Archive for the 'NEW YORK' Category

Bank of America’s Fee Cancellation: Major Victory Signals Maturing of #Occupy Movement

November 1, 2011

Today’s announcement by Bank of America that it would drop its $5 debit card fee represents nothing less than a victory for the #Occupy movement, a victory on many fronts and on many levels. This is especially important when we consider that one of the primary  criteria defining movements is the ability to define and secure victories.

First and foremost, the Bank of America debit fee announcement represents a victory for the communities and groups that have been organizing around banking issues for some time. Groups like Alliance for a Just Society, and organizers behind both the online petition demanding BofA rescind the fee and the “Bank Transfer Day” scheduled for later this week got a major boost and channeled popular energy to secure this win for us all.

Today’s announcement is also critical because it shows the power people really do have over even the most powerful among us-namely the banks and financial institutions that dominate life as we know it. They are vulnerable to us. The fact that Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, SunTrust and Regions banks also announced that they were canceling their plans to increase debit fees is nothing if not a testament to the people power taking hold in the U.S. Not only are we saving ourselves millions of dollars in another unnecessary display of super greed, but we are also starting to show that we may be able to save the country-and the world- from the workings of the super greedy financial institutions.

Another development, perhaps the most critical, reflected in today’s announcement by BofA has to do with how the #Occupy movement is growing into a sea of movement-building that simultaneously feeds and draws from the streams and rivers of other movements, in this case the economic justice movement. In addition to powering and pushing the work of groups fighting the bank fees, the #Occupy movement is also nourishing the work planned or envisioned by other groups. For example, those behind the “Move Your Money” campaign to get people to take their banking out of the big banks and into credit unions and other, more community-oriented financial institutions are getting a major boost from the zeitgeist of the #Occupy moment.

Bank of America and the other banks capitulation to popular demands offers a small, but important example proving to ourselves that we can fight and win against the most powerful, that we can discipline the banks and other institutions and align them with the needs of the majority. We have taken a step towards reaching what Clausewitz called the “culminating point of victory.” As in war, the spiritual value of winning in political activism will be determinant in ending the class warfare against the poor, the war against the 99% by the 1%.

The Greatest Threat to Liberty on Its 125th Anniversary: Corporate Tyranny

October 28, 2011

Liberty turned 125 years today. The Statue of Liberty, that is. As we watch the celebrations of the anniversary of  the iconic statue symbolizing  Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, we should all take at least a moment to reflect on the state of citizenship and freedom -and unfreedom-in the United States.

In a word, freedom is in grave danger because of the most powerful Tyrant of our time: Corporations. There is no greater symbol of the destruction of freedom than Wall Street, which profits from all that has defined tyrants of previous eras: war, poverty, control of government, the lack of free speech, surveillance,  the denial of basic human and civil rights and even the the possible destruction of the planet itself.

The good news is that we are also witnessing an unprecedented global movement that’s trying to define freedom in the age of corporate tyranny. Movements like Occupy Wall Street, Spain’s “Indignados”, the Arab Spring and other movements are directly confronting the corporate control of everything from the culture, land, sea, air we inhabit to  our genetic code and the food we eat. Occupy Wall Street is nothing if not a reflection of the threat to freedom posed by the ways in which corporations dominate the Congress, the electoral system, the economy and the Presidency itself.

The duplicity and threat of corporate-controlled freedom can be found on the Statue of Liberty itself. Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.

The same will to profit from the decimation of Liberty can be found in today’s naturalization ceremony being presided over by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. While Salazar is leading the naturalization ceremony of a small group of citizens at the foot of the statue, the Obama Administration is feeding the multi-billion dollar industry that persecutes and jails, surveills and deports more than a million immigrants since Salazar and the Obama Administration took the reigns of executive power. Such a situation has in essence has rendered meaningless the “New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the monument in 1903. The anniversary of “Lady Liberty” should give us pause to reflect on these words in the Obama era:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The golden door has become an iron cage; the masses are being huddled into private prisons whose stocks and profits now light the lamp of Liberty brighter with each new immigrant prisoner; The language of the “wretched refuse” on the “teeming shore has morphed an “anchor baby” that corporate-sponsored Republicans and even Democrats decry.

Such a situation points to how non-citizens, especially undocumented immigrants, are being used to divert from and disguise and the sad fact about citizenship in our age: corporate citizenship has humiliated and practically destroyed human citizenship. The buying of politicians by corporations has become synonymous with “democracy” in this New Gilded Age. But, instead of putting responsibility for the death of citizenship on the Corporate Colossus, there is a huge industry invested in blaming the “huddled masses” described in the New Colossus poem.

In the New Gilded Age, freedom and citizenship have become commodities that can be bought and sold.Freedom has become synonymous with “Free Trade”; “Freedom of the press”, to quote the great journalist AJ Liebling, “is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Religious freedom is centered at the altar of quick profits in a society forced to worship Wall Street.

If we are to alter this humiliation of Liberty, we have no choice to look not at the technofied torch and eyes of Liberty, which are monitoring us even as the torch shines forth the false image of “freedom”, but at the invisible chains that shackle the feet of Liberty. At the moment,  bottom-up, street level movements like the Occupy Wall Street movement stand at the feet of Liberty, trying to unshackle us from the chains of corporate tyranny.

May we still yearn to be free.

Gracias for Teaching Me to Love the Bad Magical Words, Piri Thomas

October 19, 2011

Very sad to hear of the passing of Piri, a genuinely sweet man whose first book, Down These Means Streets, was definitive during my youth.Back when we were called “minorities,” the stories in that book legitimized our lives in literature.

As a curious  kid who grew up down the mean street from housing projects like those Piri wrote about, I had to walk secretly to get a chair that raised me high enough to reach the shelf where Piri’s book and the Autobiography of Malcolm X were hidden. These books were placed high on the shelf by my siblings and parents, who didn’t want 11 year-old me learning those  “malas palabras” (bad words) filling those pages.

My siblings and parents got it wrong: Piri’s words pulled and raised us up like the chair so that we could see the Good, and have some sense of our true stature; His words  were magical words written by a writer and committed soul whose journey from the grit & soul of Down These Mean Streets to the mellifluously sweet play captured in Every Child is Born a Poet touched this Word Wanderer Child forever. Gracias, Piri. Gracias, Companero. Piri Thomas, Presente!

Occupy Wall Street Must End the Dictatorship – of Corporations

October 6, 2011


Our Berlin Wall is breaking. The furious waves of marchers in yesterday’s Occupy Wall Street mobilization have cracked the dark marble and teflon walls protecting the Dictator of our age: Big Corporations.

While baffled Teapartyers, Democrat-leaning progressives and most of the media ignored, ridiculed and then fought the nascent movement, the forces of Occupy Wall Street won a stunning ideological victory over the US Dictator. The history that allegedly ended after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marches on on Wall Street and on Main Streets throughout the United States- and the world- of 2011. The heavily-buttressed and beatified idea that Wall Street-the fortressed embodiment of Big Corporate Control of our land, our sea, our air, our country and even our DNA- is invincible just got Occupied.

Though the unprecedented popularizing of the “Wall-Street-as-US-Dictator” meme implicit in the movement’s message is growing and impressive, the real success of Occupy Wall Street, the great struggle of our crisis-ridden lives will be defined by one thing: definitively ending the Dictatorship of Big Corporations. Put another way, the real human beings that make up the citizenry will have to destroy the fake Citizenship of the non-persons that control Republican and Democrat, Obama and Boehner alike.

Failure to fundamentally alter Wall Street’s control of our political, economic and personal lives will lead to even greater devastation of real citizens. The good news is that we in the United States have finally started recognizing, naming and fighting back against the power behind a White House, a Congress, a Pentagon and an entire political and economic system beholden to fantastically rich and powerful corporations controlled by less than 1% of the population.

