Monday, June 30, 2014


Excellent analysis and recommendations on how to address the humanitarian crisis that is currently taking place along the U.S.-Mexico border--both short- and long-term solutions.

By David Bacon
Counterpunch - 6/26/14

Journalist Laura Carlsen, writing from Mexico City, has published on the Americas Program website an important article about the way the U.S. media covers the migration of children to the U.S. - Child Migrants and Media Half-Truths <>.  Carlsen raises key questions - the cause of the displacement that leads to migration, and the way the story of migrating children is used for political purposes in the debate over immigration policy.

The story of children in detention is being manipulated by the Border Patrol and the Tea Party to kill any possibility that moderate Republicans will introduce any reform bill with legalization, to attack Obama's executive action for the Dreamers (and any possibility he might expand it - the demand of many immigrant rights advocates), and to push for more resources for enforcement, the Border Patrol and expanded detention facilities.

Looking at the way the story broke into the press, and who broke it, this strategy is clear.  The story began with a series of photographs, showing young people and children in detention centers all along the U.S./Mexico border.  These photos were published on a website,, which has a long history with the Tea Party and extreme rightwing causes.

Many readers will remember the phony video that killed ACORN. That video was introduced to the media by Andrew Breitbart, who started the website that bears his name.  John Atlas describes that role in an article:  <>

In the case of the story on children in detention, the original photos were "leaked" by the Border Patrol to a writer with an extensive history with the Tea Party in Texas, Brandon Darby.  Darby has run pieces before on behalf of the Border Patrol, and was a protege of Andrew Breitbart, who died in 2012.

According to a profile of Darby written by Breitbart senior management, "Darby became an emerging voice of the center-right populist movement called the Tea Party after working undercover with the FBI to stop former comrades from killing Israel civilians and using firebombs to hurt law enforcement and stop Republicans from assembling at the 2008 Republican National Convention ... Darby and Lee Stranahan formed the "greek chorus" to Andrew Breitbart's narration of the film Occupy Unmasked. In Andrew's retelling of that movement everything they present is a false narrative--one that he had dedicated his life's work to expose."

Other Darby articles include an attack on the Sierra Club for opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, and a defense of the racist Nevada rancher and militia leader Cliven Bundy.  The website even credits him with helping to defeat Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, who was attacked and defeated by Tea Party candidate Dave Brat.  Brat accused Cantor (one of the most anti-immigrant members of Congress) of possibly favoring legalization for the undocumented.

The original Darby/Breitbart article on the children in detention
<> consists of 42 photographs, with a few paragraphs of text.  All the photographs carry the watermark, "Breitbart Texas Release."  They show children in what appear to be many different rooms, probably in many different centers.  One has the camera or cellphone imprint "HOLD 21:52:12."

Any photographer who has taken photographs in a prison, jail or detention center knows that it is difficult, and often impossible, to show the face of an inmate or detainee.  Yet these photographs are taken by people with completely free access to show not only faces, but also the entire context of the places in which the children are being held.  There is only one group of people who have such unrestricted access:  the Border Patrol itself, and the guards who work for private detention corporations like Geo and CCA.

The article brags about being leaked the photos:  "Breitbart Texas obtained internal federal government photos depicting the conditions of foreign children warehoused by authorities on U.S. soil on Wednesday night."

Breitbart Texas Border Expert and Contributing Editor Sylvia Longmire comments on "exhausted and overwhelmed Border Patrol agents and CBP detention facilities."  She condemns the Obama administration for "releas[ing] them with no obligation other than to show up for a hearing in 15 days.  Most of those released will abscond and never show up for their hearings, taking their chances that ICE won't have the time or resources to go looking for them ... a humiliating example of what our government's inability to develop solid immigration and border security policies can cause."

Another Breitbart article, <> takes credit for creating the media hysteria: "Darby contends that the reason the children are leaving their home country is that 'they know they will not be turned away and that they will be provided for.' Although other outlets attempted to do stories about the invasion, such as the New York Times and NPR, they never really caught on. What Breitbart Texas did was 'obtain 40 internal federal government photos showing the conditions of what exactly the government did with these children.' The images that were released forced everyone on the left and the right to report on the story."

Darby and have been joined by other anti-immigrant organizations with the same message.  Mike Nicley (a former Border Patrol agent now at the nativist Center for Immigration Studies) writes: "The Obama Administration has blamed the overwhelming influx on gang violence and poverty. Hogwash ... Obama's steadfast refusal to enforce our immigration laws is directly responsible for the current 'humanitarian crisis.' Word has spread throughout this hemisphere that America has laid a welcome mat along our southern border."

