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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

When A Trip to the Emergency Room Leads to More Trauma

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2015 at 4:07 PM

A fear that is the stuff of nightmares–the fear of being paralyzed in a pain-ridden body–became realized a few weeks ago in late March.

Evening One

Without a doubt, one of the most insidious aspects of living with multiple sclerosis (MS) is its unpredictability.

It fundamentally undermines any conception of time measured against a normalized life span, and explodes the assumptions we attach to youth and productivity. In fact, with MS, flare-ups (or relapses) unfold so unpredictably that I often fall asleep anxious, uncertain as to whether I’ll wake up the next morning capable of feeling or moving my hands or feet.

The spontaneity of auto-immunity is so stark that the everyday assumptions many of build our lives around–including something as innocuous as being able to walk to your car or bus stop–is called into question.

More so than most, it is an anxiety-ridden life that unfolds in a very different temporality, one of existing day to day, hour by hour.

A fear that is the stuff of nightmares–the fear of being paralyzed in a pain-ridden body–became realized a few weeks ago in late March.

It actually started with me being startled awake by head pain and a skin-crawling, difficult-to-describe discomfort that came with the feeling of having a golfball lodged in my brain. I was weak on the left side of my body, and couldn’t hear through my left ear. I knew immediately that something was wrong. Horribly, frighteningly, unquestionably wrong.

And just like that, over the course of a single night’s sleep, I was pounded by the reality that yet another flare-up had struck. As annoying as that friend who complains about her job, yet again, I was getting so sick of it…and yet I couldn’t draw my attention to anything else. The uncertainty made me cower into silence. How could anyone help, even if they claimed a desire to?

Not only was I physically distant from others, I also felt alienated from my own living flesh. Pain-killers enabled me to lift myself out of bed, haunted as I was by the all-too-possible possibilities: more inflammation, more irreversible nerve damage, more disability.

So when I walked into the ER that night, I patiently endured the hours of lying on a cot, enclosed–yet again–by the round-the-clock din of medical madness.

The neurologist who came to see me was a young white dude who looked like he had just recently graduated from medical school, hardly older than my twenty-six years.

Following an awkwardly slow entrance, the neurologist machine-gunned me with questions that went from the slightly tedious (such as when I was first diagnosed and the nature of my initial symptoms all those years ago) to the downright aggravating (including such irrelevant questions like ‘what/where do you study?’ as well as condescending ones like ‘how do you know this is a flare-up?’).

Given my experience, his neurological examination was more exhaustive than it needed to be, more so suggestive of a performative display of doctorly showmanship than a pragmatic, diagnostic exercise.

Of course, my exhaustion and aggravation with being poked and prodded like a lab rat for an hour had only been tempered by the possibility of receiving useful treatment—in this case, a round of anti-inflammatory steroids (Solu-Medrol) that has been the standard treatment for acute MS flare-ups for decades.

So, of course, when he came back stating that my symptoms were insufficient to ‘recommend’ such a treatment, my heart immediately sank. I had gotten treatment under lesser circumstances, but there I was, immobile. I felt like I was losing a grip on my body.

And I knew that the stakes were too damn high to not strongly voice my disagreement. I tried to counter his stoic machine-like answers with the authority of self-knowledge, the sort of corporeal awareness only I had access to, but rather than genuinely validate my experiences his answers only implied my sheer stupidity, scientific ignorance and lack of objectivity (“I’m sure that what you’re experiencing feels real to you…”).

Once I cornered him into an awkward, submissive silence that permeated an air of guilt (why should he feel guilty?), I realized I was only wasting time.

Fueled by rage and sadness, I muttered a quick “I need to get the fuck out of here.”  I quickly gathered my clothes and, for the first time, left refusing to sign any paperwork.

[S]he became irate and began a long, abusive tirade that consisted of victim-blaming and reprimanding me for things that had nothing to do with the provision of care.

Evening Two

Maybe in an alternate universe things could have ended there, with me finding my way home in the dark, waiting for a meeting with my actual neurologist, getting a round of steroids, and seeing my symptoms wane. But hell never ends on an predictable note.

Frustrated that my worst relapse in years was unfurling without so much as a batted eye, I clung to the hope that I could manage my body’s auto-immune response through sheer will power and good nutrition, stuffing my kitchen with fish, avocados, nuts, vitamins and greens.

It was an illusion of control uncomfortably situated alongside another element: a deeply-rooted premonition that what had happened overnight, unpredictably, wasn’t over.

I started to fear my body, which felt like a ticking time bomb of auto-immunity. Although I tried to distract myself through hours of Netflix binging, I could feel the inflammation spreading–the incontrovertible sign that my T-cells had betrayed me again in a senseless civil war.

When the bomb finally exploded, my usual “take-it-as-it-comes” mentality shifted to panic.

In a flash of minutes I went from watching TV in bed to being overcome with a spontaneous swelling of heat to the head. Just when I thought my heart couldn’t sink any further, it plummeted. I felt shards of glass cut through my mouth before gasping within a deep, pulsating warmth. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t breathe. I had been sucked into an inferno.

I did what I think most people would have done under my circumstances by calling 9-1-1. But in trying to answer the operator, I realized that I had also lost my voice. So I struggled to articulate my symptoms and location as the most apocalyptic of thoughts circulated in my mind.

I started to wonder if I had been deceived by the MS literature. Was I dying? Did I catch a life-threatening infection? Did I actually have something more severe than MS? By this time I was squatting outside my building, crouching on a street corner overlooking the I-5, facing the toxic silence of a suburban night.

When the paramedics came, I tried to answer their questions. I struggled to voice “MS,” but their initial interpretation of “meth” made it clear what pre-existing conclusions they had come to.

As I was hoisted onto a stretcher, it was a police officer who demanded that I submit an ID, even though I was unable to feel my fingertips as I felt for my wallet. That I was being criminalized by white professionals as I gasped for air and felt my blood pressure hit the roof says a lot more than any critical analysis ever could.

