School Me: America’s War On and For Education Pt. 2

Back again for more huh!

Okay so this is part two of last week’s post when we started talking about our education system and about the challenges our kids face with homework and standardized testing. I also talked about technology and outdated methods, and even religion got an (dis)honorable mention in there. No one was safe from it, parents, teachers, politicians… since we are all part of the pie, we all got a slice of it.

Today I’ll talk about the challenges college students face (provided they made it all the way to college) in the classroom, but mainly outside of it. On this post the blame will be almost completely shifted to our policy-makers, corporations, and the universities and colleges themselves so I will not go in-depth about fraternities or the “college experience”, but rather focus more on the financial aspect of higher education and the ripple effect they cause. But, while distancing myself from too much math, I’ll mainly be talking about student debt and we’ll analyze a risk-versus-reward type situation. So if you’re one of these people suffering from studentdebtitis (don’t try to pronounce that), then you will read some facts here that perhaps you didn’t know. Hopefully I can help in some way or another.

Let’s get into it!

 

All In the Numbers

 

Assuming you passed all that required testing we talked about before- SATs, college admission tests, etc.- college is a new and exciting time that is about to begin! No more lectures about being late to class, no more bullshit about cleaning your room, in fact, if you choose to live in a dorm, no more parents for a while. Man is life great! Well for you. For your parents it’s a different story.

For those putting themselves or their kids through college, it’s important to know where they are in terms of payment if they stand a chance. Forget for a second the very confusing college-application lingo, first you have to know if you can even afford it. The pressure of not knowing whether it will be possible to send your kids to college (or put yourself through college) is only part of a reality we live in today’s America where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a good job, and even harder without a college education, an education that while beautiful and necessary is not free.

So with that in mind, let’s check out some important numbers and see how it all ties in with this higher education I talk about.

College Tuition- Since the 1970s, college tuition has been increasing steadily over the years to an unimaginable 1120% (yikes!), and even without inflation we are paying more for higher education now than we have in the past 40 years, or ever actually.

Student debt- American students have an outstanding $1.2 trillion dollars (that’s 1,200,000,000,000) in student loan debt which is significantly more than American credit-card debt which stands at a little under $700 billion. To put it into context, our national GDP is $17 trillion, which means that student debt is roughly 7% of that. Insane!

Number of Americans with college debt- 40 million. For comparison that is roughly the entire population of Argentina.

Average debt per student- Today college graduates are entering the job market with an average of $26,000 in debt.

Interest rate for college loans It floats between 3% and 6% depending on the type of loan you get.

National median income- As of February of this year the median income was roughly $41,000.

Now comes the hard part trying to make sense of it all.

We all pretty much know the ritual. Students go to college, they get jobs, get married, have kids, and they pay for kids’ college. Well, that’s not happening so much anymore. Less parents are now paying for their kids’ education, which means that now more than ever American students are financing their own educations. This is just a side-effect to the increasing college tuition. But it is also due to other causes one of which is the disparity between what parents make and what college tuition amounts to.

According to a report by the Washington Post from March, adjusted for inflation take-home pay only increased by a measly 0.1% in 2014 for middle-class people, and although the unemployment rate is at a little under 6%- the lowest it’s been since the middle of 2008- and 2.6% for college graduates, job outsourcing to other countries has left the middle-class worker with little or no leverage to negotiate higher wages. This leaves college students in a bind. They can either choose to pay for college themselves, take out a bank loan, try their luck with financial aid, or, if they’re not agile enough to get a scholarship, opt out of college altogether. But wait there’s more bad news.

As of last year, interest rates rose again for college students, mind you it’s not an outrageous amount, but it’s not a negligible amount either. I’m sure that there are a thousand fiscal details to work out that have endless ramifications, but the fact of the matter is that middle-class parents cannot afford inflating college costs, especially when interest rates on college loans usually float around between 3% and 6%. And I’m not even including bank loans, credit cards, or any other alternative means of paying for college, simply what the federal government loans out.

Now this is where you might get a little pissed off, the Federal Discount Rate, which is the interest rate at which the Fed loans money out to banks is .75%. True, this is only for very short-term loans, but even regular loans to huge multi-billion dollar banks are disproportionate to what the regular American student borrows. In other words if the regular American student were a corporate bank (with the current interest rate on college loans), it would’ve either dissolved a long time ago, collapsing under its own debt, or it would’ve gone overseas for a better deal. The reason for that is that a bank would never agree to such high borrowing rate as American students now graduate with. The fact is that the interest rate for students is disproportionate to what they and their parents make, and still a heck of a lot more than what the government loans out to banks. And while the whole comparison between students and banks is an apples-and-oranges scenario, it’s actually more of a gala-apples-and-golden-apples situation.

So it seems that pay-raise is not proportionate to the inflating college bubble, so just as we feared, there is no sustainability between what middle-class people make and the college debt accrued by those same people. And if I told you what investor and shareholder pay, corporate assets, and golden parachutes is, you might just go into a passive-aggressive fit of rage and throw your puppy out the window.

Ironically, for a lot of these students- younger and older- the problem is not acquiring the money they need to start their careers (although that is a problem too), rather the problem is actually getting it. And in a cruel twist of fate what many of these students end up in a “beware what you wish for” situation as soon as the first loan clears. And since a college loan is the only financial instrument that allows you to borrow more and more while your interest balloons up, it makes it a very dangerous tool to resort to.

Obviously the details are varied and extensive but this is pretty much a summary of what’s going on.But that’s still leaves us wondering why college tuition keeps going up despite a slow economic growth.

This is a difficult question to answer since it depends on more than one factor including: rising costs for room and board, slower graduation rates [1], budgetary limitations (whatever that means), skyrocketing costs for research institutions (which actually makes sense), government subsidies for grants and loans, and even the rate at which universities recruit can have an impact on these rising costs. There’s no way I can list all the reasons and the figures for each point, but this comprehensive article by the Washington Post from 2013 lists more exact figures for why tuition has been increasing, especially in smaller colleges and universities around the country.

What this all means is that it costs the state and the students more money and energy to pay tuition and to pay off that debt than to actually use the skills they went to school for in the first place. It’s a psychologically discouraging thing to graduate from college with upwards of $50,000 in debt without being ever comfortable in a job that you love, only to work in a job that you need. That is a debt that most likely will take someone the rest of their lives to pay. The true American dream is to accrue an insurmountable amount of debt after you start working, not before.

Some students and alumni are worse off and some are better off, but the harsh reality is that for of those who do owe, most of their financial decisions for the next few years to come (hopefully just a few) will be based around that debt.

 

Where Does It Go?

 

So where does the money go? Let me ask a simpler question, do you sit back with a beer and relax to watch college chemistry competitions; or college advanced math lectures? Unless you’re Ross from Friends, then I’m guessing the answer is no. College football, that’s the thing you watch.

Turns out that in some universities- those whose intercollegiate athletics programs are not self-supporting- a large chunk of what students pay goes to athletics programs that many of those students will never even attend. This also includes the salary for coaches and their assistants which is an obsene amount of money (in the millions) compared to what a regular college professor makes- less than 200K for the most experienced, much less for the majority. According to research by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, not only is the cost for these athletic programs increasing- which of course has an impact in rising tuition costs- but also almost 20% of Ohio University students wish there was less funding for these programs.[2] I can’t speak for any other colleges, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to assume what other sutdents around the country think about their own athletics programs.

In no way am I suggesting that we scrap athletics programs, but it seems that colleges are more known for how well their football teams and their glorified players performed than for how academically competent they are. Now it would make a big difference if the money the games brought in were evenly distributed across the board (meaning to cover other university costs other than the athletic departments) or even to compensate the players OR their families, but I am pretty sure that’s not the way it is.

Fortunately, most of the money a university receives from tuition, grants, government and private entities, and other sources, is efficiently utilized to pay mainly for instruction and research, and also for other services that the university provides. And a big part of that money goes towards financial aid which is mainly aimed at working-class students in an effort to get them in school.

But the less that states spend on college-level education, the more that public and private universities will need to make up the shortfall by increasing tuition and making cuts in how much it is spent per student. It’s simple economics and as much as I hate to admit it, colleges and universities are a business (even if educaiton isn’t), and as such it also governed by the same laws of economics as any other business.

 

Noble vs. Practical

 

Today everyone and their grandmothers know that going to college is part of an evolving society and by-and-large a great asset to possess if you want to make it in the real world comfortably. While in college you’ll form a relationship with blah, blah, blah.

The truth is that while there are many reasons why people go to college, they all boil down to two main ones: the noble, either because they find some discipline or art truly intriguing and they want to learn everything about it; or the practical, because they want to make money. These two people are not too different from one another, because they both know that whatever the reason, whatever the motivation, having an accredited higher education stamped on a diploma opens a lot of doors in the real world that are becoming increasingly hard to open without it.

This is a mantra that has been drilled for generations into the minds of children. Not a bad one to have drilled actually, but we’ll get to that. The point is that when people finally realize that everything we have now, from the laptop sitting on their desks to the crowns on their teeth, are the product of an incredible amount of study, perhaps a college education is not a bad thing to back you up.

But this constant reminder, like an alarm clock going off at all hours of the day, that they need to go to college right after high school, that they need to graduate and that they need to start making money right away becomes a tedious affair, one that undoubtedly bores some people. They get it from every angle, their parents, their teachers, their employers, even from banks themselves. Again, not a bad piece of wisdom to be given, but for what purpose?d

The message is clear: make money before you die!

It might sound a bit cynical to say something like that, but it’s a truth crudely reflected in numbers. In a survey taken in 2012 by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) in collaboration with UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, found that 87.9% of first year college students go to college to “get a better job.” [3] This pretty much translates to “because I want more money.”

