Archive for April, 2008

Obama, Wright and Zombie Politics in Times of Empire

April 30, 2008

Their fangs still dug deep into the rancid carcass of the “Obama-Wright controversy”, the mainstream media and candidates Clinton and McCain have birthed yet another member of the army of walking dead threatening our political system: the Obama-Wright Zombie (And no, the word “zombie” is not being used with any racial connotations or subtexts……I don’t work for the Clinton’s).

Though the visibly weakened Obama has addressed the the issue in a manner that would slay other issues, the Zombie walks, it lives.

And while I feel for Obama personally and though I hope his candidacy doesn’t succumb to this frenzy of political flesh-eaters, my primary concerns are for what the zombie means for race, politics and religion in the U.S.

I watched Wright’s rather lengthy and often eloquent disquisition and defense and find in Obama’s knuckling under to pressure with today’s denunciation of his former pastor reason for concern. Say what you will about Wright, he is, as he stated in his speech, part of a powerful, anti-racist tradition of liberation and faith. Lost in most of the mainstream coverage of Wright’s speech was the Reverend’s contextualization of his statements and life in the very political tradition of the black church. Wright’s comments about the U.S. as an “imperialistic” power that suffered what military analysts like Chalmers Johnson calls “blowback” were taken out of context and fed the still-lingering appetite of a country that prefers reproducing racial superficialities to reconciling the genocidal acts of its history. Wright reminded his audience that Jesus also predicted that the fall of empire under the weight of its own sins. Had Jesus used metaphors that included “chickens” roosting, he too would be electronically whipped and visually stoned and stoned and stoned again.

Also saddening was hearing Obama “outraged” at Wright’s comments about the consequences of U.S. empire. While we can’t expect someone aspiring to to occupy the seat of imperial power to do anything but defend “American exceptionalism” and other Disneyesque myths designed to coverup the U.S.’s bloody history, we should expect Obama not to reproduce the lies and half truths about race, exploitation and violence that are a part of this history.”Hope” can’t serve as a cover for violence; And talk of “change” shouldn’t magically transport us into a state of amnesia.

Beware of zombie politics and the Svengali politics of Democrats and Republicans.

5 Reasons to Participate in the Immigrant Rights Marches on May 1rst

April 28, 2008

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As the Mayday marches approach, I hear the pattering of well-meaning, but worried hearts. Some have told me that they are worried that Mayday may become low-turnout day. Though normal and to be expected, especially in a climate so toxic with state and corporate media-sponsored hopelessness, such fears need to be recognized and dealt with, for such personal, internal negotiations in times of global crisis are the stuff that the best political dreams are made of.

So, as we ponder whether to move our bodies to march in an age when politics and, especially, “progressive” politics, have given way to the important, but largely disembodied politics of the web, here are a few things to consider:

1. Marching Matters – we might want to remember what ACTUP, Latin American and other activists taught and told us: silence=death. As the Pentagon propaganda scandal makes chillingly clear, the domestic war, the war within the borders is primarily psychological and symbolic. Elites know this and so should we. Add to the equation the physical war targeting migrants and you get a situation that demands that we demonstrate self-respect and courage in the face of such serious repression. Rather than simply absorb the messages of hopelessness and discouragement coming out of our TVs and computer screens (and even from some of our friends and families), let’s move our bodies against the state and the elite interests controlling it. One of the best antidotes to the fear and isolation propagated by the media, government and other interests is to march with others. Marching helps us realize that, in a pathologically ill country, migrants and their supporters are, indeed, “aliens”; Marching reminds us that, yes, we are not alone. Regardless of how many of us march, it’s critically important that those living in isolation and fear, especially our children and young people, need to see some of us raising our fists and heads before injustice. Next time someone tells you “marching doesn’t matter”, just ask them what marching might mean to those undocumented parents who’ve never participated in marches or anything political and who’s small children watched them come out of the political closet of undocumented status for the first time in their lives.

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2. The Government has Spent Billions to Attack Migrants and Destroy the Immigrant Rights Movement – in case you didn’t realize it, in times of war and declining empire, immigrants and those who defend them become enemies of the state, useful enemies that help militarize life within the borders of the “nation”. Just look at what happened after 9-11, especially after the marches of 2006: raids and home invasions by the thousands, massive deployments of thousands of heavily-armed ICE agents and national guard troops, billions spent on defensive walls, electronic surveillance and military equipment,..the list goes on and on. The exponential amounts of money, imprisonment rates and the state violence aimed at migrants should make abundantly clear what we’re witnessing: a domestic war on immigrants. Local, state and federal governments have spent billions to destroy us, yet still we march.

3. The mainstream media is fatally ignorant of -and antagonistic towards- immigrants and immigration issues – you might remember that this is the same media that repeated mantra-like that the marchas of 2006 “came out of nowhere”; the same media that then proceeded to report on the marches without context, reporting as if Mojadopotli, the God of the Undocumented, magically moved DJ’s as he/she rained millions of marchers down on hundreds of U.S. towns and cities. Rather than worry that your local and national media are already reporting on the marches as a failure because “far fewer” people are “expected” to show up, you might stop for a moment to consider that the media is simply doing its political job-and then march anyway. And there are much better, even funner ways to spend your Mayday than taking in gobs and gobs of messages from the most sophisticated and private sector-driven spin and propaganda system ever devised.