The history of the future will record how the Occupy Wall Street movement began informally after many of us stood by and watched as the great martyr of our times, Citizen Troy Davis, was denied his fundamental rights, was denied life itself; Historians will document how we watched and grew in anger as Corporate Citizens like the GEO group and other prison construction firms that profit from warehousing Davis and other Death Row inmates suck up all the rights of our citizenship- and none of the responsibility.

Whether they profit financially from the death penalty or from manufactured and unnecessary wars or whether they destroy the Gulf of Mexico or the earth’s climate, Corporate Citizens face no death penalty for their crimes. Only we human citizens do.

Like dictators, Big Corporations act with an unfettered arrogance and a dangerous impunity that profits from death, from war, from poverty and from the destruction of the planet itself. Many of us in the immigrant rights movement see the will to protect the powerful at the expense of the weak in how the Obama Administration jails more than 400,000 poor immigrants a year all the while not making a single banker serve serious time for what should be called ‘Economic Crimes Against Humanity.’

Occupy Wall Street represents a Great Awakening to the need to rescue our free speech and other democratic spaces humiliated by Big Corporations that the Supreme Court protects legally; that the police protect physically; that the media protects culturally and that White House and Congress protect politically.

Like the powerful social movements that are reshaping the Arab world, Latin America and even Israel, Occupy Wall Street must build enough power to avoid the multiple and often carefully disguised attempts by corporate interests to divert and water down our insurgent energy.

While the first line of Wall Street’s defense of its dictatorship is the more openly right wing, hard-line approach of trying to downplay and attack Occupy Wall Street thru any and all physical, political and media means, the next stage of defense will be subtler- and Democrat-led: try to divide and coopt the movement. Among the principal means will be the attempt to align and define the Occupy Wall Street movement by identifying it with the Democratic party and the Obama Administration. Already, the White House has started deploying Treasury Secretary -and Wall Street insider-Tim Geithner to create some sort of wedge between President Obama and Wall Street.

Obama allies in the progressive, immigrant rights, civil rights, environmental, labor and other movements are already trying to do what they did during the our last insurgent moment, the anti-Bush era: channel the insurgent energy into support for Democrats in the elections, in our case the 2012 elections. Failure to recognize these more subtle machinations of the corporate dictatorship will be fatal to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Key to recognizing these machinations is the urgent need and willingness to expose the disturbingly deep connections between the Obama Administration and the dictators of Wall Street. Any attempt to revive the thoroughly dead American Dream that does not detail how the Wall Street-heavy Obama Administration’s economic, military, immigration, environmental and other policies have destroyed the dreams of millions should be deemed questionable, at best.

Reviving Hope and Change will require nothing less than swiftly -and surgically-separating them from an electoral system corrupted by the Corporate Dictator that thoroughly controls both the Democrats and the Republicans. For the moment, real Hope and Change, (i.e. the kind that does not cost a billion dollars of Wall Street and other money to promote)-have returned to their rightful place in the streets and hearts of marchers and those hungry for justice.

Like those courageous souls who tore down the Berlin Wall or the wall of silence surrounding Tahrir Square, we must have the courage to confront the dictatorial menace of our time. In our case, the menace is neither communist nor a blatantly totalitarian dictator. Rather, it is a “Citizen” that none of us voted into office, but who all of us are becoming indebted to and imprisoned by. Before doing the urgently necessary work of (Re)Occupying -and redefining-our Citizenship, let us take a moment to Occupy our breath and take in our Great Awakening as we continue and expand the fight of and for our lives.

RED ALERT: Schumer, Dems and their Allies Ready to Support National ID Cards

June 25, 2009

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RED ALERT: Influential Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), some Dems, some DC groups (I’ve interviewed a couple) and even the SEIU’s Mike Garcia appear ready and willing to support a NATIONAL ID CARD. According to the L.A.Times,

“As the immigration reform debate begins to heat up again, some observers expect that one of the biggest and most controversial new elements will be a proposed national worker identification card for all Americans.

A “forgery-proof” worker ID card, secured with biometric data such as fingerprints, is an idea favored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y), the new chairman of the immigration subcommittee. Schumer, who will lead the effort to craft the Senate’s comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation, called the card the best way to ensure that all workers were authorized.”

ACLU and others I’ve spoken with are already gearing up to condemn and fight this (if you want to understand why national ID’s are a big problem, see the ACLU’s “5 reasons” tip sheet). When I interviewed some, including national immigrant rights organizations in DC about this yesterday, their first tact was to prevaricate and confuse by saying something to the effect of “It’s not a national ID. it’s different.” Having covered the electronic surveillance beat when I first started doing journalism, I recognize when somebody’s BS’ing about these crucial, but complicated issues. Letting the DC operatives know that I know electronic surveillance caused a shift in the rhetorical strategy of folks like the person who told me, “Well, the bill is not out yet. So we can’t really argue about this now.” I truly hope that the “tradeoff” desperation of those who spent millions of dollars to get legalization for some undocumented is not so great that they are willing to lend themselves to support reactionary policies like the national ID proposals that’ve been rejected by people of many different political creeds time and time again. I really do.

This national ID move is either a labrynthine charade designed to give Obama and the Democrats a way out of their commitment to immigration reform-even the conservative, punitive “get tough approach of CIR”- or a very dangerous move to continue the Bush surveillance project under the guise “immigration reform.” Either way, this National ID proposal -and its supporters- must be roundly and rapidly condemned before they get Obama to back it with his wealth of political capital. And watch out for the MULTIBILLION dollar interests of Lockheed, Larry Ellison and Oracle, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for national ID cards for many years. It appears that the those eating and profiting at the anti-immigrant trough are now trying to turn a profit by denying fundamental rights to the non-migrant among us. Even many right wingers oppose national ID proposals as when Ellison shamelessly tried to promote his national ID project right after September 11th. He appeared to be “offering free of charge” the software to build such a national ID. But what he nor other backers of national ID didn’t and won’t tell you is that, like other open source software, Ellison and Oracle stand to make billions from upgrades to the national ID software. go figure.

In any case, some in DC will try to hide behind the “but there’s not even a proposal yet” logic that masks nefarious dealings in much the same way that that logic hid the disgusting parts of McCain-Kennedy. This stuff moves us beyond the neglect of detainee and deportee issues and into issues of state control of the entire populace. This needs a powerful push back , regardless of whether it’s backers speak Spanish or can say “Si Se Puede” to further eroding the fundamental rights of people in this country.

Justicia!: Sotomayor and the Long March of Puerto Rican History

June 18, 2009

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NEW YORK — Inside the red brick walls of the Bronxdale housing projects, 24-year-old mother of two Geisha Sas says she still hears echoes of music from the 1950s, when her building’s most famous former resident, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, lived there. “Older people still listen to Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri inside their apartments,” said Sas, a salsa and hip-hop fan. Before morphing into the embodiment of urban decay that they became in the 60s and 70s, these public housing projects provided the young Sotomayor the new, lower-middle class housing that facilitated her early pursuit of justice. For Puerto Ricans of Sas’s generation living here, the Bronxdale experience of justice is quite different.

“I’ve also heard gunshots and saw a boy killed on that grass,” said Sas, looking at a large patch of grass surrounded by several seven-story buildings. Asked what expectations for justice she has from fellow Bronxdale Boricua (Puerto Rican) Sotomayor, Sas declared, “I hope she knows how to tell the difference between justicia and injusticia. I hope she does the right thing and that she doesn’t forget where she’s from.

Sas’s clamor for justice echoes the very particular concerns expressed by many Nuyoricans (Puerto Ricans in New York). Lost in debates about Sotomayor’s “ethnic allegiances” and what they consider the story of her rise from poverty, are the contributions of the silenced majority living in and beyond the Bronxdale projects: the Puerto Rican community whose political thought and action made Sotomayor’s rise possible.