That answer comes to no surprise to anyone since we are still recovering from a very nasty recession and the housing-bubble burst. And even though that survey was taken three years ago, an article by the Washington Post included data from a more recent survey by the same collaboration that echoes the data from 2012. So basically, yes, most people go to college to make money. Can you blame them?

From the 2014 survey, the second most important reason why people go to college is “to learn things that interest me” at 82.2% as opposed to 86.1% for “…a better job.”

What does this mean for college students?

In the first part of this blog-post I mentioned that schools should do away with unnecessary subjects or at least increase school-time in subjects that will be productive and necessary, like technology and the sciences. But I also mentioned that it is our responsibility to make them think and wonder, and not merely become slaves to themselves.

In this second part, it may seem as if I’m changing my views, but I’m not. The point is quite pragmatic in itself: those skills acquired in more elementary education is partly to prepare them for the college life and/or a life that is more technologically centered. I’m not suggesting we get rid of the sciences, or art, or sports, but rather that while elementary education is important in awakening the mind, college education is supposed to refine it, shape it, and prepare it to send it out productively into the world. It’s not really a change of mind, merely just an evolution of ideas.

There’ no doubt in my mind that there are lawyers who simply love law, or doctors who are passionate about human anatomy, or architects who are drawn to numbers and design, otherwise how could they live with themselves for all their lives doing something they hate just to make money? However there are those who view college as a business decision rather than an intellectual one. Which brings me to my next point.

You know how most children when asked what they want to be when they grow up choose the most selfless, most noble careers, e.g. firefighters, cops, doctors; but when they do grow up the smartest ones end up being stockbrokers and politicians? Well there’s a reason why that happens.

Every single day we read in the news words like “golden parachute”, “billion-dollar deals,” “Fortune 500 company,” and if you’re like me, you think to yourself, “man, I’m in the wrong business.”

The fact is that the rest of the arts and sciences are being out-competed by the money and the behavior that making money is more important than anything else is being reinforced in practically every aspect of American life. Fortunately, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) sciences are on the rise, but we need to build more of that momentum and reward those who make our lives easier (scientists) instead of those who merely make life easier for themselves. That’s where college culture comes into play.

Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson said it best when he remarked:

 

I’m not here to convince you that money doesn’t get you happiness, believe me it does. However, I’m here to tell you that there’s no need to sacrifice something that you really like for something that makes you money. So in choosing a career, it is better to choose something that satisfies your curiosity, and a career that you’re drawn to (or a variation of it that will get you a bit more money), rather than something you hate that will leave you more money.

Case in point, when I was younger my grandfather knew the benefits of going to college and he urged me to choose a career in medicine or law. I have nothing against doctors or lawyers, but I immediately hated the idea of becoming either one, and I knew that if I ever succeeded at it, it would not only be half-assed, but I would be risking more than my own life in the process. I am now 27 and I finally have an idea of what I want to do with my life, and not one second goes by that I regret that decision. I am perfectly happy with who I am and what I do, and I know that I would have been miserable otherwise.

Life is about happiness, your happiness. Not anyone else’s. And it’s not a race, nobody wins at life, in fact the only way to win is to be the happiest that you can be without hurting anyone else or the world around you.

The issue with student debt has been an efficient political tool for both parties in “the Hill” for quite some time now, and a hot-button issue in Main Street; many even point out that student debt not only affects things here at home, but abroad as well. In this competitive world where countries like Russia, India, and China are fast risers in the global economic food-chain, it is more important than ever for America to invest in the best resource and asset it has to outcompete these nations and become once again a leading nation in education, technology, etc: an army of high-skilled and educated people. But is it possible- or have we lagged too far behind?

Today we discuss the education business in America and the next generation waiting to take the torch.

 

A Solution?

 

Often we read cases about graduates living frugally or doing economically-savvy things to pay off their loan so, and we rejoice when we hear one or two people did extraordinary things and got rid of their debt in a few short years. Honestly, yay for those people. But personally, I find it depressing that we have come to glorify the exceptions to the rule, as if it were a heroic thing to live on instant soup so for years on end just to not live with that debt until the day they die. That’s not how the American dream was sold to our generation. Debt wasn’t supposed to happen until later on in life.

The issue that we have is that with college debt, it’s not only the students and parents are paying the bill, but also you, the taxpayer. And it’s an expensive bill.

President Obama’s loan forgiveness program which he passed in 2013 aims at giving college graduates the opportunity to pay only 10% of what they earn towards their premiums for a period of 10 years, after which time their college debt will have been forgiven. But what happens to the rest of that money? Put simply, we pay for it, college graduate or not, we’re all paying for all 1.3 trillion dollars of student debt. As Jeffrey Dorfman of Forbes appropriately writes in this article, “If government wants to subsidize college education it could simply directly subsidize it rather than making loans that are designed to be forgiven.”

He’s completely right. Why do we keep beating around the bush when it comes to college tuition and loans that hurt financially not just the students and their parents, but also universities, financial institutions, and ultimately the government by loaning money we don’t have to people we know will have a hard time paying? A direct subsidy will save us billions in the long run.

But President Obama has his eye on two fronts, this one and also in his plan to make all two-year community colleges completely free to all students who wish to go- rich and poor. The move is not exactly a novel idea as it has already been implemented in Chicago and Tennessee for high school graduates. But his plan, formulated to cover all students regardless of previous education, is intended to be available across the nation.

By making it possible for students to go to college for free, at least for the first two years, the government would be giving those students a break to save up for their continuing education or to make it easier for them to obtain one, once already in college, basically providing a foothold.

But the program intends to do much more than that. By making it easier for all students to start college, its intent rests also in more socioeconomic integration by raising the number of minorities, and economically disadvantaged students and mixing them with students of higher means. The psychology behind it is very promising as it will undoubtedly boost campus and individual morale, something which can have a good effect in the future of those communities.

But what does that matter?

According to a report by Christina Ciocca and Thomas A. DiPrette of Columbia University- using various statistics and surveys- they found that minorities and economically disadvantaged students are at a higher risk of dropping out of public universities and two-year colleges than white students and middle-class students by several percentage points. Following is an excerpt of their findings:

“The National Center for Education Statistics (Snyder and Dillow 2012: Table 379) reports that while 63 percent of white first-time beginners in four-year institutions receive bachelor’s degrees six years after college entry, only 41 percent of Black students achieve the same. Gaps also exist at the two-year level, with 17 percent of white students and 11 percent of Black students receiving associate’s degrees, and 13 and 5 percent of each group transferring to four-year schools and achieving a bachelor’s degree, respectively.” [4]

The report (which I recommend you read) is very interesting and lists possible reasons as to why that happens not just for black students for also for other minorities.

So it makes sense that anything that can be done to help those drop-out rates, should be in place already. This idea (modeled after a Republican plan) has already been met with skepticism from liberals and conservatives alike, both demanding to know just how exactly are we going to pay for the $60 billion that it will cost over a decade. But fret not, my friends, there’s already a plan in motion for that as well. The government will pay for three quarters of the cost while the states chip in with the rest, obviously the tax-payer will get some of that bill.

But why the hell should we get to pay for college even if we’re not attending? Well, why pay taxes at all unless it’s for my own benefit? That’s basically what you’re saying. And since we’re on that question, why don’t you ask the same about elementary and secondary education, it is basically the same argument.

There is something fundamentally flawed about the education system in America. In my personal opinion, it has been commercialized and treated too much like a business rather than a necessity. Obviously we cannot dismiss certain businesslike aspects of it, especially when it comes to big research universities that depend on grants and also tuition money to continue important research. But if we’re admitting things, then we also have to admit that at its most basic level, higher education in the U.S. is becoming much too expensive to afford, and almost not worth the job that most students will get upon graduating- if they’re lucky enough to get one.

And although admirable, even Ivy League schools like Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale- which provide free education for students and families making less than a certain amount ($125K/yr, $120k/yr, $65k/yr, and $65-$150k/yr respectively) [5]– are the exception, not the rule.

Which brings me to my next question. What, if anything, could take from our European neighbors?

 

Brain-Drain

 

You might have heard that in other industrialized nations, higher education is incredibly more accessible than in the U.S. and in many cases entirely subsidized by the government- I use “subsidized” to not use free, because as it happens, there really isn’t such a thing as a free lunch. These are the countries we’ll use as a model of what an outdated system should turn into and I will try- in my limited knowledge- to explain how they do it (although it’s obvious enough).

Nordic countries, as well as some historically socialist Western European nations, have taken up the noble course of lowering college tuition to- wait for it- NOTHING. I can already feel the seething anger at the mention of “socialist”. But if you can get over it for a second, I will have you know that the word “socialist” here is not strictly implying a socialist political system- at least not in the way that those European nations conduct business. What I mean by socialist rather is the implementation of social programs for the benefit of a society modeled after a socialist framework. This means that the government controls these programs and not private entities.

If you, as a red-white-and-blue blooded American, staunch opponent of Big Brother politics and faithful defender of all things free, believe that America hasn’t been touched by the evil wand of socialism (the political system now) then I’m sorry to tell you that you have not only been fooled, but you have been the recipient of this socialism.

Long story short, these socialist programs created and enforced by the government have in fact made America a better country for it. Among these that have benefited all citizens of this great nation are: emergency services, postal service, transportation, the military, some forms of health care, even ones that you wouldn’t expect like sewer systems and trash collection. And education. All of these programs and many more have been introduced to the American public administration after administration, sometimes with opposition. Can you imagine any of these in the hands of private companies? It’d be disaster. Even without the hand of privately owned enterprise, education in the United States is costing trillions of dollars and not getting much better. Surely some European countries are doing something right if they beat us in: record numbers of college graduates, higher test scores, more productivity, etc.

So where in the world is college education cheaper than in the U.S.? Trick question: everywhere!

Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, and France are among very few European countries that offer free or low-tuition college education, all in their respective populations’ dime. For the first three countries mentioned, foreign students are also welcome to enjoy the same educational benefits as their own citizens- higher education free of charge! In the case of Sweden that law has been rescinded to ban foreign students to study there completely tuition-free; but nevertheless the country has allowed many organizations to help cover the tuition of non-EU students, or other students who wish to study there, which still makes higher education in Sweden an inexpensive option.

But what about the rest of the world?

While many universities around the globe might not offer cheap or free tuition to foreign students, they do still offer those same privileges (incentives rather) to their own students. Some of the countries with the cheapest college education include: Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Brazil.

While these are just some of the countries with low-cost college education, they are by no means the only ones. This site has an interesting composite of information about the aforementioned nations on college costs, as well as other ones around the globe that also offer low-cost higher education. It’s important to note that for some of these countries (as in the case of my native Mexico) low-cost education is only available for state universities and colleges, while private universities will be more expensive.

But where do we rank in terms of higher education in comparison to other countries?

Well, we’re drawing from a different bag there.

According to this independent research judged by top academics from all over the planet, eight of the top ten universities in the world are in the U.S. of A. In fact, the website offers information on the rankings of more than 300 academic institutions and more in-depth information about them.

So being that American universities hold the top positions for education among the most respected in the world, why is it so difficult for Americans to obtain a college education… in America?

While this question is significant, I believe the better question to ask is: why do some of these other countries allow others to come and study- sometimes for free- only to leave, taking the skills they obtained to another country?

Perhaps they believe in the real value of higher education, or maybe they understand that not everyone can afford to go to college. Maybe it just makes good economic sense to allow students to take advantage of a good thing and offer them the opportunity to stay in their country and exploit those newly acquired skills there. It’s not only ethical, it’s practical. Not to mention that making education free makes good political sense.

Let’s form a comparison. In Germany, the state pays for college education for everyone who wants it, even for foreign students. Parents and students do not need to worry about tuition debts and high interest rates that will slow down their education and therefore increase drop-out rates. The snowball effect of leaving college in the middle of a degree is detrimental in large numbers. Therefore, by using pure mathematical logic, we can see that the cost of sending a whole generation of students to acquire high-level skills is minimal compared to the debt accrued if they don’t pay. The latter is essentially betting on the failure of students. And a debt that governments and financial institutions will be forever trying to collect.

On the other hand, if the education budget can be restructured properly, the gain from creating generations of high-skilled workers is nothing compared to the subsidizing of education in large scales.

We could bring up monopolistic sentiments about why the American education system is fairly inadequate in comparison to the mysticism that the United States has in the world: a powerful country unrivaled in mostly everything. But the simplest answer is usually the right one- our politicians simply prioritize other things over education.

 

Alternative Education

 

In this day and age there are still plenty of people- even here in America- who still don’t have access to education in their own countries and communities. For that reason, charitable organizations and public and private universities, who believe in the power of education have decided to get together and collaborate on massive projects that aim to change just that.

MOOCs- or Massive Open Online Courses- are exactly that, online courses available to anyone with a computer and internet connection in virtually any part of the world, and completely free or of very low cost to those who wish to take them.  These courses, or rather crash-courses, vary in length and can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and some can even last for months at a time, like a regular college class would. They are taught in many languages and you can find just about any subject you want, anything from cooking, to advanced trig, to film critique, to computer programming. Not only are these courses taught by accredited professors from some of the best universities in the world, but they also follow the rigorous online-college course model.

Most universities though do not certify credits accrued from MOOCs however, although there are some that do. But at least those interested in learning something new or in using MOOC services as aid to their actual schoolwork can have the opportunity to do so free and with virtually no restrictions.

MOOCs and other alternative forms of education are a great way to get started on a path for higher education. I, myself, have taken several MOOC courses and am a very big fan of them and I recommend them. So if you’re interested, here‘s a list of several MOOC providers that are for-profit and non-profit. Honestly, I have only used Coursera, but I can tell you that all the courses I’ve ever taken have been free. So feel free to sign up for something interesting to get your mind tickling.

 

Graduation

 

To conclude this, let me tell you that although I believe in the immense power of education, college is not for everyone. Don’t mistake that for “education is not for everyone”, because that would ring false and counter to my beliefs, not to mention detrimental to our society. But employers, teachers, parents, and most of all you, need to understand that true education, true knowledge can only be the product of true curiosity, unhindered by rules and social norms, by restrictions and roadblocks. Forced desire to learn will always yield negative, or at least lukewarm, results. We have to encourage our kids and ourselves to learn, but we also have to provide them with the means to do so.

In the first part of this blog I wrote that America is waging a war against our youth, against education. Let me tell you that it is a false war, an illusion of sorts. Because education transcends all barriers and ideologies, it is one of the few non-partisan issues that we can all make better. But only if we really want to. It is of no consequence what political party you belong to, or nationality, or religion (or lack thereof), or socioeconomic bracket you’re part of- I think we can all appreciate the huge benefits that a well-educated, well-informed generation can bring. And we can make it happen if we work together to make it so.

 

“There are many problems, but I think there is a solution to all these problems; it’s just one, and it’s education.” -Malala Yousafzai

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” -Benjamin Franklin

“He who opens a school door closes a prison.” -Victor Hugo

“The highest result of education is tolerance.” -Helen Keller

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Citations

[1] http://www.bankrate.com/finance/college-finance/6-reasons-college-costs-are-soaring-3.aspx

[2] http://www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/Funding_the_Arms_Race.pdf

[3] http://heri.ucla.edu/briefs/TheAmericanFreshman2012-Brief.pdf

[4] http://paa2015.princeton.edu/uploads/152299

[5] http://thinkprogress.org/education/2015/04/02/3642085/stanford-free-tuition/

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Interesting Reads

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/07/college-tuition-is-getting-more-expensive-heres-whos-actually-to-blame/

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/corinthian-college-graduates-protest-student-loans-175051741.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2014/09/04/fed-data-show-college-isnt-a-good-investment-for-all/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-13/college-tuition-in-the-u-s-again-rises-faster-than-inflation

http://college.usatoday.com/2014/08/26/how-much-student-loan-debt-is-too-much-2/

http://useconomy.about.com/od/monetarypolicy/a/fed_funds_rate.htm

http://www.forbes.com/sites/keithweiner/2014/12/22/can-the-fed-raise-interest-rates-2/2/

http://consumerist.com/2015/03/19/legislators-once-again-introduce-bill-that-would-allow-student-loan-refinancing/

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2015/03/25/take-4-steps-to-understand-student-loan-interest-rates

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-salaries-dont-rise/2015/03/11/38c08cea-c81d-11e4-b2a1-bed1aaea2816_story.html

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-12/world-ranking

Government Expenditures

https://www.usaspending.gov/Pages/default.aspx

http://demonocracy.info/infographics/usa/us_deficit/us_deficit.html

https://www.usaspending.gov/Pages/default.aspx

Pew Data

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/10/07/the-changing-profile-of-student-borrowers/st-2014-10-07-student-debtors-03/

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Religio Ad Verbum: How Literal Interpretations of Holy Books are Destroying Our World, Pt. 2

Churches and religions pride themselves in having compiled in volumes all the rules by which humanity is supposed to live by and what our roles in society should be. However, what little morality can be found in the Quran can also be found in the cheapest crime novel you can find at your local gas station. The rest of it can be derived simply from common sense and from the connection people form with their fellow human beings. Unless a serious mental illness is preventing someone from acting rationally, there is no way to miss simple moral acts that enrich human experience, i.e. being kind to others, helping those in need, minding others’ fears and feelings, etc. Why? Because we can relate to all these things solely by our own experience of being alive.

Unfortunately, there are those who don’t see it this way and for them, their own interpretation of things is the only interpretation. Belief, based on these interpretations, becomes a dangerous tool to wield. Ideas can be molded into anything, and detrimentally to everyone, in the minds of those whom religion already provides a preemptive answer to everything, interpretation is not born out of logic of differentiating patterns, but rather it is the mental equivalent of muscle memory, a learned behavior with only one intended consequence- hegemony.

In religion, mainly the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, when a bad idea is sanctioned by the text from which it comes from, it is standard procedure not to question it or its origin, but rather accept it and love it as having providence in the mysteriousness of a deity almost as obscure and unknown as the people who claim to have been the messengers of it. When does it become inconvenient for us to question it or outright reject it? How far must things go before we realize that the things we are made to believe really cause pain to people? Certainly not far enough if people truly believe in this day and age that the actions of Abraham were appropriate and warranted simply because it was god’s word. How far can we go if people will be made to believe that subservience is the way to heaven? After all, not more than half a century ago people still believed that the separation between races was divinely mandated. This is an example of how diluted our common sense can become when we are made to believe things that many generations before us could not concretely explain. Must we destroy the entire world before we start to question things?

Christianity has “evolved” over thousands of years from a small insignificant rebellion to the leading form of organized “consciousness” (for lack of a better word in this context) that humanity has ever participated in. It is essentially the most deadly self-imposed psychological experiment that in one way or another has changed the world, sometimes for the worse. In its infancy Christianity was harmless, just another cult, but as its numbers inflated violently for the very first centuries, Christians were known as terrorists, rebels, and racially inferior beings (sound familiar?). They were despised, persecuted, tortured and executed. It should be funny to note that during those first centuries, the desperation of pagans seeing their gods being replaced by a foreign one must have been quite a culture shock.

Following the Constantine decree that Christianity was to become the official religion of the Roman Empire, the cult then sought to infect nations and radicalize them either by “the word” or by the sword. Early Christians experienced a sort of either-you’re-with-us-or-against-us attitude and committed atrocities in the name of unreason. Of course I can’t say this is exclusive to Christians, for earlier religions much did the same, imposing their own mythologies onto other groups of people. This new mythical thing of incredible proportions became faith. Faith then turned out to be the invisible lighthouse in the shores of reason, a place where all sailors wanted to be drawn to but that clad in obscurity it took an enormous amount of effort to find. Not surprisingly, over the centuries many ships have capsized in this place.