4. Movements have their ebbs and flows-and we’re ebbing right now – if your political commitment depends on the fix of massive marches for you to feel good or inspired, you might consider checking into a political detox facility immediately. Such conjunctural logic fits perfectly into the “look, their marches have diminished” “reporting” that we even hear from the Spanish language and broken-Spanish-inflected reporting of some Latino surnamed reporters. Not to march means we further enable the diverse and cowardly interests aligned against migrants: Minutemen, the Bush Administration, the media, Democrats and Republicans and others. The moment we forget that the true measure of movements that inspire social and political change is what happens in the heart and mind is the moment we allow the whispers and hollers of our adversaries to crystallize inside of us. This dark, defensive moment will pass only if at least some of us continue to carry the candle of hope.

5. Immigrants Still Lead the Way – more than anything, Mayday should serve to remind us of the power of immigrants to alter history. It’s because of immigrant workers that children (at least most working class children) no longer languish in factories; it’s because of immigrant workers that there’s an 8 hour workday; it’s in no small part because of immigrants and other free, partially free and wholly unfree workers that any “freedom” exists in the cold heart of the most powerful and most rapidly declining empire ever.

So, in the face of the unholy alliance of interests aligned against us from above, let us march if only to connect to the tradition of freedom brought from below.

A marchar!

Sean Bell Verdict Complicates Things for Obama

April 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carne Asada is Not a Crime: Support Taco Trucks!

April 24, 2008

This just in from my former hometown, L.A., city of our future: campaign to defend the right of taco trucksters to sell tacos. Taco truck owners and their supporters in L.A. ( a massive army that includes pretty much anybody in that browning land where people eat tacos as often as they drink L.A.’s mineral-rich water) are facing off against the County of Angels’ titanically powerful Board of Supervisors (BOS). According to the L.A. Times, the BOS wants to

place new restrictions on the mobile grills that patrons praise as icons of East L.A. life but competitors disparage as a nuisance

The taco truck campaign provides still another striking example of the fusion of old and new school organizing as flyer and bull horn-bearing tacoistas are joined by bloggers, techies and other Web 2.0istas in the campaign, which includes a petition, lobbying, eating tacos and other tactics. There’s even a Facebook page for the campaign. Lest we forget, this same political mix brought us the largest simultaneous political mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006 (don’t forget to march this Mayday, May 1!).

(note the stuffed shirt waiting for his manna as he stands humbly before the wheeled white altar)

This story is interesting not only because it’s another example of the increased attacks on low wage immigrant workers eking out an existence by providing a cheap service; It’s also noteworthy because you can’t just pin the tail on the racist gringo donkey in this case. Among those supporting and backing the new taco truck restrictions are Latinos, specifically Latino business owners who say the taco trucks compete unfarily against their restaurants and other establishments. And these more established Eastsiders are using their citizenship and voting clout to get Supervisor Gloria Molina, one of the country’s most powerful Latinas, to sponsor the taco truck legislation.

Though primarily an L.A. issue, this is one of those developments that, like jacuzzis and pro-migrant marches, will move from West to East in this country that still doesn’t feel how the winds of change no longer blow solely (nor, perhaps, primarily) from East to West. So, next time you’re slamming down that deadly third taco al pastor with pineapple, remember that, even though you don’t live in L.A. (yet), L.A.’s underground (aka Los de Bien Abajo) will be exporting a militant taco truck packed with pyrotechnic cuisine your way soon (resistance is futile).

Whatever the outcome of this political tale of two tacos, this struggle provides a preview of the more nuanced and complex politics that we’ll see throughout these United States

Of América.

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Y que viva el Tacoismo!

Bush,Calderon Plot Economic and Military Integration at NOLA Summit

April 22, 2008

At the center of today’s “Three Amigos” Summit in New Orleans between George W. Bush and his homologues, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon and Stephen Harper of Canada, is the sovereignty-swallowing nexus between trade, migration and military policy. As mentioned in this AP piece, Bush and Calderon held bilateral talks today in which they discussed NAFTA, the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia and regional security. Much of the chatter in the press focused on how Calderon and Bush “defended” NAFTA and free trade.

Lacking in all of the coverage of this and other regional summits is any notion of the symbiotic relationship between trade and militarization throughout hemisphere, including the U.S.. None of the press, for example, makes the connection between how economy-integrating trade policies like NAFTA or the proposed U.S.-Colombia FTA are inevitably accompanied by increases in the domestic policing and military budgets of the U.S. and its “Latin American trade partners” like Colombia, home to the worst human rights record in the Americas thanks to the more than $4 billion in military aid it receives from the U.S.

As they continue negotiating an exponential increase in the military aid Mexico receives from the U.S., Bush and Calderon appear to be plotting a Colombianization (drug wars, counterinsurgency wars combined with free trade) just a stones throw from our southern border.

Nothing was said in today’s summit coverage about how Calderon and Bush are actually “defending” free trade with real guns and real troops.This link between increased free trade and mushrooming military budgets makes sense when we consider that border-smashing corporate interests represented by Bush and Calderon need uniformed people with guns to quash social tensions (formerly known as class conflicts) exacerbated by economic restructuring. Put another way, when the soft power middle class cushion between rich and poor gets tattered beyond repair by free trade, it is replaced by the hard power military cushion in both the U.S and Mexico.

