Archive for the 'ECONOMICS' Category

Move Your Money, Save the World

November 5, 2011

If you travel the world and spend even a little time among the world’s poor majority, and if you witness or, God forbid, if you are touched by the ravages-massified death, barbaric suffering, destruction of culture, fantastic levels of inequality and poverty-you cannot but reach the diamond hard conclusion that will save us from further devastation: that those responsible for this epic calamity-namely Big Global Finance as symbolized in “Wall Street” -are guilty of genocide and the greatest crimes against humanity. Viewed from this perspective, the rapid and, now, inevitable decline of the United States and the “American Dream” is a pulling away Oz-like of the curtain and smoke disguising this greatest evil of our time.

What more reason than this to take from the hyper-rich and give back to the poor? Here’s how.

 

Bank of America’s Fee Cancellation: Major Victory Signals Maturing of #Occupy Movement

November 1, 2011

Today’s announcement by Bank of America that it would drop its $5 debit card fee represents nothing less than a victory for the #Occupy movement, a victory on many fronts and on many levels. This is especially important when we consider that one of the primary  criteria defining movements is the ability to define and secure victories.

First and foremost, the Bank of America debit fee announcement represents a victory for the communities and groups that have been organizing around banking issues for some time. Groups like Alliance for a Just Society, and organizers behind both the online petition demanding BofA rescind the fee and the “Bank Transfer Day” scheduled for later this week got a major boost and channeled popular energy to secure this win for us all.

Today’s announcement is also critical because it shows the power people really do have over even the most powerful among us-namely the banks and financial institutions that dominate life as we know it. They are vulnerable to us. The fact that Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, SunTrust and Regions banks also announced that they were canceling their plans to increase debit fees is nothing if not a testament to the people power taking hold in the U.S. Not only are we saving ourselves millions of dollars in another unnecessary display of super greed, but we are also starting to show that we may be able to save the country-and the world- from the workings of the super greedy financial institutions.

Another development, perhaps the most critical, reflected in today’s announcement by BofA has to do with how the #Occupy movement is growing into a sea of movement-building that simultaneously feeds and draws from the streams and rivers of other movements, in this case the economic justice movement. In addition to powering and pushing the work of groups fighting the bank fees, the #Occupy movement is also nourishing the work planned or envisioned by other groups. For example, those behind the “Move Your Money” campaign to get people to take their banking out of the big banks and into credit unions and other, more community-oriented financial institutions are getting a major boost from the zeitgeist of the #Occupy moment.

Bank of America and the other banks capitulation to popular demands offers a small, but important example proving to ourselves that we can fight and win against the most powerful, that we can discipline the banks and other institutions and align them with the needs of the majority. We have taken a step towards reaching what Clausewitz called the “culminating point of victory.” As in war, the spiritual value of winning in political activism will be determinant in ending the class warfare against the poor, the war against the 99% by the 1%.

The Greatest Threat to Liberty on Its 125th Anniversary: Corporate Tyranny

October 28, 2011

Liberty turned 125 years today. The Statue of Liberty, that is. As we watch the celebrations of the anniversary of  the iconic statue symbolizing  Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, we should all take at least a moment to reflect on the state of citizenship and freedom -and unfreedom-in the United States.

In a word, freedom is in grave danger because of the most powerful Tyrant of our time: Corporations. There is no greater symbol of the destruction of freedom than Wall Street, which profits from all that has defined tyrants of previous eras: war, poverty, control of government, the lack of free speech, surveillance,  the denial of basic human and civil rights and even the the possible destruction of the planet itself.

The good news is that we are also witnessing an unprecedented global movement that’s trying to define freedom in the age of corporate tyranny. Movements like Occupy Wall Street, Spain’s “Indignados”, the Arab Spring and other movements are directly confronting the corporate control of everything from the culture, land, sea, air we inhabit to  our genetic code and the food we eat. Occupy Wall Street is nothing if not a reflection of the threat to freedom posed by the ways in which corporations dominate the Congress, the electoral system, the economy and the Presidency itself.

The duplicity and threat of corporate-controlled freedom can be found on the Statue of Liberty itself. Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.

The same will to profit from the decimation of Liberty can be found in today’s naturalization ceremony being presided over by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. While Salazar is leading the naturalization ceremony of a small group of citizens at the foot of the statue, the Obama Administration is feeding the multi-billion dollar industry that persecutes and jails, surveills and deports more than a million immigrants since Salazar and the Obama Administration took the reigns of executive power. Such a situation has in essence has rendered meaningless the “New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the monument in 1903. The anniversary of “Lady Liberty” should give us pause to reflect on these words in the Obama era:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The golden door has become an iron cage; the masses are being huddled into private prisons whose stocks and profits now light the lamp of Liberty brighter with each new immigrant prisoner; The language of the “wretched refuse” on the “teeming shore has morphed an “anchor baby” that corporate-sponsored Republicans and even Democrats decry.

Such a situation points to how non-citizens, especially undocumented immigrants, are being used to divert from and disguise and the sad fact about citizenship in our age: corporate citizenship has humiliated and practically destroyed human citizenship. The buying of politicians by corporations has become synonymous with “democracy” in this New Gilded Age. But, instead of putting responsibility for the death of citizenship on the Corporate Colossus, there is a huge industry invested in blaming the “huddled masses” described in the New Colossus poem.

In the New Gilded Age, freedom and citizenship have become commodities that can be bought and sold.Freedom has become synonymous with “Free Trade”; “Freedom of the press”, to quote the great journalist AJ Liebling, “is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Religious freedom is centered at the altar of quick profits in a society forced to worship Wall Street.

If we are to alter this humiliation of Liberty, we have no choice to look not at the technofied torch and eyes of Liberty, which are monitoring us even as the torch shines forth the false image of “freedom”, but at the invisible chains that shackle the feet of Liberty. At the moment,  bottom-up, street level movements like the Occupy Wall Street movement stand at the feet of Liberty, trying to unshackle us from the chains of corporate tyranny.

May we still yearn to be free.

RED ALERT: Schumer, Dems and their Allies Ready to Support National ID Cards

June 25, 2009

national-id-papers-please

RED ALERT: Influential Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), some Dems, some DC groups (I’ve interviewed a couple) and even the SEIU’s Mike Garcia appear ready and willing to support a NATIONAL ID CARD. According to the L.A.Times,

“As the immigration reform debate begins to heat up again, some observers expect that one of the biggest and most controversial new elements will be a proposed national worker identification card for all Americans.

A “forgery-proof” worker ID card, secured with biometric data such as fingerprints, is an idea favored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y), the new chairman of the immigration subcommittee. Schumer, who will lead the effort to craft the Senate’s comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation, called the card the best way to ensure that all workers were authorized.”

