Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In an act of unprecedented arrogance, President Obama has granted himself the authority to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked, no trial, no due process – just pure law of the jungle.

September 18, 2012

The Montpelier Manifesto

Barack Obama and the Temple of Doom


The defining image of the Obama White House is a culture of so-called smart power and death – F-35 fighter jets, unmanned killer drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, and more recently, the White House kill list. In an act of unprecedented arrogance, President Obama has granted himself the authority to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked, no trial, no due process – just pure law of the jungle.

And what has been the response of the political Left in Vermont to this egregious behavior? Stony silence. Neither Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Peter Welch, Peter Shumlin, nor Bill McKibben has uttered a whimper. The political Left in Vermont is morally and intellectually bankrupt, but so too is the political Right.

The November election is much ado about absolutely nothing. It will make not one whit of difference whether Obama or Romney wins. Regardless of the outcome the real winners will be the big banks, the big oil companies, the big pharmaceutical companies, big military contractors, and the tiny state of Israel.

There is only one fundamental question which really matters and it will not appear on the ballot anywhere. “Is there any justification whatsoever for the continued existence of the largest, wealthiest, most powerful, most materialistic, most environmentally toxic, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire of all-time – an empire which has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable, ungovernable, and unfixable?”

A number of political groups persist in the belief that the U.S. government is still fixable. They include Ron Paul supporters, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and 350.org. Although these groups have quite different views on what it will take to fix the empire, they each represent major distractions diverting public attention away from the fact that our nation is beyond repair. Until we come to terms with this reality, all is naught.

As you reflect on Barack Obama and the Temple of Doom, I leave you with two thoughts.

Please help us extricate tiny Vermont from the American Empire so it can join the community of small, self-determined, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

I invite you to consider The Montpelier Manifesto calling for the peaceful dissolution of the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire. Not unlike its predecessor, the 1963 Port Huron Statement issued by the Students for a Democratic Society, The Montpelier Manifesto is aimed at all citizens of the United States, not just those living in Vermont.

Finally, in the immortal words of our very own Irreverend Ben T. Matchstick I bid you farewell in the name of the flounder, the sunfish, and the holy mackerel.

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning.

In the 1980s, the United States wished to push the Soviet Union’s military forces out of Afghanistan. They therefore supported the mujahidin. One of the most famous leaders of the groups they supported was Osama bin Laden. Once the Soviet troops withdrew, Osama bin Laden created Al-Qaeda and began to attack the United States.

Blowback, or Impossible Dilemmas of Declining Powers

Commentary No. 331, June 15, 2012

Blowback is a term coined by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that originally meant the unintended negative consequences to a country of its own espionage operations. For example, if a secret CIA operation led to a revenge attack on U.S. individuals who were unaware of the CIA’s operation, this was considered “blowback.” But these days, many of the operations are not all that secret (for example, the U.S. use of drones in Pakistan or Yemen). And the “revenge” attacks are often publicly avowed. Nevertheless, countries don’t seem to cease engaging in such operations.

We need a more useful definition of blowback to explain how and why it’s occurring all over the place. I think the first element is that the countries engaging in such operations today are powerful, yes, but less powerful than they used to be. When they were at the acme of their power, they could ignore blowback as minor unintended consequences. But when they are less powerful than before, the consequences are not so minor, yet they seem to feel the need to pursue the operations even more vigorously and even more openly.

Let us look at two famous instances of blowback. One concerns the United States. In the 1980s, the United States wished to push the Soviet Union’s military forces out of Afghanistan. They therefore supported the mujahidin. One of the most famous leaders of the groups they supported was Osama bin Laden. Once the Soviet troops withdrew, Osama bin Laden created Al-Qaeda and began to attack the United States.

A second famous instance concerns Israel. In the 1970s, Israel regarded Yasser Arafat and the PLO as its principal opponent. Seeking to weaken the strength of the PLO among Palestinians, they gave financial aid to the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, known as Hamas. As Hamas grew, it did weaken the PLO somewhat. But at a certain point, Hamas became an even more vehement and effective opponent of the Israeli state than had been the PLO.

