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly 1.6 million and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to Chicago Public Schools classrooms, in addition to 270 second year ‘teacher interns.’ ” Similarly in New Orleans, directly after Hurricane Katrina when most of the voting population was displaced, Teach for America was found to have pushed through legislation that would bankrupt public education and fire teachers. . . .

The Daily Dot notes that TFA's lobbying crowds out funding for other groups, like

Grow Your Own Teachers, which encourage people of color to get involved in teaching and remain active in their communities as educators.... Writing for The American Prospect, James Cersonsky highlights the differential treatment of TFA and Grow Your Own: “In Chicago, for example, TFA's multiyear contract is granted by the city's Non-Competitive Procurement Review Committee rather than through a request-for-proposal process.

By contrast, Grow Your Own Teachers, which helps parents of color become certified to teach in their communities, mobilizes in Springfield every year for state funds—which in 2013 were decreased 60 percent as part of $128 million in across-the-board higher-education cuts. Grow Your Own has also suffered because of TFA’s clout. In 2010, TFA—Chicago director Josh Anderson pushed Illinois’s P-20 Council, an advisory body on education policy, to raise the passing score for the state's teacher certification test; as a result, fewer blacks and Latinos, who make up most of Grow Your Own's constituency, have passed.”

As Bruce Dixon points out in Black Agenda Report,

Teach For America recruits...  replace experienced, mostly black teachers in inner city schools. Although TFA used to claim it sends its recruits to “underserved” schools where experienced teachers don't want to go, the facts are that underprepared TFA temps have replaced tens of thousands of experienced teachers in Newark, Chicago, St. Louis, and dozens of other cities around the country. Teach For America contends that inner-city public schools are NOT underfunded, that chronic poverty, joblessness, homelessness and short staffing are merely “excuses” used to protect the "bad teachers" which its mostly white temps are replacing. ...

Chicago just shut down 50 public schools, and Philly 40 public schools, nearly all in black neighborhoods. Many thousands of black people are in the streets in these and other cities fighting for the right to a quality public education, and the very survival of the communities around them.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board and the Louisiana Department of Education illegally fired 7,500, mostly black, teachers across Louisiana, a move which opened the floodgates to hundreds of TFA recruits, whose numbers quadrupled in the New Orleans region post-Katrina. After a TFA alum--veteran of only three years in the classroom--was appointed to head the New Orleans Recovery School District, he closed every single traditional public school, making it the nation’s first all-charter school district.

Similarly,  the TfA alum superintending Newark, NJ schools has pushed to make the district 40 percent charter school, a plan that sparked controversy because it would disproportionately close schools in black neighborhoods and replace 700 veteran teachers with 370 TFA recruits, funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

Dixon describes TFA as a

nonprofit organization backed to the tune of hundreds of millions per year by Wal-Mart, the Broad Foundation, Monsanto and a long list of corporate villains and hedge fund predators intent upon dismantling, destroying and privatizing public education in black and brown neighborhoods, turning public education into a private profit center.

Students Against Sweatshops activists point out that with ties to Exxon Mobil and JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Walmart, companies that "gut wages and benefits for parents and destabilize communities," TFA is actually "adding to the impoverishment that contributes to students’ difficulties in the classroom."

I realize that in difficult economic times, joining TFA might look like a way to get a stable job. But even if that were true, I would encourage anyone considering that route to think as carefully about it as they would about that other apparent route to steady employment, joining the military.

Whatever good TFA might once have done, whatever good individual participants may still manage to do, the organization and its offshoots at this point are clearly part of the problem.

(More) Critiques of TFA:

Rethinking Schools

Popular Resistance

At the Chalkface

Public School Shakedown (scroll down for more links)

The Guardian


Diane Ravitch

Save Our Schools

Gary Rubenstein

Reconsidering Teach for America

In These Times

Larry Ferlazzo (compilation)

Daily Dot

American Prospect

The Nation Magazine

the contradictions of housing under capitalism (wrr)

For the Old Mole Variety Hour March 9, 2015

First, from a 1946 New International essay by Miriam Gould on "Profits and the Housing Crisis: Conflicting Interests of Banks, Industry and Real Estate":
Way back in 1872, Frederick Engels made three generalizations about housing under capitalism, that remain the key to analysis of the problem today. . . . First, he said all the sermons liberals and reformists preach to capital about the profitability of low-cost housing are a waste of time. Capital has ignored the mass housing field because greater profits are to be made elsewhere, and profits, not human need, are the sole criteria of whether capitalism produces.