Presidents George Bush (r) and Felipe Calderon in New Orleans, 21 Apr 2008

Following the same free trade+militarism=freedom formula, Bush and Calderon continued their plans to implement “Plan Merida”. Better known as “Plan Mexico”, Bush and Calderon’s plan is a “security” agreement designed deal with the “threat to our societies by drug trafficking and other criminal organizations operating on both sides of our common border. According to the Times Picayune, Bush told Calderon “I want to work with you in close coordination to defeat these drug traffickers”. After agreeing with Bush, Calderon added, “Recently, NAFTA has come under criticism, and I don’t believe people are realizing the benefits it has brought to the United States and Mexico”.

As I’ve stated here and elsewhere, such “benefits” come complete with plans for intensified militarization to respond to the post-cold war need for new enemies that both legitimate militarism and promote free trade as well as the idea of the state itself. Bush and Calderon are clear that, in the absence of the internal and external communist threat of the previous era, immigrants, drug cartels and youth gangs are joining “terrorists” in the mish mash of enemy-making in the post-Cold War politics of the hemisphere. For more on how this applies to immigrants in the U.S., see this recent piece. Those protesting the cheapening of their lives in the U.S. and Mexico are also joining the ranks of the unruly masses requiring enhanced legal and police control. Policing at protests like those of New Orleans preview and expand the closing of public space and rights by the true sovereign of our political and economic system: border-hopping big capital.

Interestingly, those protesting the summit included both locals organizing a very important “People’s Summit”, some left-leaning Latin American solidarity organizations and right-leaning Lou Dobbs “pro-sovereignty” groups and individuals, many of whom are quite anti-immigrant. Also curious was how Bush introduced New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin as “el alcalde” (Spanish words for “the mayor”). I remember being in New Orleans shortly after Katrina and hearing responses to Nagin’s statements about the need to “stop New Orleans from being overrun by Mexican workers.” I wonder what Nagin was thinking as he stood next to Bush and Calderon (see below) while they announced trade and military agreements that will foment further migration to New Orleans from Mexico?

Are You Listening, ABC? New Poll Identifies #1 Issue in ’08 Elections: Bu*#^hit

April 20, 2008

With many of us still reeling and wondering about ABC’s unprecedented and simply devastating display of dumbed down politics during last week’s Democratic debate, this hilarious video from last year says it better than anything , anyone else. Thanks to the Onion for peeling back the layers covering over the Truth about our political system.

Arizona Uber Alles: Legislators Target Chicanos in Attempt to Close Intellectual Borders of Schools

April 18, 2008

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Though it looks like just another report on the anti-immigrant screed that grows like cotton out in Arizona and across the country, the issue raised in this article gives one reason to both pause and sound the alarm: Latinos are being used to institute uniformity of “values” in schools. Not satisfied with the political profits reaped by targeting immigrants, the white legislators behind Arizona’s SB 1108 want to expand their racial franchise by trying to cut funding to schools that teach courses that “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization”.

Among the individuals and organizations mentioned in the article as targets of SB 1108 are the student group, MECHA, Chicano Studies and my friend and eminent scholar/activist, Rudy Acuna, who emailed the piece with a telling title- “Scary”.

Though hardly new (ie; Rudy says his children’s books were targeted in a similar way in the early 70’s), these attacks come at a different time, a time in which the growing fear of Latinos is grotesquely fused with the kind of “civilizational” warfare and white fear I discuss in depth here.

By targeting Chicano studies, MECHA and other groups and individuals promoting critical thinking among Latinos, the forces of white fear get two important benefits: they get to motivate their aging, flaccid base with the political Viagra of a new “threat” while also turning critical thinking among Latino youth into a dangerous and expensive endeavor. Better for the young barbarians to be disciplined by institutions and environments free of critical thinking – military and police boot camps and other hero factories, shiny new prisons, Dickensian and de-unionized workplaces and schools that promote ideals mentioned in SB 1108 ,”American values”, “capitalism” and “civilization”.

Arizona uber alles.

Measure Backs ‘American Values” In State Schools

Arizona schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization” could lose state funding under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel.

SB1108 also would bar teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent” from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Schools would have to surrender teaching materials to the state superintendent of public instruction, who could withhold state aid from districts that broke the law.

Another section of the bill would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is “based in whole or in part on race-based criteria,” a provision Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said is aimed at MEChA, the Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a student group.

The 9-6 vote by the Appropriations Committee sends the measure to the full House.

The legislation appears aimed largely at the Tucson Unified School District, whose “Raza Studies” program has annoyed some people. Tucson resident Laura Leighton read lawmakers sections of some books used in classrooms which she said promote hatred.

If the proposal becomes law, however, it would have a statewide reach. And that concerned even some lawmakers who voted for it, saying the language of what would and would not be prohibited is “vague.”

Tucson school officials have said the program under fire has helped Hispanic students improve their academic achievement by building pride and focusing on their cultural heritage.

But Pearce, who crafted the measure, said the program doesn’t stop there. He said taxpayers are funding “hate speech paid for by tax dollars.”

And Pearce said some of the teachings amount to “sedition” by suggesting that the current border between the United States and Mexico disappear, with Mexico – and Hispanics – taking over the American Southwest.

