Politics

DACA Dreamers: From Promise To Peril

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

 

The deadline was met. It was Sept. 5. President Trump followed through on another nation shifting promise to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA) program. In a widely reported 2016 immigration policy speech in Phoenix, AZ—where Trump rolled out his plan to build a wall along our southern border and have Mexico pay for it—the president boastfully stated, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” This, after blaming Sanctuary Cities, Obama, Clinton and “out of touch politicians” for the many lives lost at the hands of illegal immigrants.

 

 

In this same speech, he declared “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” an inflammatory terminology many immigration advocates reject as dehumanizing. Angel Ramirez is a DACA recipient and agrees. He joined about 30 other protesters and local activists to voice opposition to the president’s decision at a rally in Utica, NY, and says “I don’t think there’s any illegal person in the world anyway because we are just limited and bound by policies and political actions that, if you think about it, doesn’t make any sense.” Nevertheless, President Trump asserted, “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.” Accordingly, wouldn’t the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients be the ones more likely to thrive and flourish having benefitted from living in America most of their lives? Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called, grew up in America’s school system, have been enculturated in this country, embrace America as their only home, fight wars and die in her name, and love her equally as those here on legal grounds. In other words, it contradicts the very message of this administration, especially if finding a solution to the country’s immigration problem is still the outcome all sides are aiming for.

After taking office, President Trump told David Muir with ABC News in a February interview that DACA recipients need not worry because, “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” He followed his rhetoric with actions; pardoning Joe Arpaio and ending DACA. And, throwing his support behind tougher immigration legislation like Kate’s Law and The Davis-Oliver Bill. Sonia Martinez, President of Mohawk Valley Latino Association says she hopes former President Obama steps in to help those under threat of deportation. “He gave the approval for this program, for the Dreamers to stay in the United States of America. I think it would be very important.” The former president did chime in via social media in a lengthy statement essentially condemning the move as making “no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know.”

Ramirez says the move to end DACA is devastating. “I’m married, I have two kids, we just don’t know what’s in the future, what’s going to happen. He goes on to say, “I was here my whole life. My parents are from Mexico and I didn’t know anything. And, if I go back to Mexico, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He says the uncertainty is weighing on him because he may have to uproot his family from the only home they’ve known. “I have to start thinking about what other options we have in case this completely ends and there is no other way for us.”

 

 

The first time Ramirez realized he was in the country without legal documents was when he applied for a job after high school and was asked for his social security number. “I’m like, ‘what is that?’ because even when you go to school they don’t ask you for that, they just give you your ID to go to school, they don’t tell you, oh, you’re illegal.” He adds, “Then you find out all these things that you cannot qualify.” Ramirez says since gaining employment he has steadily paid his taxes and even became a homeowner. “I always pay my taxes, I always pay everything that I needed to because my hope is one day that I will become a citizen because this is all I know. This is home for us.”

Even so, the decision to end DACA was the writing on the wall in the president’s speech when he said, “While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.” Perhaps, but as it pertains to DACA recipients, a 2016 survey by the Center for American Progress found that after taking part in the program, 63 percent of recipients moved to better paying jobs, 49-percent gained greater access to employment that matches their education and skill sets and 48 percent gained jobs with better working conditions. If we want to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be as Americans, we must keep working towards the principles that set us apart from all other people on earth, and those against a pathway to citizenship for these young people must also considering the spirit of the laws that bound us as one to form the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.

 

 

In the State of New York, DACA recipients have greatly benefited from the amnesty program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nearly 42,000 young people came forward, passed background checks, and live and work legally in the country since implementation of the program. And, according to research conducted by Washington: Center for American Progress Ending, DACA would cost New York nearly $2.6 billion in annual GDP losses if it’s phased out. “Right now, some people are saying go back to your country but what would Native People say about you now that you’re here and settled,” Ramirez asked with a quizzical look on his face of those who oppose the Dreamer’s pathway to citizenship. He says being called “Illegal” or “Alien” by his own president is disturbing. “What does that word even mean? Like, we are outside of this world? A lot of things don’t make sense anymore. We feel like we’re being excluded, we have no value…that’s how we feel right now,” he says.

Ramirez says although his faith in God is strong, it’s going to take real action to keep DACA in place. “We need to let them know that this is not okay.” If he could talk to President Trump directly, Ramirez says he would remind him of his own immigrant roots and family ties and our collective humanity, “We are all immigrants. Nobody is better than anyone else, we are all the same, we are all humans. There is no races, there is only one kind and we are all humans.” Regardless if his words reach the president, Trump has punted the issue to Congress almost superficially reassuring DACA recipients and the thousands who spoke out against his decision in an audio clip provided by The Washington Post that, “We’ll see what happens in Congress. I have a feeling that’s not going to be necessary, I think they’re gonna make a deal. I think Congress really wants to do this.” He goes on to say that he wants to see in the legislation some “good border security” measures and a “great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore.” If history is any indication of how Trump’s promises play out, Dreamers and immigration advocates should definitely worry until the proof is in the pudding. And, that proof will come in the form of firm, realistic and enforceable immigration policies that embodies the spirit and culture of America.

 

 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh Is Leading The Charm City By Example In A Climate Of Transition

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police officers in April 2015 unquestionably had an impact on the city’s image. Nonetheless, Catherine E. Pugh, the Charm City’s 50th mayor and 3rd consecutive female at the helm, says there’s much more than what meets the eye and enough spirit to debunk any perceptions one may have of Baltimore. “We’re the 9th city in America considered by millennials to be the great city that people should move to. I think Freddie Gray had its impact but certainly not the greatest impact in terms of what Baltimore is today.”

Pugh is proud of her role as the city’s leader, a place she’s very comfortable occupying as a highly successful business owner herself. “It was something I desired but it was certainly not something I thought was in my reach at this particular point in history in my own life because I was Majority Leader of the Senate and doing an important job on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore. So, I was very focused on making sure that I created and passed legislation that would have a tremendous impact on our city and in the state, and hopefully lead in terms of some of the innovative legislation that would pass in the nation.”

During her first State of the City Address, Pugh made her mission to continue improving the quality of life for Baltimore citizens clear by rolling out her plan on five major areas her administration will pay close attention to; Education, Youth Development, Public Safety, Economic and Workforce Development, and Expansion. And, the mayor leads by example. A rare form to see in modern day American politics. However, taking into account her own life’s journey, healthy lifestyle and the work she’s done for her community during her years in public service, it’s not hard to surmise that Mayor Pugh’s heart, along with her vision, expertise and blueprint to bring Baltimore out of the shadows of Freddie Gray and beyond, is a welcome trajectory for a city desperately in need of reconditioning.

 

 

“When I think of my entire vision for Baltimore, it’s not centered around Freddie Gray. It’s centered on a city that’s been neglected for decades in certain parts of the city. It’s also centered around the vision for being more inclusive and diverse in a city that has so many opportunities and has created opportunities for so many, but had neglected others. And, my vision is about housing and homelessness, and how do you reduce violence but at the same time, create public schools that everyone would want to come to, and so we see that happening in our city.” Even so, Pugh says Freddie Gray played an important role in terms of how the city looks at its police department. “I see it as something that occurred in our history that made us pay attention to community policing and how we go about the business of reforming our police and creating relationships between the police and community that would bode well for how we move forward and resolve our criminal activity in our communities.”

Pugh says her work to help reform the criminal justice system—a system marred by vast racial disparities—happened before Freddie Gray. “For me it began back in the Legislature when the Ferguson situation occurred and when you think about New Orleans and the issues that they face and other cities faced around the country…I think it made all of us pay attention to criminal justice reform. Pointing to former President Obama’s work to reform police departments and improve community policing, Pugh says, “Those things occurred before Freddie Gray. Freddie Gray was a wake-up call for our own police department but certainly not the wake-up call for the entire city in terms of all the issues that the city faces.”

Criminal justice reform is “absolutely necessary” she emphasizes, adding that the city is currently under a Department of Justice consent decree following a resolution adopted by the city, aimed at controlling the rapid growth in gun violence and to get guns of the streets. Pugh along with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis are behind the new city ordinance that would impose a one-year minimum sentence for carrying an illegal firearm in Baltimore, essentially treating illegal guns like a public health crisis. “I thought it was important to get that done because of the situation that happened with Freddie Gray.”

