Unicorns

This week there were a couple of studies in the news which shine a little light into the darkness that is settling over America. One should be read by all Democrats. The other will almost certainly be ignored by reality- and reading-averse Republicans. But both call into question the existence of near-mythological creatures believed to be true.

The first study, released last week by the Pew Research Center, calls into question the importance of the mythological swing voter. It turns out that the 40% of voters who identify as “independents” are not really all that independent. 13%, in fact, are pretty much reliable Republicans, while 17% are fairly reliable Democrats. This leaves 7% — mostly young and male — who are politically unmoored. This is no great revelation in a polarized political landscape in which the “middle” has largely eroded.

What’s important, however, is that, of these 7% only a third actually vote, which reduces the actual number of “independents” to about 2.3% of the American electorate. Democrats might actually appeal to some of these disaffected young voters if they chose a progressive candidate under 70, yet many in the 2020 race think they can appeal to the unicorn by bashing the social safety net, going weak on abortion, or alienating minority voters by slamming “identity politics.” Rather than trying to lower themselves to GOP standards, Democrats ought to be doubling-down on what makes them stand out from Republicans. And redoubling their opposition to Trump’s Imperial Presidency.

On this last point, Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University who has correctly predicted the last nine presidential elections, warns that — unless Democrats “grow a spine” and risk alienating white swing voting unicorns by launching impeachment proceedings — we will see Donald Trump re-elected in 2020.

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The second study, which was actually published a couple of years ago, reinforces a large body of research on immigration and criminality, showing (once again) that immigrants are actually less likely to engage in criminal behavior. The so-called “violent illegal” or Trump’s “Mexican rapist” are both unicorns, figments of the white supremacist imagination.

With the dry title, “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades,” a study in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice concludes:

Research has shown little support for the enduring proposition that increases in immigration are associated with increases in crime. Although classical criminological and neoclassical economic theories would predict immigration to increase crime, most empirical research shows quite the opposite. We investigate the immigration-crime relationship among metropolitan areas over a 40 year period from 1970 to 2010. Our goal is to describe the ongoing and changing association between immigration and a broad range of violent and property crimes. Our results indicate that immigration is consistently linked to decreases in violent (e.g., murder) and property (e.g., burglary) crime throughout the time period. […]

Despite continuing nativist arguments alleging a causal relationship between immigration and crime, individual-level research based on arrest and offense data of the foreign-born shows that they are overall less likely to offend than native-born Americans. Some argue, however, that regardless of immigrants’ relatively low involvement in crime at the individual level, immigration might nevertheless be tied to increases in crime through structural and macro-level mechanisms. […]

Our results indicate that, for property crimes, immigration has a consistently negative effect. For violent crimes, immigration has no effect on assault and a negative effect on robbery and murder. This is strong and stable evidence that, at the macro-level, immigration does not cause crime to increase in U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even help reduce it. The interpretation of our results gives us pause when considering the current cultural ethos in the United States. The variety of legislation at the state level aimed at immigrants, legal or not, is underscored by popular sentiments about how current immigration is detrimental to the U.S. economically and socially. But at least when it comes to crime — and in fact, on many other counts addressed in the literature — there is no evidence at a metropolitan level of these severe impacts. Our results are clear and overarching that immigration does not lead to increases in crime in American metropolitan areas.

Modi’s India

All politics is personal. It’s impossible to look away from the mirror of history you’ve been part of. And it’s impossible not to have emotions about places that have been significant parts of your life. Our complicated feelings for the United States go without saying. For migrants and visitors to other lands, the same is true. They become part of us.

I sometimes start to say that I “grew up in” — but correct myself because I came into sentience in India in the 1950’s, a boy only a couple of years younger than India itself. My sister and I began our formal education at the Beldhi Church School in Jamshedpur, in the state of Jharkhand (Bihar when we lived there). Every day we’d pass through school gates, past the poor and the sick, to a little sandstone building where we received instruction from Indian Baptist nuns. Today the sandstone building is still there — it’s an administration building — but the school is now a secondary school with an impressive campus.

Our family was in India for several years because my father, an engineer, had been conscripted into an army of international contractors to build, at the time, the largest steel mill in Asia for Tisco, the steel division of the Tata family. The company’s (and town’s) founder, Jamsetji Tata, had taken to heart Thomas Carlyle’s quip that “the nation which gains control of iron soon acquires the control of gold.” Besides learning English and maths, we practiced writing our Sanskrit letters on lined paper. My classmates were all Americans, Brits, Germans, Russians, Icelanders, and Anglo-Indians. I grew up — rather, came into sentience — reading the wonderful Times of India comics section and devouring British children’s books left over from the last days of colonial rule.

