Perception or Reality?

In the wake of last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, many U.S. presidential candidates are lining up to say how uber-tough, how mega-manly they are and how they would wipe out Isis in a weekend (three days tops) if given the role of commander in chief. It’s quite a display of fortitude.

Close up of man's arm showing biceps

Forgive me if I’m a bit incredulous.

But let’s leave questions about homicidal religious nuts and complex military strategies aside for now.

Instead, let me bring up a related topic, which is the GOP’s continuing image problem. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans’ struggles to connect with Latino voters.

You see, many Republicans come across as hostile to the poor, fearful of immigrants, and paranoid about the world. In addition, many conservatives are hypocrites about their ardent pro-life stance, in that they seem obsessed with fetuses but indifferent to children once they are actually born.

Fortunately, GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie has the solution to the Republican Party’s branding crisis. Christie doesn’t buy that he and his fellow conservatives are irrational, cold-hearted xenophobes who hate kids.

And that’s why he wants to prevent five-year-old Syrian war orphans from getting into this country and blowing us all up.

Hey, thanks for the perspective, Governor Christie.

Wishing and Waiting

I’ve edited over 100 books, from thriller novels to dense histories to self-help diatribes. Only a few of those books have lodged in my memory.

Among them was a manual written by a prepper. If you don’t know this term, it refers to someone who makes active plans to survive a catastrophic disaster, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies, and/or by creating some kind of well-protected shelter.

Preppers anticipate calamities ranging from a worldwide economic collapse to a military coup d’état to a Katrina-style cataclysm to, well, just about anything big and scary.

The book was well-written, and the author was intelligent and polite. And even if I found his worldview to be a bit, shall we say, paranoid, it would be incorrect to write him and his peers off as lunatics.

After all, if there’s ever an extinction-level asteroid impact or a zombie attack, then preppers will have the last laugh.



But what struck me about the author’s mindset wasn’t his fear-based attention to detail and insistence that sooner or later, all the shit will hit all the fans.

No, it was my realization that at a certain point, he was no longer preparing for a worst-case disaster. He was actively hoping for it.

You see, if his doomsday predictions never materialize, he has wasted a great deal of time, money, and effort for absolutely nothing. Indeed, he will have squandered a solid chunk of his life, while pinning his very self-identity on nonsense.

So a lot of preppers aren’t just waiting for end times. They are counting on catastrophe to justify their life’s work, even if this wish is subconscious.

How does this relate to the current political climate?

Well, look no further than the renewed demonization of immigrants and, by extension, all Latinos.

We have major political candidates (who shall not be named) who imply hordes of Hispanics are swarming into this country for the express purpose of raping and murdering Americans — that is, when they’re not pumping out “anchor babies” and stealing jobs.

Of course, fear-based campaigning — especially among conservatives — has a long and effective history.


And it’s tempting to dismiss GOP shrieking as a side effect of the party’s reliance on religious fervor and apocalyptic thinking. Keep in mind that about 20 percent of Republicans honestly believe that Obama is the antichrist.

But while building upon those ignoble foundations, this new conservative mindset amounts to something else.

You see, those on the right wing who despise Latinos (and there are many) aren’t just motivated by personal gain. They are true believers, who sincerely think America is doomed if Hispanics continue to increase their political, cultural, and demographic influence. To this contingent, the “browning” of America is the beginning of its end.


But what if this never happens? What if recent Latino immigrants become an integral and beneficial part of American society, just as so many other immigrant classes have?


In that case, a lot of conservative leaders have wasted a great deal of energy on nothing. Their predictions have failed to come true. And all that screaming and ranting and raving added up to nada.

Nobody wants to see his or her life’s work rendered irrelevant, or worse, dismissed as histrionic, wrong-headed idiocy.

To prevent that, many conservatives have morphed into extreme preppers, warning everyone of the coming Armageddon, while secretly hoping that it will arrive right on time to prove them correct.

The good news for right-wing preppers is that they have an inexplicable degree of influence in this country. So instead of working to prevent the coming apocalypse, they can help to usher it in, via self-fulfilling prophecies and overt policy decisions.

For example, Latinos have lower graduation rates than other ethnicities, so rather than improve public education, right-wing preppers try to gut it.


Hispanics have higher rates of poverty, so rather than balance the playing field, right-wing preppers reinforce an economic system that is rigged for the upper classes.


Latinos have limited socioeconomic power, so rather then look at institutional barriers, right-wing preppers deny that racism even exists.

Yes, there’s lots of ways to ensure that we get the America that some conservatives envision — the future that they supposedly fear but are weirdly attracted to at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I’ve made back-up plans. You see, I’ve recently built this secret bunker stocked with guns and water, and when the time comes…

Never mind, I’ve said too much.

Different, Not the Same, Totally Unalike

If I haven’t mentioned it in the last twenty minutes, I love living in California.

