Archive for January, 2008

Radio Nation Interview: “Black-Latino Tensions” in the Electorate

January 28, 2008

RADIO NATION with Laura Flanders

check out this interview I did with Laura Flanders on Radio Nation. It goes 20,000 leagues deeper than the silliness that current passes for race reporting in the U.S. Guest Amy Alexander and I take a more serious look at this part of the most racialized election in recent memory. Hope you like it:

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

January 25, 2008


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.

Everyone’s an Expert on the Latino Vote, Except Latinos

January 22, 2008

Everyone’s an Expert on the Latino Vote, Except Latinos

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jan 22, 2008

Editor’s Note: The newly minted experts on the Latino vote are using the old paradigms to explain the Nevada vote results says NAM writer Roberto Lovato.

NEW YORK – The most interesting development out of this weekend’s Nevada caucus votes had little to do with Hillary Clinton winning a large percentage of the Latino vote – that was predictable. More fascinating was the sudden and exponential surge in the number of experts in Latino politics.

It was tragicomic to watch non-Spanish speaking pundits explain the ‘reality’ of the Nevada vote while standing in the artificial light of the casinos during one of the first caucus meetings held entirely in Spanish. Reporters had to wait for translators to tell them what campaign workers were saying before they could report it to us. Understanding the electoral needs of casino, hotel, restaurant and other workers who labor in a new economy – and require new hours for voting – proved very difficult for many in the media to understand.

It was no less difficult having to watch the white, and some African American, political commentators on MSNBC, CNN and other networks tell us that the Latino vote for Clinton reflected “Black-Latino tensions.” The New York Times newspaper had earlier echoed these observations in a story that caused frustration in the Latino blogosphere. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, a publication that has no Latino editorial staff and publishes very few stories a year about the country’s 46 million Latinos, the magazine showed off its newfound expertise in a story which detailed how Latinos are Clinton’s electoral “firewall,” thanks to the “lingering tensions between the Hispanic and black communities.” It’s hard to know how they know this when only one serious polling organization in the country conducts polls in a language other than English.

Yet everybody, it seems, has something to say about Latino politics. Everybody that is, except Latinos.

The awkwardness and simplicity seen and heard in the coverage of the Latino electorate illustrates how ill-equipped the news organizations, the political parties and the society as a whole are to understand and deal with the historic political shift previewed in Nevada: the death of the black-white electorate. Simplistic talk about the Latino vote provides another example of how we live when the ‘experts’ and their organizations are increasingly out of touch with the dynamism and complexity of the electorate and the general populace.

As a result, the growth of the very diverse Latino electorate will likely force the revelation of more inconvenient truths. Principle among them is the media’s conclusion that anti-black racism among Latinos explains why they voted Clinton and not Obama in Nevada. Story after story tries to fit the Latino vote into the procrustean bed of old-school, black v. white politics.

Typical of these conclusions are statements by the liberal New Republic’s John Judis. He explained Latino support for Clinton this way: “Latino immigrants hold negative stereotypical views of blacks and feel that they have more in common with whites than with blacks.” Judis backed his claims with a modicum of academic seriousness as he quoted “experts” like Duke University political scientist Paula D. McClain. McClain told me in an interview that she neither speaks Spanish nor watches the primary source of Latino news and political information, saying: “I don’t watch Univision.” Quoting her makes little practical sense.

It only makes sense when we consider how ever-expanding Latino power in Nevada and across the country is pushing up against people’s fraying sense of nationhood and citizenship. Latino citizens and voters, not undocumented immigrants, are the targets of many liberals. These liberals long for the simpler days of a black-white electorate, a less-globalized country. Like Clinton, Obama and all Republican candidates, they support the political and racial equivalents of the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino border wall.

So instead of considering that Latinos reflect the new complexities of our political age, we should, experts tell us, simply swallow the black-white political logic of the previous era, like the half-moon cookies our grandmothers made. Ignore whatever you think of the Clintons – they have more than 15 years of relationships, name-recognition and history in the Latino electorate. Outside of Chicago, Obama has less than two years. Never mind that Latinos may still be wondering about why Obama did not, until recently, secure the support of most black voters. Never mind about the political amnesia about how the country’s last black candidate of national stature – Jesse Jackson- defied the prevailing racial logic during the Presidential primaries of 1988, when his Rainbow Coalition secured almost 50 percent of the Latino vote in Latino-heavy New Mexico counties like Santa Fe and San Miguel and 36 percent of the Latino vote in the largest Latino state in the country: California.

The Latino experience of the right-of-center Clintons and the left-of-center Jackson, who the Illinois senator did not ask to campaign for him, raises questions about Mr. Obama’s political operation and his political agenda. Time will tell us what was behind the Latino support for Clinton in Nevada. And who knows, maybe the experts telling us about Obama, Clinton and other candidates’ fortunes in upcoming primaries will do so without the black and white lens that has proven obsolete in the face of a new country.

No Hablo Odio y Migracion (I Don’t Speak Hate and Migration): Romney, Giuliani Release Spanish Language TV Ads

January 22, 2008

As they prepare for what will surely be a highly contested primary in Florida, some Republican GOP candidates have produced and released Spanish language TV ads that should raise more than a few eyebrows and questions.

For example, how is it that the Mitt Romney whose English language ads are chock-full of immigration agents and tough talk against “illegal aliens” in this ad:

is the same Mitt Romney who approved this ad featuring his Spanish-speaking lauding his father as someone who shares the values held by Latinos:

Watching both ads makes one want to bilingually barf because the high dosage of hypocrisy contained in the ads far surpasses the tolerance levels suggested by the Surgeon General’s office.

And, for those of you adventurous types – the ones who like to flirt with deadly levels of toxicity and other dangers-, check out this Florida ad (think Cubano vote) by Rudolfo Giuliani, who invokes none other than the ever-cheery Gipper, Ronald Reagan, the genial President recently lauded by Barack Obama and who is responsible for more death, destruction and suffering in Latin America than any U.S. president in recent memory,

Missing from any of these bizarre commercials is any understanding that most Latinos watch television in both English and Spanish. This means that, unless the GOP-influencing, racist hate groups like FAIR are right about how Latinos are genetically predisposed to crime, illiteracy and parisitism, then these same Latino voters will likely see and hear the different messages coming out of the English and Spanish language sides of the candidate’s mouths.

Soy Roberto Lovato y yo apruebo este anuncio: Coman mucha mierda hipocritas, racistas hijos de su p……… (ad infinitum)

Latino Officials at the Center of CIA Torture Tape Investigation

January 18, 2008

 This undated handout photo provided by the CIA shows Jose Rodriguez. One of the CIA's top spooks has come out of the shadows. With little fanfare, Rodriguez, who heads the National Clandestine Service, had his cover lifted about a month ago. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the driving factor was his interest in publicly participating in minority recruitment events. He's also retiring later this year after more than three decades with the agency. (AP Photo/CIA)


Who Will Take the Fall for the CIA Torture Tape Scandal?

By Roberto Lovato, AlterNet
Posted on January 18, 2008, Printed on January 18, 2008

As he concluded a closed-door congressional hearing into the CIA torture tape scandal, Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, on Wednesday opened the country to a historic possibility: that the fate of the investigation into the destruction of the tapes will be decided by Latino government officials. Current and former Latino officials may even determine whether the investigation reaches the White House.

Reyes, the powerful chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is charged with overseeing an investigation into the latest controversy. Reyes’ fellow Tejano, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was one of four Bush administration officials briefed on the tapes before they were destroyed, may be asked to testify in the investigation. And at the heart of the whole affair is Jose Rodriguez, the Puerto Rican native who was the CIA’s former director of clandestine operations. According to the CIA officials, Rodriguez ordered the destruction of the interrogation tapes in 2005.

Rodriguez was subpoenaed to appear before a closed-door hearing of Reyes’ intelligence committee on Jan. 16. But after Rodriguez’s lawyer informed Reyes and the committee that his client would not testify without a grant of immunity, the congressman decided to postpone the former CIA official’s appearance. Some observers believe the postponement signals a willingness on the part of Reyes to negotiate some kind of immunity deal with Rodriguez.

Developments in the case represent a new, more diverse chapter in the history of national security scandals. How these current and former Latino officials proceed — especially Reyes and Rodriguez — may well determine whether the investigation reaches as far as the Bush administration. President George W. Bush said last December that he could not recall hearing about the 2005 destruction of the tapes prior to a Dec. 6 briefing by CIA Director Michael Hayden, despite recent revelations that Gonzales was among the four White House lawyers debating between 2003 and 2005 whether to destroy the now infamous tapes. Some experts speculate that Rodriguez’s testimony could lead to a wider investigation and that he is trying to avoid becoming a fall guy for the Bush administration.

“If everybody was against the decision, why in the world would Jose Rodriguez — one of the most cautious men I have ever met — have gone ahead and destroyed them?” said Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA’s former head of counterterrorism during an interview with the Times of London. Cannistraro’s sentiments were echoed by Larry Johnson, another former CIA official interviewed by the Times last month. “It looks increasingly as though the decision was made by the White House,” said Johnson, who pointed to a likely expansion of the investigation by an eventual Rodriguez testimony. “The CIA and Jose Rodriguez look bad, but he’s probably the least culpable person in the process,” said Johnson. “He didn’t wake up one day and decide, ‘I’m going to destroy these tapes.’ He checked with a lot of people and eventually he is going to get his say.”

Whether or not Rodriguez does, in fact, get his say depends on his fellow Latino government official, Reyes. Unlike Gonzales, whose rise from poverty in Humble, Texas, to the heights of power and controversy became front-page news following his involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal, Reyes is a much lesser-known Tejano. Called “Silver” by his friends and close associates, Reyes, a very conservative, pro-Pentagon Democrat and Vietnam war veteran from El Paso, rose to the top of the congressional intelligence chain after a 26½-year stint with the Border Patrol.