My parents were in their late twenties and early thirties — both from small-town America that even today cares very little about the rest of the world. The one thing this mismatched couple had in common was the love they both had for India. We often drove into the countryside where my father’s Leica and my mother’s Roloflex recorded thousands of scenes of a country coming into its own after centuries of colonialism. We paid tolls to cross one-laned roads blocked by elephants. We sat on our roof and watched Divali lights twinkling below stars arrayed differently from those in the northern hemisphere.

AppleMark

My father’s hobby, if you can call it that, was to impersonate a Western journalist and crash Indian Congress Party events. In this way he met Jawaharlal Nehru, “covered” a reception for the Panchen Lama, and had a drink with Marshal Tito. My mother, enamored with India’s diversity, visited temples of every sort — Hindu, Buddhist, Jain — and snapped photos of Ashura parades. After requiring major surgery and a long convalescence, she bicycled from Shimla back to Jamshedpur on her own, recording people all along the route. When my son made a trip of his own to India a few years ago, we calculated that my mother’s trip had been just short of a thousand miles.

These are all recollections from a child’s charmed memories of a lost world — or, more likely, a world that never really existed, a white boy’s simplistic view of a complicated country where class, caste, and colonialism played out just as they have here in the United States. And yet, for all the gauze and distortion of these memories, my connection to India includes the beginnings of an understanding of a larger world beyond my own. My continuing love for India is enmeshed in all this, and that affection is as real as the country’s complicated history.

Scarcely a generation had passed since Jawaharlal Nehru served as the country’s first Prime Minister when the same sort of religious nationalism that killed Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi in 1948 led to India’s war with Pakistan in 1971. In 1975 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Nehru’s daughter) declared a two-year state of emergency which jailed political opponents, censored the press, and shut down opposition groups (future Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a book about it). It surprised no one when Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguard in 1984 after conducting a raid on the [Sikh] Golden Temple in Amritsar in the Punjab.

In 1998 India became a nuclear power. The Tatas, the Parsi family that brought our family to India, continued to amass vast wealth and political power, spinning off ventures in Information Technology, automobiles, chemicals, beverages, ceramics, fashion, pharmaceuticals, energy, and investment. At some point after 2000, Bengaluru overtook Silicon Valley as the world’s leading Information Technology hub. But the caste system, poverty, xenophobia, violence against women, illiteracy, and lack of sanitation still exist alongside India’s new malls, gated industrial parks, and dot-com millionaires. Income inequality has thrived in India’s neoliberal “democracy.”

And neoliberalism breeds autocrats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came of age politically in the Seventies during Indira Gandhi’s “emergencies.” Modi got his political start in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), originally an anti-colonial group predating India’s founding but now a right-wing nationalist paramilitary organization. It was a former member of the RSS who killed Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi in 1948 and it was RSS members who destroyed the 16th Century Babri Masjid in 1992.

Like Sinn Fein’s relationship to the IRA, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the political wing of a nationalist movement that includes a paramilitary wing, the RSS. As Prime Minister, Modi has filled many government posts with RSS members and has set about implementing RSS’s racist and nationalist prescriptions.

As a freshly-appointed Chief Minister of the state of Gujurat, Modi encouraged anti-Muslim riots in 2002 and promoted unvarnished Hindu nationalism — Hindutva. In 2014, when the BJP took control of India’s “lower” house, the Lok Sabha, for the first time, Modi became Prime Minister and he firmly entrenched Hindutva in his party’s policies.

On May 23rd, 2019, running even more overtly as a nationalist, using his old Twitter handle Chowkidarwatchman — Modi was re-elected for another five-year term amid widespread voter disenfranchisement of Muslim and Dalit (Untouchable) voters. Still, India has 900 million eligible voters and 67% turned out to give Modi 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (Congress), where only 272 seats are necessary for a majority.

During the last election BJP president Amit Shah promised to rid the country of “infiltrators” — meaning Muslims by specifically exempting every other group from this threat. Like the American Republican Party, the BJP has become safe haven for violent extremism. One BJP candidate, Pragya Thakur, stands accused of planning the bombing of a mosque in 2008.

In 2017, after Rahul Gandhi filed his candidacy papers for the 2019 elections, Modi took a swipe at Gandhi’s “anointment” by dubbing him “Aurangzeb Raj,” a Mughal king appointed by his father. Like Donald Trump’s digs at Hillary Clinton’s virtual coronation, there was a certain truth to the jibe.

