From the News Wires
Correction on 5/6/13 at 2:37pm EST: This morning we published an open letter from Assata Shakur, who was recently placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List. We reported that the letter was published on May 3. However, the letter actually dates back several years. The University of Texas' Digital Repository dates the letter to 1998. Apologies for the error.
In her letter, Shakur provides her own account of the events leading up to her arrest and 1977 conviction. She also details the extent to which the media played a role in her prosecution. Shakur was sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years before she escaped to Cuba.
The U.S. Senate's 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that "The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public's perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through "friendly" news contacts." This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.
Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman. I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth.
Last week, the New Jersey State Police and the FBI announced a $2 million reward for information leading to Shakur's capture. The FBI has also put up billboards across New Jersey asking for the public's help in her arrest. Since her exile, Shakur has remained outspoken about racial and economic injustice in the United States and, as a result, has become one of the most widely recognized and admired names in the struggle for black liberation. While her supporters are not surprised by the FBI's continued diligence in the case, many were taken aback by timing and prominence of the agency's renewed efforts.
Renowned scholar and activist Angela Davis, who was once on the FBI's List of the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives and labeled by President Richard Nixon as a "dangerous terrorist" in 1970 before being exonerated, appeared on Democracy Now last week to talk about the timing of the agency's new pursuit of Shakur.
You know, certainly, Assata continues to advocate radical transformation of this country, as many of us do. You know, I continues to say that we need revolutionary change. This is why it seems to me that the attack on her reflects the logic of terrorism, because it precisely is designed to frighten young people, especially today, who would be involved in the kind of radical activism that might lead to change.Davis appeared in a segment that also included Shakur's longtime attorney Lennox Hinds. You can see video and a full transcript of that segment over at Democracy Now.
The Louisiana Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Gov. Bobby Jindal's education reform agenda today. In a 6-1 vote the Court ruled that funding for school vouchers, a central part of the governor's education law, is unconstitutional because it diverts public money meant to fund public schools toward private schools.
The expansive voucher program pulls funding from what's called the minimum foundation program, in clear violation of Louisiana state constitution. "The state funds approved through the unique MFP process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution," Justice John Weimer wrote, the Times-Picayune reported.
It is a serious setback for Gov. Jindal's ambitious education agenda, much of which has ended up in the courts. The voucher program was a central part of Act 2, Jindal's 2012 sweeping school reform package which included provisions to increase the use of private online education programs for public education; speed up charter school approval and forcefully tie teachers' jobs' to their students' test scores. In March a judge ruled the teacher tenure and evaluation portions of Jindal's law unconstitutional as well.
The Louisiana teachers union, one of the plaintiffs in this school vouchers case, has acknowledged though that this case alone will not be the final answer in the school vouchers question. In this lawsuit the Louisiana Association of Teachers challenged the funding of the school voucher program as well as lawmakers' procedural violations. Louisiana could very well attempt to fund the program through some other, legal means.
It can hard to see wealth. Sure, there are markers of it everywhere: homes, jobs, cars. But the true indicators of wealth, like home equity, retirement savings, and a family's investments aren't usually on public display. Now, a new infographic from United For a Fair Economy is trying to expose just how deeply divided our nation's wealth is along the lines of race. And those divisions have grown even starker since the economic recession began in 2008.
"This infographic draws attention to the intersection of housing as both a globally-recognized human right and as a commodity in a global stock market controlled by the wealthy," wrote Mazher Ali, the organizations communications coordinator. "We urge readers to acknowledge the history behind the long-standing racial wealth divide and to consider the interplay between federal housing policies and risky financial practices and their impacts on the divide."
After months of pressure, senior executives at FOX Broadcasting have decided not to renew the show "Cops" for another season. Critics of the long-running police reality TV show claimed that it pedels in misrepresentations and caricatures of black and Latino communities. The show will instead move to a niche network, SpikeTV.
"We have been working tirelessly to push this damaging reality TV series off primetime network television, and today we applaud FOX for dropping this toxic show from its lineup," said ColorOfChange.org Executive Director, Rashad Robinson. Last week, the online civil rights organization sponsored ads in AdvertisingAge and Daily Variety denouncing the show's racially-charged content. The ads came after the group circulated an online petition against the show.