Star and crescent icon

Much in the same way that Christianity spread its message by blood, and occasionally by peace, Islam and radicalized Muslims do the same today. Historically speaking, the spread of Islamism was much quicker and much more brutal than Christianity ever was, at least in the first centuries of its creation. Compared within the same time period, no doubt Islam would have been far more effective at indoctrinating the masses. But that is only possible admitting that Islam was born out of the sword of an illiterate warlord who sought to conquer over his oppressors come what may.

The thought that Islam under the caliphates was at one point the better of all evils, and that it advanced mathematical and scientific advancement, is one of the most recycled untruths (not lies) that we tell ourselves during our time. It is no more true than saying that we now have a deep knowledge of the universe because of Christianity. People of science and logic can be found anywhere and everywhere, it only takes the right incentive to provoke them to share their curiosity with the world. However, I cannot overlook the fact that indeed thinkers under ancient Islam were not as restricted under the banner as Christians were under Christianity. Sadly, I can’t say that about “modern” Islam. The brutality with which purely Muslim governments enforce Shari’a Law is the same with which Inquisitors enforced the canon of the Catholic church, and as a result what we have is a new inquisition period, the new Dark Ages. What’s so surprising is that heads are still rolling for imaginary crimes in an age when we can peer into the darkest spots of the known universe. Seeing the events unfold, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves and each other, “How can this possibly still be going on?”

Under the current modus operandi of Islamic nations it seems that the Quran is not taken out of context, as some might believe, but something much worse, it is understood by the most literal interpretation it can be given. If at some point we thought it was a hypocritical thing to cherry-pick the Bible to find passages that conveniently suited our moral needs, then I suggest we go back to that and try to convince our Muslim brethren to do the same. At our demise, the phrase “Beware what you wish for” comes to mind. Then again wishing that it wasn’t so is basically the secular equivalent to praying it wasn’t so.

Islam it seems has inherited the proverbial scepter of unreason. But let me clarify before I start receiving hate-mail. It is not Islam that I have a problem with, but rather literal Islam that I hate. Before we begin to convince ourselves of the fairy-tale illusion that there are many moral passages in the Quran to constitute a moral rule-book to follow, let me tell you that often in the same passages of the hadith where a moral passage can be found, an equally immoral one can also be found. The greatest problem we come across it seems is recognizing what is moral?

As if it wasn’t enough to see women clad in black and knowing that they have been genitally mutilated as children (prominent practice in some Muslim countries and also in some Christian ones), it has become the job of some cynics to declare that the people doing this sort of thing are just radicals and misunderstand and twist the word of the Quran and the Bible. What they continually fail to realize is that these “radicals” are not a band of illiterate sheepherders as they sued to be, or warriors as Mohammad himself was, but rather people of broad-reaching influence such as heads of state and religious leaders. It is not the ignorant who dictate policy, it is the learned. The radicals that we mention command armies and lead nations, these are not gangs, these are people who truly believe every word they read down to the last punctuation mark and they use it to maintain a strict control upon their populations. Whether or not this oppression exists solely for the purpose of near-total hegemonic social control, such as in the case of societies like Saudi Arabia, is something that changes from country to country, from tribe to tribe, and even within the same religion (i.e. Shia Muslims vs. Sunni Muslims, Catholics vs. Protestants, etc.) The fear that we have is not with moderate Muslims, although we should be cautious of their beliefs much in the same way that we are cautious of the beliefs of others such as Christians, Jews, and indeed my fellow atheists- our fear should be grounded in the radicalizing of these moderates as ISIL and other warring factions have effectively managed to do by spreading propaganda with the message that to wage holy war against infidels (everyone who is not a Muslim) is glorious. And what’s more, that to die is immensely better than to live. This is a highly dangerous position to take and defend. As philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris has said, “These people love death more than we love life.”

 

And if none of this convinces you of the severity of the problem then perhaps you will be more sympathetic when you realize that ISIS tortures and kills children, and all we can do is impotently watch in our computer and television screens as it happens. Does any reasonable person dare say that this is not the work of Muslims but rather the work of psychopaths misled to think this is the path to heaven?

This oppression that exists, not only of the body but mainly of the mind then becomes like a poison that kills the fertile ground of thought, and lets nothing grow. The most passive verses of the Quran are continually ignored while those which spell out in detail how to punish and control people are followed to the letter, and they work very effectively. If you thought Communism was bad, theocracy is much worse. Children are brought up thinking that this sort of behavior should be tolerated, celebrated, and repeated. In consequence we have generations upon generations and waves upon waves of faith-fighters willing to die as martyrs in defense of their twisted ideals. Teaching kids that infidels are only good for killing, or that the opinion of a woman is only half of that of a man, does not make children moral, it makes them immoral, or if anything it makes them amoral. To push the envelope a little bit further (perhaps not exaggerating), whole generations are being indoctrinated and groomed as reserves for some future holy war that some are praying, and praying hard, that will one day come. How can we hope to win a war against those who willingly walk to their deaths to defend nothing more than the right to die gloriously as we fight to defend life? It seems almost impossible. Within those circles, the interpretation that is given for men to follow has perpetuated an endless war with the perfect breed of warriors willing to die happily.

Much like the Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages, these Muslim theocracies appear to be highly organized even in the face of auto-radicalism. Is there a shred of doubt that they would all wish to see Israel, or the U.S., or the E.U. in ashes rather than form a peaceful world? Of course not. And it seems that money is basically the only thing keeping some of these societies at bay from erupting into war. But how long will this strategy of showering these countries with gold last? When the oil dries up and there is nothing more to sell, what will happen then? If greed fails, what other cards do we have to play?

Even within our nations it seems that the squalling within misinformed liberal groups is giving the enemy the advantage of ideological warfare. While we question what constitutes criticism of religion and indeed freedom of speech, radical Muslims have no problem using social platforms created by Western countries such as Facebook and Twitter to shamelessly (and cowardly) recruit among our own populations. For now it seems their strength lies solely in pushing propaganda, not in their numbers or even in the hope to fight established nation. But for how long? Can we allow this to change? These are questions that must be asked now.

Morality is a tricky thing sometimes. Occasionally it’s difficult to assert correctly what is moral, after all not all moral decisions are good and not all good decisions are moral. But in order to enjoy the benefits of living in a society where its citizens are happy, the freedom to speak one’s mind is paramount to the contribution of that happiness and the cornerstone in building that type of nation. Although I believe that morality is rooted in what we find pleasurable and good without the need to affect others, I also believe that it is corruptible. Some moral things that were considered good and moral before are not any longer and so we have to be able to make that distinction correctly. In that sense, morality has to derive at least in part to the freedom to let your mind be known, for only then can people be aware of other people’s true intentions. And when that right is infringed upon, it creates a domino effect that is very hard to get away from unscathed.

Before the European Enlightenment brought reason back into the minds of people, awakening them from a long slumber, nations had to fight each other for ideological supremacy but also for freedom from oppression which they themselves created. History became a vicious cycle hard to break away from, and men perpetuated this cycle by fueling it with ideas that did not benefit the group en masse, but that only satisfied their own desires. It would be unfair to say that collective reason was completely absent during these times, for even during the Dark Ages there were people who dared to think. If that sounds surprising to read it’s because it is. Yet, from the heap of garbage that myth and unreason originate, sometimes we can find something of great value there.

But while we waste our time looking for these scattered moral passages, ISIL (or ISIS or IS) will have already executed several thousand people, most of them innocent, most of them Muslim, and some of them foreign nationals. ISIS will have also brutally  killed thousands of children and tortured many more people for crimes that should only be judged in an Inquisition court. All of it done in the name of Islam and to defend the honor of a “prophet” long gone. We can go on and on how Islam is a religion of peace, but until we get our hands dirty and dig into these passages ourselves will we know just what exactly is being taken out, or read into, context. And if you are religious, I urge that you do not make comparisons between your religion and Islam, for if taken literally, the Bible is just as violent and damaging as the Quran, and perhaps even more.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at a conference.  photo credit: RA_Sun_286 via photopin (license)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at a conference.
photo credit: RA_Sun_286 via photopin (license)

It is true enough that we must not blame the wrong people for these atrocities, and it is equally true that only those who commit these crimes must be held accountable. I believe we can all understand that no person wants to be blamed for the crimes of another- even if they subscribe to remotely the same beliefs. But what is imperative for us to realize is that these crimes are not perpetuated in defense of reasons that are beyond their control (race, nationality), instead they are the deliberate result of manufactured beliefs that unfortunately are also shared by those whom are affected most by them, innocent people who also read the Quran or the Bible whose innate morality leads them to reject the obvious immoral passages of these books. The most effective way for moderate Muslims to distance themselves from those who use their religion as a scaffold to greater crimes is simply to weed them out. I admit, it is only simple in theory. The responsibility falls on the moderates to reform Islam, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has declared, or to edit the Koran itself to reflect 21st century views. Muslims should not fear for that portion of history to be lost, like the Magna Carta- another very important ancient text, and one of the many documents from which the Constitution is based on- the original Quran will never be lost, but it can be updated.

And it is the job of reasonable people to collectively denounce injustice wherever we see it. We should speak out the truth in defense of reason and common sense and be fearless in our resolute goal of condemning censorship of any kind. Admittedly, there will be times when there is little we can do in the adversity, but when we prove to them and ourselves that we are united in this goal, we can surely make some kind of change, even if it’s in our own communities.

Like Christianity, Islam will eventually be reformed. One should hope that it happens by “the word” and not by “the sword,” as religions have done to spread their message. But that, it seems, for now at least, that is our of our control.