Today, everyone knows these instances. Others involving Great Britain and France could be cited as well. Nor does this end the list of blowback countries. Why then do they continue to behave in ways that seem to undermine their own objectives? They do this precisely because their power is declining.

We need to look at it as a matter of temporalities in state policy. Blowback occurs when the declining power engages in behavior that, in the short run, achieves some immediate objective but, in the middle run, makes their power decline even more and even faster, and therefore in the longer run is self-defeating. The obvious thing to do is not to go down this road any more. The covert operations no longer really work in terms of the long-run objectives of the country.

To stick with my examples: Don’t President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu understand this? And if they do, why are they continuing the operations, even boasting about them? Actually, I think that both these men do understand the ineffectiveness of these operations, and so do their intelligence agencies. But they face immediate dilemmas.

First of all, they are politicians, intent in each case to remain in power. Both are faced with strong political forces in their countries who think they are not hawkish enough. And neither is faced with strong political forces who want a radical revision of national policies. In shorthand, the extreme right in each country is very strong, and the left, even the moderate left, is weak. The underlying reason for this is that public opinion in neither country accepts the reality of the relative decline of the country’s power.

What the leaders can do at most is to be covert about dragging their feet – a little bit. But given the de facto transparency of their intelligence activities, they can do this only for a while. And then they find that they must pursue the policies they know won’t work in the long run in order to stay in power in the short run.

There is another reason. Obama hasn’t given up on one impossible dream – restoring the United States to a position of unquestioned hegemony. And Netanyahu hasn’t given up on another impossible dream – a Jewish state of Israel in the entire former British Mandate. And if they won’t renounce these dreams, they certainly cannot assist their peoples into coming to terms with the new geopolitical realities of the world-system and to the realities of their country’s decline in relative power.

share: Recommend on Facebook Tweet about it Tell a friendCopyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights[at]agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein[at]yale.edu.

There is no government today, either in the pan-European world or the Middle East, which is ready to gamble on the supposed technical incompetence of al-Qaeda. The strongest opposition to al-Qaeda today is not the United States but other political forces within the Arab states.

Does Al-Qaeda Still Matter?

Commentary No. 337, Sept. 15, 2012

On the eleventh anniversary of what has come to be known as 9/11, al-Qaeda remains a subject still repeatedly discussed, both in the United States (and the pan-European world in general) and in the Middle East. The main emphasis in the United States is usually how its power is being effectively contained by military action of many kinds, and therefore it is a declining menace. The main emphasis in the Middle East seems to be the opposite, that it has survived everything that has been done to decapitate it and that it continues to represent an important menace to all the other political forces in the region.

Everything about its history and its relations to governments and movements has been controversial. There is little agreement even on the facts concerning the most important events. Let us start with 9/11 itself. First of all, we have to distinguish three moments in time: the six months or so before 9/11; the day itself; and the year or so following 9/11.

The latest plausible narrative concerning the six months or so before 9/11 seems to indicate that the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the United States were warning the president and his security advisors that al-Qaeda was preparing some lethal attack.

They were ignored. Why? It seems that the neo-cons in the U.S. administration – who were a considerable cabal, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld – denied its plausibility on the grounds that al-Qaeda was not competent to represent a major threat. The neo-cons said that the intelligence agencies were incorrectly giving credence to what was mere bluster, whose objective was to divert attention from the real threat to the United States, which were Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

There are a certain number of left critics who suggest that such a debate within the U.S. administration never took place. Their explanation is that 9/11 was really planned by the U.S. government itself as a way of mobilizing public opinion for a war in Iraq. This is of course a conspiracy theory. I have nothing per se against conspiracy theories. There are constant real conspiracies all the time.

But I have never found this one the least bit plausible. The argument is based on the inherent improbability that an organization like al-Qaeda could amass the technical skills and tactical planning necessary to arrange the attacks and explosions. This is of course the same argument about al-Qaeda that the neo-cons gave in the other narrative.

