Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Double-Edged Sword of Racist Environmental Catastrophe

Global warming and its resultant ecological disasters are merely collateral damage to the environmental disaster that is global capitalism. It’s interesting that for decades the mass messaging has been worried about so-called ecoterrorism. But terrorism is a political name of a distinct violence that functionally distracts from the heightened and broad violence that imperialist and capitalist destruction wrought to communities of color. And when it comes to the ecology, this violence is double-edged.

Because, first, the repercussions of ecological damage hit communities of color first, most, and the hardest. We see that in the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and the hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, rocking hardest the communities of color that have little protection and infrastructure as they are put in harms’ way. We see that in neighborhoods where garbage dumps and smoke stacks are piled and children of color face enhanced lung disease, such as Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, or Gary, IN, just across the border. In the placement of people of color near toxic dumps or vice versa. In the state of Michigan’s treatment of the water in Flint. People of color are sacrificed to the gods of efficiency because White Supremacy will not allow otherwise.

The second wave that eco-terrorism is wrought in communities of color is that they are then victimized for their survival even as their recovery is dramatically slowed. They are blamed for not leaving beforehand when they have fewer resources to do so. They are qualified as “looters” while white looting is overlooked or sympathized with. Recently, a White news reporter riding atop Houston in a helicopter bragged about calling the police on people of color requisitioning emergency supplies from a shuttered grocery store. We saw this in how Haitians were treated as children by aid agencies and yet, for all their hand-wringing and fund-raising after the earthquake, left to rot by multinational corporations and their NGO wings. Communities of color are given less sympathy and thus less resources with which to alleviate their immediate needs after disasters.

Puerto Rico perfectly encapsulates both ends of this manufactured dilemma. Long before Hurricane Maria came along, the island colony of the US was put in the line of debt and neoliberal privatization to such an effect that it was facing the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US public bond market at $123 billion[1] already back in May of this year, eight times larger than Detroit’s. As a result of this mounting debt and the pressure to pay it off, not only are its beaches being privatized (and thus denied to citizens) and its schools being closed (along with drastic cuts to teacher pay and shutting of other essential services), its infrastructure is sabotaged. The fact that the electrical grid collapsed under the weight of the storm is not due to the negligence of the Puerto Rican people, but to how debt is structured among people of color and the colonized. Haiti had no infrastructure to deal with natural disasters due to its economy being routed towards paying for debts as a two hundred-year punishment for its own Black rebellion against White empire.

By Eric Pancer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Racism is not only the reason communities of color like Puerto Rico are more susceptible to environmental disasters, but also the reason their recovery from these catastrophes is trashed. Unlike when the Wall St. banks and lenders were insured by the United States after they destroyed the housing market and countless lives, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the US, is expected to pay debts it could not before the hurricanes. Its debt racked up under a Democratic president and it’s likely that a Democratic president wouldn’t have fundamentally altered or alleviate it. It just so happens that this openly White Supremacist and tactless president let the cat out of the bag by tweeting—while the island was under water and facing months without electrical power—that its first responsibility is to pay back Wall St.  Trump would not only blame the country for its own debt, but then, while failing to give the country the resources it needs for the people’s survival, called them lazy.

Haiti faced similar critiques and was criticized as too poor to prevent or treat the damage left by the earthquake in 2010, yet their blackness and abject poverty were tokenized for fundraising. Thus, even sympathetic aid organizations like Red Cross and the Clinton Foundation neglected or overthrew Haitian input while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars only to leave Haitians little better than before the quake. A Clinton donor, for instance, spent six billion dollars of raised money on building a handful of ‘hurricane-proof’ trailers that left homeless occupants sick from formaldehyde. Nine hundred Haitians died after Hurricane Matthew hit last year. Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be leading the response to the crisis, would as Secretary of State take the side of industrialists seeking to further exploit Haitian workers by working to deny pay increase demands and intervening in their elections. This after George W Bush assisted in a coup of democratically-elected President Aristide, following in his father’s coup of the same in the early 90’s.

We’ve yet to see how NGO’s will react in PR, but we know that banks were offering aid by merely compounding and prioritizing more debt to further consume the country and its public spaces. As a 100 year-old colony of the United States, however, Puerto Rico has very little agency in its own governance and largely relies on the US body politic, an engagement that they have no control over as the island has no representative vote.

To contrast, the neighboring socialist island nation of Cuba—undoubtedly also very poor—takes absolute, comprehensive precautions against these same tropical storms, thus facing significantly fewer lives lost than mainland US even as it takes the brunt end of these hurricanes. The country prioritizes prevention and protecting its most vulnerable people , whereas the capitalist nation state of the US undoubtedly prioritizes debt and economic growth, both at the expense of people of color. Cuba protects personal property, bodies, and affects while it’s clear that the corporations that run the US care only about their private property.