As the head of the congressional committee responsible for oversight of the CIA and 15 other agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community, Reyes will play a definitive role in determining the breadth and scope of the tape controversy investigation. Derided by Fox News commentator John Gibson and other conservative pundits for being “unqualified” for the position, Reyes’ past statements about Rodriguez may raise questions about his ability to objectively manage the investigation. During a Border Security Conference organized by Reyes at the University of Texas at El Paso in August, he presented an award to Rodriguez, calling him “our good friend and American hero” and speaking glowingly of his claim to fame as the man who inspired the role of Jack Bauer in 24. Rodriguez, he said, was “the genesis — with a few liberties that Hollywood takes — the exploits of Jose Rodriguez are documented in the series 24.” Rodriguez, he added, “admitted to me that he likes fast cars. I won’t tell you about the women, but I will tell you about the fast cars. He is a connoisseur of fine wine.”

Before becoming the CIA’s director of the National Clandestine Service, Rodriguez was a career CIA operative who worked primarily in Latin America for more than 30 years. His role in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s appear to have prepared him to adopt the current legal posture he’s taking before Congress today. When the FBI called Rodriguez in for questioning about his involvement, he was told that Iran-contra was “political — get your own lawyer.” After surviving that affair, he went on to become the agency’s chief of Latin America Division before moving on to become, in 2004, director of the National Clandestine Service, the job that embroiled him in the torture tape controversy. His path to the position, Rodriguez says, was paved by both his Latino identity and his experience in Latin America.

“When I took over the National Clandestine Service in November of 2004,” said Rodriguez during a speech at the El Paso conference, “I did not realize that my experience, my background, my ethnicity, my diversity would be so important in allowing me to successfully lead service.” Appearing to reinforce the position put out by Rodriguez and the CIA — that he decided to leave the clandestine service because of his interest in what CIA chief Hayden called “speaking publicly on key intelligence issues” like “diversity as an operational imperative” — Rodriguez’s speech focused primarily on the link between ethnicity and national security.

In a speech that sounded like a mix between a counterterrorism lecture and a sermon about affirmative action, he spoke to the racial discrimination that many Latinos and others experience in professional settings. “Our government was not going to put someone in charge of the nation’s clandestine, counterterrorism, Humint (Humanintelligence) operations against Al-Qaeda merely to satisfy a ‘diversity’ requirement. I was put in charge because I brought something unique to the mission.” And, as if putting a positive spin on the CIA’s controversial role in Iran-Contra, the Central American wars of the 1980s, the bloody drug war in Colombia and other operations, Rodriguez credited his experience in “counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations in Latin America.” This experience, he said, also “provided some of the methodology that was adapted to fighting terrorism.” He concluded his brief speech with a slogan popularized by Chicano civil rights activist Cesar Chavez (and, more recently by candidates Clinton and Obama), as he called his CIA experience a “source of inspiration to many minorities who now understand that ‘si se puede, si se puede'” (yes we can, yes we can).

Whether or not the tape scandal investigation reaches the White House, the involvement of high-profile Latinos in the controversy has already attracted considerable attention, especially among Latinos. For Antonio Gonzales, the executive director of the William Velasquez Institute, a Los Angeles-based think tank, Latino involvement with the CIA has a long history. “The CIA has always used our community,” says Gonzalez, who added, “Many Cubans have always done CIA dirty work in Latin America and the entire world. Oliver North’s Iran-Contra assets were Latinos.” Asked about Reyes’ ability to bring vigorous oversight to the investigation, Gonzales said, “Reyes is a heretofore unknown quantity. He’s pretty [politically] moderate but is not considered corrupt or unprincipled. This investigation will be a big test of his abilities. I hope he does the right thing.”

Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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King Anniversary: Celebrating the “Failure” of Non-Violence?

January 18, 2008


Whether you end up agreeing with or absolutely loathing it, this piece from the UK Guardian will provide a provocative and quite different perspective on the MLK legacy we’ll all be meditating on this weekend.

Written by Jonathan Farley, a math professor who loves the work of anti-colonial revolutionary, Franz Fanon (as do I), the article (below), “I Have a Nightmare”, argues that the “aims and the character of the civil rights movement were flawed” and that the non-violent approach advocated by King and others may not have been what was best for accomplishing real change.

I’m putting this out there, not necessarily because I agree with it, but because it echoes an important part of the political milieu King inhabited; It says things that King surely had to contend with. More left-leaning veteran 60’s activist friends of mine have a somewhat similar take on the King movement, one we’re not so much as even supposed to say in polite company these days .

These friends argue that, were it not for the more militant forces of the black community in the 60’s, the non-violent civil rights movement might not have been as successful in gaining elite acceptance. Or, if you prefer, getting to where, in the words of the “first Black First Lady”, “Dr King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.” Whatever.

Say what you will about the article, it does say things that we’re not even given the option to even hear, much less discuss, which is why I wrote this piece.

While never stating outright that he supports armed struggle as one of several options for social change here in the U.S. (as did the Panthers and other groups in the 60’s), he does make some insightful, important points about who monopolizes violence and how we view them as when he says,

And despite our absolute hatred and fear of groups such as the Black Panther party because they refused to espouse non-violence, we have no problem honouring “heroes” such as General Colin Powell, who may have killed as many as 100,000 Iraqis during the Gulf war. Apparently it is evil to take up arms in defence of black people, as the Panthers did, but perfectly Christian behaviour to take up arms in defence of oil companies’ profits.

Why is it that the global and domestic violence of the state is O.K., while any attempt for countries, groups or individuals to defend themselves against uniformed agressors are greeted with denunciations followed by increased violence, which is, in turn, followed by official justifications for state violence? Just a thought.

So, when you’re digesting that hefty serving of official MLK propaganda (as opposed to more nuanced and informed perspectives on MLK, the movement and the legacy), think about what this piece says as it echoes things he surely heard and had to grapple with in his search for the holy grail of real change.

I have a nightmare

To liken Barack Obama to Martin Luther King does him no favours: non-violence failed us
Jonathan Farley
Thursday January 17, 2008
The Guardian

As America prepares to celebrate Martin Luther King Day next week, black presidential candidate Barack Obama stands in a strong position to become the country’s 44th president. Some view Obama’s remarkable popularity as the realisation of King’s dream, the final victory of the civil rights movement. Others view it, their respect for Obama notwithstanding, as a testament to its remarkable failure.Both the aims and the character of the civil rights movement were flawed. One aim was clearly desegregration. But the movement should never have been about integration. It should have been about demanding the respect that is due to free human beings; about ending the physical, spiritual and economic violence that had been perpetrated against African-Americans since the end of the American civil war. What’s the value in begging for the right to spend money in a store owned by a racist who would rather kill you than serve you?

Lest we forget, integration was the death knell for black teachers and principals. Thousands lost their jobs. “The movement” moved us from the back of the bus into the unemployment line.

Almost 40 years after King’s death, we still haven’t reached the promised land. King lamented that, in 1963, only 9% of black students attended integrated schools. But, to give just one example, Atlanta’s Grove Park elementary school is now 99.99% black.

King complains in Why We Can’t Wait that “there were two and one-half times as many jobless Negroes as whites in 1963, and their median income was half that of the white man”. Black median income in 2003 was 62% that of whites, and the black unemployment rate in 2004 was 10.8%, 2.3 times the white rate. The numbers have barely changed.

Following Mahatma Gandhi, the chief characteristic of the civil rights movement was non-violence. In order to combat violent racists, King speaks of meeting “physical force with soul force”. One wonders how well it would work against, say, Hitler’s Panzer divisions. Civil rights marchers had to pledge to “observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy”, promising to “refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart”. Said King: “Remember always that the non-violent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.” Not victory? Whose side was King on?

The riots that occurred in a hundred cities after King’s death were the ultimate testament to his failure. Black people never believed in non-violence after all. Despite our love affair with King, African-Americans are not a non-violent people. Black Americans kill 5,000 other black people every year. (Instead of urging us to love our enemies, King should have taught us to love ourselves.)

And despite our absolute hatred and fear of groups such as the Black Panther party because they refused to espouse non-violence, we have no problem honouring “heroes” such as General Colin Powell, who may have killed as many as 100,000 Iraqis during the Gulf war. Apparently it is evil to take up arms in defence of black people, as the Panthers did, but perfectly Christian behaviour to take up arms in defence of oil companies’ profits.

King’s many worshippers are fond of Gandhian quotes such as “If blood be shed, let it be our blood”. Which is fine if you are merely sacrificing yourself. But King was sending out women, children and old people to be beaten and blown up. Even at the time, as King notes, there were many who viewed this as monstrous. When those little girls were murdered in Birmingham, why should black people not have booted King out and hunted the killers down, like al-Qaida? As King himself said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”

King also needs a history lesson. He writes, in The Sword That Heals, that “non-violence in the form of boycotts and protests had confounded the British monarchy and laid the basis for freeing the colonies from unjust domination”. Yes, that, and colonial minutemen with rifles.

Which brings us to Obama, a black candidate who refuses even to say whether he supports reparations for slavery. One of the worst aspects of the King legacy is that, thanks to him, no African-American today is allowed to bring up racism, even in the most objective fashion, without severe repercussions. You will be instantly labelled a radical, a Black Panther (a bad thing), or a Mau Mau (a very bad thing) who wants to kill the white man. King has eliminated the possibility of other black people speaking out, people with other philosophies, who do not necessarily want to hug racists. Obama can succeed only insofar as he makes it plain that, like the British trade unionist Bill Morris, he is “not the black candidate”, that he can be counted on neither to be a champion for, nor to defend the rights of, black people.

Our love for King notwithstanding, if we are honest we will concede that King built nothing, and taught us only how to take a beating. As Gandhi said: “I have admitted my mistake. I thought our struggle was based on non-violence, whereas in reality it was no more than passive resistance, which is essentially a weapon of the weak.”

It is time we all admitted our mistake. A black King did not redeem us. And neither will a black president.

· Jonathan David Farley is a former Martin Luther King Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Presidential Candidates Take the ‘Social’ Out of ‘Change’

January 16, 2008

Presidential Candidates Take the ‘Social’ Out of ‘Change’

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jan 16, 2008

Editor’s Note: Presidential candidates now clamor for change, and many invoke Martin Luther King, Jr. for their own political benefit, but lost in the debate is the social movement of change, notes NAM contributing editor Roberto Lovato.

The spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. still seems to stir serious controversy among politicians. But, as we’re witnessing with the latest racial politics pushing the primary process, the King icon is also being used to build the fortunes and legacies of these politicians, especially those who would be president.

Despite a racial controversy involving a newsletter bearing Ron Paul’s name that called King a “world-class adulterer” and “pro-communist philanderer,” the Republican candidate plans to launch a new and likely record-breaking multimillion dollar “super Tuesday” fundraising campaign on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr., day; Mitt Romney mentioned seeing King only to later “clarify” that he never actually saw him; Rudy Giuliani regularly makes references to King in speeches, books and security consulting engagements that earned the former New York mayor the millions of dollars that were, until recently, paying for his campaign. And Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in the midst of a fierce battle over the MLK legacy to see who deserves to win the black vote.

Lost in the bickering over and celebrations of King as an individual is any notion of the social movement that defined King and an entire generation. Similarly, the mind-numbing mantra of “change” mouthed ad infinitum by all of today’s presidential candidates would have us believe that they, not we, are the arbiters of change. The King anniversary appears to provide candidates an opportunity to remind us that they have a monopoly on “change.”

The most recent electoral banter around King takes place within the collective amnesia about his views, especially his later views focusing on issues dogging us to this day: racism and poverty, prisoners and war. To the detriment of our political process, we forget that King’s views came about at least in part as a response to a black political milieu defined not just by white racism, but by the wealth of spirited action and the intellectual perspective provided by millions of people, thousands of organizations and other, less-requited political stars – Angela Davis, the Black Panthers and their combination of service and calls to militancy; Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam and their own brand of self-determination; Stokely Carmichael and the more militant students of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. These and many others influenced and pressured King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s.

As the harried run toward this year’s King celebrations and the South Carolina primary continues, the practically propagandistic repetitions and variations of words and phrases like “change,” “hope,” “content of character”, “I have a dream” and other King-isms are coded and distributed for mass consumption like Coca-Cola. Coke is, in fact, the main corporate sponsor of a gigantic new civil rights museum located just a shout from Ebenezer Baptist Church and King’s birthplace in Atlanta.

Nowhere is this denial of the “social” in “change” better exemplified than in statements made by Hillary Clinton, who said last week, “Dr King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.” Few among the pundits noted how Clinton’s framing of the issue deleted the social component of change. Instead, the media, pundits and even community leaders are engaged in a heated discussion about what the candidates believe: whether it was King, the individual, or Johnson, the individual, who “realized” the dream.

This climate has benefited Barack Obama, who speaks more skillfully than any other candidate to a still mostly white electorate that is largely unwilling to deal collectively with issues of race and racism beyond the platitudes one hears during official celebrations of King. Obama’s King-like cadences and charisma give us that semi-religious feeling that goes with being part of a social change movement -only without a social change movement.

In critical ways, the lack of the “social” in our discussions of “change” allows us to gloss over crucial differences between Obama the candidate and King, the leader of the Poor People’s Campaign. When asked how he would like to be remembered after his death, King said, “I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.”

Like his competitors, Obama spends most of his time making speeches packed with calls for tax cuts and other proposals targeting the crumbling bastion of individualism: the “middle class.” He spends little to no time at rallies dealing with those most devastated by the lack of change: working class people, especially young people like those fueling the Jena Six movement. As he and the other candidates vie to be the inheritors of the King legacy, those who would be King say not a word about forcing “change” in a prison industry that predicts the value of its stock based on the future school performance of black and Latino third graders.

As we decide, during these times of continued crisis, on whom to vote for and what to do beyond the ballot box once they get elected, we might do well to recall the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., social change agent: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering,
and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Not one dedicated individual, but many.

Touted As “First” Focused on Latinos and Race, Nevada Dem Debate Delivers Nada

January 16, 2008

Tonight’s Democratic debate on MSNBC was sold by organizers as the “first” debate focused on Latinos and issues of race (actually, it was the Univision debate that did so). Though we heard many a promise to end the war, strengthen the “middle class” and so on, by the end of the 2 hours it was clear that Clinton, Obama and Edwards have little more than the waste at Yucca Mountain to offer voters out West

Debate questions and responses centered on the economy and the war – both top issues for Latinos – the substance was, as expected lacking, severely so.

Most despicable to me were responses to Tim Russert’s question about the Solomon Amendment, a Federal statute requiring univiersities to provide military recruiters access to detailed personal information – telephone, address, grades, etc- of students. Universities not implementing this politically parasitic law get their federal funds cut. ALL 3 candidates said they’d “vigorously enforce” a law many of us have seen keep poor, unknowing students and their families vulnerable to the biggest predators on earth-the Pentagon.Brian Williams did his part to slant the debate towards non-Latino interests by asking why English “should not” be adopted as the official U.S. language. Russert then quoted an uinformed, stupid and article in the New Yorker, which repeated unproven statements that Latinos would be unwilling to support a black candidate. To his credit, Obama dispelled it by talking about his huge support among Latinos in Illinois, a seriously Latino state.

And nuclear bomb-maker General Electric’s MSNBC network denied succeeded in denying serious and fiery anti-war candidate Dennis Kucinich.


Obama, Clinton “Step Back” From Race Flap – But Still Silent Abour Racism

January 15, 2008

The Associated Press

Today’s AP tells us that Dem candidates Clinton and Obama have decided to “step back” from the race bickering around the legacy of Dr. Mr. Luther King. According to the AP, “Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama stepped back from a controversy over race Monday night, agreeing that a prolonged clash over civil rights could harm their party’s overall drive to win the White House.”

Now, we all know that this has a lot to do with the much-anticipated South Carolina primary. Touted as the “first black primary”, the voting in Southern Carolilna, a state with a significant African American electorate, will, indeed be determinate in the horse race we call elections. An, so, both camps have played the race card in their own way, Clinton through her husband, who called the Obama campaign a “fairy tale” and Obama through surrogates nailing Clinton.

Lost in the haze of such offensively simplistic approaches to race by the media and pols is the racism rising in the south and across the country; You know, the kind we find exhibited in things like the “noose” and Imus incidents as well as in the more disguised racism of the immigration debate.

The issues and candidates have been thoroughly vetted and racialized. Talk of them “stepping back” rings pretty hollow at this point. Candidates should be foregrounding and yelling at the top of their voices about the racial crisis ravaging the country, but they don’t. Instead, they use race in its more coded, but equally noxious forms found for, example, in the vote or support for the Border Wall of Shame on the part of all the leading Democratic and Republican candidates.

Mark my words: there’ll be no “stepping back” from electoral racism, the political gift that keeps on giving.

More on this real soon.

80 Bills and Counting-Virginia Turns Legislative Process Into Anti-Immigrant Frenzy

January 13, 2008

This months query from Of América’s Fabulously Dumb Statements Department comes from Virginia, where Governor Timothy N. Kaine wondered, during his State of the State Address, whether people might perceive his state as “hostile to new Americans.

According to this story in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Kaine stated “We cannot afford to let supercharged political rhetoric unfairly paint a picture of Virginians as a people who are hostile to new Americans”.

Kaine’s remarks came after members of the Virginia legislature proposed more than 80 bills denying services and punishing immigrants in dozens upon dozens of new ways. And, according to the Times Dispatch, “Dozens of other bills would affect illegal immigrants, such as measures to crack down on overcrowded dwellings.”

You be the judge in the matter of Virginia’s hostility to “new Americans”. Check out this partial list of legislation targetting immigrants in the upcoming session of the legislature.

Here, grouped by topic, are some of the dozens of bills filed in the Virginia General Assembly that target illegal immigration, explicitly or implicitly.

To read the bills in full, go to and type in the bill number.

If you don’t have the time to review the list, try just scrolling down and seeing if you can do it in less than 3 minutes.

Worker verification by businesses

HB 90, patron Nichols; Requires contractors to verify workers’ legal presence for employment eligibility.

HB 227, patron Cosgrove; Makes a contractor applying for a license certify that he will not knowingly employ an undocumented worker and will verify employees’ lawful status.

HB 926, five patrons; Makes conviction for violating the law by employing ineligible workers grounds for disciplinary action by a regulatory board.

HB 1047, 16 patrons; Would fine a business $100 for each day of unlawful employment of an alien worker.

HB 1249, patron Hugo; States that an employee who is replaced by an unauthorized illegal immigrant has a cause of action against the employer.

HB 1298, patron Frederick; Sets fines and establishes grounds to suspend the license of a business that employs illegal immigrants.

HJ 51, patron Morgan; Directs a panel to study the need for limitations on the eligibility of seasonal employees for unemployment compensation.

HJ 164, patron Cosgrove; Asks the Virginia Commission on Immigration to study the pervasiveness of licensed contractors hiring undocumented workers.

SB 90, patron Colgan; Requires employers to verify workers’ legal eligibility, sets penalties for violations.

SB 385, patron Martin; Requires a business license applicant to certify he is not employing persons without documentation to prove their legal eligibility.

SB 426, patrons Barker, Nichols; Requires public contractors to verify workers’ legal eligibility.

Driver’s licenses

HB 63, patron R.G. Marshall; Provides for forfeiture of a motor vehicle for two or more offenses of driving without a valid license.

HB 91, patrons Albo and Rust; Anyone charged with driving without a license would be placed under arrest, photographed and fingerprinted.

HB 104, patrons Rust and Albo; The vehicle of a person charged with driving without a license would be impounded for 30 days.

HB 178, patron R.G. Marshall; A vehicle owner’s second offense of driving without insurance would result in forfeiture of the vehicle.

HB 180, patron R.G. Marshall; A second offense of driving without a valid license would result in forfeiture of the vehicle.

HB 376, patron D.W. Marshall; Requires that driver’s license examinations be in English only and bars interpreters.

HB 433, patron J.H. Miller; Provides for impoundment of a motor vehicle for three or more offenses of driving without a valid license.

HB 446, patron Rust; Calls for impoundment of a motor vehicle for two offenses of driving without a license.

HB 447, patron Rust; Sets 10 days as mandatory minimum confinement for a third instance of driving without a license within 10 years.