ACLU and others I’ve spoken with are already gearing up to condemn and fight this (if you want to understand why national ID’s are a big problem, see the ACLU’s “5 reasons” tip sheet). When I interviewed some, including national immigrant rights organizations in DC about this yesterday, their first tact was to prevaricate and confuse by saying something to the effect of “It’s not a national ID. it’s different.” Having covered the electronic surveillance beat when I first started doing journalism, I recognize when somebody’s BS’ing about these crucial, but complicated issues. Letting the DC operatives know that I know electronic surveillance caused a shift in the rhetorical strategy of folks like the person who told me, “Well, the bill is not out yet. So we can’t really argue about this now.” I truly hope that the “tradeoff” desperation of those who spent millions of dollars to get legalization for some undocumented is not so great that they are willing to lend themselves to support reactionary policies like the national ID proposals that’ve been rejected by people of many different political creeds time and time again. I really do.

This national ID move is either a labrynthine charade designed to give Obama and the Democrats a way out of their commitment to immigration reform-even the conservative, punitive “get tough approach of CIR”- or a very dangerous move to continue the Bush surveillance project under the guise “immigration reform.” Either way, this National ID proposal -and its supporters- must be roundly and rapidly condemned before they get Obama to back it with his wealth of political capital. And watch out for the MULTIBILLION dollar interests of Lockheed, Larry Ellison and Oracle, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for national ID cards for many years. It appears that the those eating and profiting at the anti-immigrant trough are now trying to turn a profit by denying fundamental rights to the non-migrant among us. Even many right wingers oppose national ID proposals as when Ellison shamelessly tried to promote his national ID project right after September 11th. He appeared to be “offering free of charge” the software to build such a national ID. But what he nor other backers of national ID didn’t and won’t tell you is that, like other open source software, Ellison and Oracle stand to make billions from upgrades to the national ID software. go figure.

In any case, some in DC will try to hide behind the “but there’s not even a proposal yet” logic that masks nefarious dealings in much the same way that that logic hid the disgusting parts of McCain-Kennedy. This stuff moves us beyond the neglect of detainee and deportee issues and into issues of state control of the entire populace. This needs a powerful push back , regardless of whether it’s backers speak Spanish or can say “Si Se Puede” to further eroding the fundamental rights of people in this country.

Must See Moyers Interview: Mike Davis on “De-globalization,” the Socialist Option and the Role of the U.S. Left

March 22, 2009

Mike Davis, photo by Robin Holland

If we lived in a world in which depth of thought-regardless of political orientation- was publicly recognized and rewarded, my friend and companero (a word he loves), Mike Davis, would have a movie about him called “A Beautiful Mind” (hopefully a better-made, well-acted and ardently personal-is-political version.) One of less than a handful of inspirations for my own preferential option for the Militant Word, Mike is the author of more books than I have time to name here (Late Victorian Holocausts & City of Quartz are among my favorites).

I can think of few thinkers whose depth of analysis, way with words and serious conviction rise to the moment of crisis we face. This interview with Bill Moyers gives Mike the ample space needed for us to appreciate his thought, short of actually reading him.Trust me: you can’t leave listening to Mike without reconfiguring your synapses in some way. Besides introducing concepts like “de-globalizaton,” one of the most interesting things about the interview, which, BTW, Bill conducts nimbly, is that Mike let’s out the lesser-known optimism lurking in his socialist heart. Must Watch Television. Really. Enjoy.

R

The Age of Crimmigration is Upon Us: Latinos New Majority-In Federal Prisons

February 19, 2009

A Rising Share:  Hispanics and Federal Crime

A recently released report provides another startling indicator of how Latino demographics are being used to lead the United States into a new age, the Age of Crimmigration. Produced by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report found that Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group in the federal prison system.

Fueled, in large part, by changes to immigration law that have multiplied exponentially the ways in which undocumented immigrants can be prosecuted and jailed as criminals, the new Latino federal prison majority documented in the report provides definitive proof of the “crimmigration” thesis developed by legal scholars like Juliet Stumpf of the Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon. Stumpf’s groundbreaking paper, “The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, & Sovereign Power,” predicted how a lethal combination of forces-changes to immigration laws, political shifts, intensified prosecution and enforcement – would lead to what she called, in 2006, “the most important development in immigration law today: the convergence of immigration and criminal law.” On a less legalistic level,the news of the new Latino federal prison majority also means the convergence of hundreds of thousands of the poor white, black and Latino families in terms of their dealings with a prison system fed increasingly with immigrant bodies. Nearly half of all Latino offenders were convicted of immigration-related crimes, crimes that only became crimes as a result of relatively new sentencing laws and policies.

Although normalized over the course of several years by a confluence of separate but symbiotic interests – opportunistic politicians (Republican and Democrat), nationalistic and race-baiting media personalities, multi-billion dollar security and prison-industrial interests, “immigrant rights advocates” (and the major foundations that fund and legitimate them) promoting “smart” & “tough” immigration policies in exchange for legalization for 12 million undocumented-the immigrant=criminal axiom is, in legal terms, a relatively recent historical development. And it will likely worsen without major mobilizations from below.

As the new Latino federal prison majority overtakes the sizeable populations of whites and African Americans in federal facilities, it should be noted that the criminalization of immigrants and immigration policy described by the crimmigration thesis comes as an extension of previous legal and other institutional practices. For example, the exponential increase in laws facilitating the mass incarceration of mostly Latino migrants appears to follow the same pattern and logic that led to the exponential increase in the disproportionate drug sentencing laws and policies that led to the mass incarceration of African and other, mostly poor Americans. Without radical intervention from below or a definitive change of heart from above- or both, immigration laws will join drug laws as the drivers of the prison system in the Obama era.

Latinos already account for 40 percent of those convicted of federal crimes, a percentage that has doubled from 1991 to 2007 (see chart below). And, according to this report in the New York Times, “Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of the four states that border Mexico.” (contd. below chart)

(from NY Times)

nyt-crimmigration-stats

Because crimmigration combines two political third rails -criminal justice and immigrant rights-, legal reform, enforcement and prosecution and detention issues in immigration policy have been and may continue to be largely ignored by elected officials and other policy influentials. That candidate and now President Obama and his allies have remained largely silent on the crisis of incarceration and criminal justice in black and Latino communities does not bode well for the “hope” that the Obama administration will be willing to take on powerful lobbies of the fast growing immigration prison-industrial complex: aerospace, surveillance and prison-building industries like Halliburton and Boeing, prison guard unions (whose fasest-growing group are Latino prison guards), and super predatory private prison management firms like GEO. Soon, we will likely see increasing numbers of immigrants themselves joining the ranks of those profiting from mass imprisonment of immigrants.

