Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Much of the polarized debate on undocumented immigrants in the U.S. springs from emotional and tribal fears. But that tribal outlook is not just about fear. Ironically, it also about hope.

Although far from a majority, a large portion of the U.S. population wants to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter this country. They also want to send those who are here, with and without papers, back to their ancestral homes. There is fear and hopelessness in these responses. Disappearing jobs and stagnant wages have made some Americans into extremists. They are willing to think of the worse as they hope for the best. This is true even for those who came here as immigrants, or are themselves people of color, or who may also agree that the undocumented are hard-working and make a lot of contributions to this country. None of this matters any longer.

For many Americans, the undocumented are simple “lawbreakers.” They don’t care if these young immigrants have dreams. They resent the fact that their own dreams have no way of becoming true. So, they hope to dash the dreams of the undocumented. Yes there is resentment, racism, and bitterness there. But it is more.

Deep inside, most of these deniers believe that they are righting the scales of justice. The Dreamers may be hardworking, young, and innocent. But they are still lawbreakers and deserve to be punished. This punitive action is not likely to make their own dreams come true. But it will satisfy a thirst for some kind of justice.

For Joe Kleve, 21, a senior at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, the argument that the young immigrants had been brought by their parents held no weight.

What if someone’s parents were caught sneaking their whole family into a movie without paying, he asked. “Are they going to just kick the parents out?”

For Mr. Pham, 39, the issue was personal. He, too, arrived in the United States as a toddler, as a legally admitted refugee from Vietnam. But until his family could find American sponsors, they were parked in a refugee camp overseas for more than a year.(NY Times “Most Americans Want Legal Status for ‘Dreamers.’ These People Don’t.” January 25, 2018)


They want justice against those they hold responsible for their losses. They don’t blame the titans of industry or the politicians, of both parties. It’s the Dreamers they accuse. These young people whose early lives were spent at the bottom rungs of this society as marginal and utter dregs in a fast flowing and increasingly unequal plutocratic country. But why this relatively small, deprived, and non-threatning group of young immigrants?

It’s because the Dreamers now have educational and professional achievements to their name. They have the temerity to show that huge obstacles can be surmounted. These Dreamers were seemingly able to brush off discrimination, poverty, and segregation and move upwards and so easily through the maze of globalized job losses and occupational hazards that thwart the dream-deniers. They hate that the Dreamers could overcome. The last thing deniers want to do is to bring Dreamers over the finish line by giving them legal status too.

This is why DACA supporters are making a mistake by suggesting that support for these young people is a kind of moral test. Yes, they were brought here as innocent young people. But that innocence doesn’t touch a significant sector of despondent Americans of many races and immigration status. Those who want them out are not persuaded by the economic contributions DACA young people have and will make to this country.

Not all of these deniers are nativists or racists. But most of them simply don’t want to see this country work for others. This is what Make America Great Again means to a lot of them. Perhaps this country cannot be kept white. But they aim for a future that can suddenly become positive and hopeful for them, without Dreamers. Perhaps, just perhaps, those well-paying and stable jobs Dreamers have or aspire to will again become available to them if ICE can push them out.

This all sounds dystopic and sad. There appears to be no easy way out of this penurious and delusional reaction to Dreamers. But it does not have to be. It’s possible to imagine a different, more realistic, and positive path. But to get there, DACA supporters will have to change their strategy. The goal should not be to continue the claim that Dreamers are not only innocent but hard working and successful. That just irritates too many Americans who see themselves as being equally hard working yet not as successful in education or jobs as the Dreamers. Latinos and Dreamers must appeal to the American sense of fairness and justice.

These young Latinos were brought to America by their parents. But their parents did not decide to go to America voluntarily. Their parents were encouraged and pushed to leave their country. This must be part of the messaging. Each Latino sender country has a history of American corporations buying up huge tracts of agricultural land and leaving campesinos, the Dreamer’s parents, without any real economic options to survive in their own countries. NAFTA institutionalized this process. The impact NAFTA has had on Mexican agriculture is largely responsible for the Mexican and Central American undocumented migration into the U.S.