Leighton had specific problems with a text called “Occupied America,” a book touted by its publisher as examining Chicano history from the coming of the Spanish in 1519.

She read one line which said “kill the gringos.” Another talked about a plan to take back the U.S. Southwest and deport all the Europeans.

A closer look, at the book, though, showed the line about the gringos was a quote from someone referenced. And that the plan to take back the area was not urging current action but instead detailing one pushed by Mexico in 1915.

Leighton, however, said she and others who reviewed the course work believe it is unacceptable.

“We find hate and revolution is being taught in their books,” she testified. “We found a denigration and disparagement of American values and a subversion of our history.”

Anna Graves said she believes schools are promoting a double standard with such programs.

“If we were to have a group of white citizens teaching white culture only for the white children, it would be totally and absolutely inappropriate in a country that is a country of diversity,” said Graves, a Mexican immigrant now a U.S. citizen.

“I absolute deplore people who come from another country and do not want anything to do with the culture, the language or anything that has to do with the government,” Graves said. She said they are in this country to send back money to relatives elsewhere and “are not here to provide loyalty.”

Rep. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, said that kind of attitude ignores the United States as a “culture of diversity.”

“What is the downside of students learning about their culture along with the American culture, value and mores?” he asked. Graves said nothing – as long as it’s not just Hispanic culture being taught.

More to the point, Graves said it’s the job of parents to teach children about their own ethnic background and culture.

“Not everybody had what you had,” Rios responded. “So some of these children have to pick up some of this positive self-image building at the school because they’re not getting it at home, they’re not getting it in the barrios of the neighborhood.”

And Rios suggested there was a reason to have programs aimed at teaching Hispanic youngsters about their heritage.

“At the end of the day, we all know the history books are written by the victors,” he said. “And we didn’t win too many of our battles coming from a Hispanic culture.”

Pearce said nothing in the Legislature precludes teaching about various cultures. What he opposes, he said, are the “hateful, despicable comments” becoming part of public education. What would be illegal, Pearce said, are “race-based” classes.

“Nobody would stand here, I suspect, and try to defend the KKK teachings at a Tucson school or anywhere else,” he said.

House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, said lawmakers should butt out of the controversy. He said decisions of curriculum should be left to local school boards.

But Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said lawmakers are entitled to regulate the use of tax dollars taken from Arizonans and “demand that our publicly funded education teach and inculcate our youth, our children with the values that make America what it is, the greatest and most free nation in the world.”

Biggs, however, conceded the language of what would be prohibited is “somewhat vague” and probably needs work.

Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, said it is more than vague. He questioned what it means to “overtly encourage dissent” from the values of American democracy and Western civilization.

School board and superintendents’ lobbyists signed in as opposed to the measure but did not speak. Nor did Sam Polito, Tempe schools lobbyist, saying it made no sense to try to derail Pearce’s bill in a committee he chairs.

ICE Raids Return to Instill Fear, Sow Hatred Before Mayday Marches

April 17, 2008


In another sad, but predictable display of government fear-mongering and manipulation, the Bush Administration again deployed heavily-armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in several U.S. states. More than 375 people were arrested in 8 states during the largest raids in several months, according to this report in USA Today.

As was the Bush Administration’s habit prior to major mobilizations like those of 2006, the current raids communicate multiple messages to multiple audiences. The primary message to the undocumented community is “Don’t march. Watch out.”; The raids also provide red meat to the rabid Republican (and many Democrat) anti-migrant among us. As I’ve written here previously, the raids also serve to help the state bolster and normalize the militarization of the “homeland”, the country within the borders. Wouldn’t you do the same thing if faced with the catastrophic failure of the “American Dream”.

As you watch the frequency of these raids increase, have no doubt about this: they will continue far and beyond the elections and will continue regardless of which candidate (yes, even Barack Obama), which party prevails in November. In what is starting to feel like mathematical precision, predictability the raids are occurring as if in inverse proportional to the degree of economic – and political (think how the 2000 and 2004 elections broke the system) decline. History teaches us that countries, empires in decline need wars foreign and domestic in order to reinforce the idea that they are legitimate and real. So, it’s not just politicos using migrants to appear like they’re doing something; It’s the unholy alliance of interests sitting atop this Titanic ship of state.

Immigration, “Healing” Touchstones of Pope Benedict’s Appeals to U.S. Latinos

April 16, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, George Bush

In a visit designed to gently quell concerns about cover-ups of child molestation, sexual abuse and other crimes in the Catholic church, Pope Benedict was greeted with gun-wielding troops, big Catholic crowds and much presidential pomp. And he arrived with a clear mission to appeal to the group that will determine the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S.: Latinos.

With the Pew Hispanic Center telling us that Latinos now comprise 1 of every 3 U.S. Catholics, the Pope’s message must of necessity include an unprecedented Latino PR component. And as Catholic fortunes continue their decline here, the importance of the Latino church grows. In the words of Susan Jacoby in the Washington Post,

Without Hispanic immigration, the situation of the American Catholic Church would be even more dire.

But, Jacoby says, even among the Latino faithful, the fate of the church looks Apocalyptic in a not-so-beneficial way,

But the majority of Hispanic children do not attend the declining number of Catholic schools, and, if the history of immigration is any guide, the attachment of Hispanics to the church of their parents and grandparents — a critical part of immigrant survival — will diminish in direct proportion to their assimilation into American life.