Nicley gives then gives the story the pro-enforcement spin.  To him the problem isn't the poverty that forces people to leave home, or the fact that the Federal government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other Federal law enforcement agencies and programs combined.  It's the lack of even greater enforcement, and even more money to pay for it:  "Obama could shut the flow down by simply enforcing laws that are already on the books ... The two billion dollars Obama is seeking will only pay for a fraction of the eventual cost to taxpayers."  <>

Carlsen's story shows how the national mainstream media establishment has picked up this refrain.  First, her article explains that the media has picked up the Border Patrol narrative:  "These stories present anecdotal evidence of the thesis that the spike in child migration is due to hopes of being allowed to stay," she charges.

Carlsen discusses the use of stereotypes and lack of context:  "The New York Times, AP and others outlets have been running stories that follow a pattern of emphasizing two general conclusions. One, that parents in the United States are selfishly and irresponsibly encouraging this phenomenon and putting their own children at risk by sending them north and, two, that more children are migrating to the United States because they perceive Obama administration policies and practices as lenient on child migrants and think they have a good chance of staying - even if they get caught.

"Although most of these stories mention conditions of poverty and violence in the places where the children come from, they almost never mention how these places have become so poor and violent, or much less the direct role that U.S. foreign policy has played in making them that way and forcing the children to leave ... Readers were left with the impression that it was the parents' fault, not a system of injustice that stretched from the Andes to the US-Mexico border."

Finally, Carlsen documents the political use of the articles:  "The predictable result of the spate of articles on children migrants is to urge the creation of more detention facilities (potentially good for the private prison industries) and call for an end to releases, as noted in the AP article:  Texas Gov. Rick Perry last week asked that the Department of Homeland Security stop releasing immigrants with notices to appear. On Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asked the same for the hundreds of immigrants, mostly women and children, who in recent weeks have been flown to Arizona from South Texas for processing."

Bob Goodlatte, Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, read from the Border Patrol playbook:  "Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama's lax immigration enforcement policies, and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally. Enforcement at the border and in the interior of the U.S. is crucial to end these kinds of situations, not another bureaucratic task force."

Brandon Darby himself got credit on the floor of Congress.  The Breitbart site crowed:  "In a floor speech on Wednesday evening from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) cited a June 13 story by Brandon Darby reporting Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), warning the Obama administration╒s handling of the influx of Central American youth at U.S.-Mexico border is putting lives of border patrol agents at risk."

The media campaign kicked off by had its predictable effect on the Obama administration.  The White House press secretary's office released a statement, announcing that it would respond with an increase in enforcement:  "The Department of Justice and [Department of Homeland Security] are taking additional steps to enhance enforcement and removal proceedings.  We are surging government enforcement resources to increase our capacity to detain individuals and adults who bring their children with them and to handle immigration court hearings - in cases where hearings are necessary - as quickly and efficiently as possible while also protecting those who are seeking asylum. That will allow ICE to return unlawful migrants from Central America to their home countries more quickly."

The administration further reacted to the media-created idea that migrants are coming to the U.S. because they're attracted by the prospect of immigration reform, despite the fact that there is virtually no chance that the House of Representatives will pass a reform bill.  Vice President Joe Biden went to Central America, where he spoke on the phone to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and "reiterated that arriving migrants will not qualify for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation or deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA)."

Carlsen suggests four immediate demands that migrant rights activists can make, in response to the push to increase enforcement:

1) A return to humane family reunification policies. Not to legalize undocumented children on arrival at the border, but to arrange legal and safe passage for children of U.S. residents who face endangering situations at home.
2) Respect the right to asylum.
3) Create a trade adjustment fund for economic integration and re-negotiate free trade agreements. Now Central American nations have expressed concern that they could lose some 100,000 jobs in the textile sector under the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership. If we do not consider the impact of the so-called "free trade agreements" we will set ourselves up for continuous crisis.
4) Suspend support for abusive military and police forces. US training and equipment has empowered corrupt forces and even organized crime groups. The priority on the drug war has fueled a return of authoritarian power and internecine violence.