Second[], the ... problem of housing is subordinate to the basic question of income distribution. Until the unjust and evil system we have today is ended,   planned, healthful living in cooperative, functional, truly human communities, is impossible.

Third, the general problem of housing can never be solved, without resolving the “antithesis between town and country.” Translated into simple terms: mass housing is impossible without city planning,   and socialist regional and national economic planning.

Next, from a 2014 Jacobin essay by Samuel Stein on New York City Mayor Bill "De Blasio’s Doomed Housing Plan"

DeBlasio, Stein notes, is an advocate of inclusionary zoning, a policy prohibited in Oregon, along with rent control, rent stabilization, and real estate transfer tax: all policies that have been used elsewhere to provide for more affordable housing.
Inclusionary zoning [as Stein explains, is] an extremely popular program among housing experts and advocates, and is becoming something like the country’s consensus housing policy. Hundreds of US municipalities have adopted this approach, including Boston; Washington, DC; Denver; San Diego; and San Francisco.

The details vary from case to case, but the idea is for private developers to incorporate some percentage of below-market-rate units into their new developments. These units can be rented or sold, as long as they are targeted towards households within specific income brackets.

[But, Stein argues,] inclusionary zoning is a ... flawed program. It’s not just that it doesn’t produce enough units, or that the apartments it creates aren’t affordable, though both observations are undeniably true. The real problem with inclusionary zoning is that it marshals a multitude of rich people into places that are already experiencing gentrification. The result is a few new cheap apartments in neighborhoods that are suddenly and completely transformed.

[Advocates for the houseless have also challenged the value of inclusionary zoning, noting that it
will do nothing for those in the shelters and the streets, and cannot possibly solve [New York] city’s housing crises.]

[But] many leaders in the housing movement continue to support it.... They argue that some new affordable housing is better than none, and that the program can be tweaked to produce better results.

[As I noted, however, even the reformist policies of  inclusionary zoning that Stein discusses here, or of rent control, rent stabilization, and real estate transfer tax are currently prohibited by Oregon law. Oregon House Bill 2564 would lift some of those preemtions, and you might want to contact your State representative about HB 2564, titled "Relating to Affordable Housing."]
The truth is, [Stein continues,] cities know how to create affordable housing. The simplest, most direct, and cheapest way to do it is to build or acquire public housing, and actually maintain it well. Public housing not only provides affordable homes, but takes land off the speculative market, acting as a bulwark against gentrification.

We also know that rent controls are the most effective strategy for keeping private housing prices down. The strength of rent regulation is its universality: rather than applying to a small percentage of otherwise exorbitant housing, it can keep all rents in check.

[Stein advocates for] Democratically controlled community land trusts. . . . [which generally] pairs a piece of land owned by a nonprofit with a building owned by a mutual housing association, which sells or rents the apartments at low costs and with limited outside management. If people can use these tools to take land off the market and develop permanently affordable alternatives, they can effectively decommodify their housing and reclaim community control.

The solutions are out there, but the political will is not.

Politicians and policymakers treat housing like a puzzle to be solved with the right balance of subsidies and profits. But affordable housing isn’t a mystery, it’s a contradiction: it can’t be done in a way that benefits both capital and workers in equal measure. There are ways to do it poorly but profitably..... There are ways to do it well, but they are not profitable.

Of course, the politicians and policymakers Stein mentions are not the only agents involved.  I turn now to some selections from a 1968 essay by Ian Macdonald in International Socialism on "Housing – The Struggle for Tenants’ Control" in which he describes a history of rent strikes in the early twentieth-century UK.
 In strike after strike, the tenants took complete control of the buildings in which they lived. At the end of the strike, the tenants often signed a clause with the landlords so that, if the landlord did not carry out the repairs properly, the tenants would take complete control of the management and would themselves collect the rents for this purpose. In at least one case in [London's] East End this actually happened. The strike movement spread throughout the country, [and successfully pressured hostile governments to extend rent control and make other concessions to the tenants]

The struggle between landlordism and tenants is a continuous one, and will continue so long as the provision of housing is dominated by profits.