NAFTA_s Vicious Cycle

The stories we tell to support the Dreamers should be about their parents. The parents may be guilty of sneaking into this country. But they are also victims of corporate avarice and economic domination…in their own country. They were economically battered, pushed out, and, as a result, had to sneak into the U.S. This is a story of loss that many American workers, even dream-deniers, may understand.

Dream-deniers have also been victimized by bank foreclosures, globalization, and job lay-offs. Many corporations have also come out publicly against Trump policies and actions, like the Muslim ban. Trump supporters and corporations are not necessarily clear allies. Trump and his supporters are more likely economic nationalists and authoritarian statists. Now, it’s likely that the dream-deniers will respond, like Trump, by also denying that U.S. corporations and government have ever done anything wrong in Latin America or anywhere else in the world. Yet Trump has also provided a possible conceptual bridge between the two.

Trump recently connected the Dreamers to white American deniers who feel dispossessed and hurt by the global economy. In Trump’s 2018 state of the union speech, he proclaimed “Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams, too.” This statement, in a sober but largely incoherent speech, shows that Trump is crafty and very aware that the word “Dreamers” represents a beautiful “marketing coup” designed by Latino and Democratic leaders.

The word Dreamer gives undocumented youth a veneer of innocence and vulnerability that is difficult to attack. Trump’s goal was to take the word Dreamer back from Mexicans and Latinos and connect it, instead, to those Americans who want to deny Dreamers any sanctuary and any legal path to remain in the U.S.  Trump sought to make the deniers pure, innocent, and hopeful.

Latino leaders should accept Trump’s inversion of the word. Accept and invert it once more. Make American deniers into Dreamers who, like Latino Dreamers and parents, have also suffered at the hands of corporate and government elites who don’t have their interests at heart. But do so by linking the political economy of Latino undocumented flight into this country to the political economy of middle class and working class job and wage losses in the last 40 years.

Not all Trump supporters are nativists who simply want to whiten the country and keep non-white people from living in the U.S. And polls continue to show overwhelming public support for legal status for Dreamers. The latest poll shows 84% of Americans support granting legal status. But we don’t have to change how all deniers see the true Dreamers. Getting this done really means getting Congress to support Dreamers too.

What stops Congress from supporting Dreamers? First, there are the gerrymandered districts, full of the small percentage of anti-immigrant extremists, that elected so many of them into office. Those nativist extremists won’t forgive such betrayal. And Congress is hated so much by the American public, only 18% approval in the latest poll, that they have to hitch their wagon to the slightly more popular but legally vulnerable Trump.

This conceptual slight of hand may even turn the tables on Trump. It may get him to support this linkage between the Dreamers and his erstwhile “dreaming” supporters. I don’t think we can wait until the next redistricting maps (after 2020) or for a Democratically controlled Congress to change the policy on immigrants. Waiting will not protect Dreamers or Latinos from the rising nativist tide of violence and oppression.

The existential threats are immediate and palpable for Dreamers and Latinos in general. Changing the conversation, words, and perception of what Dreamers represent is a necessary first step. It may create the critical geographic and popular support that can sway Congress to support Dreamers. It may also help protect Latinos from the growing anti-immigrant and nativist movement that is already resulting in deadly physical attacks against Latinos, Dreamers and non-dreamers alike.

It’s time for Latino leaders to swing for a home-run rather than for a single. Dreamers, Latinos, and other working Americans can be saved only by making the case that capitalism cannot solve the problems caused by capitalism. The case against trade is that it is not only bad for the American working class, it is also bad for the working classes in Latin America too. Establish a class alliance to make support for Dreamers possible. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But none of the strategies being pursued now are likely to deliver legal status to the millions of Latinos here without papers.


A lot of what perplexes us about conditions of inequality and economic failures can be better understood if we recognized how much of our hunting/gathering life we bring to contemporary society.

For the first 140,000 years that modern humans have existed, we all lived as hunter gatherers. We shared everything we produced with each other, reinforced egalitarian principles, lived in relative harmony, and no authority figure could tell us what to do. We also lived in small groups of about 100-150 people. Our society was small enough then that lazy or selfish people were quickly identified and shamed into behaving or expelled from the group.

