Archive for the ‘Culture and movies’ Category

Any work that can be codified and subject to algorithms will probably be automated. So, accounting will go but financial advice will not. This makes the benefits of liberal arts education even more important than it’s ever been. Critical thinking, good communication skills, and the ability to collaborate is what will make people employable in this new automated economy.

But a world with more and more jobs performed by computers and robots will mean fewer and fewer jobs where liberal arts skills are prioritized. And that means that there will be a fierce competition for those jobs. The question then becomes, who will have those jobs? Will they go primarily to white men of upper class background? As it stands now, universities like LIU and Fordham will be under assault by these abstract and structural forces, but the ivies most likely are not. The question for students today is ‘Who will have access to those elite critical thinking positions in the future?’ That is what makes places like CUNY, LIU, and Fordham so important. That is where immigrants, women, minorities, and working class people can acquire the education to challenge the monochromatic elite that relies on a ‘meritocracy’ and on liberal arts education to manage and lead in this emerging automated economy.

franklin-institute-robots-baxter-daryl-peveto-940x540

We are not yet able to replace most jobs with computers and robots.

Robots have a limited ability to perceive and reason about their surroundings.  Computers have made huge advances in automating those human tasks that can be well described by a set of rules.  But, despite continuing advances in AI, the challenges of applying computers and robots to tasks requiring flexibility, judgment, and common sense are still quite large. 

The reason is that our actions are guided by two very different kinds of knowledge.  Explicit knowledge is formal, codified, and can be readily explained to people and captured in a computer program.   Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is the kind of knowledge we are often not aware we have, and is therefore difficult to transfer to another person, let alone to a machine.  Tacit knowledge is generally learned through personal interactions and practical experiences.  Everyday examples include speaking a language, riding a bike, driving a car, and easily recognizing many different objects and animals.” 

But the push in the modern capitalist economy is to replace humans. Machines don’t get sick, need vacation or health benefits, and can work around the clock.  Thus, we have little time. While we wait for these things to happen, we should minimize the impact on our ways of life and on social equity. More machine-based work should mean that we humans benefit from greater productivity and wealth. Those surpluses should be used to make our lives better. We should work a lot less than we do now and enjoy those economic benefits more broadly in society. And we should make sure that those who rise to the remaining high education jobs, that will command this robotic economy, are representative of our diverse society. Anything less will make these emerging automatizing trends a true nightmare. The battlefield in this war between robots and humans begins with a fierce competition for the remaining, elite, critical thinking jobs.

The key is that whether computers and robots take most of our jobs sooner rather than much later, the struggle to define who will feel the brunt of this economic revolution is beginning to take place now…in the university. The corporatization of the university represents a tangled struggle, on one side, with those who want to educate everyone to become critical thinkers, able to judge and take action about these economic changes. On the other side are those who see no reason to “waste” precious resources on those who have not “need” or “ability” to reach those stratified heights. The latter are working class, minority, and immigrant students who should be happy to accept careers as technicians in this economy rather than as leaders and judges of how the economy can best move forward. Better to train them for jobs as bookkeepers, retail sales and health technologists, even if those jobs are likely to disappear. They have little support for giving that population an education they can only use to lead in this new automated economy as well as to challenge the accepted public agenda that there is very little we can do to ensure life is just and equitable for all.

Probability that robots will take jobs

Not all the players in this struggle have a firm and conscious understanding of what lies ahead. They are not meeting behind closed doors to coordinate their efforts. But they most certainly have bought into Neo-liberal austerity policies, whose bony hands land heaviest and most destructively on the working classes and minority population. They are also more likely to accept the idea that the automation of the economy is not only inevitable but one whose impact is impossible to soften with public policy.

 

 

I have always thought that there was a distinct difference in the way that African Americans and Latinos experienced racism in the U.S. Europeans wanted black bodies, both to exploit and to perceive them as sexual and powerful animals. Europeans saw Latinos, in contrast, as people occupying land that they wanted. Latinos had to be pushed off, physically and metaphorically, from the land they cherished. That difference produces different kinds of interactions for each group. Whites interaction with blacks is both more intimate and more deadly. You cannot possess another’s body without doing serious damage to them. Whites interact with Latinos mostly by not seeing them, by ignoring them, by wanted to wall them off (a la Trump), and by hoping that they just disappear, even when they rebel and become violent (as this article below suggests).

https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/04/the-forgotten-history-of-latino-riots/522570/?utm_source=twb

As the author claims:

One common element in these disturbances was a perception that problems in the Latino community were being overshadowed by problems in black neighborhoods, or by other Latinos. In the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami in December 1990, hundreds of young Puerto Rican residents took to the streets after the acquittal of six police officers who beat a drug dealer to death. One resident, Clemente Montalvo, told the New York Times, “We want people to know we exist. Cubans get everything; we get nothing.