A long-term solution also involves looking at proposals put forward by the Dignity Campaign and others, who advocate alternatives to the comprehensive immigration approach taken by Congress <>.  They include:

* Giving permanent residence visas, or green cards, to undocumented people already here, and expanding the number of green cards available for new migrants.
* Eliminating the years-long backlog in processing family reunification visas, strengthening families and communities.
* Prohibiting local law enforcement agencies from enforcing immigration law, ending roadblocks, immigration raids and sweeps, and closing detention centers
* Allowing people to apply for green cards, in the future, after theyhave been living in the U.S. for a few years.
* Ending the enforcement that has led to thousands of deportations and firings
* Repealing employer sanctions, and enforcing labor rights and worker protection laws, for all workers.
* Ending guest worker programs
* Dismantling the border wall and demilitarizing the border, so more people don╒t die crossing it, and restoring civil and human rights in border communities.
* Responding to recession and foreclosures with jobs programs to guarantee income, and remove the fear of job competition
* Redirecting the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to rebuilding communities, refinancing mortgages, and restoring the social services needed by working families.
* Renegotiating existing trade agreements to eliminate causes of displacement and prohibiting new trade agreements that displace people or lower living standards, including military intervention intended to enforce neoliberal reforms.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

An exodus from Central America tests the U.S.

A sympathetic piece on the crisis along the border in TIME Magazine by Michael Scherer. I have this actual issue and it has a graphic that doesn't appear online which shows that the greatest number of unaccompanied minors over time (2009-14; Dept. of Homeland Security Data) by far is not even children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, but rather from MEXICO. It demonstrates, for instance, that in 2009, unaccompanied minors from Mexico equals 16,114 (in comparison to 1,221 from El S., 1,115 from Guatemala, and 968 from Honduras). Fast forward to 2014 and the number of unaccompanied minors from Mexico equals 11,577 (in comparison to 9,850 from El S., 11,479 from Guatemala, 13,282 from Honduras). (The 2014 data are just from the first 8 months of the fiscal year.)

The jump in Central American kids is clearly astronomical—but the literally thousands upon thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico throughout this time period is staggering. I'm learning from other sources that the Mexican children are simply deported while the Central American children appear to have a better, albeit uncertain chance, of remaining in the U.S. This piece further underscores the profitability in trafficking in children that the drug cartels have seized upon.


Flight of the Children

  by Michael Scherer,
from TIME Magazine,
An exodus from Central America tests the U.S.

For the smugglers on the Southern border of the U.S., children are easier and more profitable cargo than grownups. Unlike adults, kids don’t need to evade authorities after they cross the Rio Grande. When they get caught, many are quickly sent to live with relatives already in the U.S. while the courts spend years processing their deportation.
And so in recent weeks the Obama Administration has found itself in a bizarre public relations battle with criminal cartels in Central America, which are enjoying a banner year by charging as much as $8,000 for each child they transport north. Over the past eight months, 34,611 unaccompanied children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have been detained at the U.S. border, more than 10 times the 3,304 figure from those countries in 2009.
The White House believes the cartels are selling false tales of citizenship to vulnerable populations, and aides to California Senator Dianne Feinstein claim to have uncovered evidence of deceptive radio ads promising a safe haven in the U.S. So the State Department has launched its own publicity campaign, and Vice President Joe Biden added a stop in Guatemala after his World Cup tour of Brazil. “We are doing everything we can to make sure that the message is abundantly clear,” says Cecilia Muñoz, the domestic-policy adviser at the White House. At every step, U.S. officials note that proposed immigration reform and recent Executive Orders by President Obama will offer no new sanctuary.
But that message may not matter, given the ample evidence that gaining citizenship is far less of a concern for many of the boys and girls than simply finding safety. For years, those three countries have been consumed by increasing violence by organized gangs, which have grown in power on the back of the drug trade as economic conditions worsen.
Interviews with those captured in the U.S. confirm these horror stories: in one survey, 66% of Salvadoran children, 44% of Honduran children and 20% of Guatemalan children cited criminal violence as their reason for leaving. Nor is the U.S. their only destination. Preliminary statistics from the U.N. find that requests for asylum from the same three countries to nearby Central American nations like Nicaragua, Mexico and Belize increased roughly sevenfold from 2008 to 2013.
If so, the U.S. is unprepared to receive the next round. Obama has opened three military bases to house the arriving children, taking pressure off the overwhelmed shelters, and the Justice Department is trying to round up pro bono lawyers to represent them. Americans are discovering anew the price of failing states in their own backyard.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When we look at migrants, we see our nation’s history

Best piece I've read to date on what to do about the building humanitarian crisis on our border.  Temporary protected status, allowing the newest immigrants, or rather, "war refugees" into our country is a solution, indeed.


Copyright © , Austin American-Statesman, All rights reserved.


Copyright © , Austin American-Statesman, All rights reserved.