Frankly, I think, and have always thought, that this argument is profoundly racist. It implies that those “fanatical fellows in the Third World” can’t be that clever. Well they can, and I believe were. In any case, al-Qaeda has been boasting about it ever since. And there is no government today, either in the pan-European world or the Middle East, which is ready to gamble on the supposed technical incompetence of al-Qaeda.

The next point in time is the day itself. Here I am much more inclined to credit the conspiracy theory. There is too much that is dubious about the U.S. government’s response to the attacks. Airplanes to counter the attacks were launched much too late. President George W. Bush seems to have been kept out of the information loop for too long, making Cheney de facto the decision-maker. Rumsfeld seems to have prepared almost instantly a procedure to link Saddam Hussein, most implausibly, to the attacks.

In short, the neo-cons were taking advantage of the attacks for their long-desired and long-planned war on Iraq. In the year following 9/11, they carried the day in the U.S. administration and effectively throttled all dissenting voices. They got their wars, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. The whole world, including the United States, is still suffering today the consequences of these unjustified and unjustifiable wars.

What then happened to al-Qaeda? It seems that, in the beginning, al-Qaeda was a small structure, tightly controlled by Osama bin Laden. First, the attacks of 9/11 and then the U.S.-launched wars greatly increased its prestige in the Muslim world and attracted persons to join the structure. It also attracted other organizations to pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda and re-label themselves, without however really submitting to some central discipline.

The United States and its allies did indeed begin to kill off many leading cadres of al-Qaeda, including eventually Osama himself. But al-Qaeda has shown itself thus far to be a hydra-headed monster, constantly renewing the fallen cadres. And it also seems that the central forces of al-Qaeda were never able to constitute a world network, as opposed to being a symbol of deep resentment and an aspiration for a reconstituted caliphate.

The so-called Arab spring has created a new opening for al-Qaeda. It has weakened the legitimacy of every ruler of an Arab state without exception. The question becomes what political forces will then come to power. This has led to prolonged struggles within each of these states, some of which are more bloody than others.

The strongest opposition to al-Qaeda today is not the United States but other political forces within these states. We are only at the beginning phase of these political struggles. The attack of Salafist forces on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, leading to the death of the U.S. ambassador, may only be the beginning of this resurgence. It is far too early to say that al-Qaeda is no longer relevant.

share: Recommend on Facebook Tweet about it Tell a friendCopyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights[at]agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein[at]yale.edu.

Immigrants drive economic growth, pay taxes, add value to the culture, and don’t take jobs from native-born people.

September 18, 2012
by ColorLines.com

Immigrants Are Losing the Policy Fight.
But That’s Beside the Point

by Rinku Sen

Like many others, I’ve worked for years to get Americans to think expansively and compassionately about immigration. In a decade dominated by the push for what’s been dubbed “comprehensive immigration reform,” I’ve argued that immigrants drive economic growth, pay taxes, add value to the culture, and don’t take jobs from native-born people. Although I wasn’t thrilled with the enforcement elements of the policy—that fence, beefing up the Border Patrol, growing detention and deportation—it seemed amazing that Congress was even considering changing the status of as many as 12 million undocumented people. Most of the immigrant rights movement focused on winning that policy, and for a time, it really seemed possible.(Photo: colorlines.com)

That was then. In the spring of 2007, the last decent bill authored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy died in Congress. There have been other bills since, each with more enforcement and less legalization. President Obama’s election seemed a hopeful sign, but he refused to move forward without Republicans and then deported record numbers. The moderate Republican on this issue has become scarce; by 2011, even McCain was claiming that border crossers had started wildfires in the Arizona desert. Democrats too have moved to the right, adopting harsher language and stressing enforcement. The immigrant rights movement, for all its vibrancy and depth, has been losing the policy fight.

That’s because the movement has also been losing the profoundly racialized cultural fight over the nation’s identity, limiting our ability to frame the debate.

I watch lots of TV, where Hollywood tells the same story again and again: beleaguered Americans and their law enforcers confront hordes of “criminal aliens” rushing our borders. As a cultural event, September 11 became a gift to xenophobes, giving the show “24” its reason for being, and helping to make South Asians, Arabs and Muslims subjects of suspicion wherever they went. Battles over the building of mosques have been carried out with epic heat in Murfreesboro, TN., and New York City, during the same period that a Florida preacher threatened to burn a Quran. These “swarthy” communities have endured a relentless barrage of attacks, long predating the August massacre at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc.

