Student Debt Means Fewer Public Servants — and More Bankers

college graduates looking onto horizon

(Image: Shutterstock)

Cum laude, my diploma reads — “with honor.” But cum debitum, “with debt,” is a bit more accurate.

Collectively, America’s student borrowers owe $ 1.7 trillion. On average, each graduating senior this year is beginning their life around $ 37,000 in the hole.

That looks like a lot, but when you’re living with student debt, you look at that number and don’t even flinch. The debt is so normal it’s like an inside joke for pretty much everyone in my generation. Except we’re the punch line.

I graduated class of 2015 from a private, liberal arts college — a “most selective” one, U.S. News and World Report assures me. It was also an expensive degree, Sallie Mae reminds me. Monthly.

Yes, I chose to go to a private, expensive college. There was a calculus there, and one part of it was “I liked the feeling of it.”

I know, this type of sentimental idealism is a privilege. It’s no surprise I came out with the equally sentimental notion that I wanted to do non-profit work — which makes it that much harder to pay those loan bills.

It’s baffling to my Filipino parents. They didn’t cross the ocean and consign themselves to discrimination and demeaning jobs because they liked the “feel of it” — or even on the promise that their lives would be better. They did it on the promise that my life would be better. And that I wouldn’t owe anyone anything.

They could live underwater, they decided — but they at least expected their children to take a breath of fresh air. Well, sometimes it feels like the air is polluted. And the water is teeming with loan sharks.

So much so that some companies — among them many banks, financial institutions, and other large for-profit businesses — have begun including student loan repayment assistance in their salary packages.

I have to admit it’s tempting, especially since the Trump administration wants to end a federal program that would forgive the student loans of people who commit to public service work.

What’s the alternative, after all?

Having a non-profit career in something you care about can require years of barely remunerated labor: an unpaid internship, volunteer work, a minimum-wage second job, or a salary that barely meets the threshold for a living wage.

Prioritizing a career in something you care about, in addition to paying rent and groceries, requires consigning yourself to a debt you’ll live with until you have children. That is, if you have children — since you don’t want to deal with their student debt either.

It’s not surprising to me that some of my classmates decide to return to school — maybe if they add more letters to their degree they’ll magically land a job they’re passionate about with a salary that can pay the bills.

It’s also not surprising that some of my peers decide to join the other side, cashing in on connections and scooping up those high-paying corporate jobs. But what happens when you have a generation of people trained to enter the public service entering Wall Street instead?

What a loss.

This is just one facet of the student debt crisis — others include putting off starting a family or buying a home. Too many of us are saddled with debt, and too many of us are structuring our lives around this ledger.


The Supreme Court’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Decision Is Terrifying


(Photo: Aldas Kirvaitis / Flickr)

I’m a U.S. citizen. I’m also Muslim. And the Supreme Court decision on the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban scares me.

In a June 26 ruling, the court decided to leave in place parts of the Muslim ban while the merits of the case are debated, effectively barring individuals from six Muslim-majority countries without a “bona fide” relationship in the U.S. — say, with family members, an employer, or an educational institution — into the country. This decision may also prevent entry for all refugees for 120 days.

The ruling has been hailed as a victory for the Trump administration — not just on the legal end, but also in the degree to which it instills fear in Muslims. The fear is real, and not just for those who may be directly impacted, but for the larger community, too. After all, what the travel ban is ultimately meant to do is to hold all Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of a (miniscule) few.

As a Muslim American of Egyptian descent, will I be legally impacted by the decision? In theory, no. But will I think twice about leaving the country, knowing that I could return to the possibility of being harassed, interrogated, and/or denied entry back into the U.S.? Absolutely. Because after almost 16 years of the war on terror, you come to learn — or become conditioned to fear — that one day you could be next.

The distinction between citizen and non-citizen becomes ever more perilous when you “look Muslim,” have a Muslim sounding name, or work on issues relating to Muslims. This doesn’t mean I’ll experience the same consequences as Muslim non-citizens, but neither does my citizenship reassure me that my fellow Muslim Americans and I will be protected, especially in light of this administration’s history over the last few months alone.

And that’s exactly the intent of policies like these — they target some while causing others to reel back in fear that they too will be impacted. They generate enough fear to make anyone with any relationship with a targeted group censor themselves and modify their behavior. The government wins not only because of whom it targets directly, but because of who else becomes an indirect target.

These are precarious times for Muslims. And while we’re told to trust in our democracy and our judicial system, decisions like these — which come on the heels of a long history of discriminatory, racist, and Islamophobic policies under several administrations — magnify the legitimate fear that one will either be targeted by state violence or become a target of societal violence.