It’s about priorities, and global capitalism is perpetual war against communities of color.

 

[1] Nine times the size of Detroit, which then became another colony for the White ruling class to do with as they pleased.

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A Deferred Dream Action

When the Dream Act was being watered-down, stalled, heavily-militarized, rejected, watered-down some more, and rejected again, this heavily affected many of my clients, students at a community college. These were young adults who came here as children, had lived highly respectable lives, went to college and tried to do the right thing, according to the unrealistic, hubristic standards of the American Dream. Many of them—born in but coming from Latin American but sometimes Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the African regions—were relieved when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program was a temporary stop-gap measure for young immigrants (Generation 1.5, and under 32 years of age, as of 2012) who come here as children, graduated from high school, know English, and have completely spotless records that allowed them to register every two years for the chance to obtain an official state identification. These are students who traversed the traps of a country and society that highly problematize and criminalize them. They are raised in an environment of fear and secrecy, not necessarily of their own communities or families (though like any other demographic, that can be the case as well) but of being ripped from their families, communities, homes, and often the only country they know.

This existential fear is not a result of their innate badness or goodness or anything else. For immigration is a necessary lifeblood to both industry and to global capitalism. Yes, often immigrants are used as pawns to drive down the cost of labor, but that is to say that capitalists will not pay living wages and will use others to wedge in those “costs” – and further drive their theft – any way they can. At first it was indentured servanthood, then chattel slavery, then Jim Crow, then the Bracero program. Initially, the program was to bring in seasonal laborers (aka, guest workers) across the border, largely for agricultural work. When the Braceros began to settle permanently, have families, and organize their labor, then the corporations and their puppet state began striking back. In 1954, Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Services began the “Wetback Program” to round up immigrant workers who were not covered under the Bracero Program. Ten years later, when Mexican immigrants made up a full 15% of the farmhand labor force, the program ended as unions, churches, and competing demanded that both nationalized and guest workers’ wages be raised.

Immigrant rights were raised when Cesar Chavez’s joined together with Filipino migrant workers to protest grape growers’ lowering wages on the Filipino’s to undercut Mexican wages. The groups recognized that they were being pit against each other and worked together to demand fair wages from the landowners. And it worked. For fifteen years, while their wages were never at-par with the median for non-farmhands, they rose considerably. Seasonal farm laborers enjoyed a massive uptick in material conditions as a result of cross-sector solidarity and heavy organizing.

I point this out not simply as a history lesson from merely one group of workers and only a couple of immigrant groups, though the past informs the present and the future. But in light of the fact that the political parties will only serve capitalism and in doing so will seek out to destroy communities that do not meet their needs or have outserved their purpose—this includes immigrant families. Because they seek cheap labor that they can easily exploit we find this alternation between temporary, compromised rights under Democrats and permanent raids under the openly xenophobic and nativist Republicans (especially under Trump).

While DACA gave many young adults a fresh hope and materially benefited them with access to jobs, forms of valid ID, and more affordable college,[1] it only accounts for 10% of the most ‘exceptional’ immigrants (those who arrived by the age of 16, are younger than 32, have graduated high school and do not have a criminal record) and thus places all immigrants in an impossible situation of having to be super role models while under intense scrutiny in a highly criminalized climate in order to be accepted by the wider society, or to live and operate largely underground.

Additionally, the temporary fix that is DACA relied upon the idea that Obama would be replaced with someone of a like mind. The fact that this like-minded person was 1) facing off against an explicitly racist nativist and 2) herself having just repeated an astoundingly horrid nativist sentiment regarding refugee children should have alerted us all to the fact that the work, even the work for that dream-like 10%, was not complete, would not be near complete. The fact that now Donald Trump, Steve Miller, and all the fascists at ICE (and everyone who works at ICE is a fascist; don’t @ me!) have access to all this biometric information recipients is terrifying and incredibly irresponsible on the part of Obama. Further, that even the most-left-leaning national politician, Bernie Sanders, repeated nativist rhetoric about immigrants as themselves actors in lowering wages means that we are going to have to look beyond an electoral strategy.

We are left with the brazen fact that our politicians are failing us, that we must rely on each other. That capitalists only care about profit margins means that whatever actions they are willing to take for immigrant rights will be just enough to maintain their machines and not disrupt them. It is up to us, workers, to band together to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, where they were born, or immigration status, is treated fairly and justly, has enough to eat, adequate income, a decent place to live, freedom from oppression and constant surveillance, and sufficient security. This cannot happen if we allow Nativism, White Supremacy, and Patriarchy—the tools of capitalism—to organize us. It cannot happen if we are mobilized through Islamophobia[2] or the impetus of a police state.