But, if there’s an opportunity to be found (and there always is) in the cloudy complexities of crimmigration policy it is the realization that the silver lining is actually and truly black and brown. Growing Latino majorities in the already overcrowded federal penitentiary system are nothing if not an unprecedented opportunity to create a visionary, mass-based movement of blacks and Latinos and others committed to ending the disgrace that makes us the largest carcereal country on earth. Rather than operate piecemeal and in separate silohs, criminal justice and immigrant detention activists can together lead a powerful movement the likes of which this country has never seen. Crimmigration represents as much a historic opportunity as it does a great danger in times of economic and political crisis.

GOP Opposition to Solis Nomination Previews Epic War Between Labor & Business

January 27, 2009

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Delays in the confirmation of L.A. Democrat Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, as President Barack Obama’s Labor secretary preview what will be an epic struggle between labor and business in the coming year. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has delayed the Solis nomination with parliamentary procedures. Enzi and other Republicans cite the Labor Secretary designate’s support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) as the the primary concern about the Solis nomination. Supported by both Solis and Obama, EFCA, also known as the “card check” bill, would allow allow workers to unionize when a majority sign cards instead of holding secret ballots.

The delays around the Solis nomination represent a first skirmish in big business’ multi-million dollar campaign to stop passage of EFCA. This article by my friend, Esther Kaplan, in the Nation magazine lays out nicely the coming war around EFCA. While most expect the Solis nomination to pass, we should be vigilant about the GOP – and Obama operatives like Rahm Emmanuel. Some believe that, despite expressing support for EFCA, Emmanuel may delay debate around the historic bill until after the 2010 Congressional election, a move many in labor are none too happy about. More to come about this important issue.

Secretary of Labor Designate Hilda Solis: One to Celebrate

December 19, 2008

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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….

What Will Obama do About Terror Incognita: Immigrants and the Homeland Security State?

November 17, 2008

Before anything, my apologies for not notifying you about my hiatus. I was in China and thought I’d be able tp post from there-and I was wrong. In any case,I’m back and ready to deal. Best, R.

Check out this must-read issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas, which looks at something we’ve been looking at for some time: how immigrants are being used to build up the national security state. The impetus for the issue was this piece, which I wrote for Political Research Associates several months ago and which turns out to be one of the more widely circulated and read pieces I’ve written. NACLA and I revised, amended and shortened the PRA piece for publication now. As the immigrant rights movement and those concerned with human rights search for measures of President-elect Obama’s commitment to immigrant rights, issues discussed in this still-quite-relevant analysis might provide a good starting point. If Obama fails to do something in short order about stopping the terror wrought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, that should give more than a few of us a clear signal of his willingness to continue the bi-partisan support for the the machinery of death and destruction. We should at that point end the Latino honeymoon in short order.

Over the course of this longest of campaigns ever, I’ve interviewed several of Obama’s and the Democratic party’s operatives, more than a few of whom told me -off-the-record- about dealing with the raids through “executive orders” in which the President simply calls for an immediate end to the ICE raids. While that would be a welcome start towards returning us to the problems of the pre-9-11 period, I have serious doubts about the willingness of the Obama operatives and the Democrats to deliver. I hope I’m really, really wrong about this one. Really wrong. Veremos. In any case, do read the NACLA issue as it touches on things we’ll still be facing after January 20th. R

Building the Homeland Security State

by Roberto Lovato

Lost in debates around immigration, as the United States enters its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, is any sense of the historical connection between immigration policy and increased government control—of citizens. Following a pattern established at the foundation of the republic, immigrants today are again being used to justify government responses the economic and political crises. Consider, for example, the establishment in November 2002 of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the largest, most important restructuring of the federal government since the end of World War II.1 The following March, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was dismantled and replaced with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency under the newly established DHS. ICE’s rapid expansion—16,500-plus employees and near $5 billion budget—quickly transformed it into DHS’s largest investigative component, accounting for more than one fifth of the multibillion-dollar DHS budget. ICE is also the second-largest investigative agency in the federal government, after the FBI, responsible for enforcing more than 400 statutes, and is arguably the most militarized federal entity after the Pentagon.2 Not long after its inception, ICE began to wage what many advocates have called a “war on immigrants.”

Beginning in fall 2006, ICE launched a campaign of workplace and home raids aimed at “getting tough on immigrants.” Thousands of heavily armed ICE agents were deployed in these high-profile raids designed, we were told, to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Since 2006, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been detained in jails that constitute the fastest-growing part of the prison system in the country. The speed with which the militarization of migration policy took place left many questions. Why, for example, did the Bush administration move the citizenship-processing and immigration-enforcement functions of government from the more domestic, policing-oriented Department of Justice to the more militarized, anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security? Most explanations view this transfer, and the relentless pursuit of undocumented immigrants that it enabled, as a response to the continuing pressures of angry, mostly white, citizens. Widespread fear and xenophobia following the September 11 attacks, together with the “anti-immigrant climate” fostered thereafter by civic groups like the Minutemen, Republican politicos, and media personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, we are told, has led directly to the massive new government bureaucracy for policing immigrants. The Washington Post, for example, told us in 2006 that the rise of the Minutemen and their armed citizen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border was “credited with helping to ignite the debate that has dominated Washington in recent months.”3

But while many can believe that there were ulterior motives behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, few consider that there are non-immigration-related motives behind ICE’s Al Qaeda-ization of immigrants and immigration policy: building a domestic security apparatus, one made possible by multibillion-dollar contracts to military-industrial companies like Boeing, General Electric, and Halliburton for “virtual” border walls, migrant detention centers, drones, ground-based sensors, and other surveillance technology for use in the Arizona desert that was originally designed for Middle Eastern war zones. Not to mention the de facto militarization of immigration policy through the deployment of 6,000 additional National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of raids across the country; and the passage of hundreds of punitive, anti-migrant state and federal laws like the Military Commissions Act, which denies the habeas corpus rights of even legal residents who are suspected of providing “material support” to terrorist groups.4

This is not to say that public pressure from the anti-immigrant right played no role in the Bush administration’s immigrant crackdown. And another interpretation of the increased repression against immigrants is articulated by journalist David Bacon, who posits that the crackdown is purposefully meant to trigger an immigrant-labor shortage, which will eventually enable the government to establish the migration policy it’s been pushing for all along: a temporary guest-worker program.5 While that is surely part of the government’s response, such conclusions fail to explain why the government needs to deploy its military might to deal with gardeners, maids, and meatpackers. Such explanations fail to consider how reasons of state, the logic of government, figure heavily in the Bush administration’s historic and massive government restructuring. By framing such militaristic measures as targeting noncitizen immigrants makes it easier for citizens to swallow the increased domestic militarism inherent in increasing numbers of uniformed men and women with guns in their midst. As David Cole put it in his Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism (The New Press, 2005): “What we are willing to allow our government to do to immigrants today creates a template for how it will treat citizens tomorrow.” Constant reports of raids on the homes of the undocumented immigrants normalize the idea of government intrusion into the homes of legal residents.

