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Why has the ‘Cesar Chavez’ film failed?

While promoting his “Cesar Chavez” film two weeks before its opening last month, director Diego Luna received a rude awakening when he plowed into the streets of Austin, Texas, to ask Latinos passing by if they knew who the legendary farm labor leader was.

The Mexican actor was stunned to learn that most of those whom he asked had no clue about Chavez.

That was an important and pivotal key to the film’s success – and why it has so utterly failed at the box office.

The disappointing $4.6 million earnings the first two weeks of “Cesar Chavez” obviously has come as a shocking eye-opener for its filmmakers and Hollywood, where its success could have resulted in more projects aimed at Latino moviegoers.

In its third weekend, the Chavez film all but disappeared and now faces a challenge in covering its $10 milllion budget.

Latinos were crucial as moviegoers, and they apparently failed to support the film. Attendance at the theaters did not even come close to reflecting the numbers the film’s producers expected.

A 2013 Nielsen report found that Latinos go to the movies in disproportionately high numbers. They make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, but they bought 25 percent of the movie tickets sold in 2012.

There’s also history with films about Latino icons doing well financially.

 “La Bamba,” the film about 1950′s rocker Ritchie Valens, grossed $54 million in 1987, while “Selena”  a movie about a slain Tejana singer raked in $35 million in 1997, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

Neither of those films had the White House screening and endorsement of “Cesar Chavez,” not to mention the increased Latino population or the internet’s potential wildfire word-of-mouth promotion.

What happened? How could a long-awaited film about the man generally considered the greatest Latino in American history, for whom schools, streets and buildings are named, honored almost religiously by the Kennedys and on postage stamps and holidays, likened to Martin Luther King Jr. – how could a film about him fail as it has?

Part of the answer may be in the incident at the trendy South by Southwest Music Festival where Luna learned that Cesar Chavez, for all his fame and honors, hadn’t transcended into today’s pop culture influenced society, among Latinos.

For although many consider Chavez’s stature to be national in scope, the reality is apparently different, and the days in which he was national news — for his union’s strikes and secondary boycotts of grapes and then lettuce — are now four decades or more behind us.

Chavez also had nowhere near the success of organizing farm laborers in other states as he did in California, altogether giving up on that challenge in Texas, and he remains largely unknown among many there, even among Hispanics.

Another important aspect is that Chavez’s role as a civil rights leader may have been sentimentally exaggerated beyond his importance in labor activism and leadership, especially in the years after his death in 1993.

He was a labor leader, to be sure, but was he the Latino Martin Luther King Jr., who moved a nation to its moral conscience, known and followed by his own and others in major American cities as he was in the rural farm fields?

Although many often link him to it, the fact is that Cesar Chavez was not really a part of the Chicano movement that followed and imitated the black civil rights movement.

He was often in conflict with the leadership of the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, even having a speaking invitation to La Raza Unida’s only national convention in 1972 rescinded because of his loyal ties to the Democratic Party.

Chavez also had problems with the Latino leadership within the Democratic Party of California where a bitter legislative fight in the early 1980′s caused a rift between Cesar and Latino political leaders that went on for years until his death.

The consensus among many in California was that Chavez had been essentially a rural Latino leader, popular among Hispanics in the cities but out of touch with urban issues facing the majority of Latinos.

Chavez’s reputation has also suffered in today’s fervor over immigration reform because of his early strong opposition on the issue when he feared that employers would use illegal laborers to break strikes. He did support the immigration reform bills of the 1980′s, and supporters have maintained that his stance today would be in support of immigrant’s rights.

Then there is the film itself, starring Michael Peña and Rosario Dawson, which has drawn criticism among some as “not being Chicano enough,” and among others as not having told the full story of Cesar Chavez.

In fairness to Luna and the film’s producers, however, biopics aren’t biographies, and even the arguably great ones – like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” – capture only a slice of the subject’s life.

Ultimately, the fate of “Cesar Chavez” and its legacy may be one like that of the labor leader himself – an unfinished struggle against incredible odds.



Latino College Completion Rates Low Despite Enrollment

Image: Graduating students listen to U.S. President Obama speak during commencement at the University of Michigan

Low rates of Latino college completion persist in states with high numbers of Hispanics, despite an narrowing of the gap in the graduation rates of traditional Latino and non-white Latino college students, according to a report released Tuesday.