When we look at migrants, we see our nation’s history

Although we Texans are a diverse lot, we have all been moved by the plight of the desperate young mothers and vulnerable teenagers arriving our border in recent weeks. Public comments, however, reflect a worrisome lack of information.
 First, we must understand that these new immigrants are not criminals. They are war refugees fleeing the brutal drug wars in their homelands. The cartels of Central America and Mexico have long targeted local adolescents to work for them, and resistance results in death. If we read the statistics, a 15-year-old boy in Honduras would in fact be safer in Syria. Worse yet, the kind of femicide we saw in Juarez, Mexico, is now the norm for women in Central America as well. Parents are sending their children north on the nightmarish train ride because there is no alternative.
 We are prohibited by international law from returning people to a country where they face persecution or torture. This is not a knee-jerk nicety. After all, sending the refugee boat back to Nazi Germany is not one of our more shining moments. There are, however, reasonable solutions. One immediate and time-tested approach would be to grant Temporary Protected Status to persons in danger of harm by the narco-cartels. This would allow the refugees to work to support themselves and remain safe for a few years, when their situation can be re-evaluated. We have done this successfully before. Likewise we should not be shy about calling in the United Nations or the Red Cross to assist us.
 We must also get over the idea that “outsiders” are a bad thing for our country. It’s a pretty silly position for anyone except Native Americans. The Puritans were religious refugees, and most colonists were fleeing either persecution or poverty. Devastating wars and natural disasters brought continuing waves of newcomers, including my father, who was then 11. They survived, thrived, and contributed. This is our national heritage. People who were safe, wealthy and happy in the Old World had no motive to mosey over here. 
Last, many people urge that we increase financial aid to these countries and help establish a more democratic society with a stronger economy. That won’t work. We Americans are the drug consumers, and we spend a pretty penny on these ugly habits. There will always be drug lords as long as we are paying.
 Importantly, we must remember our own disturbing historical role. The people of Central America worked valiantly for basic labor rights, racial equality and educational programs. They were brutally put down by military dictatorships backed by the United States. Declassified documents indicate that in Guatemala, the CIA helped to carry out a bloody military coup in 1954 to oust just such a reformist president. We then continued to fund an army that carried out a well-documented campaign of genocide against its own citizenry.
Some of the bloodiest military officers became involved in the drug trade early on. The Zetas who now terrorize us on the border were armed and trained by Guatemalan Kaibiles, who were in turn armed and trained by, well, us. My husband, a Mayan resistance leader, was tortured to death in Guatemala in the 1990s. One of his torturers, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, appears on the DEA’s corrupt officer list, but was long permitted to reside in the U.S. After all, as public records indicate, he also worked as a paid informant for the CIA. Apparently that puts him and others off limits.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Is bilingual education worth bringing back? LATimes Editorial Board

Answer:  It should never have been done away with in the first place. -Angela
Los Angeles Times Board Editorial             Is Bilingual Education Worth Bringing Back?

A lot has changed since 1998, when Proposition 227 all but wiped out bilingual instruction in California public schools. The matter is due for reconsideration; a bill that passed the state Senate last week would allow that to happen.
SB 1174, by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), would place a measure on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Proposition 227 and allow local school districts to decide whether they want to bring back bilingual education rather than continue with the current system, which aims to move students toward full-time English use as quickly as possible.
Over the last 16 years, academic research has largely found that good bilingual programs are just as effective at teaching English skills, and often slightly better at it, than classes that immerse students in English. Along the way, they also teach students literacy in their native language.
Another reason to consider bilingual education: Shortly after Proposition 227 passed, testing and accountability requirements were imposed on schools. The academic skills of students, including those who aren't fluent in English, are now measured every year. That means that if bilingual education is failing students, that failure will become clear quickly, and schools will face potential disciplinary measures if they don't fix the problem.
A third factor: The globalization of the economy means that bilingualism confers a significant advantage in the work world.
Yet there were good reasons Proposition 227 passed. Bilingual education is more expensive. The state suffered continual shortages of qualified bilingual teachers. Worse, bilingual education was often poorly done. It's important to consider the academic studies that have shown slightly better results for bilingual classes, but remember that those studies involved top-notch programs with outstanding teachers. California's public schools seldom came close to the model, and before Proposition 227, thousands of students were handed diplomas without ever having mastered English.
To persuade voters, supporters of bilingual education will have to demonstrate that they can overcome these obstacles.
Dual immersion programs, a subset of bilingual education in which students from different language backgrounds study in two languages, gaining fluency in both, have often succeeded and are increasingly popular. Such programs exist in California, but they have been small and have involved populations of motivated parents and students. Bringing them up to scale so that they work statewide might be difficult.
These are debates worth having, and SB 1174 would provide the forum for them.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Project-Based Learning Research Review

Project-Based Learning Research Review

Project-based learning reflects real-life situations and therefore helps children and youth to retain that which they learned longer.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"American Indian" or "Native American"?

