Friday, October 11, 2013

Rafael Cancel Miranda and the Independence Struggle for Puerto Rico

Recently, I had the opportunity of listening to Rafael Cancel Miranda speak at a wonderful dinner held at the Tierra Columbiana in Philadelphia.  I’ve listened to Don Rafa, as he’s known, several times when he’s visited Philly, and have been greatly inspired on each occasion. 

Years ago I also had the opportunity of seeing Nelson Mandela at Yankee Stadium in New York.  Today, I can say that Cancel Miranda and Nelson Mandela were the two most important people I’ve personally seen in my lifetime.

Rafael Cancel Miranda

Cancel Miranda was born in 1930 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.  His father was a member of the Nationalist Party that demanded independence.  At this time, Puerto Rico was extremely underdeveloped. 

One of the most common jobs available to workers was to cut sugar cane at the harvest time known as La Zafra.  Under these conditions large numbers of Puerto Ricans saw no benefit to being a colony of the United States.  Some of the people who benefitted from this relationship were the owners of the Domino Sugar Corporation.

When Cancel Miranda was seven years old, his father took him to attend a demonstration in Ponce.  The demonstration was attacked by the armed forces.  Hundreds of people were injured and there were 19 fatalities.

When Cancel Miranda was 10 years old he protested against pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States.  By the age of 18 he refused to be drafted into the U.S. armed forces to fight in the war against Korea.   He spent two years in prison for that so-called offence.

Cancel Miranda argued that the Korean people never invaded his country.  He also argued that Koreans never attacked peaceful demonstrations of Puerto Ricans.  Therefore, he had no reason to go to war against a people who, in no way, brought any harm to Puerto Rico.

After his release from prison, he continued to be eligible for the draft, so he moved to Cuba.  For several years he worked construction jobs.  Then, Fulgencio Batista came to power and Cancel Mirada’s writings in support of Puerto Rican independence were intolerable to the new regime.  Cancel Miranda first was sent to prison, and then deported from Cuba.         

In 1954 Cancel Miranda joined with Lolita Lebron, Irving Flores Rodrigues, and Andres Figueroa, to carry out an armed attack on Congress in Washington.  One member of Congress was injured.  For this offence, these freedom fighters received lengthy prison sentences.

Operation Bootstrap

During the time Cancel Miranda was in prison, some changes took place in Puerto Rico.  The U.S. government initiated Operation Bootstrap in 1947.  This program gave tax incentives to corporations who moved their operations to the island.  This effort combined with the relatively low Puerto Rican wages attracted many corporations and billions of dollars were invested in the island.

However, this industrialization did not increase the percentage of people who had jobs and this led to a large migration to the cities of the United States.  We might consider that this migration took place around the same time as Black people were leaving horrendous agricultural jobs and Jim Crow segregation to work in industrial jobs in the large cities.      

Today Cancel Miranda is 83 years old.  In all the times I’ve seen him speak, he’s never lost his spirit and confidence in the Puerto Rican independence movement.  He, as well as many others, have spoken out about the Puerto Rican prisoners who continue to serve horrendously long sentences ordered by the U.S. government.  Oscar Lopez Rivera has been in U.S. prisons for 32 years.  Twelve of those years were spent in solitary confinement.

Pedro Albizu Campos

We can also speak of the father of the Puerto Rican independence movement, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, who lived from 1891 to 1965.  Campos was educated at Harvard University.  He spoke several languages, and had degrees specializing in several fields of study.  However, his primary interest was the liberation of his people.  He also took an interest in the liberation struggles in Ireland and India. 

He served in the U.S. military in a segregated unit with Black soldiers.  Here Campos identified with the struggle of Black people in the U.S. for their liberation.

Nelson Mandela and Albizu Campos could have had a lucrative careers with their educational background.  Instead they both chose to place the struggles of their people at the center of their lives.

Today most people in the United States are completely unaware of this history.  When people think of the island of Puerto Rico, it is often in connection with a vacation on a Caribbean island. 

Lucy Parsons was a labor leader in this country she argued to: “Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote way their wealth.”  For me, this is the fundamental reason why people who have power feel especially threatened by those who challenge the system and have won broad popularity.