“The media keeps telling us that she (Sotomayor) has a ‘one in a million’ story,” says Miriam Jimenez Roman, a visiting scholar in Africana Studies at NYU and director of the Afro-Latino Project. “But what they forget to tell us is how the million made the one possible. Many people struggled so that she might become the first Latina on the Supreme Court.” Roman notes that, for example, most news reports and commentaries about Sotomayor frame her life as an up-from-the-bootstraps story of individual accomplishment. This story, says Roman, is partial, at best, in that it excludes mention of the many and ongoing efforts of Puerto Ricans in the Bronx and other areas who fought to improve educational, health, employment, electoral, and other institutions.

Most importantly, says Roman, Sotomayor was very likely exposed to a broad spectrum of political thought about “justicia” that is not mentioned in the current national discussion surrounding her nomination. “I suspect that she heard and was influenced by the Puerto Ricans who were fighting for social justice,” said Roman. “We’re all glad about the nomination. But collapsing the story of an entire people into the story of a single individual is extremely problematic.”

Groups like United Bronx Parents, ASPIRA and the Puerto Rican Student Union organized for improved educational opportunities for young Puerto Ricans like Sotomayor, who herself was active in student access and curriculum issues while at Princeton. More militant groups like the the Young Lords, the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement and the Think Lincoln Committee took over Lincoln Hospital — one of the only health facilities in the Bronx — and forced it to provide better services and greater access to the community when 16-year-old Sotomayor lived in Coop City. A long line of Puerto Rican independistas (those who support ending what they consider the colonial status imposed on the island by the United States), from Pedro Albizu Campos and the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party to the activists who took over the Statue of Liberty, have kept the issue of Boricua identity in the minds of many like Sotomayor, who wrote her graduate thesis about Luis Muñoz Marin, the former nationalist who went on to become the island’s first elected governor. And the hometown associations that doubled as political organizations — fighting housing discrimination, racism and police brutality — were the first to organize the annual Puerto Rican Day parade that took place last weekend along Fifth Avenue.

Beneath the signs marchers in last Sunday’s parade were holding in support of Sotomayor was the long march of Puerto Rican political history, a history many believe helped raise the judge to the pinnacle of legal and political power as much as her much-lauded personal efforts. “There were many institutions that have helped her (Sotomayor) and many others,” said Angelo Falcon, director of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

“Different people took different routes to social justice,” said Falcon, who knows Sotomayor and supports her nomination. “She took the legal route, but is still a product of her community.”

Roman, who is around the same age as Sotomayor, agrees. She says she hears the workings of Puerto Rican political struggle in the music heard in Bronxdale since the 50s. “Back then,” said Roman, “even listening to booglaoo and salsa — Spanish language music created in the United States by the children of immigrants — was a statement, an assertion of our history and culture. It was normal for us to listen to it, but, in the larger context of an English-speaking country, it was radical in a way.”

Sotomayor’s Confirmation Hearings Will Be a Trial-of the GOP

May 27, 2009

The Huffington Post

As she faces what is already expected to be a host of hostile questions from the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in her confirmation hearings, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, should remember one thing: that it is not she who will be on trial, but the Republican Party.

Rather than allow herself to be put at the center of another racism and sexism-laden political circus around the qualifications of a candidate who brings more real-life prosecutorial and actual judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in the last 100 years, Sotomayor should consider another strategy. She – and we – should instead view those hearings as nothing less than a trial to determine whether the GOP is ready to make restitution for its role in a number of judicial and political wrongdoings perpetrated in the Bush era. Those wrongdoings include unleashing unprecedented and dangerous political attacks on Latinos, and breaching the political and electoral contract the “new GOP” said it wanted with Latinos, one of the country’s most important voting blocs.

The Sotomayor hearings will determine whether members of the Republican Party are ready to renew fundamental principles of justice and the rule of law.

Consider the case of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Cornyn supported the nomination of the last Latino to be considered for a high office dealing with matters of justice — disgraced former Attorney General and Republican Alberto Gonzales. Even after Gonzales’s role in crafting the now infamous “torture memos” became apparent, Cornyn raised none of the “red flags” and “lots of questions” he now says he has about Sotomayor.

During the Senate Judiciary hearings around the Gonzales nomination, Cornyn declared that the candidate would be vindicated by history: “The growing consensus behind the president’s decision that al Qaeda terrorists are morally entitled to humane treatment but not legally entitled to the special privileges afforded to prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 provides compelling vindication to supporters of Judge Alberto R. Gonzales’ nomination to be our nation’s 80th attorney general.”

Even when Atty. Gen. Gonzales came under fire for his role in the firings of a group of United States attorneys in late 2006, Cornyn and other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary defended Gonzales as an “honorable and decent man” who “finds himself in a bad situation.”

Though Gonzales will likely turn into the invisible brown GOP man, or go on a long vacation during the Sotomayor confirmation, millions of Latinos will watch what for them is a historical event of the utmost political and intimate importance. Many of these Latinos will be watching to see any signs of the racism and xenophobia many Latinos blame the GOP for and voted overwhelmingly against in the last election. Latino voters will, for example, be vigilant about what GOP Senate Judiciary members like Jeff Sessions say before and during the hearings.

Earlier this month, reports linking Sessions, the ranking Republican on the committee, to anti-immigrant groups filled Spanish-language
media. According to the Washington-based America’s Voice, the Alabama senator has appeared at several events organized by the Center for
Immigration Studies (CIS), NumbersUSA, as well as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was designated by the Southern
Poverty Law Center and other organizations as a “hate group.”

Anything in this must-see Latino political event resembling the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been Sessions’ trademark will cost his party for years to come. Such concerns about GOP leaders among Latinos, who are only beginning to realize their enormous political potential, pose a gigantic dilemma to a Republican Party that must make inroads among Latino voters if it is to have a political future.

Whatever they say in the hearings, Republicans will be at a great disadvantage when it comes time to counting votes in a Democrat-controlled Senate that will be at, or very close to, the filibuster-proof 60-vote majority needed to confirm Sotomayor.

So it will be the GOP and not Sotomayor that will be on trial in this high-stakes judicial confirmation of the post-Bush era of Republican dominance. Latinos will watch to see if GOP leaders will use the Sotomayor hearings to distance themselves from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others many Latinos consider to be anti-immigrant extremists.

And we should all be watching to see if Republicans are prepared to use the Sotomayor confirmation as a way to communicate a willingness to redeem themselves for the great injustices of our recent past.

New Republic Attacks Judge Sotomayor With Sexist, Racist “Angry Latina” Meme

May 4, 2009

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It’s that time in the political year when, in addition to “swine flu” crisis, there’s also a sudden outbreak of another dreaded disease: expertise around Latino politics on the part of the fatally ignorant. Consider this specimen (handle such disguised hatred with extreme caution) from The New Republic’s (TNR) John Rosen, who makes the case against nomininating federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court:

“But despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

This double sexist, racist whammy has an old, even ancient history, a very deadly history (yes, Latinos have history, despite their absence on the History Channel and other outlets, Mikey) Rosen seems to draw upon with ease. See the whole article here.

Lest we forget, this is the same New Republic that pushed the “Latinos-will-not-vote-for-a- black-candidate” meme during the elections, elections in which almost 70% of Latinos voted for Obama. What’s fascinating is how TNR and other liberal publications, media where Latinos, Latino issues, Latino writers brillan por su ausencia (shine for their absence), are suddenly demonstrating expertise on Latino issues, Latino pols, judges, etc.

This is ripe for powerful pushback. Time we started challenging and hitting sexists, racists of the liberal variety too. Right wing Jewish groups of the extreme and liberal varieties waste no time attacking some of us as “anti-Semitic” when, for example, we join the chorus of global denunciation (including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Intl.) around the slaughter of Palestinian babies, using cluster bombs and other depredations and war crimes of the Israeli government. For those of you tempted to find an excuse to divert attention from the issues at hand, namely the racism and sexism of TNR, my statement means, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT AS OPPOSED TO JEWISH PEOPLE. so,please save it for Fox News watchers, the lobotomized or someone else with time to waste.