Worryingly, not a single judge dissented from the unsigned Supreme Court ruling — and in fact, three conservative judges, including the newly seated Neil Gorsuch, concurred that they would’ve gone even further and implemented the ban in full. So we know to expect that yet again, the highest law of the land is in favor of institutionalizing Islamophobia. Where then do Muslims turn for reprieve?

As a Muslim American, I’m tired of explaining my fear. I’m tired of pointing out how negatively the war on terror has impacted by community, and I’m tired of being treated as a means to a security end.

I’m tired of explaining the legacy of the war on terror and the fact that under the Bush administration, security policies that began by targeting non-citizens ended up, through a long and thoroughly calculated process, targeting citizens as well — something that also continued under Obama, who spied broadly on ordinary people’s communications and even ordered lethal drone strikes on U.S. citizens.

I’m tired because I know this isn’t the end, but the beginning of a new war on terror — one whose thinly veiled racist manifestations have become explicit.

The Muslim ban means that Muslims will be in the spotlight even more and viewed almost exclusively as national security pawns. Non-citizens, of course, stand to lose the most. But let’s remember what the war on terror has always been designed to do: demonize all Muslims — citizens or not — to justify the most egregious, abusive, and racist laws and policies.

I don’t know what’s yet to come, and I’m afraid to find out.


Historic Wins for Democracy and Rights in El Salvador


(Photo: Alexander Bonilla / Flickr)

Recently there have been two giant wins for democracy, human rights, and the environment in an unlikely spot: the small, embattled nation of El Salvador.

The most recent win was in March 2017, when the national legislature voted overwhelmingly to make El Salvador the first nation on earth to ban all metals mining, an activity that threatened that nation’s water supply. Who could have imagined an editorial in the New York Times entitled “El Salvador’s Historic Mining Ban” on April 2, 2017?1 The other win occurred six months earlier, in October 2016: After a seven-year battle, a World Bank Group-affiliated arbitration tribunal ruled unanimously against a global mining firm that sued El Salvador for not granting it a mining license.2 Global corporations have been winning most of the lawsuits in these so-called “investor-state” tribunals, but here again El Salvador prevailed.

How? Why? What lessons can be learned, and can nations and activists build on these two victories?

A Movement for Democracy, Human Rights, and the Environment

The peril of gold mining is multi-fold: industrial mining requires cyanide to separate the gold from the surrounding rock, and toxic substances such as arsenic and sulfides get released in the process and can contaminate soils and water for centuries.

First, a bit of background. A band of gold runs through the mountains of Mexico and Central America, which has enriched foreign corporations and domestic elites for hundreds of years. The gold veins run through the north of El Salvador, right through the Lempa River watershed, which provides fresh water to over half the country’s population. The peril of gold mining is multi-fold: industrial mining requires cyanide to separate the gold from the surrounding rock, and toxic substances such as arsenic and sulfides get released in the process and can contaminate soils and water for centuries. As a result, there is no way to conduct industrial mining that is completely safe. For this reason, many scientists are concluding that in certain countries and areas, mining should be prohibited.3 El Salvador is one such place.

Read the full article on the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.



Fairfood verwelkomt twee nieuwe medewerkers

Met Fairfood gaan we het in 2017 nét even anders doen. Onverminderd fair, maar wel meer food. Twee nieuwe foodies in ons team gaan daar een belangrijke rol in spelen: Marten van Gils en Martijn Scheutjens.

Marten van Gils at als peuter eens zóveel mango’s dat ze hem naar het ziekenhuis moesten brengen… een echte die-hard dus. Daarnaast is hij sociaal ondernemer, met een aantal initiatieven in o.a. Sri Lanka, Mexico en Peru. Bij Fairfood komen food en ondernemerschap samen in zijn nieuwe taak: mooie producten lanceren. Anno 2017 betekent dat niet alleen dat de producten zelf moet kloppen, maar ook het proces erachter. En dat kan echt beter, want nog te veel mango’s smaken naar vervuiling en armoede.

Martijn Scheutjens’ liefde voor koken is geboren uit een haat voor afwassen. Immers: wie kookt, hoeft niet af te wassen. Toen hij bij Wakker Dier ging werken, kreeg hij de klus om het fotoarchief opnieuw in te richten. Sindsdien eet hij nauwelijks nog vlees, en als ie dat wel doet is het biologisch. Hij ontwikkelde zich verder als creatieve communicatiespecialist en je kent ’m vooral van zijn talloze campagnes tegen plofkip, kiloknallers en vlees van gecastreerde biggetjes. Nu zet hij zich in om te zorgen dat de boeren die ons voedsel verbouwen en zelf nauwelijks te eten hebben, het beter krijgen.