Uprising, New Jersey: Rioters in Newark on September 1, 1974, after a Puerto Rican festival at Branch Brook Park. The 1970s saw the greatest number of Latino civil disturbances, according to Fountain, Jr.’s research. (AP Photo/DL)

This was the Latino story in Puerto Rico, the Southwest, Central American countries like Panama and Honduras, and Latin American countries like Bolivia. Everywhere, Latinos were an inconvenient presence. Difficult to work and live with. But needing to be removed if American was going to achieve it’s Manifest Destiny.

How much are we worth? I am not referring to monetary value. Those kinds of calculations are best left to actuaries and class action lawyers. I am referring to the impression we make on others. Do people look our way when we enter a room or just ignore us? Do people listen to us? Do people take us seriously? Are we respected?

We all have moments when we believe, correctly or not, that we are being ignored. Sometimes we just feel invisible. Some would argue that being ignored, shunned, or given the silent treatment is one of the worst things one can experience.

Sometimes we want to be invisible. But what if feeling invisible happens too often? And what if being invisible is true not just of us as individuals but as a group, as Ellison’s Invisible Man understood? Latinos often feel like we, as a community, are not often noticed. That feeling is often not easy to document. It’s almost impossible to prove the lack of something, what does not exist.

We do know, however, that the media ignores our accomplishments, culture, concerns, needs, and leadership. We know that we complain about garbage, crime, dilapidated housing, and poor schools all the time. We know that nothing happens until hipsters move into our community to ignite our displacement. We know that we are not only ignored in life…but also in death. We know this especially when others point to whom they give worth and attention… and leave us out.

On December 23, 2015, the New York Times again published a list of notable dead in 2015 and, again, barely mentioned Latinos. Out of the 34 dead featured in long and short obituaries, only one was a Latino. That was A$ap Yams, a producer/promoter of rap music. Yams’ main contribution was making the newcomer A$ap Rocky into “New York’s most exciting rapper in a generation” (NY Times, Magazine December 23, 2015). The Times admitted Asap Rockythat A$ap Yams was a “20-something nobody” who made “another 20-something nobody into a star.” So why did they include Yams in their compilation? Because, they write, he was a “cultural polyglot” who used the internet to figure out what “15-year olds were into.”

A$ap Yams, born Steven Rodriguez, was an interesting young man. He had great creative potential. He would have certainly made a bigger splash in the music business had he lived beyond his 26 years. But his insertion in this Times compilation happened because a white audience was impressed by his ability to get young people to like the violent and explicit lyrics of the music he produced. He titillated white music listeners.

A$ap was Dominican and Puerto Rican. But he did not get into this Times death issue because he represented Latino culture.  Nor was his presence in this issue likely to encourage others to pay more attention to Latino culture and music. Latinos have been involved in Hip Hop music from the very beginning and continue to make contributions to this music style. But it is not perceived to be a significant part of Latino culture.

Yes, the Times had to make choices. They only published 34 death stories in the magazine. Thus, who they left out is as important as who they included. There was limited space, after all. Their choices reflected priorities and vision. But it is absurd to think that there were few notable Latino deaths in 2015 that compared to those the Times included.

Just looking at the 2015 deaths in January alone, I found several significant Latino deaths in that one month. This included the radical Chicano preacher Reies Lopez Tijerina who helped lead a group that tried to take over a small New Mexico courthouse in 1967. This Chicano raiding party tried to liberate Chicano prisoners who had been arrested in a land grant dispute as well as to place the district attorney under citizen’s arrest. The land had been taken from their ancestors by Spain and Mexico, then legalized by the U.S. after acquiring the territory.

Tijerina became known as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Chicano rights movement, along with Cesar Chavez,, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and Jose Angel Gutierrez.” Tijerina died on January 19, 2015. Certainly his story is worth reporting and remembering?

Nipón Sevilla, the Cuban born, but Mexican based, movie actress and dancer died on January 1, 2015. Sevilla, whose real name was Emelia Pérez Castellans, had a long and stellar career performing in scores of Mexican movies from the 1940s till the 1990s. She was highly regarded and received the “Silver Goddess Award “Dolores del Río” in 2009, for her film career, and in 2014 she received a homage by the MeNinon Sevillaxican Academy of Art and Cinema-tographic Sciences and the National Film Archives, for her career and influence in cinema.”