It’s not just the sunshine and great food and vibrant nightlife and pop-culture happenings and B-list celebrity sightings (although those are all entertaining). It’s that California is one of the most laidback and liberal states, and that tends to align with my personal philosophy — or at least those components of my personal philosophy that are not cribbed from a mishmash of Yoda quotes and baseball-as-life metaphors.

Now, through a weird and comical accident of geography, California shares a border with Arizona, which is not liberal or laidback or anything remotely West Coast cool. It is, of course, home to more than its fair share of right-wing nutjobs and xenophobic lunatics.

Both states have large Hispanic populations. And one recent development illustrates how different these neighboring states really are, and how they view their respective Latinos.

In California, a new law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for special driver’s licenses. Some Californians have griped about it, but for the most part, the law’s implementation has gone smoothly. And in a sign of forward thinking, car dealers are actively marketing to the new license holders. Many dealers report increased foot traffic on their lots, and they’re hoping for a sales boom due to the new law.



But in Arizona, a similar law hasn’t been as, shall we say, well received. In fact, it took a US Supreme Court decision to force Arizona to offer driver’s licenses to young immigrants, the Dreamers, who entered the country illegally as children. And while many Dreamers are happy to have the option, many others remain nervous about applying. Some Dreamers have seen family members deported after getting pulled over for routine traffic stops, and they’re having trouble letting go of their fear.

So in California, a law that passed with little controversy is poised to make a positive economic impact and make life easier for many people. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a similar law had to be argued all the way to the highest court in the land, at taxpayer expense, before going forward, only to encounter resistance from the people it was designed to help because they are terrorfied of the place they live in.

Yes, I think I chose my state wisely.



Living in the Past

Right around Christmas, President Obama freaked everybody out by announcing that we are normalizing relations with Cuba. That’s right — Cuba, the home of this guy.



It’s not like we’re going to be all buddy-buddy now. I mean, who does Cuba think it is? Our real friends are places like Vietnam, where we fought a long, bloody war that killed thousands of Americans for nothing. And then there is Saudi Arabia, which isn’t hostile or repressive or hosting tons of people who would love to slit our collective throats — nope, not our good allies.

It’s Cuba that has vexed multiple presidents, tantalized us with its proximity yet unapproachable nature, and provided the storyline for at least one X-men adventure. And now the United States will begin discussions with the nation to re-establish diplomatic relations. America plans to re-open an embassy in Havana, and the Obama administration will allow some travel and trade that had been banned under the decades-long embargo.

The move is hugely popular with Latinos. In fact, 75% of Hispanics support re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba, compared with 64% of Americans overall.

But some Latinos, especially Cuban exiles, are infuriated. These are the people who fled Castro’s regime and took enough cash with them to set up a staunchly conservative community in Florida. For as long as I’ve been alive, Cuban natives have been the one subgroup of Hispanics who vote Republican.

So when Obama announced his decision, the predictable protests erupted in Florida. Senator Rubio declared that we were coddling dictators, and to hear some people talk, we would all be legally required to wear those annoying, pretentious Che Guevara t-shirts six days a week.

However, there’s something funny about Florida’s Cuban American community. Yes, polls show that 53% of Cuban immigrants oppose Obama’s plan, which I think is actually low. But there is a clear generational split, because 64% of U.S.-born Cuban Americans support Obama’s policy. That means almost two-thirds of the Cuban Americans who were born here — and who have little or no direct experience with Cold War politics — are saying, “It’s been half a century, so give it a rest.”

Of course, the older generation is aghast at this. They had Castro on the ropes… in that he is ancient and will soon die peacefully in his bed. But still, we just needed to give the embargo a little more time! Another decade or two would do it.

Leave it to the younger Hispanics, the ones born and raised in America, who are willing and eager to change the failed policies of the past. If they hurry, they might make it to Cuba and see the authenticity of their homeland before Starbucks moves in.

Here’s hoping.

More Than Skin Deep

What Latino doesn’t love President Obama? Well, what Latino who hasn’t had a family member deported?

But I kid.

In the last presidential election, Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama, and their affiliation with the Democratic Party is well-established. Now, it didn’t help much yesterday, when Democrats were trounced by a political party whose leaders include a hog-castrating nutjob.

But maybe some Latinos are jumping on the GOP bandwagon after all. You see, a new study implies that there is a “relationship between skin color and partisan preferences among Latinos.”

black to white
The research found that Latinos with the darkest skin showed a 98% chance of voting Democrat, while those with the lightest skin showed just a 43% chance. Put another way, “lighter-skinned Latinos are more likely than darker-skinned Latinos to identify as Republican and to vote for Republicans.”

So apparently, the lighter skinned you are, the more likely you are to believe that climate change is a myth created by gay socialists who are trying to force everyone to have abortions. And that’s true even if your last name is Rodriguez.


The Soft Sell

As we all know, Latinos are about as likely to vote Republican as they are to sprout feathers and fly.

