Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bush incompetence extends beyond Katrina

U.S. Isn't Getting Royalties From Big Oil
NEW YORK, Dec. 4, 2006
(CBS) Almost every time a company drills for oil or gas on federal property, it's supposed to pay a royalty or tax to the government, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports. But CBS News has learned from a Congressional source that the federal agency responsible for collecting billions of dollars in those royalties has routinely failed to hold the companies accountable.

According to the source, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) audits only about 20 percent of the companies. The rest of the time, the payments are made on the honor system. But the government agency "could not accurately count" its own oil and gas audits — and as a result, it has reported audits that never occurred.

"The Department of the Interior doesn't see itself as a watchdog. It sees itself as a lapdog for the oil and gas industry," says Rep. Edward Markey, D.-Mass.

In fact, in September Inspector General Earl Devaney delivered a withering indictment of ethics inside the Interior Department.

"Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior," Devaney said at the time.

He has also launched an investigation into MMS. The critical results are expected to be released this week.

The sense is that the MMS is just in bed with the oil and gas industry when it comes to accounting and auditing, but not everyone agrees.

"I don't see that, and there are a lot of checks and balances. including annual audits, so I'm pretty confidence the process works," says Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

The department says it's finding new ways to hold companies accountable. But that doesn't work for Democrats; they plan aggressive investigations come January.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Chomsky on Latin American Left and Asian Left

Historical Perspectives on Latin American and East
Asian Regional Development

By Noam Chomsky

There was a meeting on the weekend of December 9-10 in
Cochabamba in Bolivia of major South American leaders.
It was a very important meeting. One index of its
importance is that it was unreported, virtually
unreported apart from the wire services. So every
editor knew about it. Since I suspect you didn't read
that wire service report, I'll read a few things from
it to indicate why it was so important.

The South American leaders agreed to create a high-
level commission to study the idea of forming a
continent-wide community similar to the European Union.
This is the presidents and envoys of major nations, and
there was the two-day summit of what's called the South
American Community of Nations, hosted by Evo Morales in
Cochabamba, the president of Bolivia. The leaders
agreed to form a study group to look at the possibility
of creating a continent-wide union and even a South
American parliament. The result, according to the AP
report, left fiery Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,
long an agitator for the region, taking a greater role
on the world stage, pleased, but impatient. It goes on
to say that the discussion over South American unity
will continue later this month, when MERCOSUR, the
South American trading bloc, has its regular meeting
that will include leaders from Brazil, Argentina,
Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay.

There is one -- has been one point of hostility in
South America. That's Peru, Venezuela. But the article
points out that Chavez and Peruvian President Alan
Garcia took advantage of the summit to bury the
hatchet, after having exchanged insults earlier in the
year. And that is the only real conflict in South
America at this time. So that seems to have been
smoothed over.

The new Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed a
land and river trade route linking the Brazilian Amazon
Rainforest to Ecuador's Pacific Coast, suggesting that
for South America, it could be kind of like an
alternative to the Panama Canal.

Chavez and Morales celebrated a new joint project, the
gas separation plant in Bolivia's gas-rich region. It's
a joint venture with Petrovesa (PDVSA, Petroleos de
Venezuela, SA. Pronounced "pedevesa"), the Venezuelan
oil company, and the Bolivian state energy company. And
it continues. Venezuela is the only Latin American
member of OPEC and has by far the largest proven oil
reserves outside the Middle East, by some measures
maybe even comparable to Saudi Arabia.

There were also contributions, constructive,
interesting contributions by Lula da Silva, Brazil's
president, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and others. All
of this is extremely important.

This is the first time since the Spanish conquests, 500
years, that there have been real moves toward
integration in South America. The countries have been
very separated from one another. And integration is
going to be a prerequisite for authentic independence.
There have been attempts at independence, but they've
been crushed, often very violently, partly because of
lack of regional support. Because there was very little
regional cooperation, they could be picked off one by

That's what has happened since the 1960s. The Kennedy
administration orchestrated a coup in Brazil. It was
the first of a series of falling dominoes. Neo-Nazi-
style national security states spread across the
hemisphere. Chile was one of them. Then there were
Reagan's terrorist wars in the 1980s, which devastated
Central America and the Caribbean. It was the worst
plague of repression in the history of Latin America
since the original conquests.

