Archive for July, 2008

Stopping Military Build-up In Afghanistan Key to Real “Change” and “Hope”

July 31, 2008

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Recent debates around a possible and likely military build-up in Afghanistan have created some divisions and tensions within the movement to stop the war in Iraq. Though it is urgent and necessary to debate the pros and cons of exposing the Afghan people to more U.S. militarism, we should, with increasing urgency, worry about exposing ourselves to the effects of continued and increased militarism: budgets broken by war, spikes in global hatred of the U.S. and the possibility of raising children in a future dominated by the anti-democratic dual dictates of perpetual war and “national security.”

A recent report on how to best combat “terrorism”, “How Terrorist Groups End – Lessons for Countering al Qaida,” by the hardly-peace-loving Rand Corporation concluded that, “In most cases, military force isn’t the best instrument.” This report and the common sense conclusion that the current approach -sending hundreds of thousands of troops, deploying massive numbers of ships and conducting thousands of air strikes- make obvious that big money military-industrial interests have failed to deal with what some national security specialists call “asymmetric threats” (groups organized to conduct decentralized, networked and unconventional military operations). And this failure raises a critical question: why another clunky build-up in Afghanistan to fight another nimble threat?

In addition to the axiomatic great game answer that says having a military presence in a region makes it better for securing oil and other “national interests”, another answer seems equally legitimate: that continued big-money militarism in Afghanistan continues to guarantee the that global corporations will rule the economic, political and personal lives of people across the world-including the people in the United States.

By reaching what appears to be another Washington Consensus around a buildup in Afghanistan, candidates Obama and McCain appear to be sending signals not to the voters, but to the Pentagon and Haliburton, Boeing, Blackwater and other military-industrial companies whose stock values depend on the extension and expansion of what Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calls a “3 Trillion Dollar War.” Viewed from this perspective, changing military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan is a form of coded communication between those who would govern us politically and the de facto interests that govern us from behind the Oval Office – global corporations and military industrial interests that “protect” their investments in the name of “the national interest.”

Without stopping those who profit handsomely by killing both people and peace in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we will not have the economic resources required to build a more just society; we will not have a political system in which the sovereignty of real citizens overrules the sovereignty of the inhuman and non-human corporate citizens that now define the meaning of “democracy”; We will not rid ourselves and the world of the interests behind the US’s 737 military bases located in 130 countries and inhabiting all the continents where Gallup and other polls tell us we are hated at unprecedented levels. We will not achieve the peace and stability needed to save the planet itself. Any talk of “change” or “hope” must place priority on fighting and defeating the militarism that sucks our economy, polity and culture dry.

For these and many other reasons, we must strike out in powerful opposition to the next excuse for continued militarism, Afghanistan. Whether the face of the next president is black or white matters less than ending the sovereignty of the militarism that paints the world in the black and white, us-versus-them logic that’s starving people and democracy.

For more on the discussion about Afghanistan and militarism, check out tommorrow’s Meet the Bloggers show at 1 pm EST!

Further reading:

“A Hidden System” and the Human Cost of Detention

July 31, 2008

This video and post from my friends at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees further documents the just plain evil things that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency calls its daily bread. Thanks to the Coalition for their consistency and focus on these issues.

Americans of all stripes are coming together to shine light on the federal government’s failure to uphold basic human rights and due process for immigrants being held in detention. “A Hidden System” is a short video the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) produced to give a face to what’s wrong with our ballooning detention industry.

The video is based on the June 19th Night of 1,000 Conversations vigil and action ICIRR held at the Broadview Detention Center near Chicago. In the wake of expanding enforcement operations, over 100 community members and people of faith came out to protest what they saw as a system out of control. This action was just one example of how people are beginning to speak out against the conditions in which immigrant men and women are being separated from their families, locked up, and denied fair trials.

Linking this drive to last weekend’s rally to shine light on the massive violations that took place in Postville, Iowa, this past May, Marisa Trevino of Latina Lista, writes:

The secretive and isolationist nature of how the federal government conducts deportations and immigrant detentions naturally lends itself to abuse of the system and the erosion of human rights.

In “A Hidden System,” people of faith, activists, attorneys, and community members explore the human cost of a rapidly growing immigrant detention business. The New York Times and the Washington Post have both reported on the untimely deaths of more than 66 men and women who have died in immigrant detention under ICE’s custody. Untold others are being held in unsafe conditions. As difficult as it is to believe, unauthorized workers are routinely denied access to basic rights, such as the ability to make a phone-call home to inform their families that they are being detained.