Personal interpretation based on our own understanding of the contents of whatever it is we’re reading sometimes is not much more dangerous than blindly following someone else’s interpretation of it. But it is a good place to start. It’s possible we will never rid the world of unreason, of violence and fear, of injustice. But if we shake the foundations of everything we know- or rather everything we think we know- perhaps we can make this one world we have a better place. To question everything should be a mantra to follow.

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In Memory of the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the victims of radicalism.

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For more information please check out the following interesting links:

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/02/islam-will-not-have-its-own-reformation/

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/fgm_reinfibulation_central_Sudan/en/

http://nation.com.pk/blogs/28-Dec-2014/jack-in-a-box

http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

Religio Ad Verbum: How Literal Interpretations of Holy Books are Destroying Our World, Pt. 1

It’s very possible I might be murdered over this post, after all, freedom of expression- as we have seen in the case of Charlie Hebdo- is not a bullet-proof blanket that can protect everyone from the injustice and evilness of others. It’s a fragile intangible thing that under severe pressure can have the potential to become as dispersed as ash or as hard as diamond. It is the intangible nature of ideas, and to some degree also of afforded freedoms, that they are at the mercy of the wielder to shape them at his pleasure.

Interpretation, or rather misinterpretation, is perhaps one of the most effective killers in human history. From an evolutionary and behavioral point of view, the way we interpret things can have huge advantages, but interpreted wrong it can also have dire consequences for ourselves, for the people close to us and indeed for the world as a whole, and consequence is not something the universe seems to be lacking, in fact just quite the opposite, it thrives on consequence and it moves forward because of it. How we interpret things can either save our lives or drive us to our own dooms. From a psychological standpoint, interpretation is the recognition of patterns to suit a certain framework in our minds; it is the meaning we give things. And of course, emotional need is one of the driving forces behind how we come to interpret something and what context best to use for it.

But due to the fact that interpretation is a personal thing, not bound by anything other than our own understanding of the input we are receiving, it mostly always lacks a solid base and it is for its lack of rigidity and concreteness that ideas prone to a myriad of meanings are certainly doom to fail one way or another.

To better illustrate how interpretation can have a great impact in our world I will use two different historical documents in comparison to one another and then use different comparisons for the same document.

United States Documents

The Constitution of the United States was written nearly 240 years ago. It is one of the best composed communal documents in the history of mankind put together by philosophers, scientists, politicians, businessmen, religious men, rebels. It is nearly flawless in its dictation of the law that covers not just the rights and freedoms of Americans but comprehensible laws that should be extended to every human. It is the first of its kind to make a clear separation between the church and the government, and in its account of the law is fairly straightforward with little room for interpretation. Yet, being a lawyer in the United States and elsewhere, and perhaps especially a Constitutional lawyer, is one of the most lucrative and competitive careers to graduate from today. It is simply so because even though the laws were written in a manner that is concise and easy to understand, they still depend on the best judgment of those who read them. And sometimes even that is not enough.

In the United States there is still pending litigation over what most people would consider trivial matters simply because there wasn’t a broad enough definition of some specific law. Thousands of lawsuits will arise because different interpretations of the law- at times even by lawmakers- were used in different contexts. Perhaps the most famous example would be the interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which dictates that: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The law seems to be straightforward in this regard, and yet an interpretation of the language used has caused more than a fair amount of controversy regarding what exactly the framers had in mind. As explicit and direct as the law is, there is simply no way to know for sure what exactly the different parts of the amendment mean as it applies to today’s society (i.e. “being necessary,” “Security of a free state,” “shall not be infringed”).

Laws such as this last one are substantial throughout the Constitution and the way these laws are interpreted can sometimes lead to what it may seem as different versions of one single document.

Now imagine documents that precede the Constitution that contain language that is no longer used today or historical details that we may find impossible to corroborate. Imagine trying to make sense of documents written by obscure characters from which we know absolutely nothing about and thus have no basis on how to judge them based on their prejudices, unreliable documents such as the Quran or the Bible before it. These books- or rather a collection of books- that have amassed great power and influence over the centuries have, for so long, been given carte blanche over a great many human elements such as how to live, how to behave, what to eat, what to think, how to act towards others, and certainly over the morality that we are supposed to uphold and pass on to future generations, a morality that has been instilled in us and forced upon us from birth. These documents owe their mysticism to fantastical stories retold over several generations from original versions that were doubtless not as fantastical or as mystical- or indeed as interesting- as the versions we know today. It has been the job of of the ghostwriters of history (some of them illiterate as in the case of Mohammad) to add colorful elements to chapters of known history and compile them into volumes, again, long after the culmination of the actual events- if they happened at all. But the documents that we so venerate nowadays seem to have been inscribed metaphorically, or have been given a varied interpretation that is difficult to discern today; or at least one hopes they are, otherwise only a psychopath could believe half of the things that have been written on them.

A good example of this is in the case of the Biblical story of the virgin Mary. As the writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins mentions in his book “The God Delusion”, and from discussions with historical scholars before Dawkins’ time, the word used in the Greek translation of the Bible “almah” literally means “young woman,” not “virgin” as it is usually believed. Provided that this was indeed a clerical mistake, then it seems the “young woman” that gave birth to Jesus was indeed not a virgin but simply a young woman. I don’t need to point out that over thousands of years, people have been mistaken to believe that Jesus was born out of a virgin when in fact it is not so for obvious reasons, not to mention that first-century Christians probably did not even believe that themselves.

Now, that is not such a grave mistake. It is indeed stupid of anyone to think that parthenogenesis could actually happen with human beings, stupid but not of grave consequence. From believing such a thing, it appears the only thing people have sacrificed here is their common sense- or at least one would hope. However, there are passages of much graver importance in the Bible and in the Quran that through a mistranslation, misunderstanding or misinterpretation (from the many they have received) have incited conflict among individuals, groups and countries that at one point of another have had severe consequences for the human race sometimes thrusting whole nations into endless wars.

There is an arrogance here to recognize. This arrogance from blind believers to think they perfectly understand the supposed creator of the universe when most of the time they have a difficult time understanding half of the things their politicians tell them, is not only part of the problem, it is the problem. Blind belief it seems is anything but innocuous, in fact it is more like a grenade without a pin, burning in our hands while we happily go about our lives believing its a water balloon, harmless and even beneficial. At no other point in our lives would we trust blind belief to carry us through any process, why then would we trust it to hold the reigns of the most important part of our lives, morality. One wonders why it was that this obviously bipolar, and apparently misanthropic, creator chose such confusing language to dictate his/her laws to humanity? Why do we hold on this arrogance that we know better than the god we have created?

The question begs, if people still have difficulty avoiding the pitfalls of a near-perfect document such as the Constitution of the United States, then what hope could we have of interpreting books that were conceived centuries ago by men whom we know very little about, and what little we know of them cannot be confirmed by anything other than each other’s account of the “events”?

The comparison between these two documents reflects the gap between understanding and interpretation. It is there that we arrive at the logical conclusion that we cannot, and should not, trust with certainty any interpretation. Does it mean that we should disregard them? No, we shouldn’t. But we should look at them with a skeptical eye, indeed a much much more skeptical eye. We should reject illogical arguments, illogical statements, and illogical ideals and embrace what we know in our science to be true, simply because we haven’t seen any different.

Let’s do a small thought-experiment. Imagine you are playing the telephone game with just one rule to follow, and that is that whatever the person before you says, you have to act out. For example if the game begins with “I like to eat a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles” then that’s what you should do. That’s it, you and the people playing the game simply have to act out what they hear. Now, let the experiment run over thousands of years, over several generations, with dozens of languages, and all across the world. You don’t necessarily have to have psychopaths in the game- or be one yourself- for it to go horribly wrong, the law of probability dictates that it just will.

I admit, it’s a bit hard to believe that an instruction as simple as “Eat grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle” can go wrong, even over thousands of years, but if you factor in people’s prejudices, people’s histories, people’s educations, interpretations, fears, and understandings of what a grilled cheese sandwich is, while they add their own personal twist to the story, it wouldn’t be surprising to see people eating other people, if they are in fact still eating.

This is the same game that we have been playing for centuries only the instructions are a bit more sinister and have perpetuated some of the most heinous crimes humanity has unleashed upon itself (slavery, infanticide, genital mutilation, torture, war, racial extermination, etc.); and what’s more, the texts from which these instructions come from have allowed us to look at ourselves in the mirror remorseless.

Members of the Nazi Party and Vatican Officials doing the traditional Nazi salute. photo credit: tortuga767 via photopin cc

Members of the Nazi Party and Vatican Officials doing the traditional Nazi salute.
photo credit: tortuga767 via photopin cc

From the text alone we can infer as to the frame of mind of these ancient peoples or to their way of life. Written instructions on how to maintain, train, and trade your slave- or your daughter for that matter; how to subjugate your wife while claiming that she’s your equal and getting her to believe it; how to become submissive yourself to another human or to a invisible deity- all these instructions were written to guide these ancient societies and to offer some sort of explanation to the way the world was at the time and to offer a theory (although not written as such) of how the world worked. We could very well say that these people were simply speaking in a metaphorical context reflecting on the views of their times, and perhaps that actually is the way it is. But two problems swiftly arise. First, the alternative is much scarier to contemplate. What if- as history strongly suggests- these were actual instructions on how to live a first-century life, much in the way that modern magazines (loosely) portray the our way of living today. I’m sure that one or two centuries from now our magazines will become absolutely irrelevant to the way future Earthlings live their lives. The second problem we come across is that people in religious nations (principally the United States and those in the Middle East) are happily running to the mouth of the mouth of the lion, trying to follow first century rules, 22 centuries later. I cannot much call that progress. The question is simple, why are people so eager to accommodate their modern lives to the way people lived 2000 years ago?

