Welcome To America — Now Spy On Your Friends

When he got the last call to come meet with the FBI agents, A.M. allowed himself an uncharacteristic bit of optimism. An immigrant from Pakistan, he had spent the last seven years trying to get a green card, a process that had so far included a series of interviews, three encounters with the FBI, and unexplained bureaucratic delays. Maybe this meeting would bring some resolution?But when the 37-year-old software programmer arrived at the Homeland Security offices in Dallas that day in August 2014, the conversation quickly swerved. One of the two agents placed a piece of paper on the table and told him to write down the names of all the people he knew who he thought were terrorists. Bewildered, he said he didn’t know any terrorists. He said he didn’t know about any suspicious activity at all. “We think you do,” the agents replied.A.M. was quickly becoming alarmed. (Like almost all other immigrants interviewed for this story, he said he did not feel safe allowing his name to be published. A.M. are his initials.) He was a family man, with a highly skilled 9-to-5 job. He had lived in America for nearly two decades. He went to college in America. Why would the FBI see him as a link to terrorism? And weren’t they supposed to be discussing his green card application?As it turned out, that’s precisely what they were discussing. “We know about your immigration problems,” he recalls one of the agents telling him. “And we can help you with that.” If, they said, he agreed to start making secret reports on his community, his friends, even his family. Pressuring people to become informants by dangling the promise of citizenship — or, if they do not comply, deportation — is expressly against the rules that govern FBI agents’ activities.Attorney General Alberto Gonzales forbade the practice nine years ago: “No promises or commitments can be made, except by the United States Department of Continue Reading

Big Money, Bad Media, Secret Agendas: Welcome to America’s Wildest School Board Race

School board elections are supposed to be quintessential America contests. Moms and Main Street small-business owners and retired teachers campaign by knocking on doors, writing letters to the editor and debating at elementary schools. Then friends and neighbors troop to the polls and make their choices. But what happens when all the pathologies of national politics—over-the-top spending by wealthy elites and corporate interests, partisan consultants jetting in to shape big-lie messaging, media outlets that cover spin rather than substance—are visited on a local school board contest? Emily Sirota is finding out. The mom of 10-month-old Isaac, Sirota’s a social worker and community organizer with a degree from the University of Denver and a history of working in the community. She’s running for a seat representing southeast Denver on the city’s school board in one of three school board contests that the city’s voters will decide November 1. If Sirota wins, her election would in all likelihood shift control of the nonpartisan board, which is currently split 4–3 in favor of so-called “reformers,” who critics describe as “the forces trying to charter-ize, voucher-ize and privatize public schools.” Sirota makes no secret of her desire to turn the board that runs one of the nation’s largest urban schools systems toward a more clearly defined position in favor of funding local schools, paying teachers and school staff a fair wage and working to close achievement gaps that have developed along racial and economic lines. In simplest terms, she’s a pro–public education candidate—like school board candidates in Denver and communities across the country generally tended to be before big money and a broken media system began warping our politics not just in Washington but right down to the grassroots. “I believe high quality public education is the cornerstone of strong and Continue Reading

Welcome to America, Where We Fight for the Freedom to Visit Disney World

You may not know it, but you’re living in a futuristic science-fiction novel. And that’s a fact. If you were to read about our American world in such a novel, you would be amazed by its strangeness. Since you exist right smack in the middle of it, it seems like normal life (Donald Trump and Ben Carson aside). But make no bones about it, so far this has been a bizarre American century. Let me start with one of the odder moments we’ve lived through and give it the attention it’s always deserved. If you follow my train of thought and the history it leads us into, I guarantee you that you’ll end up back exactly where we are—in the midst of the strangest presidential campaign in our history. To get a full-frontal sense of what that means, however, let’s return to late September 2001. I’m sure you remember that moment, just over two weeks after those World Trade Center towers came down and part of the Pentagon was destroyed, leaving a jangled secretary of defense instructing his aides, “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” I couldn’t resist sticking in that classic Donald Rumsfeld line, but I leave it to others to deal with Saddam Hussein, those fictional weapons of mass destruction, the invasion of Iraq, and everything that’s happened since, including the establishment of a terror “caliphate” by a crew of Islamic extremists brought together in American military prison camps—all of which you wouldn’t believe if it were part of a sci-fi novel. The damn thing would make Planet of the Apes look like outright realism. Instead, try to recall the screaming headlines that labeled the 9/11 attacks “the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century” or “a new Day of Infamy,” and the attackers “the kamikazes of the 21st century.” Remember the moment when President George W. Bush, bullhorn in hand, stepped onto the rubble at “Ground Continue Reading