Roberto Lovato , of Of America, writes:

“Among the principal concerns to be discussed during the nationwide events are what critics say, is nothing less than a “Guantanamization” of migrant detention within the borders of the United States: death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards (many of whom are former military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan); the prolonged and indefinite detention of thousands including children and families denied due process and other fundamental rights as they languish in filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; orange-uniformed detainees sedated with psychotropic drugs, attacked by growling dogs and physically and sexually abused by guards; multi-million government contracts for prison construction and management given to high-powered, military industrial and prison industrial giants like Halliburton and the Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, whose former director set up the infamous Abu Ghraib detention facility.

While it may be difficult for the average American to imagine all of this happening within our borders, it is also difficult for those who hear about these atrocities to keep quiet.

In the final scenes of “A Hidden System,” Andrea Black, founder of Detention Watch Network, says “When people hear about this, they immediately want to get involved.”

Let’s hope we can get enough people concerned and involved that it forces the federal government to reform a system so horrific that it cannot stay hidden long.

Race, Politics & the Deadly Rise of (Corporate) Media Sovereignty

July 27, 2008

Democracy Now!

For the more than 10,000 attending the 4-day Unity Journalists of Color conference-the largest single gathering of journalists in the United States- one theme overwhelmingly dominated all others: how the thousands of under and unemployed journalists attending the conference signal a colossal crisis of U.S. journalism-and U.S. democracy. Whether it was the many traumatized and fear-filled workers we encountered , or the obvious humiliation of Truth in Journalism we heard on panels or the unprecedented lack of government transparency we discussed, the hallways of Unity were buzzing with devastatingly bad news.

The primary source of the bad news?: the sinister and extremely anti-democratic concentration of media ownership and power in fewer and fewer hands. Many of us are returning home clear of how one of the great threats to any democratic functioning is the deadly rise of Corporate Media Sovereignty. Nowhere was the threat more palpable than around that most critical of media issues of our time, Net Neutrality, the struggle to keep the internet open and free from the clutches of the exploiters of journalists, the purveyors of candy-coated UnTruth and enablers of government secrecy: Big Media.

I for one return from Chicago more convinced of the need to support the Death Penalty, the Corporate Death Penalty as applied to those companies that devastate the public good. We need to get back to those days when bad corporations lost their legal right to exist for violating the Public Good. This was the case from the foundation of the country until the late 19th century and we need to bring back the power of the people to apply the Death Penalty to corporations by denying them what in legal terms is known as “corporate personhood.”

This interview on Democracy Now explores these issues in the context of the interplay between race, media and politics. We discuss how, for example, Janet Murguia and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) -the same folks who supported the nomination of war criminal Alberto Gonzalez, are silent on Iraq and accept money from and promote the Pentagon- have been silenced and neutralized around Net Neutrality by the money they get from telecommunications companies eager to control the Internet. So check out how DN co-host (and now NAHJ Hall of Famer) Juan Gonzalez and author Amy Alexander and I explore these and other issues. Enjoy!

Closing of Historic Arizona Radio Station Signals Larger Crisis of Latino Media

July 23, 2008

This story from the Arizona Republic tells the sad, but increasingly not-so-uncommon story of the impending closure of radio station KNUV-AM (1190), better known as “La Buena Onda”, a historic and important source of information for Spanish-speaking migrants in the very contentious Phoenix area.

According to Ricardo Torres, a former media executive interviewed by the Republic, the reason that the station will close on July 31rst has to do with the fact that

“The industries that rely on immigrants are hurting: construction, agriculture and hospitality,” he said adding “And what is happening is the immigrant community is shrinking due to bad economic times and the current hostile atmosphere created by (Maricopa County) Sheriff Joe Arpaio and laws passed by the Legislature.”

Because Spanish language media represents the largest immigrant media in the country, the fatal combination of economic decline, institutional racism (ie: How is Arpaio allowed to represent the law?) and media economics should be viewed as precursors of similarly devastating dynamics impacting other media in other migrant communities.The fate of La Buena Onda provides an object lesson in the politics of media, Latinos and democracy. With small, independent community based media suffering the same fate as the Phoenix station, the Spanish -and English-speaking Latino community will depend primarily on conglomerated media for most of its information about the world. This slightly older story from Washington Post makes the same point.

If information does, in fact, constitute the life blood of democracy, it appears that we are witnessing another devastation of democracia.