I ended up in the same hospital as before, although incredibly worse because I had been refused treatment. This time, I didn’t have it in me to put up a fight. My eyes were shut firmly, partly because of my sensitivity to light then, partly because I didn’t want to believe this was happening. I was thus squinting when the second neurologist pulled back the curtains; all I could see were the contours of a white lab coat and blonde hair.

She wasted no time in complaining that she had to drive half an hour to see me at 1:30 in the morning—an expressed grievance that struck me as unprofessional and insensitive under the circumstances. Her peremptory bedside manner also made it clear that I was the last person who’d receive empathy that night.

She insisted that I describe my symptoms at length, even after I had expressed that I was under crippling pain and having difficulty speaking. After the neurologic exam, she reiterated the fact that she came out here in the middle of the night to see me and, with an air of exasperation, reasserted her right to get to know her patient.

With a heavy throbbing pain still traveling down the length of my spine, she asked me a difficult-to-socially-navigate question of what I was studying. Making a half-hearted effort to be discreet, but too pained to give it much thought, I bluntly told her that I was under a lot of pain and not in the mood for “light talk.” At this point, she became irate and began a long, abusive tirade that consisted of victim-blaming and reprimanding me for things that had nothing to do with the provision of care.

In a patronizing tone, she told me that she had read the online correspondences between me and my neurologist in the hospital’s system, and despite a misreading of my doctor’s message, remarkably claimed that I didn’t understand my own condition.

The condescension continued as she asked me (under conditions in which I was unable to speak freely) to describe MS and how it unfolds, improving upon the last doctor’s superiority complex in treating me as someone incapable of understanding complex scientific information, let alone as someone whose lived bodily knowledge should have been respected.

Over the course of the night she echoed the previous doctor’s refusal to provide treatment, and began to hurl a series of judgments that had nothing to do with “care”: the implication was that it was my fault for “demanding” Solu-Medrol, for breaching “trust” with the hospital, for not submitting to their unquestionable authority.

At this point, between feeling vulnerable, abused, and incapable of self-defense, I didn’t even bother to challenge her in what was an obviously unfair battle: I repeatedly muttered “OK” with every passing judgment hoping to get her off my case. Not only was no treatment to be had again, I was now having my wounds salted while lying on my back.

Escape from the Inferno?

Late into the evening, I was thrown out of the hospital, forced to walk home unsteadily, under pain, spasticity, dizziness and blurry vision.

Somehow I made it home, traumatized and wishing the American medical system would succumb to slow, torturous, and ever-painful flames.

Things got worse before they got better, but in brief, my MS specialist eventually prescribed me the steroid infusions I knew I desperately needed, and weeks later I’m still dealing with a longer-than-necessary recovery.

It’s too early to tell whether the damage is reversible. To be sure, I’ve had a myriad of negative experiences with doctors, hospitals, and the medical industrial complex that preceded this incident. But the callous insensitivity and outright abuse I was subjected to at UCSD’s Thornton Hospital has been particularly memorable, even terroristic and traumatic.

In an age of senseless police shootings, drone attacks, and militarized border deaths, I didn’t need a reminder for how destructive and self-centered humans can be.

I had been rendered literally speechless, and still, I am speechless when thinking about how inured we’ve become to the ruthlessness and greedy entitlement of those in power.

Questions that shouldn’t be questions are foregrounded in this experience: What kind of world is this that a single night of sleep for a privileged white doctor is rendered more important than someone’s overall health and livelihood?

What kind of world is this that a sick man is criminalized for something he had no control over, and then subjected to judgment and condescension while his pain is trivialized and ignored?

The saddest part of all this, however, is the fact that I had surrendered to their oppressive logic and internalized the not-so-subliminal messaging: that is, that my life just isn’t worth saving.

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The Trayvon Trial and the Need for Righteous Rage

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM


Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin
 (March 21st, 2012)

Hard to believe it was over a year ago. I’m proud of the fact that I was present here, although shamefully sans hoodie.

As the jury deliberates its verdict for George Zimmerman, the man charged with the second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, I feel some uncomfortable fusion of listless resignation and indescribable fury. White supremacy has never left us, and Jim Crow has only morphed into stealthier, more subversive villain. The long list of issues makes it clear how badly racial justice has regressed in this country, for in the last few weeks we have seen:

  •          A curtailment of voting rights in the South
  •          The evisceration of affirmative action
  •          The proposed militarization of the country’s borders
  •          Several state-by-state threats to a woman’s right to abortion
    (affecting particularly women of color)
  •           Direct assaults on indigenous sovereignty
  •           An ongoing criminalization of young men of color that targets “cultural”
    behaviors over economic disenfranchisement (e.g. the school-to-prison
    pipeline, or (quite unbelievably) the various “saggy pants” legislation
    throughout the country

And yes, surprising as it may be to some, this has all happened under a black president, a Democrat, and a man who was supposed to represent “hope” in the aftermath of global financial disaster and eight difficult years under President Bush.

As far as the Trayvon Martin case is concerned, I am feeling quite cynical of the possibility of true “justice” being served. Although I hope some modicum of justice transpires, such that Zimmerman is found guilty of unreasonable and bigoted manslaughter, I am completely aware that sending one man to prison isn’t enough. (This, even as last year’s cathartic chants of “Prosecute Zimmerman” and “Execute Zimmerman” still ring clearly in my ears.)

And I agree with the recently published statement by the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, where the group states:

We have no plans to celebrate any conviction, since all possible “legal” outcomes point squarely toward a re-imagined Jim Crow justice….

Zimmerman may be acquitted, and while this would be a slap in the face, the entire trial has been a slap in the face, the media campaign to demonize this young man is a slap in the face, and the entire system of racial profiling, mass incarceration, capitalist exploitation, and police terror is a slap in the face and a punch in the gut.”

