Archive for December, 2008

Thank You & Best Wishes in 2009

December 31, 2008

the-way-to-love-i

Thank you for your support in what’s been a spellbinding year for us all.

Ideal or real, theory or practice, spirit or flesh; Whatever the space(s) that will get  you through times that will reveal the depth of our character, may they be filled with and fueled by the highest, most powerful energy known to the imagination and heart.

Con mucho carino de tu amigo,

R

Roberto Lovato

Hope for the Holidays

December 23, 2008

https://i2.wp.com/cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0dlpgpp1596G7/610x.jpg

One of the many measures of the hardness of our times can be found in South Texas, where even the simple act of bringing Christmas cheer to children can sometimes require more than just a spirit of charity. In some cases, it often requires the kind of stonecutter’s determination one finds in a (Charles) Dickens tale, the determination of someone like Luissana Santinbañez.

“The fact that we’re able to bring these toys to children is a huge victory. It took an incredible amount of struggle” says Santibañez, a 25 year-old San Antonio resident who is one of the organizers of a toy drive for children detained along with their immigrant parents behind the concrete walls and barbed wire fences of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

“We only got to deliver these toys as a result of lots of litigation and many protests” she says adding “We got to do this because of the community outcry about what’s going on behind the walls of those privately-run immigrant detention centers: children and families living in horrific conditions –the lack of medical treatment, the bathrooms without soap, the food with cockroaches, the people dying in detention, the suicides. We can’t let them be so cruel to kids; We can’t let them hide this.”

The “we” Santibañez mentions includes a very broad and diverse group of people of numerous religious, racial, ethnic and class backgrounds, many of whom had never been involved in immigrant rights or any other activism.

The determination exemplified by Santibañez, who got involved in immigrant detention issues after her mother, a former permanent resident detained and eventually deported for allegedly transporting undocumented immigrants, is spreading across the entire country; It mirrors how the plight of immigrants in the United States has given rise to a different kind of hope, a hope rising out of the darkly fertile soil of very hard times.

“I’m committed to this because of people like my mother,” she says, her throat trembling with conviction as she also describes how she and her four siblings must rely on one another now that they are “left without a mother.” In a country facing colossal challenges – poverty and economic divisions not seen since the Great Depression, fabulous political and corporate corruption surpassing anything seen during the Gilded Age, panic and fear of epic proportions – immigrant stories in the United States are inspiring people around the world.

Consider the widely-watched factory takeover staged by Vicente Rangel and the other 200 mostly immigrant (80 percent) workers laid-off on December 5th by owner the Republic Door and Window manufacturing plant in Chicago. Demanding severance and accrued vacation pay after the factory owner gave them just three days notice before closing the plant down, Rangel and his fellow workers’ took over the plant and, in the process, garnered global attention. And in an act not seen from a President or President-elect since worker unrest forced Franklin Delano Roosevelt to speak about the growing worker militancy of the 1930s, President-elect Barack Obama, made favorable mention of the factory takeover in a speech delivered shortly after it happened.

Media outlets from around the world are still calling Rangel’s union; Workers from across the country are also calling the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union to speak with Rangel and other workers who have become rock stars of the labor movement, something that still surprises Rangel.

“I never thought we’d get this kind of attention” said Rangel, a 34 year old parent from Michoacan, Mexico who migrated, he says, because “it was so poor where I came from, there were only two options: the military or migrate.”

Twenty years after he migrated from Michoacan, a region with a long tradition of labor and political militancy, Rangel found himself drawing on the traditions of struggle of both his rural homeland and his urban home.

“When we were in the factory, I thought about the great ones who came before us – Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and others were accused of being criminals like immigrants are now. I also thought of what Martin Luther King had to suffer through and how big all these struggles are,” said Rangel from his union hall. “Respeto, dignidad. We were not asking for what we didn’t deserve.

