Otura Mun Explains His New Yoruban-Electronic Project, IFÉ

On the latest edition of the Living in Spanglish radio show on WBAI-FM, Otura Mun, a Santurce, PR-based rumbero who has also been a producer and beat mixmaster, talks about his new project, IFÉ. Starting with how he was inspired by seeing an old photograph of the 1965 Watts Riots, and describing the 2-3 clave energy he finds in Jamaican dancehall, Mun (a/k/a US-born African American Mark Underwood) explains his new path, which uses electronic drum and sampling technology, to transmit ancient messages. This is a great listen, with the ifá babalawo telling us what time it us, literally and figuratively.

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Donald Trump Says He’s Not a Fan of Hitler, and What That Means for 2016

Yesterday I posted a series of tweets about Donald Trump that ended with the perhaps irresponsible suggestion that he could be a “tawdry harbinger for an impending fascism prompted by a failing global economy.” It’s true, many people have overused the F word, which is associated with regimes that committed horrendous human rights violations driven by a level of hate and intolerance that seems beyond the intentions or capabilities of someone like Trump. But as I’ve discovered through just casual scrutiny of Trump coverage, there’s something to the idea, more than I had imagined.

These recent posts by vox.com’s Matthew Yglesias shed an interesting light on how to view the Trump phenomenon. Framed again through the lens of analyzing the Republican Party as if it presented legitimate political perspectives—much like the cascade of articles in trendy web publications like buzzfeed about the ways Republicans can correct their rhetoric so as better to appeal to Latinos—Yglesias finds a fracture between the Koch Brothers agenda, which he refers to as “elite,” and a new “populism,” which he fails to speculate is a rehash of what used to be called Reagan Democrats. Yet he correctly points out that the MSM has not figured out that Trump populism is a global phenomenon (by global I guess he means Anglo-America and Europe), with parallels in various European political parties that favor a big enough government to keep Social Security intact and enact drastic measures to control and/or reverse immigration from the global South.

By some crazy coincidence, Trump himself just yesterday said at a that he was “not a fan of Hitler,” at a rally in Greenville, South Carolina, reportedly in response to a New York Times report that said some call-in listeners of a Los Angeles radio host named Ricardo Sánchez referred to the Donald as “Hitler.” This Wonkette post amusingly referred to a subsequent tweet by Trump repeating this sentiment as a “strong stance,” and pointed to a recent Vanity Fair listicle that mentioned that a 1990 VF profile alluded to Trump keeping a copy of a book of Hitler’s speeches in his bedroom. All of this kind of stunned me, since my visceral first reaction to the footage of Trump’s security person pushing journalist Jorge Ramos out of Tuesday’s press conference was that it came off kind of fascist–there was something very fascist-y about the image of someone who represented the First Amendment being strong-armed out of a room by a seeming goon in the service of a sneering overlord.

Granted, the debate around the ejection of Ramos as to whether or not his actions were those of a “journalist,” complicate the matter somewhat. Ramos’s hectoring soliloquies did seem to have more of a parallel with Black Lives Matters members interrupting a Bernie Sanders speech than some romanticized memory of Edward R. Murrow. But, if this episode was more of an “activist” intervention than pure journalism, Trump’s hateful comments about Mexican immigrants and women provoked it. If Ramos–whose own politics can be dubiously centrist, and his network, Univision, even more dubious in its presentation of Afro-Latinos and women–in fact engaged in a non-journalistic confrontation, he, unwittingly or not, was calling necessary attention to the anti-democratic politics of Trump himself, whose pattern of behavior demonstrates he does not deserve to be asked questions in a “professional” journalistic matter.

So the spectacle of Ramos’s ejection was the primary reason I felt compelled to use the F word.

But if it looks like an F, talks like an F, and walks like an F, do we call it an F? When you immerse yourself in Ygelsias’s breakdown of the “far-right” European parties that promote a similar political line to that of Trump’s–that is, the preservation of the social welfare state for native whites, and the crackdown on nonwhite immigrants that would pay for it–you begin to see the strange semantic debate about how these parties are not fascist, despite having fascist, or at least hardcore racist roots. Check the bold subhead in Yglesias piece—for which I assume an editor at Vox, and not Yglesias himself is responsible: Right Wing Populist Parties Aren’t Extreme, Per Se.

Oh, I see. It turns out that although Sweden Democrats–a right populist party–has “roots in things like the straightforwardly racist Keep Sweden Swedish, its first official party auditor was a Waffen-SS veteran, and in its early days it tried to forge international connections with David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People,” its “growth in part reflects ideological moderation and a move toward mainstream politics.”

Right. In part.

The French National Front, despite a “genuinely extreme and super-right-wing view of immigration,” has a “critique of the eurozone and the European Central Bank that would be comfortably at home in a Paul Krugman column.” (Perhaps this in some way explains Krugman’s incredibly myopic, and some might say colonial analysis of the Puerto Rico debt crisis.)