 

Mexican movies made vital cultural contributions to almost every Latin American country during a time, from the 1930s to 1960s, when Hollywood provided little that resonated with Latino culture and history. This Golden Age of Mexican cinema brought Latino sensibilities to the screen. Latinos from Bogota to Buenos Aires to the South Bronx and Brooklyn sat in dark theaters watching Mexican films starring Cantinflas as well as Sevilla and others. A vezes una de mi tias me llevaba a ver peliculas Mexicana en un teatro en el Bronx cuando yo era un nino. So, Sevilla definitely had a lasting impact on Latinos from all over the world.

Corrupt politicians in Mexico must have also been pleased to see that journalist Julio Scherer García died on January 7, 2015. García helped to expose some of the most important scandals in Mexican history. This included

probing a secret army unit set up to combat guerrillas, a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account of a president’s brother, and official involvement in the assassination of a journalist.”

Scherer Garcia riled corrupt presidents, wrote more than 20 books about Mexican politics, won Columbia University’s prestigious Maria Moors Cabot in 1971, and was so respected by most Mexicans that, in 1994, “the Zapatista rebels invited Mr. Scherer to participate with a Catholic bishop and the Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu as intermediaries in a dialogue with the Mexican government.” Certainly the paper that prints the news that is “fit to print” should have recognized the importance of the journalistic work done by Julio Sherer Garcia.

The reason we should be concerned about the Times omitting worthy Latino deaths is not just that we may want to satisfy our own vanity or cultural and nationalistic pride. The Times sends out messages by these lists and who is in it. They devote an entire issue of their Magazine because they think it is important for their audience to know who these people were.  They are, thus, telling their readers who they consider worthy.

There are many more notable Latino deaths in 2015. The three individuals above were only a few of the hundreds of notable Latinos who died in 2015. The Times is also not the only paper that ignores Latinos in life and death. Both analog and digital media and news sources have done a very poor job of reporting on the Latino and minority communities of the U.S. The Times, however, possesses a special prestige, top recognition, and authority in the U.S.

The Times’ “The Lives They Lived” issue sends subtle but devastating messages to teachers, journalists, researchers, students, politicians, and especially to our Latino community about who to admire and respect. The Times’ omissions will have a negative impact on the Latino public image. Their exclusion from the list of notables reinforces discriminatory beliefs and practices, weakens social mobility, limits economic opportunities as well as political participation, and, ultimately, dampens Latino social and political power.

Is the Times aware of the negative impact of their choices? Can’t tell from their short intro. They wrote only about “Remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year“. There is no discussion of how they deliberated and made their choices. It likely that the omission of Latinos reflects the linguistic and cultural limits of current Times management and reporting.

The Times is simply not connected to Latino leaders, institutions, and community.  Latinos do not appear in their existing corporate leadership, networks, college alumni groups, or neighborhoods. And that reflects the extremely limited presence of Latinos on the Times editorial, reporting, and governing boards. There are no Latinos, for instance, among their ten top executives. Out of the 14 members on their Board of Directors, only one is Latino, an Argentinian corporate mogul, Raul E. Cesar, who has directed U.S. corporations since 1977.

The news staff at the Times is also lacking.  They were sued in 2015 for racial discrimination. That lawsuit, claiming that over 30 minority journalists were fired because of their race and age, is not yet settled. However, the overall numbers do not look good. As of 2015, only 19% of their newsroom employees are minority. This compares unfavorably to other newspapers like The Washington Post which has 31% and Newsday which has 26.5%.

The reality is that even these numbers are suspect since they do not address the lack of support, opportunities, and respect that minority journalists often experience on the job. Diversity programs, like the one the Times has, are often used to mask discrimination and a real lack of diversity.

Why do Latinos get ignored? Much of it is due to class, race, policy decisions, as well as the segregation of Latinos from the mainstreams of American life. The New York Times takes note of A$ap Jams because he appeared on their radar. He produced Hip Hop and not Latin Music.  He was interviewed in English-dominant journals, newspapers, and media. The Times actually wrote an obituary of Yams when he died in January 2015. He was in their networks and memory banks.

Interestingly, even A$apYams thought he and his crew had been ignored and dismissed by the music business. In a 2014 interview, he stated “We still don’t get the props that we deserve as a legitimate record label, despite us releasing two debut albums from two new artists in a six months time span that were both top five albums on Billboard, which is a crying shame.” The shame continues for Latinos in general…the shame that we continue to accept being ignored, shunned, and disrespected… in life and in death.