"Out of primetime, COPS no longer has a mainstream platform and will have a significantly smaller audience. Research shows that exploiting persistent dehumanizing stereotypes that marginalize Black Americans have real-world consequences, and there is much more work to be done to bring about a significant cultural shift in the ways we are portrayed in the media," Robinson said in a statement to the press.
Eight years after his death, the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition provides high school students from around the country an opportunity to carry on the African-American playwright's legacy. That legacy includes Pulitzer Prizes for "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson," two installments of Wilson's 10-play series set in his hometown of Pittsburgh that examined 20th-century black life through the personal and political struggles of everyday people.
The monologue competition originated in Atlanta with director Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre. It draws participants from seven cities including Seattle, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Winners from this year's regionals will compete in a final performance on May 6. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Broadway theater named after Wilson.* Colorlines.com caught up with two of the finalists, 17-year-old Zhane Ligon and 16-year-old Reginald Wilson Jr., at Manhattan's Repertory High School for Theater Arts. In the video below, Wilson's words from "Jitney" help transform them from soft-spoken teenagers into powerful storytellers.
*Post has been updated since publication.
The stodgy conservatives over at the Heritage Foundation released a long-expected report today that blasts immigration reform as an economic drain. The report, which is expected to be influential among conservative legislators, comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins work on its massive reform bill this week. A similar Heritage report is credited with helping to derail a previous reform effort, in 2006.
The paper is authored by Robert Rector, who came to fame as a key conservative thinker during the 1996 dismantling of family welfare, and his colleague Jason Richwine. The two claim that the "net increased fiscal costs generated by amnesty"--by which they mean the 13-year path to citizenship in the Senate bill--will cost $6.3 trillion in benefits and services for legalized immigrants over the next 50 years.
Put simply, the Heritage Foundation's report is misleading. It focuses only on what the government spends in services and programs, minus what immigrants pay in taxes, while ignoring the vast economic contributions of immigrant communities. Nearly every independent analysis shows that immigration and immigration reform bring net economic growth. Rather than acknowledge this reality, the Heritage report reinforces a familiar trope about people of color as "takers," a cultural rather than economic argument that conservatives have consistently invoked when trying to cut safety net programs.
A Flawed Analysis
There are lots of problems with the report. But quickly, here's their claim. Because most newly legalized immigrants are low-income, legalization will cost the government $6.3 trillion more in benefits and services than newly legalized immigrants will pay in taxes over the next five decades. The bulk of that spending, they say, is on public education, the safety net, social security and health care. They're most concerned with paying for school for kids and social security for aging immigrants.
Without digging into whether those calculations are right on their face, the report misses most of the story about immigrants' relationship to the economy. As with anyone, immigrant communities' economic impact is more than just how much any given family receives in benefits minus how much we pay in taxes. That's why the Congressional Budget Office plans to use a so-called dynamic scoring method when it analyzes the immigration bill.
As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews writes:
They also assume [immigration reform has] no other economic impact of any kind. That's so implausible that even the CBO, which is famously conservative with regards to incorporating economic effects of policies, took direct economic effects of adding people to the workforce into account when evaluating the 2006-7 reform bill. They found that legalization, even paired with increased border security spending, would mildly cut the deficit over 10 years, by about $12 billion.
The CBO plans a similar analysis this year.
Even some on the right side of the GOP challenge the Heritage methodology. Sen. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said in a statement, "The Congressional Budget Office has found that fixing our broken immigration system could help our economy grow. A proper accounting of immigration reform should take into account these dynamic effects."
Missing The Point
The Heritage report accurately notes that CBO analyses look only 10 years into the future, which means it won't account for additional benefits that that these immigrants will be eligible for if they become citizens. Immigrants on the 10-year provisional path to citizenship will be denied access to all government programs, including Obamacare healthcare exchanges. But existing research on immigration suggests that legalization provides a boon to the economy in the long term by increasing immigrants' economic prospects in the future.
Take this research from the Immigration Policy Center on the 1986 immigration reform legislation. Rector and Richwine claim that immigrants are a drain because in aggregate those who are given legal status will remain poor and uneducated. But the IPC analysis finds precisely the opposite to be true. In the years after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act:
the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously. Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance.