Since winning back over $1.75 million in monies and benefits owed them, Rangel and his fellow workers have decided to invest in a ‘Window of Opportunity Fund’ to reopen a newer, better plant. “We want to incentivize others to invest so we can create green jobs and do recycling that helps save the planet,” said a smiling Rangel, who added “and we hope to inspire others.”

Apparently, Rangel and the Republic workers’ holiday hope is already generating hope across geographic, cultural and linguistic boundaries.

“I don’t have a job right now,” said 53, year-old Ling Gan in Mandarin. “But when I saw [the Republic workers sit-in], I felt very inspired because their struggle to protect their rights is the same as ours.”

Gan, one of several workers at the New On Sang poultry workers in San Francisco’s who are protesting because, they say, they too are owed wages from their former employer since last September. Gan and his fellow workers are have staged strikes and protests targeting New Ong Sang’s owner, who, he says, “has cheated us because she thinks we don’t understand the laws.”

Like Rangel, Guangzhou native Gan also draws on traditions of both his homeland and his new home in his pursuit of “justice.”

“It’s a myth that Chinese are ‘passive,’ “ says Gan. “In the United States, we feel that we’re in a country of laws and we came with great trust in the legal system and will use it fight for our rights until we win back what we’re owed.”

While he is motivated by events in the Chicago factory, Gan also sees his own fight with New Ong Sang as a way to encourage others, especially because of the feeling of “I can’t pay rent, let alone buy gifts for holiday,” he says.

“But my hope is that the that the public will feel even greater sympathy towards workers experiencing these kinds of problem – and that it inspires others in a similar situation.”

Secretary of Labor Designate Hilda Solis: One to Celebrate

December 19, 2008

//cache.daylife.com/imageserve/05tR5zseskafL/610x.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

In what will be the first progressive appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama invited Southern California Congresswoman, Hilda Solis, to join his cabinet as the Secretary of Labor. This is especially welcome news to labor and immigrant rights groups who have constituted Solis’ primary base in her rise to national prominence. The daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrant laborers, Solis brings the most solid progressive credentials of any member of the Obama cabinet-including Obama himself. She has won abundant praise and wide support because of her positions on labor rights, immigration issues, environmental protection and women’s rights, to name a few. Her appointment reflects the growing power and influence of the labor and immigrant struggles of Southern California and across the country as her trajectory, like that of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, took rapid upward turn thanks to the political energy and power unleashed after the struggles against Proposition 187 in California. For those looking for hope in the great labor and immigration struggles we’re still engaged in, look no further at what your work has wrought: Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor.

(Full disclosure: I know and have worked on a number of issues with Hilda since we fought Proposition 187 in California in the early 90’s and have, since then, found her to be nothing, if not a smart and capable fighter and an upright person. In addition to celebrating Hilda’s political capabilities, I am also likely being moved by the fact that I’ve never seen someone whose extraction so closely resembled my own (Central American immigrant unionist household) enter the Star Chamber of global power, except maybe to clean it. May she enlighten it with the warmth and brilliance of Southern California and the Américas. In sum, I can say without reservation, that this really is one to celebrate as I am about to go do as soon as the this period in my sentence drops….

Our (Still) Monumental Dream: Democracy

December 17, 2008

This pic taken at the Parthenon in Greece makes your day. In the face of the violence, corruption and other anti-democratic practices of the Greek government (including the shooting of a 15 year-old boy), students there are taking matters into their own hands by calling on all of us to resist-and they do so in 4 languages (Greek, Spanish German and English) no less!

3,000 years after this most sacred symbol of western democracy was built by slaves, prisoners and others denied citizenship (also known as ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs in Greek, the origin of our term “idiot”), we are, it seems, still searching for ways to realize the monumental dream of democracy. I find the image of these young descendants of ancient Greek citizens and “idiots” unfurling their multilingual calls for global “resistance” in front of the sublimely-proportioned arches and columns of the Parthenon most inspiring; Reminds me of how the heart of the student has always and forever provided us with the golden ratio of great change. Whatever your age, let the student in you rise to the urgent occasion of change in Greece, in the U.S. and across this troubled planet.