Nevertheless, and despite the city’s crime rate—Forbes Magazine ranks Baltimore #7 on The 10 Most Dangerous U.S. Cities list—Attorney General Jeff Sessions objected to the city adopting the consent decree that also seeks to address rampant racial discrimination and constitutional violations among police officers against residents. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar overruled his attempt to block the agreement. Pugh says, “We thought it was important that we move forward with the consent decree and so we’re just about finished with that process. The Federal Judge did sign the consent decree so, we’re well on our way of doing what’s important for the City of Baltimore.”

Pugh says despite Sessions suggestions and agenda for Baltimore and the rest of the country, DOJ has been helpful in facilitating the consent decree process. “In terms of providing us with consultants to review our own police department, providing us with resources…every federal agency is engaged here.” In addition to the assistance the city is receiving, a new ATF site is being designated to help enforce the agreement. “Our federal partners have been very helpful to us.”

Another positive and measurable move for the city deals with its beleaguered school system. The mayor says the city has worked out a deal to repay the $1 billion in bonds the school system needs to improve its crumbling schools and build 23 new ones, (the state, city and school system each pledged $20 million a year over 30 years). “We just opened up another one recently and built the first new school in the public school system in 30 years. So, I know the possibilities, I know of some of the pitfalls but at the same time, I see through all of this as an opportunity to change the trajectory of the city based on its people, its population and its opportunities.” She says government does two things, “it provides services and it creates opportunities.” Pugh goes on to explain that the difference with her administration is inclusion. “What we’ve done is not included everybody in the process in the past.”

 

 

Baltimore’s economy and the $15 minimum wage increase proposal, a focus point for Pugh’s administration, came up for a vote back in March but was vetoed by the mayor. The minimum wage hike was a bill she supported at the state level before taking control as Baltimore’s Mayor. And, naturally, the mayor’s veto was met with some opposition from critics who accused her of breaking her promise to support the bill, to which she says, “I was a big proponent at the state level. We raised the minimum wage in 2014, we raised the minimum wage in 2015, we raised the minimum wage in 2016, we raised the minimum wage in 2017, we’ll raise the minimum wage again in 2018. So, the next time the minimum wage should be taken up is in this General Assembly session.”

She adds the bill was moving along the same lines as previous wage increases, “and, so it really picked up from where we already were and went to 2027. I would hope that anybody who is living today, making less than minimum wage, would make more than $15 an hour in 2027. So, to have a bill that projects to 2027 was to me inappropriate for the citizens of Baltimore, especially when the surrounding jurisdictions weren’t pushing that because it made Baltimore the hole in the donut. And, we got to be competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.” Pugh says her decision to veto the bill was based on the best interest of all the people of Baltimore, adding that she will follow the state’s lead in a gradual and sustainable increase of wages. Her supporters, according to local media outlets, credit her for making the tough decision, saying that it showed real leadership in a time of transition, growth and future jobs.

Another social strife impacting Baltimore and the nation, and budding an all too familiar climate across the country centers on the take down of Confederate monuments and an uptick in neo-Nazi, KKK and alt-Right led demonstrations. Following the violent unrest in Charlottesville, VA the mayor took immediate action to circumvent any possible violence in her own city by taking down four Confederate monuments. A move the previous administration had taken up but didn’t complete. Pugh says the monuments were taken down under the cover of darkness and in the best interest of the city. “We had four statues that needed to be removed, three of them Confederate statues, and one of the judge who presided over the case that said that African Americans specifically were not full human-beings, and so we thought that his statue should be removed as well, (Chief Justice, Roger Brooke Taney, who oversaw the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision). My plan and meeting with my contractor was that we should move them as quickly and as quietly as possible.”

Pugh says her decision to act quickly and under the cover of darkness was intentional and based on sound information. After meeting with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about the process he followed to remove his city’s four Confederate monuments back in May, Pugh decided to take a different route. “He told me about all the hate mail and everything that he had received, how contentious it was and what a painful experience it was for his staff, and I decided then that we would not do it that way.” Pugh says her experience working in news rooms and being in the news business for a long time allowed her to act strategically to avoid any media coverage. “I knew that news rooms closed up at 11:30…people would not be around and so it would be very difficult for people to begin reporting as we began moving.” Pugh says the process to take down all the monuments was estimated to take between midnight and 5:00 a.m. “We were finished at 4:57 a.m. and the media caught up with us around 3:30 when we were on our 3rd statue.”

What becomes of the statues is yet to be determined however, Pugh says her administration has appointed a commission to look at the issue and even taking suggestions from citizens. She says the monuments could be placed at Confederate cemeteries and museums across the country. “This is the United States of America and according to the Constitution we are all equal. And, in the Bible we’re all equal in the eyes of God and we should be treated as such. And so, any symbolism of hate I think should be removed but I think at the same time we shouldn’t rewrite history. I think that they should be contextualized in such a way that we remember who they are and why they existed because they are part of our history, but we’re not the Confederacy. We are the United States of America.”

She says her advice to everyone, especially young people is, “We have to learn how to love and respect each other, and that we work together, we learn to be more inclusive and diverse because that’s what this country is becoming; more inclusive and more diverse.”

 

An avid runner and healthy lifestyle advocate, Pugh stresses the importance of taking responsibility of your health and incorporating a healthy diet as part of a well-balanced life; a message she consistently shares with young people. Referencing another Bible scripture, Pugh says, “Moses lived to be 120 years old and it says you couldn’t tell how old he was by his face or his energy and that’s because he lived a purposeful life. If you want to live a purposeful life than you have to take care of yourself. You got to make sure you’re exercising and eating right.” If it wasn’t for public records, one would be hard pressed to guess the mayor’s age as well.

Pugh founded The Baltimore Marathon 17 years ago with 6,600 registered runners, “today its 25,000 plus,” she says. “It’s a very hard marathon to get into but we just encourage people to exercise and eat right. Do what’s best for you because without your health, there’s nothing.”

How does she do it all during a tumultuous time in the country’s history when race relations, police brutality, living wage concerns and numerous other social woes are rolling down a steep hill towards her and picking up speed? She says, “You lead by example, and that’s what we try to do every day.” Pugh says, despite the uphill battle she faces as she leads Baltimore out from the stigma of the Freddie Gray incident, she still pinches herself every day that she gets to do this work. “It’s a lot of work but at the same time; with challenges, we get opportunities.”

It’s clear to see—from the construction projects, new restaurant openings and community investments and enrichment programs—Baltimore is ready for some much-needed opportunities, particularly on the heels of its many surfaced challenges partly exposed by a tragic police brutality incident.

 

The Charlottesville Monster March Is A Stark Reminder Of America’s Shameful Past And Fragile Future

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Did you think the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., marching for freedom and equality were over? And, when you listen to old civil rights movement stories of Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and even still living civil rights era leaders and social activists like Rep. John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Cornell West and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., were you relatively comfortable in your existence as an American until the Nazis, the KKK and Alt-Right group took their revolting message to Charlottesville, VA? You’re not alone. And, you should be uncomfortable if you’ve taken comfort on the sidelines of history by not participating in the greatest democracy ever known to man. Simply minding your own business, keeping you head down and your mouth shut can no longer be an option. Not when the days of Hitler and Mussolini are once again upon us like a bad reoccurring nightmare, or a street packed with walkers from The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s how bad it feels when racism is in full bloom.

Despite several attempts to put out the racial fires taking place across the country, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is playing games with American lives and flushing our common values down the toilet. When nearly every major nightly show host like, Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Myers and even Jimmy Fallon—who decided to play footsie with Trump during his appearance on his show rather than hold him accountable for his boorish actions and behavior—take a stand against the president’s latest attack on basic human decency…one can’t help but surmise that we are a nation at war with ourselves. We are a nation held hostage by a mad man supported by the most hateful Americans among us. If you don’t believe America is in crisis, you’re not paying attention, you’re not invested in our common ideology that all men are created equal, and your silence equates to support or blatant disregard of the Kraken that’s been released by Trump and the people that support his destructive behavior and administration.