And this demonization of Trayvon Martin, an innocent 17-year-old who was targeted for wearing a gray hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles, is not novel. Not in the least.

Trayvon_Martin_Justice

The Trayvon murder ignited a national conversation about something that is all too common. Yes, we’ve chanted, we’ve rallied, we’ve marched. But when do we know we’ve found justice?


Decolonizing Jim Crow

As a person of color, as a still-young man who has worked with various youth populations, I understand how the white mainstream can—and will—vilify us to exonerate their culpability in heinous inequalities. It is evident in the spatial injustice that constitutes marginalized ghetto communities and poorly funded neighborhood resources. It is evident in the scarce funding for public schools, and the inversely proportional funding for our expanding prisons. And it is evident in the fact that more than half of young black men without a high school diploma are unemployed (much more than comparable demographics).

Indeed, I have experienced just how injustice is propagated even in the most “liberal” of amerikkkan cities—New York. I have experienced, and witnessed, “proper” white adults from more affluent neighborhoods patronizing us for the ways we dress or speak (not daring to investigate the roots of resistive language against oppressive white hegemony). I have experienced, and witnessed, white people showing authentic surprise when we showcase “mature” or “intelligent” qualities (read: able to adapt to and integrate white cultural norms). Even worse: I have experienced, and witnessed, the very nuanced and subtle ways in which white supremacy infects us to the point of creating an epidemic of internalized bigotries, becoming a source of rage that rips apart families.

None of this is meant to so much as scratch the surface of a long history of white supremacist violence against men of color. It also does not touch the equally, if not more devastating, topic of violence against trans* people of color and women of color. But seeing the highlights of a trial that has showcased the worst stereotypes of racism in the neoliberal age of colorblindness, I am reminded of the perverse and irrational abuses that murder innocent young men like Trayvon, Ramarley Graham, and Bo Morrison. While we may be indoctrinated to view these cases as isolated incidents of “bad cops,” people fighting for true justice must resist this ideological wrench.  We must make it clear to the public that an amerikkkanist culture of white supremacy—a “re-imagined Jim Crow”—still persists in everyday life.

subway racism

In New York City, the subway facilitates a convergence of different types of people. As such, racism proliferates in subtle ways (sitting or moving elsewhere) and not-so-subtle ways (the relatively rare screaming or pushing).

Despite my deeply-entrenched indignation, I still bear optimism for the possibility of change. But as corresponds with my skepticism of reformist politics in challenging state-orchestrated violence, I imagine that a substantive overthrow of this new Jim Crow will require an extirpation of imperial legacies more than 500 years old. A true uprooting of racism—to the extent that such an ahistorical process would ever be possible—would necessitate a potent counter-resistance that can match the powers that link liberalized capital and the modern colonial-settler state. In other words, it would require a decolonization of the mind, body, and soul of a people conditioned into an acceptance of racial hierarchy and violence.

Indeed, from my vantage point, our country’s regrettable actions against youth of color—as seen in the ways we deprive them of opportunities given unquestionably to whites, as well as in the ways we criminalize and vilify them in the mainstream media—are simply demanding civil unrest. Whether this manifests as a veritable uprising that takes cue from the militancy of ‘60s Black Power, or from the cyber-fluidity of contemporary, regime-changing revolutions, remains to be seen. But given the direction of racial politics in this most imperialist of nations, more civil unrest is a virtual guarantee.

And as with every such unrest, it’s hard to forecast where the fire will finally ignite.

trayvonmartincase

Zimmerman’s defense attorney apparently acquired a graphic design person to manufacture this indelible image: it is an animation “proving” how Trayvon attacked his murderer.

 

“I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN”

A young white woman acknowledges that, if anything else, whites should really be saying “I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.” I find her points potentially instructive for a mainstream white audience in the united states.

Reasons To Oppose the Latest Immigration Reform

In Class Politics, Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Identity Politics, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics on July 7, 2013 at 8:40 PM

WHY BORDER (IN)SECURITY IS A THREAT TO ALL OF US

Border_Patrol

We can expect increased border militarization to result in more deaths, incidents of violence, racial profilings, and a “locking in” of the Surveillance State.

As with many people on the so-called Left in this country, I am against the further militarization of our borders and what would inevitably amount to more violence, death, and destruction in and around our southern borderlands. This criticism, however, has been mollified by arguments in favor of the bill, with many groups hesitating to reject it outright and choosing to simply acknowledge that there are both good and bad provisions.

In a nutshell, I want to argue that such a concession is unacceptable: the bill is egregiously flawed in all respects, including, but not limited to, its failure to go far enough in its “good” provisions, its jeopardization of the security and lives of current and future immigrants, and its hazardous implications in locking in the surveillance state. Indeed, whether or not you are undocumented, an immigrant, a person of color, or simply a resident in fortress America, this bill—if ever enacted—has dangerous implications for all of us.

The bill of which I speak, of course, is the one that was passed with bipartisan approval in the Senate last month—S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (what I’ll dub the ‘Border (in)Security Act” for short). We are told, most especially by the Democratic Party establishment, that the militarization provisions of the Corker-Hoeven amendments were necessary if we were to at all have amnesty in the foreseeable future. We are told, explicitly or implicitly (by such liberal organizations such as the National Council of La Raza or the National Immigrant Justice Center), that although increased border enforcement is a shame, the much-sought immigration reform makes it ultimately worthwhile. And, indeed, the liberal arguments in favor of adopting the bill (warts and all) are compelling:

  • it ensures that many people will no longer live underground, in terror, or under the most heinous exploitative conditions
  • it ensures that many children won’t be heart-wrenchingly ripped away from their parents
  • it promises much-needed relief to undocumented students who face harsh difficulties in applying to colleges and jobs
  • and, if issues regarding the federal deficit matter to you, then it might please you that the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the bill will actually reduce it by a sizeable $56 billion between 2014 and 2018 (and $197 billion between 2014 and 2023). (2)

I am deeply in favor of many of these things. In fact, people’s livelihoods depend on it. But if we are to work towards liberation, towards a world not wagered on the lives of future generations, we also need to think strategically, being mindful of longer-term consequences and global ramifications. For even if this bill doesn’t move forward (as many analysts doubt its approval in the House), what we have here is nonetheless a perfect example of how the sheer illusion of bipartisan consensus can insidiously manufacture consent in favor of state violence. It is not so much about this particular bill as it is about its implications for any future legislation, and the real consequences for the people of this country (u.s.), of Mexico, and throughout the globe.