Still, the Pope’s visit provides yet another example of how Latinos will play an definitive role in shaping the policies and public statements of the powerful and corrupt. While Benedict’s visit is supposed “open the path of healing and reconciliation”” before the most devastating scandal in U.S. Catholic history, it’s not likely to succeed. The Pope has repeatedly declined to take one of the most fundamental steps to healing: meet the victims-including the many Latinos- of abuse cara a cara.

Such non-action makes clear that there are ulterior motives behind Benedict’s “healing” tour.

For example, how the flag of immigrant rights provides powerful interests a cover for their crminial acts was vividly displayed today as Benedict began his trip by previewing his “concern” for the undocumented. According to the L.A. Times,

Benedict, who will visit Washington and New York in the trip that ends Sunday, said he will raise immigration issues during his stay. He said he was especially concerned by what he called the grave problem of families that are separated by immigration policies and by border violence.

So, as you watch English and Spanish language propaganda…..I mean coverage of the Pope’s visit, don’t let any God be the sole judge of Benedict and his motives.

Nos Tienen Miedo Porque No Tenemos Miedo (They Fear Us Because We Have No Fear)

April 15, 2008

Lovely because it’s true, this song by Liliana Felipe should stir you to remember this simplest of truths about Elite Power today: they fear us because we have no fear. Forget this and you will be subjecting yourself to the false hope and perpetual fear broadcast under the banners saying “politics in America”.

So, if your inner voice too often sounds alarmingly like that of Dick Cheney or Lou Dobbs, sing and sing Felipe’s song as loudly as if you were in a march or chant it in the quiet of your mind, making it your mantra. The lonely among you (and we’re all alone-and not alone- in some form) might want to indulge in the personal-is-the-political experience of watching how the movement to defend Mexico’s sovereignty (spelled “P-e-m-e-x”) deploys this sublimely simple song (lyrics below):

NOS TIENEN MIEDO

¡NO TENEMOS MIEDO!

Jesusa Rodríguez y Liliana Felipe

Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.

Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos
porque no tenemos
porque no tenemos miedo.

Están atrás
van para atrás,
piensan atrás,
son el atrás,
están detrás de su armadura militar.

Nos ven reír,
nos ven luchar,
nos ven amar,
nos ven jugar,
nos ven detrás de su armadura militar.

Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.

Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.
Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos
porque no tenemos
porque no tenemos miedo.

¡NO TENEMOS MIEDO!
¡NO TENEMOS MIEDO!
¡NO TENEMOS MIEDO!
¡NO TENEMOS MIEDO!

Pro-sovereignty Movement in Mexico Delays Energy Privatization Plan

April 14, 2008

Mexico’s popular movement appears to be gaining steam in its efforts to prevent President Felipe Calderon’s plans to privatize the country’s state-run oil company, Pemex. This article from Reuters describes how massive protests like the one pictured above have forced Calderon and his conservative PAN party to slow plans to allow foreign (spelled “U-S.”) companies to invest in and, at least partially, own Pemex. For more than 70 years, Pemex has been one of the most important pillars of Mexican political and economic sovereignty.

In response to this threat, several segments of the opposition in Mexico are coalescing in what they see as Calderon’s dismantling and selling off of national sovereignty, something we in the U.S. opposition need to become more conversant with and active around. According to the right-coloured Reuters article, the

“… left-wing protests against the plan have paralyzed Congress and the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has said it is not in a hurry to approve the bill before the spring session of Congress wraps up on April 30.”

For a more Mexican – and critical- perspective on these important developments in Mexico, check out La Jornada.

World Commemorates 6th Anniversary of U.S.-Sponsored Coup in Venezuela

April 11, 2008

Four years ago today and only months after the U.S. had violence visited upon it on 9-11, Venezuelan military and civic opposition backed by the Bush Administration launched a violent and ultimately failed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. After massive protests against the coup, Chavez returned to office two days later.

Among the most memorable mental images I carry from my visit to Venezuela in 2006 are those of the many men, women and even young people who spoke passionately about how they risked much to defend their Constitution. Whatever you think or know or think you know about the Venezuelan revolution, there’s not a spec of legitimacy to the U.S. government’s efforts to overthrow a legitimately elected government. Not a spec.

Today, millions across the the planet are marking this anniversary with protests, vigils, educational events and other activities marking this historic date. These events come at an especially tense time as the U.S. continues its desperate attempts to turn the “red” and “pink” tide sweeping its former “backyard”, the rest of América. Again acting through one of its surrogates, the U.S. tried to draw Venezuela into a conflict by encouraging Colombia, one of its only allies in the region, to violate the sovereignty of Ecuador.

So, next time you hear people who said little or nothing about pre-Chavez Venezuela and who are now vociferous in their criticism, ask them for their opinion about April 4th.

Manana Marchamos/Tomorrow We March: Immigrant Rights Groups Gearing Up for Mayday Marches

April 10, 2008

This story in the Houston Chronicle discusses the upcoming Mayday marches taking place across the country. You may note the discouraging tone of the piece. But then, when does the media encourage or get encouraged by social justice?