In order to understand how and why ICE now constitutes an important part of the ascendant national security bureaucracy, we must first look at the intimate relationship between national security policy and homeland security policy. In July 2002, the Bush administration introduced its “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” a document that outlines how to “mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks.” Two months later, the administration released the more geopolitically focused “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” whose purpose is to “help make the world not just safer but better.” September 11 provided the impetus to create a bureaucratic and policy environment dominated by security imperatives laid out in two of these documents, two of the most definitive of our time, which outline strategies that “together take precedence over all other national strategies, programs, and plans”—including immigration policy, which receives considerable attention, especially in the section on homeland security strategy.

By placing other government functions under the purview of the national security imperatives laid out in the two documents, the Bush administration enabled and deepened the militarization of government bureaucracies like ICE. At the same time, immigrants provided the Bush administration a way to facilitate the transfer of public wealth to military-industrial contractors through government contracts in a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism. The role of the private sector is also made explicit on a DHS webpage called “Information Sharing and Analysis,” which says that the department “is responsible for assessing the nation’s vulnerabilities” and that “the private sector is central to this task.”

Such dealings are provided for in the two Homeland Security strategy papers, which call for DHS to “establish a national laboratory for homeland security” that solicits “independent and private analysis for science and technology research.” This materialized in ICE’s budget, which has resources for research and development of technologies for surveilling, capturing, detaining, and generally combating what politicos and Minutemen alike paint as the Malthusian monster of immigration. Immigrants not only justify but make possible such massive state expenditures—at great human cost.

*

Shortly after the September 11 attacks and the creation of DHS, the Bush administration used immigrants and fear of outsiders to tighten border restrictions, pass repressive laws, and increase budgets to put more drones, weapons, and troops inside the country. Government actions since 9/11 point clearly to how the U.S. government has set up a new Pentagon-like bureaucracy to fight a new kind of protracted domestic war against a new kind of domestic enemy, undocumented immigrants.

In the process of restructuring the immigration bureaucracy, national security concerns regarding threats from external terrorist enemies got mixed in with domestic concerns about immigrant “invaders” denounced by a growing galaxy of anti-immigrant interests. This should not have come as a surprise: In times of heightened (and often exaggerated) fears about national security, immigration and immigrants are no longer just wedge issues in electoral politics; they transform into dangerous others who fill the need for new domestic enemies. Immigrants can provide the rationale for expanding the government policing bureaucracy in times of political crisis, economic distress, and major geopolitical shifts. At a time when less than 18% of the U.S. population believes it is living the American Dream, according to one poll, the state needs many reasons to reassert control over the populace by putting more gun-wielding government agents among the citizenry.6

A brief look at historical precedents for this kind of government anti-immigrant action yields the conclusion that this instrumentalizing of immigrants to build up government policing and military capabilities is, in fact, a standard practice of the art of statecraft. The historical record provides ample evidence of how national security experts, politicians, elected officials, bureaucrats and other managers of the state have used immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies as a way of normalizing and advancing militarization within the borders of the United States.

Long before the Patriot Act, DHS, and ICE, policies linking immigrants to the security of the country formed an important part of U.S. statecraft. Like many of the newly established countries suffering some of the political and economic shocks of economic and political modernization in the late 18th century, the fledgling United States and its leaders needed to simultaneously consolidate the nation-state established constitutionally in 1787 while also maneuvering for a position on a global map dominated by the warring powers of France and England. Central to accomplishing this were immigrants, who provided both a means of rallying and aligning segments of the populace while also legitimating massive expenditures toward the construction of the militarized bureaucracies meant to defend against domestic threats to “national” security, threats that linked external enemies, real and perceived. In response to the devastating effects of economic transformations, thousands of French, German, Irish, and other immigrants led uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion, which were viewed as threats by elites, especially the Federalists.

In the face of both popular unrest and competition for political power, and in an effort to consolidate the state and the globally oriented mercantile and pre-industrial capitalist economy, Alexander Hamilton and then president John Adams did what has, since their time, become a standard operating procedure in the art of U.S. statecraft: build the state and insert its control apparatus in the larger populace by scapegoating immigrants as threats to national security. The period before and after the passage of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave Adams, the father of the national security state, unprecedented powers. Fearful of Jacobinism’s influence, Adams secured the authority to unilaterally deport any immigrant he deemed a threat to national security. According to historian John Morton Smith, the internal security program adopted by the Federalists during the Adams administration “was designed not only to deal with potential dangers from foreign invasion . . . but also to repress domestic political opposition.”7 In this context, immigrants became the domestic expression of the threat represented by the French Jacobins, the subversive threat of the early 19th century. Indeed, the modern use of the word terror first enters the language when Edmund Burke gazed across the English Channel and, in his Thoughts on the Prospect of a Regicide Peace (1796), used it to describe the actions of the Jacobin state. Burke’s conservative U.S. cousins then adopted the term and applied it to French-influenced immigrants and others considered subversive.

Another major buildup of the government policing apparatus took place during the Red Scare of 1919. The U.S. government faced several economic and political pressures, including the end of World War I, the demobilization of the army, returning troops, joblessness, depression, unemployment, and growing inflation. The precarious situation gave rise to increased elite fear of Jewish, Italian, and other immigrant workers in the era of the Bolshevik revolution and an increasingly powerful, and militant, labor movement. Socialists, Wobblies, and other activists staged 3,600 labor strikes involving 4 million workers, many of whom were led by and were immigrants. Government and big business had to watch as fully one-fifth of the manufacturing workforce staged actions.8 Massive organizing by Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association and race riots in northern cities further stoked elite fears.

Like other national governments of the period—and in contrast to today’s era of outsourcing—the United States had begun intensifying the centralization of functions formerly carried out by the private sector, including keeping labor and other dissidents in check. In the words of Regin Schmidt, author of The FBI and the Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States (Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000): “In response to social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration and the potential political threats to the existing order posed by the Socialist Party, the IWW and, in 1919, the Communist parties, industrial and political leaders began to look to the federal government, with its growing and powerful bureaucratic organizations to monitor, and control political opposition.”

FBI historian John A. Noakes concludes that “the domestic unrest during this period presented the Bureau of Investigation the opportunity to expand its domain and increase its power.”9 Major expansion of the state through the building of new bureaucracies (Bureau of Corporations, Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission, etc.) and bureaucratic infighting for government resources and jurisdiction turned the largely immigrant-led unrest into an unprecedented opportunity for A. Mitchell Palmer and his lieutenant, J. Edgar Hoover, who just five years after the scare went on to serve as the director of the Bureau of Investigation, later to become the FBI, where he became the most powerful nonelected official in U.S. history.