KING: Welcome to America — where even our math tests are racist

Only in America would racism find its way into a middle school math test. Yeah, for real. When I first heard that students at Burns Middle School in Mobile, Ala., were subjected to a “racist math test,” I was stumped. “How in the hell could a math test be racist,” I wondered. Then I saw the test. Lo and behold, clear as day, it was a racist math test. It is so flagrant, so outrageous, so blatantly bigoted that my first instinct was to believe that it was a hoax or practical joke of some kind and that this test wasn't actually given to school children. But then I remembered, we live in the day and age where George Zimmerman sold the gun he killed Trayvon Martin with for hundreds of thousands of dollars and Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States. Police officers are being outed as undercover members of the KKK and exposed as deeply racist in departments all over America. So, of course a teacher could decide to give her students the most flagrantly racist math test of all time. Some of the actual questions include: "Dwayne pimps three ho's. If the price is $85 per trick, how many tricks per day must each ho turn to support Dwayne's $800 per day crack habit?" "Tyrone knocked up 4 girls in the gang. There are 20 girls in his gang. What is the exact percentage of girls Tyrone knocked up?" "Leroy has 2 ounces of cocaine. If he sells an 8 ball to Antonio for $320 and 2 grams to Juan for $85 per gram, what is the street value of the rest of his hold?" And no, it wasn't a joke. The teacher actually required students to complete it and turn it in. After students complained to their parents and parents, in turn, complained to the school, an investigation determined that the teacher did indeed administer this test and was subsequently suspended. Fox10 News of Mobile actually discovered that this racist test has deep roots. "What Continue Reading

‘Welcome to Night Vale’ celebrates fourth anniversary

You had to be there."Welcome to Night Vale," the gloriously weird and beautifully creepy hit podcast, has cast its spell over listeners around the world for four years. Last Friday, June 10, members of the series' cast and crew took to the Bell House in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn to celebrate what they'd accomplished and provide a preview what the future holds.The star attraction of the evening was a live reading of a very special, vacation-themed "Night Vale" episode. While we won't spoil what transpired in the utterly charming installment, we can tell you it featured typically terrific performances by series star Cecil Baldwin and regular guests Dylan Marron and Mara Wilson.Prior to the "Night Vale" reading, the series' writers and creators, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, unveiled the live debuts of two new shows being rolled out under the new Night Vale Presents network.Fink has partnered with composer/producer Disparition and actress Jasika Nicole on the now-running "Alice Isn't Dead," a gripping travelogue with new episodes being released every other Tuesday until July 12.Starring Nicole as a trucker braving the highways of America in search of her wife, the series confidently made the leap to the stage for its first live reading. In performance, "Alice Isn't Dead" is an intimate, powerful duet between Nicole's insightful reading of Fink's script and Disparition's rich, unpredictable soundscapes. MORE:  Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor talk with the "Fan Theory" podcastThe evening also included an early presentation of the first episode of "Within the Wires," the Night Vale Presents series running every other Tuesday, June 21 to Oct. 21.Written by Cranor and Janina Matthewson, performed by Matthewson and with music by Mary Epworth, "Within the Wires" appears at first listen to be a series of dystopian relaxation tapes. To find out what that means, you'll have to hear the first episode for yourself later this month.Throw in some Continue Reading