Reality TV has been inspired by immigration enforcement. Sherriff Joe Arpaio, who at age 80 doesn’t seem done winning elections in Maricopa County, Ariz., had a three-episode pilot on the Fox Reality Channel. “Border Wars,” “Law on the Border,” “Homeland Security USA,” and “Border Battles,” all aired on channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet. It was exciting to see a meaningful storyline about an undocumented father on “Ugly Betty,” but that was hardly enough to compete with the volume of material glorifying the other perspective.

The image of the unwanted, unscrupulous, immoral immigrant permeates television, talk radio, and movie screens, yet pro-immigrant organizations have largely neglected even to pick a cultural fight, until recently. That fact has started to change since 2007, as the movement took up a cultural strategy to tell the modern immigrant’s story in as many ways as we can find.

DREAMers—the youth who have advocated for and come to embody legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some people brought to the U.S. as children—are making art and creating new words. Organizers are adding programs designed simply to put native-born and immigrant Americans in contact. Documentary and fiction films about undocumented people are finding audiences. And thousands of people are raising questions about the language of “illegality” in immigration talk. These are the activities that reframe the debate by establishing immigrants as full human beings—not just workers—who are exercising the core human urge to seek brighter conditions.

If the death of hope on a comprehensive reform policy has a positive spin, we can find it in the space that has opened up for cultural work on the issue. Only the thoughtful integration of these tactics with traditional policy pushes can get us out of a period dominated by bad news for immigrants.

The Roots of Failure

In 2005, the Minute Man Civil Defense Corps Project set up to do what the federal government supposedly wouldn’t. Frank Sharry, then director of the National Immigration Forum, sees this event as a key volley in the culture war, noting the massive press attention on Project founder Chris Simcox.

“Prior to this,” Sharry said, “racism in the anti-immigration movement was latent but not activated. The Minute Man Civil Defense Corps Project was a grassroots white nationalist movement. Not that everyone who showed up was a white nationalist, but the idea was to keep those brown people out.” Even Jim Gilchrist, the founder of a financial investigation outfit The Minute Man Project, which targets employers of undocumented workers, has spoken out against the racist tone of vigilantes. He told the Atlantic that they were “nothing but a bunch of skinheads.”

That same year, conservative communications guru Frank Luntz wrote a strategy memo for restrictionists, stressing the law-and-order frame. He instructed the movement to use “illegal immigrant” always, but never “illegals” because the noun was too dehumanizing and would drive away Latinos. The Associated Press blessed that phrasing with its style book, calling the adjective a neutral term while warning people never to use the noun. All this parsing out of nouns and adjectives indicates a great faith in the average American’s knowledge of grammar, a faith that hasn’t been borne out by a reality in which everyday people, pundits and politicians regularly refer to immigrants as “illegals.”

Leaders of D.C.-based immigrant rights organizations are now self critical about their slow response to a changing climate. Deepak Bhargava, director of the Center for Community Change, which maintains a national network of state and local immigrant organizations, said, “Prior to ‘07, and I don’t consider myself innocent in this regard, there was a squeamishness, an uncertainty, a tentativeness that people projected about framing immigration in terms of the racial debate.”

Those people woke up after the fall of the McCain-Kennedy bill. Republicans were clearly conflicted, with longtime supporters like Sam Brownback turning tail, while Trent Lott, of all people, berated his party for voting against reform because of racism. “We were naïve enough to think we were in a public policy fight,” said Sharry, acknowledging that he was directly criticized for years by colleagues who warned him this was the inevitable outcome of a limited strategy. “When even a right-leaning, back-room reform was defeated, it showed the right was not interested in policy debate.”

The question is, how does a society grapple with choices that touch on our deepest racial divides?

