Friday, February 27, 2009

Why put Jindal and Slumdog together?

After President Obama's address to Congress and the GOP response to the speech given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, The Progressive ran a story by Amitabh Pal criticizing commentators who associated the right-wing politician, an Indian American, with the Academy Award winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” which takes place in the financial and cultural capital of India -- Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay)

‘Slumdog’ associations with Bobby Jindal uncalled for:

Pal makes the point that some of the recent comments on Air America and progressive-oriented blogs made him uneasy because they took pot shots at Jindal’s Indian background using the award-winning movie as cover.

The author makes a good point.

Critics of Jindal, of which there are many and for good reasons, should focus more on the substance of his speech than his style or Indian background. Bobby Jindal’s cynical anti-worker politics:

The “Slumdog” associations (and even to a certain extent the “30 Rock” Kenneth the Page Southern comparisons) are problematic because there is no political content to the criticism, leaving the progressive movement open to a well-deserved charge of chauvinism or racism towards Indian people.

Did anyone compare George W. Bush to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Sweeney Todd? Don’t Bush’s ancestors come from England?

You see where I’m going with this? I’m all for poking fun at Republicans and other deserving targets based on the ridiculousness of their politics or their nonsensical comments, cynicism and opportunism.

Sometimes, though, that will cross into territory that we should reflect on: is it funny or ignorant?

I really think that most such comments come out of ignorance. Face it. Unless you are South Asian, most Americans don’t know much about the region (that includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and others) or the experience of South Asians in America. Even if you’ve seen all of Mira Nair’s films, or read all of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novels and short stories, or heard Vijay Prashad’s lectures, you may be somewhat knowledgeable, but as with any people there is depth and complexity.

The South Asian community is a growing political force in the U.S. and makes a contribution to pro-working class, progressive politics in the country. Remember it was an Indian American campaign worker for Sen. Jim Webb’s Senate race who was insulted and slandered by Webb’s opponent, Republican George Allen, with the now infamous “macaca” slur, which exposed Allen’s racism and turned around that race in Virginia.

There are South Asian activists in the labor movement, immigrant rights and numerous other struggles. Indian workers in Mississippi brought international attention to the horrendous conditions of “guest workers” in this country.

There are South Asian intellectuals and artists who are making contributions to these struggles for democracy and helping to continually renew and add to the American experience. Like the musicians Kinsmen who are trying to bring South Asian music traditions together with the very

American art form of jazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa -- South Asian Jazz:

South Asians in the U.S. are a very diverse community representing at least seven home countries and numerous languages, political trends and religions.

So there are Indian Americans who support extreme right-wing policies (Hindu nationalist policies) in India and right-wing policies in the U.S. How Jindal spins his Indian immigrant roots (“Americans can do anything”) is certainly open for critique. But people shouldn’t turn criticism of his reactionary spin into a stereotype of a whole group of people.

Also India and the region shouldn’t be reduced to one Oscar-winning film. “Slumdog Millionaire” portrayed one story that has some resonance for many people. But we are also talking about a country that has over 1 billion people.

So it’s just one story. India has a huge movie industry itself – one that rivals Hollywood and commands a huge market.

India is a 2,500-plus-year-old civilization, and it had a revolutionary freedom struggle against colonialism.

The country has at least 17 official languages and a population that is as diverse in looks as Americans.

It’s a secular democracy with Hindus in the majority but a large Muslim minority along with Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and atheists.

It’s got a robust media and newspaper industry.

Three of the 28 states of India are governed by communists and left parties. (To put it in perspective, that’s like saying the governors of California, Rhode Island and Georgia are communists and the left has the majority in the state legislatures.)

The list could go on and on. In other words, one movie, book or politician does not make a whole people. In this age of “globalization,” solidarity between workers and people of India and workers and people of the United States for mutual interests like peace and sustainable development is something that has to be consciously built.

So let’s take on the substance of Jindal’s speech and quit trying to be au courant or cutesie with the other comparisons. This movement is so much better than that.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How can parents turn off the TV if they've been deported?

Last night members of Congress jumped to their feet to greet with wild applause the proposition that parents should read to their children and be there to turn off the TV and video games.