But integration lays the basis for potential
independence, and that's of extreme significance. Latin
America's colonial history -- Spain, Europe, the United
States -- not only divided countries from one another,
it also left a sharp internal division within the
countries, every one, between a very wealthy small
elite and a huge mass of impoverished people. The
correlation to race is fairly close. Typically, the
rich elite was white, European, westernized; and the
poor mass of the population was indigenous, Indian,
black, intermingled, and so on. It's a fairly close
correlation, and it continues right to the present.

The white, mostly white, elites -- who ran the
countries -- were not integrated with, had very few
relations with, the other countries of the region. They
were Western-oriented. You can see that in all sorts of
ways. That's where the capital was exported. That's
where the second homes were, where the children went to
university, where their cultural connections were. And
they had very little responsibility in their own
societies. So there's a very sharp division.

You can see the pattern in imports. Imports are
overwhelmingly luxury goods. Development, such as it
was, was mostly foreign. Latin America was much more
open to foreign investment than, say, East Asia. It's
part of the reason for their radically different paths
of development in the last couple of decades.

And, of course, the elite elements were strongly
sympathetic to the neoliberal programs of the last 25
years, which enriched them -- destroyed the countries,
but enriched them. Latin America, more than any region
in the world, outside of southern Africa, adhered
rigorously to the so-called Washington Consensus,
what's called outside the United States the neoliberal
programs of roughly the past 25 or 30 years. And where
they were rigorously applied, almost without exception,
they led to disaster. Very striking correlation. Sharp
reduction in rates of growth, other macroeconomic
indices, all the social effects that go along with

Actually, the comparison to East Asia is very striking.
Latin America is potentially a much richer area. I
mean, a century ago, it was taken for granted that
Brazil would be what was called the "Colossus of the
South," comparable to the Colossus of the North. Haiti,
now one of the poorest countries in the world, was the
richest colony in the world, a source of much of
France's wealth, now devastated, first by France, then
by the United States. And Venezuela -- enormous wealth
-- was taken over by the United States around 1920,
right at the beginning of the oil age, It had been a
British dependency, but Woodrow Wilson kicked the
British out, recognizing that control of oil was going
to be important, and supported a vicious dictator. From
that point, more or less, it goes on until the present.
So the resources and the potential were always there.
Very rich.

In contrast, East Asia had almost no resources, but
they followed a different developmental path. In Latin
America, imports were luxury goods for the rich. In
East Asia, they were capital goods for development.
They had state-coordinated development programs. They
disregarded the Washington Consensus almost totally.
Capital controls, controls on export of capital, pretty
egalitarian societies -- authoritarian, sometimes,
pretty harsh -- but educational programs, health
programs, and so on. In fact, they followed pretty much
the developmental paths of the currently wealthy
countries, which are radically different from the rules
that are being imposed on the South.

And that goes way back in history. You go back to the
17th century, when the commercial and industrial
centers of the world were China and India. Life
expectancy in Japan was greater than in Europe. Europe
was kind of a barbarian outpost, but it had advantages,
mainly in savagery. It conquered the world, imposed
something like the neoliberal rules on the conquered
regions, and for itself, adopted very high
protectionism, a lot of state intervention and so on.
So Europe developed.

The United States, as a typical case, had the highest
tariffs in the world, most protectionist country in the
world during the period of its great development. In
fact, as late as 1950, when the United States literally
had half the world's wealth, its tariffs were higher
than the Latin American countries today, which are
being ordered to reduce them.

Massive state intervention in the economy. Economists
don't talk about it much, but the current economy in
the United States relies very heavily on the state
sector. That's where you get your computers and the
internet and your airplane traffic and transit of
goods, container ships and so on, almost entirely comes
out of the state sector, including pharmaceuticals,
management techniques, and so on. I won't go on into
that, but it's a strong correlation right through
history. Those are the methods of development.

The neoliberal methods created the third world, and in
the past 30 years, they have led to disasters in Latin
America and southern Africa, the places that most
rigorously adhered to them. But there was growth and
development in East Asia, which disregarded them,
following instead pretty much the model of the
currently rich countries.

Well, there's a chance that that will begin to change.
There are finally efforts inside South America --
unfortunately not in Central America, which has just
been pretty much devastated by the terror of the '80s
particularly. But in South America, from Venezuela to
Argentina, it's, I think, the most exciting place in
the world. After 500 years, there's a beginning of
efforts to overcome these overwhelming problems. The
integration that's taking place is one example.