Neat New Net Show: “Meet the Bloggers”)

July 17, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Robert Greenwald and the loco(a)s at Brave New Films-the folks who brought you Outfoxed, The Real McCain and other agit-flicks- are at it again. Their latest launch? Meet the Bloggers, an exciting, ambitious and live new online video show that seeks to expand the national political debate and discussion beyond the talking head set. As you can see from the title, bloggers -smart, courageous bloggers and thinkers (and yours truly, the not-so-courageous or smart bald writer)- will occupy a central place on the show, which will also feature a number of engaging and influential weekly guests, including Senator Harry Reid, Arianna Huffington, John Cuzak and many others. Beginning this Friday the 18th, the show will broadcast online every Friday and will focus on the kind of unconventional political opinion and analysis you come to the web for. The show will feature bloggers include The Huffington Post, Think Progress, Alternet, Jack & Jill Politics and Of América.

Check out the trailer and pilot below and tune in to what promises to be a brave new experiment in politics, media and the search for intelligent life.


Obama’s Grand Tour: the American Idol-ing of Empire?

July 16, 2008

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Just a week before Barack Obama’s highly anticipated first tour of Europe and the Middle East as presidential candidate, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked the Senator about the kinds of experiences that will inform his ability to occupy the most powerful foreign policy position on earth.

“…what is your first memory of a foreign policy event that shaped you, shaped your life?”, asked Zakaria. Obama invoked his childhood memories of Indonesia, where his mother worked for the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. And he did so with the poise that will ultimately vanquish the manufactured image of him as the Islamic garb-wearing threat depicted in political cartoons. With facial expressions and body language that made him look like the embodiment of sensitive, flexible yet tough cosmopolitanism, a very pensive and presidential-sounding Obama told Zakaria that he later learned that Indonesia fell victim to “an enormous coup, the military coup in which we learned later that over half-a-million people had probably died.”

Most striking, Obama said, was how “the generals in Indonesia or members of Suharto’s (who led the coup and ruled Indonesia for over 30 years) family were living in lavish mansions, and the sense that government wasn’t always working for the people, but was working for insiders, — not that that didn’t happen in the United States,” he added, “but at least the sense that there was a civil society and rules of law that had to be abided by.” Obama’s interview previewed the kind glamour and intelligence will help CNN reach American Idol in the ratings game while also positioning him to compete in the Great Game of geopolitics.

But as eloquent, smart and unMcCain-like as Obama sounded during the interview, his pre-foreign policy tour paean to U.S. civil society lacked any mention of how of the U.S. government was “working for the people” when its military aid paid for those Indonesian mansions in the late 1960’s. Neither did his response to Zakaria mention what the U.S government did to enable one of the worst slaughters of the late 20th century: providing training to 1,200 of those generals and other Indonesian military officers and giving them the money, arms, intelligence and political support that caused catastrophic trauma. As a smart and sensitive boy who played soccer on Jakarta’s dusty Haji Ramli Street, Obama surely felt this trauma among his friends and families devastated by state-sponsored terrorism and mass murder.

Nor did Obama mention in his interview the strategies in support of the military coup planned and executed out of the same embassy where his mother worked as an English teacher.

When asked by a reporter in 1990 about dissident lists prepared by the CIA and U.S. State Department and given to the Indonesian military during the coup, Robert J. Martens, a political attaché who worked at the embassy up until the year before Obama’s mother did, replied: “It really was a big help to the (Indonesian) army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad.”

While it’s absurd to expect Obama to account for the violence and militarism of the U.S. government of his childhood, it is imperative that we hold him accountable to stopping the violence and militarism of the government he’s preparing to lead as an adult.

As he’s mobbed by throngs of Europoliticos anxious to take pictures with the telegenic Senator during his Grand Tour, the Kennedyesque Obama will also be greeted by thousands of cheering Europeans and Middle Easterners, some of whom will embrace him as a prophet of political good, one who hails the end of the Apocalyptically bad foreign policies of George W. Bush. But, as critically important as it is for Obama to deploy his global rock star appeal (he polls better around the world than he does in the U.S.) in the cause of healing the U.S. image abroad, the Camelot factor will go only so far; Simply American Idol-ing –making large crowds feel like their anti-war, anti-militarism vote actually counts- Europe, the Middle East and the world will not work for very long on today’s very tenuous geopolitical stage. The cheering crowds –and we- would be wise to stop for more than a few commercial breaks to ask what Obama’s relationship will and should be to the bloody undercurrent running beneath both Bushism and the Indonesia policy of his childhood: U.S. militarism and empire.