Today, about 20,000 or so years removed from hunter/gathering days, almost all of us live in enormous societies with millions of other, mostly unknown, people. This makes it impossible to live in the primitive socialism of hunter and gatherers. The state, as in Cuba, may try to force a “plan” on everyone and to check non-social behavior. But all it does is to suffocate freedom, produce inefficiently, and generally fail to check anti-social behavior. The solution, as most Northern European countries have discovered, is a judicious combination of capitalist markets and state regulation.

Click on this to see video: Cuban economy



Identity is not the cause of political polarization. It’s emotions. Some people are terrified and disgusted by the demographic and economic trends in this country. They retreat to racial and other tribal identities to feel more secure.

But pundits like Fareed Zakaria want to blame identity for the political polarization that dominates the U.S. and Europe. They have it all wrong. In a recent article, Zakaria stated that

Partisanship today is more about identity. Scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued that, in the past few decades, people began to define themselves politically less by traditional economic issues than by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. I would add to this mix social class, something rarely spoken of in the United States but a powerful determinant of how we see ourselves. Last year’s election had a lot to do with social class, with non-college-educated rural voters reacting against a professional, urban elite

It’s always about group membership, however. This is true whether the group is identity-politicsneighborhood, gender, racial, religious, or ideological. The question is who’s included and how important is that identity to your feelings of self worth and security.

We like to believe that people are driven by reason and deliberation. Most research suggests that this is not true. We have a natural talent, if not a need, to socialize. But our socializing skills and nature have a hard time stretching beyond about 100-150 people. This is the number of people that most hunting and gathering people lived with during the majority of our stay on this earth. This is also about the limit of FB “friends” that we can justly call friends. Though even this is probably stretching it. The creation of state society came with many compromises. We tend to think that the biggest compromise was the limit on individual freedom. We say that we gave up our individual rights in order to secure personal security and progress. But we also lost our our ability to live with and navigate our interactions with people that we knew well and trusted.

Today, everyone, except for some remaining hunting and gathering societies, live in enormous societies with multiple millions of other people. How do we connect to and make sense of all those other people? What do we know about them? How do we trust and communicate with them? The simple answer is that we can’t. It is for this reason that Benedict Anderson once called our efforts to form a national identity as something we imagine.

We think we belong to a “nation” with millions of others. But this is a fiction we believe and only very tenuously. States, nevertheless, see a need to promote national identities as a way of bolstering obedience. The problem is, as we have seen in the Middle East and America, that not everyone believes they belong to what others see as their fictional “nation.”

Right after 9/11, most people in these states believed they belonged to an American Nation. Everyone felt they were attacked by the terrorists…white, black, Asian, Latino, gay, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. They believed, rightly, that everyone shared a common fate. Not more than 10 months after 9/11, we again returned to a country of hyphenated Americans. Why? Because segregation, discrimination, police brutality, and much else, continued to define how they lived. It reminded people that not everyone shared in a common ‘American’ fate or identity.

Thus, it is not that some people glorify separate identities out of thin air. People are drawn to identity politics when they feel like their lives are not shared with others, when they do not share in one common national fate. It is the reality of living very different lives that creates identity. It forces people to try a self-identification with smaller groups, groups that they believe are more likely to secure their self worth and security.

Offense generator

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.


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.