There are efforts of the Indian population. The
indigenous population is, for the first time in
hundreds of years, in some countries really beginning
to take a very active role in their own affairs. In
Bolivia, they succeeded in taking over the country,
controlling their resources. It's also leading to
significant democratization, real democracy, in which
the population participates. So it takes a Bolivia --
it's the poorest country in South America (Haiti is
poorer in the hemisphere). It had a real democratic
election last year, of a kind that you can't imagine in
the United States, or in Europe, for that matter. There
was mass popular participation, and people knew what
the issues were. The issues were crystal clear and very
important. And people didn't just participate on
election day. These are the things they had been
struggling about for years. Actually, Cochabamba is a
symbol of it.

This is a lightly edited and excerpted version of Noam
Chomsky's December 15, 2006 talk to a Boston meeting of
Mass Global Action following a recent trip to Chile and

Noam Chomsky's most recent book is Perilous Power: The
Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on
Terror, Democracy, War and Justice.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Guest worker programs
TomPaine.common sense
December 21, 2006

No Way To Treat A Guest

By Alec Dubro

In an effort to get the explosive immigration issue off
the table, many liberal members of Congress are going
along with the re-creation of the guestworker status.
Surprisingly, and for the same reasons, a number of
Latino groups-such as La Raza and the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus-are also entertaining the idea,
although with conditions. Any guestworker program, said
the National Council of La Raza, 'must offer full
worker protections and rights.'

I don't believe that will work. Passage of any legal,
accepted guestworker program will redound to harm
American workers-citizens or not. The creation of a
permanent underclass of workers will remain a threat to
that layer of workers above them. And there won't be
any worker protections for either class.

For instance, in Darwin, Australia right now, there's a
controversy over guestworkers used as strikebreakers.
The striking workers are called trolley collectors,
which confused me until I recalled that trolleys here
are trams there, and trolleys there are carts. These
are the people who collect supermarket carts in the
parking lots. According to the Australian Broadcasting

Skilled migrants have been flown into the Northern
Territory's Top End shopping centres to replace
local workers who are striking over pay conditions.
Local collectors who work for the Sydney-based
Starlink International group have been on strike
since Friday.

Actually, the permanent workers were subcontracted to
one Karoom Trolley Services, who wouldn't pay them for
extra pre-Christmas hours. Instead, Karoom found
migrants-some with official skilled worker 457 visas,
some without-and paid some of them more than the
permanent workers. But the new workers are disposable,
used to make a point.

Contingent, occasional or undocumented workers present
an organizing problem for labor, but a large pool of
government-sanctioned Grade B workers is worse. In
Australia, all the employer had to do was think the
workers were legal and he got away with it. Labor gets
the message.

I'm not under any illusion that scrapping the
guestworker proposal will eliminate the threat of
strike-breakers. There are always some workers who are
greedy, ignorant or desperate enough to scab. But
creating a separate class of guestworkers divides
workers as surely as the color line once did.

This applies as well to the millions of undocumented
laborers who fill the low-wage jobs. Every
worker-that's every-deserves representation,
preferably in a union. By de-legitimizing huge groups
of workers, government and society ensure that here
will be a steady downward pull on wages. For too many
workers-and that's most of us-color, language or
immigration status come before equality as a worker.
That stand won't improve working conditions or wages.
Without a labor movement to stand up to employers, and
a government to stand behind the movement, capital will
find ways to get cheap labor-legal or not. But let's
not help them by branding some workers second-class.

Some of organized labor is falling for it, but not all.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said that guestworker
status sends a message to immigrant workers that
although 'their hard work is essential to the
prosperity of our nation, they deserve no better than a
perennial second-class status.'

Actually, some Italian anarchist, whose name escapes
both me and Google, said it better: 'You must pull him
up or he will surely pull you down.'

For another look at the subject, check out Amy Traub's
TomPaine article, The Guest Worker Gamble (March 23,


Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Justice Deported

Justice Deported
Tuesday’s immigration raids on meatpacking plants weren’t about curbing identity theft, they were about union-busting.
By David Bacon

In 1947, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the crash of a plane carrying Mexican immigrant farm workers back to the border. In haunting lyrics he describes how it caught fire as it flew low over Los Gatos Canyon, near Coalinga at the edge of California's San Joaquin Valley. Observers below saw people and belongings flung out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, falling like leaves, he wrote.