Newly Proposed Interior Secretary Salazar: Already Obama’s Most Controversial Cabinet Choice?

December 17, 2008

https://i1.wp.com/images.publicradio.org/content/2008/08/27/20080827_ken_salazar_33.jpg

Just hours after Barack Obama’s announcement of Ken Salazar as his choice for Interior Secretary, denunciation of and opposition to Salazar have already turned the Colorado Senator in to the most controversial of President-elect Obama’s many cabinet designees. This story in NPR ,”Environmentalists Fuming Over Salazar’s New Post”, describes the growing disillusion in the environmental community about the Interior Secretary designate Salazar, who Kieran Suckling, head of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, “is very closely tied to ranching and mining and very traditional, old-time, Western, extraction industries. We were promised that an Obama presidency would bring change.” A scathing press statement (see below) released by CBD includes a litany of pro-polluter anti-environmental positions taken by Salazar, including his vote not to repeal tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil and his vote for oil drilling of the Florida coast.

Questions about Salazar’s past may bring more unwanted negative attention to Obama, who already finds himself fending off questions about his scandal-ridden ally, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. One reliable source in the DC environmental community just told me that the Interior Secretary position “may not be closed” because Salazar “has some issues from his past that may come out.”

Whether or not these rumors do, in fact, materialize and become newsworthy, it will be interesting to see whether Latino groups come out in support of Salazar as they did during the Senate hearings around the appointment of Salazar friend and ally, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Salazar, National Council of La Raza leader, Janet Murguia, and the leaders of other Washington-based Latino organizations came out forcefully in support of Gonzales even after revelations of the former White House Counsel’s role in providing legal facilitation for the acts of torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib garnered international attention. Salazar and other Latinos in Washington rescinded their support for Gonzales in the final months leading to Gonzales’ resignation.

(Statement on Salazar Appointment by the Center for Biological Diversity)

December 16, 2008

Contact Kieran Suckling , executive director, (520) 275-5960

Ken Salazar a Disappointing Choice for Secretary of the Interior

Stronger, More Scientifically-Based Leadership Needed to Fix
Crisis-Plagued Agency

Strong rumors are circulating that President-elect Barack Obama has
selected Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) as the new Secretary of the Interior.
As the overseer of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land
Management, the Mineral Management Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, and the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of the Interior
is most important position in the protection of America’s lands, waters,
and endangered species.

The Department of the Interior has been rocked by scandals during the
Bush Administration, most revolving around corrupt bureaucrats
overturning and squelching agency scientists as they attempted to
protect endangered species and natural resources from exploitation by
developers, loggers, and oil and gas development. Just yesterday, the
Interior Department Inspector General issued another in a string of
reports http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=305942&

finding that top Department officials systematically violated laws and
regulations in order to avoid or eliminate environmental protections.

“The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward
looking, reform-minded Secretary,” said Kieran Suckling, executive
director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity,
“unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man. He endorsed George Bush’s
selection of Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior, the very woman who
initiated and encouraged the scandals that have rocked the Department of
Interior. Virtually all of the misdeeds described in yesterday’s
Inspector General expose occurred during the tenure of the person Ken
Salazar advocated for the position he is now seeking.”

While Salazar has promoted some good environmental actions and fought
against off-road vehicle abuse, his overall record is decidedly mixed,
and is especially weak in the arenas most important to the next
Secretary of the Interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating
global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered
species. Salazar

– voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S.
automobile fleet

– voted to allow offshore oil drilling along Florida’s coast

– voted to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore global warming
impacts in their water development projects

– voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil

– voted to support subsidies to ranchers and other users of public
forest and range lands

– Threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its
scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered

“Obama’s choices for Secretary of Energy and his Climate Change Czar
indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming,” said
Suckling. “That team will be weakened by the addition of Ken Salazar
who has fought against federal action on global warming, against higher
fuel efficiency standards, and for increased oil drilling and oil
subsidies.”