During the raids, thousands of immigrants were surveilled, rounded up, and deported during the Red Scare’s Palmer Raids. In what sounds like a precursor to the current ICE raids, local police and federal agents collaborated around immigration. According to FBI historian Kenneth D. Ackerman, in his Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007): “Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons.”

Sound familiar? Ackerman concludes: “Almost 90 years later, today’s war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare.” It was in the era of the Red Scare that talk of establishing a border patrol began, after Immigration Service authorities were overwhelmed by the tasks demanded of them after the United States entered World War I in 1917. “Thus,” concludes Joseph Nevins in Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2001), “the roots of the U.S. Border Patrol are to be found not only in concerns about unauthorized immigration, but also (and perhaps more so) in a preoccupation with matters of national security as related to the boundary.”

During the Great Depression, Mexicans in the United States were scapegoated for the economic hard times, as public xenophobia for the first time turned against them (having previously been fixated on the Chinese and “undesirable” Europeans). According to historians Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez in their history of this program, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (University of New Mexico Press, 1995), calls to “get rid of the Mexicans” resulted in the INS’s Mexican repatriation program (1929–37), which, like today’s war on immigrants, relied heavily on warrantless mass raids and arrests—which “assumed the logistics of full-scale paramilitary operation,” according to a history of the program—with detainees routinely held incommunicado before being shipped off to Mexico. According to California’s Apology Act for the 1930s Mexican Repatriation Program, passed in 2005, about 400,000 U.S. citizens and legal Mexican residents were forcibly removed in California alone; nationwide, an estimated 2 million people of Mexican descent were forcibly relocated to Mexico.

Complaints of INS abuse were legion, and a 1932 government commission on the matter concluded: “The apprehension and examination of supposed aliens are often characterized by methods [which are] unconstitutional, tyrranic and oppressive,” as quoted in Decade of Betrayal. The program represented the INS’s entry into the national security realm. This was cemented in 1940, when the Roosevelt administration transferred the agency from the Labor Department to Justice, home of the FBI. Indeed, Roosevelt, who a year later would begin detaining and interning Japanese Americans en masse, played a key role in framing immigration and the border as a national security issue. In the context of World War II, this often centered on keeping out “enemy aliens,” and as Nevins notes, for this reason, the Border Patrol personnel was almost doubled and played a role in the war, managing enemy alien detainment camps and helping defend the east coast. Again, we see the ways in which immigrants—in this case Japanese and Mexican immigrants—provide the state with the means to circumvent laws designed to protect the people from their government.

*

As shown in the examples from U.S. history, immigrants provide the state with ample excuse to expand, especially in times of geopolitical and domestic crisis. During the post-revolutionary period, the pursuit of alleged immigrant subversives led to the massive funding of the Navy and to the expansion of state power through laws like the Alien and Seditions Acts. Similarly, the crisis following the end of World War I led to the creation of the FBI and to unprecedented government repression and expansion embodied by the Palmer raids. Viewed from a historical perspective, it is no surprise that the government should respond to the geopolitical and domestic crisis in the United States with expanded government power and bureaucracy. Rather than view the placement of ICE under DHS as solely about controlling immigrant labor or about political (and electoral) opportunism disguised as government policy (both are, in fact, part of the equation), it is important to connect the creation of ICE and its placement under DHS to the perpetual drive of government to expand its powers, especially its repressive apparatus and other mechanisms of social control.

From this perspective, the current framing of the issue of immigration as a “national security” concern—one requiring the bureaucratic shift toward “Homeland Security”—fits well within historical practices that extend government power to control not just immigrants, but those born here, most of whom don’t see immigration policy affecting them. One of the things that makes the current politico-bureaucratic moment different, however, is the fluidity and increasing precariousness of the state itself. Like other nation states, the United States suffers from strains wrought by the free hand of global corporations that have abandoned large segments of its workforce. Such a situation necessitates the institutionalization of the war on immigrants in order to get as many armed government agents into a society that may be teetering on even more serious collapse as seen in the recession and economic crisis devastating core components of the American Dream like education, health care, and home ownership.

Perhaps the most salient difference between today’s security state and those of the past is the central importance of the private sector. And unlike the previous periods, the creation of massive bureaucracies superseded the need to surveil, arrest, and deport migrants. Today, there appears to be a move to make permanent the capacity of the state to pursue, jail and deport migrants in order to sustain what we might call the migration-military-industrial complex, following Deepa Fernandes, Targeted: National Security and the Business of Immigration (Seven Stories Press, 2007). Several indicators make clear that we are well on our way to making the war on immigrants a permanent feature of a government in crisis.

Multibillion-dollar contracts for border security from DHS have created an important new market for aerospace companies like General Electric, Lockheed, and Boeing, which secured a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Borders Initiative, a DHS program to build surveillance and other technological capabilities (see “Barricading the Border”).10 That some saw in 9/11 an opportunity to expand and grow government technological capabilities—and private sector patronage—through such contracts, can be seen in DHS’s “national laboratory for homeland security.”

Like its predecessor, the military-industrial complex, the migrant-military-industrial complex tries to integrate federal, state, and local economic interests as increasing numbers of companies bid for, and become dependent on, big contracts like the Boeing contract or the $385 million DHS contract for the construction of immigrant prisons.11 Like its military-industrial cousin, the migrant-military-industrial complex has its own web of relationships between corporations, government contracts, and elected officials. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in the case of James Sensenbrenner, the anti-immigrant godfather, who sponsored HR 4437, which criminalized immigrants and those who would help them. According to his 2005 financial disclosure statement, Sensenbrenner held $86,500 in Halliburton stocks and $563,536 in General Electric; Boeing is among the top contributors to the congressman’s PAC (Sensenbrenner also owns stocks in the Olive Garden restaurant chain, which hires undocumented workers.)12 The current war on immigrants is grounded in the need to build and maintain massive policing bureaucracies like ICE and DHS. The immigrant-rights movement must clearly understand this if it is to succeed in its strategies for the right to migrate, the right to work, and the right of migrants to share the fruits of their own labor.


Roberto Lovato is an associate editor with New America Media. A New York–based journalist, he contributes frequently to The Huffington Post and The Nation.


1. This article is a revised, updated version of “One Raid at a Time: How Immigrant Crackdowns Build the National Security State,” which appeared on publiceye.org, the website of Political Research Associates, in March.2. “Special Report: Homeland Security Appropriations for FY 2005 (House & Senate) and California Implications,” the California Institute for Federal Policy Research, September 16, 2004.