The angry response by some that the federal ruling that the "Redskins" team trademarks should be canceled is disappointing given that the term is clearly offensive to Native Americans.

On the topic of such self referents as "Indian," "American Indian," or "Native American," they have their own unique, interesting history.  Unfortunately, none of these self referents entirely avoid or sidestep discourses, interests, and agendas of empire and colonization.  

Interesting and important read.


Bismarck, North Dakota (2006)

"American Indian" or "Native American"?

Posted: 4.24.2006

owner and appraiser with Colt pistol A guest at the Bismarck ROADSHOW referred to "Indians" during his conversation with appraiser Brad Witherell (right). But is that the term he should use?
photograph of Russell Means "I abhor the term Native American," says Lakota activist Russell Means.
At the 2005 ROADSHOW in Bismarck, North Dakota, a man brought in a Colt gun made at the turn of the 20th century, and had some dramatic family folklore in tow as well. The gun had apparently belonged to his great-uncle, who in 1902 got into a gunfight; he was, in the words of the present owner, "killed by an Indian." That word — Indian — has often been used, both by guests and appraisers alike, to refer to various indigenous American peoples who crafted objects such as rugs or pots that appear on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW regularly.
There's no doubt that labels, especially as they apply to groups of people, are a very sensitive subject, and sometimes difficult to discuss. Nonetheless, the appraisal in Bismarck caused us to ponder again what are the issues surrounding this particular label and the widely varied group of people it is often used to describe?
Is the term Indian anachronistic, even offensive? What about American Indian? Is the more recent term Native American preferable, or simply more politically correct than proper?
In the 1960s, many people, both non-Indians as well as Indians, challenged the use of the word "Indian." Some argued that it was a term coined by oppressors, and also a misnomer — they were not, after all, the Indians of the East Indies that Columbus thought he had met in the Caribbean. The critics argued further that over the centuries the word had gained a pejorative meaning, often conjuring up images that were simplistic, romanticized and often disparaging that were reinforced by TV serials and Hollywood westerns — think, for instance, of Tonto of the Lone Ranger series.
Is one more correct than the other ... and why?
These cultural critics suggested substituting the term Native American for Indian. They maintained that Native American was also more accurate, as one meaning of native was "being the original inhabitants of a particular place," as Native Americans were.
But despite the supposed political correctness of Native American, it has not become the preferred term. "The acceptance of Native American has not brought about the demise of Indian," according to the fourth edition of the American Heritage Book of English Usage, published in 2000. "Unlike Negro, which was quickly stigmatized once black became preferred, Indian never fell out of favor with a large segment of the American population."
Nor did the word Indian fall out of favor with the people it described. A 1995 Census Bureau survey that asked indigenous Americans their preferences for names (the last such survey done by the bureau) found that 49 percent preferred the term Indian, 37 percent Native American, and 3.6 percent "some other name." About 5 percent expressed no preference.
Moreover, a large number of Indians actually strongly object to the term Native American for political reasons. In his 1998 essay "I Am An American Indian, Not a Native American!", Russell Means, a Lakota activist and a founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), stated unequivocally, "I abhor the term 'Native American.'" He continues:
It is a generic government term used to describe all the indigenous prisoners of the United States. These are the American Samoans, the Micronesians, the Aleuts, the original Hawaiians, and the erroneously termed Eskimos, who are actually Upiks and Inupiaqs. And, of course, the American Indian.
I prefer the term American Indian because I know its origins. ... As an added distinction the American Indian is the only ethnic group in the United States with the American before our ethnicity.
At an international conference of Indians from the Americas held in Geneva, Switzerland, at the United Nations in 1977 we unanimously decided we would go under the term American Indian. "We were enslaved as American Indians, we were colonized as American Indians, and we will gain our freedom as American Indians and then we can call ourselves anything we damn please."
Yet others argue that neither term should be used, because they both blur the differences between various Indian peoples. In her essay "What's in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness," Christina Berry, a Cherokee writer, argues that people should avoid the terms Indian and Native American:
In the end, the term you choose to use (as an Indian or non-Indian) is your own personal choice. ... Very few Indians that I know care either way. The recommended method is to refer to a person by their tribe, if that information is known. The reason is that the Native peoples of North America are incredibly diverse. It would be like referring to both a Romanian and an Irishman as European. It's true that they are both from Europe, but their people have very different histories, cultures, and languages. The same is true of Indians. The Cherokee are vastly different from the Lakota, the Dine, the Kiowa, and the Cree, but they are all labeled Native American. So whenever possible an Indian would prefer to be called a Cherokee or a Lakota or whichever tribe they belong to. This shows respect because not only are the terms Indian, American Indian, and Native American an over simplification of a diverse ethnicity, but you also show that you listened when they told what tribe they belonged to. ... What matters in the long run is not which term is used but the intention with which it is used.
See the Bismarck, North Dakota (2006) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
For more by the essayists cited above, see:
"What's in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness," by Christina Berry.
"I Am An American Indian, Not a Native American!," by Russell Means.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Piketty’s Triumph