Those words must ring empty to hundreds of thousands of children whose parents have been torn from their lives by immigration arrests and deportation.

No amount of exhortation to be good parents can let these mothers and fathers play the role their kids need.

What’s needed is an immigration policy that puts children and families first.

-- Roberta Wood

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Texan charged with investment fraud

By James Thompson

HOUSTON – With typical Texas flamboyance, Sir Robert Allen Stanford built a financial empire which stretched across Texas, through Mexico, the Caribbean islands and into South America. He was charged by the SEC on February 17, 2009 with defrauding investors of upwards of $8 billion in the most shocking financial scandal in Texas since the fall of Enron.

The centerpiece of his empire was a bank in Antigua, which some think may have been a major drug money laundering center for organized crime operations in Latin America. A native of Mexia, Texas, he affected a British accent and was knighted in Antigua. Some of the countries involved in his financial operations included Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

Last week, after charges against him became public, panicked investors flew their private jets to Antigua, only to be turned away. Many Houston area charities supported by the Stanford empire, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis will not be receiving their usual contributions due to the pending investigations by multiple branches of the federal government.

Right wing talk host, Sean Hannity, promoted Stanford Coins & Bullion, a part of the Stanford Financial Group, on advertisements which ran on his show by stating “their name is as good as gold.” Hannity is well known for his rantings against socialism.

Many people stand to be hurt in this far reaching scandal. Some people had invested their life savings in the financial group because of its claims of high rates of return.

Set in the context of the global financial catastrophe, many people are questioning the wisdom of a system in which people’s individual retirement funds can be swindled out of them by private companies. They are also questioning a system which makes the arts and health care dependent on charitable contributions by these same unscrupulous individuals.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Solange, Smokey & Obama by Tokumbo Bodunde

Wonderful blog by Tokumbo Bodunde

Solange, Smokey & Obama

One of my favorite songs of 2008 was "I've Decided" by Solange (the much underappreciated younger sister of Beyonce) Knowles.

Weeks ago, while driving around in freezing Chicago, my sisters and I had the song on repeat, LOUD. It took me a minute to figure out why I liked the song so much. The Neptunes-produced single takes the most delicious, feet stomping part of The Supremes' "Baby Love" and loops it throughout.

Solange's song--as is evidenced by the video-- is very much of this moment, my generation (not sure what we're being called these days), searching for some kind of identity. Colorful and pastichey, the piece pays homage to all that is in this generation's cultural image-ination about the political culture of the Motown & beyond era. Quick flashes of raised-fisted Olympians from '68, Malcolm X, people being water-hosed, Rubik's cubes spinning, and the Berlin Wall falling appear amid Solange crooning and the stomping beat. To make meaning of the video is work, a student of mine complained.

There's a clear difference between the display of events being shown in the video for the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' "Tears from a Clown."

Its three sequences reveal a clear narrative of the cultural turmoil and grief experienced by the moments/movements surrounding the JFK and MLK assasinations and the Vietnam War. "Smiling for the public eye," sings Smokey. "Don't let my glad expression give you the wrong impression." Very much a statement of the times--smiling outside but dying inside.

I was born in 1979, a decade plus after those assassinations and a few years post-Vietnam. Smack dab in the birth of hip-hop and advent of an extreme right-wing, fiercely developing global capitalist world (not unrelated phenomena in the least). The stylistic elements of Solange's song and video are telling, in that they represent how I and most of us under 30 understand the events of Smokey's song. The song's pulsating claps and the video's refusal to distinguish between cultural-poltical turmoil and social fads mute any sadness we might have even had.

It's all about that beat. Or not. At least, it shouldn't be. Not in this moment, the simultaneous 50th anniversary of Motown Records and the election of America's first black president. The final minute of Solange's video stands in abrupt contrast to the frenetic collage of iconic images of the past 40 years. Slower, more comtemplative and futuristic, its shades of blue-grays lets her imagine (at least in her love life), some other-world type sh*t. What will we do with the equally compelling and troubling elements of the world that we (and Obama) are inheriting?