Mitt Romney jokes about unskilled Latinos welcomed to ‘stay for the rest of your lives’ not amusing to Hispanic voters

Mitt Romney went on the Univision Spanish-language network Wednesday, hoping to improve his dismal polling numbers among Hispanics — the fastest-growing segment of the country’s electorate. He did so only days after his now notorious “47%” tape was revealed. The tape where Romney told wealthy donor friends he’s already written off half of Americans — “those people,” he said, who pay no federal taxes and “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” In that tape, Romney also disparaged low-income immigrants and joked it would be easier to capture the White House if his grandparents had been Mexican. Juana Velez, who came to this country from the Dominican Republic 25 years ago, didn’t catch Romney on Univision. She was too busy doing her own clean up. Busy doing what she’s done for the past 10 years — cleaning rooms at the Westin Hotel in midtown Manhattan. But Velez has heard all about the Romney tape. “He’s disgusting,” she said. “I’ve always worked for a living. Never been on welfare. My husband served in Iraq. I’m a U.S. citizen. We own our own home and we’ve raised four children here. How dare he talk about us like that?” Which is why the latest Pew Center poll on the presidential contest should come as no surprise. President Obama’s already huge edge over Romney among Hispanics just keeps getting bigger, according to Pew. Among registered Latinos, it now stands at 69% to 24%. It’s even wider among “likely voters,” at 72% to 22%. To put that in perspective, George W. Bush garnered a healthy 46% of the Latino vote when he won re election in 2004. Even John McCain managed 31% of vote in his losing bid against Obama in 2008. Romney’s paltry share becomes even more ominous when you consider that just 9.7 million Latinos voted in 2008. Most experts Continue Reading

Welcome to America

The drive to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million people who are illegally in this country will likely dominate the looming battle over immigration reform. No issue in the debate over regulating the flow of newcomers is more heated. Still, it’s just one element in establishing a system that treats would-be immigrants rationally, serves as an economic engine and stems unlawful border entries. At present, U.S. immigration policy is horribly short on all of those. Even the process for earning permanent residency status is an insane tangle. ImmigrationRoad.com, an online information center, has produced a flow chart of bureaucratic pathways to obtaining a green card that rivals a computer circuit in its mind-boggling complexity. Which pathway an immigrant follows depends on his or her classification (there are five major employment categories and many subclassifications), and each route contains dozens of steps. Some backlogs are egregious. The wait for adult siblings to enter the country: 23 years. President Obama and Congress must achieve measures that hold steady or boost family-driven immigration while allowing many more job-related entries. The current cap of employment-related visas, 140,000 a year, is glaringly inadequate. Washington must start from the proven fact that immigration propels economic growth. American universities turn out far fewer graduates than the U.S. needs in fields from computer science to bioengineering. Admitting highly skilled, highly educated foreigners is critical to keeping the country at the cutting edge of innovation. The door should be thrown wide open to technical stars, both those who have earned degrees in U.S. universities and those who want to come to these shores after being schooled abroad. The results will be extraordinary. Though a tenth of the U.S. population is foreign-born, more than 25% of American technology-based businesses started from 1995 to 2005 had an owner born Continue Reading

Film reviews: ‘War Witch,’ ‘Welcome to Pine Hill,’  ‘The Sweeney’

WELCOME TO PINE HILL — 3 stars A former drug dealer trying to go straight faces unexpected adversity (1:25). Not rated. Language. IFC . Newcomer Shannon Harper gives a beautiful, naturalistic performance as a onetime drug dealer living in Brooklyn and working to turn his life around with an office job as an insurance claims adjuster. Just as he starts to pay off street debts, he gets a diagnosis of cancer that he keeps to himself. Writer-director Keith Miller’s existential tone and Harper’s gentle approach and giant soul turn this New York story with a final twist into something special. WAR WITCH — 3 starsA young girl is forced to join African rebels (1:30). Not rated: Violence. Lincoln Plaza, Angelika.   Hayley Atwell in ‘The Sweeney’ THE SWEENEY — 2 stars A British police squad works to stop burglaries (1:52). R: Violence, sexuality. Empire 25. With their high-tech, formidable organization “The Sweeney” providing assignments, a gruff detective (Ray Winstone), his sexy lieutenant (“Captain America’s” Haley Atwell) and their team of London heist-stoppers do things their way, to the chagrin of their commanding officer (Damian Lewis). Based on a ’70s British program, this is a bombastic effort that, while not successful, is still as bracing as a cold pint. J.N. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Kelly: Welcome to the Divided States of America

