Archive for the 'ECONOMICS' Category

Financial Meltdown Ushers in New Era of Socialism, Top Down Socialism

September 19, 2008

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If you’re not following the economic news closely, you might want to start. That even the MSM is speaking of the crisis upon us as “catastrophic”, “the worst crisis since the Great Depression”, etc should not just give us pause, but should instead lead to careful study and personal and political planning. With more than $900 billion of our tax dollars already spent on bailing out big companies like AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to name but the most recent, we have clearly embarked upon a new era of socialism, top-down socialism in which we are “privatizing profits and socializing the losses”, in the words of NYU economist Nouriel Roubini.

Formerly ridiculed by some in the MSM as “Dr. Doom” for his predictions of a meltdown like the one we’re in, Roubini is now one of the most important voices speaking about the financial meltdown. He earned his place, in no small part, thanks to his courage and intelligence in predicting that a confluence of factors – radical free market ideology, lack of transparency, de-regulation, out and out lying, corruption, and government enabling of its corporate keepers, to name a few,-would lead us into this colossal mess.

I highly reccommend you follow posts on Roubini’s site, which is updated daily and contains lots of important and useful information. Hardly a radical Marxist, he has sounded alarms that are only now being heard. Check out this article he wrote yesterday titled “The transformation of the USA into the USSRA (United Socialist State Republic of America) continues at full speed with the nationalization of AIG.

With the federal government taking an 80% stake in AIG as it becomes big businesses’ lender of last resort, we have essentially started the process of nationalizing the banking system. Problem is the distribution of profits and losses; The rich get the profits while we pay for their mismanagement, lying and corruption with our taxes. Add to the nearly $1 trillion we’ve already spent on bailing out big businesses the $3 trillion the Bush Administration is well on its way to underwriting Halliburton, Blackwater and others with in Iraq and you have a $4 trillion drain on the economic basis of our citizenship. When combined with stolen elections, electoral malfeasance and the domination of our political system by big corporations, this situation renders our citizenship and sovereignty politically and economically worthless.

The big dividend for us, especially the poorer among us, are increasing numbers of cops, national guard, heavily-armed immigration agents and other big gun-toting types whose primary function is serving and protecting-big business. Remember: the CEO’s and their military-industrial partners knew how much funny, fake money was on their balance sheets before we did (and we still don’t know how bad things are!) and surely started laying the policing-military groundwork to “protect” their interests long ago, but did so under cover of “the war on drugs”, “getting tough on immigrants” and “defending the homeland,” to name but a few of the more well-known excuses for militarizing society before the meltdown.

In any case, ou also can get a sense of Roubini’s approach from the MSNBC interview below. Note , for example, the enormous difference between the flubby tone and outlook of the corporate talking heads and Roubini’s diamond-cutter talk as when he predicts that upwards of 700 banks, maybe even including such giants like WAMU, will go belly up before this unprecedented economic threat subsides. Let us hope it subsides soon and brings about a new economic day. Just wanted to signal alert on an economic crisis I think will also be accompanied by even more repression if history holds any lessons. This abject, dangerous failure of and increased state violence prophecied by the Free Market Religion should serve to remind us that it’s High Time to dust off our own sacred books containing the ancient knowledge of self-determination, self-defense and bottom-up socialism. So, pay close attention to this tragic economic development as the seeds of perdition and possiblity are contained therein. Really.

Italy Latest to Use Immigrants as an Excuse for Militarizing Sreets

August 6, 2008

No stranger to deploying totalitarian-lite methods before a severe economic and political crisis, Italia became but the most recent country to militarize its streets under cover of what has rapidly become one of the most fascionable excuses for militarism: immigrants. This article in today’s New York Times (NYT) should be considered a free advertisement for the cottage industry that’s bringing us police states all across this crisis-ridden globe.

Rather than view immigrants as a human expression of the dire crisis the global elites have created, the NYT and other media have instead opted to uncritically accept the elite solution for the problem elite neoliberalism created: militarismo. Though such cowardice and crisis-ridden states like Berlusconi’s Italy are not new, the intensity of the worldwide focus on immigrants as a threat requiring military solutions is pretty unprecedented. The degree of global political alignment between government, economic and media elites reflected in the Times piece also causes one to pause for a second look.