The gap dropped to 9 percent in 2014 from 14 percent in 2012 among those who entered college as first time, full-time undergraduates, according to the report released Tuesday by Excelencia in Education.

But it's a different story when part-time students, which account for almost half of Hispanic students, are included. In California, home to the largest number of the country's Hispanics, only 15 percent of Latino students completed their undergraduate degree or certificate in the year 2010-11. In Texas, the number was 17 percent.

"It is an area of concern," said the report's main author, Deborah Santiago. "We have to focus on the institutions that are not just enrolling but graduating our students," she added.

Low rates of college completion - especially at the community college level- do not just affect Hispanics. The difference is that in most states, there is still a very big gap between the number of Hispanic adults holding a degree compared to the rest of the population.

At East Los Angeles College in California, about 24,000 Latino students enrolled in the year 2011-12, but only about 1,000 completed their Associate Degree that year. And although California has the highest number of Latinos, not one of its colleges were in the top five institutions awarding associate or bachelor's degrees to Latinos.

Low rates of college completion - especially at the community college level- do not just affect Hispanics. In Texas, when part-time students are taken into account, only 18 percent of non-Latino whites obtained a degree in 2010-11 academic year.

The difference is that in most states, there is still a very big gap between the number of Hispanic adults holding a degree compared to the rest of the population. Nationally, only twenty percent of Latino adults have a postsecondary degree, compared to 36 percent of all U.S. adults. In California, only 16 percent of Latino adults over 25 have an associate or bachelor's degree, compared to 38 percent of all adults in that age group. In Texas, it's 16 percent of Hispanics who hold a degree, compared to 32 percent of total adults those ages.

At the same time, more and more Hispanic children are entering the nation's schools. In California, Hispanic students make up over half of the K-12 population; in Texas, it's about half. At the national level, 22 percent of children in K-12 are Hispanic.

"We have an amazing opportunity to address how to better serve Latino students," said Santiago.

Some schools are showing a good track record, Santiago points out. Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, for example, ranked fourth in the state in enrolling Latinos, yet ranked second in awarding associate degrees. The University of Central Florida ranked fifth in enrolling Hispanics in that state but ranked second in bachelor's degrees awarded to Latinos.

The top five institutions awarding associate and bachelor's degrees to Hispanic students in the year 2011-2012 were in Florida, Texas and Arizona, but they also included the for-profit University of Phoenix-Online.

In order, Miami Dade College, whose student body is 67 percent Hispanic, and El Paso Community College, 86 percent Hispanic, topped the list for awarding Associate degrees, followed by the University of Phoenix-Online, South Texas College and Valencia College in Florida.

For Bachelor degrees, the top 5 were Florida International University, whose student body is 63 percent Latino, followed by the University of Phoenix-Online, The University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Texas-Pan American and Arizona State University.

Some schools are showing a good track record, Santiago points out. Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, for example, ranked fourth in the state in enrolling Latinos, yet ranked second in awarding associate degrees.

In its state-by-state as well as Puerto Rico and District of Columbia data, Excelencia in Education report includes a list of "What Works" programs from its Growing What Works database, aimed at showcasing specific programs which are increasing Latino college completion.

"We remain focused on the fact that for the U.S. to regain the top ranking in the world for college degree attainment, Latinos will need to earn 5.5 million more degrees by 2020," said in a statement Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education.


America’s Status As A Democratic Society 'Seriously Threatened'

U.S. Policies Favor The Wealthy, Interest Groups, Study Shows


U.S. government policies reflect the desires of the wealthy and interest groups more than the average citizen, according to researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University.

"[W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened," write Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in an April 9 article posted on the Princeton website and scheduled for fall publication in the journal Perspectives on Politics.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002 and compared changes to the preferences of median-income Americans, the top-earning 10 percent, and organized interest groups and industries.

"Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all," the researchers write in the article titled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens."

Affluent Americans, however, "have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy," Gilens and Page write. Organized interest groups also "have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy."

The research supports the theories of Economic Elite Domination, which says policy outcomes are influenced by those with wealth who often own businesses, and Biased Pluralism, which says policy outcomes "tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations."

"The estimated impact of average citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level," the researchers write. "Clearly the median citizen or 'median voter' at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups."

The study found that average citizens and the wealthy often seek the same policy changes. As Gawker notes, the researchers say this is a mere coincidence, noting the average American's interests will be represented if they are in line with the interests of the wealthy.