In addition to his misstep on Norton, Salazar endorsed the elevation of
William Myers III to the federal bench. Myers was a former Interior
Department Solicitor and lobbyist for the ranching industry. Senator
Leahy called him ”the most anti-environmental candidate for the bench I
have seen in 37 years in the Senate.” Bizarrely, Salazar praised Myers’
“outstanding legal reasoning” regarding endangered species, Indian
affairs, federal lands and water, timber, and fish and wildlife issues.
The American Bar Association rated Meyers as “not qualified.” Salazar
later supported Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, introducing him
at his Senate confirmation hearing.

“One of the most important jobs of the Secretary of the Interior is to
help pick dozens of critically important political appointees to oversee
America’s conservation system. His past misjudgments of Norton, Meyers
and Gonzales give us little confidence he will choose wisely in the
future.

Denver Post: Obama Chooses Right-Leaning Latino Democrat to Lead Interior

December 16, 2008

This article in the Denver Post states that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen centrist Senate Democrat Ken Salazar (D-Col.) as the next Secretary of the Interior. As noted in this previous post, Salazar comes from the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) wing of the Democratic party and was, until may of this year, one of the staunchest supporters of disgraced and scandal-ridden former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

If confirmed to be true, the Salazar appointment will further prove growing suspicions among progressives, who fear that Obama’s true colors are the reddish blue hues of DLC Democrats like Rahm Emanuel, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the other right-leaning Democrats like Janet Napolitano who will make up the Obama cabinet when approved.

Obama Considering Appointment of Centrist Dem & Alberto Gonzalez Supporter as Interior Secretary

December 15, 2008

https://i0.wp.com/cache.gettyimages.com/xc/51921157.jpg

This article in the Denver Post (DP) indicates that President-elect Obama may be preparing to announce the appointment of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. According to the DP piece,

“U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar is a leading contender to become President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of the Interior, two sources have confirmed.”

News of a possible Salazar appointment will likely stir continued discussion that about the “Clintonization” of the Obama cabinet. By appointing Salazar, a member of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council (also see DLC website) Obama would probably also draw strong criticism from progressive and Latino constituencies for the Colorado Senator’s controversial positions.

Salazar’s most high profile media moment since being elected Senator in 2004 came during the 2005 Senate confirmation hearings of then-Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales . Salazar, who was one of 6 of Democrats supporting the Gonzalez nomination, accompanied, sat next to and spoke on behalf of Gonzales as he (Gonzales) was bombarded by questions about the now infamous torture memos he wrote, which are widely believed to have enabled the acts of humiliation and torture perpetrated at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons. While several Republican and Democratic Senators, including Sens. Kennedy, Leahy and Judiciary Committee Chair Specter voiced repudiation and disgust about Gonzales’ role, Salazar smiled and said, “It is also an honor and privilege for me to appear before you this morning to make an introduction of Judge Alberto Gonzales” adding that he thought that “…Gonzales is better qualified than many recent attorneys general.”

And after voting in the full Senate to confirm Gonzales, Salazar, like the leaders of National Council of La Raza, LULAC and other Latino Gonzales supporters, remained silent about the many scandals at the Justice Department – controversial policies around torture, the right of habeas corpus, and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Only after the scandals and criticism surrounding Gonzales and the Justice Department rose to massive levels did Salazar call for Gonzales to resign in May of this year.

A Salazar appointment will likely not do much to satiate concerns about what progressives worry are the overly-centrist Obama appointments to date. Salazar has draw strong criticism among progressives for several of the positions he has take including his support of the Patriot Act and his support for the candidacy of Conn. Senator Joe Lieberman in his 2006 race against popular progressive Ned Lamont.

Native American Nations Divided Over Possible Obama Interior Department Candidates

December 10, 2008

Discussion and debate around who the Obama Administration should appoint to lead the Department of the Interior (DOI) reveals divisions among the tribal nations sharing land with the United States. Tribal nations and tribal leaders are divided among 3 candidates rumored to be under discussion by the Obama transition team to lead the DOI, which manages relationships with and programs targeting the country’s Native American nations: Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Congressman Mike Thomspson (D-CA) and the most recent entry, museum director and former Clinton Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Kevin Gover, who is also a member of the Pawnee Nation.