When former Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke, who didn’t miss a chance showing his face at the racist rally in Charlottesville, thanks our president for his support by saying the group’s staunch discriminatory stance represents a turning point in the country, adding, “We’re going to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he says he’s going to take our country back and that’s what he’s gotta do.” …it’s as clear as a cloudless sky, that America is suffering some major social indigestion. So, something has to give, or someone has to go.

 

ITALY – CIRCA 1941: mail stamp printed in Italy showing Hitler and Mussolini, circa 1941

 

A staunch Republican and frequent vocal critic of the president said it best. Ana Navarro didn’t mince her words when she boldly addressed Trump directly on CNN, saying, “Let me talk to Donald Trump and explain to him that as President of the United States, he represents Blacks and Jewish people and Hispanic people and people of every color and every creed. And, it is his job as President of the United States to stand up for each and every American, to stand up vertically against racism and bigotry. Peddling to racism is just as bad as being a racist. So, Donald Trump is either a racists, or he’s peddling to it. And, both are frankly unacceptable and make him unfit to be President of the United States. If you can’t be President, if you cannot stand up and represent Americans, you should not be President.” She also addressed the few Republicans speaking out against Trump’s latest deplorable conduct by asking, “What the hell took you so long? When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.”

And, she’s right. Where are the collective voices of the president’s own party members and leaders? How can they be silent at this crucial moment in our history? How can these so called American patriots remain silent when our president steadily blows his dog whistle, encouraging the spread of the hatefulness we are witnessing in Charlottesville and elsewhere? Trump can’t help but be Trump. He’s an expert at being who he is; a proven and dangerous liar, bigot and sexist individual. This behavior has worked in his favor his entire life and since making his debut on the world’s stage. This is a man who boldly claims that he can commit a heinous crime and still be comfortable on his perch. So, why do we expect him to be anything other than what he’s successfully been? Albert Einstein is credited for the quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s a quote we Americans frequently use to describe something or someone we want to lecture, judge or advice. So, why aren’t we as a nation of decent people taking our own advice? Why are we allowing this sore that is Trump to fester?

When South Koreans demanded change after their president, Park Geun-hye—the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced out of office—was caught embroiled in a cult-like scandal, and accused of abusing her authority, the people took to the streets in massive numbers to demand her ouster. And, it worked. The difference between our two countries lies at the heart of Unity as we know it. We are struggling to remain united, thanks to a single but powerful mad man who refuses to lead our country as a nation of one people beholden to our Constitution and Bill of Rights that has governed and shaped us throughout our relatively young democracy. America is only 241 years old. And, in that time, we have risen from the depths of shame by abolishing Slavery, advancing Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, Voters Rights, and even the LGBTQ movement. We did it together. Hand in hand. We took to the streets and marched on Washington. We crossed the bridge in Selma. We sang songs to stop the lynching of black bodies hanging from poplar trees. We prayed over the bodies of young girls bombed in the most sacred of places; the church. We wept over the sight of Emmett Till. We fought to end segregation. We demanded equality in our schools and elsewhere. We even took our determination to love who we want to love all the way to the Supreme Court in support of Mildred and Richard Love. We hold onto hope for a better tomorrow, singing songs of overcoming…and yet, here we are facing the biggest threat to our precious democracy; President Donald J. Trump, and find ourselves paralyzed.

New York Daily News Columnist and social activist Shaun King didn’t mince his words either when he called upon all Americans united on common goals to take to the streets like the South Koreans did, to oust our destructive and dangerous president. However, it seems that fear of another civil war traps us in our trepidation, like a deer staring blankly into oncoming traffic lights and not moving until it’s too late. If Fox News and the Daily Caller aren’t afraid to post a video basically instructing their followers on how to mow down people that have bravely taken to the streets to fight for our country, we can’t be afraid to meet that message head on. And, even demanding that Laura Ingraham who gave a clear Nazi salute and dog whistle like nod to these bigoted creatures, not be allowed to have her own show on Fox News, as it’s been reported. We have to fight for our beautiful and diverse country. Let’s not get run over. America is our country. America does not belong to Donald Trump, the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, or the Alt-Right Middle Earth-like creatures and haters of humanity. America belongs to all of us that call it home, value who we are and what we stand for and against. The time to stand up for our nobility and virtues is always now. That’s what makes us uniquely Americans. We fight for the rights of all people.

 

Searching For America On Independence Day

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

If you’ve seen the movie Idiocracy, chances are you’ve been experiencing life these past couple of years with a slack jaw, owing to the conduct across the country and especially from the white house and its new inhabitants. From Spicer to Conway, Manigault, Bannon and President Trump, the performances we’ve all witnessed equates to something concocted in a Hollywood studio. Disheartening poll numbers consistently drive home the realization that on her 241st birthday, America is in desperate need of some soul searching and healing.

America is going through a serious identity crisis, and questions addressing and reevaluating our core values and beliefs are certainly warranted now that the shift in civility and governing has taken a specific tone. What kind of people are Americans? Does Trump represent Americans adequately? Have we morphed into an anti-immigrants, anti-refugees and anti-Muslim nation now that Trump is president? Is the “Fake News” label a sign of things to come? Is it open season on journalists, and factual information? Even racism, a long standing social problem in the U.S. that has improved with time, has seen an uptick in discriminatory activities, leaving many wondering if we’re approaching an era of blatant bigotry and intolerance aimed at each other; American against American.

Unfortunately, America is still in the eye of the storm Democrats and Republicans have churned up and thus far, even on the eve of its independence from Britain, can’t seem to calm for the sake of her people. Putting a hideous stamp on this dysfunction that has built up like pond scum is Governor Chris Christie’s recent stunt concerning New Jersey beaches and parks. As if Bridgegate and his boorish behavior wasn’t enough, thanks to a budget standoff, Christie got to flaunt his special kind of audacity for the world to see by brazenly and shamefully going to one of the beaches he closed off for millions of other Americans on this special 4th of July weekend. Christie got to flippantly enjoy the beach while others suffered the consequences associated with the closings, and that’s exactly what his character in this real life unfolding of Idiocrazy does.

A recent NPR, PBS News Hour/Marist poll revealed how far down the spiral we’ve fallen when it comes to trust for politicians, the news media, our justice system and even our intelligence agencies. Some of the questions posed to likely voters concerned the rights Americans deeply value, and those numbers confirm the state of our relatively young country and democracy. The recently released poll by these reputable and respected organizations will undoubtedly be labeled as “Fake News” thanks to a president marching to a beat majority of the country can’t hear or follow. And yet somehow, his staunch supporters, or enablers as some pundits have described them, are behaving like certain guests on the Maury Povich show that swear up and down, “He’s the father!” right before Maury opens his envelope to reveal what’s really going on in the case of Trump and his backers. Regardless, they’re sticking with their man despite the static and skipping CD noise the president’s special beat is blaring in their ears.

When it comes to the president’s job approval ratings, only 37 percent of the population say he’s doing a good job while 51-percent disapprove of his performance. And, 41 percent say they don’t trust the Trump white house. Also, the year when the U.S. gained her independence, only 69 percent of the people answered this question correctly. And, as it pertains to our Intelligence Community, a mere 23 percent say they fully trust agencies like the CIA and FBI. Trump has done his own bashing of our Intelligence Community that has served as a rallying cry for his followers. Trust for America’s courts didn’t fare better during the poll conducted from June 21 to July 25, 2017. Since March, trust in our courts went from 23 to 22 percent. Rightfully, Congress is seeing terrible approval numbers too, with only 6 percent of support tallied. And, only 17 percent of Americans say they wholeheartedly trust that our elections are fairly carried out. Sentiments of an unfair election that put Trump in the white house can still be heard like wind chimes on windy days. The media, like Congress, didn’t do well in the polls either, showing only 8-percent say they trust the media, while 37-percent say they have zero trust in the media.

Many would argue that the negative rhetoric coming out of the white house against the media didn’t help their numbers, as the poll shows a clear mistrust of those responsible for disseminating information. However, when the sitting president is constantly tweeting insults and delegitimizing the news business these numbers shouldn’t come as a shock. Additionally, neither should the poll showing a mere 8-percent of Americans fully trust opinion polls. And, when it comes to the nation’s tone and level of civility in Washington, and comparing Trump and Obama’s ratings, 6-percent of people say civility has improved under the current administration, while the poll conducted in 2009 by USA Today and Gallop during the previous president’s administration, shows that 21 percent of the population thought civility amongst politicians on both sides of the isle had improved. President Trump’s unprofessional and disturbing behavior, during his short time in office, has already taken the twenty-one percent number to a 6… A number more fitting of his female rating system.