The opportunity here is to build out political space, political clout establishing that we will not tolerate such garbage from sexists, racists of the right wing or liberal variety.

Of América Featured in PBS Documentary: Latinos ’08

October 6, 2008

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Not sure what we say or how we say it, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t fit harmoniously with the Insider Latino electoral politic we’ve all come to know and loathe. Scheduled to run this Weds at 9pm on PBS stations across the country, Latinos 08 looks like it has a lot of the top members of the Latinopolitic-industrial-complex as you will note from the clip below. The 1 hour doc directed by L.A.-based filmmaker, Phillip Rodriguez, looks like it will analyze the workings of one of the most important developments of this electoral cycle: the rise of Latino political power and how it marks the beginning of the end of the black-white politic that has long defined U.S. politics. During my interview, I tried to emphasize a lot of the themes you know form this blog. Hopefully, I didn’t embarrass my family, friends and community. Though it hardly begins to undo the damage done by the Ken Burns episode, Check it out Latinos ’08 and let us know what you think.

Economic 9-11: The Shrinking of Political Space

September 26, 2008

(photo by Jamie Denise Lahane)

New America Media, News analysis, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Sep 26, 2008 Share/Save/Bookmarka2a_linkname=document.title;a2a_linkurl=location.href;

Editor’s Note: Behind the economic bailout is a looming specter of government as Big ‘Banker’ Brother, and activists are protesting for fear of further erosion of civil liberties, reports NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

NEW YORK – Arun Gupta stood between the throngs of tourists and the small army of activists squeezing onto the narrow concrete island occupied largely by the 7,000 pound bronze Wall Street bull and declared, “We’re here to say no to the bailout.”

Gupta is an editor at the New York Indypendent newspaper whose open letter opposing the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout is largely credited with inspiring the protests on Wall Street in other cities. “But we’re also here because, in times of economic decline like ours, the natural inclination of government is to close down political space,” he noted.

Gupta, along with a host of other observers from across the political spectrum, believes that the debate about the Bush administration’s bailout plan obfuscates another looming threat: how the bailout behind the economic crisis could further erode free speech, the right to protest, the right to privacy – all repressive measures instituted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

At that time, many believed that the Bush administration was using the symbolism of Ground Zero to narrow political space – curtailing civil liberties – in an effort to silence opposition to the Iraq invasion. Today, Gupta and others believe that the government is preparing for another domestic war, a war on the poor and middle class – the sector of the population that is most affected by today’s economic realities – by controlling their economic and political freedom. Gupta fears that the government, as Big ‘Banker’ Brother, could play the dual roles of financier (who may or may not provide loans to its citizens) and cop (who will quell complaints about any rejections).

Even staunch conservatives with deep roots in Wall Street are alarmed at the possible political effects of the current economic policy. Paul Craig Roberts, former Reagan administration assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who is also a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, sounded an economic and political alarm that echoed in the financial canyons around Wall Street when he wrote a column titled “Has Deregulation Sired Fascism?”

“The real issue is whether we, the people, allow powerful interests to use the economic collapse to create an even more unaccountable executive branch,” he said during our interview. “History teaches us that it’s easier for government to give us our money back than it is for them to give us back the freedoms and civil liberties government takes.”

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to share these concerns when she said that the fiscal catastrophe was “a tragedy they [the Bush administration] must have known was coming and were very late in coming to Congress on.” Pelosi also stated that the administration sought “an expansive power for the (Treasury) secretary that was almost laughable.”

The physical, legal and political space had already been shrinking as a result of government actions in the aftermath of 9-11: public streets severely narrowed by the now ubiquitous steel fencing; decorative bulwarks and defensive walls put up by government and private sector interests; “permanent emergency” laws passed by both Democrats and Republicans; laws like the Patriot Act that criminalize forms of protest that were previously legal and which also unleashed powerful data-mining technology and other unprecedented surveillance powers of local, state and federal government; bipartisan legislation that gives the government the power to break into citizens’ homes and conduct secret searches and police raids. Add to this the made-for-TV-ratings arrests carried out against independent journalists like Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman while covering the Republican National Convention.

Gupta and others see the potential for the current economic crisis to facilitate government actions like those denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shortly after 9-11, when they released a report that stated, “The nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer is using his bully pulpit to shut down dissent and debate.”

Located next to the Hudson River and a brisk walk from the bronze bull and Ground Zero, is the ACLU headquarters, born from government threats to civil rights in times of economic crisis. After the economic unrest during and after WWI, the liberal Wilson Administration led several initiatives – including the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918 and other laws – to enable the rash of warrantless raids, massive surveillance and widespread criminalization of protest. In response, Roger Nash Baldwin, Jeannette Rankin and other New York activists launched the ACLU in 1920.

Baldwin, Rankin and their peers were fighting to maintain political space in the industrial age. Now Gupta and his fellow activists see themselves as doing the same in the digital age.

“What we’re witnessing is an interesting dynamic between the analog and digital worlds in terms of how we combine mobilization with technology,” said Gupta. “Email helped spread word of this protest like wildfire. At first I received responses to my open letter from a huge number of activists. But then it kept growing in concentric circles of impact extending to more than 100 cities. That’s a lot of political space that would not have been created otherwise – and we need to keep it up if we’re going to get out of this crisis.”

Crisis Special: Speaker Pelosi, Yglesias and Lovato Discuss Economic & Political Threat – & How to Deal

September 25, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Check out this special edition of Meet the Bloggers (MTB), which focused on the politics and economics or, as some of us call it, the “political economy” of the $700 billion dollar bailout and the larger fiscal and economic crisis it portends. Join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Atlantic Monthly’s Mathew Yglesias and yours truly as we discuss and (indirectly) disagree about what the “problem” really is and how to “fix” it. This clip will give you some sense of the threat and opportunity some of us see in this morass:

I think this was one of our best shows and hope you agree. To see the full show go to the MTB website here.

“The 2008 Election: What’s Really At Stake” 9/13 Event featuring Klein, Scahill, Lovato and Others

September 9, 2008

2008 Election: What’s Really at Stake? A Panel Discussion Sept. 13

We hope you can join us for a unique panel discussion,

“The 2008 Election: What’s Really At Stake,” featuring Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Flanders, Roberto Lovato and Malia Lazu.

Saturday, September 13 – 8pm
The Great Hall at The Cooper Union. 7 East 7th Street (at Third Avenue), Manhattan

Tickets on sale now! Sliding Scale $6 to $15. Click here to reserve tickets.

This presidential election comes at a critical time for the United States and the world. We are facing grave problems, including multiple wars abroad, an economy in decline, the rise of a high-tech police state, the looming threat of climate change, an anti-immigrant backlash, a dire energy crisis, and a political system thoroughly corrupted by money. Can either Barack Obama or John McCain offer workable solutions? What is the role of third parties who continue to face hurdles in the presidential electoral process?

To analyze the significance and consequences of the upcoming election, The Indypendent newspaper is hosting a dynamic public discussion, “The 2008 Election: What’s Really at Stake?”

Featuring some of today’s leading journalists, including Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Flanders, Roberto Lovato and Malia Lazu, this crucial event will examine the political and economic impact of a McCain or Obama presidency, the role of media in the election and how concerned citizens should relate to the electoral process.

Special Advance Reception — A chance to meet the Authors, hors d’oeuvres and open bar — tickets start at $35.

Naomi Klein is author of the international bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Laura Flanders is host of the daily news/discussion program GRITtv, host of the nationally syndicated weekly radio program RadioNation, and author of numerous books, most recently Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians.

Roberto Lovato is a New York-based writer with New American Media, a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and he blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com.