Education Access and Funding

HB 14, five patrons; Bars any illegal immigrant from attending a public college or university in Virginia.

HB 37, patron Albo; Anyone failing to register for Selective Service would not be eligible for admittance to a state college.

HB 123, patron Hargrove; Any illegal immigrant must present legal documentation or residence or educational status to attend a state college

HB 417, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires public school principals to record in the pupil’s permanent school record the child’s place and country of birth and record how many pupils lack identifiable information.

HB 419, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires the General Assembly to reduce a locality’s school funding for every 500 students with limited English proficiency.

HB 425, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires a birth certificate for admission to a state college.

HB 437, patron J.H. Miller; Requires division superintendents to include the number of students enrolled in the public schools for whom English is a second language when estimating state funding needs.

HB 1010, patron Hugo; Bars in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

SB 434, patron Vogel; Bars in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

English-only laws

HB 55, patron Lingamfelter; Designates English as the official language of the commonwealth.

HJ 124, patron Joannou; Proposes constitutional amendment to make English the official language of the commonwealth.

HB 376, patron D.W. Marshall; Requires that examinations for driver’s license applicants occur in English only.

HB 624, patron J.H. Miller; A non-English-speaking defendant convicted at trial would pay the cost for his interpreter.


HB 82, patron R.G. Marshall; Provides for enhanced fines for overcrowding in single-family dwellings.

HB 156, patron Nichols; Bars mortgage loans to recipients who lack evidence of legal presence in the U.S. Lenders could be fined $10,000.

HB 183, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires that applicants seeking property-tax exemptions for elderly and handicapped persons demonstrate they are in the U.S. legally.

HB 184, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires that a person seeking tax exemptions or credits on property demonstrate legal presence.

HB 200, patron R.G. Marshall; Provides increased penalties for overcrowded residential dwellings.

HB 205, patron R.G. Marshall; A zoning ordinance could permit a magistrate to issue inspection warrants for dwellings.

HB 304, patron Nichols; Requires localities to limit occupancy to no more than four unrelated persons.

HB 350, patron Cole; Would increase the enforcement capabilities of the Spotsylvania County zoning administrator in overcrowding cases.

HB 430, patron J.H. Miller; A zoning ordinance could permit a magistrate to issue inspection warrants for dwellings.

HB 445, patron Rust; Bars enforcement action against the owner or manager of a single-family dwelling if he has taken legal action to stop overcrowding.

HB 452, patron Rust; Removes the prohibition against a jail term for violating zoning provisions related to overcrowded dwellings.

HB 1101, patron Sickles; Locations may shorten the appeal period for notices of violations of zoning ordinances that limit occupancy.

SB 455, patron Petersen; Authorizes localities to require all non-owner-occupied dwellings be registered annually.

Law enforcement

HB 47, patron Cole; Adds a presumption, subject to rebuttal, that someone charged with a crime who is federally verified as an illegal immigrant would not be admitted to bail.

HB 155, patron Nichols; HB 440, patron Rust; HB 757, patron Poindexter; SB 152, patron Stuart; would do the same.

HB 51, patron Lingamfelter; Provides immunity to agencies and employees of the commonwealth and its political subdivisions for the authorized enforcement of immigration laws.

HB 103, patrons Albo and Rust; Clarifies that anyone in charge of a correctional facility shall ask about the citizenship status of inmates to report to the Central Criminal Records Exchange.

HB 157, patron Nichols; Provides immunity to agencies and employees of the commonwealth and its political subdivisions for the authorized enforcement of immigration laws.

HB 301, patron Nichols; Requires the sheriff of a locality with more than 300,000 residents to arrange with federal officials to permit designated local law-enforcement officials to carry out federal immigration-law functions.

HB 305, patron Nichols; Creates a division of legal presence investigation and enforcement within the Division of State Police, with at least 100 full-time law-enforcement officers.

HB 368, patron Carrico; Requires a jail officer to inquire and report whether an inmate in his custody is a U.S. citizen.

HB 435, patron, J.H. Miller; Makes it a misdemeanor to refuse to identify yourself to a law-enforcement officer.

HB 441, patron Rust; Requires the officer in charge of a correctional facility to ensure that at least one officer is authorized to enforce federal civil immigration laws.

HB 444, patron Rust; Requires a jail officer to inquire and report whether an inmate in his custody is a U.S. citizen.

HB 470, eight patrons; Prohibits loitering in the right-of-way of a highway where such activity is prohibited.

HB 623, patron J.H. Miller; States that it is the governor’s responsibility to enter into an agreement with U.S. officials allowing designated state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

SB 433, patron Vogel; does the same; HJ 183, patron Frederick; requests the governor to do the same.

HB 762, patron Rust; Requires judicial officers to verify before any bail hearing, whether the defendant is in the U.S. lawfully.

HB 763, patron Rust; Requires Virginia correctional facilities to notify federal officials if someone in custody appears to be an illegal immigrant.

HB 764, patron Rust; Requires the officer in charge of a correctional facility to inquire whether someone in custody is an illegal immigrant and, if so, to notify federal authorities.

HB 779, patron Kilgore; Creates a presumption of no bail for an illegal immigrant charged with a violent crime.

HB 820, patron Albo; Requires a jail officer to inquire whether a person in his custody is a citizen and report the result.

HB 929, patrons Gilbert, Byron and Cline; Adds a presumption of no bail for an illegal immigrant charged with DUI.

HB 1178, patron Lingamfelter; Provides that anyone who fakes a signature is guilty of forgery

HB 1248, patron Hugo; Makes it a felony for a commercial enterprise to knowingly transport an illegal immigrant to or within the commonwealth.

SB 183, patron Herring; Adds a presumption, subject to rebuttal, against admitting to bail anyone not lawfully in the U.S. who is charged with a violent felony or DUI.

Restrictions on services

HB 45, patron Tata; Makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly help an illegal immigrant violate U.S. immigration laws.

HB 367, patron Carrico; Bars a local government from adopting a policy that serves to protect its undocumented immigrants from deportation.

HB 439, patron J.H. Miller; No organization receiving state or local funds shall use them to provide benefits to people who are ineligible for them.

HB 1026, Frederick; Bars localities from granting public benefits to people who are not citizens, legal permanent residents or conditional resident aliens of the U.S.

Voting rights

HB 64, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires the governing body of each locality to post notices in polling places of the constitutional qualifications to vote.

HB 65, patron R.G. Marshall; Specifies that a voter must present a photo ID document issued by Virginia or the U.S. and eliminates other alternatives.

HB 68, patron R.G. Marshall; Requires voter-registration applicants to provide one of the enumerated proofs of citizenship.


HB 151, patron Lewis; Requires that every application for a change of name contain proof that the application is a citizen of the commonwealth.

HB 729, patron E.T. Scott; Requires that the record prepared by a clerk issuing a marriage license include the Social Security number of each party.

HJ 125, patron Bell; Calls on Congress to give federal agencies the resources to enforce immigration laws.

SJ 26, patron Colgan; Requests Virginia’s attorney general to pursue litigation to recover funds the U.S. owes Virginia to reimburse its costs in dealing with illegal immigration.

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!

Terror in Oklahoma: New Law Punishes Not Just Migrants, But Those Who Help Them

January 11, 2008

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building after the explosion

Beneath the smoke and mirrors of electoral news, behind the smog of “immigration policy” in the , a new criminal was born in the “sooner state”: the immigrant supporter.

Reports like this one in USA Today describe the details of House Bill 1804, the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007, possibly the most repressive immigration law in the land. Among the measures in the law are calls to revoke the business licenses of employers that hire undocumented workers.

Lost to most of the reporting on Oklahoma’s 1804 is the fact that , in passing the law, Oklahoma -and the country-marked a major milestone in immigration history, one that extends the web of criminality enveloping low-wage non-citizens to drver’s license carrying, passport-wielding citizens. 1804 makes it a felony to provide transportation or shelter to the undocumented.

Laws policing – and punishing- citizens and non-citizens harken back to the Fugitive Slave Act, an 1850 law that similarly criminalized those who would aid and abet black slaves. And like the spate of state laws forcing (many police chiefs consider these laws a waste of time and taxes) local and state law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law, the Fugitive Slave Act required every law enforcement in the country to arrest runaway slaves. Oklahoma enforced that law with the same vigor it appears to have for this new law.

Tellingly, the overwhelmingly white state of Oklahoma passed no laws to pursue terrorists like those who bombed the federal building there. Like most legislators and “citizens” there, those terrorists were not olive colored or black.

Think about it.

(And note how the title of the USA Today article ascribes human traits (ie;”rattle”) to non-human businesses while not delving into the effects of such laws on human beings who happen to be immigrants. )

———–Strict immigration law rattles Okla. businesses

PARK HILL, Okla. — Autumn had arrived in eastern Oklahoma, and workers at the sprawling Greenleaf Nursery were prepping for deadly frosts. They needed to ship plants, erect greenhouses and bunch trees together to protect them against the cold.

But in late October, about 40 employees disappeared from the 600-acre nursery about an hour’s drive from Tulsa. “Some went to Texas, some went to Arkansas,” nursery President Randy Davis says. “They just left.”

Why did the workers, all immigrants, flee? “Those states don’t have 1804,” Davis says.

In a matter of weeks, “1804” has become part of the Sooner State’s lexicon. It refers to House Bill 1804, the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007, arguably the nation’s toughest state law targeting illegal immigrants.

Dozens of state legislatures, citing inaction by Congress, have adopted measures aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Oklahoma’s new law, which took effect Nov. 1, is particularly far-reaching and has begun sending ripples through the state’s economy and its immigrant communities. Besides highlighting the impact of illegal immigration on Oklahoma, the law has made the state a laboratory in the national debate over immigration.

The Oklahoma measure is broader than a controversial Arizona law that suspends or revokes business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Among other things, 1804 makes it a felony to transport or shelter illegal immigrants. It also denies illegal immigrants driver’s licenses and public benefits such as rental assistance and fuel subsidies.