Those of you interested in exploring this migrant-militarization trend, especially its U.S. variant, further might want to check out this analytical piece I wrote for Political Research Associates, a Boston think-tank.

Of América’s Lovato Bashes Militarism on Meet the Bloggers

August 2, 2008

Please be charitable as you watch this clip from the very exciting show I’ve been asked to be a part of, Meet the Bloggers. Despite lighting that makes me look like a Miami Drug dealer wearing dapper summer duds, the clip does capture some of the alternative thinking you’ll find on this important new show from the folks at Brave New Films.

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

July 31, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

July 27, 2008

Democracy Now!

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

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

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

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

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

July 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

McCain and Obama Ignore Abuses in Colombia and Mexico

July 4, 2008

McCain and Obama Ignore Abuses in Colombia and Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hecklers Highlight Silence of Major Latino Organizations Around War

June 30, 2008

I was in Washington cafe yesterday when hecklers from Code Pink interrupted Sen. John McCain no less than 3 times during a major speech to Latino voters and elected officials. Shortly after the event, several of protesters marched triumphantly into the coffeeshop I was sitting in on P Street after they stole the media thunder of the event organizers, the Nation Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). NALEO was trying to highlight Latino voting power and unprecedented participation in this year’s elections.

Despite NALEO’s attempts to let the media know that it was the white women and not members of their organization, many of the mainstream media basically reported as if Latinos had dissed the GOP candidate. While many, if not most, of us do, in fact, find McCain and other warmongers more than worthy of attack for their seemingly infinite ability and desire to send other, mostly poor people’s children to kill and die in war, we should prioritize accuracy and fairness.

Yet, while I find Code White…..I mean Code Pink as problematic as other “progressive” organizations when it comes to issues of race and inclusion, I must say that watching and listening to the middle class white women-and not the working and middle class Latinos in the audience-yell in garbled Spanish, “Ya basta con la matanza” (Stop the Killing) as they denounced the war and its supporters inspired a rather odd mix of bother and shame; It reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to talk about for some time: How NONE of the national Latino organizations in the U.S. have come out against the war. NONE.

Though I have longtime friends and colleagues at most of them, it saddens me to report that, to date, none of the major Latino organizations-NALEO, LULAC, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), MALDEF, Southwest Voter Registration (leaders of SVREP have, however, taken positions) have come out against the Iraq war.

Such silence raises questions not unlike those raised around the trials and tribulations of disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. As stated here previously, leaders of organizations like LULAC and NCLR not only didn’t denounce Gonzales, they were important players in the campaign to get him appointed the country’s first Latino Attorney General-even after revelations of Gonzales’ leadership in legalizing the torture like that perpetrated in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo came out. In an indicator of the nuance and differentiation that exists in the Latino political universe, Southwest and MALDEF came out against Gonzales.

And , in addition to enabling someone who, in a more just and fair world, would be locked up for life as a war criminal, some of these Latino organizations are also taking money from and providing a platform to the most violent and wasteful institution in the United States: the Pentagon. As I’ve reported here , the Pentagon is spending BILLIONS to save itself by recruiting unprecedented numbers of young Latinos for the cause of war and plunder. Money to improve decrepit schools that are supposed to prepare our kids for life, schools that are pushing our kids out, is instead being used to bolster the institution that will prepare them for death-and no Latino organization of any stature is saying anything about it. In their efforts to survive, huge numbers of Latino media outlets have allowed themselves to become mouthpieces of the Armed Forces by accepting hundreds of millions of dollars to print, beam and broadcast Pentagon ads targeting Latinos (ie Army of One, Yo Soy El Army, etc.)

We should not, however, paint all Latinos or all Latino organizations with the same brush of silence about war. MANY, many individuals like Camilo Mejia and many organizations like Project YANO and others are fighting the good fight against the Pentagon in its war for the hearts and minds of our kids.

So, when you see and listen to the silence in the audience in the video below, please remember that is the silence of the few, as polls have, for some time, indicated that the vast majority of Latinos opposes the war madness perpetrated by the likes of John McCain.