Malia Lazu is one of the brightest young minds in progressive politics today and is dedicated to broadening the U.S. electorate. Malia is currently the executive director of Harry Belafonte’s The Gathering, an intergenerational intercultural organization working to reintroduce nonviolence to our communities to stop child incarceration. http://www.gatheringforjustice.ning.com.

All proceeds to benefit The Indypendent.

Tickets now on sale! To reserve tickets, please order online at http://www.indypendent.org or Brown Paper Tickets.

Check out what Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill had to say about The Indypendent earlier this year. See video.

About The Indypendent:
The Indypendent is the leading progressive newspaper in New York City. We provide original in-depth, hard-hitting reporting on local, national and international news and commentary to our print and online readership of about 150,000.

We are a predominantly volunteer-run organization that is funded by individual supporters, ad sales to progressive local businesses and enterprises, benefits, and sales of posters we’ve produced.

We have won dozens of awards from the New York Independent Press Association — and pride ourselves on providing a forum for the hundreds of social justice groups working on the issues that we report on. As the newspaper of the New York Independent Media Center, we are dedicated to empowering people to create a true alternative to corporate press by stepping up to be the media.

Sean Bell Verdict Complicates Things for Obama

April 25, 2008

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Today’s acquittal of the 3 police officers accused of killing Sean Bell in November of 2006 will complicate Barack Obama’s efforts to win the presidency in November 2008. His candidacy already mired in the racial machinations of his opponents, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, Obama will find himself having to maneuver between the need to speak out on the most egregious, high profile example of institutional racism and police brutality since the Rodney King Incident and the need to deflect Clinton and McCain’s racialized attacks aimed at fomenting white fear of blacks and other non-whites.

While it has helped him win white votes, Obama’s approach to dealing with such racism by pointing to the black and white pictures of the civil rights past will not help him with his base in the black community and other communities. With the 16th anniversary of the Rodney King incident looming on the horizon this August 29th, none of us will be in any mood to hear calls to “hope” or “change” without similar calls to “justice”.

Unfortunately for Obama’s presidential bid, calls to justice from African American and other groups often trigger fear among some (not all) white voters. The platechtonic political shifts brought on by the Republican party’s Southern Strategy were premised on precisely these racial and political calculations. With the help of political strategist Kevin Phillips, Richard Nixon pointed to black anger as a way to persuade to white southern voters that the Republican Party could best represent their interests.

At a time when blatant racial codes have given way to the subtler racism of a post-Southern Strategy era, Obama finds his historic presidential bid bogged down by the new racial codes being engineered by the Clinton and McCain campaigns-and the mainstream media. Responses to the Sean Bell verdict will surely provide new codes, more political and racial fodder to those who won’t let the Jeremiah Wright scandal rest; those who seem to make racialized remarks involving Obama right before big primary votes; those who appeal to white fear among voters by linking Obama to fabricated images of black anger.

Obama’s attempts to speak about real black anger during his Philadelphia speech appear to have been not well received if the media’s ongoing obsession with Jeremiah Wright is any indicator.Failure to use his rhetorical gifts to speak forcefully to and about real black and non-black anger about the Sean Bell verdict may re-animate doubts about commitment to that part of his base that is not white middle and working class.

Beyond Obama, all of us need to raise our voices and point at the abyss of our country’s institutional racism as was painfully and transparently reflected in today’s verdict. We might want to start by pushing Obama, Clinton and McCain-and the mainstream media- to speak honestly and continually about what the 50 bullets in Sean Bell say about justice in the 50 states of our tattered and bloodied union.

New York Event: Left Out in the Open — The Netroots & Progressive Politics

March 4, 2008

This coming Wednesday, March 5th, yours truly will be joining a stellar panel of thinkers- and doers- in the netroots. Sponsored by the Nation Magazine and Moveon, “Left out in the Open” will explore how the netroots is transforming -for good and for bad- the left. I will try to hold my own in such smart, capable company. You are cordially invited to come to:

City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue (near 34th Street). The event starts at 6:30 and sounds like it’s going to fill up. Some come early, come all as many different colored beans we can cram in there.

See you there!

Left Out in the Open — The Netroots & Progressive Politics

This Nation event will convene progressive leaders and writers for a lively discussion of how the netroots are changing progressive politics. Participants will include Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor of The Nation; Zephyr Teachout, assistant professor of law, Duke University, and an architect of Howard Dean’s Internet strategy; Matt Stoller, a founding blogger of OpenLeft and President of BlogPAC; Roberto Lovato, a writer at New America Media and blogger for Of América; and Ari Melber, a correspondent for The Nation and a contributing editor at Personal Democracy Forum. The event is free of charge. Please arrive early. Takes place at CUNY Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue. The event starts at 6:30.

For more information, call (212) 209-5400 or click here or here.

New Poll: Latinos Showed Great Diversity, Not Clintonmania in Vote

February 8, 2008

New exit polls conducted by the nonpartisan William C. Velazquez Institute (WCVI) in Los Angeles reveal that, contrary to media reports of overwhelming support Hillary Clinton, Latinos exhibited great diversity in last Tuesday’s primary.

“Upon examination, while Latinos nationally supported Senator Clinton in the Democratic Presidential Primary, their support varied from state to state,” said Antonio Gonzalez, President of the Los Angeles-based William C. Velazquez Institute. “Latinos in California, New York and New Jersey showed stronger support for Senator Clinton, compared to other states like Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico and Connecticut.

Clinton appears to have done better in the larger, more urbanized states with the exception of Obama’s home state of Illinois. Obama , meanwhile, did better in smaller states.

Another interesting finding of the WCVI analysis is that, while Hillary Clinton did in fact win a majority of Latino votes, Barack Obama made significant inroads in the final days of the campaign. Even in California, where he suffered major defeats in the Latino electorate, polls show Obama decreasing Clinton’s lead in the final days of the campaign. As recently as January 26th, Field and other polls show Clinton maintaining a 3 to 1 (59%-19%) advantage among Latinos. Polls taken in California Tuesday show Obama reducing her lead by 10% (69%-29%).

Super Duper Surg(e)imiento: How Obama Is Cutting Into Clinton’s Latino Advantage

February 4, 2008

Alicia Perez, center, called potential Hispanic voters Jan. 29 from the Barack Obama headquarters in Oakland, Calif.

After hearing about Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama, my father, Ramon, says it made him think twice about his support for Hillary Clinton. “That (endorsement) matters” he said as he watched Spanish language Obama ads squeezed in between Univision news reports of the Kennedy endorsement, “They (the Kennedy’s) have a lot of history with us”.

That Ramon, who was defensive the last time I asked him about who he’d vote for, is now rethinking his previous support for Clinton previews what may be a big Super Duper Tuesday surprise: Obama cutting into Clinton’s lead among the more than 10 million Latinos eligible to vote this week.

National polls like the recent USA Today poll show Obama either drastically or completely reducing Clinton’s lead across the country. But other developments indicate that what pundits and media outlets have been calling Clinton’s Latino “firewall” may also be falling. A case in point is Arizona, where Obama actually leads Clinton among Latinos by 53-37 percent, according to a recent poll conducted by McClatchy newspapers.

Conventional wisdom tells us that history, political patronage and the much-coveted endorsements from members of most the Latino politirati are driving Latinos voters like Ramon towards Clinton. But Arizona tells us that history may still be in the making-and remaking. While the Kennedy endorsements do bring a new glow to the hallowed velvet pictures of JFK adorning homes and apartments of many older Latinos, Obama’s Arizona advantage can hardly be explained solely in terms of the spirits of our Latino political past.

Obama is also speaking to the present and to the future. Whether or not Obama can cut Clinton’s Latino advantage by Tuesday, his gains in Arizona provide valuable object lessons with regard to Latino politics, object lessons that take us far beyond the now ridiculous ideas about Latinos’ racist refusal to vote for a black person. Principal among the lessons of Arizona is the strategic priority placed on new Latino voters.