In any case, this will be the first of several posts about Mayday. Whatever the turnout, be 1000 or 1 million people, it is of critical importance that some of us speak with our feet to the anti-migrant Leviathan that daily grows from and is fed by our inactivity and silence. Those who believe that marches are an ineffective or outmoded instrument of political action are either lobotomized or overly besotted by the the netroots and electoral politics that define the limits and boundaries that mostly white gated community known as “Progressivism”. Technology and elections not accompanied by boots-on-the-ground organizing and action only adds up to a more techno, more Democrat-leaning version of the reactionary status quo.

Lest we forget, in extreme times of war and imperial decline, “liberal” or “progressive” can become the new right wing. So, get ready to march, shout or dance, if only to move you body against this deadening, decadent state.

Radio Nation: Panel Discussion on Netroots and the Left

April 9, 2008

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This segment on Laura Flanders’ Radio Nation show was fun and, at moments, powerful. We talked about race, politics, technopolitics, and, even, empire. Hosted by the Nation’s Ari Melber, the panel included:

Katrina Vandehuevel- Editor, the Nation Magazine

Zephyr Teachout – Assistant Professor of Law, Duke University, and an architect of Howard Dean’s Internet strategy;

Matt Stoller – a founding blogger of OpenLeft and President of BlogPAC;

Roberto Lovato, a writer at New America Media and blogger for Of America (that’s me)

Enjoy!

How the Netroots is Changing Progressive politics

In An Absolut World, Latinos Have Drunken Dreams of (Re)Conquista

April 8, 2008

In this image released by the Mexican advertising firm of Teran/TBWA ...

This ad, which was yanked by Absolut following threats of a boycott, speaks for itself and inspires but a brief comment: If you’re going to drink (I hardly do because of the violence and rape and colonial self-hatred and misplaced coping and genocide and conquest drinking inspires -and masks), do so safely, with your values attached to your dollars. The world should be free of racism and other Absolute(s). Also, please note the error in the ad: coloring the southwest U.S. green instead of coloring over Canada with the sandy pastiches of the decadent empire drunkenly searching for the cheap wine of manufactured enemies with which to wash down the Viagra of “new frontiers”. And note how the Absolut invasion is being launched from the dark brown revolutionary shores of Venezuela.

We are neither drunk nor dreaming when we work to make the world less inebriated with the spirits of empire.

Electronic Dragnet for Undocumented Nets Citizens

April 8, 2008

New America Media, News Report, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Apr 08, 2008

Editor’s Note: Electronic programs to verify employment eligibility are meant to detect those working in the United States illegally. But an unlikely coalition of unions, business organizations and conservatives fear that error-filled databases might end up impacting citizens as well. NAM editor Roberto Lovato is a writer based in New York.

Two hours after starting his new job at a food processing plant in 2006, Fernando Tinoco got fired. “I went to work, felt really good to have a new job and started going to it,” says Tinoco, a 53-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Chicago. “And then they called me into the office and told me that my Social Security number was fake,” he adds, “And then they fired me.” Apparently, Tyson Foods Inc., Tinoco’s former employer, was one of the more than 52,000 companies voluntarily participating in “E-Verify”, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program designed to identify undocumented workers by electronically verifying their employment eligibility.

After the Kafkaesque experience of being hired, fired and trying to maneuver through the famously overstretched bureaucracy of the Social Security Administration to re-confirm status, Citizen Tinoco has become an outspoken critic of U.S. immigration laws’ impact on citizens. “I think that citizens need to be as careful of these new immigration laws,” says Tinoco, who now works at a school, adding, “they can ruin our lives too.” Tinoco found his concerns echoed by Jim Harper of the conservative Cato Institute, who recently wrote that “If E-Verify goes national, get used to hearing that Orwellian term: ‘non-confirmation.’”

That is why E-Verify is opposed by an unlikely alliance that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, major unions, Republican legislators and others. But it is only one of a growing number of legislative and administrative immigration control initiatives that Tinoco and many critics believe will negatively impact not just non-citizens, but citizens as well. This week, for example, Congress is considering the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act, which includes provisions that mandate a national verification system like that of the more voluntary state programs like E-Verify. Also causing intense fear is last week’s announcement by the Bush administration of revisions to its “No Match letter” plan, which requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to send out 140,000 letters demanding that employers fire workers whose Social Security numbers did not match those in their records. Advocates are concerned that, like the E-Verify program and SAVE Act, the new No Match regulations will affect other U.S. citizens and authorized workers thanks to the same kind of faulty record keeping that led to Tinoco’s firing.

“By viewing these initiatives through the narrow lens of ‘immigration policy’ sold to us by politicians many fail to see that many of these programs will have direct impacts on many citizens,” says Michele Waslin, senior research analyst with the Immigration Policy Center. To support their claims, Waslin and other critics point to several reports like one by the SSA’s Office of Inspector General that found that there are 17.8 million discrepancies in the SSA’s records relating to lawful American workers. The report also found that 70 percent or 12.7 million of those inconsistencies belong to native-born (as opposed to naturalized) U.S. citizens.