Many business owners are especially nervous about provisions of 1804 that kick in July 1, when employers with government contracts must start checking new hires against a federal database to make sure they are legally eligible to work. If the employers don’t, they won’t get the contracts.

“I’ve already had customers who came in here and told me they’ve fired employees because they didn’t know if they were here legally,” says Tim Wagner, an owner of Cocina De Mino, a Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City. He predicts industries such as agriculture will face worker shortages.

Widespread reports of vanishing employees and schoolchildren suggest thousands of illegal immigrants have left Oklahoma for neighboring states or their native countries. Cotton gins, hotels and home builders have lost workers. Restaurant and grocery store owners complain of fewer customers.

Some businesses and lawmakers are warning that the economic effects will hit consumers hard. Having a smaller pool of workers for certain jobs will cause delays and create competition among employers, leading them to raise wages and prices, Davis and others say.

Republican state Rep. Shane Jett, who opposed 1804, offers a more dire prediction. Without changes, the law “will be the single most destructive economic disaster since the Dust Bowl,” he says.

State Rep. Randy Terrill, the Republican author of the law, counters that 1804 will save money because taxpayers won’t be subsidizing services for illegal immigrants. “There’s significant evidence that HB 1804 is achieving its intended purpose, which is illegal aliens leaving the state of Oklahoma,” he says. “HB 1804 is a model not only for Oklahoma, but for other states and the nation as well.”

An exodus from Tulsa

Legislatures in 46 states adopted 244 immigration-related measures last year, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. Before the passage of 1804, Oklahoma’s immigrant population was growing, fueled by an expanding economy.

Nearly 5% of Oklahoma’s 3.6 million residents are foreign-born, Census figures show. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in April 2006 that up to 75,000 were illegal immigrants.

Texas, which borders Oklahoma and Mexico, has a longer history with immigration issues. Daniel Kowalski, a Texas immigration lawyer who edits Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, believes a measure such as 1804 couldn’t win approval in Texas, in part because about 16% of that state’s 23.5 million residents are foreign-born. The center estimates that up to 1.6 million of them are illegal immigrants.

Since 1804 was approved in Oklahoma, 15,000-25,000 illegal immigrants have left Tulsa County, the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says. Executive director Francisco Trevi?o bases the estimate on school enrollment, church attendance and reports from bus companies with service to Mexico.

“People are leaving to Mexico or Canada or other states,” says Jim Garcia, manager of Tulsa’s El Mercadito, a Hispanic grocery. He says sales have fallen 40% since Nov. 1. “A lot of people are going to Missouri or Arkansas because they think it’s safer.”

Arkansas state Rep. Rick Green, a Republican, says he has heard from a doctor who complained that illegal immigrants from Oklahoma have crossed the state line for medical care.

“With Arkansas being a very poor state economically, the concern is whether we can shoulder these expenses” stemming from any influx of immigrants from Oklahoma, he says.

Supporters of 1804 say the state will benefit from illegal immigrants leaving. “That’s money in our pocket,” says Carol Helm of Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now.

Not all of those leaving Oklahoma are in the USA illegally. “I’ve lost two housekeepers out of a staff of 12,” says Joe Geis, general manager of the Sleep Inn & Suites in Edmond. “They were here legally, (but) they have family” members who were not.

Immigrant activist Blanca Thames says she has helped more than 1,000 families prepare power-of-attorney papers to protect children in case parents are deported. Many illegal immigrants have U.S.-born children who are citizens.

Constitutionality challenged

At Iglesia Piedra Angular (Cornerstone Hispanic Church) in Tulsa, senior pastor José Alfonso estimates that he has lost 15% of his 425-member congregation.

His church was a plaintiff in two lawsuits filed by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders that challenged the constitutionality of the law. Both were dismissed, the latest last month when U.S. District Judge James Payne ruled that the plaintiffs, who included illegal immigrants, didn’t have standing to sue. He said they would not have been hurt if they had not violated U.S. law.

The coalition says it will appeal.

Several national and statewide business groups say they are considering their own lawsuit to challenge the law. “You’re basically putting employers in the middle of this fight,” says Jenna Hamilton of the National Association of Home Builders, one of the groups.

Lawmaker Terrill says he has little sympathy for businesses that hire illegal workers. He believes 1804 will create jobs for U.S. citizens.

“There is no job that an American citizen is unwilling to do,” he says. “They’re just not willing to do it at the wage rates that are being paid to illegal aliens.”

But some employers say it’s hard to hire citizens in their industries.

“We have extremely low unemployment. … The people in southwest Oklahoma who want to work are working,” says Tom Buchanan, a cotton, cattle and wheat farmer in Jackson County.

Chris Ellison, manager of the Motley Gin cotton gin in Hollis, lost eight of 16 workers since Nov. 1. He says the loss sent his overtime costs soaring.

“I would love to hire 20 U.S. citizens here,” Ellison says, but “local people are not going to quit a job to work three weeks during the year.”

Both men say they obey U.S. laws and check workers’ identity documents, but they acknowledge that some may have fake papers.

“We are not documents experts,” Buchanan says.

Like farmers and landscapers, builders say they’re struggling.

Earlier in 2007, Portillo Construction, which specializes in masonry and stone work in the Tulsa area, employed about 15 people, co-owner Natanael Portillo says. All were immigrants.

“On Nov. 1, not one employee showed up for work,” he says.

He has since hired several laborers but lost a contract on a house, he says. “We’re looking at between a $15,000 to $20,000 loss” for 2007, Portillo says.

Home builder Caleb McCaleb, who works in Oklahoma City and Edmond, says his framer lost 30 of his 80 workers, his painter lost 10 of 35 and his landscaper lost 15 of 40. That has put homes three or four weeks behind schedule.

“If we continue to lose workers, we are going to have to raise prices,” he says.

Cocina De Mino has seen its Hispanic clientele decline, especially on Sundays, Wagner says.

“After church, usually at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, they (would) bring their family. It’s usually groups of eight, 10 and 12,” he says. “Those groups are not coming in.”

At Plaza Santa Cecilia, a mall filled with Hispanic shops in Tulsa, Simon Navarro’s customer base has evaporated. Navarro, owner of a money-wiring service, says 500 people would come in every day to send money to relatives in Mexico and Central America. “Now,” he says, “I have 100.”

‘Son of 1804’ on horizon

Terrill plans to introduce a follow-up bill this year that he calls “Son of 1804.”

“HB 1804 does not represent everything that can or should be done in this area,” he says. Among other things, he says, the new measure would make English the state’s official language and allow police to seize property of those who violate 1804, including landlords.

Terrill says he has been contacted by legislators in at least a dozen states who have introduced or are drafting legislation similar to 1804.

Arkansas legislators may introduce bills when they next meet in January 2009, Green says. Some Arkansans who don’t want to wait will try to get a measure on the ballot this year.

“We’re getting a lot of pressure at home because they see what Oklahoma’s done,” Green says.

In Oklahoma, some of Terrill’s colleagues say 1804 needs fixing.

State Rep. Kris Steele, a Republican who voted for the bill, has received calls from non-immigrants complaining that they had to produce a document such as an original birth certificate or certified copy to renew an expired driver’s license. “I want to make sure we’re not necessarily putting the general public in a quandary,” he says.

Jett would like to create a state-run program that would allow illegal immigrants to pay a fine, then work and pay taxes. Those people, he says, would be exempt from 1804 at the state level but not from federal immigration law.

Jose and Esperanza Becerra, both 38, hope he succeeds.

The Tulsa couple came to Oklahoma from Mexico illegally, Jose 10 years ago and his wife five years ago. They were drawn here “because it was a pretty state and there was work,” Jose says.

Since 1804 passed, the Becerras have closed their bank account and put their home on the market, just in case they are forced to leave quickly or against their will. “Since the law went into effect,” Esperanza says, “we are in fear every day.”


Immigration in the Age of Neoliberalism

January 10, 2008

welcome to

This article from Canada’s Rabble Magazine raises many questions, not least of which is: “Why can’t we talk about immigration like this in the U.S.?”

Just check out some of these quotes:

These people migrate out of necessity, even when they know that doing so may be expensive and even dangerous. They also migrate because it is possible to do so: contemporary capitalism, in its neoliberal form, relies on the concept of “workforce mobility”, as various powerful groups like to point out.

We are concerned with an enormous conflict, which ties together a vast range of crises that span Indonesia, Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The American Empire needs to exert control in these parts of the world over enormous energy resources. This new conquest of the region requires a re-engineering, and the subjugation of the people who live there.

Jeeez, just imagine, imagine what it’d be like to simply live in a country where these kinds of opinions are considered part of the legitimate and rational debate around immigration. Imagine. Instead, we live in a country where most of the key players in the current immigration debate: many national “immigrant rights” groups, their philanthropic patrons, the political-bureaucratic class, the media and the racist right- have an unspoken pact to limit discussion of immigration within the very limited psychic and physical borders of an empire in rapid decline.

That what is considered in this country “rational”, “civilized” and “newsworthy” bears absolutely zero resemblance to what articles like this one say speaks directly of the ‘why’ of this blog.

The “Dreaming Beyond the Walls of Civilization” tag in the title of Of América comes from the perpetual need for ALL of us to interrogate notions of “nation”, “civilization”, “rationality” and other terms tossed around nonsensically -and dangerously, especially around issues like “national security” and immigration.

Anyway, thanks for indulging me in this rant and please do read this piece as it provides some semblance of what a truly rational discussion around immigration might look like in this country. I’ll start believing in, voting for Obama or Clinton when they can say anything in this article.

And don’t you just love how the “Rabble” moniker implicitly knocks “civilization” ? If this is “civilization”, then you need to embrace your inner barbarian, your membership as part of the rabble. I have.

Gracias & enjoy.


Immigration in the age of neoliberalism

by the Political Analysis Collective
January 9, 2008

Since the town of Hérouxville made headlines several months ago, a debate has been raging in Quebec regarding the impact of Muslim immigration on “the true values of Quebec.”

Through the media, this debate has sparked the collective imagination. “There are too many immigrants”. “Reasonable accommodations are becoming unreasonable”. An aggressive tone has emerged.