Rahul Gandhi, who is also the current head of the Indian National Congress, is the son of Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi; grandson of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister; and great-great grandson of Motilal Nehru, the founder of the Indian National Congress. Mirroring Trump’s “birther” tactics, The BJP circulated the rumor that Rahul Gandhi was actually an Italian citizen. But there is no question that, throughout India’s entire history, the Congress Party has been the family business (or visa versa).

India is sometimes described as the “largest democracy in the world.” Yet Congress Party hegemony and corruption, and now the country’s extreme turn to the right, blatant Islamophobia, and violence against non-Hindu minorities all raise the question of what sort of democracy India really is. Accompanying Modi’s far-right turn is the move to turn India into an Orwellian surveillance state. Each of India’s billion citizens is now required to participate in a system that allows the government to track them by National ID.

I still remember India eight years after its Independence. Of course, those memories are colored by nostalgia and the ignorance of the child who preserved them. But what many Indians remember of that brief moment in history was an optimistic nation trying to turn centuries of colonialism into a democracy for all of its many people.

But those days are long gone. It’s Modi’s India now.

NO! to the Alma del Mar giveaway

Go straight to the scripts for calling your legislators.

Massachusetts may sound like an odd state for Republican policies to be implemented by Democrats. Yet as I write this the “Democratic” Bristol County DA is lobbying for the Republican governor’s “Dangerousness” [mass incarceration] legislation. And the latest bipartisan attack on public education is from comrporate Democrats — Dartmouth state Rep. Christopher Markey and Westport Rep. Paul Schmid, whose pro-charter school bill, HD4174 turns state education law on its head to pay for Alma del Mar with public funds. As a charter, the school is less accountable to the public than to its trustees or its corporate board.

Though frequently described as an experiment, Alma del Mar’s charter is just another skirmish in a greater war for the privatization of American schools. Nationally, charter schools have already fleeced taxpayers to the tune of at least $1 billion. The Network for Public Education Action has documented the role of the super-rich in buying legislative approval for charter schools. Their ultimate goal is privatization. Now New Bedford in in their crosshairs.

HD4147 is opposed by numerous local community groups and organized labor, including NBCSOS (New Bedford Coalition to Save our Schools), the Greater New Bedford Labor Council and the NAACP. This corporate giveaway is the work of a couple of tony suburban Democrats working with the Republican governor and business interests to usher charter schools into Massachusetts through a back door.

In a recent op-ed co-signed by numerous corporate interests, Anthony Sapienza, who heads up the New Bedford Economic Development Council (NBEDC), assures us that the legislation is a “first-of-its-kind partnership” and “a solution that is critical to the stability of all other public schools and the city’s finances.” Sapienza gushes about “neighborhood schools,” arguing that giving Alma del Mar to a corporation is all part of “tangibly advancing strategies for sustainable and shared growth” in New Bedford. Alma del Mar will be a neighborhood school only in the narrowest sense — just as Stop and Shop is your neighborhood green grocer only in the narrowest sense. To echo the NBEDC‘s slogan, Alma del Mar will be “open for business.”

Sapienza rather disingenuously frames the question as a choice between the city raising $8 million to expand an existing school by 600 students — or giving away $4 million to a private corporation to outsource another 450 desks. Since Alma del Mar was built on city property at a cost of $16 million, the real question is whether any sane person thinks New Bedford will save $4 million — an amount less than 1% of the city’s FY2020 city budget — by giving away $16 million to a private entity.

HD4147 is plainly a raw deal for city residents — especially when you actually read the legislation yourself.

Section 2 of the bill says that — for purposes of all the expensive stuff — the school “shall be considered a public school.” But — to the great delight of the corporations pushing the bill — “for all other purposes, including but not limited to chapters 71A and 71B of the General Laws, Alma del Mar Charter School, including its second campus, shall be considered a Commonwealth Charter School.”

And Schmid and Markey are giving them both away.

Section 3 of the Markey-Schmid legislation gives the city permission to dispose of the physical buildings as it sees fit: “Notwithstanding any contrary provision in or interpretation of section 15A of chapter 40 of the General Laws, the School Committee may transfer custody of 135 Shawmut Avenue [the former Horatio A. Kempton School] to the City of New Bedford pursuant to a simple majority vote stating that said property is no longer needed by the New Bedford Public Schools.”

In what alternate reality does a school district give away $16 million of property because no further use is foreseen? The answer is — only in the world of corporatized education.

Section 4 provides the corporate school with guaranteed taxpayer-funded tuition payments. Section 5 cuts the public out of any review process for the transfers in the preceding sections.

Call your legislators now!

The New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools is urging concerned citizens to flood state reps and senators with calls opposing this reckless legislation. Click here for a script. You can also sign an online petition.