And he goes on, about the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns, the Netherlands Freedom Party, and the UK Independence Party, which all fit into the category of right-wing populist parties who have fascist roots but have since moderated their stances. Of course Yglesias does not bring up Norway’s Progress Party, which scrambled to disassociate themselves from one of their ex-members Andres Behring Breivik, who mass-murdered 77 Norwegians in July of 2011. Breivik was subsequently diagnosed with something Hitler might have had, narcissistic personality disorder, but as we’ve said, this is not someone Trump is a fan of. So let’s not go there.

Finally, Yglesias concludes, The [Republican] Establishment Is in Denial, and “The fundamentals are clearly there for a right-populist candidate to secure mass appeal and really move the needle in American politics.” This must be really exciting for a serious student of politics—someone who can move the needle! To both the MSM and corporate-media funded websites trying to sell millennials that they’re not actually MSM, Trump is a welcome antidote to a season of sober analysis of Republican presidential politics.

So is he…a fascist? Perhaps, perhaps not. All of this reminds me of something Roland Barthes called the privation of history, in which the new symbolic object, in this case, “right populism” undergoes a process—a kind of digital media sorcery—whereby all of its negative or unflattering history is removed. This is the symbolic process that seems to have been going on in Europe for several years now, and one that might create a political trend–readymade for the US, whose media doesn’t pay attention to European politics–just in time to play a role the 2016 election. (Well, let’s hope it’s not till 2020. Just buying some time here.)

We all have the terrible images of fascism engrained in our memories, the storm troopers, the gaudy spectacles of mass hysteria, the horrific physical violence associated with it. Yet beyond that was its totalitarian organizational logic, which essentially denied the possibility of political and social interests existing outside of it. Some have suggested that elements of that have been emerging for years in the world’s dominant states, and not without a substantial degree of hate rhetoric associated with them. As the global economy remains stagnant, and inequality balloons, the demand for extreme political ideas increases. If so, then, as the Yglesias article suggests, the problem with Trump is not necessarily his “needle-moving” ideas, but the fact that he is such a clownish performer, making him a wholly inadequate symbol for a new political constituency that, because of the US’s conservative, two-party political structure, wants to somehow scrub out its historical rough edges and move into the mainstream.

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Is an Obama Donor Tying the President’s Hands on Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis?

One thing that caught my attention while reading this wistful, insidery feature in The New York Times about President Obama’s future (apparently a “post-presidential infrastructure” is involved) was a certain someone who attended a swanky dinner party at the White House recently. Sure, Toni Morrison was there, as well as Malcolm Gladwell and Eva Longoria, perhaps joining the prez in a taste of his fave, the extra-dry Grey Goose martini. But it wasn’t a glamorous showbiz/intelligentsia name that attracted my notice; it was Marc Lasry, co-founder and CEO of the hedge/vulture fund Avenue Capital Group.
Lasry is perhaps more famous at the moment as the new-ish co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, a development that was so energizing for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that he signed a bill last week subsidizing a new arena for the team that, according to the Times, would “cost the public twice as much as originally projected.” But it turns out that Avenue Capital is one of the vulture funds that owns some Puerto Rico debt, and is currently aligned with Candlewood Investment Group, Fir Tree Partners, and Perry Corp, which have formed what is known as the GDB Ad Hoc Group (BGF is the acronym in Spanish), a coalition of vulture funds that hold bonds issued by Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank.

Recently the GDB Ad Hoc Group has hired the law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell to represent them in the upcoming battle with the Puerto Rico government, hoping to recoup their investment and avoid either the government’s debt-restructuring proposals or a move by Congress to change federal law to allow the commonwealth/unincorporated territory/colony to declare bankruptcy. The irony here is that this is the same law firm that helped orchestrate the US government’s bailout of AIG, the bad-mortgage debt-swapping machine at the center of the 2008 recession. So the same law firm that pushed for the AIG bailout is gearing up to force Puerto Rico to pay up, while Obama, who also favored the AIG bailout, has not even hinted that he would offer one to the troubled island.
Read the rest here at The Nation.

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Choc Quib Town and Flaco Navaja Were Highlights of Living in Spanglish 4

Last night we had a very exciting show on Living in Spanglish, broadcast on WBAI FM in New York. I began the show lamenting the challenges faced by Mexico, whose journalists are increasingly assassinated; the Dominican Republic, which is pursuing a highly discriminatory if not racist policy of deporting long-time resident Haitians, and of course, Puerto Rico and its debt crisis. These are the three most populous groups of Latinos in New York, and it would be gratifying if somehow these causes became connected rather than exist in fragments.