Piketty’s Triumph

Check out this piece in the American Prospect.  We should all consider getting our hands on Thomas Piketty’s  influential,  best-selling, magisterial text, Capital in the 21st Century.

Analyzing 20 countries as far back as the eighteenth century, he uncovers key social and economic patterns  that ultimately leads him to advocate for a global taxation of capital.

The main culprit is that returns on capital overwhelmingly tend to exceed the rate of economic growth and this threatens to lead to social unrest and undermine democratic values.

He has obviously created a big stir in economic and political circles even as this  600+-page tome is already getting characterized as one of the most important reads of the century.


Monday, June 16, 2014

You know Piketty is onto something when everyone’s trying to prove him wrong

I'm with Ford Foundation President Darren Walker on the response to Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

But what troubles me most about the FT’s [Financial Times] approach to its Piketty critique is not that the paper raked through the data sets. That’s fair enough. It’s the implicit assertion—assuming Picketty is wrong and inequality is marginally less severe today than it was during the Industrial Revolution—that beating a 200-year-old standard of inequality is a major accomplishment that we should feel good about. 


You know Piketty is onto something when everyone’s trying to prove him wrong

During the last several weeks, Thomas Piketty’s magisterial Capital in the Twenty-First Century has earned great protestation on the heels of great praise. As the hits keep coming, I am reminded of the experience of another courageous, insightful truth-teller: Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose work the Rockefeller Foundation supported when I served there for much of the 2000s.

Many will remember that Pachauri and the IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president Al Gore. Earlier that year, the panel’s so-called Fourth Assessment Report was the very first to demonstrate “unequivocally,” in its phrasing, that human activity is warming our world with worsening consequences.

And yet, by 2010 a number of pundits had taken to the talk shows and opinion pages—from the Financial Times to the New York Timescalling for his resignation.

What was Pachauri’s impeachable offense? After countless false recriminations and abundant sound and fury, there were two quibbles of merit. Among the more than 18,000 references cited in the IPCC’s 2,800-page assessment, one overestimated the speed at which Himalayan glaciers are melting (for which the IPCC later apologized) and another included a typo in the percentage of the Netherlands that lies beneath sea level. From there, the “climate-gate” juggernaut had all the fuel it needed to drive lingering doubt about climate change into our political consciousness and public conversation.

It’s understood that translating data into meaningful insights requires a number of interpretative decisions, to say nothing of rigorous peer review. No one pretends that these interpretive choices of data handling are without some subjectivity. What matters with data-driven scholarship like Pachauri’s and now Piketty’s is how transparent the scholar’s choices are, and how fair and defensible the resulting conclusions.

This is why it is worth nothing that when Piketty responded directly to criticisms in the Financial Times a few weeks ago, he expressed openness about his choices, honesty about the certainties and shortcomings of his conclusions, and fidelity to a full and free exchange of ideas. In this regard, Pachauri and Piketty are scholarly kindred spirits.

What worries me is not the existence of debate about Pachauri’s or Piketty’s research. What worries me is the willful insistence that something must be wrong with the data because critics don’t like the conclusions of the researcher.

In other words, what worries me is an intense feeling of déjà vu all over again.

For years, climate-change deniers—many of them supported by powerful interests—ginned up false controversy in order to erode the credibility of climatology. Following the tobacco industry’s tried and true tactics of the 1970s, a climate-crisis-denial industrial complex sowed skepticism to distract from, and ultimately derail, important conversations about solutions.

As a result, we have lost years of opportunity. We are a decade nearer to environmental and human catastrophe, but hardly any closer to a response befitting the scale of the crisis.

I would like to think that a similar pattern of discrediting and delay could not unfold again. I would like to think that our lived experience with widening disparity—reinforced by clear and compelling data—will keep inequality-denial at bay.