Rather than simply view Obama’s trip abroad as another photo-op in the American Political Idol narrative offered up by global media companies, we might instead use his visit to Europe and the Middle East as away to start communicating to him –and to the world -that we finally recognize the error of our imperial ways.

Simply voting for and electing Obama will not solve the crisis of the rapidly declining empire hidden behind mainstream media euphemisms like “superpower” or “leader of the free world”; He could simply become the darker-skinned, smarter, friendlier front man for the most massive military empire in history –and we its willing imperial citizens, as indicated by George W. Bush’s skyrocketing poll numbers immediately following the Iraq invasion in 2003. Given that numerous polls of world public opinion now tell us that militarism, military occupation and war have leveled love of the U.S. just about everywhere, a timely and critical question to ask Obama during and after his Grand Tour is, “How many of the 737 military bases the Pentagon maintains in over 130 foreign countries on every continent are you willing to close?”

And, given what economists like Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz tell us in thick books with startling titles like “The Three Trillion Dollar War” –that militarism is at the center of our growing national and global economic crises (ie; military spending busts budgets and increases debt, war decreases the amount available oil, war spending diminishes money for bridges, schools and health care, etc.) — we might also add the question, “And how quickly are you going to dismantle those bases?”

As Obama takes his charismatic calls for “change” global, neither he nor we can afford to continue turning a blind eye to the fact that all those bases, all those wars and all that imperial behavior have not just made us less safe in the world –and much poorer; they also unleashed domestic threats to the “civil society and rule of law” that Obama waxed patriotic about during his interview: unilateral decisions to go to war based on lies (lies accepted and repeated by most major institutions), a constitution shredded in the name of “protecting the homeland”, criminal corporations protected under cover of “national security” and an increasingly secretive executive branch accountable to no one.

Let us hope that Obama’s Grand Tour speeches and interviews signal that his experience is leading him to see how unfettered militarism makes today’s U.S. government resemble the Indonesian government circa 1967, the year a more innocent Barack Obama started living and playing in Jakarta.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney deserve much of the blame for the militaristic depredations that threaten the country and planet alike. But we ignore at our own risk the vast and well-rooted networks of political, military and economic interests that have long benefited from and enabled the machinations of empire. Our failure to push Obama to attack rather than promote U.S. militarism and empire will most certainly leave us vulnerable to a new era of “change,” an era driven by the hydra-headed global dragon of free trade and militarism.

As he visits Europe, more specifically Britain, the former empire that brought us the American Idol TV sensation, Obama might benefit greatly by remembering the words of another British idol, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who in the heat of global war said in 1942, “I did not become Prime Minister to liquidate the British Empire.” And then Obama might also remember what happened to Churchill just 3 years later, in 1945: he lost the election.

Interview on Latino Fiction(s): McCain, Obama and “Latino Vote” Construct

July 15, 2008

This interview with Uprising Radio’s Sonali Kolhatkar touches upon the untouchable issues of the Latino politic: corporate and Pentagon underwriting of Latino events like the Presidential forums, the candidates’ silence on immigrant death and detention, the Pentagon’s desperate need to recruit Latino kids and other issues. Fellow guest, Nativo Lopez of MAPA and I dissect the many fictions that make up this idea of the “Latino vote” and do, I believe a decent, even good job. So, check it out here:

Uprising Radio Interview

Of América Mentioned in Wall Street Journal

July 15, 2008

The Wall Street Journal Home Page

Another tell-tale sign that Of América has cozied up to Big Capital: we were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal today. But fear not my good reader; No money has followed the coverage-thus far. But stay tuned as we test something I believe Lenin said about capitalism’s ability to buy your revolution and then sell it back to you. No bidders yet. So, onward Christian and Commie soldiers! Onward!

Latino Bloggers React To Candidates’ Outreach Efforts

Ana Rivas reports on the presidential race.

Latino bloggers covering the presidential campaign reacted this week to recent efforts by both candidates with their usual spotting of simplistic stereotypes in the candidates’ outreach efforts, and with a new joint initiative that raises some tough questions — 38 to be precise.

A group of bloggers responded to Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama’s speeches to the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of la Raza, with coordinated posts about a 38-point questionnaire that The Sanctuary, a pro-immigrant group, sent to the presidential candidates last month demanding answers on immigration policy issues. Neither McCain nor Obama has responded to the questionnaire.