3. Alec MacGillis, “Minutemen Assail Amnesty Idea,” The Washington Post, May 13, 2006.

4. “Militarizing the Border: Bush Calls for 6,000 National Guard Troops to Deploy to U.S.-Mexican Border,” Democracy Now!, May 16, 2006.

5. David Bacon, “The Real Political Purpose of the ICE Raids,” Dollars & Sense, January/February 2007.

6. “The American Dream Survey 2006,” Lake Partners Research, August 28, 2006.

7. John Morton Smith, “President John Adams, Thomas Cooper, and Sedition: A Case Study in Suppression,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 42, no. 3 (December 1955): 438–65.

8. Todd J. Pfannestiel, Rethinking the Red Scare: The Lusk Committee and New York’s Crusade Against Radicalism, 1919–1923 (Routledge, 2003).

9. John A. Noakes, “Enforcing Domestic Tranquility: State Building and the Origin of the FBI,” Qualitative Sociology 18, no. 2 (June 1995): 271–86.

10. Martie Cenkci, “At Technology’s Front Line,” Air Force Outreach Program Office, Outreach Prospective 5, no. 4 (Fall–Winter 2006): 10–11.

11. Alexandra Walker, “Sensenbrenner: Immigration Profiteer,” The Real Costs of Prison weblog, October 5, 2006.

12. Roberto Lovato, “Sensenbrenner Under Fire—Does Congressman Profit From Undocumented Labor?” New America Media, October 6, 2006.

Infomercials, Hatemercials and the Multi-mediagenic Presidency: GRITtv Panel Analyzes Elections & Media

October 31, 2008

http://a5.vox.com/6a00cd970c86034cd500fa967c8fb50002-500pi

This was a fun and informative panel. Always-thoghtful host Laura Flanders gets her guests -the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, Chris Rabb of Afronetizen and mois- to spill the media beans on this breathtaking political moment. Don’t miss a minute!

R

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Waaaaassup! Then & Now: Tragicomic TV Ad Adds Political Riff to Old Budweiser Ad (Funny)

October 24, 2008

For full effect, check out this “classic” Budweiser ad and and then the one that follows:

After taking a moment to wipe the halcyon from your mental screen as you reminisce about them Good Ole days when down-to-earth multinational corporations simply exploited popular culture for profit, check out this video from the age of supra-national corporations exploiting EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE for SUPERPROFITS:

And, if you cannot access via youtube you can go to huffpost here to find it.

The Immigrant Vote & the Need to Denounce Nancy Pelosi

October 24, 2008

On the heels of Nancy Pelosi’s statement reversing the Democrats commitment to push immigration reform in the first 100 days of the next political year, this interview with the Bay Area’s Your Call show with Rose Aguilar was pitch perfect in its timing. Rose, her guests and I got to explore and discuss the historic role of the immigrant and Latino vote in this year’s Presidential election. And it was quite a good omen to be able to discuss Pelosi’s controversial statement – “maybe there never is a path to citizenship if you came here illegally”- on one of the most widely-heard public radio stations in her district. As I did during the show I will do now: If you live in the Bay Area and are incensed, concerned or angered at this naked betrayal by Pelosi and the Democrats, then go and give her office an earful; Those of you that can might even consider going and sitting in at her office until she retracts these statements (some of Pelosi’s DC-based friends in the nonprofit world are saying it was a “slip”). So, check out the show here!

“The Dramatic Equivalent of the Collapse of the Soviet Union”: Historian Hobsbawm Predicts New Age of Mixed Economies

October 22, 2008

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Looking for some wisdom in the funk-filled mist of the Democrat’s fog and the smog of the Republicans? If so, then please do listen to this scintillating BBC interview with one of the pre-eminent cartographers of our global past, Eric Hobsbawm.

Even when he delivers bad news (ie; , “..in the 1930’s the net political effect of the Great Depression was to strengthen the right” ..but there’s much potential good too!), 91 year-old Hobsbawm makes you feel that urgent need to dust off your history books. His often startling thoughts about such issues as the possibility of a new era of mixed economies, the “rediscovery of Marx,” and other quite relevant matters are worth the 14 minutes of your consciousness. The return on mental investment is a safer, more profitable use of your time than devaluing your mind with the inanities of many public and corporate media outlets here in the U.S., many of whom are largely concerned with reproducing the excruciatingly strained apologies for the bankrupt economic and ideological system we inhabit. So, please do check it out here.

Bretton Woods II? Time to (Re-) Interrogate -& Challenge- Big Capitalism

October 20, 2008

Pyramid of Capitalist System

We have entered an era in which 60, 70 and even 85 year-olds are coming out of retirement to find the work they need simply to survive.

Such reports will sadly and surely multiply as the disintegration of economic, political and social life as we know it proceeds. Without a doubt, the root of such sad reports is to be found in the depths of this most recent crisis of capitalism we find ourselves in. For the Lead Political Cheerleaders of Big Capitalism like French President Nicolas Sarkozy to find themselves forced to defend not just deadly economic policies, but capitalism itself, should give us pause; Pause so we think about how we may insert human values into this most vulnerable moment in political and economic history; Just listen to the loud thump of the ideological sandbags “Sarko the American” has to put up to before the abysmal pressures facing capitalism itself:

“Le laissez-faire, c’est fini,” Sarkozy said. “The financial crisis is not the crisis of capitalism. It is the crisis of a system that has distanced itself from the most fundamental values of capitalism, which betrayed the spirit of capitalism.”

Doesn’t that first phrase –“Le laissez-faire, c’est finii”- roll off the tongue in a wonderfully sublime way? It graces the palate with much more good taste and reality than those vomit-inducing war chants like the pathetic calls to “Eat Freedom Fries instead of French Fries!”, no? Sarkozy, who doesn’t much like poor, migrant and colored folks in la Belle France or in greater Europe, has also moved to organize a top-down global response through what some are calling a Bretton Woods Conference II, one that includes leaders of G-8 and other industrialized countries whose mission is nothing less than to salvage and reconfigure capitalism. Such a crisis-laden meeting carries with it great danger and opportunity if we consider that the first Bretton Woods conference established the International Monetary Fund and many of the primary instruments of the global economic domination that forced 60-70 and 80 year-olds throughout the post-war “Third World” to seek work to simply survive.

Time to do what we did during the battle of Seattle: confront big capital and confront them frontally, forcefully and globally through as many means as possible. I myself am not at this time advocating violent means, however. But looking at elderly people like my parents coming out of retirement and gazing at the babies coming out of the dark womb of their tender past must drive us to consider and exercise any and all non-violent means to alter the course of current history.