The numbers aren’t favorable. They expose a deeply dysfunctional system of governance that has side-stepped normal political operations and discourse. Operations, like the Constitution, that have been shaped and amended along the way by Americans yearning to live with liberties that make us unique among other earth inhabitants. It is these very same systems—which includes a collective belief system—that has kept us united as a nation of one people, despite the pitfalls of wars and civil strives along the way. Even with the bleak outlook these poll numbers divulge, we can’t keep our heads under water like geese in search of underwater snacks, hoping the tide will eventually turn in our favor. The time to bring about positive change is always upon us. As we celebrate this 241st milestone, it’s comforting knowing that America will find her way again if her people continue working towards a common goal for humanity and our culture, and a common love for our great nation.

 

Independence Day

Habitat For Humanity Plows Ahead In The Shadows Of Looming Budget Cuts

Habitat for Humanity

 

 

 

 

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

This may be hard to believe but affordable housing is a reality for many families across New York City. Since its inception in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has transformed the lives of numerous families across the country. And, since its separate grouping in 1984, Habitat NYC has done the same in all five boroughs of NYC. In a partnership with New York City Housing Authority, (NYCHA) Karen Haycox, CEO, Habitat NYC is helping families achieve the dream of homeownership in one of the wealthiest places on the planet. “While we do that, we are also busily building multifamily homes in and around the city and we’re very close to what will effectively be the largest multifamily homes, a series of homes ever constructed under one roof across the habitat universe.”

That project is called Sydney House; a 57-unit co-op in the Bronx. Haycox says, “For me that’s really one of the most compelling things about Habitat for Humanity. It’s that how we do what we do, is very much in context with the city that we call home.” Haycox says the construction of the co-op differs significantly from Habitat for Humanity’s typical construction of single family housing and it’s this very evolution that allows Habitat NYC to make affordable housing a reality for many in the city, which in turn helps to slow and perhaps reverse the process of gentrification, and also preserving a unique culture.

A major barrier to homeownership in NYC according to Haycox lies within the prospective homeowners themselves. “The first time you go through that process it can be frightening.” She explains her own experience as a first-time homeowner and the fear that came along with it. “When I bought my first home I honestly, practically and intellectually knew that everything was fine but for the first year I lived as if somebody was going to knock on my door and tell me there’s been a huge mistake.” She says many families don’t apply for the program because they don’t think they’ll qualify for reasons like credit indiscretions, criminal history or they may think the program is for those in worse economic conditions than what they find themselves in. “They will self select out of the process,” she says. Nonetheless, Haycox explains that although the organization works like any other conventional lender would, Habitat for Humanity is mission, not business driven. “It is our mission to find an opportunity for these families and we don’t just look at the numbers, we look at the whole package.” As far as legal issues are concerned, Haycox says the organization believes in “leaving the past in the past.” On the other hand, she says, “As long as there are no pending legal issues that could be problematic for the neighbors… because in effect we’re building families and their success in the future, but we’re also building neighborhoods and communities.” She says the organization does its best to ensure there are no pending charges with a family that would put their neighbors and other members of their community in any danger. “We believe in social justice and restorative justice so if they have committed a crime in their past and paid their due then that is none of our business. We look forward not backwards.”

Those interested in a Habitat NYC home can fill out an application on line. They will then be contacted by Habitats’ Housing Services Department for a review of their application. “They ask a couple of clarifying questions around the standard elements that you might expect like income, debts, challenges, and who will be in the household and we also look at credit history.” Haycox adds that if families don’t clear the initial hurdles the organization can still work with them to overcome them through various programs. “So that they can actually work on those things if they’re willing and come back and reapply.” Pathways To Partnership, (P2P) is one such program that can keep a family on track to achieving homeownership in NYC.

Haycox explains that achieving homeownership is possible through partnership with a prospective family. She says it’s similar to a self-help housing model. “Meaning that the families must be involved in our organization. They must dedicate 250-hours of sweat equity toward the construction of our homes or other programs.” She says families can volunteer at different build sites, work in the office licking envelopes or doing other volunteer jobs. “And that time is logged toward their willingness to partner.” Thus, it’s need, willingness to partner, and the ability to pay a low interest mortgage Haycox says are the essential elements to achieving homeownership in the city.

Despite all these efforts gentrification is real and taking shape across all 5 boroughs of NYC, making the possibility of homeownership for struggling families an optical illusion. Unless you’re a member of the wealthy elites flocking to the Big Apple, the mere combination of the two words, NYC and homeownership, is an oxymoron. And, Haycox says the problem is an extremely serious one because the city is in danger of becoming the largest moated community in the nation. She says homeownership in NYC is at 31-percent, which is less than the national average and the demand for affordable housing stock isn’t keeping up, “We’ve lost more than 330-thousand affordable rental units to the open market and we know that more than a third of families pay over 50-percent of their monthly income towards rent… homeownership must play a role in the city and although homeownership can’t be available for everybody, it’s strictly a numbers game; it really needs to have a place at the table. She says Habitat NYC sees that as a core function of the organization, “To leverage and to strengthen the voice for affordable homeownership as part of the city’s plan and the state’s plan going forward.”

Leveling the playing field is made possible through partnerships with organizations like NYCHA, Housing Preservation and Development, (HPD) and other state and city programs that help the group with subsidies and other affordable mortgage products. However, proposed budget cuts under the administration of President Trump is threatening to slash much of the funding that has been possible through the various partnerships Habitat NYC relies on for its mission driven work. “Those kinds of programs are important to our ability to thrive. To get these units built we depend on the pre-unit subsidies that we receive from the city and the state, and we also depend on the proceeds of the sale because families get an affordable mortgage and we sell the units and get the proceeds from the sale.”

Another element of affordable homeownership is keeping the homes affordable in perpetuity and Haycox says Habitat is looking at the community land trust model and currently responding to a land trust offer from the city, which would effectively keep the units of housing Habitat NYC develops affordable for the next generations of homeowners. “There are mechanisms that extend the affordability of the units in place but many times after the first sale those protections burn off, so what we’re looking to do is extend the length of time that the units remain affordable.” Preservation is another piece to the low income housing puzzle. Haycox says her group is developing a new preservation program that will intervene with the existing low-income co-ops to update and strengthen the buildings and bring them into compliance. Additionally, Habitat is also forming a Community Development Financial Institution, (CDFI) to keep mortgages affordable for Habitat for Humanity families, “Which would allow us to lend them money to be able to complete some needed repairs, etc.” She says it makes sense to preserve existing units as needed, rather than build new ones. Albeit, the proposed program is facing an uncertain future if Trump’s budget is adopted.

With so much on the line for the future of affordable housing in NYC, Haycox says the proposed budget cuts and tax reforms lurking like a frightening shadow and anticipated this October have them on “pins and needles” about the outlook of Habitat for Humanity. “We are focused on being poised to react and act depending on how the federal budget comes down. I think there’s a great deal of unrest and uncertainty about how that might impact us directly or indirectly.”  She says what her group can control is philanthropy. “Philanthropy always and forever will be at our core and trying to change the hearts and minds of volunteers and funders to value and prioritize housing and the important role it can play in the community we serve.” Haycox also acknowledges that a significant tax reform to the current system could negatively impact how non-profits operate in the future if donors loose tax breaks that encourages giving. “We are in a very uncertain time…so, we’re all scanning the news sources vigorously looking for some sign or indication of what the future might hold.”

Habitat NYC raises about $5-million a year Haycox says. One fund raising avenue beneficial to the group is through its ReStore, “It’s like a thrift store for building materials,” she says. The ReStore is located on Northern Blvd in Queens. “You can buy donated or gently used furniture and furnishing… you can also buy building materials and contracting materials and high-priced items like appliances at a greatly discounted price.” The supplementary to the ReStore is the environmental component that diverts material that would otherwise go to a landfill.