In Portland, groups currently working to support and organize with tenants include the Portland Solidarity Network and Right to the City Portland.

We need housing policies and tenant organizing that confront capitalism while providing a genuine social good.

On "Everyday Rebellion"

On the May 11, 2015 Old Mole Variety Hour, Hyung Nam and I discuss Everyday Rebellion, a "cross-media documentary about creative forms of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience worldwide."

Among the figures and movement profiled in the film, we see scenes from the occupation of Zucotti park in New York City, where after the police prohibited bullhorns or megaphones, protestors used the people's mike--that strategy where the speaker says something and then it's repeated by the crowd, so everyone can hear it.  We see the Spanish Indignados resisting the eviction of one man who has gotten behind on mortgage payments on his apartment.  We see some protests by the feminist group FEMEN, and follow one of its members into exile from her native Ukraine.  We  follow activists working secretly -- Iranian activists creating graffiti, or expressing their solidarity by flicking lights on and off;  there's a Syrian protestor who writes political messages on ping pong balls and releases them down a sidewalk staircase.  We see the testimony of Iranian former political prisoners and survivors of the 1980s there, speaking to a tribunal in the Hague.  We hear from political clowns like Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping and the Yes Men, Andy Bickelbaum and Mike Bonano.  We also hear from academic and practical experts on nonviolent tactics - like Srdja Popovic who worked with the movement that brought down Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia; Erica Chenoweth, who teaches at the University of Denver and at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo; and Lisa Fithian, who has taught workshops here in Portland as well as around the US.

The film is directed by the Iranian-Austrian Riahi brothers, who comment in the directors' statement that "As we ourselves  had to leave an oppressed country, Iran, we think that we  are the right team to bring this film to life, to support and  inspire the suppressed people in authoritarian systems."

We find the film lacking in a strong analysis of power and short on  strategy and long-term vision, or what Frances Fox Piven has called disruptive power, but useful on tactics and for inspiration.

The website, with useful resources, is

Additional useful resources for action:

Beautiful Trouble

Beautiful Solutions

The Yes Men (who recently appeared on Positively Revolting Talk Radio) offer

Waging Nonviolence

Lisa Fithian is involved with

This book: Imagine Living in a Socialist USA

Hyung Nam's tumblr is

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rethinking the school-to-military pipeline

A version of this is part of the Old Mole Variety Hour  for 25 May 2015

Today is Memorial Day, so we're talking about memory, and the military, as well as about education and labor. All of those institutions arose in their modern disciplinary forms in the 18th century, along with the rise of capitalism. The process of disciplining bodies through the school, the army, the factory, were all parts of the process of extracting maximum surplus value from the populace. But what begins as a series of closed systems has now become an assemblage of techniques of control that interpenetrate and overlap. Take, for instance, education and the military.

Our current education budget is only about two percent of the federal budget, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, about a tenth of what we spend on the military. And of course that education money often goes to testing rather than repairs. Because if we spent money getting students out of poverty, what would happen to the poverty draft?

Last year, Sylvia McGauley, who teaches at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, published an essay in Rethinking Schools magazine titled "The Military Invasion of My High School: The role of JROTC." The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires all schools receiving federal funds to allow military recruiters on campus. Reynolds School District, "a high-poverty, culturally diverse district with two of the poorest elementary schools in the state" of Oregon, is "perfect prey for military recruiters who win points for filling the coffers of the poverty draft."

McGauley describes how many of her students are "enamored with the military’s alluring promises of a magic carpet ride away from poverty and uncertainty." And many people think, “Well, the military is a good option—or perhaps the only option—for many kids.” But McGauley points out that "The potent presence of the military at Reynolds High School shines a floodlight on educational inequity. One sees college recruiters walking the halls of affluent Lincoln High School near downtown Portland. At Reynolds High, college recruiters are few and far between, but military recruiters, Junior ROTC commanders, and ... Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery testers clamor to establish daily contact with potential recruits."