Proposed immigration bill

A widely-circulated meme from Culturestrike & Presente.org.

What We Can Expect From S. 744 [the Border (in)Security Act]:

More Death and Physical Violence

–          We can count on more deaths. If there is any reason whatsoever to reject the concessionary attempts to further militarize the Mexico-u.s. border, it is this. If you are wondering what mechanisms will allow this, read on:

–          Walls force migrants to travel through difficult terrains. Every year hundreds, if not thousands, of people die in attempting to cross the border—often because checkpoints and doubly-fortified walls necessitate alternative routes through the desert, which many people traverse on foot. Others face dangers in being smuggled inside cramped trucks, vans, and shipping containers (7). The increased security measures will make it easier for coyotes, black market merchants, and unscrupulous employers to exploit the fears of the undocumented—often with physical or lethal repercussions.

–          More Border Patrol killings. The enforcement-first policies of recent years have already considerably increased the power of the Border Patrol, which has been documented to kill innocent people with little, if any, prosecution (19). Doubling the agency—especially under time constraints that will ensure hasty employment practices—could likely worsen the situation.

–          Barriers to life-saving services. Currently, draconian state laws and local policies create barriers to immigrants trying to access basic human services, such as health care. While some claim that more Border Patrol agents may help deal with any issues that may arise (such as instances of injury, abuse, or sexual/physical assault), there is little precedent to support this. Victims to crimes of human trafficking, domestic violence, bias crimes, and even physical abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents will likely be left in the lurch.

–          The federal government has a dismal human rights record. Amnesty International (7) recently chastised the united states for its poor track record of abiding by international human rights laws, including ensuring the safety of migrants and the right to due process. Given this fact—true under the current regulations—what would make us think that S. 744 will improve the situation for (im)migrants who do not qualify under the amnesty regulations?

Image

From the Alliance for Global Justice. Contrary to what amerikkans are often taught, violence at the man-made “border” is a recent, largely state-initiated, phenomenon.


The Pros Aren’t As Great As They Might Seem

–          The route to citizenship will take 13 years. The bill currently calls for the creation of a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) program, which is essentially a work authorization program that is not equivalent to a green card.  Under a best case scenario, undocumented immigrants will have to wait 10 years to become lawful permanent residents, and an additional 3 to apply for citizenship. (5, 14)

–          Documentation for 8 million, not 11. Rather than the much publicized 11 million, the bill is likely only to aid in the documentation of 8 – 8.5 million people. (20, 2)

–          There will be heavy prohibitive fees. In order to apply for RPI status, immigrants will have to pay $500 penalty fee, any unpaid taxes, and application fees. As such, the program will be inaccessible to the poorest undocumented immigrants.

–          “Little dreamers” will not benefit.  While the long-fought war for the DREAM Act will be passed with this legislation, it does not confer similar protections for younger siblings who do not turn 18 within 5 years of enactment.  Instead of the “fast track” to legal permanent residency given to DREAMers, they’ll be forced to take the longer route of waiting a minimum of 10 years.


Expansion of the Military-Security-Industrial Complex

–          The bill will double the number of Border Patrol agents in less than a decade.  It’s hard to imagine the enormity of such accelerated increase—from approximately 20,000 agents today to 40,000 within less than a decade (by 2021).  (4, 5, 9, 11).

–          Financially, this bill is extremely costly. The militarization aspects of the bill are expected to cost $30 billion—on top of the $18 billion annually already spent on border enforcement. This is more than any other federal law enforcement agency (4, 15).

–          Expect the worst and newest military technologies. This includes 24/7 surveillance systems, unattended ground sensors, infrared scopes, Predator drones and Blackhawk helicopters.

–          Requires that at least 90% of border crossers are apprehended in “high risk border sectors.” [Section 3(a)(3), p.9]

–          The DREAM Act provision encourages youth enlistment. Under Section 2103 (p.110), DREAMers will be able to apply for documentation status if they spend four or more years in the Armed Forces. Such an option perversely incentivizes involvement with the u.s. war machine while exploiting students unable to attend/afford college.


Racial Discrimination and the Persecution of Indigenous, Immigrant, and Latin@ Communities

–          There will be increased racial profiling. This one is a no-brainer: having more armed, federal military agents in the borderlands will exacerbate an already documented trend that terrorizes non-whites (7). One can expect more unjustified stops and detentions—not only of the undocumented, but of immigrants with federal status, Latin@s, Natives, and other communities of color.

–          Draconian state laws will prevent access to basic services. There’s every reason to believe that the terror and intimidation posed by S. 744 will force many undocumented immigrants further into the shadows—and thus, prevent them from accessing services that are sometimes completely legal (such as seeking health care or Food Stamps for U.S.-born citizen children). The potential law also legitimizes the growth of local military-police states borderlands that will heighten the structural and physical violence perpetrated against Latin@ and indigenous communities.