I could see the case that some people might make by saying that these ancient texts provide some very good moral advice, and they’re right, they do. But the moral advice they provide is no more assertive than what humanity has come up with over time. We should strive to create the best moral framework there is, in part by getting rid of old moral rules that are no longer necessary. It is like writing computer code, in order to have an optimal program that always works as it should the code needs to be updated and bad lines of code have to be deleted.  Unfortunately, books like the Bible or the Quran also offer some terrible advise that is still being taken into account today. It is a good thing then that common sense is not entirely lost and that the majority of people can see the obvious distinction between “Thou shalt not kill” and “Five easy steps on how to train your slave”, but there are always those that don’t, or wish not to. Even worse, there are some who not just blur that distinction but that make dangerous conjectures of their own based on these somewhat-direct-somewhat-abstract rules. Of course killing is bad. I’m sure that early homo-sapiens and even Neanderthals (just a couple among many species of bipedals) realized that going around killing one another was a bad thing to do. Let’s remember that these ancient tribes were nomads and started no bigger than your average small family. Imagine if all they did was kill and rape one another because it was simply a fun activity to engage in. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that they would’ve perished very quickly under their own irresponsibility. We should find it insulting to believe that humanity knew nothing of morality before first century sheep-herders decided to concoct fantastical tales from divine providence to say that killing is wrong and stealing is bad. Has it never occurred to us to think that perhaps early humans understood that killing each other was bad for the tribe, as the number of hunter/gatherers or providers would decrease leaving the tribe to fend for itself? Has it never crossed our minds to think that they too understood emotional and physical pain, or that perhaps they were capable of abstract thought and that they understood morality at least at a basic level? Like Christopher Hitchens once remarked, “…I don’t think humanity would’ve made it that far if they hadn’t known that.” We give ourselves much more undeserved credit by unabashedly believing that because we invented written language that nothing existed before us. This type of Orwellian thinking insults our species and spreads misinformation about our origins, indeed there is more to us than that.

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Credit: Tumblr (origin unknown)

Credit: Tumblr (origin unknown)

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In part two I will delve briefly and broadly into the “evolution” of Christianity and the threat that radical Islamism poses our world today, as well as our fears of what the future might hold for humanity and for reason.

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For more information please check out the following interesting links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_Nazi_Germany

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/07/08/there-are-states-where-you-technically-cant-hold-public-office-if-youre-an-atheist/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/08/19/an-incredible-interactive-chart-of-biblical-contradictions/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/16/in-graphic-videos-and-on-twitter-isis-members-record-and-tout-executions-of-gay-men.html?via=desktop&source=facebook

 

The Mexican Revolution (Part II)

Mexico Burning Fire Flag War Conflict Night 3D

 

Hello my little padawans!

Today, I make good on my promise to keep following the events surrounding the disappearance of the 43 Mexican Normalistas (teaching students) who were taken nearly three months ago in Iguala, Mexico. If you haven’t been reading too much into what’s already being labelled as a global movement, you can read about it in my last post here.

Last time around, I talked about the unavoidable similarities between the Massacre of Tlatelolco (1968) and the kidnapping and disappearance of the 43. But today we are going to take a look at other elements and go far beyond the borders of Mexico to see what the global response has been to this national crisis. And to prepare you for this, I warn you that although I will try to remain as objective as I possibly can when it comes to facts, I will also be expressing my personal opinion on some other matters. And yes, there will be a lot of quotations flowing around, because I just love quotations. Enjoy!

 

Within a Breath of Revolution

 

Nearly a month after my post about the “progress” on the investigation of the 43 normalistas who “suspiciously””vanished” in Mexico at hands of “unknown” armed men, the authorities of Mexico are no closer to finding the 43 normalistas- or their bodies for that matter- and appeasing an increasingly frustrated population who want them back alive. As a consequence, what was expected to be a routine “investigation”, has turned into what we can only be described as a cluster-fuck of epic proportions. Beginning with the rumors that the government was directly involved in the kidnapping of these 43 student-teachers of radical-leftist leanings, to the famous “Ya me canse” (I’ve had enough) of the Attorney General heading the investigation, to the recent scandals involving the president’s wife, the Mexican people are banding together closer than ever to oust the current administration. What we are witnesses to is  is one of the largest social movements of my lifetime. If before we were astounded at the high level of animosity and resentment towards the government, today, not just Mexico, but the entire world is astounded at the level of organization, largely- if not entirely- with the help of social media, not seen since the Spring Revolution (or Arab Spring) that started in Tunisia in 2010.

Artists, intellectuals, heads of state, common citizens, and politicians from all over the world that at first were just third-party observers are now involved in the fight, taking a more direct role in condemning the injustices of the government and calling for a complete overhaul of the judicial system and of the people writing the laws. Basically what the majority of Mexicans want is to strip the government of the current cabinet and replace it with a new one. Whether you think that’s a realistic goal remains to be seen, but what is evident is that the rallying mobs are now beginning to influence policy. And yet, the government doesn’t seem to get the hint that it’s fighting a growing monster. However, like any cornered creature would, it’s expected that the government will fight back. And facing the growing pressure from an international community, we’ll see just how civil this beast behaves. Then again, we are talking about the PRI who ruled Mexico in a successful one-party system for 71 years straight. And if you know anything about those guys, is that they don’t disappoint when it comes to fucking things up.

photo credit: sofíagonzález via photopin cc

Girl holds up sign at a protest which reads “We are missing 43”. Photo credit: sofíagonzález via photopin cc

Although the current cabinet is in a sort of damage control at the moment, the people aren’t having it, and what at first was calls for justice has slowly grown into the shouts of warning that if they don’t change the music, the party is going to end, and it’s going to end bad. These warning signs that a revolution is brewing are pretty evident when you see public officials nervously trying to pick up the pieces of a few (or lots) of miscreants who fucked up one too many times. And when the president goes on national television to announce change in reform, that’s when you know that the people are doing something right. And also that the situation is getting bad- or interesting, depending on how you look at it.

It seems that that semblance of inaction by government officials is just that, a semblance, for they have been plenty busy since the last update a few weeks ago.

But before we get down to the nitty-gritty of the details let me explain why I think this is a very exciting (perhaps not the right word) time to live in.

If you live in a country as fucked up as most Latin American nations- in this case Mexico- then at least once every few generations the people have the chance to change their government for better or for worse. The true sentiment of revolution resides in the ability for people to assimilate their realities with their hopes for how that reality should be. What we have in Mexico is not unprecedented in any way, but the calling of millions of Mexicans, and millions more around the world supporting them to change that government is unprecedented, or at the very least surprising. And THAT is what’s exciting.

In a talk I was having with my dad the other day (he lives in Mexico City), he brought up a very good point that I think is applying more and more at a global level, and that is that people, especially students and younger people, are becoming more and more politicized and more involved in the inner-workings of their governments. Long gone are the days when elected officials relied on a blanket of ignorance to continue ruling nations as if they were serfdoms. Nope, the 60s are coming back with a kick, combining classic insurgent techniques for protests and strikes with the efficacy and modernity of social media to drive and organize all these little movements to make it a global one. But a great thing to recognize here, is that although these demonstrations are peaceful for the most part, they are by no means lacking in power. Let no man tell you that the power and rage of the people is not scratching at the surface of restraint that is within a needle’s poke of a nuclear explosion.

 

Progress?

 

And now, let’s catch up with what’s been happening lately. And more importantly, what’s going to happen.

Ever since the chant for “Vivos se los llevaron, y vivos los queremos” (Alive you took them and alive we want them back), there’s been a few scandalous events shaking up the establishment starting with the “white house”. This is obviously not in reference to the American White House (although there is a bit of involvement there too- another story), but rather the mansion that Angelica Rivera- the president’s wife- “bought” with her salary as a soap-opera actress. Many people call foul claiming that it’s very improbable that she could have bought a $7 million house with the kind of salary she “earned” as a soap opera actress in Mexico, and that the house, along with many other gifts, were actually concessions as a result of a very lucrative contract the president arranged with a transnational company to build a high speed train in Mexico, something highly illegal under fair-competition-rules. That’s one.

Another one is the events that happened during the massive demonstration in the Zocalo area of Mexico City. While thousands of protesters gathered peacefully on the square, a few black sheep among them that are believed to be government agitators a la Tlatelolco ’68, started bursts of violence that led to 20 people getting arrested and 11 of them being taken to maximum security prisons where they were interrogated and beaten. I will admit that I was not there, therefore I do not know what exactly happened at the Zocalo square. It could’ve been that a few people were being unruly and violent, but by logical conclusions, if only 20 out of thousands were arrested, then you know there’s a piece of the story that doesn’t quite fit the puzzle.

Following the insurmountable pressure on the government, all 11 of the protesters were released alive, but not exactly well. Besides their own testimonies of the beatings they received in prison for crimes that the government has not been able to stick on them, it’s sort of hard to convince an entire population whom you’ve already managed to piss off that they tripped and fell on their way home. Yup, the credibility of the government is so tarnished now that not even El Presidente himself could fix things with his 10 commandments against injustice and corruption or by the implementation of the new anti-corruption telephone number (911- oh irony) that many are mocking as a direct line to denounce corruption to corrupt police. And then there’s the little hide-and-seek game that plainclothes agents of the police played with UNAM student Sandino Bucio. Snatched in plain daylight, Sandino was basically kidnapped, tortured, and threatened by the police who claimed that he was one of the agitators in the November 20th protests. According to the statement Mr. Bucio gave to TV cameras, the police told him that they would disappear him like the 43 of Ayotzinapa, that they would rape him and that they forced him to give up his passwords to his profiles on various social networking sites. He also said in front of cameras that they would pick up more people. But after charges that he was carrying explosives in his backpack didn’t stick, he was released and now his testimony is all we have to prove that individuals who self-identified as members of the police are in the business of hunting down students. Now if it looks like I am adding one trickle of fuel to the fire, then good, I wish to dump the whole fucking can of fuel and burn the whole thing down.