Understanding this reality, we can appreciate the contributions of Rafael Cancel Miranda and all the other Puerto Rican fighters who dedicated their lives to the dignity their people deserve.   These are just some of the reasons why this history is extremely relevant to anyone interested in the struggle to achieve human dignity for all.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Orange is The New Black – A Review

Created by Jenji Kohan

Recently I viewed the entire Netflix series titled Orange is The New Black.  This production is based on the book of the same name by Piper Kerman.  Kerman, like the main character in this series was sentenced to a one-year prison term for transporting money for a West African drug cartel.  She was sentenced ten years after this offence took place.

Kerman’s story is about her life during the thirteen months she spent behind bars.  I have not read her book, and according to Kerman, the Netflix series is different in many ways from her story.

The Netflix series portrays a highly educated middle class woman, Piper, who is placed in a prison where the women are mostly working-class.  In other words, Piper’s educational background gives her little insight into the rules of the prison, as well as the rules of the prisoners.  Because of her ignorance of these rules, Piper experiences one crisis after another.

When Piper begins her prison sentence she is engaged to be married.  Her Fiancé has basically the same views as Piper when she’s sentenced.  In one of the first visits she has with her Fiancé, Piper gives her initial impressions of her cellmates.  This Fiancé is a writer and publishes an article about his visits with Piper.  The problem is that Piper’s initial views of her cellmates were insulting stereotypes.  As Piper begins to know her cellmates, she sees their genuine humanity.  This is just one more crisis she needs to deal with.

There are two scenes that made a distinct impression on me.  In one, Piper was dancing suggestively with a former lover.  A prison guard had befriended her largely because of her educational background.  This prison guard became enraged when he saw Piper dancing because this suggestive dancing with a woman destroyed his preconceived notion of who she was. 

As a result, this prison guard sent Piper to solitary confinement.  Solitary is the worst form of punishment a prisoner can endure.  The recent prison hunger strike in California is largely a protest against the use of solitary confinement. 

After experiencing a day of solitary, Piper has the opportunity to confront the abusive prison guard.  She berates him, arguing that he is a deeply disturbed person and this is the precise reason why the prison authorities hired him in the first place.

After this outburst, Piper strikes herself in the head thinking of how stupid she has been.  Berating a prison guard might only mean that she would be forced to spend more time in solitary.

In another scene, a prisoner had been released, and shortly after she was arrested again.  Her re-arrest angered her best friend in the prison.  The re-arrested prisoner explained what happened.  She said that the people she stayed with had no money and she needed to sleep on the floor.  Then, her parole officer demanded that she apply for three jobs every day.  She knew she would not be hired for any of these jobs.  In this environment, the re-arrested prisoner felt that life behind bars was better than the life she lived outside the prison.

A basic question to be asked about this film is why is it so compelling.  Prison is a place we would like to avoid, so why did so many people spend time viewing the prison environment?

A similar question might be asked about the television series Roots that was based on the book of the same name by Alex Haley.  Why did so many people view this television series about slavery?  In fact, the series Roots was one of the most popular of all time.

My opinion is that the answer to both these questions has a similar answer.  The television series Orange is the New Black and Roots aren’t just about prisons and slavery.  These are stories about people who are yearning and struggling to be free.

The bottom line is that we all live in an environment where we have very little control.  Our employers tell us what to do for all those hours we toil for them.  Politicians merely support the interests of their corporate masters.  The owners of corporations control the prices we pay, as well as the quality of the commodities we purchase.  Therefore, it is only natural that working people find the stories of individuals who struggle to be free compelling.

These are facts that the media moguls clearly do not understand.  They argue that they’re only interested in promoting popular films.  However, the television series Roots clearly was popular, yet there have been few films that have had a similar theme.  We can say the same about several other television series that had working class characters, yet little effort has been made to rework the themes of these films.

We can talk about the series The Honeymooners that told the story of a bus driver, and his friend, a plumber, that was set in the working-class housing where they lived.

We can talk about the series Good Times about a family that lived in a housing project in Chicago.

We can talk about the series Roseanne about a working class family in Illinois, were the woman played a strong role in the family.

We can talk about the series Sanford and Son about the owner of a junkyard in the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles, California.

These were all popular stories about working-class families.  Yet, while the media moguls argue that they are only interested in popular programming, they aren’t interested in producing the kinds of programs that have themes of these films mentioned in this review.