“It’s not rocket science” says Cuauhtémoc “Temo” Figueroa, the former union organizer who is the Obama campaign’s National Field Director. “We can’t win without new voters. We need young people, immigrants and other voters traditionally left out of the elections” said Figueroa from the very loud Obama campaign office in Fresno, California adding “New voters were key to victory in Iowa and new voters are key to winning the Latino vote.”

Central to dropping Clinton’s advantage are Obama’s appeals to the more than 2 million immigrants and first and second generation Latinos added to the rolls of eligible voters since 2004. In Arizona, unions like the SEIU and nonprofits like the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project have undertaken massive voter registration campaigns. Such intense focus on new Latino voters comes atop political soil prepared by what huge majorities of these Latinos consider the fertilizer of anti-immigrant politics.

Obama’s efforts in Arizona and across the Latino U.S. are yielding fruit in no small part because he, more than Hillary Clinton, has intensified his organizing around and his stands on immigration, the definitive issue of Latino politics. Though many polls show the economy, education the Iraq war are the top issues for Latino and other voters this election year, massive marches, polls and common sense tell us that immigration is shaping the political consciousness of an entire generation of new voters. Clinton, who has both avoided or flip-flopped around the issue, is counting on history, name recognition and the endorsements she received from the majority of old-line Latino political leaders like Raul Yzaguirre, the former head of the National Council of La Raza or United Farmworkers leader, Dolores Huerta.

To counterbalance pull of the Latino political past, Obama has started more aggressively deploying a browner, more pro-immigrant variant of the future-oriented message that fueled his victories in the largely black and white states of Iowa and South Carolina. Obama’s unswerving support for driver’s licenses for the undocumented and his commitment to deal with immigration reform early in his tenure are being noticed in Latino voter’s homes as well as in editorial offices of newspapers like of the Los Angeles-based La Opinion, which recently endorsed him. Editors at the country’s largest Spanish language newspaper said they were “disappointed with her (Clinton’s) calculated opposition to driver’s licenses for the undocumented, which contrasts markedly from the forceful argument in support made by Obama.”

Endorsements from Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Congressman Raul Grijalva have, no doubt, helped the Illinois senator as well. But Obama’s lead in Latino Arizona, one of the centers of anti-immigrant movement in the United States, comes in no small part because his message is accompanied by more serious organizing and investments in the Latino electorate. At the same time, a more nuanced understanding of the Latino electorate as a segmented electorate makes targeted messaging more effective, especially in the younger and newly naturalized segments of the electorate. Many of these voters either don’t know or could care less that my friends Dolores Huerta and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros are backing Hillary Clinton.

Beyond the simplistic storyline of Latino unwillingness to support a black candidate, explanations of Obama’s recent Latino surge must include the former failures of the black and white leaders of the Obama campaign. Sources close to the Obama camp tell me that the campaign has started shortening a Latino learning curve made steeper by, for example, an operation in which key Obama staffers charged with securing the Latino vote did not, until recently, have direct access to campaign leaders like David Axelrod.

Whether or not the Obama campaign is successful in dropping the Clinton tally among Latinos like my father, Ramon, Super Duper Tuesday will provide more than a few of the object lessons that political strategists and pundits will study long after the general election in November.

Sean Bell Murder Case: What Obama and Clinton Should Speak to in S.C. and all 50 States

January 25, 2008

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This article from the New York Times reminds me of another issue you won’t see or hear during the primaries and general election: police brutality and murder. Despite the continued abuse and even murder committed by police across the country, you won’t be hearing much about cases like that of Sean Bell on the campaign trail anytime soon. Bell was shot 50 times on his wedding day by NYPD cops who now want to bypass a jury and go straight to a judge, according to the NYT piece.

I interviewed friends of Bell along with witnesses who described how the cops who killed him had been drinking the night of the incident. I took the pic above at the makeshift memorial friends, family and community members built just after the shooting on 25th of November, 2006. The picture is of a piece of a larger list of young, mostly black, mostly male victims, who, like Bell were shot by NYPD.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, the case provides a good measure of the kinds of things the electoral and political system (and the privately-funded echo chamber, the MSM) either hides or ignores. I may be wrong, but my research does not seem to indicate that Sen. Clinton has made any comments about the high profile case involving victims and killers -the cops- from her home state of New York.

And, for his part, Barack Obama made at least one rather tepid reference to the case according to the New York Times:

Later, in questions from reporters, Senator Obama also weighed in on the fatal shooting of Sean Bell, noting that the matter was still under investigation but saying that 50 shots seemed “excessive.” Most of the time, police officers act with restraint, he said, but “This may be one of the times when they didn’t.”

Both candidates appear to spend time in South Carolina besotted by Martin Luther King, a black man shot many years ago, all the while saying little to nothing about another black man shot and killed by men in uniform a little over a year ago.

I’m waiting to see who will step up and bring “change” to the reality behind that painfully long list in the pic.

WBAI Interview About Obama and “Progressivism”

January 11, 2008

This just in from New York’s own WBAI. Check out this interview on Wakeup Call. Host Mario Murillo queries historian Gerald Horne, political scientist Valeria Sinclair-Chapman and yours truly about how “progressives” should deal with Barack Obama. Together, I think we brought a broader context to discussion about Obama, “change” and “hope”; We talked about such things as the historical context for Obamania, gender and Obama/Clinton and the geopolitical and economic context for the rise of populist, liberal pols like Obama, Clinton and Edwards.

Hope you like it!

Obama-Clinton Battle, McCain’s N.H. Surge Greeted by Merrill Lynch With News that Recession “has arrived”

January 9, 2008
BBC News

While the rest of the world was being put to sleep…ooooops….. I mean “mesmerized” by electoral developments in New Hampshire, David Rosenberg was busy writing the next President’s script. Rosenberg, the widely respected chief national economist at Merrill Lynch, is the author of a report announcing that a recession “has arrived”.

And though our worsening economic woes are hardly news to even the most brain dead among us , it should give greater urgency to whomever comes out of New Hampshire with an eye on the hot seat of empire this November. This is, in no small part, because they will likely have to take immediate, urgent measures to deal with the cloud of recession descending on the U.S. This BBC story highlights a report by financial giant Merrill Lynch, which states that a recession “has arrived”.

Instead of waiting for slothfully slow and arcane body known as the National Bureau of Economic Research to officialize this predictably bad economic news, Merrill fired off a warning that has global markets scurrying for cover.

Meanwhile, the rest of we humans remain vulnerable to the showers of acid economic rain: rising oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and a flaccid dollar (On the D train yesterday, I sat next to some shopping bag-bearing Brits I jealously watched as they gabbed about the jumbo jet-fulls of goods just purchased here in the new Tijuana of the Hudson, NYC).

After Iowa and New Hampshire, I’m pretty charisma’d hoped and change’d out and am instead staring at the tea leaves and tatters of Wall Street in search of what the future holds.

BBC
Recession in the US ‘has arrived’

The feared recession in the US economy has already arrived, according to a report from Merrill Lynch. It said that Friday’s employment report, which sent shares tumbling worldwide, confirmed that the US is in the first month of a recession.Its view is controversial, with banks such as Lehman Brothers disagreeing.

But a reserve member of the committee that sets US rates warned that it could do little about the below-trend growth expected in the next six months.

“I am concerned that developments on the inflation front will make the Fed’s policy decisions more difficult in 2008,” Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said.He was referring to the problems faced by the US Federal Reserve, which might want to cut interest rates to avoid a recession, but is worried about inflationary factors such as $100-a-barrel oil. ‘Significant decline’ An official ruling on whether the US is in recession is made by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but this decision may not come for two years.The NBER defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months”.It bases its assessment on final figures on employment, personal income, industrial production and sales activity in the manufacturing and retail sectors.Merrill Lynch said that the figures showing the jobless rate hitting 5% in December were the final piece in that puzzle.”According to our analysis, this isn’t even a forecast any more but is a present day reality,” the report said. ‘Actual downturn’ But NBER president Martin Feldstein denied Merrill’s claims.”I think we’re not in a recession now,” he told CNBC.”But I think there is a serious risk that it could get worse and we could see an actual downturn,” he added.Merrill said that the current consensus view on Wall Street that there is a good chance of avoiding a recession is “in denial”.