In one intervention, the pro-immigrant movement exposed the ties between restrictionist organizations and white supremacists. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, documented the role of eugenicist John Tanton in founding FAIR, Numbers USA and Center for Immigration Studies—all crucial groups in the restrictionist movement. Those connections have been well covered now in the mainstream and independent press, yet it has had little effect on the credibility of these organizations. There are two reasons for that fact: Who sits on what board of directors is of little concern to most people, and the accusation of white supremacy is a blunt instrument in a nuanced racial situation. As Bhargava put it, “You can’t just call all the people who resist reform white supremacists and be done with it.”

By 2010, mainstream communications advice for immigrant rights leaned toward giving Americans what they seemed to want: tougher enforcement with a little compassion. The cognitive psychologist Drew Westen released research in partnership with America’s Voice, Sharry’s organization, and the Center for American Progress that supported using “illegal immigrant” to signal a tough stance on immigration. Westen said the phrase opened up people who were ambivalent about immigration to the idea of legalization. “When [voters] hear ‘undocumented worker,’ they hear a liberal euphemism, it sounds to them like a liberal code,” Westen told Politico in 2010. In a later study for the Center for Social Inclusion, Westen confirmed that saying “illegal immigrant” was key to convincing white people to support immigrant inclusion in health care reform and other policies. Democrats largely adopted this advice, but advocates have refused to do so, including Bhargava and Sharry, who is effectively ignoring the research he commissioned.

Yet, Westen is not wrong. People do use “illegal” automatically—precisely because it is so ubiquitous, having been made so by Frank Luntz’s strategy. To win in the short term, one has to find a way to get into what’s called the audience’s circle of concern—or, that group of people that viewers, readers, listeners and voters are willing to protect. The circle of concern is entirely shaped by our subjective and mostly unconscious thoughts about who belongs and who doesn’t, which are in turn triggered by the constant repetition of frames like law-and-order. Getting in the circle is less likely if you signal that you’re talking about outsiders from the start. This is why Westen tells immigration reform advocates that they can avoid “illegal” if they want, but they should be prepared to deal with less support. Entirely correct, in the short term.

Winning in the long term, though, requires getting people to think of the “other” as being inside their circles. That is entirely possible to do, as the abolition, civil rights, feminist, sexual liberation and many other movements have proven. But it takes a complement of cultural interventions alongside the political ones, advanced over five, 10, even 30 years. The cultural project has to establish the stories, images, and archetypes that prime a person to expand rather than shrink the circle of concern. That project requires us to deal with how race is lived in America, not just how it is legislated.

A Different Kind of Organizing

Storytelling is central to a cultural strategy. Ever since linguist George Lakoff gave the Democrats hell for losing the 2004 presidential election by talking technicalities instead of values, politicos apply the word “narrative” to everything from policy platforms to budget proposals. But real narratives are dynamic, with characters, settings and actions that move things along. Storytelling has its own structural demands—a protagonist that isn’t an organization, an antagonist that will turn out to be wrong in the end, a conflict that creates obstacles the protagonist must overcome. Most political messages, even if they describe a problem in some detail, don’t reach storytelling standards because they lack these other elements.

As Lakoff writes, the human brain holds competing worldviews, known as frames, that are shaped by thousands of years of repetition. A person’s dominant frame might be “bootstraps” because that’s what she heard the most growing up. But “love thy neighbor” is in there somewhere, too. Numbers and facts can’t trigger “love thy neighbor,” but stories can.

In his book “The Storytelling Animal,” Jonathan Gottschall notes that our brains engaged in story take us through the protagonist’s reactions. We flinch when the serial killer jumps out and cry when the heroine’s father dies. Gotschall writes that, “when we experience a story—whether it is in a book, a film, or a song—we allow ourselves to be invaded by the teller.” If this is true, then it’s hard to imagine any political movement succeeding without the strongest possible ability to tell stories. Tell the story first, and you get to frame the issue.

This might be the central difference between the DREAMers’ strategy and that of the traditional immigrant rights movement. Young, savvy with social media, and artistically inclined, DREAMers have compensated for their lack of political power by telling their stories in many forms and venues. The Trail of Dreams, the route from Florida to D.C. that four DREAMers walked in 2010, had characters and plot built in. They took on a heroic quest, encountered the Ku Klux Klan along the way and their completion of the journey reinforced what might be considered old-fashioned American perseverance.