Interest groups would seemingly represent the interests of the average citizen -- and some do, the study says. But, "all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole," researchers write.






Don't think you can fool the IRS

Aaron Lee holds a sign advertising income tax services for Liberty Tax Service on April 14, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  | Getty

The IRS is cash-strapped and audit rates are down, but that doesn’t mean the average Jane or Joe can hide the ball from the tax man.

The tax-collecting agency devotes more resources to chasing big fish like convicted tax cheat Wesley Snipes than the average middle-class taxpayer, that’s true. But the IRS is now using sophisticated software and data analysis that puts it in touch with taxpayers before the official audit process begins.

 “Now with automation and the electronic submission of W-2s and 1099s, the IRS just matches the information,” said David Kautter, managing director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University. “If you don’t report something, it is almost automatic that you’ll get a letter from the IRS.”

The agency reported it reviewed less than 1 percent of all tax returns in 2013, compared with slightly over 1 percent the prior year, continuing a downward trend. The average audit rate in 1996 was about 2 percent.

Individuals with income topping $10 million saw an audit rate of more than 24 percent, while the rates for people who earned between $25,000 and $200,000 never climbed above 0.77 percent.

But the audit rates are somewhat misleading.

The vast majority of taxpayers receive W-2 forms that detail automatically generated earnings from an employer, bank or other institution. All of that information is simultaneously transmitted to the IRS and stored digitally. Agency computers can quickly and easily check to make sure the taxpayer’s figures match those reported by their employer or bank.

If the numbers are off, the computer typically sends the taxpayer a letter telling them to settle up, all before the audit process formally begins.

Most people make an honest effort to pay their taxes — the IRS reported this year that more than 85 percent of taxpayers voluntarily comply with the law, a number that has been consistent.

That’s good news as the IRS has become responsible for carrying out major social programs, from Obamacare to tax credits to support low-income workers — all while Congress has been slashing the agency’s budget.

But the strains have forced tax officials to be more strategic.

“What’s happening over the years is that the IRS has relied more on systems and less on traditional audits so the audit effort can be focused on places where there are real issues,” said Edward Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and former chief of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation. “The IRS has been significantly underfunded relative to the number of burdens placed on it.”

Audits are no longer the backbone of tax enforcement. Instead, they’ve become a strategic tool to target taxpayers who are claiming big deductions — like wealthy people donating to charity and small businesses writing off expenses.

“Wage-earning non-itemizers, for instance, have precious little room for mischief while business owners make a variety of judgment calls that could conceivably be called into question,” said Robert Kerr, senior director of government relations at the National Association of Enrolled Agents, which represents tax agents.

The system has critics, including National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. The agency’s internal watchdog says that the increased reliance on automated letters means that the actual rate of IRS reaching out to taxpayers is actually closer to about 7.5 percent.

Olson has argued that these interactions exist in a middle ground of “unreal audits” that undermine a taxpayer’s right to challenge the assumptions made by the IRS. She also worries that low-income and middle-income taxpayers are most likely to be contacted automatically and the least able to afford representation to navigate the system.

But Kerr and many other observers point out that the IRS has very few options.

“We live in a world that values doing more with less, and you can sometimes do that until you reach the point where all you can do with less is less,” Kerr said. “It is a zero-sum game.”


Read more:


Hispanic And Latino Populations Have Grown In Nearly All U.S. Counties; What Does This Mean For Business?


A recent article in the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that Hispanic immigrants have grown to 27.3 percent of the population of Nevada in the last decade, growing to include immigrants from South American countries such as Chile, Colombia, and El Salvador in addition to Mexico.

This growth is led in part by an increase in economic opportunities. While the nation's Hispanic population is still majorly concentrated in the Southwestern United States, it continues to disperse across the United States. Hispanics on the whole tend to be mobile and a revealing statistic from the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project shows that the percentage of Hispanics who lived in the same counties across a 10-year period decreased. That trend continues as Hispanics spread across the country.

The report, written by Anna Brown and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center, says that while many counties across the country have experienced a decline in their Hispanic population, the majority of them experienced an increase, meaning that the Hispanic population is becoming more evenly spread across the nation: "Among the nation's 3,143 counties, 3,018 experienced positive growth in their Hispanic population, with the notable exception of NewYork County which has a Hispanic population of 410,681 and experienced a 2% population decline since 2000. Overall, 114 counties saw a decline in their Hispanic population between 2000 and 2011." This demographic shift is likely to continue in the next decade.