Every student knows that Roosevelt only agreed to the New Deal after looking at and listening to the loud calls coming from the radical below So, let us meditate deeply on the opportunity, while being vigilant of the dangers “our leaders” are preparing to foist on us in their own efforts to survive. We forget their fear and vulnerability at our own risk; Doing so will keep us on the path of the same sheepish lot that allowed elites to steal not 1, but 2 elections. So, let us also join the armies of the planet that are, according to this piece from the Times UK, re-arming themselves with Das Capital & other writings of Karl Marx as well as other tools with which to analyze and influence the New Direction from the bottom-up. And don’t let the Pavlovian, anti-Marxist conditioning of our decadent system close you off to what are still thought-provoking and critically important resources that can help us give shape to whatever the new era portends. Our ability to analyze and critique capitalism must inform our own policies and political actions if we are not to move beyond the economic, environmental and spiritual devastation wrought by Big Capital and its political cheerleaders.

Historic Black Latino Summit Previews Power of Solidarity- & Intimacy

October 8, 2008

I had the privilege and pleasure to attend this week’s Black-Latino Summit (BLS) held in Los Angeles on Sunday and Monday. Organized by Policy Link and the William C. Velazquez Institute, the BLS brought together more than 500 black and Latino leaders and activists who spent 2 days debating and discussing the history and future and concerns and shared agenda of our respective communities.

To their credit, BLS organizers opted not to include the media in their event, which , I think, says much about the commitment to go beyond much of the foto op opportunism that usually passes for “Black-brown unity.” I believe they are sincerely trying to develop an agenda. While I’m not at liberty to provide details of the intense planning that took place, I can say that they distributed and discussed position papers (see the Summit web page) around a number of critical issues including criminal justice, education and jobs, immigration and several other issues. And issues of the spirit and heart were also at the center of discussions.

One preliminary learning I bring back with me has to do with the enormous challenge we have before us in terms of moving the ripples of such momentous events beyond the local discussion of the 500 attendees. More specifically, I realized that one of, perhaps the, primary antidotes to the mediation of black-Latino relations by the MSM is obvious, fundamental, yet elusive: intimacy. Listening to the attendees articulate and struggle with feelings, thoughts and plans, it became clear to me that we need to short circuit the electric organization of our senses and thoughts by our increasingly noxious media system, especially around race. The struggle to allow ourselves to be vulnerable within our selves and with others, is the best way I know to dispel and decimate the racial workings that really do divide us. More on this later. For now, stay tuned for the next, more public events of the BLS beginning with a followup meeting in Washington DC in the Spring, when the new President will be greeted with a well-thought out and defined agenda for the Blacks, Latinos and the entire country. Stay tuned to the BLS website.

Speaker Pelosi Quotes Of América in Bailout Speech

September 30, 2008

Stocks plummeted on Wall Street after Nancy Pelosi delivered the historic US failed bailout plan.

Another in the growing number of examples proving a simple fact: blogging matters. During her soon-to-be-infamous bailout speech yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deployed this variation on the “Main Street” metaphor to describe the communities being impacted by the economic crisis:

“And we must insulate Main Street from Wall Street. And as Congresswoman Waters said, Martin Luther King Drive, in my district, Martin Luther King Drive and Cesar Chavez Road and all of the manifestations of community and small businesses in our community.”

She attributes these statements to Congresswoman Waters, but seems to forget that this metaphor was used during recent episode of the Brave New Film’s Meet the Bloggers show on which she and yours truly were guests. You can see for your self by watching that episode either in its entirety of by clicking to minute 22 of the 1/2 hour show and then going to the 11:30 point in the Pelosi speech. Seems she and Waters are also playing the game of many a blogger who don’t attribute either.

Besides the dull but perpetual need to massage our Latin male ego, this example points to two, more interesting observations. The first is , as mentioned above, the way it illustrates how the web and the blogosphere, in particular, manage to bypass the traditional and institutional gatekeepers by helping we marginal voices insert our memes and other matters into the political discourse. Secondly and more importantly, I think this example should also serve to remind us how important it is to push on an issue Pelosi, her Democrats and even Barack Obama have studiously avoided (Republican exclusion goes without saying): including those of of us who don’t live on “Main Street” in the world historic discussion of the economic debacle; The “Main Street metaphor leaves out the people who live along “Martin Luther King Drive” and “Cesar Chavez road”: renters, the poor, homeless people and lots of other whites and non-whites.

So, there you have it. Though the writer in me still has some reservations about the literary and journalistic value of blogs and other new media, their utility and effectiveness can hardly be questioned. The secret, it seems, is to mix the power of the medium with the Spirit of the Word.

Economic 9-11: The Shrinking of Political Space

September 26, 2008

(photo by Jamie Denise Lahane)

New America Media, News analysis, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Sep 26, 2008 Share/Save/Bookmarka2a_linkname=document.title;a2a_linkurl=location.href;

Editor’s Note: Behind the economic bailout is a looming specter of government as Big ‘Banker’ Brother, and activists are protesting for fear of further erosion of civil liberties, reports NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

NEW YORK – Arun Gupta stood between the throngs of tourists and the small army of activists squeezing onto the narrow concrete island occupied largely by the 7,000 pound bronze Wall Street bull and declared, “We’re here to say no to the bailout.”

Gupta is an editor at the New York Indypendent newspaper whose open letter opposing the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout is largely credited with inspiring the protests on Wall Street in other cities. “But we’re also here because, in times of economic decline like ours, the natural inclination of government is to close down political space,” he noted.

Gupta, along with a host of other observers from across the political spectrum, believes that the debate about the Bush administration’s bailout plan obfuscates another looming threat: how the bailout behind the economic crisis could further erode free speech, the right to protest, the right to privacy – all repressive measures instituted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

At that time, many believed that the Bush administration was using the symbolism of Ground Zero to narrow political space – curtailing civil liberties – in an effort to silence opposition to the Iraq invasion. Today, Gupta and others believe that the government is preparing for another domestic war, a war on the poor and middle class – the sector of the population that is most affected by today’s economic realities – by controlling their economic and political freedom. Gupta fears that the government, as Big ‘Banker’ Brother, could play the dual roles of financier (who may or may not provide loans to its citizens) and cop (who will quell complaints about any rejections).

Even staunch conservatives with deep roots in Wall Street are alarmed at the possible political effects of the current economic policy. Paul Craig Roberts, former Reagan administration assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who is also a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, sounded an economic and political alarm that echoed in the financial canyons around Wall Street when he wrote a column titled “Has Deregulation Sired Fascism?”

“The real issue is whether we, the people, allow powerful interests to use the economic collapse to create an even more unaccountable executive branch,” he said during our interview. “History teaches us that it’s easier for government to give us our money back than it is for them to give us back the freedoms and civil liberties government takes.”