Favianna Rodriguez is a printmaker and visual artist, a mentor of young undocumented artists and a founder of Culture Strike, which brings together musicians, writers and artists to support immigrants. Rodriguez says that organizers initially saw artists as amplifiers of the message, but the messaging itself was often uninspiring (i.e., “states don’t have the right to set immigration policy”) or inconsistent. Artists knew that had to change. “Whatever work was produced, we had to think of it not as a communications track but on the track of changing people’s hearts,” said Rodriguez.

She was inspired by the DREAMers moving on from comprehensive immigration reform with the slogan Undocumented and Unafraid, and she has since hosted Undocunation and numerous other visual galleries featuring the work of young immigrants. Julio Salgado, a 29-year-old artist whose family came to the States from Mexico because his sister needed a kidney transplant and stayed because she would have died without ongoing treatment, produced one of my favorite prints. It features a young immigrant saying, “My parents are responsible and loving and that’s why I’m here,” a much-needed counter to the bad parent, innocent child characterization that undergirds so many DREAM Act messages.

These artists, like Rodriguez, have fans who are in it for the art, taking the politics on the side. “People come and say I never knew DREAMers went through this, “said Rodriguez. “Not because they’re bigoted, just because of lack of information. They came for the way we were delivering the stories.”

In 2006, while Leo Morales was door-knocking a community on immigration reform in Canyon County, Idaho, he quickly discovered that people were either against it or afraid to engage in a public discussion. The Idaho Community Action Network had a 15-year history of bringing together white, Native and Latino working people to fight for policy changes of all sorts, but on this issue, they couldn’t get enough traction to do anything.

So they backed up a step. Through the Main Street Alliance, which provides small business owners an alternative to the Chamber of Commerce, ICAN members asked local businesses to put up a simple sign in their windows. “Immigration is an American tradition. Acceptance is an American value,” the sign read, under a picture of the Statue of Liberty. A year later, ICAN started Welcoming Idaho and bought ads on bus benches and billboards. That’s unusual for a group whose go-to tactic is a raucous demonstration, but Morales said, “We had to do something different to lower the heat level and get people talking.”

Morales’ group is the Idaho chapter of Welcoming America, which started in Tennessee and went national in 2004. Their approach hinges on getting native-born and foreign-born Americans in direct contact with each other. The model is straightforward: local leaders declare themselves a welcoming committee, and host programs in which people can ask any kind of question without fear of judgment. Eventually, they may get local authorities to adopt a resolution declaring themselves a welcoming community. The groups use videos that spark conversation, as well as “Welcome to Shelbyville,” a documentary about Somalis and other immigrants in a small town near Nashville that aired on PBS.

“When someone sees a community changing with lots of new people in it, they can feel like ‘this isn’t my place anymore,’ ” says David Lubell, Welcoming Tennessee’s executive director. “You have to give people a chance to see the racial dynamic for themselves without beating them over the head with it. So they can see hey, we don’t have this kind of reaction to Russian immigrants.” Stories are key to that process, Lubell says, because if native-born people can hear an immigrant tell her story in a way that resonates with their own experience, then there’s an opening. In 2009, Nashville voters rejected an English-only ordinance; Welcoming America ran the cultural campaign to accompany the policy campaign led by others in that instance. Welcoming America now has 21 affiliates, including many in the South and West.

Drop the I-Word, Save the Kids

At the Applied Research Center, our recent interventions in the immigration discourse have been generated by stories and centralized stories in their strategy. The first is the Drop the I-word campaign, which urges residents, politicians and journalists to stop using the language of illegality in immigration. Second, our Shattered Families investigation exposed the permanent severing of family ties between parents who have been deported and children who are in the child welfare system.