While recent rumors of a possible Gover DOI appointment have created a buzz in certain sectors of the Native American community, these rumors have also exposed deep rooted divisions among and conflict between tribal nations-and between the tribal nations and the U.S. government. The Karuk Tribe of northern California has come out strongly in support of Thompson and Grijalva has the support of more than 7 tribes, including Tohono O’odham nation, the Hopis and the Navajo nation, the country’s largest tribe with over 300,000 members. A possible Gover candidacy will likely bring him considerable Native American support – and at least some Native American opposition.

A judge in a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of Native Americans against the DOI filed during the Clinton Administration, found Gover in civil contempt of court for failing to produce documents and for deceiving the court about the DOI and Bureau of Indian Affairs management of Indian trusts (the judge was later removed from the case.) The lawsuit alleged that the Bureau of Indian Affairs lost millions of dollars owed to hundreds of thousands of American Indians as part of treaty obligations assumed by the United States . The 1996 case involving Gover, Cobell v Kempthorne, has never been settled, but Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet tribe and the lead plaintiff in the suit, still opposed Gover’s appointment as head of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian for his role in what she considers the mismanagement of the trusts.

During a video speech delivered in October to a national gathering of tribal nations and their leaders, President-elect Obama promised to “end nearly a century of mismanagement of Indian Trusts” and “to settle unresolved cases” between the U.S. government and Indian nations. To watch the full video, just click below:

Source: Obama “Hasn’t Met With Interior Candidate Yet. Grijalva is Still in the Running”

December 9, 2008

This just in on the Interior Secretary appointment: sources close to the transition say that there is still no final decision and that Obama has not met with anyone in Chicago for the position yet. The source stated that Obama “”Hasn’t Met With Interior Candidate yet” and added that “Grijalva is still in the running.”

Again, these are only rumors from a source that should know. Regardless, it does appear that there may have been a slowdown and new movement as the heat against the many rumored to be the favored candidate over the weekend, Blue Dog Democrat Mike Thompson, has gone up several notches on Daily Kos, Chris Mathews, Huffington Post, to name a few. Vociferous denunciations of Thompson are accompanied by enthusiastic praise of Grijalva, who also got a major dose of support for his appointment from more than 100 environmental organizations located throughout the country.

Rumors are also floating that both Thompson and Grijalva have fallen out of favor and that a new candidate, Kevin Gover, the current director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, is now under serious consideration.

Obama was expected to announce the environmental energy appointments wither Wednesday of Thursday. Will be interesting to see if this happens. more to follow soon.

Obama Rumored to Be Leaning Toward Pro-Hunter, Pro-Logging Democrat to Lead Interior Department

December 7, 2008

A source close to the Obama transition team just told me that “(Congressman Raul) Grijalva fell out of favor and they are now looking at Mike Thompson” for the job of Interior Secretary. The source also told me that the likely decision will take place in the next 36 hours and has “the DC environmental groups in a frenzy over the latest leaks out of the transition team.”

While these are only just rumors, this information should at the very least make us look more closely at how Congressman Mike Thompson’s record fits President-elect Obama’s promise to bring hope and change to the over 500 million acres of surface land and over 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that fall under the purview of the Secretary of the Interior job Grijalva and Thompson are being considered for.

The measure of change and hope in the work of the Department of the Interior begins with reducing the disproportionate influence of the big hunting, big logging, big oil and other big corporate interests whose big money defined and still define the deadly and devastating land management policies of the Bush Administration.

A look at NRA member and Blue Dog Democrat Mike Thompson’s financial and voting records reveals a less-than progressive position with regard to important issues the next DOI Secretary will be dealing with.

