Sunday, July 27, 2008

Iowa's Apartheid

POSTVILLE, Iowa — When federal immigration agents raided the kosher meatpacking plant here in May and rounded up 389 illegal immigrants, they found more than 20 under-age workers, some as young as 13.
This is the way apartheid works. The government--whether by design or accident--creates a class of disenfranchised laborers without stable communities or a ligitimate means to complain about their conditions. Employers then exploit these workers with a rapaciousness that makes one wonder whether these employers recognized their victims as fully human.

In South Africa, the government set up Bantustans (similar to American Indian reservations) as permanent residences for blacks in unproductive areas where there were no jobs. The people who lived in these Bantustans would then seek employment in cities and mines where they had no legal status and were brutally exploited by their employers. South Africa's government and society thus maintained a highly mobile and vulnerable working class without access to legal remedies for employer wrongdoing in the workplace.

That seems to be the model in Iowa and the rest of the U.S. Labor agents and word-of-mouth stories inform Latin Americans that good-paying jobs are available in the U.S. But our immigration system is designed to deny most of these potential emigrants legal entry or status. So they enter and reside illegally. Then they go to work for outfits like Agriprocessors, Inc. This is what happens:

A Guatemalan named Elmer L. who said he was 16 when he started working on the plant’s killing floors, said he worked 17-hour shifts, six days a week. In an affidavit, he said he was constantly tired and did not have time to do anything but work and sleep. “I was very sad,” he said, “and I felt like I was a slave.”

Others said they were sexually exploited. One immigrant was blindfolded with duct tape and struck with a meat hook. As Elmer later explained to authorities, “They told us they were going to call immigration if we complained.” And that is how it works.

Get the whole story and listen to interviews.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Random Stuff

  • Treat yourself to a Lianga Diary (an exquisitely written diary from a coastal town in the Philippines).

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Bush administration plan to bolster Fannie Mae (FNM.N) and Freddie Mac (FRE.N) could cost U.S. taxpayers $25 billion, congressional analysts said on Tuesday in a report that triggered debate as Congress moved toward approving a major housing market rescue package.
That's like reimbursing the guy who stole your TV because he couldn't fence it.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Washington Mutual Inc, the largest U.S. savings and loan, posted a $3.33 billion second-quarter loss on Tuesday as souring mortgages forced it to set aside more money for loan losses. The thrift's deteriorating health prompted Moody's Investors Service to say it may downgrade Washington Mutual to "junk" status [emphasis added].

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Farming is the New Punk Rock"

Here's Joe at the Emily Street Community Farm in Houston. Staci Davis has more at radical eats.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Skeleton in Your Closet

At least one-fourth of all American families deal with some form of serious brain disorder. Liz Spikol tells it plain.

Liz Spikol is a senior contributing editor at the Piladelphia Weekly. She manages bipolar disorder with medication. This is her story about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). At eleven minutes, it is longer than the average Youtube clip but well worth the watch.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Phony War, Real Casualties

This is what happens when you militarize the border as part of a phony “war on drugs.”
The Ballad of Esequiel Hern├índez is a film that points out the risks of using the military as domestic law enforcement — a role that the military, under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, had been prohibited from taking. That changed in 1989, when the George H.W. Bush administration declared drug trafficking a "threat to national security" and authorized the deployment of thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexican border. In 1997, during the Clinton administration, Esequiel Hern├índez became the first American killed by U.S. military forces on native soil since the 1970 Kent State shootings. Shortly afterward, the administration suspended all military operations along the border. By January 1999, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a new policy allowing armed groups along the border but only with specific permission from the Secretary of Defense or his deputy. Several years later, in 2006, the George W. Bush administration announced plans to deploy as many as 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border as part of the war on terror and to stem illegal immigration. Find more details on the history of the military's role along the U.S.-Mexican border, please read the Background article in the Special Features section of this website.
Watch a clip.