The National Defense Act of 1916 established JROTC to increase the U.S. Army’s readiness in the face of World War I. The ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964 directed the secretaries of each military branch to establish and maintain JROTC units for their respective branches. In the 1990s, the programs began expanding rapidly throughout the country. Today, there are approximately 3,500 Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard JROTC units in schools in the United States and its territories. [In 2013,] Congress instructed the secretary of defense to expand further and to report on “efforts to increase distribution of units in educationally and economically deprived areas.”

As McGauley points out, "JROTC is not about education. But by housing recruiters and JROTC in public schools and offering them carte blanche privileges, [schools] provide them a cloak of legitimacy. Militarism was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “giant triplets” of societal destruction (along with racism and extreme materialism), yet today it appears as a legitimate component of the educational system—most often at underfunded schools."

At Reynolds, JROTC "is an actual school within a school, one that offers four levels of classes for which students earn full credits. It meets state requirements for career training," can substitute for other physical education classes, offers credit for writing and study skills classes, and is hoping to expand its array of credit offerings.

"JROTC instructors are not certified in the same way as other school district teachers. In some states they are not required to have more than a GED . . . Generally, the military decides who is qualified to be a JROTC instructor and then presents them to the school district for hiring.....There is no required teacher training...."

At Reynolds, "student loads for most non-JROTC teachers hover between 180 and 220 students (more than twice the load of the JROTC instructors)" who have student loads of 70 to 90.

"In general, the federal subsidy covers less than half the total salaries and none of the employment taxes or benefits for JROTC instructors. Schools wind up using extra money from their budgets to, in effect, subsidize a high school military training/recruiting program for the Pentagon."

And what do they teach in these courses? As you might imagine, it's not good. McGauley provides several examples, as does the organization Code Pink on their web page devoted to Military recruiting, where you can also download a copy of some of the materials the JROTC use in schools.

As McGauley points out, "The sole mission of the U.S. military is to prepare for and fight wars. JROTC in middle and high schools, ROTC in colleges, the [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery] ASVAB test, military partnerships with schools, research and development programs—all are designed as tools for fulfilling this goal." As In These Times recently reported, there are even programs in some middle schools.

And as McGauley notes,

Military recruiters and JROTC personnel are notorious for not disclosing the whole truth and for making seductive promises—verbally and in writing—that can be broken at any time. ... JROTC is a component of the U.S. military apparatus, what King called the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”—and nothing about the current world situation would encourage him to modify that statement.

Reynolds High School has embraced school-based initiatives, including a commitment to restorative justice and peer mediation, that teach and encourage students to resolve conflicts nonviolently. JROTC’s militarism runs counter to these programs. Schools across the country are employing a variety of methods to curb bullying and violent incidents, create safe learning environments, and teach peaceful means of conflict resolution. JROTC’s introduction of weapons training, its partnership with the NRA to sponsor marksmanship matches, and its modeling of authoritarian militaristic solutions to problems contradict the schools’ stated opposition to violence.

Critics have been successful in getting JROTC to discontinue the use of live weapons in schools on a national level, but units continue to use air rifles for target practice at [Reynolds High School] and numerous other schools. Organizing makes a difference. In San Diego, for example, the Education Not Arms Coalition, made up of students, teachers, parents, and community groups, successfully removed target practice with air rifles from San Diego JROTC programs....

McGauley's article is followed by a note,

In June, after this article had been accepted for publication, an avid (and apparently mentally unstable) JROTC student at Reynolds High School armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol, a knife, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He fatally shot one student and injured a teacher before police cornered him and he took his own life. This tragedy highlights the importance of closing down programs that feed violent tendencies in vulnerable students and contradict school-based efforts to teach nonviolent conflict resolution.

For more information on resisting the militarization of schools, you can check out these resources:

The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY)

War Resisters League

The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities

Countering the Militarization of Youth

[image above from the war resisters league pamphlet]

update 6/23/15  via Sylvia McGauley:
Sadly, little seems to have changed at Reynolds High since the shooting -- except that we had more police on campus during the last couple weeks of school this year.  I did confirm that JROTC students continue to do air rifle practice and a club continues to participate in national shooting competitions, winning high honors.  The air rifle range is -- unofficially-- located in the JROTC classroom. According to a student, the commanders  lock the door and cover the window when students are firing.