Environmental groups are especially concerned, for example, that, among Thompson’s biggest contributors ($20,676) is Safari Club International, a global organization that whose primary mission includes lobbying for the right of trophy hunters to hunt as many species as possible, regardless of their endangered status. Earlier this year, Thompson was awarded SCI’s Federal Legislator of the Year award for his votes on several pieces of legislation, inclding a bill that allows hunters in the United States to continue importing the heads and hides of polar bears killed in Canada. The vote prompted condemnation of animal rights groups and even moved the Bush Administration to place the polar bear on the “threatened species” list under the Endangered Species Act.

Another one of Thompson’s biggest contributors (over $17,000) is Koch (pronounced “coke”) Industries, the largest privately held company in the US specializing in oil and natural resources. The logging units the mega-conglomorate Koch, which earned more than $110 billion in revenue last year, has reaped especially handsome profits from legislation that Thompson has voted in favor of including the Bush Administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative as well as his votes opening the Tongass Forest and other public lands under DOI management to logging. All prominent California Democrats and Democrats from state’s with some of the largest public land holdings and national forests, inclduing Washington and Oregon, voted against the Healthy Forests Initiative. This bill reaped enormous profits for Koch Industries.

Grijalva Appointment to Interior Department Would Bring Ecological-and Political- Balance to Obama Cabinet

December 6, 2008

AlterNet

Anyone who has visited a national park or traversed the country’s diverse wilderness comes home with gorgeous, yet distressing images of it; those returning from a visit to one of the more than 562 tribes the federal government recognizes and is supposed to assist also bring back sad stories about it; and those of us who enjoy camping or fishing or hunting inevitably return home talking about it. “It” is the scenery and life found on the millions of acres of federal land left blemished and vulnerable by Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior (DOI).

As urbanization, economic restructuring and the insatiable lust for land and natural resources continue to threaten the still-astonishingly beautiful and rich land of this country, we should all care about whom President-elect Obama chooses to lead the DOI. The urgency of these issues came home twice this week as the Bush Administration delivered two parting gifts to big mining interests by rescinding two important regulations — one requiring the DOI to prevent mining companies from dumping waste near public streams and another protecting federal land near the Grand Canyon from mining and oil and gas development.

In order to deal with such challenges to the land and people under the purview of the Department, which is charged with managing most federally-owned land as well as with managing relationships with Native American peoples, the Obama Administration must appoint someone with the experience, expertise and political sophistication to lead nothing less than a New Deal for the land and people our government deals with.

Of all the candidates being vetted by the Obama transition team for this complex and challenging responsibility, none can match the unique qualifications of Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Grijalva, who was the leading voice denouncing this week’s most recent giveaway to mining companies by the Bush Administration, will bring urgently needed balance and poise to a federal land management bureaucracy that has pushed we the people into dangerous disequilibrium with the land we live on- and love. Appointing Grijalva, who was elected Co-Chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will also bring more and much-needed political balance to the Obama cabinet than some of the Republican-lite Democrats also being considered for the DOI post like California Blue Dog Democrat, Mike Thompson.

Like almost all of the previous Secretaries of the Interior, Grijalva hails from the West, more specifically Arizona, where his 7th Congressional district seat has provided him with the kind of experience and leadership we will need in a DOI Secretary.

Grijalva’s willingness to reverse the values and practices instituted by the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior are well-illustrated by his leadership of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the 110th Congress. Most recently, he spearheaded efforts to stop the planned re-mining of the Black Mesa, located in northern Arizona. In a recent letter to current DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Grijalva called on the Bush Administration to restore some semblance of the natural balance between the diverse interests DOI must manage: “Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos.”

This same will to balance informs the National Landscape Conservation System, and the Environment Congressional Task Force Co-Chair Grijalva’s efforts to craft urgently needed legislation to reform the very outdated General Mining Law of 1872. Environmentalists, scientists and other advocates believe this law must be changed if the wilderness of the west and of our national parks, forests and public lands systems are to return to sustainability. Such actions have secured very strong support for Grijalva’s DOI bid from environmental, scientific and other groups, including the National Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and the U.S. Humane Society, to name a few. A letter to President-elect Obama in support of Grijalva was signed by more than 50 prominent scholars specializing in biology, conservation and other disciplines. In the letter, the scholars called him a “broad thinker” and praised the Congressman’s “Report on the Bush Administration Assault on Our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands” as the work of “someone who understands and values science.”