Together, fighting for and with the marginalized amongst us, on their terms, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

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[1] Including many of my student clients, some of whom came out of hiding to go back to school

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/bank-has-entire-arab-american-family-arrested-after-father-tries-to-deposit-large-check-from-home-sale/

Affirmative Gutting

Four initial thoughts on the efforts of the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department to end collegiate Affirmative Action practices:

1) I know that liberals spent the last few weeks defending Sessions from getting fired by Donald J. Megalomaniac in order to defend both the ongoing Russian investigation and, probably more centrally, some sense of order and precedence in the White House cabinet. True, perhaps we’ll get further on the Russia investigation with Sessions protecting Mueller, et al, then we would if the AG post became a revolving door. And maybe, after a while, the trade off will be worth it just to see Trump packing his bags and the GOP panicking. But the way that Sessions acts while at the head of the single most powerful policing and legal agency in the world doesn’t give me any hope that any investigation into Trump will stand anyway, let alone that anything of value will come about from it. Furthermore, any chance for any procedural decorum is clearly out the window in Mar-A-Lago & McConnell’s stints. Democrats wasted opportunities to blow through filibusters when Obama was in office thinking they could use the procedure when they become the minority power, and to what end? Perhaps we’d be better off with no Attorney General than to stick with Jeff Klansmans.

2) Remember that Trump, like Bushie before him, is a legacy child. Affirmative Action doesn’t mean shit to people who’ve been born into wealth, into connections, into the racist family business. If Affirmative Action is truly a threat to the Myth of Meritocracy, then why are these legacies and inheritances not? Could it be that the Meritocratic Myth is simply a manifestation of and protectorate of White Supremacy and Capitalism? Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that property and trust funds should not be handed down to children of wealthy people; the kids didn’t earn that. They should go out into the world with a clean slate like the rest of us poor suckers and make their own way. Maybe, in fact, we should begin this process at birth. Since over one-fifth of all children live in poverty in the United States, it’s not fair that Barron Trump got to shit in gold lame diapers while 400,000 innocent children are placed in foster homes. Send him to the streets to earn his keep!

3) In the post Black Wall St era, the best hope for build-up for Black and Latinx wealth has been through AA programs–not just in college acceptance but in hiring. But then those programs began to be gutted under Reagan and both Bushes, particularly under their judges, and Black wealth subsided. The Republican administrations and legislators also worked to kill federal unions, where the Black middle class was rising. The demolition of welfare under Republican and neoliberal Democratic administrations then took the bottom out of poverty. In fact, this notion that somehow Trump is a different breed of Republican is fully repulsive. He and his are merely trying to finish what their heroes got primed. He’s following the business ethos that Reagan and Thatcher pushed to its logical conclusion: Always Be Closing.

4) If anything, this final swig at Affirmative Action demonstrates we need full-on socialism and reparations anyway. Universal preschools and daycare, guaranteed income, an infrastructure that reaches to the working and permanent underclass, abolition of debt and prisons… It’d also be nice if we can stop relying on prestigious college education to be the determiner of worth.

The Heresy of a White Supremacist Capitalist God in the heart of White Evangelicalism

Franklin Graham is a heretic.

I’m in the middle of writing a book on the connections between Evangelicalism and economic politics – whether that be Neoliberalism or more recently neofascism – and as such, I’m getting even more familiar with the central characters who loom large in the scope. Guys like D.L. Moody, Bill Bright and of course Billy Graham. As I’ve argued before, I don’t think that Billy’s son/apple Franklin falls far from the tree. If anything, Franklin is a grotesque caricature of his father; maybe the Id to Billy’s Ego. Where Billy cared about respectability and closeness to power, Franklin sees himself as the personification of power and thus dumps all pretext to respectability. He amasses power through politicizing his charities and evangelist stage – both of which he received through the work of being his father’s son (notice the gender. Not daughter).

This may come as a shock to many who follow the second-generation celebrity evangelist on Facebook. He is the figurehead of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one of the largest and most respected Evangelical organizations in the world, as well as the charity Samaritan’s Purse, after all – two organizations with deep pasts, deeper connections, and even deeper pocketbooks in American Christianity. His father led many souls, as they say, to Christ through his campaigns (crudely called “Crusades” in the early years). And his Facebook feed, while often controversial, is full of seemingly innocuous statements pressing his readers into choosing heaven today while they still have a chance – as if they weren’t already converts. Even such seemingly easy political targets such as the Jill Stein-led voter recount and the death of Fidel Castro are often used for such pretext.