–          The English requirement is for mere documentation status, not citizenship. While the English requirement has been enforced in the citizenship exam, this could become the first time the English requirement is necessary for a federal legalization status that does not confer voting rights. Added by the Latin@ Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), this requirement is meant also enforces the sort of “assimilation” Rubio sees as necessary. In making no separate provision to include funding for adult education/ESOL courses, this requirement will negatively impact English language learners who are poor, ability-varied, and/or time constrained. (p.103, 1; 20)

–          S. 744 threatens indigenous sovereignty.  Amnesty International’s report, In Hostile Terrain (2012), devotes its third chapter to abuses against Native Americans. Although there are over 26 First Nations in the areas around the Mexico-u.s. border, the wall has already gravely threatened the rights and livelihood of inhabitants who have proper claim to the land. In addition to cutting through Native lands, many Native residents have been repeatedly accosted by Border Patrol agents while trying to access areas of their community. This is in direct violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1853), wherein the united states and Mexico both affirmed the rights of indigenous people.


Prison Expansions and the Criminalization of Immigrants

–          Amnesty excludes immigrants with convictions, including misdemeanors. Undocumented immigrants with prior felonies would be ineligible for RPI status, as are folks convicted of three or more misdemeanors, and those caught voting unlawfully.

–          Expect more detentions, prosecutions, and prisons. Under Operation Streamline, a program implemented in 2005 to boost federal prosecution of unauthorized migrants along the Texas-Mexico border, we have seen a record number of detentions and arrests. In fact, in 2011, unlawful entry and unlawful re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system—with a concomitant expenditure running in the billions of dollars.  We can only expect more such prosecutions and expenditures under this bill. According to its estimates, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the cost of this extra criminalization to be around $3.1 billion from 2012 to 2023. (2; 18)

–          Increased profits for the private prison industry.  Private prison companies like the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America have received extremely lucrative contracts from the federal government to house detained immigrants. In essence, record profits are being made on the backs of immigrants—and is likely one of the sources fueling the militarization debacle. (17, 18)


Expansion of the Surveillance State

–          The creation and expansion of a federal employment verification program. Whereas now the existing verification program, E-Verify, is online and optional for many businesses, the program that would replace it would be mandatory for all businesses over a few years (p. 424). The CBO predicts an implementation cost of $1.4 billion over five years. Unclear, however, is what information (such as fingerprints) will be collected by the federal government. (2)

–          More funding for non-stop surveillance technologies. The border will be flooded with 24/7 surveillance, and a biometric exit system will be put in place in the 10 busiest airports within two years of the bill’s enactment. (9)

–          Expect more surveillance justified under the aegis of “national security.” Immigration was officially made a national security under the Bush Administration, with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. Increased funding for border militarization could easily extend into resources being devoted to a heightened criminalization of people of color and immigrants. Similarly, increased surveillance funding and equipment could fortify the Surveillance State for everyone residing here.


Considerable Costs at the Expense of Social Welfare & the Environment

–          Underlines a tragedy of government priorities. All sorts of reasoning are given to justify the country’s considerable defense spending. As it stands, the united states spends the most of any country on its military, and is responsible for 42% of total global military expenditures. Additionally, 20% of the FY13 federal budget was on defense (second only to Social Security), and about half of “discretionary” funds were allocated to this sector. These very same funds—instead of being allocated for killing and harassing people—could be used to build up our underfunded educational system, create new public housing, or develop scientific research. In the end, the costs of immigration enforcement and border violence benefit no one but the super-rich. (21, 22, 23, 24)

–          Poses irreversible threats to endangered species and fragile ecosystems. The bill’s threat to the environment is one of the most glaring examples of how the consequences can become irreparable. The construction of the current wall, in conjunction with the vast deployment of military vehicles and equipment, has already occurred at a severe cost to wildlife and endangered species—and all in shameless violation of numerous environmental protection laws. The lack of federal oversight has already resulted in significant landscape changes, such as when DHS filled in Smuggler’s Gulch (south of San Diego) using earth captured through mountaintop removal. We can only assume that this same trend will multiply under the proposed changes. (4, 8)

As if all of these cold facts aren’t enough, there are also the implications that come with accepting a bill that solidifies the power of an imperial nation-state—all while failing to deal with the root causes of oppression.

Sources:
1)      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s744is/pdf/BILLS-113s744is.pdf
2)      http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/s744.pdf
3)      http://www.natlawreview.com/article/border-security-economic-opportunity-and-immigration-modernization-act-2013

4)      http://www.nomoredeaths.org/Updates-and-Announcements/no-more-deaths-calls-on-congress-to-start-over-on-immigration-solutions.html
5)   http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/06/senate_passes_border_militarization_amendment_with_bipartisan_support.html
6)      http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/6-23-13%20Immigration%20Release%20Final.pdf
7)      http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-in-hostile-terrain-human-rights-violations-in-immigration-enforcement-in-the-us-southwest
8)      http://www.no-border-wall.com/environmental-impacts.php
9)      http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/2013/S_744_Summary.pdf
10)  http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/SouthwestBorderSecurityOperations.pdf
11)  http://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/2013/06/derechos-opposes-hoeven-corker-amendment-new-immigration-bill-is-a-step-backward-for-border-communities-and-many-immigrant-families/
12)  http://www.presente.org/press/releases/2013/6/27/moveon-credo-presenteorg-18-million-rising-stmt
13)  http://www.presente.org/press/releases/2013/6/24/largest-online-latino-advocacy-group-opposes-immig
14)  http://www.immigrantjustice.org/immigrationreform/s744analysis#.UdeOFPmsim4
15)  http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/20/democrats-let-gop-name-their-price-on-immigration/
16)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/us/politics/2-gop-senators-reach-deal-on-border-security-plan.html?hp&_r=1&
17)  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/27/private-prisons-immigration_n_1917636.html
18)      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-libal/immigration-reform-must-end_b_2537547.html
19)      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/us/shootings-by-agents-increase-border-tensions.html
20)      http://prospect.org/article/broken-english-requirements
21) http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/2012_topline_global_defense_spending/
22)    http://useconomy.about.com/od/usfederalbudget/p/military_budget.htm
23)    http://www.cfr.org/defense-budget/trends-us-military-spending/p28855
24)    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts/

The SCOTUS Rulings You Didn’t Hear About: Colorblind Racism and the Cult of Private Property in America

In Class Politics, Decolonization, GenSex & Queer Politics, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Health Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics on June 28, 2013 at 11:08 PM

My head has been swirling with the various, pivotal issues upon which the conservative Roberts Court struck down its gavel this month. Voting rights. Affirmative action. The Patenting of Life. Indigenous Sovereignty. Housing Development. And, oh yeah. Marriage “equality.”