“Some of us are learning how to filter out the rhetoric,” blogger at wrote. “It is time these politicians stop the rhetoric, worrying if their answer will be spun as proof of flip-flopping.”

The purpose of the whole effort may be best summarized in Man Eegee’s post headline in “Latino Politico”: “More Than Sound bites on Immigration Reform” And KettyE discusses the candidates’ silence at “To date the candidates’ silence has been deafening,” she writes. “Is it a don’t ask/don’t tell tactic? Well if it is they should have told us sooner because we are asking.”

The group effort also highlighted how the candidates cleaned and tightened their rhetoric for their general election campaigns. In a July 9 post, on the third day of the Lulac convention, Roberto Lovato asked for “fewer ‘Si se puedes’ and more of things like ’substancia’, ‘realidad’ and ‘transparencia.’”

The use of the slogan “Si se puede” — “Yes, we can”– would probably fall within what the bloggers at Adventures of the Coconut Caucus have called “Mariachi Politics.” To illustrate the idea of a strategy based in Spanish phrases and posing for photos with Hispanic leaders, they posted a video of Sen. Edward Kennedy singing a corrido during a rally for Obama in February. In the same tone, La Bloguera, while live-blogging from the candidates’ appearances at the LULAC conference last week, noted the use of Brazilian tunes and songs from Mexican romantic singer Luis Miguel during the speakers’ presentations.

Bloggers also commented on McCain’s campaign ad “God’s Children,” released last week and targeted to Hispanic voters in western swing states. “It’s rather moving, eh?” wrote “Especially given how lately he has been pushing the security-laser-fence-raid-detainment-punishment aspect of the issue.”

Marisa Treviño of Latina Lista said the ad was “offensive to Latinos” and that it should be banned. “Because this ad endorses the false assumption that all Latinos are recent immigrants, it unfairly sets the mindset in those Americans who aren’t familiar with Latinos, to equate all Latinos with undocumented immigrants and the problems associated with them.” Treviño and others also asked whether McCain considered that “people have to be reminded that we [Latinos] are ‘God’s children’ too?”

In Centrist Speeches Aimed at Latinos, Obama Neglects War While McCain Fumbles on Immigration

July 9, 2008

[McCain Crowd]

Candidates Obama and McCain are gearing up to do what the mainstream media is touting as a “mini-Latino voter tour” that includes speeches at the LULAC Convention today and speeches at the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) convention in San Diego next week.

For discussion’s sake, let’s do as the mainstream media does and forget that the voice of LULAC is but 1 very well-funded voice in a cacophony made up of more than 40 million Latino voices and thousands of Latino organizations in the U.S. And, in the name of being part of this often inane (as in anybody seen that political Chupacabra -the widely-reported Latino unwillingness to vote for a black candidate- lately?) conversation labeled “Latino politics”, let’s also ignore that lurking beneath that brown blob of a media construct called “Hispanics” in headlines and sound bites are inconvenient truths; Inconvenient truths like the fact that organizations like LULAC do not always speak for many, if not most, of us, when, for example, leaders like NCLR’s Janet Murguia or LULAC’s Ray Velarde gushed with support for disgraced former Attorney General and war criminal Alberto Gonzales.

OK. So, the “tour” of all 2 organizations began with a “festive” gathering at the LULAC convention in the Latino heartland of Washington DC, where LULAC president Oscar Moran designated McCain “nuestro amigo”. Joining Moran, Walmart, Shell Oil, Miller Beer and the usual host of corporations sponsoring these kinds of festivities were other, richer organizations whose very life depends increasingly on their ability to bring in Latino bodies: the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense (see full list of LULAC Convention sponsors below). And, for the record, while some individual staff and board members and some local chapters of LULAC strongly oppose the war, the leadership of neither LULAC nor that of most other major Latino organizations has taken a position on the war).

As if not wanting to offend some of the sponsors in the audience, Obama made no mention in his LULAC speech of what numerous polls tell us is the NUMERO UNO issue for Latinos by large margins: the Iraq war. Again, WAR, not immigration is the number 1 issue for the fastest growing group in the U.S. military.

For his part, McCain made mention not of the war, but of the Latino troops, and did so in a manner that sounded like another in the tsunami of multi-million dollar media ads brought to you by the Pentagon sponsors in the audience:

“When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan you will meet some of the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well. To love your country, as I discovered in Vietnam, is to love your countrymen. Those men and women are my brothers and sisters…”

Yeah. OK, hermano. Moving on, in his LULAC speech McCain fumbled around the ticklish issue of immigration according to this piece in the Dallas morning news.