Some advocates like Harper of the Cato Institute are fighting the proposals because they believe that there are no checks against government error or abuse against citizens in the programs ostensibly targeting those here illegally. “Once built,” wrote Harper, “this government monitoring system would soon be extended to housing, financial services, and other essentials to try to get at illegal immigrants. It would also be converted to policy goals well beyond immigration control.” Waslin agrees. “These programs will do nothing to deal with undocumented immigrants because people will simply go further underground,” says Waslin. “But they will eventually lead to a situation that will force every single person to ask the government for permission to work. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is it really worth it?’”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation, answers Waslin’s question with a resounding ‘no’, a ‘no’ accompanied by lawsuits, letter-writing and lobbying.

For their part, DHS representatives say that concerns about the effects on citizens are misplaced. The number of citizens mistakenly impacted by programs like No Match and E-Verify programs, says DHS spokesperson Amy Kudwa, “are a small portion of the population. Ninety-two percent of all E-verify queries are returned without incident in less than eight seconds and only 1 percent of them are contested. These are important tools in fighting illegal immigration.”

But advocates point out that, despite being run on trial basis, E-Verify and other programs have already demonstrated disconcerting flaws that are rooted in the unreliability of the technology and the databases like that of SSA.

In the face of so many legislative proposals and administrative initiatives, Tinoco says his obligation to speak only grows because of his concern for his fellow immigrants – and fellow citizens. “I still don’t understand: how can this happen here? It’s like a movie, a very bad movie.” Asked what message he has for his fellow citizens, Tinoco answers, “This can happen to you too.”

New Category: Barbarianisms and Other Babel

April 7, 2008

Empowering Your Community, Beginning with Family and Friends (BK Currents)

Today, a great poet and a new friend conspired with personal challenges to force me to bow again before the sublime altar of Words. Reading these words by Lawrence Ferlinghetti turned on the Ancient Lamp of Lyricism I’d left fallow for so, so long:

you can conquer the conquerors with words

I committed my life to words because I believe what Ferlinghetti says is possible-and necessary.

After turning over this gift tortilla several times in the still-blazing stove of the mind, I came home to read a message from Roberto Vargas, a new friend who put his own shamanic sounds down in his new book, Family Activism: Empowering Your Community, Beginning with Family and Friends. Roberto’s description of his book included a call to “be the change we desire in the world beginning with ourselves and our closest relationships.”

Then, the wine press of Roberto’s and Ferlinghetti’s words squeezed these thoughts from this ripening bald brown barbarian grape of a man,

I’m reminded of what I’ve often said: that, in a country so gripped by the pathologies of war, hate and domination, being truly healthy is one of the most radical acts one can undertake. And, as I get older, as the country grows sicker, these words ring even truer and louder.

Whether you find my words sweet, woody or sour, I offer them up as a toast to those of you kind enough to indulge and honor us with a even a drop of consciousness.

Interview: Decoding Liberation – The Promise of Free & Open Software

April 3, 2008

In the first of many interviews to come to you from Of América, we bring you an interview with Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter, authors of Decoding Liberation (DL) – The Promise of Free and Open Software.

I decided to bring this interview to you not only because of our wish to do more interviews about stimulating subjects with cool and smart people (We do); I also think that, in a “civilization” in which most of our infrastructure, most of our productive lives and our very DNA are mediated or manipulated by software, many of the classical questions and issues covered by one of my favorite pursuits, politics – freedom, power, citizenship, labor, production – must include a discussion of the liberatory potential in and of software.

Though interested in these critical, but heady topics, I am not the best person to either introduce or elucidate on such topics. Fortunately, my friend, Samir, and his colleague, Scott, are. So, without further adieu, here’s the interview, which covers lots of good and interesting ground.

Enjoy!

Of América: What is open source? Free software?

SC, SD: Over the past few decades, it has become common for software companies to provide their software only as executable programs: all we users have to do — all we can do — is install the software and start using it. But what if we users have an urge to modify the way these programs work? Maybe we wish some annoying behavior would go away, or we fantasize about some really useful feature that’s just not there. Most of the time, this sort of wishful thinking can’t go beyond fantasy: we’re at the mercy of the software company, who decides when and whether they’re going to distribute an update or new version. And any eventual update may not, of course, tend to our needs.

The obstacle here is that the executable form of the programs we’re given doesn’t give us access to the information — the progam’s “source code” — that a programmer would need to change the program’s behavior. Most of us aren’t programmers ourselves, but we could certainly hire one to do some customization for us, if we had the source code. But source code is guarded by proprietary software vendors as a trade secret, because they believe that much of the value of the company resides there.

But there is an obvious alternative: to distribute software with its source code. This is the guiding principle of free and open source software (FOSS). This distribution creates all kinds of possibilities: for users to inspect the code of the software they use, modify it if they have the need, and even, perhaps, to send these modifications back to the originator to be folded into future versions of the software. So, the core distinction between FOSS and proprietary software is that FOSS makes available to its users the knowledge and innovation contributed by the creator(s) of the software, in the form of the software’s source code. So what makes the software “free” is not that it’s free of charge (though it generally is), but that we’re free to do all these things with it.

The terms free software and open source software are nearly synonymous terms for this particular approach to developing and distributing software. The difference lies in how this software is described and what kind of advocacy is carried out: “open source software” advocacy mostly relies on arguments about this kind of software’s technical superiority and efficiency of production; “free software” advocacy certainly acknowledges these factors but also uses ethical arguments about users’ freedoms and the impact of software on the life of a community or society.

Why did you write this?