No record was kept of the workers' identities. They were simply listed as "deportee," and that became the name of the song. Far from being recognized as workers or even human beings, Guthrie lamented, the dead were treated as criminals. “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves."

Some things haven't changed much. When agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested over a thousand workers in six Swift and Company meatpacking plants on Tuesday, they too were called criminals. In Greeley, Colorado, agents dressed in SWAT uniforms even carried a hundred handcuffs with them into the plant.

The workers, they said, were identity thieves. Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokesperson, told reporters outside the slaughterhouse there that "we have been investigating a large identity theft scheme that has victimized many U.S. citizens and lawful residents." ICE head Julie Myers told other reporters in Washington, D.C. that "those who steal identities of U.S. citizens will not escape enforcement."

Not everyone fell into the ICE chorus.

In Grand Island, Nebraska, site of another Swift plant, police chief Steve Lamken refused to help agents drag workers from the slaughterhouse. "When this is all over, we're still here," he told the local paper, "and if I have a significant part of my population that's fearful and won't call us, then that's not good for our community." In Greeley, hundreds of people, accompanied by the local priest, lined the street as their family members were brought out, shouting that they'd been guilty of nothing more than hard work.

ICE rhetoric would have you believe these deportees had been planning to apply for credit cards and charge expensive stereos or trips to the spa. The reality is that these meatpacking laborers had done what millions of people in this country do every year. They gave a Social Security number to their employer that either didn't belong to them, or that didn't exist. And they did it for a simple reason: to get a job in one of the dirtiest, hardest, most dangerous workplaces in America. Mostly, these borrowed numbers probably belong to other immigrants who've managed to get green cards. But regardless of who they are, the real owners of the Social Security numbers will benefit, not suffer.

Swift paid thousands of extra dollars into their Social Security accounts. The undocumented immigrants using the numbers will never be able to collect a dime in retirement pay for all their years of work on the killing floor. If anyone was cheated here, they were. But when ICE agents are calling the victims criminals in order to make their immigration raid sound like an action on behalf of upright citizens.

ICE has not, of course, accused the immigrant workers of the real crime for which they were arrested. That's the crime of working.

Since passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, hiring an undocumented worker has been a violation of federal law. Don't expect Swift executives to go to jail, however, or even to pay a fine. The real targets of this law are workers themselves, who become violators the minute they take a job.

Arresting people for holding a job, however, sounds a little inconsistent with the traditional values of hard work supported so strongly by the Bush administration. It makes better PR to accuse workers of a crime that sends shivers down the spines of middle-class newspaper readers, already maxing out their credit cards in the holiday rush.

The real motivation for these immigration raids is more cynical. The Swift action follows months of ICE pressuring employers to fire workers whose Social Security numbers don't match the agency's database. These no-match actions have been concentrated in workplaces where immigrants are organizing unions or standing up for their rights.

At the Cintas laundry chain, over 400 workers were terminated in November alone, as a result of no-match letters. Cintas is the target of the national organizing drive by UNITE HERE, the hotel and garment workers union.

In November also, hundreds walked out of the huge Smithfield pork processing plant in Tarheel, North Carolina, after the company fired 60 workers for Social Security discrepancies. That non-union plant is not just the national organizing target for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Smithfield has also been found guilty repeatedly of firing its employees for union activity, and threatening to use their immigration status against them. When workers at Emeryville, California's Woodfin Suites tried to enforce the city's new living wage law, Measure C, they too were suddenly hit with a no-match check.

It's no accident that workers belong to unions in five of the six Swift meatpacking plants where this week's raids took place. ICE's pressure campaign recalls the history of immigration enforcement during previous periods when anti-immigration bills were debated the U.S. Congress, as they were this year.

Before 1986, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted months of high-profile workplace raids, called Operation Jobs. INS used the raids to produce public support for the employer sanctions provision later written into the 1986 immigration law.

In 1998, the INS mounted a huge enforcement action in Nebraska, also targeting meatpacking workers, called Operation Vanguard. Mark Reed, then INS District Director in Dallas, was open about its purpose -- to get industry and Congress to support new bracero-type contract labor programs. "That's where we're going," he said in an interview at the time. “We depend on foreign labor. If we don't have illegal immigration anymore, we'll have the political support for guest workers."