Trump’s Policy Is Clear: Civilian Casualties Don’t Matter in the War on Terror


(Photo: Flickr/Leigh Blackall)

Recent news reports describe a massive increase in civilian casualties at the hands of the US military or US allies. In Mosul, Iraq, hundreds of residents have been killed as US forces join Iraqi troops in the last stage of their assault on the ISIS-held city. In Yemen, the United States is increasing its direct involvement in the Saudi-led air war being waged against the poorest country in the Arab world, as the UN and other aid workers struggle against mass famine and a looming cholera epidemic on top of the thousands already killed and millions displaced. And in Raqqa, Syria, US air strikes and white-phosphorus munitions have led to what the UN calls “a staggering loss of life,” as Washington provides backup to Kurdish and Arab forces now besieging the ISIS stronghold.

These attacks, and the skyrocketing civilian casualties that result from them, have two things in common: direct US involvement, a result of the recent escalation in Washington’s direct role in the 16-year-old Global War on Terror; and an absolute disdain for the civilian lives being destroyed in these wars.

Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis claimed in sworn congressional testimony that

there has been no change to our rules of engagement and there has been no change to our continued extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties, despite needing to go into populated areas to break ISIS hold on their self-described caliphate, despite ISIS purposely endangering innocent lives by refusing to allow civilians to evacuate. And we continue all possible efforts to protect the innocent.

And yet, the already high casualty figures continue to mount. When the top UN official on the Syria war described the “staggering loss of life,” he was specifically condemning the impact of US and allied air strikes against Raqqa, not simply bemoaning the war in general. He also discussed the 160,000 people driven out of their homes by US air strikes. An estimated 200,000 more civilians—families, children, old people—are still trapped in Raqqa, and according to the AirWars monitoring group in London, “Rarely a day goes by now when we don’t see three or four civilian casualty incidents attributed to coalition air strikes around Raqqa…. All of the local monitoring groups are now reporting that the coalition is killing more civilians than Russia on a regular basis.”

Read the full article on The Nation.


If We Want the Arts in Baltimore, We Need Artists


(Photo: Pixabay)

I’m in the process of buying a house in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District of Baltimore. Here’s what the listing has to say about my house: “This modern rehab is close to everything Station North Arts and Entertainment District has to offer. Walk to restaurants, Charles Theater, various entertainment venues, coffee shops — it is all here.”

Baltimore’s arts scene was a major reason I moved to Baltimore, and a major reason for choosing the Station North neighborhood. But while my listing talked up the arts, it said nothing about the artists.

Artists have certainly left their mark on Station North, and my partner and I certainly look forward to patronizing the businesses they run. But the organically developed communal live-work spaces that play such a vital role in helping make Baltimore an arts mecca are an endangered species.

In fact, there’s another listing down the street that’s a little out of my price range: the Bell Foundry, for sale for $ 1 million.

You may remember the Bell Foundry from last winter, when its tenants were suddenly evicted by the city in the wake of a tragic fire in an Oakland, Calif., live-work warehouse that killed 29 people. More than one Bell Foundry tenant subsequently became homeless, joining the 7,500 other Baltimoreans evicted in 2016 — one in 17 renter households.

Read the full article on The Baltimore Sun’s website. 


Vacature: Manager fondsenwerving en partnerschappen

Wil jij meewerken aan een eerlijk voedselsysteem, in een internationale omgeving en in het leukste team van de wereld 😉

Fairfood is een innovatieve, inhoudelijk gedreven non-profit organisatie die zich hard maakt voor eerlijke en transparante voedselketens.

Veel van het voedsel dat we in Nederland consumeren, is geproduceerd door mensen die onder de armoedegrens leven. Fairfood wil dat diegenen die in de voedselproductie werken in waardigheid kunnen leven, dat het milieu gerespecteerd wordt en dat er voor iedereen sociale en economische waarde ontstaat. Dit willen we bereiken door ervoor te zorgen dat voedingsproducenten en retail een leefbaar loon en inkomen betalen aan arbeiders en boeren.

Om ons enthousiaste team te versterken, zoeken we een net zo enthousiaste fondsenwervende ‘foodie’! Iemand voor wie het bouwen van partnerschappen een tweede natuur is en die een goede neus voor kansen heeft. Jouw taak is het onderhouden en laten groeien van Fairfoods duurzame en diverse portfolio van sponsors en fondsen.