Sandino Bucio Credit: amqueretaro.com

UNAM student Sandino Bucio
Credit: amqueretaro.com

After these succeeding scandals, you would think that the government would be a tiny bit more cautious in the way they conduct business and would let the waters quiet down before resuming their usual games… you would think. However, the reality tells a different tale.

It’s difficult to know just high up this all goes, although it wouldn’t be completely off the mark to say that it goes all the way to the top. And I don’t mean just the top of the Mexican political circles, I mean the top top, meaning ex-presidents, like the Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexican ex-president accused of stealing not only the elections back in 1991 but also billions as he fled the country. Some even go as far as to say that the American government might once again be involved in foreign affairs of civil unrest. It would make sense if they were, you know with Mexico being just across the border and all. I don’t suppose Obama would want a destabilized country as his neighbor even if America claims to be pro-human rights, anti-corruption, anti-dictatorships, blah blah blah. All this bullshit doesn’t matter in the end if American interests are threatened, and how could they not be when Mexico exports a huge amount of oil back to the U.S. and abroad and the newly-privatized oil companies are now in the reins of foreign investors with a pretty big interest in what is happening there now.

Woman holding up sign that reads "The real terrorists are those who kill, not those who protest".  photo credit: Gatifoto via photopin cc

Woman holding up sign that reads “The real terrorists are those who kill, not those who protest”.
photo credit: Gatifoto via photopin cc

It also doesn’t help when the head of the government is seen on very friendly terms with the owner of the biggest television company in Latin America, and the president’s wife’s former employer- Televisa. This is the very same corporation that out of the kindness of their hearts, “gifted” the president’s wife one of the adjacent houses to the “white house” as a retirement present. What would a communications and television corporation want with the government? If you are naive enough, nothing. If you know what the fuck’s up, then a lot. But it’s not entirely news that in Mexico, the news are just a tool for the government to use at their pleasure rather than being a source of information. I suppose you could say that about all governments, but Mexico is slowly going the ways of China in regards to freedom of the press– or lack thereof. So much so that many Mexicans now prefer to get their news through social media channels rather than the evening news. Part of that mistrust lies also in the cozy relationship the media has, or has had in the past, with the government. In turn, many are now turning to social media for its flowing ability to disseminate information quicker and more effectively, not to mention that is a little bit harder to censure than the news the government paid for, and it has the added benefit that these unadulterated news come from an objective third-party perspective, usually from other countries looking from the outside-in. But if we are to guess what’s going to happen next, I would put my money on Mexico starting to censure social media to quell the protests. Already there’s a bill being introduced in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate to make it illegal for protesters to go out into the street.

It is usually said that in Mexico the most dangerous profession to be is a journalist. It’s true. More of them have died covering Felipe Calderon’s War on Drugs than they have at any other time in history. Similarly, it is also said that it is just as dangerous to be a student, than to be a narco. Objectively I couldn’t say that that is true, but it does make a strong statement. It seems that at the moment being a radical left-leaning student in Mexico is more of a gamble than being a drug trafficker. Again, this is only my opinion and I could not sanction that from an objective point of view, but it is starting to seem that way. What is true is that the number one threat to any nascent dictatorship is an informed public, and the people of Mexico are starting to get informed.

 

Worldwide Support

 

It seems that for the time being, the president and his cabinet are toeing the line very carefully making sure that no other fuck-ups, ahem, excuse me, mistakes aren’t made to anger the people even more, you know since they rile up together and stuff. But as we read everyday in the news (those of us that still can), it seems that the beast is fighting back. And with every baton that comes down on another student, and with each video uploaded to YouTube, a deeper grave is dug for the machine of repression in a situation that is increasingly FUBAR. You’re going to have to look that one up on your own.

The only upside to all of this is that while cops and soldiers are out there busting heads, the real revolutionaries (if they can be called that at this stage), are documenting every single instance of violence to add to the already overwhelming PR campaign battle that is being waged not just inside the country but outside its borders. This push to publicly condemn and embarrass the president, his cabinet, and in effect the entire government structure has worked wonders so far.

Among one of the most high-profile call-outs has been that of the universally-loved Uruguayan President José Mujica who has called Mexico a failed state after the disappearance of the 43. My dad and I, as no doubt most Mexicans would, agree that the man is right! President Mujica is not saying that Mexicans are failures, he was merely pointing out an uncomfortable truth to fathom (for civil functionaries at least) that Mexico is indeed becoming a failed state. Of course soon after, he was pressured into recanting his statement, but in the hearts and minds of all Mexicans it stands as nothing but truth what this beloved head of state has said.

In the age of the Internet, thousands of groups in cities around the world support those in Ayotzinapa, and indeed all the Mexicans who scream for change. For me, it’s the pleasure of seeing the people finally wake up, or rather I should say come together to unite under one banner to fight against a regime wearing the mask of a constitutional democracy. And it seems like it’s going to be a long fight, but as they threw the first punch, the people of Mexico cannot back down any longer and now what they are shouting is no longer a call for justice, but a call for honest change.

 

What’s Next?

 

No one can accurately predict what’s going to happen next, as another major protest is already taking place today. But when major news sources, especially outside the country of unrest, start speculating about the what ifs, that is a good time to start paying attention. Usually there is something on TV to distract the people while the government continues doing its shenanigans, but as we have all seen, after three months of protests, a massive awareness campaign, and amounting failures on the side of the Mexican government, the sentiment for change in Mexico has spread worldwide, and there is hardly any other issue that takes precedence in the country.

It is no secret that people love revolutions, and this is a noble revolution. People love to rage against the machine, they love to speak out when their rights and the rights of others are in danger of being suppressed and stripped away. And although a lot of times their voices are scattered, the few times when their voices come together, that single, unified voice echoes not only across the world, but throughout the ages of time. Perhaps this is the time for Mexicans to unite their voices and let people know that this is our revolution, and that the fight for our future begins now.

And now I leave you with this video from Mexican rock-hip/hop group Molotov and their song “Gimme Tha Power” from back in 1997, words that to this day still speak of the sad reality of a country on the brink of civil war. Enjoy!

(Visit here if you wish to see the video with English subtitles)

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Interesting Articles to Read

Reporters Sans Frontieres, 2014 (http://en.rsf.org/71-journalists-were-killed-in-2013-18-12-2013,45634.html)

From Tlatelolco to the 43

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A few days ago, hundreds of Mexicans marched from Iguala City in the state of Guerrero to Mexico City to voice their discontent about the incompetence in which the authorities have handled the investigation regarding the disappearance of 43 students and teachers who were intercepted by corrupt police and armed gangs on their way to a protest in the city of Iguala. Although the bodies of those missing haven’t been found, many fear the worst as several mass graves have appeared without clear evidence that the remains inside those graves are of the 43 students. The discovery of these mass graves unrelated to the 43, only sheds light on the type of violence that is lived in the most violent parts of Mexico where a large number of murders go unsolved every year. In 2012 alone, up to 98% of murders in the country went unsolved while many more crimes also went unsolved and even unreported. Coupled with the lack of resources, the incompetence of the local police forces, which in many cases work with drug cartels and armed gangs, and the indifference of the ruling elite, create a devastating problem for the population of rural Mexico and indeed also those who live in the larger cities. But the declaration that Mexicans have pledged by to stand united against the incompetence of the authorities and the accusations of the police of mishandling of these investigations goes beyond that, placing blame directly on the federal police, the military, and even the president himself, saying that these groups who cowardly murdered this group of students and teachers were given the order to do so expressly from the government. In the case of Mexico, not such a sensationalist claim to make.

What may sound like conspiracy theory in other parts of the world, considering Mexico’s turbulent political history of corruption, this may actually not be too far off the mark.

These shameful events that are shrouded in secrecy, painfully remind the Mexican people of an historic event that left a deep scar in the hearts of Mexicans and one that no Mexican will forget, as it is taught generation after generation, and one which serves to remind the people that sometimes the price of freedom is paid with innocents’ blood. Exactly forty-six years, one month and eleven days ago, this event tarnished the name of Mexico before the eyes of the world during one of the most iconic and turbulent years in the world’s history-1968. And although both events have obvious differences, and appear unrelated, they are however connected only by the set of circumstances that surround them.

 

The Massacre of the Plaza de las Tres Culturas

 

The dark night of October 2, 1968 marked a low point for Mexico, as that was the fateful day that the Mexican army by decree of the governor of Mexico City and some allege by order of president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz himself, massacred at gunpoint hundreds of protesters gathering at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Students, teachers, intellectuals, farmers, and indigenous peoples were hunted down, murdered, and disappeared as part of Mexico’s dirty war on communists and political opponents challenging the rule of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or P.R.I. (Institutional Revolutionary Party) which had been ruling Mexico uninterrupted for nearly 40 years, and which not ironically came back to power in 2012 after a 12 year hiatus.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the classroom and review a little background information on the massacre which would have a deep impact and leave deep scars in Mexican national identity.

After WWII the tension between communist Russia, or the Soviet Union, and a capitalistic-democratic United States finally imploded when Germany was divided between Russia and the European-American side. For years the capitalists and the communists had been at each other’s throats and many feared that after the defeat of Germany, a much stronger Russia and the new threat of nuclear war would set the stage for a new world war of much greater proportions- which in effect it did happen.

What ensued was the beginning of the Cold War. A war of ideologies, of display of power, and basically a proverbial dick-measuring contest in which the two super-powers pretty much divided the world in half while amounting huge stockpiles of super-weapons in the chance that the other side attacked. The only problem was that just like the Russians wouldn’t and couldn’t allow capitalism to spread so close to the motherland, America could not allow communism to spread so close to its borders either, which is why Cuba was a huge threat at the time and the reason why in the symbolic atomic clock that was devised to calculate the threat level to nuclear war, the Cuban crisis brought us to within one minute to midnight, which of course meant that the world was within a breath of nuclear obliteration.