Today, ICE and the Bush administration also have an immigration program they want Congress to approve. Once again they want new guest-worker schemes, along with increased enforcement of employer sanctions.

This fall, appealing to right-wing Republicans, the administration proposed new regulations to require employers to fire workers listed in a no-match letter, who can't resolve the discrepancy in their Social Security numbers. Employers like Cintas and Smithfield now claim anti-union firings are simply an effort to comply with Bush's new regulation, although it hasn't yet been issued.

At Swift, the administration is sending a message to employers, and especially to unions: Support its program for immigration reform, or face a new wave of raids. "The significance is that we're serious about work site enforcement," threatened ICE chief Myers.

After six years in office, ICE's choice of this moment to begin their campaign is more than suspect. It is designed to force the new Democratic congressional majority to make a choice. The administration is confident that Democrats will endorse workplace raids in order to appear "tough on illegal immigration" in preparation for the 2008 presidential elections. In doing so, they will have to attack two of the major groups who produced the votes that changed Congress in November -- labor and Latinos.

Since 1999, however, the AFL-CIO has called for the repeal of employer sanctions, along with the legalization of the 12 million people living in the United States without documents. One reason is that sanctions are used to punish workers for speaking out for better wages and conditions. Unions serious about organizing immigrants (and that's a lot of unions nowadays) have seen sanctions used repeatedly to smash their campaigns.

But unions today also include many immigrant members. They want the organizations to which they pay their dues to stand up and fight when government agents bring handcuffs into the plant.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers at Swift, did go into court on the day of the raid, asking for an injunction to stop the deportations and to guarantee workers their rights to habeas corpus and legal representation.

But labor will need to do more than that. Unions and immigrants both need a bill that would mandate what they've advocated since 1999 -- the repeal of employer sanctions. Workers without visas would still be subject to deportation, but enforcement wouldn't take place in the workplace, where sanctions deny basic labor rights to millions.

The administration and Republicans in Congress wouldn't like that, nor would conservative Democrats. Reps. Rahm Emmanuel and Silvestre Reyes, even want sanctions beefed up. But Democrats and labor must make a choice. They can defend the workers, unions and immigrant families who gave them victory in November (voting Democratic 7 out of 10.) Or Democrats can, as they have so often done, turn their back in another triangulation sacrificing their base.

They can join the government's chorus calling these workers criminals. Or they can recognize them as the human beings they are.

David Bacon is a California photojournalist. His latest book, Communities Without Borders (Cornell University Press, 2006) documents immigrant communities, including those employed in the Swift plant in Omaha.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pinochet : hate and violence

Pinochet simbolizó una época de odio y violencia: Bachelet
13/12/2006 14:29
Santiago. La presidenta de Chile, Michelle Bachelet afirmó este miércoles que la muerte del ex dictador Augusto Pinochet simboliza la partida del referente de una época en la cual el país vivió un clima de divisiones, odio y violencia.
En un breve mensaje desde el presidencial Palacio de La Moneda, la gobernante descartó que Chile comience una nueva etapa con el fallecimiento de Pinochet ya que ésta inició con el retorno de la democracia en 1990, cuando finalizaron 17 años de dictadura.
Para la mandataria, "es claro, sin duda, que con la historia que Chile tiene (con más de tres mil muertos durante la dictadura) los dolores persisten por mucho tiempo", pero dijo que la mayoría del país quiere seguir construyendo el presente y un futuro mejor.
Bachelet se refirió en duros términos al discurso pronunciado la víspera durante las exequias de Pinochet por un nieto del ex dictador que es capitán del Ejército y que lleva el mismo nombre de su abuelo, al considerar que el mensaje fue "una falta gravísima".
"En la ceremonia (fúnebre de Pinochet), un oficial, saltándose la línea de mando, sin autorización para hablar, irrumpió expresando opiniones políticas en contra de un poder del Estado y de sectores de la sociedad civil, Esto constituye una falta gravísima", aseveró.
Sostuvo que el Ejército "sabrá hacer lo que corresponde" y aplicar al capitán Augusto Pinochet Molina una sanción de acuerdo con las leyes, la Constitución y los reglamentos de la institución castrense.
Pinochet Molina afirmó durante el funeral el martes, con uniforme militar, que el ex dictador fue "un hombre que derrotó en plena Guerra Fría al modelo marxista que pretendía imponer su modelo totalitario no mediante el voto, sino más bien derechamente por el medio armado".
El capitán del ejército, un ingeniero politécnico que presta sus servicios en la Jefatura Informática, consideró además que su abuelo y su familia fueron "vejados por jueces que buscaban más renombre que justicia" en los múltiples procesos judiciales que afrontó Pinochet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pinochet and Chile

Soccer on Chile's killing field
Watching a 1995 match at Chile's National Stadium, where in 1973 the Pinochet regime imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of dissidents.
DAVE ZIRIN is the author of "What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States."