But what troubles me most about the FT’s approach to its Piketty critique is not that the paper raked through the data sets. That’s fair enough. It’s the implicit assertion—assuming Picketty is wrong and inequality is marginally less severe today than it was during the Industrial Revolution—that beating a 200-year-old standard of inequality is a major accomplishment that we should feel good about.

As president of a foundation dedicated to advancing fairness, opportunity and rights, I am regularly disheartened by the ingenious and insidious methods by which the well-being and aspirations of ordinary people are undermined by those with power. Far from being persuaded by the arguments of inequality deniers, the message I take away is that we remain tragically far from where we should be in fulfilling the universal human yearning for justice and dignity.

Given that inequality and climate change are two of the most significant challenges to humanity in this century, it is critical we see the debates surrounding them for what they truly are: enormous struggles over power and possibility. It is up to of us to snap out of the déjà vu, recognize we have been here before, and change course.

We welcome your comments at

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s First Afro-Indian President

This is such an important story about Mexico that all of our children should know.  Vicente Guerrero was an Afro-Indian who became Mexico's first African-Indian President.  The series of events that followed his brief tenure as president, including his execution by right-wing leadership, ultimately led to the revered Benito Juarez becoming Mexico's first Indian president. Among his key reforms was abolishing slavery as per the Guerrero decree in 1829 for which he paid dearly with his life.

Anglo Texans (or "Texians," as they were called)  a few years later waged war against Mexico in the so-called battle for "Independence" with the idea of preserving slavery in the South.  For these reasons and despite its location in the center of the country and its identification as a Southwestern state, Texas is also a Southern state.

So the U.S. owes much to Mexico in the struggle against slavery—and to heroes like Vicente Guerrero and before him, the father of the Mexican War of Independence, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla who declared an end to slavery much earlier in 1810.

Here is a good link on Texas and slavery:
The southern state of Guerrero in Mexico is named after President Vicente Guerrero—and appropriately so since the name means "warrior."  As for Guerrero, it has also seen its share of revolutionaries.

There is so much more to this, but this piece is a good start.  Important, fascinating history.

Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s First Afro-Indian President

The Berkeley Daily Planet article, "Mexico’s First Black President," by Ted Vincent, on 18 February 2009:

Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s first black president
Barak Obama admires Abraham Lincoln. Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s first black president, was his nation’s Lincoln. In 1829 he issued Mexico’s slavery abolition decree (which led a few years later to Texas slave holders taking Texas out of Mexico).

Obama and Lincoln are known for building coalitions. Guerrero built one when he was commander-in-chief of the Mexican army during the last three years of Mexico’s exhaustive 1810-1821 war for independence from Spain. Key actions by Guerrero to end the war were his spread of letters to Mexican officers who had been hired to fight for Spain. He convinced many that opportunity awaited if they switched sides. His subsequent team of rivals brought victory and made Guerrero Mexico’s Washington as well as Lincoln—he also created the basic design for the flag.

After the war Guerrero had to be personable to win over influential Mexicans who looked with disdain upon him for having Afro-Indio roots and for being a mule driver by trade—the occupation of his father and uncles. In those years muleteers were very plentiful in Mexico, thanks in part to Spain’s reluctance to pay to create roads for carts and carriages. A history of the drivers describes them being considered unpleasant rowdies by the well-to-do, but welcomed in rural villages for bringing the news of the day, latest songs and the latest jokes about authority figures. Mule trains often convoyed contraband. From this profession came many a fighter for Mexico in the war with Spain.

Guerrero was a descendant of the roughly 250,000 enslaved Africans brought to Mexico during colonial times. Part indigenous, he was raised in an Indio barrio in the mountain town of Tixtla in the state that carries his name. During the 1810 war his knowledge of native languages helped the future president rise in rank. In villages he organized the community for the war effort, often using a speech in which he praised the Indio political system of elected councils and chiefs, while asking for allegiance to the fight for “the bigger democracy” at the state level.

During his presidency, Guerrero’s penchant for telling jokes and sprinkling his speech with native words annoyed members of the refined social elite. But for a time he had to be tolerated. Guerrero came out of the war with an immense following, notable for the Indios he had recruited into the fight. In 1828 he and a brilliant but consumptive cocaine addict, Ignacio Esteva, created the first “People’s Party” in Mexico and its followers put Guerrero in the presidency in April 1829.

President Guerrero was known for eloquence, as displayed in his first speech to congress, “If we succeed in spreading the guarantees of the individual, if equality before the law destroys the efforts of power and gold, if the highest title between us is that of citizen, if the rewards we bestow are exclusively for talent and virtue, we have a republic, and she will be conserved by the universal suffrage of a people solid, free and happy.”