Homeownership is a commitment and not for everybody. The application process can be somewhat intimidating and it can take about 24-months from filling out the application to moving in to your new home. Nonetheless, Haycox says housing is fundamental to the long-term success of a family and despite the challenges ahead Habitat NYC will continue to do what it has done since its inception; helping families achieve a fundamental American dream; homeownership.

From Immigration Status, Green Card To Passport; The Real Costs Of Becoming An American Citizen

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The American dream, to many, is increasingly symbolizing the old Irish folktale about the Leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And unluckily, refugees and new immigrants under the administration of President Donald J. Trump are losing their way trying to find that elusive pot of gold in the maze of America’s immigration and refugee resettlement system. Gauging the national discourse, no wishes will be granted if it was solely up to the Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chaotic role-out of the first executive order barring immigration from majority Muslim countries sent shock waves across the country and the world, signaling a clear attempt to set the tone of a new era of American politics and her role in the free world. The ripple effects of the first so called “Muslim ban” is still stirring up fears, and forcing agency-wide adjustments, as well as, increasing costs for refugee and new immigrant service providers. Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is not immune to the shifts underfoot. The agency’s sole mission is to resettle refugees and help usher in new immigrants to America with the promise of a better life and a chance to achieve the American dream.

MVRCR, Executive Director, Shelly Callahan says, “The number of refugees that we receive in a year is down. We were hoping that there would be some recovery but it looks like our numbers are just going to be down. Typically we resettle about 400, or a little over 400 [refugees] a year. We’re now around 130, or 140 and I’m not sure if it’s going to go up much from there.” Callahan says it’s because of the way the two executive orders have been handed down, “The chaos and just the constantly shifting grounds for refugee resettlement agencies has been really, really damaging,” she said. Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the ban last week. The suit brought by SPLC on behalf of a Yemeni couple essentially charges that Trump’s order is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Following the roll out of the first executive order Callahan says there was some confusion about who could and couldn’t travel. “There was a short window of time where certain refugees could travel, but what happened, the overseas processing centers where refugees typically go before they travel to their resettlement country, the chaos had refugees leaving the overseas processing centers thinking that they couldn’t leave to the U.S. and then it turned out that some of them could.” She says flights were booked and rebooked many times with people still missing them. And, workers traveling to airports to pick up refugees that didn’t make their flights were costly. Toting up to the confusion is the real agony witnessed when families get separated due to the lack of clear communications and understanding of the new immigration and resettlement policy.  “When these travel bans happen, there’s real concern that these families aren’t going to be able to reunite,” she said. The lawsuit filed by SPLC is to assist the Yemeni couple reunite with their two children that are currently unable to travel to the U.S. due to the executive orders.

Callahan says the agency operates with, “not a lot of fat” to begin with and the increase in costs for refugee resettlement is hitting them hard. Add to that depiction, the decrease in refugee resettlement numbers impacts the work being done to help displaced people around the world that in turn help to improve economically depressed regions like Utica, NY. If Republicans and President Trump’s position and rhetoric on immigration continue to advance on its current path, the impact of losing refugee and new immigrant resettlement programs will undoubtedly be felt by the communities that benefit from their contributions. Refugee resettlement programs bring people and dollars to communities that open their doors to them. For starters, MVRCR gets $950 to resettle each refugee, and an additional $1,150 to be spent on their behalf. The money goes to finding and setting up their housing. “So, for each case, a combination of that $950 that goes to the agency and the $1,150, for a single case, we’re getting them housing, getting their lights turned on, furnishing it all for $1,150, which can be challenging, but for families of 3, 4, 5, 6…that’s a little bit easier and they may actually get money back when we close their case because we wouldn’t have spent down all those dollars,” Callahan explains.

Each refugee also equates to other federal and state dollars for the county through other avenues like grant funding for different programs to help advance the resettlement process. From learning how to drive and understand American driving rules, to language, job training and placement. Nevertheless, Callahan says the U.S. resettlement programs encourage self sufficiency. She said, “So, it’s a hand-up. The refugees come here owing their airfare back to the federal government 6-months post arrival. They’re expected to start paying that down. I think it’s a misconception to think that refugees come here and are given all sorts of resources. They’re definitely given some but it really is a program that expects them to work very hard to be successful.”

Callahan also touts the healthy relationship that’s been cultivated with local and out of area businesses that credit the employment program, and the work undertaken by MVRCR with the rebirth of a dying city. “I think this city would be a ghost town without refugee resettlement,” Callahan said. Refugees and new immigrants bring value to the region that surpasses those aforementioned returns, as their impact can be felt and seen economically, culturally, and socially. Not to mention Utica’s evolving culinary scene. “We have definitely, as a community, benefited enormously from the 36-year history of welcoming these folks in to our community. Our community is absolutely richer for it. I can’t think of anything over those decades that have had a bigger impact, economically and socially, than the population added,” she said.

Long established locals still remember and commiserate about a time when large numbers of employers were leaving the area, properties sitting abandoned for years, until the first major wave of resettlement efforts that started with the Bosnian’s in the 1990s, ushered in a new energy. “There was a time when the population was in danger of dropping below 50-thousand, which would have had some really horrific impacts in terms of federal dollars that the city was able to access for any of its recovery work, but if you just think about the numbers; 16-thousand refugees, just through this center alone, and that doesn’t count secondary migrants, which are refugees that come from other places in the U.S., but if you think about the population number and what its impact for the positive, having these folks resettle in Utica has been, in terms of the economic impact, cannot be overstated,” she said.

But the winds of change are shifting and refugees and other new immigrants fear the worst. Azira Tabucic, Manager, Immigration & Citizenship at MVRCR says the number of people looking to change their immigration status to avoid being deported has increased significantly. “The numbers are really, really large this time. Not only for green card seekers but for many folks that never thought about the importance of being citizens are applying for citizenship. My schedule is booked till May,” she said.

Tabucic explained that the actual cost of becoming a citizen ranges from zero to $5,000, or more, depending on the circumstances of the person being resettled. Refugees and Asylum seekers go through a different process than new immigrants. And economic status, along with a host of other  measures determine how much an individual or a family has to pay for legal status in the U.S. Additionally, the cost to go through the immigration process with assistance from a federally designated agency like MVRCR, separate from other application and medical testing fees, increased in December of 2016. And, from start to finish the process can take about 6-years if individuals follow the rules and timeline set forth by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). Adding to an already difficult and lengthy process, Tabucic says the increased cost can be waved or decreased depending on the person’s economic or immigration status. More information, including worksheets, forms, applications, a list of changes and new costs can be found on the USCIS website. Click Here for a direct link to the USCIS fee schedule used by MVRCR.

The U.S. immigration process is a complicated one, with many shifts and turns depending on criteria, status and a host of other measures, making the work of MVRCR crucial for folks looking or forced to call the U.S. home. Callahan says locally there have been people picked-up by immigration officials, including some refugees that had some criminal aspects to their background, and sent to deportation centers. She says there is this undercurrent of fear and confusion about what is going to happen next and who it’s going to impact.  “What this means for us is…one of the things we do through the Office of New Americans and our Immigration and Citizenship office is have our attorney’s here, pro bono, twice a month to work with people who might have some complications with regards to their resident status,” she said.

Another way the agency is preparing refugees and new immigrants for an uncertain future as they make their way through the U.S. immigration process is via education on immigrant’s rights and emergency planning. She said, “This is pretty heart-breaking…we help people go over what to do if you are scooped up in a raid and essentially disappear from your family and community. We’re having parents work on Power of Attorney with their children; we’re having them get all sorts of things in place so that if they get scooped up in one of these situations they know what to do.” Callahan says when someone gets picked up by immigration officials they don’t get a phone call or due process one may expect, by informing other agencies or even their family members about a detainees’ whereabouts. “You just get picked up and you essentially disappear,” she says.

Although Utica is not considered a sanctuary city, the local police department is in step with other police departments across the country, like in Boston, NYC and Los Angeles. According to Callahan, Utica Police have made it clear that they are not going to act as agents of immigration. “Our Utica Police Department have been great. They’ve come here; they’ve talked to staff and clients and assured us that that isn’t their role. They’re not looking to get people in trouble with immigration,” she says. She adds it would be a detrimental position to take considering the work that’s been done to foster and build relationships with the refugee population and other immigrant groups. In spite of the anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiments across the country, Callahan says she remains hopeful in an uncertain world enforcing boundaries, while adhering to humanitarian standards and coping with displaced people yearning for salvation, “I think that most people believe what is written on the Statue of Liberty. This country has always prided itself on its moral leadership, and I think that’s still who we are.”