While its mandate is to examine inter-community relations, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was set against this controversial background. The goal of the Commission is laudable, but one would hope that the debate would be return to questions of inclusion and respect. However, it should not come as a surprise that this polemic controversy should “blow up” in Quebec, as in any other capitalist society.

Immigration and capitalist development

According to the UN, there were roughly 200 million immigrants (3% of the world population) in 2005. Millions of people leave their homes and this constitutes the largest migration in history. These people migrate out of necessity, even when they know that doing so may be expensive and even dangerous. They also migrate because it is possible to do so: contemporary capitalism, in its neoliberal form, relies on the concept of “workforce mobility”, as various powerful groups like to point out.

Neoliberalism is proceeding with a profound restructuring of work which depends on an enormous influx of new “heads and hands”. On the one hand, this is in response to the new needs of capitalistic accumulation. On the other hand, it is in response to demographic changes in capitalist countries. The current cycle requires an abundant workforce with few qualifications to work in agriculture, construction, private and personal services – a workforce that can be found in the large population “surplus” of the Third World.

This workforce is usually destined for low-wage, not very gratifying, sometimes dangerous and non-unionized or hardly “unionizable” jobs. The workforce must be mobile and precarious, while workers’ and social rights are de-emphasized. At another level, capitalism needs to recuperate qualified workers from other countries. The brain-drain is hardly new, but it is accelerated, especially in the “knowledge” economy, where the concentration of capital is greatest. Industrial quantities of qualified workers are required by the information technology, biomedical and engineering fields.

This phenomenon is even greater in the U.S., where more than 30 million “legal” immigrants can be found, and quite possibly as many “illegal” immigrants. The border indeed has become quite porous, letting in “legals” and “illegals”, thanks to policies that favour both legalisation and criminalisation of immigration. This contradiction effectively forces immigrants to accept working conditions that are below the norm. According to various estimates, more than 60% of “unqualified” jobs in the USA will be filled by immigrants within the next 10 years.

The Canadian context

Capitalist restructuring in Canada also calls on larger numbers of immigrants. An estimated quarter of a million persons immigrate legally to this country every year. Though much lower, the number of illegal immigrants is on the rise (especially from Asia). It is estimated that 22% of Canadians will be immigrants by 2017 (the proportion is currently 18.3%), a number unseen since 1920.

As is the case in other countries, the immigrant population is segmented. Even though the percentage of university-educated is higher for new immigrants, their income is, in general, 10% lower than other segments of the Canadian population. Here is another revealing statistic: 15% of immigrants live below the poverty line, which is twice the national percentage. In fact, capitalist social structures reproduce inequality. Pitting workers of the world one against another is profitable. Immigrants against born citizens, men against women, white against black, everyone against everyone: it all maintains the dominant order in place.

Currently, the immigration influx is mainly coming from Third World countries. In Canada, 47% of the population now affirms being from an origin ethnic other than British or French. In most large cities, the skin colour of the population has changed. Along with these indicators, others make singling out – and therefore discriminating and disciplining – immigrant workers easier. Part of this new wave of immigration comes from regions inhabited by Muslims in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. According to certain projections, 10 years from now more than 1.8 million Muslims will live in Canada. These immigrants are often fleeing war and other atrocities in troubled regions such as Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As a rule, Muslim immigrants tend to live their daily lives much like the population at large. Religious identity is expressed through traditions, memories, important religious holidays, as well as food and clothing-related customs. Every now and then, these cultural differences, which count for very little in daily life, are manipulated by projects which seek to exaggerate these artefacts of identity, or they are used to control or manipulate other types of conflicts.

We must remember that similar policies have been used by those in power in the past. Under the rule of Duplessis, Quebec society in the 1950s was dominated by an anti-Semitic discourse. Repression was not limited to Jews only. Other religious minorities were also targeted, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the true enemy of power was the union movement, with Jews and communists as scapegoats. Nowadays, this scapegoat is Muslim and is visible for other reasons.

War without end

We are concerned with an enormous conflict, which ties together a vast range of crises that span Indonesia, Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The American Empire needs to exert control in these parts of the world over enormous energy resources. This new conquest of the region requires a re-engineering, and the subjugation of the people who live there. Obviously, resistance is strong, as evidenced by the failures of NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan. The enemy is evil incarnate and dehumanised so that he may be eradicated with little regard for international law. It is us against them, a war of civilizations, as Samuel Huntingdon has stated.

This war is not only fought in Kandahar or Gaza: it is also fought in neighbourhoods where immigrants from those regions can be found. Though this tension existed before 2001, the events of that year have intensified police and security operations and tipped society into a “rights-free” zone. These operations include imprisonment without trial, black lists, so-called “security” certificates, intimidation or worse yet – as in Maher Arar’s case – the use of clandestine means to put “suspects” in life-threatening conditions.

This enemy must therefore “be constructed”. The demagogic media portrays the Muslim immigrant as “perverse, sly, and difficult to assimilate”. His customs are in direct contradiction with the modern world and human (especially, women’s) rights. From this perspective, the young girl wearing a veil is no more than a weapon in the hands of Islamic-terrorist groups. This Muslim menace must then be confined, monitored, controlled, even suppressed and deported, if the members of the community do not accept our “values”.

Responsibilities of civil society

Immigration as an “issue” is thus redefined in neoliberal “reasoning” and helps new, offensive, geopolitical measures that predispose opinion for war. It also justifies obvious regressions in civil rights by creating a feeling of insecurity all over the world. This strategy aims to divide society into numerous “ethnic”, religious and community groups, each one preoccupied in a struggle against the other.

It goes without saying that civil society must stand against this. It is incumbent upon us to rally the working class, immigrant or not, and fight against all these forms of discrimination that single out and marginalize immigrants, with regards to access to services, housing, employment and recognition of foreign credentials.

*Pierre Beaudet, Philippe Boudreau, Donald Cuccioletta, François Cyr, Thomas Chiasson-Lebel, Éric Martin, Michèle St Denis and André Vincent are members of the Political Analysis Collective (Collectif d’analyse politique). The original French version of this article was translated by Julie Daigneault.

McCain Win Puts Latino Vote Back In Play

January 9, 2008

McCain Win Puts Latino Vote Back In Play

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jan 09, 2008

Editor’s Note: With McCain’s win in New Hampshire, NAM writer Roberto Lovato says the Democrats can’t assume they’ll win the mercurial Latino vote.

NEW YORK — As results from the New Hampshire primaries rolled in, I called my father Ramon, a prideful 85 year-old “Democrata por vida” (Democrat for life). I asked what McCain’s presence in the general election might mean for the fast-growing and ever-fluid Latino vote.

“My main candidate is Clinton,” he affirmed in that defensive tone I know all too well, the tone that says ‘leave my opinions alone’. But I persisted. I asked him who would get his vote if Clinton conceded before he and the rest of California cast their votes.

“Obama” he answered in that deep, sometimes forbidding voice, an early first target to my youthful will to fight the power. But before I could let out a deep familial sigh of political relief, he interjected “But I could vote for McCain, too.”

McCain’s entree into the general election could put the Latino vote in play far more than any of the other GOP candidates. The Arizona senator is one of the few who could erect a Latino barrier to the Democrat’s wave of inevitability.

How my father votes, and the 9 percent of the electorate that is Latino concerns me, but it should be of paramount concern to electoral strategists, especially as the primaries move to the Latino-packed West. My father’s and other Latino’s fluid vote is neither indecisiveness nor anti-black racism. The flux of the Latino voter reflects how history, culture and the candidate’s equivocations around immigration politics continue to influence the protean Latino electorate. Either an Obama-McCain or a Clinton-McCain race would highlight how the votes of racially ambiguous Latinos bounce between red and blue in current American politics.

Unlike the black vote, which is consistently among the most reliably liberal — especially black youth who polls find are the most progressive voters in the country, the Latino vote has proven to be more fluid. Their voting goes hand in hand with both their interests and their culture. During the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush’s Spanish language appeals and promises of immigration reform won him somewhere between 37-44 percent of the Latino vote, a major increase from what he got in 2000. Latino voters like my father, had never had their vote courted as it was in 2004.

McCain’s unique challenge to Democrats for the Latino vote comes down to simple math: his GOP rival’s zeal to win white votes with anti-immigrant appeals is perceived by my father (“I’ll be below the earth before voting for ANY of them”) and other Latinos, as severely anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, if not racist. McCain’s calls to treat immigrants “humanely” during the Spanish language GOP debate contrasted strikingly with the smiley ‘get tough’ talk of his shrill opponents.

My father and other voters heard the mantra of “McCain” alongside the hallowed “Kennedy” name during daily Spanish language media reports about “reforma migratoria” (immigration reform) for nearly two years. That still echoes in the Latino electorate. McCain’s recent about face on immigration and his new “border security first” approach will only guarantee that my father embraces his inclination to vote Democrat. He also wants to vote to overcome the divisive legacy of racism.

For my father, Obama and Clinton’s appeal is rooted in memories of the Civil Rights era, which the telegenic Illinois Senator so eloquently invokes. When Obama waxes King-like about the inequities of our racial past or when Clinton marches with black leaders, I see my father, a former union shop steward, remembering when he had to listen to white union reps at Southern Pacific railroad start meetings by greeting him and other Latino and African American workers in the audience with “Ladies and gentlemen – and you colored folks too.” Obama’s youthful message of moral clarity about the past, his political poetry of “reconciliation” reverberates as loudly with my father as do the echoes of the Clinton years.

But when Democrats are evasive – as in Clinton’s driver’s license flip-flops or when Obama vacillated after being asked by Univision anchors about his vote for the border wall – I see the moral and political opening exploited by Bush in 2004, and McCain before 2008. My father and most Latinos reject the wall as a “Muro de la Muerte” (Wall of Death). That the immigration debate merits neither Clinton’s attention nor Obama’s abundant rhetorical powers explains the hatred felt by Latinos (and documented in polls like the recent Pew Hispanic poll) and leaves many of us outside the wave of Obamania.