Not entirely familiar with everything on this abbreviated list? You’re not alone. After all, there were a considerable number of issues, all arbitrated by a mere nine people that make up this country’s judicial branch. A mere nine people who adjudicate rulings that govern a breathtaking jurisdiction: the entire united states** and its colonial “possessions,” over 300 million people.

The fact is, not only is wealth super-concentrated and polarized in this world (see videos on global and US wealth inequalities)—so is power and knowledge. Indeed, that something like NSA mass surveillance has been happening—and continues to happen—should not surprise us when we recognize the realities that enable unadulterated greed and the thirst for conquest. So, understandably, the project of trying to get at the roots of the many issues decided on by our “highest” court is daunting. The powers that be would never want us peering behind the curtains that enable them: our time-consuming wage labor, our mainstream media, our nefarious multinational corporations, our Orwellian Security State.

Given the spate of historic rulings this month, I made a deliberate effort to examine some of those minimized, distorted, or completely hidden from the limelight. I also wanted to contextualize some of the more well-known rulings against the backdrop of deeply-entrenched racism and u.s. colonization (without repeating a recurrent mantra found elsewhere on the Web). Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to analyze some of these issues as I would’ve liked—let alone trace their roots and connections. But I’ll leave that for another day.

So, please. Feel free to skim. (And share. And digest. And critique.)

Image

A bastion of Enlightenment reason…or kangaroo court for white supremacy?

Colorblind Racism and the Tradition of White Supremacy

1) Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (June 24)

Verdict: Universities will need to showcase evidence race is a “necessary” component in their admissions policy that can’t be achieved by any other means. 

Between the heart break over the evisceration of our era’s voting rights laws, and the hoopla over same-sex marriage, we might have forgotten about this one. Granted, affirmative action, a pivotal civil rights accomplishment, has been eroded over the years through numerous legislations, the consolidation of a black and brown elite, and the inauspicious rise of the culture of colorblindness. But this ruling still deals a considerable blow to a faltering, yet much-needed, compensatory policy.

In this ruling, the common admissions practice of factoring in race will now be regulated by a vague notion of “good faith.” Universities will now need, if ever pressed, to showcase evidence that it is “necessary” to factor in applicants’ race “to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” Blanketed under this cover of multiculturalism is a blatant ignorance of politics and history—a perfect ruse for the neoliberal white supremacist state. And so farther thus we go from the promise of a truly liberatory and equitable education.

 Read More: Supreme Court Ruling May Spell The End of Affirmative Action

2) Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (June 25)

Verdict: A Cherokee father who has appealed for custody of his daughter under the Indian Child Welfare Act—a legislative attempt to preserve the integrity of indigenous sovereignty—has no parental claims above those of the white couple trying to adopt.

This ruling, which dealt a significant imperialist blow to indigenous sovereignty, got little media coverage outside race-focused news and policy agency Colorlines and the Rachel Maddow Show.

In this case, a Latina Oklahoma woman made a decision to give up her daughter for adoption—in this instance, to a white, non-Native couple, the Capobiancos, in South Carolina.  The biological father, an indigenous Cherokee, had been estranged from the mother throughout the pregnancy and initially agreed to relinquish his parental rights. However, upon learning of the news of the adoption, became upset and decided to take matters to the courts.

The father appealed the adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a law enacted in 1978 for the preservation of tribal cohesion in the face of countless Native child adoptions by non-Natives. (As a matter of fact, a cursory inspection of the Act’s history reveals its dark, colonial legacy. From 1958 to 1967, the united states government was directly responsible for a program, the Indian Adoption Project, whose primary aim it was to assimilate Natives into white supremacist amerikkka.) As far as the Cherokee nation is concerned, the daughter, Veronica (“Baby Girl”), is Cherokee and is deemed eligible to live with the biological father. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father, and she was, against the wishes of the Capobiancos, returned to Oklahoma.

And it is upon appeal, at the Supreme Court level, where the politics of empire and white supremacy are most heinously manifested. In its decision, the Roberts Court undermined the determination of the South Carolina Supreme Court and, more tragically, that of the Cherokee nation by claiming that the ICWA does not bar termination of a father’s parental rights. The father, according to the ruling, was never able to invoke the ICWA because he never had legal custody of the girl.

However, it is the long-term implications of this ruling that are truly disheartening. The concept of indigenous sovereignty, or the rudimentary rationales that prompt a need for tribal preservation, never emerged in the ruling. The centuries of genocidal barbarism and destruction of countless First Nation societies, cultures, and languages were never discussed. And the dismissive attitude of the majority side towards Veronica’s claim to indigenous ancestry—that “she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee”—makes apparent the undergirding Amerikkkanist notion of race that guides the notion of how a child should be categorized. Indeed, as if to chastise her colleagues for their substral racism, dissenting Justice Sotomayor felt compelled to mention the “majority’s repeated, analytically unnecessary references to the fact that Baby Girl is 3/256 Cherokee.”

Yet little is said about the rights of Cherokees, First Nation peoples, and the threat this ruling poses to further white adoptions to tribal integrity. Such is the violence of the white supremacist state.

3) Shelby County v. Holder (June 25)

Verdict: The preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, imposed on certain states to curb discriminatory policies in voter registration, are no longer constitutional.