Bringing the Iraq and Afghan Wars Home

to Latino and African American Communities

By José Ramon Sánchez (April 7, 2013)

 

The Iraq and Afghan wars reintroduced the use of torture to extract information from captives as well as the use of drones and other new technologies of surveillance and attack. The Obama Administration has done less of the former and more of the latter. But largely missed in discussions of these issues is the extent to which these new technologies, even torture to some extent, have become an increasing part of the government’s efforts to control minority communities inside the U.S. In more ways than we care to see, the lessons of war in Iraq are being imported back into the U.S.

 

The Iraq and Afghan wars had a tremendous impact on political policy. The first very important reason is that those wars exposed the deep ironic vulnerability of the U.S., as the world’s only superpower. Terrorist enemies can skirt around the superpower’s vast and deep capabilities and often flummox its efforts to dominate. Terrorists have always operated in an uneven, asymmetrical, and unorthodox terrain. They wear no uniforms, have no standing armies or clear command structures, and can be found anywhere. They are also now globally dispersed and armed with conventional weapons.

 

Terrorists can also make themselves formidable opponents by simply making use of the technologies developed by the Superpower. They easily armed themselves with modern technologies like computers and cell phones in order to coordinate and send destruction almost anywhere. All of this blunts the effectiveness of the U.S.’s mighty armed forces as well as limits the usefulness of its expensive and deadly weapons. Modern terrorists have exposed the loneSuperpower’s Achilles’ heel and compelled their determined political leaders to turn to unlawful and, largely, unproductive strategies to diminish the terrorist advantage.

 

Second, the reality is that the “war on terror” is not really a war and cannot be settled by the use of overwhelming force. Terrorist movements can last forever and can impose a great cost to the blood and treasure of the superpower. They spring, for the most part, from the weakness of a population that views itself colonized and suppressed. For these reasons, the U.S. has resorted increasingly to technological methods of combat. Since these methods are supposedly cheaper and don’t endanger American troops, they can, theoretically, also be used forever.

 

The third and most important contribution from the Iraq and Afghan wars is the policy of pre-emption. The U.S. launched its war against Iraq because it claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But the Bush Administration actually lied and manipulated the United Nations, the U.S. Congress, and the American people into believing this charge was true. It did so primarily because the Bush Administration was flooded with a group of war minded ideologues called the Neo-Cons (Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and others). This bunch had pushed a plan since the early 1990s totopple Saddam as part of a grand strategy to reshape the politics of the Middle East. The philosophical and political principle behind this strategy was called “preemption.”

 

All three of these products of the Iraq and Afghan wars are becoming increasingly evident in the strategies now being used to contain minority communities within U.S. cities and to “close the borders” to Latino migrants. The strategies for fighting and containing terrorist threats now being used inside the U.S. has incurred opposition from both the right and the left. Most of these concerns have been over the threats to freedom posed by these strategies. But there are other, equally important, reasons to be concerned. Though it is not yet fully apparent, I believe that very similar strategies are also being deployed today in efforts to control racial minorities in the U.S.

 

Superpower’s Ironic Vulnerability

 

U.S. political leaders should have learned what al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden learned from the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Big superpowers have a very difficult time stopping and containing guerilla and terrorist movements, especially on their home turf and in rugged terrain. The Soviets learned it the hard way by suffering defeat at the hands of tribal and rebel opposition in their disastrous nine-year war in Afghanistan. The U.S. should have learned it too since it helped to defeat the Soviets by arming the rebels, including Osama Bin Laden. The Bush administration compounded the problem.

 

Osama explained how easy it was for al Qaeda to use the 9/11 attack to “provoke” the Bush “administration and to drag it [to us]” to fight a “war of attrition” and “to make America bleed profusely.” Thus, the evidence suggests very strongly that the attack of 9/11 was launched as part of al Qaeda’s plan to lure the U.S. to fight a major war in the Middle East against terrorists. They believed that such a war would give al Qaeda an advantage, weaken the U.S., and eventually cause the U.S. to collapse because the war would be too costly, in blood and treasure, to the U.S. They were not far wrong.

 

Similar field-leveling conditions now exist in the U.S. with regards to border security. The boundary with Mexico has always been porous, but more so since the creation of NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement opened up the borders between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada beginning in 1994. But it did so primarily for goods and capital. That policy, however, severely disrupted Mexico’s economy. The result is that Mexicans and other Central Americans uprooted from the countryside by new foreign investments and the collapse of the peasant economy have had few options but to try their luck in the U.S. The addition of the drug trade and its concomitant violence simply accelerated theforced migration process.