For wit:

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a statement that caught my eye. He said, “Comrade Castro will live forever.” That is true. All of us have a soul that is going to live forever in one of two places—Heaven or Hell. What we do here on earth determines where we will spend eternity. The only way to Heaven is by accepting God’s plan for our salvation—believing in His Son Jesus Christ and following Him as Lord. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Do you know where you will spend eternity?

This incredibly awkward transition was his father’s special formula: Look for relevant news articles having to do with life and death, redirect and turn it into a soul-winning question. This would be awkward in less capable hands than Billy’s. Make no mistake, Franklin is tremendously less capable than Billy. What’s almost remarkable here is that Graham doesn’t seem to use this opportunity to further his Partisan Hyper-Capitalist White Supremacy Churchianity Yawn.

This time.

Except that he had already talked extensively about the Evils of Castro in ways that seemingly celebrated his death, that exaggerated the hatred of Castro and erase the material positive he’s done, and that incompetently confuse Castro’s policies with those of liberal American politicians—not just self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders, but also Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, and most surprisingly, Hillary Clinton. None of these choices have ever called for radical redistribution of wealth or for workers to seize the means of production, but truth doesn’t stop Franky anyway.

Fidel Castro has died at age 90. Loved by few, hated by millions, his communist revolution deposed a dictator, but ushered in a socialist police state that drove the entire Cuban nation into complete poverty and oppression. And to think that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Keith Ellison and others wanted socialism as a model for our country today! And why didn’t they win? God—that’s why. The church prayed and came out by the millions and voted. Praise God! And may we all as free Americans give Him glory, great things He has done! This is why it is so important to vote. There’s another election in just two years—Christians need to stay involved and run for office at every level. The socialists are regrouping in great number right now, and they will come back strong, organized, and more determined than ever. This battle isn’t over.

Graham thanks God, the power of prayer, and most importantly White Evangelicals for delivering a White Supremacist White House.

Notice the pattern, though. First Graham has an emotional and irrational outburst about a group of people (Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters) or policy (socialism, liberalism, American military exceptionalism) or even defending himself from charges (ie, xenophobia). Then he alternates with blanket calls to heavenly matters, such as prayers or altar calls reminding people about eternity.

For the Religious Right, talking about heaven and hell and the goodness of God is more than a distraction. It is a totem for all that is good. To talk about heaven and how to get there distinguishes a person as Good, and thus his political and social tastes as Good. Franklin Graham should be trusted because he talks so much about heaven and God; how could he be devious or deceptive?

Additionally, this disembodied heavenly talk is also a placemat for justice. If and when there is injustice for the racial/sexual/gender/economic minority[i], it is nothing compared to the glories of heaven and the tortures of hell. Here, heaven is robbed of embodied meaning and replaced with a hollow hope, specifically vocalized in order to maintain status and stability.

This is how they are heretical. Jesus was explicit about earthly matters of justice in an age and region of imperial and military oppression, colonization, and exploitation. Jesus followed the prophets’ lead in calling on the government to apply justice, to feed, to care for the widows and the fatherless, to welcome the stranger.

The literal products, progenies, and beneficiaries of White Evangelicalism – Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. – are men who believe that God is not only a white American  capitalist, but the Most Capitalist of Capitalists. The most American of Americans. The Most Xenophobe of Xenophobes. The Most White of Whites.

God is a neo-nazi, a fascist, a white supremacist who values property over people and runs a charity collecting worthless trinkets to entice poor people into his version of an unjust, decrepit heaven.

Franklin Graham is the incarnational image of his own God. Franklin sees capitalism, whiteness, and American Christian culture as intrinsically good and worthy to be praised and spread. He uses his charity and pulpit to extol his praises upon it. Praise Whiteness now, for when you die, you will come face to face with Whiteness and what will you have said about it and its son, White Jesus, Capitalist of Heaven and Earth?

Graham’s gospel is bad news for the outcasts Jesus surrounded himself with.

I cannot see the Jesus of the Gospels being enthralled or even making sense of Franklin Graham’s picture of him. Of course, all Christians somewhat make Jesus in their own image—but any image of Jesus that doesn’t start with him hanging out with misfits and oddballs and ends with him criminalized and literally hanging with the wretched of the earth and the rebellious (before a bodily resurrection) is missing key elements.

If Jesus assembled his disciples today in America, I imagine he’d include a black trans teenager, an undocumented Latinx mother, and a repentant financier or credit agent who gave away his ill-gotten wealth. Trump would refuse to give away all that he owned and be turned away. I see Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr, and their colleagues colluding with the state to retain and expand their power by planting evidence on Jesus and betraying him to Death Row.

How did the Son of Humans die? He was too beautiful and brave for the political religious order.

 

 

[i] Not numerically, but in terms of power differentials