  • Ontwikkelen en implementeren van een fondsenwervingsstrategie voor organisatie, programma’s en projecten
  • In kaart brengen en beoordelen van institutionele en private fondsen en bedrijfssponsoring
  • Opzetten en organiseren van bijeenkomsten en deelnemen aan discussies over het voedselsysteem met relevante stakeholders en overheden
  • Pitches en aanvragen schrijven voor fondsen en sponsoren
  • Planmatig en duurzaam aan een netwerk bouwen van potentiële partners
  • Onderhoud en groei van wervingstrajecten, kansen herkennen en leads opvolgen
  • Relatiebeheer en rapportage aan sponsoren (inclusief aansturing en productie van het jaarverslag)

Verantwoordelijkheden en doelstellingen (2017-2018)

  • Baten realiseren uit institutionele fondsen, zowel in Nederland als internationaal
  • Baten realiseren uit en relatie onderhouden met Nederlandse overheid
  • Relatiebeheer en rapportage
  • Fondsaanvragen schrijven

Onze ideale kandidaat

  • Heeft 5-7 jaar ervaring als fondsenwerver
  • Werkt en denkt op HBO/WO-niveau
  • Spreekt en schrijft overtuigend, en is communicatief vaardig op intercultureel en diplomatiek vlak
  • Is hands-on, analytisch en optimistisch, steekt de handen uit de mouwen
  • Vindt het leuk om in een klein team te werken met veel eigen verantwoordelijkheden
  • Houdt van ‘food’ en is kritisch-nieuwsgierig, zeker naar waar voedsel vandaan komt
  • Heeft bij voorkeur ervaring met institutionele fondsen (ministeries en particuliere fondsen) in Nederland
  • Beheerst Engels en Nederlands uitstekend (in woord en geschrift). Beheersing van overige talen (Frans, Spaans) is een grote pre

Omvang dienstverband is 32-40 uur per week, vanuit ons kantoor in Amsterdam. Salarisvergoeding marktconform.

Mail je sollicitatie en een cv vóór 31 maart 2017 naar Sander de Jong op

Recruitment agencies are asked to refrain from approaching Fairfood about this or any other vacancy.






The Real Reason Trump’s Trying to Derail Cuba Advances

“Republicans, members of the business community, and even a large portion of Cuban-Americans are in favor of normalized relations with Cuba,” IPS expert on U.S.-Cuba relations Netfa Freeman told Rising Up with Sonali, so why is Donald Trump seeking to rollback Obama era Cuba policies?

The American business community doesn’t care that Cuba has a Communist system, Freeman explained, “For them, it’s better to do business with a communist country, with a socialist country, than to not do business at all.”

“That’s one of the reasons he couldn’t do a complete about-face. He’s actually having to deal with the unpopularity of it,” Freeman said.

Freeman also notes a double standard when it comes to the U.S.’ strong economic ties with other Communist countries like China and Vietnam.

So if there isn’t a true ideological divide, what’s compelling the need for a new Cuba policy?

Trump cited human rights abuses and political prisoners.

Though we can’t ignore accusations that Cuba has political prisoners, it’s important to note that many of those who were locked up as political mercenaries for the U.S. are not locked up anymore. “They’ve released a lot of people on humanitarian grounds,” Freeman said, “but in the U.S. you don’t have that. We would be remiss if we did not mention the many political prisoners in the U.S. who’ve been in prison for a long time. And are still in prison.”

When it comes to Cuba, Freeman said what’s really happening is that the U.S. is threatened by “an island that’s only 90 miles from the U.S. that’s been able to withstand all matters of things and really uphold an example of a different society.”

Cuba is open to doing business with the U.S., Freeman said, but on its own terms.

Cuba’s alternate system includes its protectionist economic system, which, Freeman points out, is non-negotiable. “They’re not going to subject themselves to free trade agreements or structural adjustment agreements from the IMF or the World Bank. They want to ensure their citizens are treated fairly when it comes to wages and tariffs.”

This is a hard-line stance more politically poignant in a time where the future of multinational trade agreements are in question.

Even so, “There’s nothing that an adviser to Trump and his administration could do to Cuba to get it to change its mind that hasn’t already been done,” Freeman said.

Watch the full interview on Rising Up with Sonali.


