Archive for September, 2007


September 10, 2007


Spanish-speaking Latino candidate Bill Richardson looked like he’d swallowed a big burrito when asked en Espanol, “Would you be willing to promote Spanish as the second official language of the United States?” His fellow Presidential candidates, all of whom were thrown off by and joined him in dodging this and other questions unprecedented in the annals of US political history, also looked like nervous immigrants being interrogated by ICE agents. To watch both the audacity of the questioning and the role reversal it inspired was to watch the translation of power.

Joe Garcia summed up handily the significance of Univision’s* broadcast of the first-ever Spanish language Presidential debate. “The real winner this evening is Latino power,” he told me in Cubano-inflected English in between interviews with big mainstream and big Spanish language media outlets that had descended on the debate (officially called a “foro” & “forum”) held at the University of Miami campus. Garcia, a Vice President at the New Democrat Network (NDN) and head of the Miami-Dade Democratic party, was instrumental in putting together tonight’s historic event, an event he calls “a super bowl of Latino participation.” While much of the evening was spent answering questions (not debating) around Latinos’ top issues (Iraq, immigration, education, US Latin America policy and others), the most important outcome of the evening was what the very visibly nervous candidates said to the audience between the lines (and what Latinos are increasingly telling themselves): “you have power.”

Still a mystery to even the most seasoned political consultants (just look at their meager Spanish language ad budgets and English language ads like Dem darling Harold Ford’s anti-immigrant TV messaging in 06), the Latino power displayed alongside Senators Clinton, Obama, Edwards and other candidates moves along three separate but intertwined vectors on display this evening: media power, (swing) voting power and immigrant power. This same confluence drove last year’s massive immigrant rights marches and the Latino backlash against Republicans last November, when the GOP went from getting an unprecedented 40 to 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 to less than 29 percent.

More than just symbolic pandering aimed at a single-issue voter block long-ignored in Presidential politics, the Univision debate marks a coming-of-age of the very-politically engaged (think millions marching in the largest simultaneous marches in US history) Latino community. Far from being the monolithic group sold to advertisers by Univision ad reps and to candidates by political consultants, tonight’s debate marks another milestone in the understanding of Latinos as a group that’s as varied and complex as any other. With a growing split of the Cuban-American vote between its historically Republican and ascendant Democratic camps and with its large populations of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and other Democrat-leaning Latino subgroups, Miami provided the perfect venue from which to project and broadcast the ascent, dynamism and complexity of Latino power.

The reasons candidates exposed themselves to the discomfort of being asked by Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas “Why not build a wall at the (US) Canada border?” have as much to do with immigration politics as they do with the fact that Latinos are no longer that little-known 2.5 million person voter block concentrated largely in California and Texas in 1980. Today, the more than 14 million Latinos expected to vote in 2008  are sought out by the candidates because of the unique position they occupy on key parts of the Electoral College map, a map that’s also dotted with more than 18 full-power Univision TV stations and more than 1800 of its cable affiliates along with hundreds of radio stations.

Tonight’s debate was the first of what will likely be many strategic political moves in Latino America because the Democrats know that their Presidential candidates have won 248 or more Electoral College votes in the last 4 Presidential Elections.  This, in turn, means that swing states and their voters will wield power far beyond their numbers in 2008. If trends seen in 2006 continue, the Democrats can secure the 277 votes they need to win the presidency next year by winning Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, all sites of major Latino voting blocks.  By simply adding Florida to the historic Democratic core, they get 275 votes.   Far from experimental, tonight’s debate marks the beginning of what will, like the YouTube debates, become a new media staple of US politics, a bilingual media staple where, unlike the YouTube debates, the audience sometimes has a propensity to march in the streets after watching TV or surfing the growing Latino political web.

Poll after poll and the evenings questions (ie; “How will you deal with the growing anti-immigrant, anti-Latino racism?”) all indicate  that Latino voters, especially the immigrant voters who now makeup half of all Latino votes and who are the fastest-growing voter segment, harbor profound concerns about the increased raids, racial profiling, lack of immigration reform and other signs of ill-treatment of immigrants. Though most polls tell us that, like most Americans, Latinos’ #1 political issue is the Iraq war, a Gallup poll conducted in July indicated that 1/3rd of Latinos felt immigration was their number one issue.