There is a lot of misinformation out there. I actually teach this stuff and know what the facts are. You can google my points below:
1. The flow of undocumented workers has been from and not to the U.S. since 2005. Thus, building or making the border more ‘secure,’ something that is impossible anyway, would actually keep the undocumented from leaving the U.S.
2. Obama has deported more undocumented than any other president. That is why Latinos call him the “Deporter in Chief”
3. Yes undocumented get some health benefits. But this happens because of actions at the local level rather than by federal policy. See the article below.
4. Why do cities and counties provide such services? First, because it is cheaper to do preventive care than pay for undocumented using hospital emergency rooms. Second, because the undocumented provide essential cheap labor for many local industries, from restaurants to crop harvesting to house cleaning to construction. Local economies need their labor. Trump has used undocumented Polish labor at some of his construction projects. And documented labor will not do those jobs at those wages. Third, undocumented labor contribute enormous amounts of tax revenue, often using other people’s Social Security numbers, but do not collect any unemployment, housing, disability, public housing, or retirement benefits. In fact, the revenue they contribute to social security has kept that program afloat financially and makes possible the retirement of documented Americans. This is a fact. Finally, the U.S. Offers very few immigration opportunities to Latin American countries as opposed to European countries. Thus, the economic demand for cheap labor, the destruction of economies in Latin America by American companies investing there, produce pressures which result in people having to come here without papers. It is a complex process where the U.S. is just as responsible for what is happening as the people sneaking in.

It was during my first year in college and I was a teenager. I showed up at a meeting of a squatters organization on the Upper West Side. None of them spoke Spanish. They found out that the authorities had been tipped off to what we were up to. They had to take the buildings much earlier than they had planned. So, they asked me to lead the families into some buildings one night in August. I said sure. I led about 50-60 mothers and children up Amsterdam Avenue from the 80s up to 111. As we got closer, I saw that there were a lot of cop cars with lights in front of the buildings we were going to take. About two blocks from our destination, I could also see that there were about 30 cops in riot gear waiting for us. I asked the mothers if they still wanted to go ahead and they said yes. We walked up to the cops and I saw that an officer in white shirt was telling the cops to let us pass. They were probably afraid of the bad publicity if they beat us up. So, we went past them and into the first building. We were screaming and running up the stairs and opening up the apartments. It was pure joy. When I got to the top, I heard someone calling my name from the first floor. It was one of the gringo organizers. He told me that I had gone into the wrong building. It was the building around the corner that had been secretly prepped for occupation. Hahaha… So, I led the families out of the building, past the surprised cops, and into the correct building. We squatted, de-squatted, and squatted again…

This was part of a larger squatters movement on the Upper West Side that included Latino militant groups like El Comite. A documentary about this period was done in 1971. It was called Break and Enter/Rompiendo Puertas.

Here is the trailer… 

Superman got his power by being dropped to Earth. He came from another galaxy that operated according to different laws of physics. Spiderman became powerful after a spider bit him.  Wonder Woman got her special powers from Olympian Deities.

Roberto Suro recently wrote a New York Times editorial where he asks the question “Whatever Happened to Latino Political Power?” Suro provides a good description of how Latinos have not become more powerful. But, unlike what we know about superheroes, he nowhere explains what it takes to become powerful or to lose it.

So, where the hell does power come from?

barack-obama-funny-supermanIn one of her songs, Diana Krall sings plaintively “What do I have to do to make you love me?” The answer is, of course, obvious. She can try giving him flowers or a kiss or a hug or sex. She can tell him “I’m sorry.” Whether any of those actions or words will cause her beloved to open his arms again to her is not assured. Her beloved must still value what she has to offer if she is ever going to be able to make an impression and get his love back again.

Humans, unlike superheroes, get our power from each other. It does not come from outside, from external accidents, superior beings, or unusual laws of physics. We cannot influence those who do not engage with us. We cannot affect the way they think, act, or feel if we cannot offer them something of value. Two year olds know this well. They automatically spew out a barrage of “no’s” to any entreaty a parent or anyone makes to them. And by those declarations, those two year olds reject and prevent the adult’s attempt to influence them. “Comete esto ahora mismo!!” “No” dice el Niño embullado con su poder.

Suro tells us that we Latinos have tried marching and voting. Yet, still, immigration reform is not a political priority for either political party. He wrote that

“Latinos have claimed a political destiny based on their population numbers, but the numbers that count in politics are those that decide elections. On that score Latinos have a dismal record to overcome.”

That is true. Demographic growth and voting have not delivered the policy and legal changes Latinos seek. However, is it true that all that Latinos have to do to reverse this political failure is, as Suro concludes, to show up on Election Day? Only if you think that political power comes mostly by voting. We have plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite.