Although I don’t equate voting in corporation-hijacked elections “liberation,” we should nevertheless call this for what it is: a shameless coup on black and Latino self-determination. If appeal efforts prove unsuccessful, this blatant evisceration of Voting Rights Act of 1965 (sections 4 and 5) will surely go down in infamy Using a logic that is very much aligned with a conservative Court (even with the presence of two non-white bodies, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor), a decision was made to eliminate the “preclearance” requirements of states deemed culpable of discriminatory registration practices in the Civil Rights Era.

The decision, delivered by Justice Roberts, was based on two central arguments: 1) the “historic tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty” and 2) that much has changed in the country since 1965. Right. I especially relish this most exquisite pearl of racist color-blind wisdom: “Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” To the extent that efforts at racial parity were ever realized, they likely won’t persist when threats of gerrymandering (redistricting) and voter identification laws are legalized.

Indeed, the voracious thirst for power—and the disenfranchisement of a potentially dissident voting bloc—has already seized the legislature of the affected states. As of today (June 28th), at least five of the nine states under the Section 4 preclearance requirements have forged ahead with voter ID laws.

In the case of Texas, where redistricting and voter ID bills were tossed due to failure to comply with Section 4 requirements, the threat is very inimically real. A federal court had previously rejected the infamous voter ID law because of its “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” and the state’s very own data that suggested Latinos were more likely to lack a certain state-issued ID. Now the voter ID bill has one less obstacle to passage.

Read moreSupreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act 

Colorblind racism

Throughout the centuries, racism has mutated and morphed in various ways. White people who assert “colorblindness” are doing little more than perpetuate a complicity in (post)colonial violence in the age of global neoliberalism.

Housing and Environmental Justice

4) Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District (June 25)

Verdict: This ruling in favor of a now-deceased developer argues in favor of limits on governmental fees and regulations over private land use—thus opening the door to unfettered displacement and environmental destruction.

Protecting the interests of private property is an amerikkkan tradition. And this ruling, which some of the justices referred to as a “revolution in land use law,” imposes scrutiny and constraints over governmental regulations and fees that would otherwise (so one would hope) benefit local communities and environments. If this doesn’t sound severe to you, imagine how your neighborhood, town, or nearest nature reserve could be impacted by the construction of a behemoth condominium complex…or even a natural gas company.

To understand this case, one must recognize the precedent set by two prior Supreme Court cases, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard. Together, these constitute the so-called Nollan-Dolan standard, which demands that the government’s request for land development concessions—such as monetary fees or a percentage devoted to public housing—have a “rough proportionality” (reasonability) as required by the Fifth Amendment. (For the Fifth Amendment reads: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”).

In this case, Koontz, who applied to develop a portion of his property in the Floridian wetlands, was denied approval by the local municipality unless he agreed to spend money to improve public lands elsewhere. Using the Nollan-Dolan standard as his defense, he appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that the concessions were excessive. Defending the municipality’s decision, the Florida Supreme Court then argued that he did not have a claim for two reasons: 1) the Nollan-Dolan standard did not apply to the denial of a permit (as opposed to the approval), and 2) the standard does not apply to a demand for the payment of money.

As regards the first State claim, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the application of Nollan-Dolan to only permit approvals, and not denials, was arbitrary and would enable all sorts of unconstitutional circumventions. However, the second claim created a 5-4 schism in the Court, with the majority ruling that the exaction of fees was under the domain of Nollan-Dolan and hence subject to scrutiny and litigation under the Fifth Amendment and the Takings Clause (eminent domain).

The dissenting argument, written by Justice Kagan, asserted that a demand for fees in such cases was constitutional and not excessive.  Furthermore, it acknowledged the threat that such fees could result in excessive constraints on local government efforts to regulate land use for the public good. As Kagan writes:

Cities and towns across the nation impose many kinds of permitting fees every day. Some enable a government to mitigate a new development’s impact on the community, like increased traffic or pollution — or destruction of wetlands… Others cover the direct costs of providing services like sewage or water to the development… Still others are meant to limit the number of landowners who engage in a certain activity, as fees for liquor licenses do…. All now must meet Nollan and Dolan’s nexus and proportionality tests. The Federal Constitution thus will decide whether one town is overcharging for sewage, or another is setting the price to sell liquor too high. And the flexibility of state and local governments to take the most routine actions to enhance their communities will diminish accordingly.”

And with an ardor only a severe injustice can muster, Kagan even chastises her follow justices:

“The majority’s errors here are consequential.The majority turns a broad array of local land-use regulations into federal constitutional questions. It deprives state and local governments of the flexibility they need to enhance their communities — to ensure environmentally sound and economically productive development. It places courts smack in the middle of the most everyday local government activity.”

Taxed with the bureaucratic nightmare of proving “proportional” concessions from avaricious, profit-centric land developers (after all, who’s under the impression that they’re here out of loyal servitude to the community?), local governments may choose to not entertain development proposals at all (my hope). Or they may just green-light catastrophes.

Gentrification image

Land “development” almost always does nothing to develop the land, but to destroy it (or reconvert it) for the sake of profitable consumption. Consequently, any “development” project you hear of is likely a nicely-worded disguise for environmental destruction (as in the case of Koontz and the wetlands) or human displacement (gentrification).

Patents, Biotechnology, and DNA

5) Maryland v. King (June 3)

Verdict: This ruling opens the door to the warrantless collection—and processing—of DNA for anyone merely suspected of a serious offense.

This one likely flew under the radar amid the more eye-opening revelations of the NSA surveillance scandal three days later. Yet, ironically, it also deals with surveillance (albeit of a slightly different kind). In fact, it’s quite startling how obviously invasive this ruling is in the name of “security,” permitting the collection of DNA for those merely arrested—not convicted—on the basis of “probable cause to hold for a serious offense.”