From time to time we do see a film that gives a realistic picture of the lives of working people.  This is why I spent the time to watch the series Orange is The New Black because we would all like to live in freedom.            

Monday, September 9, 2013

What Happened on September 11, 2001?

When we think back to the horrendous loss of over 3,000 lives on Sept. 11, 2001, there are a few stories we never contemplate.  One of those stories is of how the pro-capitalist media handled that story.  If we recall, this was the primary story in the news media for months after this event. 

Today, we can look back and say clearly that the 9-11-01 bombings were not even the top story of that day.  To illustrate this point we merely need to recite a few undisputable facts.

In its Human Development Report 2000, the United Nations informed us that every day 30,000 children die of preventable diseases.  This means that on September 11, as well as September 12 and 13, about 30,000 children needlessly perished each day.  We might also consider that the parents of all these children mourned the deaths of their loved ones on each of these days.

The reader of this information might argue that these children have died, and continue to die because it is inevitable.  This argument might continue with the claim that poverty has always existed, and no one has been able to do anything about it. 

Poverty and the war against Vietnam

This argument runs into some serious problems.  One big problem is that the United States government spent hundreds of billions of dollars advancing their war against the people of Vietnam.  Robert McNamara was one of the architects of the war against Vietnam.  Years after the war, McNamara argued that the war was a “mistake.”

Another problem is that to the best of my knowledge, no a single pro-capitalist media outlet argued that the money and resources used in the war against Vietnam might have been better used in caring for the children of the world.  In other words, the editors of the news media live in a constant state of denial, clinging to the thought that nothing significant can be done to eradicate poverty in the world.

The nation of Cuba has given us a different perspective to these issues.  Cuba had an anti-capitalist revolution and today Cuba has more teachers and doctors per-capita, than any other nation in the world.  Infant mortality in Cuba is significantly lower than in the inner cities of the United States.  We might consider that Cuba’s population is 100 percent Latino and 40 percent Black.  Before the revolution, Cuban infant mortality was on a par with the rest of the underdeveloped world.

Late Victorian Holocausts

The news media, as well as the so-called educational system has a long history of ignoring criminal acts by governments that have led to tremendous loss of life.  Mike Davis wrote a book titled: Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World.  In his book, Davis argued that between the years 1876-1902 about 60 million people starved to death.  The highest numbers of people starved to death in the nations of China, India, and Brazil.  Most people don’t know these facts because the so-called prominent historians argued that these were natural disasters that could not have been prevented.

This argument also has problems because many of these nations exported large amounts of food while famine affected millions.  The Chinese erected their Great Canal over one-thousand miles to transport food from one part of China to another.  The British had no use of this canal because they were interested in the export of food for profit, and not in feeding the Chinese people.  In other words, these famines were the result of British government policy and not natural disasters. 

Criminal bombing campaigns

The news media has also spent a considerable amount of time and effort demonizing Osama Bin Laden.  Clearly Bin Laden was responsible for a horrendous crime that no rational person would support.  However, there is another side to this story as well.

E. Bartlett Kerr wrote a chilling history of the United States government bombing campaign against Japan titled: Flames Over Tokyo: The U.S. Army Air Forces’ Incendiary Campaign Against Japan 1944-1945.  Kerr reported that the U.S. Air Force invented phosphorous firebombs to be used against the civilian Japanese population.  These bombs were used because the civilian homes of the Japanese were made of wood and they would burn easily.

Kerr also reported that thousands of these bombs rained down on Japan destroying large sections of 67 cities.  These cities had populations equivalent to the largest cities in the United States.  In Tokyo, a city equivalent in population to New York, 50.8 percent of the city was destroyed.  After six months of this bombing campaign, President Truman ordered the Air Force to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kerr argued that all of these bombings were necessary to end the war.  In fact, at the time of the bombings Japan was effectively defeated and surrounded by the U.S. Navy.  This bombing campaign took place because the U.S. government didn’t want the Soviet Union to enter the war.  The U.S. wanted as much control over Asia as it could have, and the Soviet Union might have interfered with these goals.

We might also consider that the U.S. bombing campaigns in both the Korean and Vietnamese wars surpassed the tonnage of bombs dropped on Japan.  While Osama Bin Laden was clearly a criminal, what do we say about the horrendous bombings carried out by the United States government?