Pushout: Report Finds That Lousy Schools Fail Latino Students

June 26, 2008

Pew Hispanic Center a project of the Pew Research Center

This report by the Pew Hispanic Center documents a little-discussed fact of Latino student life: badly-funded schools are pushing them out. The report, The Role of Schools in the English Language Learner Achievement Gap, thoroughly documents how several factors-economics, class, race, to name a few. The report identifies one of the fundamental problems lies not with students, but with schools or what it calls “the concentration in low-achieving public schools and the degree to which this isolation is associated with the large achievement gap in mathematics between ELL students and other major student groups.

Especially interesting is the racial factor in Latino education, specifically how Latinos who went to schools with a higher percentage of white students tended to perform better. In the words of Richard Fry, author of the report,

In all five states investigated and irrespective of grade levels ELL students were much less likely than white students to score at or above the state’s proficient level. However, when ELL students attended public schools with at least a minimum threshold number of white students, the gap between the math proficiency scores of white students and ELL students was considerably narrower, the Pew Hispanic Center analysis has found. This suggests that the lag in test score achievement of ELL students is attributable in part to the characteristics of the public schools they attend.”

So, next time you find yourself in a discussion with someone subscribing to the Darwinian view (ie; Latinos are genetically predisposed to academic failure) show them the report. That is, if they themselves can turn off Fox News for a minute to read something.

Obama on Latin America: “Small Change”, If Any

May 29, 2008


(this article first appeared in the Black Agenda Report)

by Roberto Lovato

Many of us had great “hope” for the much-vaunted “change” in U.S. policy towards Latin America. But listening to Barack Obama’s “substantive” speech on U.S. Latin America policy last week and reading his “New Partnership with the Americas” policy proposal, it’s pretty clear that Obama will do nothing to alter the basic structure of George W. Bush’s Latin America policy: trade backed by militarism.

Given the painful failure and generalized destruction wrought by the last century of U.S. policy in the hemisphere, the basic outline of “substantive” policy towards America Latina should look something like this

  • Immediate de-escalation of tensions between Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and US ally/surrogate Colombia. One would hope that, in the face of the atrocities in Colombia, Ubama would add a condemnation as loud as those Democrats wield at Cuba, whose violation of sovereignty (condemned by OAS) and human rights record-death squad killings, disappearances, torture of thousands-pales before that of Colombia;

  • Holding up Colombia’s multi-billion dollar military aid package would also indicate some substance;

  • Dismantling NAFTA, CAFTA and other trade and economic policies (ie some IMF and World Bank programs) that destroy livelihoods and communities (nay regions), bust government budgets and further enrich the elites in these countries;

  • Ending the embargo on Cuba. Will Obama stop beating the tattered political pinata of Cuba or simply spin it a little differently, hit it more gently?

  • Ending the low intensity destabilization programs in Venezuela and Bolivia;

  • Re-negotiating Bush’s crop-killing ethanol program;

  • Aborting Plan Mexico, which is already Colombianzing (ie; drug wars, anti-insurgent war, repression against opposition under cover of national security, etc.) a country that, for more than 80 years, has lived without the imposition of military rule. U.S. Presidents from Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Carter have paid for the arming of death squads who kidnap and torture jurists, journalists, union members and ordinary citizens as our “Latin American policy”;

  • Placing migration policy within the hemispheric context in which it originates;

  • Closing the School of the Americas and the ILEA training facility in El Salvador, both of which are factories for barbarism under the guise of national security.

With some important exceptions – engaging Venezuela, reconfiguring the World Bank and IMF, environmental agreements- his current approach to Latin America veers only slightly to the left of Bushismo. There is little in his speeches and proposals that is “liberal”, “progressive” or very enlightened in terms of easing the crush of poverty and repression in the region. In fact, Obama’s proposals for continuing and expanding the drug war in the hemisphere will only complete the efforts of the Bush Administration to re-militarize the region under cover of fighting drug wars.

In the search for post-Cold War enemies, the Bush Administration found its new excuse to militarize the region in the drug cartels, who, must be dealt with, but not in the Bush way.