 

These efforts to close the borders, however, have produced no real results. Only the 2008 economic recession in the U.S. put any dent in the flow of people across the border. That migration has proven as impossible to contain as the terrorist uprising in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the solutions have, as a result, become very similar. Militarizing the border, new surveillance technologies, electrified fences, and physical barriers have all been deployed along the Mexican border. They have not contained the migration but they have caused death and hardship to many migrants. But, perhaps, the biggest similarity is in the use of detention facilities to remove migrants from society while the government decides what to do with them.

 

Like the thousands of “unlawful enemy combatants” held hostage in U.S. bases like Guantanamo, these “illegal aliens” are mostly Latino, not criminals, and held hostage in numerous federal detention facilities all around the country without judicial processing, often for years. Recent reports indicate that these migrants have also been subject to torture. Large numbers of migrants have often been placed in solitary confinement for weeks and months at a time. As a result, between 2003 and 2012, 110 migrants died while held in U.S. detention centers.

 

In Iraq, the U.S. government resorted to private corporate security forces, not subject to legal and government oversight, to provide security, services, as well as to protect high value locations and individuals. One of the biggest beneficiaries of these government contracts was Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and subsidiary corporations. These companies fed at the federal government trough with inflated contracts, performed poorly, and were found to be largely rotting from corruption on the inside.

 

The U.S. has similarly “outsourced” the detention of undocumented Latinos and others to private contractors. These private corporations enter into agreements with local and state governments who provide the prison space. The local community usually enters into these agreements seeking to remedy local economic problems. They see these prisons as an opportunity to make “money for nothing.” But the reality is that the corporation has little financial risk and usually makes enormous profits from the ill-equipped and badly maintained immigrant detention facilities they operate.

 

Hard to Control the Insurgents

 

Clearly, racial and ethnic minorities do not pose any serious threat to destroy or weaken the U.S. the way radical Islamic insurgents or terrorists do. But one major similarity includes the fact that the U.S. could not control the Iraq insurgency with brute force. Brute force actually fueled the insurgency. Similarly, stronger border enforcement did not end the migration of Latinos across those borders. In fact, the U.S. continues to fuel that migration by disrupting the economies and the politics of Latin American nations as well as by demanding the cheap and disposable labor those Latinos provide toAmerican industries.

 

There are some additional contemporary political and economic realities in the U.S. that create a potential for future radicalization and a threat to the perceived sense of security among some sectors of this society. Many economists have argued that the current economic reality appears to be a permanent rather than a typical cyclical downturn. This has made the growing economic inequality and persistent poverty in the U.S. also seem permanent and hard to eradicate. This potential for a revolt fueled by both growing inequality and racism has encouraged many urban police forces to develop harsh, desperate, and paranoid policies for policing minority communities.

 

Whether or not economic decline produces unrest is, perhaps, not as important as the belief that it will. Many policy experts have been predicting just that for a number of years. Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, for instance, predicted that sooner or later there would be serious “social unrest from the income disparities in the U.S.” Newsweek reported that, in response to the economic decline and inequality, Americans were beginning to show not just “sadness and frustration, but also an inchoate rage.” Even Moody, the financial corporation, made global predictions that “future tax rises and spending cuts could trigger social unrest in a range of countries from the developing to the developed world.” And the U.S. War College issued a policy paper in 2008warning that the emerging “unforeseen economic collapse,” could lead to “domestic resistance” and the “loss of functioning political and legal order” producing “widespread civil violence.”

 

Thus, rising inequality in the U.S., continued forced migration from Latin America, fear of minority unrest in the U.S., as well as the need by U.S. police forces to justify their budgets in a time of cutbacks have all created a ramped up effort to try to contain minority communities in the U.S. with radical new military technologies. That these efforts, like those against insurgents in Iraq, will ultimately prove fruitless also seems to be understood to some extent. Witness the crass title of one Economist article on this issue. In September of 2011, The Economist titled an article on drug related violence and migration in Mexico as “Herding Cockroaches.”

 

Focus on Pre-emption Rather than Justice

 

We appear to be in the midst of a structural economic adjustment that will likely mean an even greater and permanent decline in middle class jobs and incomes. This can only make matters worse for African American and Latino communities that are already disproportionately locked into the bottom rungs of this society and who expect to be denied any real upward movement.

 

The persistence of the prison-industrial complex means that police forces around the country are motivated to continue to churn out arrests and prisoners to satisfy economic and political needs of non-minority communities. Thus, witness the widespread use of “stop and frisk” methods of policing that research shows results in the arrest of a very small number of offenders. In recent courtroom testimony, one policeman testified that the New York City police“were expected to issue 20 summons and make one arrest per month.”The presumption of guilt and the use of pre-fabricated arrest policies harassed and essentially paint minority communities as criminal.