The wall that is presently being built is likewise phony. In the first place, it will not stretch across the entirety of our 2000-mile border with Mexico. It generally cuts across the property of ordinary people and skips over the property of resorts, the rich and the well-connected. Furthermore, it turns out that most immigrants enter the country—whether legally or illegally—at ports of entry not across shallow portions of the Rio Grande. The wall frankly doesn’t keep many immigrants out. So, what is it for?

One purpose of the wall is to create the impression that the U.S. government is doing something about unauthorized immigration. I believe, however, that there is a deeper purpose. That purpose is to divide “us” from “them.” In the absence of an effective federal policy toward immigration, cities and towns Across the U.S. have been taking matters into their own hands by passing English-only laws, restrictions against renting to undocumented residents and tasking their police officers with customs enforcement. These local measures, however, seem to be directed not just at immigrants but as Hispanics in general. Texas, in particular, has a history of using English-only instruction as a legal basis for racial segregation in schools. In other words, local immigration law is the new Jim Crow.

This can be seen partly as a nativist backlash against demographic changes taking place in our land. Hispanics represent the most rapidly growing ethnic group in our midst, and this growth is reflected in a growing political, economic and cultural presence. Some Americans feel that they need to reassert a national identity they believe is under attack. They assume this national identity to be Anglo-Saxon and will protect that fiction with a fierceness reminiscent of those who believed African American voting rights would lead inevitably to blood in the streets. The wall is, among other things, a national symbol meant to reassure the native-born and non-hispanic that their vision of Anglo-Saxon national identity remains intact. But as the story of Esequiel Hernandez illustrates, phony wars can have real casualties.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Stock Market Disaster

Economist Dr. Ravi Batra, of Southern Methodist University, predicts a stock market disaster in about six months.

He argues that the stock market is in the midst of a historic decline due to an excessive reliance in the U.S. on foreign debt. This debt imbalance is causing the value of the U.S. dollar to fall, leading to rising oil and commodities prices as speculators move money out of dollar investments into commodities, such as oil and food.

Batra believes the federal government, under the Bush administration, will do everything in its power to prop up the market until after the November elections, which will be followed by a somewhat rudderless period during the transition to the new presidential administration. It is during the months between November and February, Batra says, the stock market will plummet.

Acccording to Batra, the predicted steep decline will fall particularly hard on those with fixed incomes and those whose retirement is tied up in private investment, much of which will be seriously depleted as the market falls.

So What?

Alan Greenspan and others have predicted that the recession we are now entering will be the worst since WWII. This is to say that it will be the worst since the Great Depression (but nobody wants to say the D-word). You can think of the Great Depression as a failure in two ways: a failed business model predicated on unregulated markets and vast income inequality; and a breach of the social contract. The unregulated markets of the Great Depression were mainly banks that were involved in a speculative stock market that crashed October 29, 1929. Investors couldn't meet their margin calls, banks couldn't meet their obligations to depositors, and about three-fourths of them closed precipitating a crisis of confidence in national institutions. Today's unregulated markets are the mortgage industry, hedge funds, and credit swaps. Income inequality in greater in the U.S. now than at any other time in history--much greater. Some call this a post-Fordist economy. The Ford plant in Dearborn Michigan was organized around the principle that the workers should be able to afford the cars they were building. When workers can no longer afford to buy the stuff they make, this is called a post-Fordist economy. That's where we were in the Great Depression, and we are really close to being there today. When workers can't afford to buy the stuff they make, that stuff doesn't sell. It collects in warehouses and so the retailers stop ordering from the factories. Then the factories slow down and start laying off workers. This results in even less buying power in the market and so forth. Globalization has spread this phenomenon across the globe, meaning that we now live in a global post-Fordist economy. Ouch!
Likewise, many people see the state of today's civil society as a breach in the social contract. The social contract, simply put, is this: government by consent of the governed. When over 70% of the people feel that the country is going in the wrong direction, that is a problem. When too much time passes without significant change, that is seen as a breach in the social contract. What happens next?
I guess that depends on us.