We began to wonder whether the freedoms of software bled over into spheres of activity that are affected by software, so our guiding question became, “What is the emancipatory potential of free software, and how is it manifested?” Freedom is a multifaceted concept subject to diverse interpretations across many contexts; our book is an attempt to bring out what specific moral goods free software might provide in several important areas. We wanted to understand what free software’s liberatory potential is and how we might go about realizing it: we thought we saw, behind the software freedoms, glimmers of some important messages about how we could work as a community, how knowledge could be shared, and what a highly technologized world could look like. This book is partly an expression of a utopian hope that these can be realized.

What does this stuff have to do with politics?

Technology has always had everything to do with politics! Technological artifacts of the past consisted only of hardware: engines, motors, pumps, levers, switches, gears. To control the hardware was to control the technology. Hardware is expensive to acquire and maintain, so technology was invariably controlled by large economic entities—states, then corporations. Concerns about social control invariably addressed control of technology; Marx’s concerns about the control of the means of production were focused on the hardware that both crystallized and generated capitalist power. The 20th century brought a new form of technology, the computer, in which hardware and control are explicitly separated. With the advent of the computer, the means of production no longer inhere solely in hardware; control is transferable, distributable, plastic, and reproducible, all with minimal cost. Control of technology may be democratized, its advantages spread more broadly than ever before. The reactionary response to this promise is an attempt to embrace and coopt this control to advance entrenched social, economic, and political power. It is this reaction that free software resists. Most fundamentally, free software is a vehicle for moral discourse and political change in the still-new realm of digital technology.

Why talk about liberation? What does software have to do with freedom? What does freedom have to do with software?

The ‘free’ in free software has been famously explained by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation as, “Think free speech, not free beer.” That is, software is a mode of expression; the protection of that freedom of expression is even more valuable than getting software “for free.” More specifically, the seminal Free Software Definition explicitly identifies four freedoms that are fundamental to users and developers alike: the freedom to run software for any purpose, the freedom to study and adapt a program to your needs, the freedom to redistribute copies of software, and the freedom to share your improvements to the software with the public.

In our work, we take free software to be a liberatory enterprise in several dimensions; we’re interested in the impact of the software freedoms, which seem quite technical on a first reading, on political, artistic, and scientific freedoms. The title of our book is suggestive of this impact: in a world that is increasingly encoded, our free software carries much potential for liberation. Granted, claims about technology and freedom are nothing new; much of the early hype about the Internet was rhetoric of this kind. But what is important about the recurrence of such hyperbolic enthusiasm is that it is clearly articulated evidence of a broad social desire for technology to live up to its potential as a liberatory force.

How deeply is software embedded into our lives? Does software control us or do we control software?

In a heavily technologized, computerized world—which we are slowly moving toward–the personal and social freedoms we will enjoy will be exactly those granted or restricted by software. Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School perhaps puts it best:

“In the twenty-first century, power is the ability to change the behavior of computers. If you can’t change the behavior of computers, you live within a Skinner box created by the people who can change the behavior of computers. Every artifact around you responds by either handing you a banana pellet or a shock, depending upon which button you push and whether you are “right,” from the designer’s point of view.”

The question then becomes, “How closely does the designer’s point of view match mine?” And what recourse do we have if it’s not a good match? Free software offers us a qualitatively different measure of control over our machines.

Is this another book about how evil the King of Proprietary Software, Bill Gates, is?

No, it’s not. It is hard, though, to write a book about modern software without discussing the impact of the 800-pound gorilla that is Microsoft. The free software community is directly impacted by some of Microsoft’s action, like it’s omnipresent threat to launch patent infringements suits against free software projects. On the other hand, Microsoft has clearly acknowledged the impact of free software, as they have an active development lab dedicated to improving interoperability between free software and Microsoft’s products.

And, in fact, when we want to make a point about the value of the collaboration that free software allows programmers, we quote Bill Gates, from a 1989 interview: “[T]he best way to prepare [to be a programmer] is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. . . . You’ve got to be willing to read other people’s code, then write your own, then have other people review your code. You’ve got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the worldclass people to tell you what you are doing wrong . . .”

How do I impact any of this if I’m not a programmer?

Even non-programmer users, just by using free software, can make a real difference by asking for new features, pointing out problems, and making copies of the software to share with their friends. The free software community is incredibly good at taking advantage of these seemingly small contributions; developers are very eager to hear from people who are using their work and want to see it thrive. Even a small handful of demanding users can dramatically improve the quality of the free software they use. On a political and social scale, citizens can demand that governmental entities or their employers make the technology they use transparent by using free software (for instance, voters could demand, as, indeed, they already have, that voting machines only run free software).

How can community organizations, political groups take advantage of this?

Free software is intricately involved with a number of social goods that are increasingly under attack, ranging from consumer choice and the struggle against monopolies, to the distribution of creative and intellectual works, to the preservation of the creative and liberatory potential of the Internet, and the human right to communication. We hope our book will make these connections clear, and inspire thought about what sorts of political strategies will work best to preserve these goods. Another of our goals is to make the case to activists from a variety of struggles that tech activism, whether around free software, or privacy, or net neutrality, is an important factor in any fight — effecting change in the technological sphere has more and more to do with change in the “real world.”

Thanks, Samir & Scott.