What was most promising about Obama's candidacy, in fact, was the spark it produced in our populace, its positioning within the perfect storm of just enough right-wing ridiculousness, contradictions in capitalism, and technological savvy. What a unique political moment. The generation that will come of age in it ranges from being once or twice removed from Motown & Smokey, devoid of the grief of Smokey's "tears," yet with an existence and way of looking at the world that has been shaped, in part, by them.

It'll be critical that we, in our political activity, artistic endeavors, and social relationships, act in this world in a fashion that lets us appreciate the "best" parts of those old songs while keeping in mind the implications of the history and political moments that produced them.

And yeah, I'm gonna be bumping some Solange as we do so.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Refinery workers Scoring New Contract

HOUSTON – A tentative contract was reached on 2/3/08 between industry lead negotiator Shell Oil Co. and the United Steelworkers Union (USW) averting a strike for now. The contract must be ratified by union membership. It would cover 30,000 workers nationwide, including 4,200 in the Houston area. Workers will earn a 3 % raise each year for the next three years along with a $2,500 contract ratification bonus.

USW President, Leo Gerard, said “These were tough negotiations given the economic conditions of an economy still in total free-fall.” He went on to point out, “The oil companies were not willing to work with us fully to improve process safety.”

Individual plants must hammer out their own contracts with employees. This will happen over the next few months as individual contracts expire. Unions plan to continue to press to resolve worker safety issues.

Interestingly, the Houston Chronicle ran an article detailing the tremendous, record-breaking profits reaped by Exxon Mobil in 2008. The article relates, “Exxon Mobil again broke its own record for highest annual profits ever by a U.S. company, pulling in $45.2 billion in 2008, an 11 percent jump over 2007’s $40.6 billion.”

By James Thompson

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Michigan notebook

Two items from Jim Gallo in Michigan:

Autoworkers rally for jobs; Calls for justice for child care workers

WARREN, Mich. — Inside the City Hall atrium in this working class suburb of Detroit, 250 autoworkers rallied Jan. 13 to save their jobs. Billed as “Stand Up for American Products and American Workers,” the rally was called by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts at the behest of several autoworkers. Speakers included Ford worker Brian Pennebecke, UAW Local 1248 President Harvey Hawkins, whose local represents several thousand Chrysler workers at the Warren Stamping plant, several General Motors workers and autoworker Tammy Jones, who was recently transferred to a local Chrysler plant after her Huntsville, Ala., plant was closed.

Jones spoke about Alabama’s GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, who led the fight in the Senate to deny the domestic auto industry a bridge loan unless it weakened the union with more takeaways.

“We know Senator Shelby,” Jones said. “When he was running, he ran as a Democrat and asked for support from the UAW and the Steelworkers, and then he got in office and switched to be a Republican and now he wants to destroy our union.”

Many of the speakers mentioned that the foreign “transplant” companies like Toyota have national health care in their home countries, which gives them an economic advantage. Speakers noted that President Obama has taken a pro-union position. Others called for renegotiating NAFTA and buying union-made American cars to save jobs.


DETROIT — Interfaith Worker Justice of Metropolitan Detroit held a rally for justice for home child care workers here, Jan. 16 at Madonna Catholic Church.

There are 40,000 home child care workers in Michigan, organized by the UAW and AFSCME. The rally called on the state government to raise the hourly wage from the present $1.93 per hour.

Denise Willingham, an eight-year child care provider and a bargaining team member with Child Care Providers Together Michigan, noted that out of this abysmal wage, the child care providers have to provide food for the children they care for.

Rabbi Ernst Conrad of Temple Kol Ami, who fled Nazi Germany in 1938, estimated how much food could be provided for the children and decent wages and health care for the providers with just one day’s spending on the war in Iraq.

Pastor John Pitts Jr. from Temple of Praise International Church in Taylor, who is president of the Interfaith Worker Justice chapter, spoke of the need for unity of all faiths with the labor movement to work together for justice for the child care workers and all workers.

IWJ is a network of people of faith that calls upon religious values to educate, organize and mobilize the religious community in the U.S. on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits and conditions for workers and give voice to workers, especially workers in low-wage jobs.

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