 

Police commissioners and mayors, like those in New York City, suggest that these pre-emptive tactics are what continue to keep their cities relatively crime free. They are not, apparently, aware of the bitter irony of their claims. New York City had the lowest murder rate in thirty years! No one knows quite why crime has dropped since it has also gone down in other cities where NYPD policies are not followed. But at a time of dramatic declines in crime, the NYPD is ramping up the use of more intrusive and murderous police strategies.

 

Thus, the NYPD continues to use suspect and unconstitutional policies like stop and frisk as well as biometric screening. Stop and frisk policies often produces fractious confrontations with innocent young African American and Latino young men and women as well as unnecessary police shootings. The criminalization of entire communities is exactly what the Iraqi people suffered at the hands of U.S. soldiers during the war.

 

Examples or this criminalization abound. New York City police have turned to stalking minority “troubled youths” on Facebook. They began to use face-recognition technology in 2012 to pre-empt crime. They are following young African American and Latino youth on Facebook and on the streets before they become offenders. The police spend countless hours “daily monitoring the teenagers’ chatter – alert for talk of fights, party plans and criminal activities.”

 

The New York City police have also introduced a citywide surveillance systemwith live video feeds and a huge database. They hope to be able to determine when “too many people congregate” so that the police can dispersed and intimidate them “simply by the risk of being identified – before dissent can coalesce.” Minority youth are also subject to police attention in the public schools, which have long been criminalized.

 

As investigative journalist Annette Fuentes argued, heightened security in these schools has come despite the fact that “school violence is not exploding.” The presence of police in schools along with weapons detectors and surveillance cameras do but one thing – deliver more minority youth to the prison industrial complex. And because minority communities are so highly criminalized and militarized, private corporations have been the main beneficiaries, profiting greatly by supplying the technologies placed in the schools and communities.

 

The shooting last week in Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York of a young African American teenager and the resulting riot demonstrated two main things. One is that the police are increasing threatened by communities that they fear and don’t understand. Like in Iraq, they will shoot first and ask questions later. Second is that these minority communities see themselves as an occupied people. They distrust and fear the police. And some like that teenager are maybe willing to take a stand and resist even against overwhelming odds.

 

It’s true that there have been no recent significant civil rights or social justice movements that spring from racial or ethnic minority communities. However, the Occupy Wall Street Movement as well as sporadic protest to police brutality around the country not only raise the concern of government authorities, but accelerate the use of Iraq war techniques and technologies. So, while the civil unrest remains just a potential right now, police and other authorities are gearing up for that potential by turning to the containment strategies learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those strategies are spilling into as well as being tested and utilized in minority communities.

 

Some of the newest products of the wars, like biometric screening, are just now being introduced into urban policing. But there is already some use in border security, which would impact greatly on Latinos. The police departments around the nation see such criminalization and technology strategies as practical attempts to contain crime and to justify the size of their budgets. The New York City Police Department, for example, has 6,000 fewer officers today than in 2001.

 

Some may argue that these developments in urban policing are simply the evolution of criminal justice technology. It may even just represent the tapping of a new market by venture capitalists. Some financial experts estimate that “the worldwide drone market could grow to $90 billion in the next decade.” These things are all true. But they don’t change the fact that there are deep parallels between the “war on terrorism” and the war on minority communities.

 

Now some will say that all of this is mere coincidence and they would be right, but only partially. Admittedly, no one can point to a big conspiracy behind these developments. What we do know is that the Iraq and Afghan wars have introduced new strategies and policies for handling threats to U.S. security. And now, these new methods and policies are flowing into the U.S. for political and financial reasons. As Latinos, we have to be aware of how these flows are directly impacting on Latino and other minority communities around the country.

 

Recently, some commentators have mused about whether the U.S. would be better off with a queen or king.  These nostalgic murmurs were inspired by the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth in England this week.  The Queen and her subjects are celebrating 60 years of rule.  Most of the talk has been about whether “Yanks” are “missing out royally without a queen“.

May 12, 1937.  Queen Elizabeth, second from left, and King George VI, second from right, are seen on the balcony of London’s Buckingham Palace following the coronation of King George VI.

What exactly does a queen or king do for a society besides rule?  In most cases, modern royalty don’t make many decisions.  They leave the day-to-day running of the state to elected government officials.  That is the case in England too.  The prime minister makes domestic and foreign policy.  And yet the Queen is still the head of state.