Guerrero wanted his presidency to reflect the broad coalition built during the 1810 war. He allowed political centrists and conservatives to dominate his cabinet, and he accepted as Vice President Anastacio Bustamante who had spent most of the independence war in the uniform of Spain. Left-wing supporters of Guerrero criticized the president’s cabinet and other choices, and in the manner that Barak Obama has questioning friends who are more racially oriented than he, so too did Guerrero have his. One was Isidorio Montesdeoca, an Afro-Filipino campesino who became a general under Guerrero during the independence war. He called Guerrero’s references to racial equality achieved by asking everyone be judged by his or her “merits and virtues,” wishful thinking in a country where many powerful people didn’t believe blacks or Indios had merits and virtues. Moreover, argued Guerrero’s critics from the left, congress had made it near impossible to organize against racial injustice through their passage of Law No. 310 that, though ostensibly in the spirit of equality, prohibited mention of anyone’s race in any public document or in the records of the parish church. One consequence of this law has been that knowledge of the racial attitude of the elite toward Guerrero’s African roots are relegated to private letters and anonymous pamphlets against “the black,” and many a modern history identifies him merely as of “peasant”or “laboring-class” background.

The political coalition Guerrero built fractured six months into his office, not from abandonment by the left, but by the right. His abolition of slavery, his promotion of a wider suffrage and his imposition of a stiff progressive tax code cost him most of his few upper-class supporters—including two cabinet members. In 1830 the conservatives rebelled, and led by Vice President Bustamante, they drove Guerrero from the capital. Most of the president’s progressive legislation was rescinded, but not the abolition of slavery, which had wide public support.

In a subsequent civil war Guerrero was captured and assassinated by Bustamante hirelings, who included an Italian sea captain who kidnapped the president in Acapulco harbor and delivered him to a Cuban mercenary in Huatulco, who passed him to the son of a Spaniard who had been a general for Spain in the independence war. At a mock trial in Oaxaca the first judge resigned during the opening day, claiming illness. Bustamante ordered execution but feared an uprising if it happened in the city of Oaxaca. Guerrero was taken to a small town, where the mayor had fled and the priest who was scheduled to conduct the last rights was also missing. In last words to the firing squad, Guerrero said that whatever he had done, it was in the interest of Mexico.

The execution infuriated many, including moderates, and Bustamante had to make peace with Guerrero’s lieutenants, who controlled the Pacific region from Puerto Vallarta down past Acapulco to the black town of Cuijinicuilapa. An unusual political accord granted the Guerreroistas autonomy on condition they never attack the capital. Over the years the close aide of Guerrero, the Afro-Acapulcan Juan Alvarez wrote and spread many diatribes against the elite, some of which are still in print today. In 1855 Alvarez broke the peace pact, marched on Mexico City, overthrew dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and became Mexico’s second black president. He included in his cabinet Benito Juarez, the pure-Zapotecan lawyer, who in his youth had campaigned for the election of Guerrero, and who later served twelve years as president and champion of liberal causes.

Guerrero’s one offspring, Dolores, trained her children in the politics of her father, with whom she had been close. Her sons, Vicente and Carlos, became state governors under Juarez, son Jose a general and daughter Javiera, though prohibited from holding office, was significant enough behind the scenes to warrant a large statue. Generations of politicians and intellectuals poured from the family, including today’s prominent journalist Raymundo Riva Palacio. His writings include a 1987 anthology of his articles condemning the U.S. funding of the Contras against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

Today, the National Museum of History in Chapultepec Park honors only one family with its genealogical tree depicted on a wall, the family begun by Vicente Guerrero and his wife Guadalupe Hernandez.

Two other presidents of Mexico had known African heritage: Juan Almonte fought in the independence war and at the Alamo on the Mexican side. He turned conservative and his brief term as president is considered a bad one for the nation. Lazaro Cardenas was a key figure in the 1910 revolution. As president nationalized oil and issued sweeping land reform. A popular biography notes in the opening paragraph that his grandfather was “a mulato.”

The original of Guerrero’s address to congress reads, “If we succeed in protecting the rights of the individual, if equality under the law destroys the forces of power and money, if the primary title we use amongst ourselves is that of ‘citizen,’ if rewards are given exclusively for talent and virtue, then we have a republic, and it will be preserved through the universal suffrage of a solidly free and content people.”

Ted Vincent is author of The Legacy of Vicente Guerrero: Mexico’s First Black Indian President, published by University Press of Florida in 2001.