Missing in the brown sea of “Si se Puede”‘s and “amigo”‘s at the “spirited” event was nary a word describing other, more NO SE PUEDE concerns of Spanish (and English) speakers, issues like:

“prision” (the exponential growth of the Latino prison population)

“Pentagono” (the multi-billion dollar effort to trick Latino youth into joining the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and other armed forces)

“Muerte, detencion y migrantes” (Immigration issues like the thousands of dead in the desert, death, sexual and physical abuse in ICE detention centers, thousands of raids and other terror inflicted on immigrant children and adults)

“pobreza” (the unprecedented challenge of a country in which the wealthiest 1% has over $2 trillion more than the bottom 90%, according to the Nation magazine. In other words, the candidates won’t be asked in Espanol or en Ingles, “How come the wealthiest 1% have $19 trillion while the rest of us 300,000,000 only have a combined wealth totaling less than $17 trillion?”)

So, let’s “hope” that the larger, better-funded NCLR event brings us fewer “Si se puede”‘s and more of things like “substancia”, “realidad” and “transparencia”.

For more about this issue, check out this radio interview with Free Speech Radio Network.


Diamond Sponsors
Comcast Corporation General Motors Corporation
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Presidential Sponsors
American Airlines
Ford Motor Company
LULAC Council #1
Miller Brewing Company
Shell Oil Company
Sprint Nextel Corporation
U.S. Department of Health &
Human Services

Judicial Sponsors
Dell El Zol
U.S. Army

Senatorial Sponsors
The Coca-Cola Company
ExxonMobil Corporation
Google Inc.
Harrah’s Entertainment
McDonald’s Corporation
Nissan North America, Inc.
PepsiCo, Inc.
Procter & Gamble Company
Southwest Airlines
Tyson Foods, Inc.
U.S. Department of Defense
Congressional Sponsors
Countrywide Financial Corp.
U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Navy
Univision Communications
Western Union

Patriot Sponsors
Bank of America
Freddie Mac
The Nielsen Company
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Patron Sponsors
7-Eleven, Inc.
Americans For Secure
Burger King Brands, Inc.
Continental Airlines, Inc.
Denny’s Restaurants
Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company
Hyatt Hotels Corporation
International Union of
Bricklayers and Allied
Merisant Worldwide Inc.
Sed de Saber
TracFone Wireless Inc.
U.S. Agency for International
U.S. Environmental Protection
Walt Disney Company
Wyndham International

Recreate 68, the DNC and the Urgent Need to Reinvent Our Political Language

July 7, 2008

Tie-dye used as stage decor, Snoqualmie Moondance festival (1992)1968 protest

This article in the L.A. Times (LAT) about the protests and other activities planned for next month’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) make me want to throw on a tie dye, smoke some sin semilla and blare the the song, Times They Are NOT a-Changin’.

My point is that, rather than frame the protests as a response to the unique confluence of issues that constitute our crisis – war, declining empire, worldwide starvation, the death of the American Dream and the rapid decimation of the planet itself, to name a few- the writers and editors at major media outlets simply cut story lines and even images(!) from the 60’s protests and paste them onto the present. But most problematic is not so much the reporting as the fact that DNC protest organizers themselves provided the frame. They did so from the moment they chose the unhappy name for the coordinated protest effort in Denver: Recreate 68.

Sources in Denver told me last year of plans to call the event Recreate 68 and my initial reaction was, “Have they no political imagination?” Asked how they came to this decision, my sources, who didn’t want to be identified because of their need to coordinate with the protest organizers, told me that a most deadly combination was largely responsible for coming up the Recreate 68 tag: aging white leftists and young people anxious for history and change. Those who say that the language matters less than the real life issues being discussed have zero sense of how language and framing can completely block and deaden your main message.

While the motivations of both the young people and the aging white leftists are understandable, their political logic is not. By framing things in this way, they are basically denying the uniqueness of the political moment, the specificity of specific struggles. Also, local activists and their activities, their language will be beamed out to a country and a planet unable to distinguish the Colorado political accent from that of the rest of us who do not wax as nostalgic for 1968.

Some will argue that the mainstream media will inevitably spin against protesters anyway. Maybe, but we don’t need to do the work for them and, more importantly, we ourselves, especially young people, must forge a political identity and create language unique to current challenges, something made exponentially more difficult by the deadening nostalgic mediocrity of the Recreate 68 frame.