WASHINGTON – Two very different countries converged on this city for President Donald Trump’s inaugural ceremonies.And anti-Trump Nation.Welcome to the Divided States of America.Every presidential inaugural offers lessons about the current political landscape, often with profound references to the past and prescriptions for the future. Friday’s inaugural of Trump offered something else entirely -- a clear reminder that the deep wounds left by November’s election and more than a year of caustic campaigning had not healed.As Trump took his oath of office, protesters in the crowd chanted, “Not my president” – loud enough to be heard by the audience near the podium.   A few minutes earlier, during a welcoming speech by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat and senate minority leader who has emerged as a vocal Trump critic in recent weeks, large numbers of Trump supporters booed – again loud enough to be heard by those near the podium. NEW JERSEY:  Like the nation, state's delegation is divided over Trump THE 45TH PRESIDENT:  Trump launches new chapter in American history N.J. GOVERNOR:  Trump's inauguration a low-key day for Christie IN HIS WORDS:  Full text of President Donald Trump's Inaugural AddressAs Trump began his 15-minute inaugural address, a woman darted from her seat and ran along a wooden runway where congressional staffers, diplomats and media were seated and yelled “illegitimate.”  After a tense few seconds, police bear hugged her and escorted her away. Trump did not appear to notice her.  But the moment was a poignant example of the tension that creased through this city – and the nation.Near the White House, police broke up a crowd of demonstrators – some armed with crowbars – by firing flash grenades and tear gas.Most protesters were not treated as harshly. But almost every corner seemed to be a Continue Reading

Prince made confident return in first concert of ‘Welcome 2 America’ tour, played favorite ‘Uptown’

Who knew what to expect from everyone's favorite musical wild card, Prince, on the opening date of his first official American tour in seven years.Would he vamp through an extended series of jams, as he has on some of his unofficial club shows of late? Would he merge his hits into crowded medleys, or stress pieces from his recent, unfocused albums? Or would he deliver a peak-style Prince concert, packed with inventive versions of songs plucked from his most storied days?Fans may have been worried, because roughly one-fourth of the arena went unsold in this - the first of five local dates in the Welcome 2 America tour. Prince postponed his first scheduled date for the event, meant to occur Tuesday. Then he barred photographers, and even cell phones, from last night's show, hoping to shift press coverage to his second date, at Izod Center Friday. (In fact, the cell phone ban wasn't enforced).As it turned out, he, and the fans, had no reason to be so fidgety. The hit-friendly show had a kinetic confidence and racing pace that spoke of his singular place in pop history.The show started slow, with Prince handing off a number to his backup singers, just one song in. But soon he took off. The staccato beats of "Uptown" showed why his particular intersection of funk, rock and pop has become nearly its own genre. He took us higher in the glam-funk "Cream," leading into a terse "Raspberry Beret." In "Cool," his vocals kept deepening the funk, while he proved just as convincing in the ballad "Scandalous." Prince's guitar solos throughout stung and soared.The star didn't skimp on dancing either. At 52, he still shimmies as quickly, and wittily, as ever. The staging gave him a good platform, located in the middle of the arena and shaped like the symbol which he, for a spell, took for his name. Moves like that, and many others, have invited suspicion and snickers around Prince for years. But this show underscored the brilliance that makes it worth all the bumps in the ride. Join Continue Reading