No less effusive are the statements of support Grijalva is receiving from Native American leaders like Ned Norris, who as tribal Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation-one of 7 tribes in Grijalva’s district- says he has “enjoyed an extensive and extremely positive relationship with the Congressman for many years.” Asked what appeals most to tribes like his about a possibility of a Grijalva-led DOI, Norris answered “He has a deep understanding of and respect for relationship between tribes and U.S. government.” Norris also pointed to the Congressman’s sophistication and success in settling a 30 year-old water and resource dispute between the Tahono O’odham tribe and the federal government.

In his efforts to foster change and hope with regard to both the stewardship of federal land and the management of relations with Indian nations, President-elect Obama will bring urgency and much-needed balance to these important government functions by appointing Congressman Raul Grijalva Secretary of the Interior.


This piece was first published on Alternet.org

Obama and the Future of Immigration Reform

December 5, 2008

The Takeaway

This early morning interview with John Hockenberry of the WNYC’s The Takeaway program looks at the possibility of helping President-elect Obama put an end to the deadly workings of our miserable failure of an immigration system. Hope you like it!

Immigration Reform Trapped in Political Dualism

December 2, 2008

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Dec 02, 2008 Review it on NewsTrust

Recent talk about “immigration reform” coming from Washington inspires some hope, some fear and lots of reminders about what I call “political-dualism”: the ability of a President or political party to simultaneously communicate opposing policies while delivering either no new policies or exceptionally bad ones.

As the Obama Administration prepares to take the reins of the massive and massively inefficient and broken immigration system, it is important to have clarity about the incontrovertible need to overcome the political dualism that created our immigration mess in the first place.

My first practical experience of lobbying and of political dualism came during the Clinton years. At that time, in the mid-‘90s, I was head of Central American Resource Center ( CARECEN), then the country’s largest immigrant rights organization. Like many immigrant rights activists today, my colleagues at CARECEN and around the country and I marched and protested and sued and lobbied to end the undocumented status of immigrants.

In one case, for example, we sought to secure legal status for the hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees denied political asylum and other forms of legalization by both the Reagan and Bush I Administrations due to the Republican’s politicization of the immigration process. In the end, our many efforts yielded only partial success in the form of what is known as Temporary Protective Status (TPS) granted by the first Bush Administration.

Much like the rising tide of expectations today, the triumphal return of the Democrats to the White House in 1992 brought with it expectations –and official promises- of an immigration reform, one that would legalize Salvadorans and Guatemalans living under TPS. TPS allows immigrants to work temporarily in the country, but does nothing to remove the specter of vulnerability before employers, landlords and others who exploit immigrants’ temporary status for economic and personal gain.
Images of my cousin, Maria, crying alone in her room because of oppressive hotel bosses and because of her inability to see her son, who she left and had not seen since he was 3 years old, remain with me as a reminder of the perils and pain of temporary and undocumented status.

I remember how Clinton Administration officials with impressive credentials like Alex Aleinikoff and others charged with immigration matters, told us in un-Republican and friendly terms, that “We definitely want to resolve the TPS issue- but right now is not the right time.” Eight years after the Clinton Administration led the Democrats return to power, Maria and other immigrants with TPS saw no change in their legal status. And, now, nearly 20 years since TPS was first instituted, as I watch how Republican rejection and the Democrats’ political dualism have left many TPS holders and more than 12 million other immigrants living under the tyranny of “temporary” and undocumented status, I find myself struggling with my own dualism: believing in the possibility of “real change” inspired by Obama’s presidential campaign while also hearing distant echoes of the Democrats’ immigration siren song.