Keeping a line of political tradition constitutes a necessary part of any good movement-building-but not at the expense of eliding the burning issues or our time. I can already hear the deployment in Denver of political language so dead and compromised that even Presidential candidates are using it: “Yes we can”, “Si Se Puede”, etc. Denver points to the urgent need to reinvent and reinvigorate our language and political framing.

More than ever, we need to focus national and global attention on the unique and daunting problems we face. “Recreate 68” sounds more like something more appropriate for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion concert than for a movement of our troubled times.

McCain and Obama Ignore Abuses in Colombia and Mexico

July 4, 2008

McCain and Obama Ignore Abuses in Colombia and Mexico

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

Editor’s Note: When it comes to Colombia and Mexico, Presidential candidates Obama and McCain don’t sound much like an agent for “change,” or a maverick, writes NAM writer Roberto Lovato.

In the jubilation around the sensational release of Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages from the FARC guerillas in Colombia, it’s easy to ignore Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba. But with her reddened brown eyes bubbling with tears she tries to contain, Cordoba provides a unique view into the effects of U.S. military policy in Latin America. But it’s not clear if either John McCain fresh from his Colombia tour or Barack Obama are listening.

During one of several public events she participated in during her visit to New York, Cordoba, an outspoken critic of the administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, did not, unlike Senator McCain, laud the effects of U.S. military aid to her country. “The (U.S.) aid is being given to a corrupt democracy, a democracy that governs through fear and terror,” said Cordoba, a former president of both the Colombian Human Rights Commission and Congress. She was herself kidnapped by 12 heavily-armed paramilitary operatives as she left a medical clinic in 2004. “The (Colombian) government uses the money and arms from Plan Colombia (PC) not just to combat drug traffickers,” she said, adding, “It’s also used to silence those of us who speak out against the government. They try to silence us by kidnapping, disappearing and even killing many of us.”

In a hemisphere that, with increasing frequency, rejects Washington’s free-trade and drug war policies, Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama would do well to listen to denunciations by Cordoba and other critics of U.S.-backed governments like those of Colombia and Mexico, where McCain just voiced his support for that country’s equivalent of the drug war, Plan Merida, also known as “Plan Mexico.”

Candidates McCain and Obama’s failure to denounce the exponential increase in atrocities committed by the governments of Colombia’s Uribe and of Mexico’s Felipe Calderon may signal that neither will be the “change” candidate when it comes to U.S. policy in Latin America. For example, though McCain did discuss human rights during his meeting with Uribe, he did so in soft tones that lacked the stridency and urgency heard with regard to other human rights abuses discussed on the “straight talk express,” where the candidate regularly references his imprisonment and torture. For his part though, he opposes the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia (FTA). Senator Obama has been generally supportive of Plan Colombia, a policy that has yielded little to inspire “hope” in the hemisphere.

In the past seven years, the more than $700 million that Colombia, which has one of the worst human rights records in the Americas, receives in mostly military aid each year under PC, has done little to deter drug flows and lots to foment fear and terror. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, at least 28 trade unionists have been killed so far this year in Colombia, making it the country with the world’s highest rate of killings of trade unionists and increases in extra judicial executions. Four million Colombians have been internally displaced since the commencement of PC, and most of the four million Colombians living outside their country migrated during that period also.

In a letter sent to McCain earlier this week, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, reminded the Senator that “more than 60 members of President Álvaro Uribe’s coalition in the Colombian Congress – representing approximately 20 percent of the Congress – are under investigation for rigging elections or collaborating with paramilitaries, considered terrorists by the United States.” Neither candidate has raised the alarm on the atrocities of the Uribe government.

As he toured Mexico, McCain said nothing about the fact that U.S. military aid under Plan Merida contributed to the record 468 civilians that were killed in Mexico because of drug wars between the government and cartels in the month of June. That month saw 509 civilians killed in Iraq. Neither McCain nor Obama –both of whom support Plan Mexico — discuss publicly how our southern neighbor, a country with no previous history of the militarization seen in the rest of the hemisphere, has witnessed what some are calling “Colombianization”: 25,000 troops and police deployed throughout the country; illegal detentions and unlawful searches; corruption linked from local officials to the highest levels of government; increased internal displacement and migration out of conflicted areas.