Her contribution goes beyond having her face and name on the nation’s currency, armed forces, and on the taxes levied and the laws written and passed by Parliament.  These are important symbols of her authority but they do not account for the most important function of royalty.  While many believe that the Queen’s most important role is to serve as a unifying force in England, I think it has to do with gathering power for the state.

While unifying the nation is an important role, most seem to forget  that queens and kings serve as heads of state.  What this means goes beyond holding a title.  A head of state has the awesome power to rightfully take life, liberty, and property.  That power has to come from somewhere.  Why would people willingly give the state that right to rule them?  Modern humans lived the majority of time on this earth (35-40,000 years) without needing a state.  It has only been in the last 5-6,000 years that humans began to accept the idea of Leviathan.  Traditionally, many have argued that royalty’s right to power and rule was granted to queens and kings by God.  The people needed to be ruled and God created royalty to do so.  Later, political theorists, like Locke and Hobbes, made the argument that states were created by a contract with the people in exchange for peace or property protection.  These make for a good stories and each story has been historically persuasive for many.  But these stories are also just not true.

What is true is that it is the people being ruled who give a queen or a king or a president the power to rule.  The state is a Leviathan as Thomas Hobbs once said, an artificial monster with enormous powers over its subjects.  And yet that power comes to the state from the subjects themselves.  We do so not through a contract.  We give the monster life.  Every minute and every single day, people give the state it’s power.  They do so by BELIEVING in this abstract body, by RESPECTING it, by giving it CREDIBILITY, and by OBEYING it.  This is, for the most part, not a conscious process.  In fact, it is better if it is not conscious.  Power flows a lot easier to the queen if subjects don’t have to plan or think about how they give the queen power.  The power to take their life, their liberty, or their property is easier to accept and to give to the queen when subjects do so because of habit, faith, or love.

The British continue to support the institution of the Royal Family because it serves the vital function of siphoning power from the people in a way that does not create waves or jeopardize the continuity of state power.  Unlike our president, who has to try to siphon power form the people while also governing them, the Queen’s job is much simpler.  She can simply draw upon the adoration and love the people have for her.  She never has to reject their pleas for help, impose burdensome new taxes, or pit one group against another.

As long as the people love the Queen, the British state can maintain a stable source of power for the Parliament and the Prime Minister to use in governing.  This is what makes the Queen so important to British politics and to the British people.  She represents a unique institution that solves in a gracious and effective manner the modern problem of how to gather power from the people into the state.  If that siphoning of power does not occur, the state cannot embody the power necessary to permit government to rule.

Power is like progress.  We know it when we see it and most of the time it is created by processes that go unnoticed and are hard to document.  I’ve long argued that power gets created by numerous processes, some are obvious like voting. Others are far less obvious like getting public recognition.  Latino scholars and performers have long criticized the dearth of Latino actors in movies, television, and theater.  Though Latinos are now the largest minority group in the U.S., this scarcity of Latino actors has not improved.  One recent and unusual complaint on this issue came from playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.  He complained about the casting of his play, “The ______ With the Hat.”

Guirgis, who is American Irish and Egyptian, criticized the casting director for not choosing Puerto Ricans to play the lead actors as he had written into the play.   Guirgis saw no excuse for this omission.  He argued, “But this play was cast in New York City and in Hartford, and you can’t tell me that there weren’t qualified Latino actors to play characters who are Puerto Rican.”  The problem is not just that Latinos don’t get these prized acting jobs or that viewers don’t get to view a more “diverse” cast.  The absence of Latinos on U. S. small and large screens as well as on stages ultimately has an impact on the political, cultural, and economic power of the Latino community.

Power is the capacity to influence the way other people think, feel, and act.  We gain that capacity when others believe that we have something of value that they want, need, or desire.  Our bosses can get us to come to work though we prefer to sit in the park because they can deny us the money and job that we need to maintain our lifestyle and lives.  President Obama is the president.  But, for a variety of reasons, the enormous, formal powers of the position does not permit him to move a Republican controlled House to enact his policies.  A major reason is that Republicans don’t think he has anything of value that he can offer them or take from them.  Unlike so many Republicans of the past, this new Republican cadre see nothing good coming out of government spending or programs.  Obama, thus lacks, both a carrot and a stick to move the GOP off of their recalcitrant back sides.