And immigrants tend to stimulate the economy by starting businesses. Here's what the Brookings Institute has to say:
immigrants are 30 percent more likely to form new businesses than U.S.-born citizens...Such investments in new businesses and in research may provide spillover benefits to U.S.-born workers by enhancing job creation and by increasing innovation among their U.S.-born peers.
The same is true for of immigrants who don't have lots of education, especially at the local level where immigration has for years been "revitalizing small-town America once plagued with a shrinking tax base and dim prospects for economic growth," the Wall Street Journal reports.
Here's another problem with the report. The research lists public education as the most costly part of government spending on immigrant families--$13,000 of the annual $24,000 the authors say taxpayers spend on a family. That's an absurd thing to be upset about. Education for all Americans is expensive, but it's an investment in our collective future. Moreover, the majority of the kids in question were born here in the United States. They're not immigrants at all, according to our Constitution.
If you want to read a filing cabinet full of studies on the positive economic impact of immigration reform, check out this Immigration Policy Center fact sheet.
But facts aren't the point of the Heritage study. The point is to provide an escape hatch for Republicans who oppose the broadly popular legislation. Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the NY Times he hoped to hold the bill up in committee long enough for it to die. "The longer this legislation is available for public review, the worse it's going to be perceived," he said Monday. "The longer it lays out there, the worse it's going to smell." As Senators propose amendments this week, don't be surprised to see lawmakers, including those who oppose reform outright, citing the Heritage Foundation in an effort to stench up the room.
The New York Times published an A1 story today about the struggles of farm workers of color in the U.S. But rather than explore the ways that our agricultural and immigration laws have degraded the quality of work and systematically pushed workers of color into the margins, Ethan Bronner strings together quotes that largely regurgitate racist tropes about lazy black workers and "efficient" Latinos. What could have been a story about labor conditions and very real problems of exploitation ended up a mess of racial stereotypes that pit black and Latino workers against each other and makes black folks out to hate immigrants.
The story is ostensibly about a set of lawsuits in Georgia and elsewhere in which U.S. citizens, some black, are suing farms for not hiring them. Some of the plaintiffs say they weren't hired because of their race or nationality, that the farms only hire Latinos.
But here's a few passages from the story about workers at a Georgia farm called Southern Valley:
Even many of the Americans who feel mistreated acknowledge that the Mexicans who arrive on buses for a limited period are incredibly efficient, often working into the night seven days a week to increase their pay.
"We are not going to run all the time," said Henry Rhymes, who was fired -- unfairly, he says -- from Southern Valley after a week on the job. "We are not Mexicans."
Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley, made a similar point.
"When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work," he said. "It's like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he's ready. A domestic wants to know: What's the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input."
After putting us through this litany of generalizations and racist undertones, Bronner writes, "Such generalizations lead lawyers -- and residents -- to say there are racist undertones to the farms' policies." Thanks.
Why not frame the story around what the story is about: the way that guest worker programs depress wages and public policies have systematically pushed black and Latino workers into the most vulnerable parts of the labor market? Why not write about the racist undertones in the policies--the one's that lock guest workers into captive employment relationships that make it possible for employers to force folks to work seven days a week?
It's not that Bronner doesn't give these ideas some space, but to frame the story as it's framed makes a problem of structural racism into another black-brown struggle. There is a story here about the impact of guest worker programs on wages for other low-income workers, including black folks, but it's hard to find that story through the weeds.
For a more nuanced take on how black and Latino workers often struggle together at the botton of the labor market, read Brentin Mock's 2010 story on workers in post-Katrina, post-BP spill New Orleans. Mock wrote about...
an ugly underbelly to the new economy that's being built. It is one in which opportunity is ever-more concentrated in a few hands, and in which profiteering capitalists and scapegoating politicians are pitting struggling workers against one another in starkly racial terms.
Latinos are far less likely to contact police to report crime because of fears that doing so could trigger immigration detention and deportation. That's according to new polling data released today of over 2000 Latinos in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.
The report, "Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement," finds that Latinos in general and undocumented Latino immigrants in particular are unlikely to call police to report crime because of fears that police will inquire about their immigration status. University of Illinois Chicago researchers and Lake Research Associates pollsters found that 44 percent of Latinos in these cities say they're unlikely to call police if they're victim of a crime. And 70 percent of undocumented Latino immigrants say they're less likely to tell police if they've been targeted by a criminal act.