We might consider all of this information when we consider the plans of the government to go to war against the people of Syria.  While the government continues to spend obscene amounts of money on murderous wars, 30,000 children continue to die every day.             

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Malcolm X and the March on Washington

Recently, I attended the national march on Washington.  The march commemorated the fifty-year anniversary of the march for civil rights where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.  While participants in the march raised many issues, the most noticeable were: justice for Trayvon Martin, support for voting rights, and the demand for jobs.

I have seen numerous articles and documentaries that looked back at the 1963 March.  None of these stories mention what Malcolm X had to say about the March.  While Malcolm was an uncompromising supporter of Black rights, he didn’t like the March.  He argued that when the White House discovered that they could not prevent the march, they did their best to control it.

The 1963 March

The purpose of the 1963 March was to pressure the government to pass civil rights legislation.  Malcolm was familiar with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  These Amendments stated clearly that everyone in this country is supposed to have full rights, including voting rights.  The Fourteenth Amendment states that any state that denies people the right to vote will loose proportional representation in congress.  In a recent Supreme Court decision, we see how this court still refuses to recognize the Constitution. 

In other words, from a legal perspective, the laws protecting the rights of Black people had been written in the 19th century.  The reason for the 1963 March on Washington was to pressure the government to enact laws that had already been written into the Constitution.   

In fact, President Kennedy refused to defend the Freedom Riders who rode on buses where Black people sat in the front and Caucasians sat in the back.  Kennedy was the Commander and Chief of the most powerful army in the world, yet he made no effort to arrest the racist thugs who viciously beat these peaceful protesters.  To the contrary, Kennedy sat back and allowed the Freedom Riders to be taken to jail.

Malcolm also argued that President Kennedy chose six Black leaders to organize the March.  Protesters were told not to bring signs, and only to sing the song “We Shall Overcome.”  Malcolm felt that this song was clear evidence that the government did not represent the people.  He especially didn’t like the fact that the words to this song were, “We shall overcome some day.”

John Lewis was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and he had prepared an uncompromising speech to be given at the 1963 March.  A. Phillip Randolph pressured Lewis to alter his speech to make it more acceptable to the conservative forces who supported the March. 

In the years after the 1963 March, the government passed the Equal Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act.  These laws were mere redundancies of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  However, it was still up to the government to enforce these laws.

Cities across the United States erupt in insurrection

In cities throughout the nation Black people began to understand that nothing significant was changing with respect to police brutality, as well as institutionalized discrimination in housing, education, and employment.  These conditions sparked rebellions in cities throughout the nation. 

Corporate officers and their supporters in the government began to understand that these uprisings were bad for business.  I believe we can say that these rebellions also played a role in convincing those who had power that Black people needed to be given opportunities they never had before.

However, Michelle Alexander documented something that began to happen at the same time as these opportunities opened up.  In her book, The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she documents how citizens of the United States have a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the would.  Black people are grossly over-represented in this horrendous system of incarceration.      

Cities erupt across Southern Vietnam

While the cities in the U.S. were erupting and the National Guard was used to suppress these uprisings, the armed forces were also being used in a war against the people of Vietnam.  Malcolm X supported the Vietnamese in this conflict and gave them credit for their heroic liberation struggle.  Martin Luther King was also against the war and argued that the U.S. armed forces might appear to be “strange liberators” to the Vietnamese.  King also argued that the United States government was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

General Westmoreland was the commanding officer for the U.S. troops in Vietnam.  Westmoreland argued in 1967 that the U.S. forces were winning the war.  The Vietnamese responded to this absurd statement by launching the Tet Offensive and attacked the U.S. forces in the cities and towns throughout southern Vietnam.

Mohammed Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the world at that time.  Ali had been influenced by Malcolm X, and refused to be drafted into the military.  Ali argued that: “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”  

The 2013 March on Washington

In the recent March on Washington, demonstrators brought their own signs.  However, the freedom of movement was more tightly restricted than in the 1963 March.  When we look at photos of the 1963 March, we see there were no fences.  In the recent March, there were fences everywhere and the movement of the demonstrators was also severely restricted by police officers carrying guns.