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to share these concerns when she said that the fiscal catastrophe was “a tragedy they [the Bush administration] must have known was coming and were very late in coming to Congress on.” Pelosi also stated that the administration sought “an expansive power for the (Treasury) secretary that was almost laughable.”

The physical, legal and political space had already been shrinking as a result of government actions in the aftermath of 9-11: public streets severely narrowed by the now ubiquitous steel fencing; decorative bulwarks and defensive walls put up by government and private sector interests; “permanent emergency” laws passed by both Democrats and Republicans; laws like the Patriot Act that criminalize forms of protest that were previously legal and which also unleashed powerful data-mining technology and other unprecedented surveillance powers of local, state and federal government; bipartisan legislation that gives the government the power to break into citizens’ homes and conduct secret searches and police raids. Add to this the made-for-TV-ratings arrests carried out against independent journalists like Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman while covering the Republican National Convention.

Gupta and others see the potential for the current economic crisis to facilitate government actions like those denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shortly after 9-11, when they released a report that stated, “The nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer is using his bully pulpit to shut down dissent and debate.”

Located next to the Hudson River and a brisk walk from the bronze bull and Ground Zero, is the ACLU headquarters, born from government threats to civil rights in times of economic crisis. After the economic unrest during and after WWI, the liberal Wilson Administration led several initiatives – including the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918 and other laws – to enable the rash of warrantless raids, massive surveillance and widespread criminalization of protest. In response, Roger Nash Baldwin, Jeannette Rankin and other New York activists launched the ACLU in 1920.

Baldwin, Rankin and their peers were fighting to maintain political space in the industrial age. Now Gupta and his fellow activists see themselves as doing the same in the digital age.

“What we’re witnessing is an interesting dynamic between the analog and digital worlds in terms of how we combine mobilization with technology,” said Gupta. “Email helped spread word of this protest like wildfire. At first I received responses to my open letter from a huge number of activists. But then it kept growing in concentric circles of impact extending to more than 100 cities. That’s a lot of political space that would not have been created otherwise – and we need to keep it up if we’re going to get out of this crisis.”

Meet the Bloggers: Full Episode of Bailout Bashing with Speaker Pelosi

September 26, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Do check out this recent episode of the Meet the Bloggers Show. Though recorded yesterday, the show raises issues that have not and will not be discussed by the Republicans, Democrats and the MSM. Whether or not you watch, news of WAMU’s failure -the biggest bank failure in U.S.history-should remind us all to be vigilant -and active-around what may portend profound problems for us all.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Crisis Special: Speaker Pelosi, Yglesias and Lovato Discuss Economic & Political Threat – & How to Deal

September 25, 2008

Meet the Bloggers

Check out this special edition of Meet the Bloggers (MTB), which focused on the politics and economics or, as some of us call it, the “political economy” of the $700 billion dollar bailout and the larger fiscal and economic crisis it portends. Join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Atlantic Monthly’s Mathew Yglesias and yours truly as we discuss and (indirectly) disagree about what the “problem” really is and how to “fix” it. This clip will give you some sense of the threat and opportunity some of us see in this morass:

I think this was one of our best shows and hope you agree. To see the full show go to the MTB website here.

The Coming Crush: Italy Uses Gypsies and Migrants to Legitimate Repression

September 22, 2008

Le Monde diplomatique - English edition

This article from Le Monde Diplomatique provides us a mirror image of the Looking Glass of lies and repression we call “immigration policy” in the Good Ole U.S. of A. Developments in Berlusconi’s Italia seem to prove one of the main theses behind this blog: that immigrants provide the state with the perfect excuse with which to pass authoritarian legislation that impacts the larger, non-immigrant populace. Consider how the Italian state is using the more than 150,000 Roma and Sinti people throughout the former fascista state

“In Rome, police in battle dress have evacuated Gypsy settlements and prevented children from going to school, and the city’s rightwing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, is having fingerprints taken of those who remain. In Milan, Silvio Berlusconi’s government has appointed a “commissioner extraordinary for the Roma emergency” and enforced ID checks for people entering their camps. In Naples, the police charged a settlement with Molotov cocktails, forcing families to flee; the faces of the terrified children were seen on television screens around the country that evening.”

The policies, language and generalized terror inspired by these policies harken back to a previous period, but would not be so foreign to undocumented migrants living in towns like Hazleton, Pennsylvania or Postville, Iowa. In both cases, the high-profile (ie; Italy’s Berlusconi, owner of much of Italy’s media, networks government actions with private sector media spin) actions of government take us beyond the lethargic and long-held explanations of too many well-intentioned, but dangerously naive “immigrant rights activists” in the U.S.: that immigrants are scapegoats; that immigration is a wedge issue that eases up after each election cycle. Such faulty thinking fails to consider the crisis of economic stability and political legitimacy that has, for many years, fundamentally altered the role of most governments and heads of state in this dizzyingly chaotic world system. And, as a result, we here in the U.S. fail to critique what’s happening around immigration with the broader lens used by people like the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who said, “If they (the government) continue like that, they’ll be a threat to democracy.”

As the political and economic crisis upon us unfolds into what all economists agree will be a long (2-3 year or much, much more) downturn, we should expect and prepare for the even greater repressive measures unleashed by a political and economic system in severe decline, measures that, on the surface appear to target migrants, but that, in fact, have a much larger populace in the cross hairs of the state. Speaking of gypsies, migrants and other stateless and displaced peoples, philosopher Hannah Arendt, gave us a warning back in 1943 in her short essay, “We Refugees”,

“For him (the refugee) history is no longer a closed book, and politics ceases to be the privilege of the Gentiles. He knows that the banishment of the Jewish people in Europe was followed immediately by that of the majority of the European peoples. Refugees expelled from one country to the next represent the avant-garde of their people.”

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As many of you may know, Arendt went on to pen her most prescient and popular work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, in no small part thanks to her studies of the effects on and actions against some of society’s most vulnerable groups: Jews, migrants and gypsies. In our time of perpetual war, economic devastation and unprecedented problems of political legitimacy, let us take note of what history tells us is the coming crush

And we should also remember what Arendt told us about how totalitarian practices survive the death of more blatantly totalitarian states like those of Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union. More than any time in memory, I think we need to find the language and words appropriate to describe the morphing monster of a system that is ours, which combines human, democratic space with the many-headed hydra of repression we see normalized on our TV sets and browsers with a frequency found in old-school propaganda and in sci-fi flicks. In addition to holding little analytical value, screeching “fascism” won’t do much beyond deadening the mind and closing the heart to political cliches. The monster of our government feeds off of the dead. All the more reason to create the kind of living, critical language that must be part of any antidote to the crisis upon us.