Viewed from the perspective of these ascendant voters, even the Democrats’ nervous, measured responses to the questions struck a definite contrast with the histrionics still heard from a Republican leadership that crafted and pushed the most punitive immigration policies in US history. Overwhelming numbers of Latinos viewed this as tantamount to a political and personal betrayal, including many Republicanos. Shortly after last year’s Congressional elections, Lionel Sosa, a close ally of Karl Rove (“we’ve been good friends a long, long time”) who is widely credited with reversing Republican Latino fortunes in the 2000 race, confided to me that “We as a party got the spanking we needed.” He also said after last year’s GOP Latino debacle that “I don’t think everything I worked for is lost.” But when so many Republicans continued the “awful” championing of the anti-immigrant politic, he started having second thoughts. So, last night, Sosa continued his involvement in melding Latino power with mainstream politics by cheering for his new candidate, Bill Richardson. “Blood is thicker than party” said Sosa when asked by a reporter why he went from advising and backing Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to backing the Mexico Governor.

Sosa and others see in the tea leaves of tonight’s Democratic event even deeper troubles for the GOP in the months leading up to the 2008 election. ALL Republican candidates with the exception of John McCain declined to participate in a similar Univision GOP candidate event. Meanwhile, the Democrats have been busily brushing up on their Spanish and making further inroads into this increasingly important segment of the electorate. Formerly in the vanguard of capturing the Latino vote, the GOP looks to many Latinos as if its stepping back to the future of its monolithic, monochromatic roots.

“While we’re looking more and more like the rest of the country, they still look like a gated white men’s club” said NDN’s Garcia, a rising star in Democrat circles who once occupied the star chamber of Miami power as leader of the storied and extremely conservative Cuban American National Foundation. Reflecting on what he had accomplished with tonight’s historic debate, Garcia reminded me about the importance of the media, migration and voting power nexus. “The rise in Cuban American immigrant power came in no small part because of radio” said Garcia adding “We couldn’t afford television back then. Now we hold power in key positions in every sector of Miami society.”

After glad-handing with the departing candidates, a tired but happy Garcia watched the English and Spanish language network TV crews dismantle their equipment. And then, he breathed a sigh of relief before inhaling like a boxer on his way to winning another round and said, “We’re just getting started. Pretty soon the rest of the country will start looking like Miami. And just imagine what will happen in 2050, when 6 of the 10 largest US cities start with “Los” or “San? Like us or not, here we come”?

(* Full Disclosure: I did some consulting for Univision some years ago.)


September 8, 2007

One in a series of occasional installments about that barely-blogged, much maligned and extremely elusive something that big media and their corporate sponsors can’t report on: HOPE.


(taken this week in Peru by an AP photographer)

Though still flying among us in the smoggy air of our making and though, for hundreds, thousands of years, they brought inspiration to and edified Mayan, Hindu and other civilizations that time will soon prove breathed longer than our own, most of us never bother to notice our still flapping friend, the Hummingbird. A symbol of the warrior spirit, of joy, of happiness and other freely available gifts, the Hummingbird, it is said, flaps fastest as the sun rises.

Don’t know about you, but, after another week of flapping to keep the relentless smog of of this civilization’s bad news at bay, breathing in, gazing at this pic of a colibri (hummingbird) while I meditate on the following quote by virtuoso poet Rabindranath Tagore gives an essential buzz, sooths and brings out the best of the barbarian in me:

“Faith is the Bird that feels the Light when the dawn is still dark.”

Keep flapping. Despite what they daily and always tell you, it’s not too late.