Another similarity to the 1963 March was the support it received from the White House.  After the 1963 March President Kennedy invited the six appointed organizers to the White House and informed them they had done a “good job.”  President Obama gave a speech four days after the demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial where he attempted to show how he supported the same ideals as Martin Luther King.

The myth that Obama supports the ideals of King

In order for President Obama to make this absurd argument he needed to completely leave out of his speech everything he has done for the past five years.  He applauded the non-violence of the demonstrators in 1963.  Yet, during every day of his Presidency he has been supporting a war costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars against the people of Afghanistan.  Afghanistan happens to be one of the poorest nations in the world.

At the same time as he applauded nonviolence, he was planning a bombing campaign against the people of Syria.  The so-called pretext for this attack is that Syrian President Assad apparently used chemical weapons against the people of that country.  In fact, the U.S. government has a long history of supporting ruthless dictatorships throughout the world.

Obama talked about how he found the system of Jim Crow segregation to be reprehensible.  Jim Crow was a system of legalized discrimination.  Today, President Obama has a vicious policy of legally discriminating against immigrant workers.

We might consider that Martin Luther King wrote a letter while the government in Birmingham, Alabama held him in jail.  At the time, there were some religious officials who argued that King should be “patient,” and that change with respect to segregation would come in time.

King responded that his daughter once asked him why she could not play in a local park.  King told his daughter that she couldn’t play in that park because she was Black.  King didn’t like that answer and explained that this was the reason why he would not patiently wait for change to happen.

President Obama has deported over one million immigrants from this country.  Thousands of these immigrants are parents of children who were born here.  The Immigration and Naturalization Service deported these parents and sent the children to foster homes.  Yet, President Obama argues that he shares Dr. King’s dream.

Obama acknowledged that the unemployment rate is higher today than it was in 1963.  He also spoke of the unfairness of the disparity between those who are struggling to survive, and the billionaires who have more money than they could ever use.  Obama didn’t mention that he supported giving banks literally trillions of dollars in his so-called “bailout plan.”  While the banks and the billionaires have been bailed out, the unemployment rate has not changed in the years since he’s been President.        

Hundreds of thousands of dollars per person

While I was one of the more than 100,000 people who came to Washington to demonstrate, I was thinking of a very basic idea.  Anyone who has a relatively modest salary of $30,000 per year will pay about $10,000 in taxes.  This means that in a thirty-year period this person will pay $300,000 in taxes.  The penalty for not paying these taxes might be a term in prison.  In other words, each one of the 100,000 demonstrators will be required to pay at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

We might also argue that employers do not hire workers because they are kind-hearted.  No, the basic idea is that corporations hire workers in order to maximize their profits.  In other words, every working person generates enormous amounts of wealth and receives relatively little in return.

I believe that the 100,000 marchers might agree on the idea that we would all like to be treated with respect.  At our jobs employers demand that we do what they say.  Advertisers attempt to sell us items all day long, just so they might get our money.  This column documents how politicians pretend to support our interests, while allowing corporations to maximize profits.  Yes, we would like the people who hold power to be honest with us and to give us the respect we deserve.  This is just an example of common decency. 

The Cuban example

It seems like every other day the press has something negative to say about the island of Cuba.  One accusation the press never makes about the Cuban government is the idea that they are dishonest.  No, in the many long speeches Cuban leaders make to the people that haven’t been caught in a lie.

When the Cuban government says that education and health care are their priorities, this is no ploy to win votes.  Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world.  While Cuba was once a sugar producing country that was a playground for the affluent, today people come from all over the world for Cuban health care and education.
I believe that this is because the Cuban Government has a basic respect for the people. 


Martin Robinson Delany was an abolitionist and a nationalist who lived at the time of the Civil War.  Delany made the following comment that not only is relevant today, but I feel this comment cuts through much of the nonsense the media promotes today. 

“A people, to be free, must necessarily be their own rulers: that is, each individual must, in himself, embody the essential ingredient--so to speak--of the sovereign principle which composes the true basis of his liberty.”

Malcolm X also had these words of wisdom taken from an interview with the Village Voice.

“The greatest mistake of the movement,” he said, “has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals.  You have to wake the people up first”. . .

Wake them up to their exploitation?

“No, to their humanity, to their worth, and to their heritage”

I believe that the recent March on Washington is clear evidence that the people are beginning to wake up.