It also objected to the use of euphemistic terms for the state of the economy.

“To say that the backdrop is ‘recession like’ is akin to an obstetrician telling a woman that she is ‘sort of pregnant’,” the report said.

Housing figures

There were further signs of the housing slowdown that has sparked off the problems in the US economy in home sale figures.

Pending sales of existing homes fell 2.6%, according to the National Association of Realtors, which saw its pending sales index drop to 87.6 in November, 19.2% below the point it was at a year ago.

The figures were better than expected, however, because October’s index reading was revised upwards from 87.2 to 89.9.

U.S. Boricuas Poised to Debate P.R.’s Colonial Status as Congress Re-visits Issue

December 21, 2007

http://nacla.mayfirst.org/files/images/PRcover.jpg

 

 

 

Check out this month’s issue of NACLA Report on the Americas, where you will find several solid stories analyzing the ongoing debate around ending the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Included in the issue is the article below, written by my friend, longtime Boricua and Latino thinker and activist, Angelo Falcon of the National Latino Policy Institute.

Angelo places the various positions adopted by the almost 4 million Boricuas in the states within the context of U.S.-Puerto Rican relations (like the Vieques revindication) , immigration history and the growth of a unique political culture shaped by numerous influences. And like any good NACLA article, the piece includes plenty of footnotes that can you followup and delve deeper into the issues discussed.

Enjoy.

 

R

Note: As the debate over the future political status of Puerto Rico begins to be debated in the United States Congress, the role of the close to 4 million Puerto Ricans stateside (outside of Puerto Rico) starts to emerge as an issue. In the current issue of the magazine, the NACLA Report on the Americas (see full article below), Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy, analyzes this “diaspora factor.”

The Diaspora Factor:

Stateside Boricuas and the Future of Puerto Rico

by Angelo Falcón

NACLA Report on the Americas (November/December 2007)

The debate over the future political status of Puerto Rico has appeared once again in the U.S. Congress, raising the question of what role the nearly 4 million Puerto Ricans living stateside will play in this debate. Two competing House bills, both proposed by Puerto Rican representatives, call for Puerto Ricans to express their preference for statehood, commonwealth, independence, or even for an associated republic in a new plebiscite. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act, proposed in February by Representative José Serrano (D-NY), calls for a two-stage referendum in which voters would first be asked whether they prefer to maintain Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status or pursue a permanent solution. If the status quo option prevailed, the plebiscite would be repeated every eight years until a permanent option was chosen. If a permanent solution won, a second plebiscite would ask them to choose between statehood and independence.

 

The bill mirrors the recommendations of a report released in December 2005 by the White House Task Force on the Status of Puerto Rico, commissioned by President Clinton and continued by the Bush administration, to reach a permanent solution following the results of the last plebiscite in 1998. A majority of voters in that vote, 50.3%, chose “none of the above,” a result of a boycott of the vote by the pro-Commonwealth party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which objected to how their status option was defined in the ballot.

 

Meanwhile, Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), who criticized the presidential task force for failing to include Puerto Ricans, introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which calls for the formation of a constitutional convention to elect local representatives who would themselves draft the plebiscite to vote among statehood, independence, and a new “enhanced commonwealth” option. The outcome of that plebiscite would then be presented to Congress for approval.

 

Both bills are viewed by opposing island political parties as biased—Serrano’s toward statehood and Velásquez’s toward a commonwealth victory. This perceived difference in perspective between two Puerto Rican politicians from the same party and the same state highlights new complications in the island’s diaspora with regard to the status question, complications that make forging a common agenda difficult. Indeed, the stateside Puerto Rican population has always had a problematic relationship with Puerto Rico. Especially since the post–World War II great migration, this has been a movement of people tied to the failure of Puerto Rico’s economy, symbolizing a colonial dilemma magnified by its concentration in the world city of New York for so many decades in the 20th century.[1]

The diaspora has always been a bit of a mystery in terms of its attitudes toward its homeland. Because they were now participants in the world’s most advanced economy, were they now supporters of statehood for Puerto Rico? Because they came during the long-term regime of the pro-Commonwealth political party, did they support the status quo? Or did their racialization in the United States make them support independence?[2] And, in the end, does this matter to the future of Puerto Rico?

* * *

One of the most striking recent developments in the Puerto Rican experience was the realization that in 2003 the size of the stateside Puerto Rican community exceeded that of the island for the first time.[3] The latest census figures estimate that in 2005 there were about 3,780,000 Puerto Ricans living in the States compared to about 3,670,000 in Puerto Rico.[4] This has generated considerable discussion in Puerto Rico and in the diaspora, signaling that the stateside Puerto Rican community may now in a position to redefine its relationship to the island.

While there have always been strong connections between Puerto Rico and the stateside Puerto Rican community through family ties and migration, it wasn’t until the 1990s that this relationship took on an increasingly political nature. It was then that the stateside Puerto Rican community increased its representation in the U.S. House of Representatives from one to three—two from New York and one from Chicago, all Democrats. This resulted from the growth of the Puerto Rican population and its ability to more effectively use the federal Voting Rights Act in redistricting. Puerto Rico, on the other hand, continues to elect only one nonvoting resident commissioner to Congress (currently Luis Fortuño, a Republican).

During this period, political elites and activists in Puerto Rico increasingly turned to the stateside Puerto Rican leadership for support on local issues. Whether it was getting favorable U.S. federal policies toward Puerto Rico in terms of tax policy or social welfare expenditures, or the campaign to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, the three stateside Puerto Rican congressional representatives became invaluable, reliable allies, along with many Puerto Rican officials at the state and local levels.

Supporting this relationship was the strong nationalist identity of many stateside Puerto Ricans. Manifesting itself in myriad parades, festivals, and cultural events throughout the United States, culminating in early June every year with the massive National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, Puerto Rican nationalism and interest in Puerto Rico remains high. This was buttressed by the “Latin music explosion” starting at the end of the 1990s in which Puerto Rican entertainers played a major role. The successful campaigns to free Puerto Rican political prisoners, which led to pardons and clemency under presidents Carter and Clinton, demonstrated a level of nationalism that many in the United States found confounding.

But new socioeconomic and political developments both stateside and in Puerto Rico have complicated this relationship in ways that make building a common agenda difficult. The model for some is the powerful U.S. Israeli lobby, but this has proved hard to emulate in the Puerto Rican case. First, as mentioned above, the stateside Puerto Rican congressional delegation doesn’t always agree on central issues, especially as their seniority increases and their ties to different political sectors in Puerto Rico deepen.

Second, while historically concentrated in the Northeast, especially New York City, and the Midwest, the U.S. Puerto Rican population has not only increased but has become more dispersed during the last two decades.[5] In the 1990s the Puerto Rican population in Florida dramatically increased, making it the state with the second-largest concentration. Puerto Rican populations are also growing fast in other parts of the South, in smaller cities, and in suburban and ex-urban areas where a Puerto Rican presence is new. This new spatial distribution was accompanied by new patterns of migration from Puerto Rico and new professional and middle classes moving to these new areas, raising the potential for a new north-south economic polarization whose political implications are yet to be fully clear. This raises challenges to the more traditional stateside Puerto Rican political and economic narratives as a Northeast urban population loyal to the Democratic Party and New Deal policies.