However, a serious problem was happening on this side of the Americas, as communism proved very popular with many Latin-American nations in response to the oligarchies that formed into dictatorships in Spanish-speaking America sometimes with help of the United States . While Cuba was a great threat, since it was a strategic diamond for the Soviet Union for being so close to the U.S., Mexico was just across the border and at the time it was still extremely porous. One could argue that the leaderships of many countries were loyal to American interest, but communism was very popular among university students and intellectuals in many countries including Mexico. At the time, the recent victories of Fidel Castro and Commander Che Guevara injected new life into the countless communist movements throughout the world, which of course was seen as an even bigger threat to the stability of power in the region.

The general consensus was that the Night of Tlatelolco was a product of protests that began four years before due to the doctors’ strike who demanded fair pay from the government, which they did not receive. And after 206 doctors were abruptly fired from their jobs, several groups formed to demand that the government restart talks which were interrupted often by an uninterested political circle. Steadily more and more people became involved, including teachers and students from various universities through the nation, some very politically active and many of them leftist. This created a domino effect that caused several other institutions to demand equality on several issues.

But what started as a protest for doctor’s compensation, slowly turned into a huge political movement in which several independent organizations, including communists became involved. This, of course, caught the attention of the U.S. government and the C.I.A. who feared that Mexico could eventually go in a state of civil war, and a coup would result in the deposition of a president sympathetic to American interests, including oil. Although books have been written on the C.I.A.’s involvement in Latin American affairs (not unheard of)- in this case Mexico- including Jefferson Morley’s Our Man in Mexico which claims that among those in the C.I.A. payroll were Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz who was supposedly Station Chief of the Mexico City branch, codename LITEMPO-2, we will only go so far as to say that the C.I.A. was involved in some way in the event. At the very least, it is well publicized by the release documents in 2003 in response to requests submitted under the Freedom of Information Act, that the United States government was highly involved in the events leading up to the 1968 massacre. According to the document, the C.I.A. provided radios, riot-gear equipment, and training, and produced daily updates of the situation all the way until October 2nd.

The exact information of whether the United States was working to suppress peaceful demonstrations, even if they were political, is inconclusive. What is known is what can be proven, which is that the American government had at least some form of involvement in controlling the situation one way or another.

On the evening of October 2nd, thousands of protesters gathered at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Three Cultures Square) under the policing of the military. Without the army’s knowledge, a group of individuals within the military known as the Batallón Olimpia (Olympia Battalion) dispersed and conspicuously occupied several buildings around the area in strategic posts, where sharpshooters were set up. Soon thereafter at approximately 6 pm, the sharpshooters fired to military on the ground making them believe that the students had started the shooting. Just as expected, chaos ensued. Hundreds of people were arrested, and the exact number of those killed was never clearly known. Numbers range from 20 to 1500. While government investigations claim that only a small number of people were killed, several independent investigations mainly by journalists- foreign and domestic- raise the number to at least a couple of hundred. Many theories revolve around the disappearance of these bodies, one of which is that they were quickly hauled off in trash trucks away from the city and dumped in mass graves. An independent investigation by Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska claimed in her book La Noche de Tlatelolco that at least 65 bodies were buried in one single grave.

What happened next was a wave of indignation at the national and international level with several important non-governmental organizations and millions of students all over the world speaking out against the Mexican government and in support of the students and those involved in the protests. More hurtful was the fact that the 1968 Summer Olympic games started without delay merely days after the massacre. Protests were held in the Mexican embassies throughout many countries in Europe and Latin America reaching as far as Russia for the massacre and for the consequent suppression of information of the Mexican government towards journalists. [1]

 

The Massacre of the 43

 

There are obvious differences between the massacre in Tlatelolco and those of the 43 students who were kidnapped and- if investigations prove the public’s fear correct- massacred in the small town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. However, once again, it is the circumstances and the government stance on the matter which complicate the issue and as a result, circumstances where people cannot help but revisit the terrible events of Tlatelolco.

On September 26, 2014, students and teachers from a leftist college in Iguala, Guerrero, were detained by authorities on their way to a protest regarding unfair government practices in hiring and funding in that state. According to the investigation, the students were handed off to an armed group with ties to drug traffickers known as the Guerreros Unidos.

At the moment there is still a lot of speculation and unknown details surrounding the disappearance of the 43 students, but investigations on the alleged massacre point to a partnership between Iguala’s Mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez, his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa and a local drug gang who was on the Mayor’s payroll and thus the government’s. The investigations also concluded that the students were on their way to intercept and disrupt a conference that the Mayor’s wife was giving to promote her husband’s public works as Mayor. After that, the students and teachers were also planning to go to Mexico City to march alongside thousands others to commemorate the anniversary of the slayed students in Tlatelolco.

photo credit: Resa Sunshine via photopin cc

photo credit: Resa Sunshine via photopin cc

Days after the kidnapping, and what many believe to be a massacre, the Mayor and the first lady fled and were subsequently arrested outside Mexico City. Throughout the investigation another 74 other people were arrested including police officers and people of interest who are believed to be the shooters. As of now, out of the 74 people arrested, those part of the Guerreros Unidos gang have confessed to the killings, although they have not been able to provide authorities with a precise location of where they disposed of the bodies.

It is difficult to assess the level of corruption and just how high up government involvement goes. But it is not hard to guess that with any level of government involvement, there will always be efforts to underplay the sequence of events or to restrict the access of information to investigations in which government officials are involved in.

Until now, the bodies of those missing have not been found and it is believed that the several mass graves that have been found do not contain the bodies of those killed, thus leading the population to demand that they be released from wherever they are held. [2]

On a personal note, it is convenient to believe that the members of Guerreros Unidos would simply confess to the crime than to consider the possibility that they, or their families, were paid off to take the blame. Then again this is just speculation.

Until the mystery of what happened to these 43 people is resolved, there is sure to be a severe backlash against the government of president Enrique Peña Nieto whose presidency is now on shaky grounds, and not looking any better for the future- as we have already seen in the past few weeks when

 

Why It Matters

 

Ever heard the old adage “history repeats itself”? Well, it’s not so much that history repeats itself, is that we let it. And I wonder now, when we will let it happen again.

Right at this moment, all the details about the vanishing of the 43 is not well known, even by the authorities- but they wish it was. And many fear that there is strong government involvement in all this and not in the way we wished there was.

With a suspected fraudulent presidential election and talk of extreme political corruption and government suppression of civil rights which include freedom of expression, already the government of P.R.I president Enrique Peña Nieto is on shaky grounds and not looking any better for the future. Even though his first year and a half everything went smooth, this has definitely become his first real trial, and already it seems like it’s beginning to slip out of his control as organized groups are staging marches and protests all throughout Mexico, with many people outside of the country showing their support.

Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto and the First Lady Angelica Rivera photo credit: Galería Ricardo Patiño via <a

Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto and the First Lady Angelica Rivera
photo credit: Galería Ricardo Patiño via <a

Earlier this month, the president was heavily criticized for leaving the country in the midst of the investigations, to China to promote investment in the country. Meanwhile his own wife, former actress Angelica Rivera was also criticized by the press for purchasing a 7 million dollar mansion in a deal with a company who had ties with her husband while he was governor of Mexico City in an obscure and strange deal. How she came to acquire that house on an actress salary nobody knows but in the middle of controversy, it all seems in poor taste and a bit suspicious. Still, we only stick with what we know.

Also earlier this month, people became even more outraged at the contemptuous comments that Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo- the top dog in the investigation- said in a press conference he gave concerning this particular investigation. Tired of the questions being asked over several weeks about the progress of the investigation, Mr. Murillo finally decided he had had enough and made it publicly known by declaring exactly that, “Ya me canse” or “I’ve had enough.” Mr. Murillo has done only one thing right so far, which is that he has managed to rile even more people together to ridicule him and the handling of this investigation, under the banner/hashtag #yamecanse.

In addition to the many protests already active all throughout the country, several more are scheduled to begin on November 20th (commemorative day of the start of the Mexican Revolution) in a massive mobilization effort to condemn the government of Peña Nieto by wearing black and in effect stopping all activity in the country. The aim of these protests are to force the authorities to act with better efficacy and speed and to demand the resignation of the president.

It’s unclear just how effective this message will be, as we never know just how effective these things ever are. However, by shedding light on the events and informing the people who want answers and those who know little about the issue, we can at least hope to bring more transparency and a little bit more justice, because as Mr. Murillo himself couldn’t have said it better, we too have had enough.

Credit: (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Credit: (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

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This is an evolving story and will be updated as more information is gathered.

If you want to learn about massacres in Mexico please visit- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_Mexico

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Last November I participated in a small November 5th (Guy Fawkes Night) “march” which is organized all over the world. This one was in Fort Worth and although the turnout was small, we found it fun and educational in a sense. Some people came up to us and asked questions about what we intended to do and our goal. If you are interested in participating on the next November 5th march visit the Facebook page on Guy Fawkes Night in your city and bring your banner to voice your discontent on anything you find important!

 

Credit: Courtney Renee Clark (Facebook) November 5th March in downtown Fort Worth (Nov 5th)

Credit: Courtney Renee Clark (Facebook) November 5th March in downtown Fort Worth (Nov 5th)

 

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All Wikipedia articles used in this blog are “good articles” or “featured articles” and/or cross-referenced with other reputable websites on the matter for reliance.

Bibliography

[1] Movimiento de 1968 en Mexico. (2014, November 12) http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movimiento_de_1968_en_M%C3%A9xico  -Article also available in Spanish.

[2] 2014 Iguala Mass Kidnapping. (2014, November 12) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Iguala_mass_kidnapping . This Wikipedia article is not labeled a “good article” or “featured article” but was used because of its mass compiling of facts and the extensive bibliography which can be fact-checked.