America’s Role In The Manifestation of Donald J. Trump

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The Women’s March on Washington by all account, except perhaps President Donald J. Trump’s, was enormously successful. The event drew crowds from across the country and the world in solidarity against arguably the most controversial and despised figure on the planet right now; President Trump. Across the spectrum, outrage usually followed by ridicule over his rhetoric, views, policy positions and vision for the country has plagued the 45th president of the United States since the start of his campaign for the highest office and leader of the free world. Despite promising to make the country great again, draining the political swamp in DC and putting America first on everything—promises that any sound American would welcome with open arms, especially when considering the public’s view on politicians in general—Trump is still failing miserably to win the hearts and minds of most Americans. And the Women’s March on Washington was a clear indication of these shared sentiments.

Out of the gate, the new administration is feeling the heat from the media and the public following the two press conferences held by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who managed to make things worse by presenting the public with what, Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway dubbed “alternative facts” about the inauguration numbers and other petty Trumpisms.  Trump’s recent executive orders to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, (TPP), reinstating the Global Gag Rule, like former president George W. Bush did back in 2001, and imposing a federal hiring freeze similar to another president; Ronald Reagan, are campaign promises being kept. Whether his actions will lead to his “bigly” vision of making America great again has yet to be seen, nonetheless, Americans of all walks of life, including the international community, is anxiously bracing for the next four years of a Trump presidency.

All the same, the American public’s outrage over Trump’s election is baffling considering the evolution of American culture, values, and moral compass. Considering our modern culture, one would have to accept that as a nation, we are exactly where we put ourselves. From our fascinations and obsessions with scandals of all kinds, the sexualisation of women, our inability to not glorify violence in any form we see fit, including our appetite for all things plastic, easy and immediate, collectively we must all take responsibility for our role in the manifestation of Trump’s America. If you buy into the cheapening of our culture, you support—willingly or not—the creation of Trump.

Considering our very short memory of history and diminishing attention span, it will suffice to only mention a handful of our new cultural norms and objects of worship and value. Kim Kardashian becomes an object of sexual worship following the release of her sex tape. Former NY Governor Elliot Spitzer gets caught up in a prostitution scandal and is rewarded with his own show on CNN. The prostitute he paid for sexual favors also benefitted from the scandal. Ashley Alexandra Dupré was rewarded for assisting in the destruction of a marriage and family with her own column in the New York Post called “Ask Ashley.” Also, let’s not forget that Rolling Stone magazine honored the second Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaevwith a sexualized cover photo and article that will forever represent our state of mindfulness and object of worship. The young man and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, terrorized a city and he’s on the cover of a magazine projecting the look of a typical and innocent American college kid. Forget aiming for fame when infamy is arguably equally valued now days. Lately, it seems that the more celebrity figures behave badly, the more attention we laud upon them, essentially turning them into gold statues to worship as false gods. And, if the video of Ray Rice knocking out his then girlfriend didn’t make its way to the surface, can one honestly say that the outcome of his football career would stand as it does?

Ever since Trump started making a name for himself, the media and others in powerful positions, like former Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush, encouraged his outrageous antics and behavior. Trump was made in America. He was permitted to grope, grab and force himself on us while we grinned, clapped and begged him for more. Trump didn’t sneak up on us. As a society we helped to create him.

Resting on our evolving values as a society, culturally, we all own a piece of what Trump represents. To quote the late Michael Jackson, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” With any luck, as we continue to evolve as a nation, for the better, Americans will take Trump along for a cultural ride on the roller coaster of our beautiful diverse society.

 

Journey To Standing Rock

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

“The white man broke every promise except for one. They promised to take our land, and they did,” these are the words of war chief and holy man Sitting Bull that, more than 100 years later, seems to still echo across the plains of the Dakotas.

The bitter cold and recent decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that put a halt to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, (DAPL) may have sent some protesters packing, but not all of them. The camp—today a community of staunch, unwavering and passionate like-minded people—is bracing for what’s to come. Whatever that may be, some of the Veterans I spoke to said. Even after president-elect Donald Trump, who supports the construction of the pipeline, takes over the reins at the White House. The protesters, those willing and cleared to speak to the media, made their intent very clear. They’re not budging until all Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. equipment, still at the ready to proceed in constructing the 1,172 mile pipeline under Lake Oahe, is removed from the disputed site.

The location of the All Nations Camp, as its been dubbed by its members and the locals, is in Cannon Ball, SD. A short distance drive up the road passed Prairie Knights Casino. The camp sits between Oceti Sakowin Camp and Sacred Stone camp, immediately after crossing the Missouri River. For many of the protesters, the casino provides some relief from the camp and the bitter cold. As you near the camp site, you can’t help but feel a sense of amazement and awe of the tenacity and strong will of the human spirit. These are the first Americans. Fighting to maintain their culture and identity, still.

“Fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, at the end of the fourth great Ice Age or before, the first men reached the New World. These were the ancestors of the American Indians. They came in small bands of several families, following the hunters who got them food. Straggling out of Asia in pursuit of game, they had no notion of the two enormous continents that lay ahead of them, empty of men,” states a passage in The Ghost Dance, The Origins Of Religion, by Weston La Barre. This understanding carries enormous significance when adequately judging the on-going protest against the pipeline, despite the multicultural distinction of its members, these people have taken on a David versus Goliath like combat.  And, they’re unsure of what lies ahead.

Tribal Flags of all kinds and meanings guide your path into the snow covered camp shrouded with howling winds and flapping tarps begging for mercy. Tents, Tepees, RV’s and even basic plywood  structures that serve as a much needed refuge from the weather, seem to stand at attention as a sign of opposition against an unmatched power, and an unforgiving changing world. Man’s need and insatiable appetite for oil and other riches that help advance and sustain our modern society reigns supreme in these vast lands, fought fiercely for, and belonging to the first Americans, the Lakotas’.

“…every year the first entry of man into the New World seems to be pushed deeper into antiquity,” states La Barre in The Ghost Dance. And, to put the DAPL protest in historical perspective, one can’t help but find the irony and sad truth of this observation. The Lakotas’ aren’t new to these kinds of constrictions, but it’s hard to argue that the on-going struggle for basic human and land rights is steadily pushing them further away from their ancient past, as the world around them tugs away at what remains of their land and culture.

A recent article in the Smithsonian titled, Grant’s Uncivil War by Peter Cozzens, states fittingly at this moment in history concerning this on-going issue: Under the Fort Laramie Treaty, the United States designated all of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River, including the Black Hills as the Great Sioux Reservation, for the Lakotas’ “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation.” The treaty also reserved much of present-day northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana as Unceded Indian Territory, off-limits to whites without the Lakotas’ consent. The article goes onto say that “most Lakotas’ settled on the reservation, but a few thousand traditionalists rejected the treaty and made their home in the Unceded Territory. Their guiding spirits were the revered war chief and holy man Sitting Bull and the celebrated war leader Crazy Horse. These “non-treaty” Lakotas’ had no quarrel with the wasichus (whites) so long as they stayed out of the Lakota country. This the wasichus largely did, until 1874.” That’s when Major General George Armstrong Custer received his marching orders to scout land for a new Army post, according to historical records.  Fast forward 142 years later, it’s clear to see who got the raw deal of the Fort Laramie Treaty.

During my stay in Bismarck, ND I got a chance to speak to an official who asked to remain anonymous. He made the argument, sitting next to his wife and a family friend they jokingly didn’t want to claim as such, that the protests may have started as a fight for mother earth and clean water, but says that it’s taken a political turn for another shot at pushing for land rights. “It’s about old rights. That’s what the protest is really about,” he said. “Pipelines are everywhere! Why is this one so important?! It’s a lands rights issue and the rule of law has been violated,” he said. He asserts that the protesters that have come from across the country and Canada are not being good guests of the two bordering states. The group shared stories of poaching, menacing and trespassing on farmers lands. He said the cost to maintain order and safety doesn’t come cheap. “North Dakota has paid 17-million so far to deal with the protesters,” he said. The official also stated that the coverage of the protests have been biased and that goodwill between the Sioux and locals have been damaged because of the protests. “Friends are torn apart,” he said.