September 7, 2007


(caption: “First Sgt. Kim Chinn of the Prince William County police hangs photos of men suspected in recent violent crimes”)

The Newark, New Jersey murder case has invigorated and significantly expanded (there is no “debate” when folks like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, Democrats like NJ Governor John Corzine and Republican Presidential candidate Tom Tancredo all agree) the reach and appeal of the “immigrant = criminal” equation. Just look at this article and picture (above) in today’s Washington Post. Rather than include information in the story giving a context to the unquestioned claims of the cops and anti-immigrant politicos that dominate the story, the writer, Theresa Vargas, opts to give even more space to the anecdotal evidence fueling the viral growth of the urban legend of immigrant criminality:

“Ebert said that although he does not know what percentage of serious crimes are committed by illegal immigrants, he knows of at least three pending murder cases and two rapes alleged to have been committed by illegal immigrants.”

Had she done her homework, Vargas might have asked about the race and national extraction of other alleged criminals; she might have done some basic research to find some of the countless studies over the past 100 years showing, for example, that immigrants – documented and undocumented – are five times less-likely to go to jail than the native born; she might have mentioned that, while immigration to the US has increased intensely in the recent decades, crime rates have dropped during the same period. Such information might help readers better understand where such statements from cops and anti-immigrant politicos are coming from.

Instead, Vargas and, more importantly, the Washington Post chose to let the chorus of bogus sources continue unquestioned, unanswered.

Despite important, necessary struggles to dispel such notions among African Americans and others, we still live in a country where race and class –and now migration status and national extraction- are considered in the public discusion of the crimes of some -and not others. Please consider this and share your conclusions as you look below at the list of the major mass murders of the past 20 years and answer the question, “Is there a link between race, national extraction and migration status here? If so, what?” R

1. Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma, USA 1995)

2. Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden (Jonesboro massacre, Jonesboro, Arkansas, 1998)

3. Matthew Beck (Newington, Connecticut, 1998) (killed five at Connecticut Lottery Headquarters, Newington, Connecticut, 1998)

4. Larry Gene Ashbrook (Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, 1999)

5. Susan Eubanks (Vista, California, 1999)

6. Buford O. Furrow, Jr. (Los Angeles, California, 1999)

7. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine High School Massacre, Littleton, Colorado), 1999)

8. Byran Uyesugi (Xerox Murders, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1999)

9. Michael McDermott (Wakefield Massacre, Edgewater Technologies, Wakefield, Massachusetts, 2000)

10. Jeff Weise (Red Lake High School massacre, Red Lake, Minnesota, 2005)

11. Terry Ratzmann (Brookfield, Wisconsin, killed 7, March 12, 2005)

12. Kyle Huff (Capitol Hill massacre, Seattle, Washington, March 25, 2006)

13. Charles Carl Roberts IV (Amish School Shooting, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, October 2, 2006)

14. Cho Seung-hui (Virginia Tech Massacre, Blacksburg, Virginia, April 16, 2007)

15. Chris Benoit, Atlanta, Georgia,killed 3, June 24, 2007)


September 6, 2007


In yet another sign that the outsourcing of US jobs is cheapening the life of even the youngest among us, El Segundo, California-based toy company, Mattel , announced its 3rd recall this year due to concerns about lead paint in more than 11 products manufactured in China. Among the more than 850,000 toys being recalled worldwide are public TV icon Dora the Explorer and several items from global legend Barbie’s house.

Even dogs and cats can’t escape the effects of buying the American Dream on the cheap as the US Consumer Product Saftey Commission also announced that Barbie’s Dream Puppy House™ (lead paint on dog) and Barbie’s Dream Kitty Condo™ Playset (lead paint on cat) were starting to resemble the lead paint-laced homes in poorer neighborhoods where kids play with Dora and Barbie.


La Barbie and homegirl waiting for federales in her lead-based hood.


September 4, 2007


As you watch a “weaker”, but still dangerous Hurricane Felix flood and devastate the communities of some of the poorest people in the hemisphere, you might want to take special note of the US’s first priorities in response: its own interests. A report in today’s UK Guardian lays these priorities out succinctly:

“On Tuesday, in the final hours before Hurricane Felix hit, Grupo Taca Airlines frantically airlifted tourists from the Honduran island of Roatan, popular for its pristine reefs and diving resorts, while the U.S. Southern Command said a Chinook helicopter evacuated 19 U.S. citizens, including tourists and members of U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo who were visiting the island.”