In 2008, I traveled around promoting The Accidental American, my book about the founding of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. At Powell’s Books in Portland, OR, I kept seeing a young man walk back and forth behind the audience. When all the people had left, the young man made contact. He’d been browsing the architecture books and overheard our discussion. He’d graduated high school and wanted to be an architect but couldn’t afford college and couldn’t get a job. Should he turn himself in and ask for mercy? I still remember the way he whispered, “I’m illegal.”

We launched Drop the I-word in September 2010 with a video and pledge drive. Many immigrant rights activists ignored us, and we were certainly on the opposite end of Drew Westen’s approach. But when our microsite was shared 20,000 times on Facebook within 48 hours, an unprecedented response to an ARC release, we knew we were onto something. This was a story people wanted to tell and hear. We started with a series called “I Am…”—people without papers and their allies talking about how they define themselves and how they live with that word hanging over them. We’ve heard from students, activists, army wives, white fourth graders from Idaho, Native Americans, and numerous journalists who had decided to drop the i-word.

Last year, the Society of Professional Journalists adopted a resolution denouncing “illegal alien” and urging reporters to rethink “illegal immigrant,” too. When José Antonio Vargas came out as undocumented in the New York Times Magazine last year, his became the outlet’s most emailed story that week and “undocumented” trended on Twitter for a day. DREAMers have taken “undocumented,” a word Gloria Steinem told me would be a problem because it had no poetry, and used it to create UndocuNation and UndocuBus memes. New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz apologized for using “illegal” as the answer to the clue “One Caught by Border Patrol.” Shortz wrote, “At the time I wrote this clue … I had no idea that use of the word ‘illegal’ in this sense (as a noun) was controversial…It’s in widespread use by ordinary people and publications. Still, language changes, and I understand how the use of ‘illegal’ as a noun has taken on an offensive connotation.”

Also last year, we released the first-ever report on the interaction of child welfare, immigration and criminal justice systems, illuminating how the shaming device of “illegal” plays out. When these systems converge, it is astonishingly easy for parents to lose their parental rights because they cannot do the things required to get their kids back. We estimated, very conservatively, that some 5,000 children across the country are in danger of never seeing their detained or deported parents again. We hoped the report would fuel policy and practice changes, but we also wanted to disrupt the “they deserve what they get” message that dominates so much of the immigration debate. We framed the problem as a matter of what happens when we allow bias to replace all we know about what is best for children. The clearest evidence that the frame worked was the utter lack of pushback from conservative immigration organizations.

In the course of the projects, we broke the story of Felipe Montes and his family. Montes, father of three boys, was deported from Allegheny County, NC in 2010. He’d been the primary caretaker, financially and otherwise, so when his wife was unable to maintain the family without him, the kids were taken into the child welfare system. Child welfare soon stopped efforts to reunify the boys with their mother and moved to terminate Montes’s parental rights as well. Just before his family court hearing, which he couldn’t come back to to the U.S. to attend, Presente.org built a petition asking officials to reunify the family; 20,000 people signed it. The Mexican Consulate got involved; ICE granted Montes a rare parole to return for 90 days, and he’s been having substantial visits with his boys. The hearing is set for next week, and numerous press outlets are waiting to report on the outcome.

© 2012 ColorLines

Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and Publisher of Colorlines.com.

The biggest challenge for Mitt Romney, among too many to flip-flop through, is Mitt Romney’s mouth: what were IEDs in the McCain campaign are now suicide bombings in Romney’s, with Romney the Groundhog-Day bomber: he self-destructs, and comes back for more. Maybe Mormons have more in common with Buddhist notions of reincarnation than we knew.

September 18, 2012 by Flagler Live Mitt Romney’s 47% Problem

by Pierre Tristam

“You cannot be serious.” —John McEnroeThere’s a Romney in there somewhere. (DonkeyHotey)

One of the many challenges of John McCain’s campaign four years ago, besides the past-due expiration date on the candidate himself, was Sarah Palin’s IED of a mouth. If the campaign wasn’t finished before her nomination, she doomed it. The biggest challenge for Mitt Romney, among too many to flip-flop through, is Mitt Romney’s mouth: what were IEDs in the McCain campaign are now suicide bombings in Romney’s, with Romney the Groundhog-Day bomber: he self-destructs, and comes back for more. Maybe Mormons have more in common with Buddhist notions of reincarnation than we knew.