Latinos have been in the United States since the very beginning. In a Special to CNN, Ray Suarez explained: "Once upon a time, the Latino presence in the United States was largely a regional phenomenon, and outside the Southwest, a big-city one. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were concentrated in the border and Western states, with an outpost in the Great Lakes states; Cubans in South Florida and the Northeast; Puerto Ricans in New York and its suburbs. Certainly not exclusively, but the pattern was largely in place by World War II and remained that way for decades." Eventually, changes in immigration laws shifted the focus from Europeans to Latin Americans.

According to the same Pew report, 71 percent of the Hispanic population is currently contained within 100 counties. "Half (52%) of those counties are in three states-California, Texas and Florida. Along with Arizona, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, these eight states contain three-quarters (74%) of the nation's Latino population." Out of the three states that contain over half of the United States Hispanic population, more than one quarter of them live in California, accounting for 14.4 million people. Los Angeles County is the top-ranking county by Hispanic population, accounting for 4.8 million Hispanics or 9 percent of the United States Hispanic population. The next three largest counties by Hispanic population are Harris County, Texas, Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Cook County, Ill.

The report also says that immigrants from Latin American countries are the nation's fastest growing minority group, far outnumbering immigrants from all other countries: "According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), the Latino population in 2012 was 53 million, making up 17% of the U.S. population. Latino population growth between 2000 and 2010 accounted for more than half of the nation's population growth." A recent Nielson Company Newswire reported that new immigration gateways have enabled Latinos to form new populations in suburban destinations: "More and more Hispanics are also making the transition to the suburbs -- a contrast from their historical tendency to stay within city centers. Houston, a market where Hispanics make up 36 percent of the population-mostly within the city center-has seen its Hispanic population in the suburban city limits grow by 227 percent over the last decade."

The influence of Hispanics can be seen everywhere. CNN Opinion writer Chiqui Cartagena put it in perspective: "From the grocery aisle where you pick up your Corona beer and your dulce de leche ice cream, to the Billboard charts where Pitbull, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez routinely dominate, to the lunch you order at Chipotle or Panera or, in fact, at the great American fast feeder, McDonald's -- the Latino effect is everywhere. The media and both political parties now readily acknowledge that it was the influence of the Latino vote in the key swing states that got President Barack Obama re-elected last year." She also points out that the Latino baby boom and growing number of retirees will color the American political and economic landscape for the next half century. Hispanics make up nearly half of all millennials, for example.

Mexico and Puerto Rico are the two countries with the largest number of Hispanics in the United States. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans comprise the largest Hispanic origin groups in nine of the most Hispanic States in the United States: California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, Colorado, New Mexico, and Georgia. Mexicans account for 64.6 percent of the Hispanic population, despite not being the dominant Hispanic group in "Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island." After Mexico and Puerto Rico, the most represented countries are El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Spain.

Thirteen counties in the United States are already majority Hispanic, with the top two being Laredo, Texas and McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr-Mission, Texas, with Hispanics numbering 95.4 percent and 90.7 percent of their respective populations. The smallest counties by Hispanic population (out of the top 60) tend to be in the Midwest and Central East Coast, with the two smallest Hispanic counties being Detroit, Michigan and Baltimore, Md. in which Hispanics number 4.1 percent and 4.8 percent of their respective populations.

With Hispanics being such a driving force in the United States population today, this has ramifications for both the country's business and politics. Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis recently wrote that "Most U.S.-based firms have a significant corporate imperative to attract Hispanic consumers, given their tremendous demographic and economic importance. Some companies, such as McDonald's, Budweiser, and AT&T, are spending significant resources to gain market share with Hispanics and are making inroads." How can companies do this? According to Monica Gill, the Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations at Nielson Company, "Latinos are emerging as a powerhouse of economic influence, presenting marketers an increasingly influential consumer group that can translate into business impact.  The key is to recognize that today's modern Latino is 'ambicultural' with the ability to seamlessly pivot between English and Spanish languages and to embrace two distinct cultures. Understanding how to connect with this unique consumer profile will be key to successful engagement." The Hispanic population is the only area of growth that remains for domestic industries such as beverage, auto, and telecom, which have all maximized their market penetration.




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