Felix’s path covers lush, verdant lands dotted with volcanoes, almond trees – and a long, painful history of US military presence. As the impacts of the hurricane become clearer, watch how the men and women in fatigues become the heroes of the story, a mainstream media story that will likely lack any explanation about why, for example, almost half of the people living in Honduras live on less than $2 a day. Neither will they report on how “Joint Task Force Bravo” is staging rescue operations from the same military bases where they trained and housed the infamous Contras as these “freedom fighters” killed more than 30,000 mostly noncombatant poor people in their failed Cold War quest to overthrow the Sandinistas who are now back in power.

If the mainstream media did report on this, it’d be obliged to mention that these same est. 2,000-5,000 US military personnel have a mission to help the governments in this economic desert of a region combat the new post-Cold War enemy: the poor. As you hear the media tell you how US and Honduran troops are helping rescue poor campesinos and their children, compare that with how this recent “exercise” of the US Southern Command in Belize conflates poor migrants with terrorists, traffickers and other “transnational security threats”:

Security, Illegal migration and illicit trafficking Exercises

One example of this type of multinational maritime exercise called TRADEWINDS which addresses transnational security threats in the Caribbean. Recent TRADEWINDS exercises have been crafted to provide Caribbean nations training for the security requirements they will have for the upcoming World Cricket Cup. This year, Belize hosted TRADEWINDS 2007 in which 16 countries enhanced their collective abilities of maritime and ground security forces to prepare for and respond to security threats.

While the hurricane of US economic policies like CAFTA are the primary source of the region’s poverty and propensity to migrate (ie; about 80,000 Hondurans try to migrate annually), the volcano of militarism also does its part to displace – and silence- the poor, especially poor youth, as noted in this report from Amnesty International, which documents how the same Honduran military that was trained for rescue operations is also being trained in counterinsurgency strategy and tactics targeting those most likely to rebel against a $2-a-day future: youth.

For a local perspective on the relationship between land, environment and militarism, see this excerpt from campesina leader and former refugee, Elvira Alvarado’s Don’t be Afraid Gringo. Though written during the height of the Central American wars of the 80’s and 90’s, it documents well how the elite “Gringos” saw powerful refugee women named Elvira and others as communist threats in need of a military solution. Hurricane felix provides another tragic object lesson about how, in the post-Cold War age of migration and other “national security threats”, hurricane survivors, environmetal refugees and other migrants named Elvira are now seen as requiring a military solution. Le Plus Ca Change… Le Plus C’est La Meme Chose.



September 3, 2007


The entire working world honors workers on May 1 (Mayday). The whole world except for the US, that is; This despite the fact that Mayday was actually born in Chicago following the largely (radical German) immigrant-led general strikes culminating in the Haymarket riots and massacre in 1886. Since then, the US says it celebrates workers on the first Monday in September. This perennial need to put up borders between US workers & the workers of the world has, for some time, been the business of government, media and politicos. We see this in the creation of a May 1rst “Loyalty Day” by Bush I, who (unsuccessfully) admonished people to use this day to:

“express allegiance to our nation and its founding ideals, we resolve to ensure that the blessings of liberty endure and extend for generations to come.”

OK. Sure…

In any case, we also see this same sowing of divisions -class, racial, ethnic, national-behind the initiation of the current national immigration wars in 1993 by then-California Governor Pete Wilson, who’s legacy still inspires conflict like that taking place in San Diego, CA. During his re-election campaign in 1993, anti-immigrant godfather Wilson mixed media and migration politics in innovative but noxious ways with ads like this one:
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Though we’re living the political and media legacy of Wilson in terms of dishonoring migrant labor, we also owe him; He pushed many of us, including Spanish language TV and radio (Spanish language media has a long history of supporting immigrant movements) and other Latino media, to create, continue and assert our own legacies like the now reinvigorated Mayday and the upcoming September actions or this MUST WATCH CLIP by the Latino Comedy Project that contains echoes of Wilson:

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Barbarians rule; Feliz Labor Day.