Obama should know better.

The full text of Obama’s Miami speech can be found here.

Barack Obama’s “New Partnership For Latin America” also outlines his Latin America policies, and is located here.

Below are quotes from and brief analyses of these documents.

On the brutal 46 year embargo of Cuba I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice…” Traveling to, or doing business in or with Cuba will remain illegal under US law. Academics and artists from Cuba will be denied visas, no cultural exchange permitted.
On US responsibility for deposing President Aristide and imposing the current regime poverty and terror upon Haiti Nothing The policy will not change
On US funding of the brutal war and death squad regime of Colombia When I am President, we will continue the Andean Counter-Drug Program, and update it to meet evolving challenges. We will fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC. We’ll work with the government to end the reign of terror from right wing paramilitaries. We will support Colombia’s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders. And we will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. ” The policy will not change. The Colombian government has a blank check and a green light to murder and engage in cross-border provocations at will.
On the US continuing low-intensity war against Venezuela In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power. Yet the Bush Administration’s blustery condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez have only strengthened his hand.” Destabilization attempts under an Obama administration may be less blustery and clumsy.

Radio Nation Interview: Politics, Economics and Psychology of Exploitation in the U.S. South

May 17, 2008

RADIO NATION with Laura Flanders

Check out this deeper delving into the workings of oppression and social control – and the movement response to- in the deep South. As always, Laura Flanders just shines as she illuminates with her smart line of questioning and discussion. Check it out.

Radio Nation Interview on Juan Crow

The Long March from Cinco de Mayo to Cinco de Pentagon

May 5, 2008

Those of us old enough to remember might recall those halcyon days when celebrating Cinco de Mayo meant many things: closing off a street in what was then known as a “barrio”, listening to sometimes inspired and sometimes less-than-inspired music of long-sideburned Santana wannabees from the local garage bands and eating food infused with the love of the local. And we sort of listened to the bandana’d radical Chicana organizer urging us to become part of the global liberation struggle commemorated on May 5th, when badly-equipped, but inspired Mexican guerrillas defeated the forces of Napoleon III’s French Empire in the 19th century.

Others may recall how, in the 80’s and 90’s, the long lost Decades of the “Hispanic”, many turned local street fairs across the Southwest into the larger, corporate-sponsored, alcohol-drenched festivals whose ghost we can still see today. The proud proclamations of culture and political struggle previously embodied by “Viva el Cinco de Mayo” gave way to the “Hispanic pride” contained in slogans like Budweiser’s “Viva la ReBudlucion!” or Absolut Vodka’s more recent racist -and ultimately failed-attempt to cash in on culture with its ad equating drinking vodka with a fictitious Mexican desire to re-conquer (the dreaded specter of “reconquista” promoted by anti-Latino groups and some media outlets) the Southwest.

Looking back on those days now, it’s clear how Latino children and adults going to Cinco de Mayo celebrations became a “mission critical market” in the clash of corporate empires that define a major part of our lives today. But, as a visit to most of the recent Cinco de Mayo and other Latino-themed celebrations makes clear, Latino events now move to the beat of a new power, that of the U.S. Pentagon.

No longer the small, intimate and largely unknown celebration it was in the 70’s, Cinco de Mayo is now celebrated from San Diego, California to Sunset Park, Brooklyn and beyond. And among the major powers present at such events are the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Ubiquitous at the hundreds of Cinco de Mayo street fairs in towns and cities throughout the country are military recruiters armed with trinkets, video games, loud music and hyper-hip Hummers that draw even more children and families than the colorful (and urine-smelling) playpens McDonald’s still deploys in its Latino outreach efforts.

As African American youth and females of all races continue to reject military recruiters in record numbers, the Pentagon finds itself with no choice but to invest hundreds of millions to capture the hearts and minds of young Latinos. Our children have become “mission critical” to the future of the empire itself. And, so, the U.S. military –and its high powered Hispanic advertising and publicity firms– has brought us a new Latino celebration, the Cinco de Pentagon.