Ninety-six members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to the governor of the State of Mexico and the country’s Attorney General calling for an investigation into the case of 26 female detainees who were physically, sexually and psychologically abused in San Salvador Atenco. In the first five months of this year there were 300 human rights claims – double the rate from the previous year, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. And as McCain toured Mexico, he acted as if he was blind to the most recent scandal in the country: revelations of a “training” video showing police officers in the city of Leon forcing a fellow officer to crawl through vomit and injecting carbonated water into the nose of another. An instructor identified by Mexican officials as the employee of a U.S. security firm yells out commands in English.

Should they continue to support deadly military policies, hiding under cover of anti-drug policy, McCain and Obama threaten to continue policies that increase migration flows and repression against civilians, something no candidate who is about being a “maverick” or a “change” agent should be silent about.

Alberto Gonzales Taking Latino Pundit Route to Political Redemption

July 3, 2008

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If you read closely, the subtext of this story from the L.A. Times is pretty clear: Alberto Gonzales is a legitimate spokesperson for Latinos. For those of us that care, what he says is less important than that he’s again positioning himself to speak-at our expense. His attempts to reinvent himself following a lengthy and very recent legacy of disgrace should be attacked roundly and widely; He threatens to further degenerate a Latino condition already being crushed under foot of anti-immigrant attacks as intense and sustained as those faced by any group in the United States.

Alerta: if we allow Gonzales’ political fortunes rise, those of the Latino community fall, especially in a society that repudiates the criminal, inhuman wrong he made legal.

If we lived in a more just society, Alberto Gonzales would not get any accolades or Op-ed columns; He’d be locked up for life or on some elite death row for his crimes against humanity. That we allow someone who legally enabled the death and torture of Abu Ghraib, someone who called the Geneva Conventions “quaint”, to speak publicly for and about “civil rights” speaks volumes about the abysmal depths of our leaderless -and extremely vulnerable – political condition.

We should all do what we can to prevent him from slithering out from under the rock of illegitimacy and barbarism that he won for himself. By taking the Latino, “Si se puede” route to political redemption, he further devalues and deforms the Latino political enterprise. We allow him to do so at our own expense.


Obama, Uribe and the School of the Americas

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Not sure how long the “hope” machine will hold if Obama continues to be either tepid or Bush-like in his policies towards America Latina. Last night, I interviewed a woman who was crying as she described the torture, violence she her family and colleagues experienced at the hands Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe, who Obama failed to condemn after the Colombian military violated the sovereignty of Ecuador. Earlier this week, I heard union-sponsored radio ads calling Uribe’s Colombia the “most dangerous country” for workers in the world because of the thousands of workers who’ve been disappeared, jailed, tortured or killed by government-sponsored paramilitary forces trained at places like the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

This NACLA piece about Obama and the School of the Americas by Nicolas Kosloff merits more attention and thought:

I’ve know more than a few people killed by people trained at the School of the Americas and find Obama’s tepid response to such a nefarious institution disappointing at best (see pic below of Salvadoran priests killed by paramilitaries-and militaries-trained at the School of the Americas).

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The accumulation of centrist and often dangerous mainstream positions we’re tacitly being asked to stay mum about now runneth over. Ignoring or enabling terrorists of the state kind inspires little real “hope” and actually merits a condemnation as forceful as that against those enabling terrorists who lack the officialist facade masking state violence. Obama must condemn state terrorists too.

If any of you on this list have his ear or that of his Latin America advisors from Center for American Progress, the Pentagon and other institutions I implore you to do the right thing, the moral thing, the smart thing and get Obama to differentiate himself as the “change” candidate who strikes out against the likes of Uribe and the School of the Americas.

Retraction, Addition re: Hecklers Highlight Silence of Latino Organizations Around War

July 1, 2008

I was contacted by the Executive Director of NALEO and my friend, Arturo Vargas, about yesterday’s post. He pointed out that the people attending the event DID, in fact, question and express concern about the war. So, this quote,

“I must say that watching and listening to the middle class white women-and not the working and middle class Latinos in the audience-yell in garbled Spanish, “Ya basta con la matanza” (Stop the Killing) as they denounced the war and its supporters inspired a rather odd mix of bother and shame;”

is inaccurate.

People attending the NALEO event did express what the majority of Latinos feel about the war. My apologies to those who did speak out.

I was also contacted by Antonio Gonzalez, head of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SVREP), who pointed out that SVREP’s policy partner organization, the Willie Velazquez Institute has come out against the war and that he and Southwest have been instrumental in organizing the Latino Congreso, a major yearly gathering of hundreds of Latino organizations, organizations that voted overwhelmingly against the war.

These details should have been included.