As far as this case went, Mr. King was arrested in 2009 on assault charges when he was processed through Maryland booking, at which point a cheek swab sample was taken. His DNA was then run against the FBI’s DNA database (“CODIS”), where it was matched to an unsolved 2003 rape for which he was subsequently charged and convicted. The defendant appealed on the virtue of the “unreasonable search and seizure” clause of the Fourth Amendment. Speaking for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that such processing does not “intrude on respondent’s privacy in a way that [is]…unconstitutional.”

In the dissenting statement, which makes clear that the rape conviction was premised on a database scanning fluke, Justice Scalia writes:

“Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous….

Make no mistake about it. As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

That remarkably little has been said about this case reminds me of the sort of popular obeisance that enabled passage of PATRIOT Act, two catastrophic wars, and, arguably, the PRISM program.

Surveillance

Imagine a world where your a cheek swab sample of your DNA was taken you so much as looked a cop in the wrong way. And now imagine having that DNA checked, processed and stored in an FBI database. Impossible you say? Not after Maryland v. King (2013) it’s not.

6) FTC v. Actavis (June 17)

Verdict: This ruling potentially jeopardizes the affordability of pharmaceutical drugs by refusing to make generic manufacturing payoffs (the so-called “pay to delay”) illegal.  

This case is centered laws regulating the manufacture and sale of generic drugs—a significant issue in the realm of global public health. To reiterate the obvious, drug patents are designed as measures to protect intellectual property and raise prices for pharmaceutical companies. In 1984, however, a bill originally meant to ease the manufacture of cheaper generics was mutated under the Big Pharma lobby to become what it is now: the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act (aka the Hatch-Waxman Act). As a complement to patent law protections, this law now prevents generic manufacturing of brand-name products until after patent expiration—a process that falls under a somewhat complex rubric and can take as long as 14 years.

In this case, Solvay Pharmaceuticals obtained a patent for Androgel, a topical testosterone medication. Subsequently, two competing companies—namely, Actavis and Paddock—filed applications for generic drugs modeled after Androgel, an action that was quite naturally brought to suit for patent infringement.

What proceeded next was nothing less than a back-room dealing. When Actavis’ product was approved by the FDA (in spite of the lawsuit), it chose to not immediately market the product per a “reverse payment” settlement agreement reached with Solvay. Such ‘pay to delay’ agreement had two main conditions: 1) that Actavis not bring the generic to market for a specified number of years, and 2) that Actavis promote AndroGel to doctors in exchange for a multimillion dollar amount. Two other companies—namely, Paddock and Par—made similar settlements with Solvay.

Upon learning of this coercion through the dollar, the Federal Trade Commission sued Actavis, Solvay, and the other companies for unlawfully agreeing “to share in Solvay’s monopoly profits, abandon their patent challenges, and refrain from launching their low-cost generic products to compete with AndroGel for nine years.” A lower court, however, dismissed the suit for “as long as the anticompetitive effects of a settlement fall within the scope of the patent’s exclusionary potential, the settlement [between the two pharmaceutical companies] is immune from antitrust attack.”

Fortunately for us, the Supreme Court did overrule the lower court’s dismissal, asserting that the FTC does have a right to sue on the basis of anti-trust laws. The 5-3 decision thus effectively legalizes anti-trust lawsuits against morally ambiguous “reverse payments”—an unequivocal victory. However, it is now the responsibility of judges throughout the country to arbitrate individual cases to determine whether or not such deals are anti-competitive (i.e. monopoly price-promoting). And this ruling does not assert the illegality of such deals, let alone discourage this habitual, anti-consumer practice that favors profits over people. And given the incredible resources of Big Pharma (with revenues expected to exceed $1 trillion next year) it is unlikely that many successful anti-trust lawsuits are forthcoming.

7) Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (June 13)

Verdict: This unanimous ruling affirmed that patents on naturally occurring human DNA, as a “product of nature,” is unconstitutional.

This case came about after a Myriad Genetics, Inc. obtained several patents over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes—mutations they identified as dramatically increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Conceding Myriad’s contribution to locating these genes, the Court nevertheless nullified the constitutionality of the patents, stating that products of nature are “not patent eligible.” Its undeniable significance, according to Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, lies in the fact that it puts “patients’ health before corporate profits.”

It is noteworthy, however, that the Court also argued that synthetic complementary DNA (“cDNA”) is patent eligible as it is not a “product of nature.” The ruling also makes it very clear that it does not involve “the patentability of DNA in which the order of the naturally occurring nucleotides has been altered.” Thus, while this ruling made a significant, if not essential, contribution to patent and biogenetic legislation, it still leaves the door open for biotech corporations to tamper with human DNA and unleash potentially dangerous products (as in the case of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs).

Tumors in rats after being fed GM corn

If Big Pharma doesn’t kill you with its many pills, you can always count on big agribusiness to finish the job. The images here are of two female rats with large mammary tumors…not because their genes were directly tampered with, but because they ate genetically modified (GM) corn, with and without herbicide

Reproductive Justice and Same-Sex Marriage

8) Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (TBD)

Verdict: Pending response from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Like the Adoptive Couple case, this one deals with babies—err, potential babies—in Oklahoma. Except that the Supreme Court decided to hold off any “further proceedings” until after hearing from the State Court regarding its interpretation of the law in question

In the case, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice sued various state officials for what was then House Bill 1970—a piece of legislation that heinously sought to regulate how doctors could prescribe abortion-inducing FDA-approved medication.

The violence against women is evident in the very language used in the conclusion of a district court, which stated the purpose of House Bill 1970 was to “impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.”

9) United States v. Windsor (June 25)

Verdict: You must have been living under a rock if you didn’t hear about this one. Plus, I’ve already written about this one.

** Many of the changes in conventional English grammar are intentional, including lower-cased proper nouns and otherwise “deviant” spellings.

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