But rather than fight these nefarious designs on our kids (ie; Until recently Chuck E. Cheese included military-themed puppet shows and television shows broadcast in its restaurants) with nostalgia, we should begin by cleaning house within our communities. First on my list would be a call on local and national organizations like LULAC and the National Council of La Raza to stop promoting the military in exchange for Pentagon sponsorship dollars for their events. The recent Pentagon propaganda scandal should not shock anyone who consumes Latino media; Many Latino media outlets are chock full of paid advertising propaganda and they should to stop taking advertising from the various branches of the Armed Forces that’ve turned them into mouthpieces for military recruitment. And, of course, we should approach local organizers of Cinco de Mayo and other events about boycotting the efforts of those who lie to our kids in order to get them to go fight losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to remind them of the powerful anti-militarism traditions rooted deeply in the Chicano, Puerto Rican and other communities.

I live in New York, which is also called “Puebla York” because of the huge number of Mexicans from Puebla that live there. It’s painful to see how Cinco de Mayo has gone from celebrating the liberation politics and heroism of Puebla to celebrating the recruitment of the descendants of Zaragoza and other Poblanos by the very center of U.S. efforts to destroy global liberation, the Pentagon.

But, all is not lost. Latinos and others across the country have ramped up their efforts to stop the recruitment of Latino youth. Efforts like those in Puerto Rico, counter recruiters have fanned out to all 200 high schools to deliver their anti-militarism message to thousands of students. So, whatever your race, background or creed, if you’re opposed to the war in Iraq and to militarism generally, you might consider stopping recruitment among those without whom the future projections of the military will not be realized: Latino youth. And a good place to start might be to stop celebrating the Cinco de Pentagon and replacing it with something resembling the CInco de Mayo celebrations of old.

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

April 3, 2008

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

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

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


Of América: What is open source? Free software?

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

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

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

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

Why did you write this?

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

What does this stuff have to do with politics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Samir & Scott.

The Rotten Tomatoes of Immigration Politics: Major Penn. Farm Shuts Down

March 26, 2008

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This story in today’s Philadelphia Enquirer tells the sad, but revealing tale of one Keith Eckel, the soon-to-be former head of the largest tomato producing operation north of the Mason-Dixon Line. After decades of being the most important tomato grower on the East Coast, Eckel announced yesterday that he will be closing down his farm because he can’t find the 180 workers he needs to keep his business competitive and operational. Though successfully ignoring the plight of the workers, the story does say a lot about what many of us predicted would come about as a result of the repression unleashed on migrant workers.

“It’s a sad day,” said Eckel, who blames his woes on the lack of immigration reform. “We’re closing a part of our business that we really love.”

Eckel’s plight mirrors that of many farmers in the U.S., increasing numbers of whom find themselves living in a country where fewer and fewer natives want to work the land, a country in which gigantic agricultural and other corporate interests have hollowed out the economy and decimated the American Dream by exporting jobs. But rather than denounce, as Eckel did, the powerful interests responsible for the growers plight, many U.S. natives are drinking deadly doses of the nativist Kool Aid defining the new racial politics of the post-Mason-Dixon, post Southern Strategy moment. Minutemen, Republicans and growing numbers of Democrats and other politicos have made an industry of the politics of industrial decline.

Critical to any political strategy aspiring to reverse the anti-migrant hysteria is doing what Keith Eckel did: sling the rotten tomatoes of immigration politics at the right targets-politicos and the parasites of economic decline attached to them. Time to bust out our own radical Raid: truth backed by facts and political action like upcoming May 1rst (May Day) actions.

Hate Groups Funding Ads Pitting Latinos Against Blacks

March 12, 2008

This story from ABC 7 in Arlington, Virginia reports on the latest ad antics of the anti-immigrant set. Ads placed across the U.S. by a group calling itself the Coalition for the American Worker (CAW) are blaming black unemployment on Latino immigrants.

The problem with the article is that is fails to point out that the main group behind CAW is Numbers USA, a racist hate group headed by Roy Beck, who is also the spokesperson for CAW.

To further entangle matters, the spokesperson in the ads is Frank Morris, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, whose “facts” are wholly and absolutely fudged:

That ABC-7 should cover this so uncritically no longer surprises given the degree to which lies and myth have thoroughly saturated the political sphere and society in general.