Speaking to some Veterans at the camp, the consensus was that the recent visit from other Veterans led by Wesley Clark, Jr. caused more confusion and discontent than anything else it set out to do. Some of them believed that there were political motives involved in Clark coming to the camp. “He even rode on a horse up to a hill,” one of the “Old Vets” claimed. The Veterans, still dug deep into this struggle, refer to themselves as “Old Vets” to distinguish from the newer arriving Veterans that have since left. One thing was made clear. They’re not budging until the Sioux Nation asks them to leave. When asked about getting paid to maintain the protest, the group collectively took offense to the question and said, absolutely not. However, the question merit asking as it was brought up by some in Bismarck, including the official that spoke anonymously, as a reason behind the on-going protest at Standing Rock.

My evening at the camp ended at the Dome, appropriately aired and warmed with burning wood and the smell of sage. It’s a dome structure in the middle of the camp where camp leaders meet to discuss issues, like change of perspectives, how to improve camp life, the forming of clicks and Lakota virtues. The members form a big circle and take turn speaking, adhering to a respectful exchange, and ending with a prayer.

It is necessary to recognize both sides of the situation. It’s hard to argue with the official who says it’s time to merge cultures and collectively contribute to our greater American society. However, the root of this pattern of conquering land from the first Americans, at any cost, runs deep. The wounds are still raw and hard felt. How the Trump era of politics and dealings will impact this struggle is anybody’s guess, but it behooves one to remember that the strength of America is rooted in all the people of this land. The first, the old, and the newcomers.

Former U.S. Consular To Cuba Reflects On His Work And The Passing Of Fidel Castro

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The world is changing at a rapid pace right in front of our eyes. Trump is president-elect and Fidel Castro has died. These two incidents alone represent a monumental shift in the world. It’s a lot to take in and reflect upon, regardless of how these two powerful figures will eventually settle into their rightful place in history.

Fidel Castro’s passing, perhaps even more so than the election of Donald Trump, highlights the importance of conducting diplomacy maturely. That’s according to Tom Holladay who is retired from the State Department these days but recalls his time as U.S. Consular to Cuba. Holladay served as consular in Cuba from 1977 to 1979. He was part of a group of ten American Foreign Service people who reopened the interest section of the US embassy, as part of the Swizz embassy in Cuba. “The Swizz had been representing us since we broke relations with Cuba and left in 1961. So, we went back to our old building, which had been kept by the Swizz, and we set about trying to reestablish a channel of communication with the Cuban government and solve some problems that had been outstanding,” he explained.

 

JL: Can you describe the state of Cuba upon your arrival in 1977?

TH: I don’t think it was really that different than a lot of the countries in Latin America at the time, materially, probably a little more run-down. Cuba was sort of a dependency of the Soviet Union so they weren’t that bad off. A lot of old cars, a lot of unpainted buildings…interesting place, but I didn’t really focus on what the place looked like.

JL: At the time, U.S. relations with Cuba were much different. Were you well received, or was it a hostile welcoming entering the country?

TH: No, no, this was an initiative of President Carter that actually during the Ford administration, even under Kissinger, we had started this effort to try to normalize relations with Cuba, and it was briefly interrupted by the elections when Carter ran against Ford. Ford was trying to get his own term in office. Ford administration had started this optimate, and they cranked it back down for the elections, probably because of the Cuban vote in Miami. And then Carter, as soon as he was elected, his transition people started the process of getting ready to open with Cuba very shortly after he took office.

I was working in Cuban Affairs in Washington during the time of the run-up, and then going back down, then cranking back up again, and so when we arrived, it was an optimistic time.

The problems were that the Cubans were becoming militarily involved in Africa. The Cubans, had among other things figured out a way to fly troops to Angola via Guiana, using old Bristol Britannia aircrafts that didn’t really have the rage without a fuel stop, and the Guianese gave them the fuel stop. So, as we were opening up and dealing with some of the issues that I was involved in, we were also concerned about their increase activity in Africa. And that eventually put the kibosh on the improving relations. We really couldn’t make any progress on that political side.

The real reason the Carter administration gave for opening up with Cuba was that they could solve some of the human rights issues that had been pending, and some U.S. citizen issues that we couldn’t really resolve if we didn’t have a presence and a dialogue.

JL: Can you describe some of the issues you dealt with?

TH: We had political prisoners, hijackers, including American citizens who couldn’t leave Cuba with their families for many years because Cuba wouldn’t give them permission to leave. And then there were a lot of Cuban citizens who suffered from the human rights situation there, who wanted to leave but couldn’t get out, so we were trying to solve all those problems.

We were trying to reestablish a dialogue and reestablish some semblance of normal relations.

JL: What was your first day of work like?   

TH: The first day we opened, all of the people with complaints and problems came to the opening—American hijackers, Americans who couldn’t leave the country, people with permission to leave but needed American visas, all kinds of people—they all showed up as we were talking to the press out front. The management was worried that this would mar the opening. So, they brought them all inside for me to deal with. But, they forgot to screen out the media when they did this. So then I got into a question and answer session with these people, and of course it was all recorded and people in the United States saw me on television that night.

JL: Can you talk about the hijackers?

TH: Well the hijackers that I dealt with were Americans. They were guys who hijacked planes to Cuba. And they came in and said, ‘we want to leave, we can’t take it anymore.’ So then I had to tell them that, I can’t give you a U.S. passport to leave because you’re on the FBI Wanted list so the only way I can send you home is into the hands of the U.S. authorities. So then they would go to the Cubans and the Cubans would say, ‘if you have a U.S. passport we’ll let you leave.’ Course we couldn’t give them one, so I’d tell them, go back and tell the Cubans I’m not going to give you the passport until we can arrange a way for you to go home that you can’t get beyond that reach.

Most of these guys were American black guys. One group came to Cuba, asked to see Fidel, robbed all the passengers and tried to give Fidel what they stole from the passengers. Fidel had them put in jail immediately, and they never got out again.

So they (hijackers) wanted to leave so we organized their return to the United States via Canada. Air Canada sent down a plane with most of the passengers being undercover Mounties. So, we got them all out to the airport and the stewardesses refused to fly with them. We had to abort the operation. Then, the Canadians spread the rumor that they had gotten to Canada and they (hijackers) were at large there. That didn’t work out. The Cubans thought it was ridiculous that an airline couldn’t transport some fugitives, and that the stewardesses could veto such an operation.

In any case, they were supposed to fly to Canada. Their plane would become an FBI charter and they’d fly to the U.S. where they would come under arrest, had it played out. But, we moved them via Jamaica a few days later with the same plan.

JL: What happened after the hijackers arrived in the U.S.?

TH: They got back to the United States and then one of them said that I promised him that he would get off if he promised to go back. So, I got dragged up to Federal court but the judge believed me. They all came in and lied that I had enticed them to go to the United States…

JL: When they got back here eventually, they were all arrested?

TH: Yes, exactly and sentenced to jail for periods of time. One of them was a Puerto Rican guy who hijacked the first 747 to Cuba. His name was Rivera, (R. Campos). These guys were on the margin of society…they didn’t work, and they were sort of malcontent.

He (R. Campos) was the one who said that I tricked him into going back. But, he sent me a Christmas card for years afterwards from jail. I don’t know where he got my address, but for years I got this card from Rivera.

JL: Really? That didn’t scare you at all, considering that he claimed you promised him freedom when he got here?

TH: (Laughing) Yeah, well it worried me and he may still be after me, but I’ve forgotten him. I think he knows that I meant no ill will toward him…he just saw these other guys leaving and thought, well, you know, I’ll do it too.

JL: Was he in jail in Cuba?

TH: No, he wasn’t in jail. Most of these hijackers were not in jail in Cuba. They were on the street. Only some very violent and means ones, who killed people in the process of hijacking the planes, went to jail.

JL: As Consular, did you have a relationship with Fidel Castro, or had any direct dealings with him?