I opened the show talking about the latest developments in the Puerto Rico debt crisis, and playing excerpts of an interview with Representative Luis Gutiérrez in early August. I also played a pre-recorded interview with Afro-Colombian band Choc Quib Town, who talked about their new album  El Mismo, as well as their experiences with racism in Colombia, the way they view their fusion of regional music and hiphop, and their love for salsa.

Finally, it was such a big thrill to have my homeboy Flaco Navaja come into the studio, where we talked about his role in the movie Babygirl, which will be released on Itunes, Amazon, and other digital platforms next Tuesday August 25th. We also talked about his other acting work, including a role in Dennis Leary’s show Sex Drugs and Rock n Roll, the old days at the Nuyorican Poets Café, and his participation in John Leguizamo’s new theater piece.

Below are links to the full show, as well as separate soundfiles containing the interviews with Choc Quib Town and Flaco.

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Reprazenting the Permanent Debt Crisis

Just borrowing this image from the opening the other day around beautiful Bruckner Boulevard’s end at the southern tip of the Boogie Down–it was the return of City Maze by Jane Dickson and Crash, two pivotal figures in Fashion/Moda, an art thing that happened in the Bronx so many years ago. It kind of represents how I’ve been feeling lately as one of the Babylon tongues trying to explain the PR Debt Crisis. It’s such a dire moment with no federal help on the horizon and the health care system teetering on the brink of chaos, yet the crisis doesn’t seem tangible yet no matter how many dependent clauses I use to explain it.

I mean let’s face it. This is a permanent debt crisis. Just like the permanent War on Terror. What do you think the idea about the End of History is about? Instilling a belief that we’re in a permanent cycle, with no need to change anything. The proverbial elephant in the room is the fact that the great majority of New York’s residents have been living in a debt crisis since Gerald Ford told us to drop dead.

We had a great get-together last week at the Loisaida Center with Dave Galarza, and, via Skype, Rafael Bernabe desde Puerto Rico. I kind of took more time than I wanted to with my Power Point Puerto Rico Debt Crisis 101. Actually, you’re gonna need Keynote for that. At any rate it was Bernabe who had the best point of the evening, Héctor Cordero Guzmán’s thoughtful contributions notwithstanding: How are we going to convince everybody that independence is the only solution?

Here’s an on-point piece by Monxo López on the bankruptcy of our hero liberal economist Paul Krugman’s bankrupt logic, by the way.

Meanwhile, Paper magazine seems oblivious to anything being wrong, instead choosing to focus on the stars of the island’s fabulous art scene. Well, who can blame them. The whole Downtown scene was about the grimy dystopia of Manhattan that formed soon after that Gerald Ford Daily News cover story. Oh wait he didn’t actually say that.

Looks like we’ll have to postpone our handwringing until after Congress comes back in September, the unveiling of the ingenious plan now being put together to save the economy by loyalists of the García Padilla administration and their crack consultants, and of course after we celebrate some more Obama milestones like immigration reform and the closing of Guantánamo.

For the record, more of my testimony:

My appearance on WABC’s Tiempo with the Hispanic Federation’s Frankie Miranda in two parts, on the Tiempo website here and here.

Here’s a lovely half-hour spent with Samuel Orozco on California’s Radio Bilingüe, at times I’m sounding perceptive, others not very competent en la idioma castellana. I invented a new word: negocieros for negociantes, and made my favorite gender mistake: “las problemas” (el problema es masculino).

Finally, another rambling episode of Living in Spanglish Radio on WBAI, where I talk with Cultura Profética about the crisis, and am compelled to declare the end of modernist nostalgia.

Hasta pronto.

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What Puerto Rico Faces as It Hurtles Towards Default

This weekend Puerto Rico will most likely fall short–there is some semantic argument on whether this constitutes default–on a $58 million payment due from its Public Finance Corporation. Many view this as a first step in debt restructuring, if for no other reason than it offers further proof of what Governor Alejandro García Padilla said last month, that its $72 billion as currently structured is “not payable.” A report released earlier this week, “For Puerto Rico There Is a Better Way,” by Centennial Group, International, at the behest of mutual and hedge fund bondholders, insisted that the debt was payable, but was roundly denounced this week because of its call for extreme austerity measures.  Meanwhile, new efforts led by Congresspersons Luis Gutiérrez and Nydia Velásquez, began to exert more pressure on Washington to allow Puerto Rico Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, although there are several outstanding questions on exactly what kind of restructuring will take place, who will be in charge of implementing the restructuring of the economy, and what specific plans are being made to take advantage of the temporary liquidity that would be provided by debt restructuring. This post/essay by the Center for the New Economy’s Sergio Marxuach brings up even more questions about the legal language stickiness of exactly what governmental agencies may be allowed to declare bankruptcy.

Doesn’t look good, does it?

Here’s an 11-minute or so interview I did with FAIR’s radio show “Counterspin” that re-tells the tale that is driving a lot of us to shake our heads (SOH):

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