But what this should move some of us to do is re-read people like Hannah Arendt, Jacques Ellul and others who’ve watched the especially rapid spread of such screed in times of crisis. Give their latest racial riffs, Hillary Clinton’s campaign seems to have caught on – but in the wrong way.

All the more reason to make three of my favorite words today’s anti-mentira mantra: Claridad, Claridad, Claridad.

Stronger Latin Currencies Signal Declining U.S. Hegemon(e)y

February 25, 2008

This article from Bloomberg talks about another indicator of the decline of U.S. power in the hemisphere: rising Latin currencies.

Good news for an América Latina preparing, like the rest of the world, for the noxious effects of the U.S. recession. Historically, the continent of América has contracted economic flu and typhoid when the U.S. economy gets a case of a recessionary cold. Stronger pesos, reales and other currencies mean that the countries of the hemisphere are better-able to deal with the trickle down effects of failed U.S. economic policy. According to the Bllomberg article,

“A slowdown in the U.S. will have an effect,” said Silvia Marengo, who manages $130 million of bonds at Clariden Bank in London. “What’s different now is that these countries find themselves in better financial positions. In the past, we would be talking about which Latin American country would be the next to default.”

Oddly enough, Latin America (yes) is home to three of the four best-performing currencies against the dollar this year among emerging markets.

So, buy pesos!

President Calderon’s Message of Unity Brings Together Minutemen and Mexican Opposition

February 15, 2008

This story in La Opinion is bizarre in a uniquely L.A. way.

It describes how, “for a moment” anti-immigrant Minutemen joined pro-immigrant Mexican opposition groups (as in opposed to Calderon and Minutemen they consider racist) to loudly protest the visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

According to the story written (translated por mi) by La Opinion’s Isaías Alvarado,

The Los Angeles visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon has, paradoxically, united groups traditionally antagonistic to each other.
As if in unison, protesters marching in front of the Omni Hotel shouted slogans like “¡Sin maíz, no hay país!” (“Without corn, there
is no country”) slogan of the sympathizers of the Party of the Democratic Revolution and ” ¡Pre-si-den-t Cal-de-rón go fix
.Mé-xi-co!” slogan of members of the Minuteman project. There were no violent incidents, including between people who engaged in previous disputes.”

In light of this bilingually bi-national bizarre moment, let me say that I actually believe that, at some point (not yet), those of us defending immigrants ravaged by globalization must make at least some peace with those other victims of globalization, white racists. Yes, I do believe that we need to build a big, unprecedented tent that allows us all to burn down the bigger tent of the corporate interests that unite Calderon, Bush and most other heads of state. Of course, we have to find a way to delete the racism before that happens and that’s a lot of work.

Or are we supposed to support that other election-stealer, Calderon, because he’s Mexican?

Para Nada. Despite his flowery calls to defend Mexican and other immigrants, he, his devastating policies are what turns a Mexicana(o) into an “inmigrante”.

Beware of the nation-state and the false consciousness of nationalism.

Speech: National Security and the Birth of the Anti-Immigrant State or Immigrants and the Birth of the National Security State?

February 11, 2008

Law and Disorder Radio

And now for something that deviates from but is directly related to the election mania gripping the country.

This speech given at the Brecht Forum captures well some recent thoughts about the relationship between immigrants and the national security state. Basic idea is that immigrants provide the state with another excuse to put more people with guns in our midst, especially in times of crisis.

The speech goes against the traditional logic around immigration, which tells us that raids, repressive laws, etc. are solely about elections or about controlling low wage undocumented workers needed for corporate and private profits.

While winning elections and keeping a surplus of low wage labor are a part of the immigration equation, these explanations hardly capture the cavernous motives beneath the current immigrant zeitgeist. Stuff in the speech also runs contrary to the rather tired argument that what’s happening around immigration is just about immigrants. It’s also about controlling people like many of you and me, citizens.

To vary on a theme that defined the Clinton era, “It’s the national security state, stupid.”