The post-truth compulsions of the Romney campaign are making us nostalgic for Richard Nixon. But three howlers stand out (so far) from that video of Romney’s talk at a post-convention fund-raiser Mother Jones acquired (see here): his alleged joke about wishing he was Latino, his rejection of the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, which would be an astounding reversal of 35 years of American aims and policy going back to the Camp David accords of 1978, and of course this statement, the most damaging at home, which must have lacked the usual warning savvier political candidates tend to respect (“don’t try this at home”):

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Romney’s backtracking in a rapid-deployment news conference Monday evening was clever but convincing only to the extent that it confirmed his pirouetting skills and the vacuum at his political inner-core: he’ll fill it with whatever is necessary to say, to win, in any given moment. He smoothed the edges of his abrasive statements at the fund-raiser, but he did not retreat from the fundamental points, and dug his hole deeper in some regards, especially when he cast the election in purely self-serving mathematical terms, when he described his aims at no more than winning 50.1 percent. That’s not the best way to portray oneself as a statesman-like leader who recognizes the limits of his appeal but nevertheless aims to represent the entire nation.

The statement about the 47 percent is in and of itself, in whatever context, a fountain of revelations, mostly of Romney’s contradictions and cynicism.

First, while 46 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax in 2011, most of those paid the payroll tax, which, by itself, puts most Americans’ tax liability at more than half that of Mitt Romney’s 13 percent: it’s not smart for a man whose millions are taxed so lightly to criticize half of America of paying no taxes. The majority of those 47 percent also pay excise taxes, state taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and sin taxes, to name a few.

Then there’s the insult about those 47 percent as “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.” But most of the people who pay no income taxes don’t do so because of Republican policies. It’s Democrats, remember, who allegedly like to tax people more, and Republicans who do the opposite. You can’t have it both ways—cut taxes then blame the opposition for not paying taxes.

Ronald Reagan successfully pushed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives working class people money back as an incentive for working. The Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded by Newt Gingrich on the way to welfare reform Bill Clinton signed in 1997. Republican-favored tax credits to the elderly, passed with winning states like Florida in mind, eliminated millions of elderly tax payers from the tax rolls. George W. Bush’s massive 2001 tax cuts eliminated millions of lower-income people off the tax rolls. His massive 2003 tax cut, much of which directed at the wealthiest Americans by way of exempting investment income, lowered the tax liabilities of another chunk (Romney was in that batch).

The expansion of the child tax credit eliminated millions more (7.8 million, according to the Tax Foundation). A good many millionaires, too, pay no income taxes: 4,000 did so in 2011, by taking advantage of deductions. Dependent on government? Maybe: on deductions. Victims? In the Romney liturgy, they’re only victims of still-too-high taxes: his tax cuts would exempt even more people from paying them.

Finally, while a majority of people who pay no income taxes do so by taking advantage of tax breaks, three-fourths of remaining households that pay no income tax do so “because of provisions that benefit senior citizens and low-income working families with children. Those provisions include the exclusion of some Social Security benefits from taxable income, the tax credit and extra standard deduction for the elderly,” the Tax Policy Center found. See the fuller Tax Policy Center’s analysis here.

One last point. In his backtracking Monday evening, Romney blamed President Obama for the 23 million people who are either out of work or under-employed, and said he was running for president to help them. But he’d just called people receiving unemployment checks “victims” and “dependents.” He’d just lumped most of those 23 million people in the “my-job-is-not-to-worry-about-those-people” camp, adding them to batches of Social Security recipients, those millionaires and those working class people, who have been voting solidly Republican since Reagan.

Romney’s math has never computed. His politics aren’t computing, either. Nor is his campaign. At that fund-raiser he didn’t so much reveal who he was as confirm what had been known and presumed but never said so well in his own words. He called himself inelegant in his backtracking last night. That’s the least of it.

© 2012 Pierre Tristam

Pierre Tristam is the editor at FlaglerLive.com. Reach him at ptristam@att.net or through his personal Web site at www.pierretristam.com .