What does this have to do with acting?  A great deal of why people value some things and not others really has to do with perception and that perception is shaped by both rational and irrational forces.  Are Republicans correct about government inefficiency and worthlessness?  Perhaps.  Some government programs and policies are probably inefficient and harmful to the economy.  Some are not.  But it does not matter.  For a variety of political, economic, religious, and cultural (Tea Party) reasons the GOP has come to devalue all government in general.  Moving them off that right side fixation would require changing their perception that “government is the problem.”  That perception began with President Reagan as a campaign slogan and has simply become sunk deeper and become entrenched in the conservative subconscious since the 1980s.  Changing that perception is not easy.  It will require shifts in the kind of subconscious fears, hopes, images that frame how we all register and process the political world.  This is right brain stuff rather than left brain analytic reasoning.

Latinos are the largest racial/ethnic group in America, but they still fly under the radar for so many others in this country.  Latinos are ignored, forgotten, marginalized, and discounted in life and in death.  Part of this has to do with the diversity of Latinos.  We come in many different colors and national flavors. Part of this has to do with a lack of attention or appreciation for the kind of cultural style and contribution that Latinos have and can make to American life.  African-Americans have a cultural role in this country that Latinos lack.  African-Americans are often seen as villains, primitives, raw, lazy, and dumb.  But they are also seen often as strong, musical, athletic, creative, stylish, and funny.  In short, African Americans may often be vilified but they are also often imitated by white Americans.  The extreme versions of that imitation even has a name – Wiggers!  Latinos mostly face neither of these extremes.  They are mostly ignored.

Actors help to change what Daniel Kahneman has called the intuitive, automatic, and largely subconscious part of people’s brains.  Actors access that subconscious by offering associations and metaphors that can indirectly confirm or reject existing prejudices.   A Latino performer can inform a viewer that Latinos can have talent, be entertaining, offer happiness, engage in intelligent conversation, have distinctive styles, have profound insights, and be human. All of these provide the material for the quick intuitive and non-rational reactions that originate in the right brain and that calls the shots in so much of our actions.

Ironically, if Latinos are going to gain the social power that our numbers would suggest, we need to have more Latinos performing in front of the entire spectrum of audiences in this country.  We need Latinos actors playing numerous kinds of roles while still reminding audiences that they are Latinos playing those roles.  Latino actors have to express the full range of Latino experiences with all of its complexity, glories, and problems.  Anything less will simply perpetuate political and economic disappointment and frustration for Latinos.

A recent PEW study revealed that Latinos and Blacks were hit severely by the economic recession, particularly in terms of household wealth.  Thus, the study showed

“From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households.”

Racism, last hired/first fired, undiversified investments, wage based incomes, low education, and who knows what else caused this disparity in economic decline.  The bigger lessons are, however, political.  As I’ve claimed before, the Tea Party fervor over their economic current plight is justified but exaggerated.

The gap in income and wealth has grown wider and wider during the last 35 years, for whites and everyone else.  But white declines are not as great as Latino and Black declines.  Either whites are just oblivious to the plight of minorities, which is a likely possibility, or they have other reasons for elevating their own poor situation.  It’s probably both.

As I’ve written before, I think that many Tea Party members have racist reasons for savagely attacking Obama, his policies, the deficit, health care reform, and government in general.  They are not just oblivious.  They are also resentful and fearful, primarily of increasing numbers of Latinos and other foreigners who, they believe, will tap into the government faucet at their taxpayer expense.  As Judson Phillips, a Tea Party Nation founder, claimed, “The Tea Party wants America to stop incurring debt obligations and to cut back on the wasteful spending already in place.” 

Despite all the silly and irrational talk about how America has to “live within its means,” Tea Partiers have no problem with spending and debt as long as it is for the military.  They hate any spending that goes for social programs and yet want to protect social security and medicare.  This appears like a contradiction until you realize that they are making a distinction.  “Social programs,” such as welfare and food stamps, are the ones that Latinos, Blacks, and the undocumented use.  Those other, non-means tested, programs are for the white middle class.  Middle class whites are angry and frustrated.  They blame and want both political parties thrown out of office.  But they are especially angry and resentful about Latinos, Blacks, and the undocumented because Tea Partiers believe that these groups have found a way to suck milk from the government tit provided by taxing the white middle class.  It sounds absurd, but how else to explain the extraordinary contradictions in the Tea Party positions as well as the extreme and hateful depictions they offer of President Obama.

One example was Tea Party and Republican Carl Paladino‘s campaign for governor of New York State.   At one point Paladino advocated that welfare recipients be placed in some New York prisons that would be transformed “into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in “personal hygiene.”  Paladino eventually lost the election to Andrew Cuomo, but the racist and moronic ideas of the Tea Party live on.  One example is the doctored image below that Paladino sent by email of President Obama as a pimp and his wife Michelle as a prostitute.