TH: I never dealt with Fidel directly, only very shortly after we got there. Nobody else had access to him either. I only had access to Fidel once in connection with a hijacking to Cuba of a Delta flight, where I went to the airport for our side and Fidel went for his side. I had pretty much the run of the airport, they knew me out there. I can always get in the back way and go in the secure areas but that day I couldn’t get in.

His car was parked out there, so I went to the normal places I usually go in and they wouldn’t let me in. They said, ‘what are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I’m here for the same reason he’s here’. I said, ‘I came to look at the welfare of the passengers of this plane’, and he, the Director of Immigration,  took me around to the VIP entrance of the tarmac, pushed me through the door, and there was Fidel.

So we sat down on a little couch, I asked him about who the hijacker was and he gave his little ditty about the hijacking group. We had a bilateral hijacking agreement, in which we agreed to return hijackers or punish them locally. The Cubans were hijacking boats and going North and the Americans were hijacking planes. Some Cuban planes had been hijacked too, but he (Fidel Castro) was just giving the reassurances that all of the United States should start respecting the terms of the hijacking agreement, which is in sustention, we’re going to abide by its principles in handling this case.

Then, we had to figure out how to pay for the fuel. The Delta pilot had a credit card he couldn’t use in Cuba. So, I had to commit to making sure that the Cubans got their money for Delta’s fuel. I said I would guarantee that this 15-thousand dollars worth of fuel would be paid for, which a Consular Officer is never supposed to do…is commit the U.S. government to payment. But, Delta lived up to their word. They transferred the money to us and we issued the check on to the Cuban Central Bank.

Those are some of the nitty-gritty operational details…

JL: Can you talk about some of the political prisoners you dealt with?

TH: Larry Lunt, (Lawrence K. Lunt) was an ex-pat who was married to a member of the Belgium Royal House. He was C.I.A. He was in prison and I visited him every month. The Belgium Ambassador also visited him. The Belgium Ambassador was his wife’s cousin. So he was really well taken care of… I don’t think the Belgium Ambassador had anything else to do.

We had another guy who ran the American Club; we had another guy who worked for Look Magazine who parachuted into the country, just different guys who had U.S. citizenship but who were in jail for political crimes. They wore different color uniforms and were segregated from common prisoners. So, I visited them every month. They were an odd lot, (laughing).

Meanwhile, secret talks take place between Miami Cubans and the Cuban government, which the U.S. government did or did not participate in, where they agreed that the Cubans would release 3 to 5-thousand Cuban political prisoners, if we would take them. And we agreed to take them at a rate of 500 a month. The Cubans also agreed to give permission to leave the country to 15-thousand ex-political prisoners. So then, we started processing them.

The first group was a VIP group. One of them was Paulita Grauw. Paulita had been involved in an attempt to assassinate Fidel by putting a poisoned pill in a milkshake at the Havana Libre. She had delivered this poison pill to the guy at the Soda jerk and he had put it inside the freezer and it had stuck to the wall of the freezer and when he took it out the poison leaked out and he was unable to put it in Fidel’s milkshake. They somehow uncovered the plot and arrested them all. So, Paulita had this attempted murder rap and I had to do an advisory opinion to the department to justify sending her to the U.S. The people who cut this deal where the Miami Cubans. We agreed to do this for them because Carter was big on human rights and we wanted Cubans to release their political prisoners. This would meet one of our conditions for them to improve our relationship, and it would prove that Carter opening to Cuba actually brought some results.

JL: Can you reflect on Fidel’s death, and what it means for U.S. Cuba relations moving forward?

TH: You know, I’m very torn because I obviously was, I mean, we were subjected to surveillance, bugging, harassing phone calls, break-ins. These security people were on us like flies on shit. They were on top of us all the time. It was an oppressive atmosphere, but I was there trying to do a job and I wasn’t really there to judge them. I was seeing these huge prisons full of people, listening to horror stories all day long, the injustices and the difficulties, the hardships people had gone through because of the revolution, so I was basically dealing with the malcontent of the revolution. But, I believe that the guy deserves some recognition for being the sob that he was, for noble purposes, even though his methods were very bad.

JL: What are your thoughts on the future of the Cuban people?

TH: I have no idea. Raul is now in charge, has been since 2008. These guys aren’t going to let go. Hopefully they will get the message and start an incremental effort to open up the economy and open up the society in a gradual way. Maybe follow the Chinese model. They have a lot of enemies out there and a lot of people who celebrated Fidel’s death. I’m not sure that it’s that relevant to contemporary Cuba.

Raul has decided to open up diplomatic relations with United States. That’s pretty radical. But, now all bets are off because we have our own domestic problems to content with. We might break relations with Cuba and go back to square one.

If we continue on the path of dialogue and communication instead of posturing and playing fault, we’ll probably be able to move forward. Good things can come from communication and dialogue and dealing direct and nothing good usually comes from vitriol and exchanges of insults.

JL: Do you think Fidel Castro has brought anything positive to his people and to the world in general?

TH: The guy was a brave man, a tough man, a brilliant man, a master politician, a master chess player. And, he managed to win the hearts and minds of millions of people in the third world. I don’t think you can deny his place in history.

Trump Pushes Political Detritus Into Full Bloom

 

BY COLIN HUBBELL

 

Donald Trump’s candidacy can be summed up as the best reality television performance in American history…were someone keeping track of this type of thing. Unfortunately, the only people that will gain much from his real or staged downfall are those in the Clinton campaign, and anyone else connected to the modern spoils system following her inauguration. “Corporate America” will likely be the largest benefactor of the next Clinton Presidency.
Whether another President Clinton and the efforts to elevate Trump’s exposure were contrived by the DNC, or corporate sponsors and their media outlets matters little—that is what happened. The impact of Trump’s outrageous antics and bullying on undecided voters, and many Republicans, cannot be discounted. The public is now so uncomfortable with the prospects of his crude behavior in the Oval Office that they have largely forgotten about the litany of flaws with Clinton, or the history of lewd behavior from her husband. Frankly, a Manchurian candidate, or covert operative could not have done better at creating empathy for Mrs. Clinton through this phenomena of psychological political polarization; empathy for someone that showed marginal leadership in the Senate (as evidenced by her vote for the Iraq War), or accountability while Secretary of State—each position showcasing a glaring gap in foreign policy acumen. And, from her campaign contributions—or if you can even begin to imagine how money might flow through her foundation—it is clear she lacks much independence from corporate influence.
Not only has Trump made palatable a candidate that has never showed much beyond a lust for power, he has almost pushed the modern GOP toward a breaking point—the type of political party paradigm shift that occurred just a few times in American history. The fracture is deep within the GOP, and establishment Republicans are grappling with a renewed inability to relate to their base. Trump lowered “the bar” of political correctness, and debased political dialog to the point that he completely cast “the bar” off. How else could he have taken the nomination by storm from a field of seasoned politicians? But, this is an opponent that the DNC and Clinton campaign were eager to face. This is what the media sought for their ratings, because Trump is precisely what many Americans wanted injected into the boring old political process: entertainment.
What will follow from this election is a fallout to uncharted depths. If the House of Representatives does not flip, buckle up for four years of grossly contentious partisanship that will make Bill Clinton’s tenure seem tame. With witch hunts reminiscent of Salem, and weekly political stunts begging for media coverage, even more Americans will become disgusted by the lack of progress and process; an ugly tone permeating the nation will turn off more people every step of the way. For Hillary Clinton—with so much real and imagined baggage—the fuel for obstructionist tactics will be almost infinite in a Republican held Congress. But, Hillary Clinton is an ambitious cog in a system that promotes corporate representation posing as governance for the citizenry. She is no more corrupt or self-serving than many politicians—just more talented in many respects, and that is what is rewarded.
As always, the loser in our reductionist, dualistic system is progress. In 2016 America has been played by a willing DNC, and an incompetent, unprepared RNC. We have been forced into accepting a president that will largely maintain the status quo. This is what happens in a system where the population is pushed into partisan corners and divided by a nominating process dictated by fringes. Instead of finding common ground, we stomach continued fighting over wedge issues, even though most know something is amiss, and that this is not the 21st century we imagined. The American dream is most certainly not one where we work hard to subsidize a corporate governance that profits from global instability while outsourcing our economy and maintaining entrenched power. With four more years of lacking cohesion and leadership it will be a wonder if anyone has the energy left to dream of progress in 2020.