Obama and Clinton’s Latino aspirations are further complicated by some of the more negative reports in Spanish language media of what my father and other, mostly immigrant, Latinos perceive as anti-Latino racism – and violence – among some African Americans and whites. Failure to denounce the racial divisiveness proffered by Republicans -and many Democrats- creates not confusion, but apathy for Democrat-leaning Latinos like my father.

As the primary wagon heads to Latino-heavy states like Florida, California and other mostly southwestern states, the nuances and quirks of Latino voters will take on unprecedented import. “Al fin de todo” (In the end), reflects my father as he awaits his turn to vote, “puede que sean la misma cosa los dos partidos. Vamos a ver.” (It may be that both parties are the same thing. We’ll see.)

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.

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.

Chatterati In Heat Over Lou Dobbs Presidential Bid. And Let Us Hope He Runs

January 8, 2008

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Today’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ), CNN and the spinning class at large are abuzz with the possibility of a Lou Dobbs Presidential bid. This piece in the WSJ is pretty typical of what the chatterati are saying.

The depths of despair among “disaffected” (and overwhelmingly white) voters is palpable and a Dobbs candidacy may be just the electoral Viagra they need, according to one William Gheen, one of those “grassroots” racists the mainstream media can’t seem to get enough of.

“At this point, Dobbs is the only man in the country that would have a shot at making a historic independent run, and winning,” says William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, an influential grass-roots group that favors strict enforcement of immigration laws, a favorite subject of Mr. Dobbs’s.

I for one wholeheartedly endorse a Dobbs candidacy if only because it will raise awareness of the issue in a more pointed way than even Tom Nobody-Can-Out-Anti-Immigrant-Me Tancredo. Really. Dobbs will force Obama and McCain to adopt more definite positions. But that’s less important than the effect such a bid might have among certain segments of the populace.

Among the groups most needing to wake up to the Dobbsian zietgeist are Latino and other immigrants themselves.

Reflecting what appears to be a huge and strategic chasm between many immigrant rights leaders and the immigrants communities they allegedly lead, most Latino immigrants in the United States have no idea who Lou Dobbs, their most powerful and telegenic adversary, is.

Most immigrants can pick out Tancredo, their toupee’d arch nemesis, from a line up, but most can’t identify the more dapper Dobbs. Spanish language media doesn’t talk about Dobbs and immigrant rights activists spend lots of time defending against and cursing him – en Ingles. And CNN en Espanol doesn’t dare turn him into a crossover star lest they risk losing advertising en Espanol. So, people like my parents, my cousins and most documented and undocumented immigrants I know haven’t an inkling what Lou Dobbs means.

Let us hope he runs.

Philanthropy Illustrates How Immigration Will Not Stop Without 2 Things: Latin Development & Latinos

January 7, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle

This story from the San Francisco Chronicle illustrates nicely how communities in América Latina and the United States are and must be at the heart reducing migration from Latin America to the United States (if indeed that’s what corporations and consumers really want, that is). Though I don’t think the implicit analysis of immigration in the story runs much deeper than a dry creek near the border, I do appreciate the focus on the border-smashing work of Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), a group founded by Douglas Patino (a good and honored friend) and other, mostly Latino leaders from the growing universe of Latino philanthropy .

The story makes clear how, rather than adopt the tired and untrue (and largely ineffective) approach of traditional philanthropy, which limits itself to working within the confines of that deadly illusion known as “the border”, HIP adopts what wonks call a “transnational” approach to dealings within the hemisphere Of América.

HIP’s leader, Diana Campoamor, a Cubana immigrant of much consequence, has a choice quote in the story, one powered by her own personal and professional experience (as opposed to the political desperation mixed with a growing sense of decline that motivates politico and racist alike). The quote along with her example as a leader of Latino extraction makes the point solidly:

“People don’t leave their homes unless there’s a hardship, economic or political,” said Campoamor, the president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, who is herself a refugee from Cuba. “Everyone should have a choice. We want to help people have a job and a chance to stay where they are, and to have a voice in their communities and their countries.”

I really like this story because, too often, we forget the economic and material component of the migration equation and, instead, focus solely on the politics of immigration as if it were really defined by politicos, Lou Dobbs and aging (Minute)men in search of a new frontier, a less flaccid empire. Unless Obama (or whoever ends up inheriting the mantle of declining power) can reverse the decimation of the state undertaken by Reagan, his descendants and the corporations that support them, the solutions will have to come from the rest of us.

But before getting too gushy I should mention that, even with good work like that of HIP or the hometown associations (also mentioned in the story) that send billions to América Latina each year, migration to the U.S. will continue without 2 other essential things: stopping the addiction of U.S. corporation and consumers to imported cheap labor and dealing frontally, decisively with the failure of capitalism in the hemisphere. And Barack Obama will fix this in his first 100 days in the White House, right?

San Francisco Chronicle

Economic aid to give Mexicans, Central Americans work at home

Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

From her office on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District, Diana Campoamor was networking – meeting for drinks with a banker, compiling a briefing book for a foundation trustee, exchanging phone calls with colleagues in Mexico City.

She was putting all the pieces in place so her group, Hispanics in Philanthropy, could cut its first check this month for a three-year, $219,000 grant to expand a goat-cheese cooperative in Guanajuato, Mexico.

More goats, corrals, pasteurizing equipment and refrigerators should allow the operation to grow from one village to four, providing work for hundreds of peasant farmers who might otherwise join their siblings and cousins as illegal immigrants harvesting peaches, slaughtering chickens, driving nails and scrubbing dishes across the United States.

The group’s decision to fund economic development projects in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, after almost 25 years working in U.S. Latino communities, is part of a movement taking hold in Northern California to tackle the root causes of illegal immigration.

“People don’t leave their homes unless there’s a hardship, economic or political,” said Campoamor, the president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, who is herself a refugee from Cuba. “Everyone should have a choice. We want to help people have a job and a chance to stay where they are, and to have a voice in their communities and their countries.”

Immigration is again moving front and center on the U.S. political stage. On the presidential campaign trail, Republicans are vying to be the toughest on sealing the border and enforcing immigration law, while Democrats temper the bad-cop rhetoric with talk of guest worker programs and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here.

But if there is to be a lasting solution to illegal immigration, experts say, it will involve changes not just on this side of the border but in Mexico and Central America, which together account for three fourths of the estimated 12 million undocumented people in the United States.

“As far as what I’ve read about what the candidates are saying, I don’t see much discussion. It’s cheap rhetoric,” said Luis Guarnizo, a professor in the school of agriculture at UC Davis. “Everybody’s looking for a quick fix, the right slogan. … But we have to look at the larger picture. This is not just a law-and-order issue, it involves economic issues, social issues. Migration is a global process.”

In Northern California, some grassroots development and immigrant groups are trying a different approach. They reason that if people in Latin America had a way to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty, they wouldn’t need to leave home, risk their lives crossing the border and live on the margins of U.S. society to earn a living and support their relatives back home.

The projects range from small to large, and involve a variety of players – major foundations, socially conscious consumers and migrant workers themselves – in diverse approaches to improving life in some of the communities that are sending undocumented immigrants north. They’re helping build lagging village infrastructure, incubating productive rural projects and giving farmers fair access to global markets.

Part of the solution

Luis Alberto Rivera is president of an association of Californians originally from his hometown, Coalcomán, in the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Seeing thousands of Coalcomanenses migrate to the United States, Rivera and his compatriots were determined to do something to help improve life back home.

“We decided to push the authorities to clean the rivers, because they’re polluted,” said Rivera, a U.S. citizen, from his home near Modesto. “The whole ecosystem, the ability of people to get food from the river is destroyed. People are migrating because their life is over when the rivers are polluted. But if we go back and restore them, I think that’s part of the solution.”

Rivera and members of his hometown association offered to fund a sewage treatment plant and talked the town government into installing a system of sewers to collect the wastewater. They’ve set a fundraising goal of $100,000 and have already held a couple of benefit dinners in the Central Valley.

And the group plans to apply for matching funds under the Three for One program, whereby the Mexican federal, state and local governments each pitch in a dollar for every dollar contributed to a project by Mexican migrants outside the country.

Recognizing the billions of dollars that expatriate Mexicans send home each year to their families, the Mexican authorities created the matching fund arrangement in 2002 to channel some of that money to public works. In 2006, more than 1,000 Mexican migrant groups contributed close to $20 million to community improvement projects in 845 rural and urban locations, according to Martha Esquivel of Mexico’s Department of Social Development.

Rivera hopes his efforts will encourage more migrants to get involved with their hometowns in Mexico and work to fix the problems that forced them to leave home in the first place.

But some observers criticize the matching-fund program, saying it’s the responsibility of the Mexican government to build clean water systems and to provide schools, ambulances and other infrastructure, not the duty of Mexicans who left home due to a lack of opportunity.

After years of being all but ignored by their government, however, “the Three for One begins to signal to remittance senders that they’re going to get some respect,” said Campoamor.

She is an advocate of building links between immigrants in the United States and their home countries, in the way that hometown associations do. But her organization has opted to channel its funds specifically into initiatives that create jobs in Latin American countries.

Creating jobs

In the village of Tamaula, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Pedro Laguna hopes that expanding his five-family goat-farming cooperative with the grant from Hispanics in Philanthropy can help stanch the flow of young people to the United States.

“I have nine kids in the United States, three daughters and six sons, but I have very little communication with them,” said the 60-year-old father of 13 in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to lose my children. We want to invest in our community so we have work here where we live.”

An agronomist is advising the cooperative on getting the goats to produce milk year-round, instead of seasonally. With more milk, the farmers can make more cheese and the sweet, caramelized dulce de leche known as cajeta, both of which sell well in Irapuato, the nearest city.

Laguna plans to pass on his cheese-making expertise to a group of women in another village who were left behind by husbands who migrated north, and to a youth group, the children of immigrants. Most urgently, he is working to persuade his 16-year-old daughter, his youngest child, to stay on the farm.

“At first she wanted to follow her brothers and sisters north, but I’ve been trying to convince her that going to the United States is not easy, and returning is less so,” he said. “Little by little, she’s thinking more about staying in school and training to make cheese. And she’s realizing that she can sell her little goats to earn some money. When there are animals at home, there’s work. And when there’s work, there’s money.”