The conservative reaction to Latinos’ tendency to vote Democratic is usually disbelief and the continued insistence (despite all evidence to the contrary) that Hispanics are really Republicans but just don’t know it. Even this misguided, paternalistic response is preferable, however, to the other common reaction from conservatives, which is overt hostility to Latinos and the claim that Republicans don’t need nothin’ from those illegal alien sumbitches.

Well, give credit to the big kahunas of the conservative movement, the Koch brothers, who have realized two things:

They need Latinos to win elections. And insulting and denigrating Hispanics doesn’t win them to your side.

As such, “one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population.” The group, the Libre Initiative, “is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops, and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters.”

As one leader of the Libre Initiative explained, the group is striving to build trust, with the hope that if Hispanics like the organization, “they may seek our opinion on something else.”

It’s unclear what this ominous “something else” is, but it apparently includes the idea that real Latinas “respect authority” and the acknowledgement that the rich are America’s “only productive class.”

For further edification, the speeches at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) may offer a clue. At this who’s-who of the conservative movement, that grand old crazy lady of the right wing, Ann Coulter, was met with applause when she called for the formation of death squads to take out any politician who supported immigration reform.

guat death squad

Now, if there’s one thing that many Latino immigrants know, it’s what a death squad looks like. So it’s clear that conservatives are finally speaking our language.


The Best of Intentions

President Obama recently held a town-hall meeting to pitch the finer points of the Affordable Care Act to Latinos. And when I say, “the finer points,” I mean that he basically said, “This is driving me nuts. You should be signing up in droves.”

But Hispanics are doing no such thing, and despite the fact that “the Latino population is disproportionately uninsured and relatively young… enrollment hasn’t been going well.” This is because, like all things related to the Obamacare rollout, things were botched and fumbled.


For example, “instead of starting with what would resonate with Latinos, outreach campaigns were developed in English for English-speaking audiences,” with the result that Obamacare details and benefits were not “directed particularly at the Latino population.”

Even more alarming, many Hispanics are under the mistaken impression “that signing up for the Affordable Care Act could get family members deported.”

So now some of Obama’s biggest supporters — who also stand to benefit greatly from the ACA, and who are also more likely than most Americans to be uninsured, and who are more at risk for some particularly vexing diseases – are cowering in fear rather than bum rushing the registration desks and swamping the ACA website.

It’s a cruel irony, and one that could have been easily avoided, if the Obama administration had put as much effort into proper outreach as they do in fending off right-wing attacks.

But a quick and easy solution isn’t coming. Indeed, at Obama’s town hall, “as the questions came, some of the challenges the president and his administration face in selling the health care law were brought into focus.”

Hopefully, they got the message.


Fourth and Goal

Yes, we’re all getting ready for the Super Bowl this weekend (even though my team was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs, which sucks).


So I’m not going to dwell on this study that points out how far Latinos have to go to achieve political power that is commiserate with our growing population.

But basically, if Hispanics had representation in Congress that matched our actual presence in the nation, there would be 90 Latino representatives or senators. Instead, there are 37. Just nine of those are Latinas.

Like I said, it’s too depressing to rant about at length. So you may now return to your preparations for the big game.

I’m betting on a Seattle upset.


Onward to 2014

This year, I became a father. I can assure you that nothing that monumental and awesome is going to happen in 2014.

But among the few downsides to parenthood is the fact that one has less time to update blogs. So I’ve written less this year. In fact, I’ve missed out on a few stories that I normally would have been all over.

For example, there was this little tidbit from the fine state of Texas, where a Latina politician tweeted her hatred of immigrants, her support for apartheid, her belief that the Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks, and her opinion that Muslims are “vermin.” Why yes, she is a member of the Republican Party. Why do you ask?

Now, I would usually get a lot of mileage out of a self-loathing Hispanic with strong anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic tendencies who also appears to be a paranoid lunatic. But what new parent has the time?


So here’s hoping that in the new year, the little guy will give me a breather now and then to write about such characters. I can’t wait.


Double Agents

So it looks like many of the bugs have been worked out, and Obamacare is more or less chugging along.

Or is it?


According to some commentators, the key to the ACA’s ultimate success or failure is, as with many aspects of American society, none other than Latinos.

This is because “as the youngest, fastest growing, and least likely demographic in the United States to be insured,” Hispanics “represent a huge opportunity to inject a broad swath of young, healthy adults into the healthcare system.”

However, a mix of “cultural barriers, mixed-status families, and the delayed launch of Spanish-language enrollment tools” could limit “efforts to encourage Hispanics to get coverage.”

So will Latinos accomplish what the GOP could not? Could Hispanics kill Obamacare? 

Well, I find that hard to believe, since Latinos are among the biggest supporters of so-called socialized medicine. Unless, of course, we have been GOP spies all along who are intent on undermining Obamacare from the inside.

Wow, that’s either the best or the worst political thriller of all time.


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