Responding to the report findings, Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement, "Federal deportation policy doesn't just destroy families, it is destroying public trust in law enforcement and, as a consequence, threatening everyone's public safety."
The survey also found that over 60 percent of undocumented immigrants in the four counties say they feel isolated and are afraid to leave their homes because police could ask them about their immigration status.
The report focuses in particular on the impact of programs like Secure Communities that use local cops and jails to begin the detention and deportation process. Advocates have long said that these programs put immigrant communities at risk of becoming victim to crime and violence. Evidence of this has so far been largely anecdotal. The survey provides a larger analysis.
The federal government deported 409,000 people last year, largely through these programs. Even as Congress considers immigration reform, the removals appear to have continued at a similar rate.
So what's so scary about having an openly gay man like Jason Collins in a professional sports locker room? Straight men may have to start recognizing basketball as the "homoerotic extravaganza that it is", according to Indian writer and lifelong basketball enthusiast Sherman Alexie.
In a piece for The Stranger, Alexie names what so many sports fans have been tip-toeing around in the aftermath of Collins' historic coming out.
So who are the best-looking men in the USA? The answer, obviously, is professional athletes. I mean, Jesus, Google-Image Adrian Peterson. Study how cut, shredded, and jacked he is.
Cut. Shredded. Jacked. Those are violent straight-boy adjectives that mean "beautiful." But we straight boys aren't supposed to think of other men as beautiful. We're supposed to think of the most physically gifted men as warrior soldiers, as dangerous demigods.
And there's the rub: When we're talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. It might not be homosexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.
There are strict social rules governing sexuality and gender, and nowhere is that more evident than in the world of sports. Read Alexie's entire essay over at The Stranger.
The racial wealth gap never ceases to amaze. Black and Latino families hold pennies of accumulated assets compared to every dollar of the average white family's investments, retirement savings and home equity. Wealth matters a lot. It's what families use to buttress against hard times--say a period of joblessness--and it's what parents pass onto their kids to pay for college and avoid taking out big loans. This means that families without wealth actually pass on a future of debt.
So it's particularly enraging to observe, once again, that the racial wealth gap is the product of very clear and deliberate public policy. Ta-Nehisi Coates has a post at the Atlantic on a foul 1950's housing market practice that sprang up because the federal government refused to insure loans for black families. In the space left by this legal exclusion, housing speculators bought cheap properties, jacked up the prices and sold the homes to black families. If the families missed a single payment, the broker could terminate the contract, take all the money the family already invested and kick them out of the home. Coates explains:
Buying on contract meant that you made a down-payment to a speculator. The speculator kept the deed and only turned it over to you after you'd paid the full value of the house -- a value determined by the speculator. In the meantime, you were responsible for monthly payments, keeping the house up, and taking care of any problems springing from inspection. If you missed one payment, the speculator could move to evict you and keep all the payments you'd made. Building up equity was impossible, unless -- through some Herculean effort -- you managed to pay off the entire contract. Very few people did this. The system was set up to keep them from doing it, and allow speculators to get rich through a cycle of evicting and flipping.
Coates posted a chart mocked up by 1960s advocates to show the kinds of markups we're taking about. The first column reads, "Documented Price Paid By Speculator." The second: "Documented Price Change To Negro Buyer." In one case, a home listed on the chart is sold to a black family at nearly three times the purchase price, not including interest.
"In that chart you can literally see black wealth leaving one neighborhood and migrating to another," Coates writes. "It was not just legal. It was the whole point."
It's a prime example, Coates writes, of why "the wealth gap is not a mistake. It is the logical outcome of policy." And it's upon this policy history that new forms of predation emerged. The subprime loans of the last decade were targeted to black families who'd been denied affordable and regulated lending services. These losses are part of the reason the wealth gap is now growing. And as I wrote earlier this week, the very same communities appear to be the targets of new schemes, this time in the form of totally unregulated "pension advances" that saddle elderly folks with mammoth interest rates. Some of these borrowers are pushed to advance companies because an earlier foreclosure tanked their credit score and all hope of getting a bank loan.