Lurking beneath the stale arguments of pro and anti-immigrant forces is a nation state, an elite that’s preparing for the social unrest due to the death of the American Dream (if it ever actually existed).

I shared a 2 minute clip of the speech previously, but this link features the speech in its entirety (14 minutes).Hope you like it. I actually think it’s one of the better talks I’ve given in some time. Please do email me or comment if you listen to this as these ideas are a work in progress and I value your thoughts and opinions about it.

And thanks to the Brecht Forum and the folks at Law and Disorder Radio for the opportunity to share these thoughts.

Obama-Clinton Battle, McCain’s N.H. Surge Greeted by Merrill Lynch With News that Recession “has arrived”

January 9, 2008
BBC News

While the rest of the world was being put to sleep…ooooops….. I mean “mesmerized” by electoral developments in New Hampshire, David Rosenberg was busy writing the next President’s script. Rosenberg, the widely respected chief national economist at Merrill Lynch, is the author of a report announcing that a recession “has arrived”.

And though our worsening economic woes are hardly news to even the most brain dead among us , it should give greater urgency to whomever comes out of New Hampshire with an eye on the hot seat of empire this November. This is, in no small part, because they will likely have to take immediate, urgent measures to deal with the cloud of recession descending on the U.S. This BBC story highlights a report by financial giant Merrill Lynch, which states that a recession “has arrived”.

Instead of waiting for slothfully slow and arcane body known as the National Bureau of Economic Research to officialize this predictably bad economic news, Merrill fired off a warning that has global markets scurrying for cover.

Meanwhile, the rest of we humans remain vulnerable to the showers of acid economic rain: rising oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and a flaccid dollar (On the D train yesterday, I sat next to some shopping bag-bearing Brits I jealously watched as they gabbed about the jumbo jet-fulls of goods just purchased here in the new Tijuana of the Hudson, NYC).

After Iowa and New Hampshire, I’m pretty charisma’d hoped and change’d out and am instead staring at the tea leaves and tatters of Wall Street in search of what the future holds.

Recession in the US ‘has arrived’

The feared recession in the US economy has already arrived, according to a report from Merrill Lynch. It said that Friday’s employment report, which sent shares tumbling worldwide, confirmed that the US is in the first month of a recession.Its view is controversial, with banks such as Lehman Brothers disagreeing.

But a reserve member of the committee that sets US rates warned that it could do little about the below-trend growth expected in the next six months.

“I am concerned that developments on the inflation front will make the Fed’s policy decisions more difficult in 2008,” Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said.He was referring to the problems faced by the US Federal Reserve, which might want to cut interest rates to avoid a recession, but is worried about inflationary factors such as $100-a-barrel oil. ‘Significant decline’ An official ruling on whether the US is in recession is made by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but this decision may not come for two years.The NBER defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months”.It bases its assessment on final figures on employment, personal income, industrial production and sales activity in the manufacturing and retail sectors.Merrill Lynch said that the figures showing the jobless rate hitting 5% in December were the final piece in that puzzle.”According to our analysis, this isn’t even a forecast any more but is a present day reality,” the report said. ‘Actual downturn’ But NBER president Martin Feldstein denied Merrill’s claims.”I think we’re not in a recession now,” he told CNBC.”But I think there is a serious risk that it could get worse and we could see an actual downturn,” he added.Merrill said that the current consensus view on Wall Street that there is a good chance of avoiding a recession is “in denial”.

It also objected to the use of euphemistic terms for the state of the economy.

“To say that the backdrop is ‘recession like’ is akin to an obstetrician telling a woman that she is ‘sort of pregnant’,” the report said.

Housing figures

There were further signs of the housing slowdown that has sparked off the problems in the US economy in home sale figures.

Pending sales of existing homes fell 2.6%, according to the National Association of Realtors, which saw its pending sales index drop to 87.6 in November, 19.2% below the point it was at a year ago.

The figures were better than expected, however, because October’s index reading was revised upwards from 87.2 to 89.9.

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

January 7, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Chronicle

Economic aid to give Mexicans, Central Americans work at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hispanics in Philanthropy:, (415) 837-0427

TransFair USA:, (510) 663-5260

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

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

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at