Third, in Puerto Rico the traditional status-based colonial political party system has become increasingly difficult to manage, with political deadlock among the parties and the loss of the tax incentives that formerly attracted U.S. capital, along with ineffective economic management and multiple corruption scandals. With the U.S. Congress now considering proposals for resolving Puerto Rico’s status in the midst of a presidential election, this polarization will only intensify.

* * *

Although Puerto Ricans have been migrating to the United States since the mid-1800s, it wasn’t until after World War II that the size of this migration became enormous and subject to efforts to manage it from both the colony and the metropolis. The out-migration from Puerto Rico as an integral part of its economic development planning, which was based on neo-Malthusian principles, led in 1948 to the establishment of New York City’s Migration Division of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor. This became the mechanism by which the government of Puerto Rico tried to steer Puerto Rican labor flows and negotiate on workers’ behalf with U.S. local, state, and federal authorities. In 1986, this division, which now had offices in several states, was seen as a way to create a U.S. Israeli lobby–type operation, and the then pro-commonwealth governor elevated it to the status of the cabinet-level Department of Puerto Rican Affairs in the United States. This was short-lived when the statehood party candidate was elected to the governorship in 1992, which resulted in the new department being replaced by a lobbying operation called the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).[6]

Depending on which political party was in power, this new office’s relationship to the stateside Puerto Rican community changed in dramatic ways. Generally similar in function to foreign consulates, PRFAA differs in technically being a part of the U.S. government and in representing people who are all already U.S. citizens. Under the commonwealth party, this office collaborated closely with the stateside Puerto Rican political leadership, but under the statehood party the relationship was less friendly and often hostile. With the current divided government, the pro-commonwealth governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, has turned the office into a Washington, D.C.–focused lobbying and public relations operation that has made its relationship to the stateside Puerto Rican community focused on narrowly partisan concerns. Pressure to change the mission of this agency in this way came in large part because the divided government in Puerto Rico replicated itself in Washington, D.C., where Resident Commissioner Fortuño is a pro-statehood Republican, while the governor is pro-commonwealth and identified with the Democratic Party.

One reason for this uncertainty about how Puerto Rico political elites related to the stateside Puerto Rican community was the lack of information about the political status preferences of the diaspora. This became a practical political problem for these colonial politicians as the stateside population grew larger and more politically engaged and began in the mid-1960s to demand a voice in determining Puerto Rico’s future status. After a 1967 plebiscite held on the island, the stateside community demanded, with increasing intensity, the right to participate in these votes. Today, the major bills before Congress make some provisions for the participation of the stateside Puerto Rican community to directly participate in this status-definition process.

But knowledge on how stateside Puerto Ricans would vote on the future political status of Puerto Rico remains a problem because they have not been recently polled on this issue, despite extensive polling on this status issue in Puerto Rico. The most reliable survey conducted on the subject was the Latino National Political Survey (LNPS), conducted in 1989–90.[7] It found that more than two thirds (69%) of stateside Puerto Ricans supported commonwealth status. But since then there have been major changes in the social, geographic, and political composition of this community, it is not at all clear what its status preferences are today. One further complication is that most stateside Puerto Rican leaders and activists support independence. In a national Web survey conducted of this elite group in 2006, it was found that 45% supported independence, while in the 1989–90 LNPS, less than 4% of stateside Puerto Rican adults did.[8] It is doubtful that there has been a large pro-independence surge in the stateside community since then and more likely that pro-statehood sentiment has grown, as has been the case in Puerto Rico. The status preferences of the stateside community may now be similar to those of Puerto Rico, but this is only speculation.

The pro-independence preference of a plurality of the stateside leadership and activists has complicated the process in interesting ways. This has made the stateside Puerto Rican more open to controversial issues like freeing the Puerto Rican political prisoners and supporting the ouster of the U.S. Navy from Vieques. It has also made it easier for the pro-commonwealth party to deal politically with them, while the pro-statehood party finds itself at odds with this large sector of the stateside Puerto Rican political leadership. This is a characteristic of the politics of the diaspora community’s experience that has been little studied or understood, but which continues to have a major impact on its relationship to the politics of its homeland.

The role of the stateside Puerto Rican community in determining the future political status of Puerto Rico becomes further complicated by new socioeconomic changes and the changing narrative of race in the United States. Stateside Puerto Ricans, once the poster children for the urban underclass, have developed a more layered economic reality over the last couple of decades. Whereas once the major policy agenda for the stateside leadership was the issue of persistent poverty, there are now more voices joining the U.S. left in focusing the political agenda on the plight of the middle class. But while the community’s poverty rate has dropped significantly over the last 30 years, in 2005 it stood at 23%, compared with 8% for non-Latino whites (for further comparison, in 2006, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico stood at an appalling 45%).[9]

* * *

While experiencing a persistent high poverty rate, the stateside Puerto Rican community finds itself challenged to reframe its agenda in ways that may undermine its economic base. Poverty remains a serious problem in the stateside communities of the Northeast and Midwest, but less of a problem in the newer ones in the South and Southwest. How can the stateside Puerto Rican community recast its policy priorities as it also experiences such a potential economic polarization along regional lines? And how will this affect its relationship to the politics of Puerto Rico and the status question?

The stateside Puerto Rican community has been formally a part of the United States since the annexation of Puerto Rico in 1898 and as U.S. citizens since the 1917 Jones Act, and has even had a presence within the states well before then. But along with second- and later-generation Latinos, Puerto Rican issues have been made less visible by the growing attention to the controversial problem of immigration. Although Puerto Ricans have been negatively impacted by the racist backlash from this immigration debate, policy makers at all levels of government and in the private sector have difficulty focusing on the specificities of the Puerto Rican condition and how it differs from those of new immigrants and noncitizens.

With its policy and political agendas at one of those messy crossroads, it is not particularly clear which road the stateside Puerto Rican community will be taking, now that the issue of its formal participation in resolving the status issue is no longer a matter of debate. But whether the diaspora will come down on the side of statehood, commonwealth, or associated republic is not at all clear. Independence? Well, that’s another story about the failure of a movement and the power of the United States’ new imperialism.

Angelo Falcón, a political scientist, is president and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy (www.latinopolicy.org), based in New York City. He teaches at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

 

ENDNOTES

 

1 Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Angelo Falcón, and Felix Matos-Rodríguez, eds., Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004).

2 Ramón Grosfoguel, Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

3 Carmen Teresa Whalen and Víctor Vázquez-Hernández, eds., The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives (Temple University Press, 2005).

4 Jorge Duany, The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), chapter 7.

5 Rodolfo O. de la Garza, DeSipio, F. Chris Garcia, John Garcia, and Angelo Falcón, eds., Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on Americans Politics (Westview Press, 1992), p. 104.

6 Angelo Falcón, Stateside Puerto Rican Activist Findings (unpublished manuscript, National Institute for Latino Policy, August 2006).

7 Edna Acosta-Belén and Carlos E. Santiago, eds., Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Contemporary Portrait (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), chapter 5.

Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Angelo Falcón, and Felix Matos-Rodríguez, eds., Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004).

[2] Ramón Grosfoguel, Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

[3] Angelo Falcón, Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans (Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, 2004). The figure for Puerto Rico indicates the number of residents who identified as Puerto Rican in the census’s so-called Hispanic question.

[4] U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2005.

[5] Carmen Teresa Whalen and Víctor Vázquez-Hernández, eds., The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives (Temple University Press, 2005).

[6] Jorge Duany, The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), chapter 7.

[7][7] Rodolfo O. de la Garza, DeSipio, F. Chris Garcia, John Garcia, and Angelo Falcón, eds., Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on Americans Politics (Westview Press, 1992), p. 104.

[8] Angelo Falcón, Stateside Puerto Rican Activist Findings (unpublished manuscript, National Institute for Latino Policy, August 2006).

[9] Edna Acosta-Belén and Carlos E. Santiago, eds., Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Contemporary Portrait (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006), chapter 5.

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