Voting is an integral part of the democratic process. But it is not the most important part, especially today. There is, for instance, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That court decision unleashed and amplified the already caustic power of money in elections.  How does a mostly poor Latino community succeed against that? It can be done. But it won’t happen with money or, more accurately, with Latino money.

Those without money can compete in this corporatized republic. The Tea Party movement has proven that. This group of mostly disaffected white middle class conservatives and evangelicals managed to upend Republican congressional leadership, elect scores of Tea Party supporters, as well as push the Republican Party and it’s presidential candidates harder to the right.  But a great deal of that success has come because of the financial support they have received.

The Tea Party Movement has received generous financial support from the Koch brothers as well as from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. In addition, the Tea Party has the focused and uncritical support of an entire media empire and faux news distributor in Fox News.  The millions of dollars and media attention the Tea Party has received has elevated what is a small, fringe, and extremist political group into a mainstay of public consciousness and recognition.  They became well known, tapped into a growing white American fear and resentment, and hijacked the Republican Party political agenda. As a result, they were able to leverage that support into a power that outpaces its actual size of about half a million active members.

DreamersIn comparison, the mostly Latino Dreamers Movement has not received comparable support from financial elites and media. They have received funding from groups such as Unbound Philanthropy, the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and other groups such as the National Education Association (NEA). Most of that money has gone to organizational development, lobbying in Washington, and scholarships. Why the difference?

The major reason why the Dreamers did not have the impact of the Tea Party is that its goals are narrow, affecting mostly Latino immigrant youth.  They sought changes in law in order to more fully participate in educational opportunities and the “American Dream.”  Financial support came from those few who agreed that existing immigration laws violated moral and democratic principles.  The Dreamers were, unlike the Tea Party, not seeking to transform the very structure of how the state taxes, spends, and relates to the economy.  The latter are the kinds of issues that make both conservative and liberal economic elites salivate.

Those different outcomes for the Tea Party and the Dreamers provide clues as to how to create more political power for Latinos.  We have to think of what Latinos can offer the general public and the economic elite that will motivate them to support and reinforce our political goals.  The problem is that I really can’t think of one such issue. Will we get support to prevent random and traumatic deportation? Not likely. What about our poor wages? Some support exists for this issue, but only as a general push to raise the minimum wage for everybody. The current economic stagnation means that a higher minimum wage will not translate into direct improvements to Latino wages, especially since so many of our community work off the books.

The conservative attempt to roll back voting rights is an important structural issue that can galvanize bipartisan support in this society. However, the weight of public opinion and support seems skewed towards restricting voting rather than expanding it.  While some bipartisan financial and political support for voting rights has emerged on the national level, the conservative political machine has focused on and succeeded in changing and rolling back voting rights at the state level. They have succeeded in changing public opinion. Today, a large majority of Americans support more restrictive voter ID laws, which are a solution to a non-existent problem. Thirty-two states have passed voter ID laws as of 2015.

The irony is that any success in fighting restrictive voter ID laws will do very little to improve Latino political power. The reason is simple. Elections are not as important to politicians as they used to be.  Politicians are concerned about elections. They want to get reelected.  Congressional politicians have to win elections every two or 6 years. But getting reelected depends more on money than on policies, legislation, or the voter’s interests.

Congressman Steve Israel, about to leave Congress, recently confessed that, when he first entered Congress, he was “advised that if I didn’t raise at least $10,000 a week (in pre-Citizens United dollars), I wouldn’t be back.” How does a poor Latino community compete with that? How do we contribute and offer the dollars that will make the hundreds of Israels in Congress, other levels of government, and the media answer our phone calls, welcome our visits, as well as open their minds and hearts to our concerns?

All Yours lovePoliticians spend more time each day they serve in Congress on raising money than on constituent communication and service.  They know without money, they can’t win. And that means that Latino sources of power will remain severely limited for the foreseeable future. It also means that Latinos will have to think of new ways to amass power that are not focused only on tactics like voting. We have to develop strategies for power that can inspire non-Latinos to join and support our causes, goals, and policies. Without that, we will forever be stuck asking, pursuing, and hoping for love… but being very disappointed.