How Wealth Managers Undermine Society and What We Can Do About It


London Fire Fuels Movement to Tackle Inequality in Britain


(Photo: ChiralJon / Flickr)

Just hours after a 24-story London apartment building went up in flames on June 14, Faiza Shaheen appeared on Britain’s Sky TV to connect the dots between this horrific tragedy and the city’s rank as one of the world’s most unequal. co-editor Chuck Collins and I sat down with Shaheen the following day, as the death toll, now estimated at 79, continued to rise. We talked about the public anger over the fire and what she sees as the related outcry for economic and racial equity that resulted in an unexpectedly strong showing for the UK Labour Party in the country’s June 8 election. Shaheen directs the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), a London-based think tank. What’s the connection between the Grenfell Tower fire and London’s extremely high levels of inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: The neighborhood surrounding the tower has the biggest gap between rich and poor of any in the country. It’s a very wealthy area, but the people living in this particular tower were mostly working class ethnic minorities. Also, in terms of voice, you see the disparities. People living in this building had clearly spoken out about the problems with safety — you can find their blogs online. But they also said they knew nothing would be done until there’s a catastrophe. Well, now that’s happened and we need to make sure the authorities can’t just brush this away anymore. How much was the recent election about inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: I would say inequality was fundamental to understanding the narrative of this election. When it was first announced, people thought it would be about Brexit again. But the Labour Party very effectively pivoted away from that. Their language was about the elites and about the rest of us not getting salary increases and facing cuts to public services.

We’ve had these cuts for the past seven years, but people were far more aware of them in this election than in the last one. We heard about parents getting letters from their children’s teachers saying they didn’t have money because of the budget cuts and asking for donations. With the terror attacks in London and Manchester, there was a lot of talk about the culling of police officers and how that had affected community policing.

The conservatives thought we could have a conversation about being strong and stable. But as a country it’s very obvious that we’re not strong and stable right now. Didn’t Prime Minister Theresa May initially make some proposals to reduce inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: When she first became prime minister less than a year ago, she spoke in quite strong terms about inequality. But in this election she didn’t appeal to that language very much. And on some things, she reversed her position. For example, at one point she called for requiring large corporations to have worker representatives on their boards. Then later she said this could be voluntary and the “workers” could be managers. So it’s completely meaningless. Conservatives showed themselves to be very out of touch by sticking with the status quo. In the end, the Labour Party did gain 30 seats and the Conservative Party lost their majority, but Prime Minister May is still hanging on to power by pursuing a coalition with a small Northern Ireland party. Where do you see things going in the next year?

Faiza Shaheen: Most people think they’ll be going into election before the end of the five-year term because the Conservatives are really weakened. To build support, they’ll need to put more money into education and the National Health Service. They came across as quite mean in the campaign. When nurses asked ministers why they haven’t had a pay raise, they were told very dismissively that there isn’t a “magic money tree.” We’ve got nurses going to food banks. That really connects with people emotionally. Brexit negotiations began on June 19. How might this affect inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: The decision to withdraw from the European Union has already weakened the pound, making inflation worse. Because they don’t know what will happen, businesses are holding back on investments that could boost productivity. And while wages don’t always rise with productivity, this means we’re likely to continue to have stagnation in most sectors. Combined with automation and the lack of strong trade union rights, this could mean even worse inequality under Brexit. Where’s the movement energy now for tackling inequality?

Faiza Shaheen: With Labour doing so well, we feel there’s a mandate now to lift the pay cap on public service workers. We also feel May will have to abandon her plans to expand grammar schools, which are free schools that are academically selective. The evidence shows they don’t help with social mobility and they tear the school system apart. That can’t happen now.

We also think we can take advantage of the Conservative Party’s statements about addressing excessive pay at the top. They pledged to require corporations that receive public contracts to report their CEO-worker pay ratio. And even May’s weak current position on worker representation on boards gives something to push for that could affect executive pay. From the experiences in Germany and elsewhere we’ve seen that executives don’t want to talk about giving themselves bonuses with workers at the table.

Labour proposed to tax the top 5 percent much more and leave bottom 95 percent as is. That drew a lot of support but the Conservatives are very unlikely to support that. Like Bernie Sanders, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did very well among young voters. Do you think this bloc will continue to be mobilized?

Faiza Shaheen: It was amazing to see tons of people coming out to volunteer for the campaign for the first time and really passionate about what Labour was calling for, especially young people. There was an app so that you could find your nearest marginal neighborhood, where it could go one way or another, and you could just turn up and help knock on doors. But they had so many volunteers they had to turn many away.

Labour had much less money than the Conservatives, but they really won the branding war. Corbyn definitely came out as cooler. There was even #Grime4Corbyn. People made videos with grime music mixed with Corbyn speeches, which worked well to encourage turnout by young people and ethnic minorities.

We’re in a political quagmire now in terms of the makeup of parliament. In terms of the movement, people are really enthused and passionate. Horrible things keep happening but they are a reminder that we need to keep fighting. It will be really important to keep the pressure up and find ways to campaign – it might be single issues, it might be Grenfell Tower and how we get justice there. Some of it will happen naturally because people have made friends through their political work.

We’re in permanent campaign mode now.