Hispanics in Philanthropy plans to make three-year grants to half a dozen more projects in Mexico this spring and to begin similar efforts in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The group is already working in the Dominican Republic and Argentina.

Fair Trade

On a larger scale, and with a somewhat different approach, Oakland-based TransFair USA is promoting fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, rice and other agricultural products from Mexico and many other developing countries.

“Our goal is to give people the tools and the market access to lift themselves out of poverty. When you do that, people don’t want to leave home,” said TransFair founder and president Paul Rice.

Rice, who lived for 11 years in Nicaragua and is married to a Nicaraguan, said he has seen up close in his own family the intense pressures that push people to leave home and seek their fortunes in el norte.

In the early 1990s, after years of working on traditional development projects, Rice realized farmers needed not only access to capital and technical assistance, but better access to markets in order to flourish.

He helped a group of peasant coffee farmers sell their beans in Europe, where a fledgling fair trade market was taking hold, allowing small producers to earn a premium price by eliminating the middleman. Soon Rice was promoting the idea in the United States to businesses like Starbucks and Wal-Mart, eager to burnish their image as responsible corporations. His group is still the only fair trade certifying body in this country.

“Globalization has led to more trade and economic growth,” he said. “But growth for whom? The benefits are not trickling down to the poor. Fair trade tries to make free trade work for the poor. … It’s not free trade if you depend on the guy who drives up in his pickup and says, ‘The price is 10 cents a pound, take it or leave it.’ ”

Today, the coffee cooperative Rice started can guarantee $1.51 a pound to its 2,300 member families and still has money left over to invest in community projects.

“In Nicaragua, migration has been growing steadily over the past decade because of the lack of jobs,” said Merling Preza, the cooperative’s manager, speaking from the northern town of Estelí. “It’s leading to family disintegration and a loss of values, and that means more social instability. But the small farmers who have organized into cooperatives and sell on the fair trade market don’t need to leave their communities to survive.”

All these efforts to create economic stability in Mexico and Central America are laudable, say observers, but by themselves they can only help a small fraction of the population. Wealth and complexity in a nation’s economy are created by manufacturing goods, not selling raw materials, and above all, by investing in the country’s human capital, said Guarnizo, the UC Davis professor.

“It’s a political decision,” he said. “Think of the case of India with high tech. How did they do it? Was it because Indians are very clever? No. It’s because the state made a decision to put money into education. It took over 40 years, but they have that now.”

But Mexico, where the economy does not currently create enough jobs for the population, has come to rely on the remittances sent home by migrant workers, said another immigration analyst, Jeff Faux, the director of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

“The deal works for the elites on both sides of the border. The U.S. business community gets cheap labor and suppresses wages, and the Mexican elite gets rid of people who are discontented and restless,” he said. “But you can’t develop a country by exporting your most ambitious people.”

Faux has proposed that the United States give Mexico a push to develop its economy through investing in its own people. In an article in this month’s American Prospect magazine, Faux suggests that the United States offer to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to promote economic growth and a more equal distribution of wealth in Mexico. That, he said, could produce a real solution to illegal immigration.

In the meantime, groups in the Bay Area and beyond are determined to keep chipping away at the poverty that causes people to migrate. Building economic sustainability in Mexico and its poorer neighbors, they say, will do a lot more to prevent illegal immigration than putting up border fences or even offering guest worker visas.

In Tamaula, Pedro Laguna has built new roofs on his goat pens and when spring comes he’ll be buying more animals. He hopes not only to keep his teenage daughter around, but to encourage some of his other children to return.

“I have one daughter in Georgia who hasn’t worked for a year. She’s going to come home and I’ll have a job for her,” he said. “I hope that in not too long, I’ll be able to offer work to all of them.”


Hispanics in Philanthropy:, (415) 837-0427

TransFair USA:, (510) 663-5260

Three for One Program:, (213) 487-6577

Hispanics in Philanthropy:, (415) 837-0427TransFair USA,, (510) 663-5260Three for One Program:, (213) 487-6577

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at

Iowa Race Results: Obama, Huckabee and the “Colorblind” Electorate

January 4, 2008


Iowa Results: Race Invisibility or Invisible Race?

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jan 04, 2008

Editor’s Note: The victory of Barack Obama in the Democratic caucus in one of the country’s whitest states has been hailed by pundits as a sign that the country is moving beyond the old rhetoric around race. But race might just be becoming invisible, now identified by symbols such as “illegal immigrant,” the cornerstone of the campaign of Iowa’s other winner, Republican Mike Huckabee, writes NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

As news broke of Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa, one of the country’s whitest states, political pundits of all stripes quickly told us that we were witnessing a historic shift: the end of race and racism as campaign issues. Even CNN’s dour conservative political analyst Bill Bennett waxed multiculti as he proclaimed that Obama “taught” African Americans that race wasn’t an issue they needed in order to succeed in politics. Though enthusiastic about the Obama victory, Bennett’s more jocular colleague Jack Cafferty was not quite ready to intone a full-throated Kumbaya. But he did declare that the Illinois
senator’s win “gives him currency in a state where the color of his skin may be an issue.”

NBC’s Tom Brokaw credited the Mike Huckabee victory in the Republican caucus to “his defense against illegal immigration,” an issue not viewed in racial terms by white voters. On all parts of the political and media spectrum, pundits and politicos are interpreting the Iowa results to mean that we inhabit a color-blind electoral system.

While watching a black man win the vote of an overwhelmingly white electorate is especially welcome in such racially-charged times as ours, and while the victory of a poor (at least in terms of electoral cash) populist preacher over the preferred Republican candidates of corporate America is refreshing, we are hardly entering the age of race invisibility in politics.

Instead, Iowa points us towards the age of invisible race politics.

To his credit, Barack Obama has carefully cultivated an image as a “change” candidate who takes the higher ground, one that talks about race – but not racism. Iowa confirms that, in doing so, he can make even the whitest electorate feel like it’s voting to overcome the catastrophic legacy of racial discrimination, like the Oprah viewer that gives himself or herself a racial pat on the back for really, truly liking her show.

“[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness,” political theorist Angela Davis told the Nation magazine recently, adding that “it’s the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That’s what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He’s become the model of diversity in this period…a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change.”

It was interesting to watch Obama deliver the most memorable and moving caucus victory speech in memory, one that included King-like intonations and references to the activists who “marched through Selma and Montgomery for freedom’s cause” in the 1960s. Such inspired, impassioned pleas follow a campaign trail-tested rhetoric in which racism such as that surrounding the Jena Six case remains a largely unspoken part of Obama’s speeches and policy platforms. He appears to be more comfortable getting choked up when speaking about the fight against the racist past than he does during those few times he talks about the racist present.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee also did his part to promote invisible race politics. The GOP underdog did so in no small part thanks to the issue of immigration, a very racial electoral wedge that many voters believe has nothing to do with race.

By focusing on “illegals,” “illegal aliens” and other racial codes, Huckabee and other Republican candidates get to ride the juggernaut of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment gripping the country – without appearing racist. Pundits have even taken to calling the immigration issue the “New Willie Horton,” in reference to how, during the 1988 presidential race, a political advertisement deployed by George H.W. Bush against Democratic rival Michael Dukakis featured a black man convicted of murder who raped a woman after being furloughed. Many African Americans and others deemed the Horton ads a thinly veiled appeal to anti-black sentiment in the electorate.

Latino leaders and editorials in Spanish-language newspapers have denounced Huckabee for openly touting the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, one of the co-founders of the anti-immigrant Minutemen, an organization denounced as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others. In an election that will witness the largest Latino voter participation in history, how well the veil of legality hides the racial aspects embedded in the immigration issue may determine the fate of Republican candidates like Huckabee.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s election, the success of Barack Obama and the immigration politics of Mike Huckabee signal clearly that we are well on our way to a new era in race and politics. Obama’s story and his echoes of King make us feel good about ourselves and God knows this country desperately needs that. The question we need to ask is: “Are we willing to push him to talk seriously about those echoes of the racial past in the present that he so skillfully avoids?” And as far as Republicans like Huckabee, we have to ask, “How long are we willing to accept their unskillful use of the racist appeals inherent in their rants about immigrants and immigration issues?” Failure to ask these and other questions will leave us vulnerable to the silent poison of invisible race politics.

Something We Must Learn From the Brits: Drop the “War on Terror” Gibberish

January 3, 2008

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We begin this Feliz Ano Nuevo, Happy New Year with a focus on language, the language of war, the war of language. Here’s a bit of good news from where you least expect it.

This recent story from (of all places) describes how the British government has deleted the phrase “War on Terror” from its official government communications. According to the December 28 story, ” The words “war on terror” will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country’s chief prosecutor said”.

Describing the rationale behind this important linguistic shift, Sir Ken Macdonald, Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said ‘We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language.”

Imagine living in a country where the top lawyer in the land says “We resist the language of war” or one where a top government official describes violent activities like the 9-11 bombings not as the acts of “terrorists” requiring the deployment of ships, missiles, troops and other expensive (and largely unnecessary and ultimately and tragically wasted) resources but of members of”death cult” requiring police actions.


Britain Drops ‘War on Terror’ Label

Daily Mail | December 28, 2007

The words “war on terror” will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country’s chief prosecutor said Dec. 27.Sir Ken Macdonald said terrorist fanatics were not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless “death cult.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions said: ‘We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language.”

London is not a battlefield, he said.

“The people who were murdered on July 7 were not the victims of war. The men who killed them were not soldiers,” Macdonald said. “They were fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals and need to be responded to in that way.”

His remarks signal a change in emphasis across Whitehall, where the “war on terror” language has officially been ditched.

Officials were concerned it could act as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, which is determined to manufacture a battle between Islam and the West.

The term “Islamic terrorist” will also no longer be used. Officials believe it is unhelpful because it appears to directly link the religion to terrorist atrocities.

In an interview with BBC Radio’s World at One, Macdonald made a fresh attack on plans to extend beyond 28 days the length of time a terror suspect can be held without trial.

He said that the evidence had shown that the existing limit was working well and he accused ministers of legislating on the basis of ‘hypotheticals’.