Archive for the ‘Power’ Category

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

A friend at a mid-size, private, second-tier university recently posted this lament,

“When I started speaking out aggressively in defense of public school teachers eight years ago, based on what I saw in the Bronx where school closings, uncontrolled testing and the demonization of teachers was squeezing creativity out of the schools, I knew, in theory, that professors would eventually become a target of similar policies, but I didn’t think Fordham would be one of those places where the attack took place. Well, I was wrong Fordham’s attempts to resist unionization of adjuncts and decimate the health care benefits of tenure track faculty should be a wake up call for anyone who still believes they are protected by ” the Ivy Tower.”. Any college professor who thinks that efforts to destabilize public education and de professionalize public education has nothing to do with them needs to wake up and smell the cappuchino. Every attack on the autonomy, living standards, health benefits and pensions of public school teachers is going to eventually come home to the universities. For college professors, whether adjuncts or tenure track, there is “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide” They came for the public school teachers. Now they are coming for you…”

Teachers and professors have to be worried. The corporatization, automation, and austerity budgeting of the teaching professor is taking steam. Eventually, no teacher except for those at the very elite schools will be spared. But it’s important to know why these things are happening. I believe the reason is not that administrators are crass, bureaucratic, authoritarian fools. They may very well be some or all of these things. But the major reason for this attempt to radically reshape education comes from the contradictions of capitalist production.

Education is becoming unmoored from national capitalist economies. A trained, skilled, and professional workforce is becoming a far less important concern for individual nation-states. If our corporations need computer coders, they can find them in India and Africa for far lower wages. If they need sports news writers, they can get good results by sending, through the Internet, the bare facts of the sports event to a writer in Ireland who shapes it into a story worth printing. And that Irish reporter is paid less too.

Education has become unmoored from national economic needs. It used to be that the titans of industry in the U.S. believed it was in their economic interest to make sure that American workers were better educated. Thus philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie contributed to the expansion of public libraries begun by towns and labor groups as a way of educating the public. But today, there are few business leaders who have devoted their wealth to such broad educational purposes, in this country. And both conservatives and liberals seem determined to radically transform education in a way that makes it less educational and less expensive.

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.

Trump’s victory is the end of liberalism and the rise of progressivism. Neo-liberalism, in particular, is dead. Trump has not and will not kill it. But he will help mobilize an opposition that will. He will prove to his supporters that he is not the answer.

Destroying Obamacare without a single payer system to replace it, is not the answer. Bombing ISIS families will just create more terrorism. Killing NAFTA will not bring jobs back. Lowering taxes on the rich will not reverse growing inequality. He will not build a wall across the southern border and not just because Mexico won’t pay for it. He may yet surprise us all and not even try to do any of those things. He could have been just blowing hot smoke after all. But his Republicans in Congress will push him towards those goals. And the country will suffer.

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Trump’s victory is a sign that half-measures, like Obamacare don’t work. It is a sign that we want radical solutions to our growing problems, like inequality. It is a sign that people don’t trust our political leaders. And Trump will show that his measures go in the entirely wrong direction. And that is how the country will turn back towards a truly progressive agenda. Many of his supporters will turn against him and his Republican policies. Frustration will increase. People will wonder what went wrong. It will be the responsibility of progressives to deliver the ideas and the organization to point till a true solution.

Get ready Bernie…your time will come…maybe before 4 years are up!

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.