Consider the conflicted and conflicting recent statements about immigration reform made by Congressional Democratic leaders. Asked last month what she thought about the possibility for immigration reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded, “Maybe there never is a path to citizenship if you came here illegally,” adding “I would hope that there could be, but maybe there isn’t.” Asked the same question last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded in no uncertain terms, “We’ve got McCain and we’ve got a few others. I don’t expect much of a fight at all.” That such mixed messages would come from the Democrats is much more than another expression of the contradictory views often held by members of the same party. Viewed from the vantage point of the recent and not-so-recent and rather twisted history of non-reform has been immigration policy, these conflicting messages sent by the Democratic leadership should be viewed as a more recent variation on the theme of the political dualism that lead us nowhere.

Hearing recently that Obama had appointed Aleinikoff, the former Clinton operative, as one of the two people leading the immigration policy transition team did little to inspire hope among those of us with a political memory. But Obama’s announcement that Stanford scholar, Tino Cuellar, a young, outside-the-Beltway academic whom I’ve spoken with and who friends in the legal community consider fair, decent and smart, tilted my spirits towards believing change might be possible. But then news of Obama’s likely appointment of Arizona Governor and former Clinton-U.S. Attorney appointee, Janet Napolitano, to lead the Department of Homeland Security only reinforced the belief that political dualism may define the Obama legacy on immigration; Napolitano has enthusiastically supported “emergency measures” like militarizing the border to “fight” the “threat” posed by immigrant gardeners, meatpackers and maids like my cousin, Maria; But she has also vetoed at least a few of the more than 75 anti-immigrant measures introduced in Arizona home to the infamous Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio, who is responsible for introducing highly controversial policies like deploying deputies in immigration sweeps of entire Latino neighborhoods, enjoyed the tacit political and financial support for these practices from Napolitano for several years. Napolitano did nothing to curtail the alarming number of deaths in Arpaio’s immigrant jails and only decided to yank funding for his immigration program in the middle of the Democratic primary earlier this year.

If anything, the immigrant deaths, racial tensions, incessant raids and other indicators of the failure to improve immigration policy in Arizona provide immigrant advocates like Alexis Mazon of the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, little inspiration and lots of concern. According to Mazon, Napolitano’s record of previous support for Arpaio and for “some of the most dangerous immigration practices of any state in the country” give one no cause for joining the chorus of Democrats, media pundits and Beltway (as opposed to outside-the-Beltway groups like Mazon’s) immigration groups gushing over Napolitano’s “tough and smart” approach to immigration.

And as the Obama Administration and the rest of us prepare for the possibility of a renewed discussion and debate around immigration reform, those of us outside the Beltway must put terminating political dualism alongside developing and advocating for a real reform agenda at the top of our strategies and actions.

Such a mobilizing approach revived what I remember was a moribund immigration debate of 2006, and nothing less is required now. In addition to mobilizing as they did in 2006, outside-the-Beltway advocates will also have to find new and creative ways to move the debate and discussion around immigration beyond the growing Washington consensus: combining the politically dualistic “tough and smart” policies that legalize immigrants while increasing the number and types of punitive policies that took up 700 of the 800 pages of the failed McCain-Kennedy “liberal” reform proposal.

Transcending the “tough and smart” political dualism of immigration reform means replacing the so-called “tradeoffs” of the McCain-Kennedy bill with “safe and sane” policies that combine legalization with fundamental and necessary changes to our broken immigration system.

The first consideration in any serious reform should be removing the immigration processing functions from the anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Homeland Security Department and placing them in the Commerce or Justice Departments or some other less national security-focused part of government as has been the case throughout the history of immigration policy.

In addition to a less-punitive approach to legalization than the get tough approach of the McCain-Kennedy bill, out-of-the-Beltway advocates are also advocating for immigration reform policies that consider fair trade and economic development, human rights, U.S. foreign policy and other hemispheric issues that directly influence the flow of migration. Such a firm and steady, yet flexible and inclusive approach to immigration policy fits well Obama’s promise of change while also freeing Maria and millions of undocumented immigrants from the perils and pain of political dualism.