December 12, 2006

IN 1995, I went to Chile's National Stadium to watch a soccer match. Soccer was something I neither enjoyed nor understood, but the game was hardly on my mind; instead, it was the arena.

I was 20 years old and had come to Chile to study. I also hoped to meet some of the surviving allies of leftist President Salvador Allende, who had been toppled in the 1973 coup by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. I didn't care that the team Colo Colo was playing Universidad de Chile, a squad affiliated with the college until 1980. I didn't understand why security police were everywhere, or why someone threw a flaming brick at me as I walked to the cheering section for La U, as the Universidad team is also known.

All I could think of was: My God! This is National Stadium, where the bleachers were once filled with dissidents of every stripe after the coup, a mass waiting room for those about to be executed or tortured. This is where women were raped for the crime of wearing pants.

And it was at nearby Chile Stadium where the great Victor Jara — the Bob Dylan of Chile and a political activist (or was Dylan the Victor Jara of the U.S.?) — was murdered by the Pinochet regime. Jara's fingers were mutilated in front of thousands of other prisoners. He attempted to sing songs of resistance, his hands bloody stumps, only to be gunned down as people in the stands tried to join him in chorus.

I didn't want to be near these places any more than I would want to watch a baseball game at Auschwitz.

By 1995, Chile had existed uneasily as a nominal democracy for four years. Yet there had been no reconciliation and no reckoning for the victims of the Pinochet era. Pinochet's rule led to the deaths or disappearances of nearly 3,200 people and the torture of thousands more. Yet no one had answered for these crimes. The general, as a condition for stepping down from power, had been allowed to rewrite the constitution to make him and his cohorts immune from prosecution. And he was also still in charge of the army.

Now Pinochet is dead, never forced to take residence in the cage he so richly deserved. But as a Chilean friend e-mailed me after Pinochet's death: "In Chile, we have always known the truth about this evil man. It does my heart well that jail was his immediate future, and that he knew it." This is right. Any public humiliation Pinochet received at the end was the result of a movement of ordinary folks who never gave up. If the cheers for La U back in 1995 offered even a shard of support to those who felt their cause was just, then it was worth every last exquisite shout.

Mexican government takes prisoners in Oaxaca

Mexico Leftist Leader Joins Oaxaca Protest

Monday, December 11, 2006
A leader of Mexico's largest leftist party led thousands of protesters in a march to the center of this historic city on Sunday, demanding the resignation of the state governor and the withdrawal of thousands of federal police.

Shouting "Freedom for political prisoners!" the demonstrators also called for the release of more than 200 people arrested in the six-month-long conflict in Oaxaca that has shattered the local economy and left at least nine dead.

Leonel Cota, president of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party or PRD, marched at the front of the demonstration alongside his party's lawmakers and Oaxacan protest leaders.

The protesters _ a broad front of leftists, students and Indian groups _ accuse Gov. Ulises Ruiz of rigging his election in 2004 and of sending armed thugs against his opponents.

They took over the center of Oaxaca for five months until thousands of federal police drove them off in clashes in October and November.

The PRD has become increasingly involved in the Oaxaca conflict after keeping its distance for months. Last week party leaders took up the cause of protest leader Flavio Sosa, who was arrested in Mexico City, calling him the first political prisoner of recently sworn-in President Felipe Calderon.

The PRD claims Calderon's victory over its candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in July was fraudulent and refuses to recognize him as president.

On the La Jornada site there is a link to La Otratele, a video interview. Family members tell the stories of sons and daughters taken to prison in Nayarit.
Duane Campbell

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stop Government Repression in Oaxaca

Oranize to Help Stop Widespread Government Repression in Oaxaca

In May 2006, Oaxaca’s state-wide teachers’ union initiated a strike and non-violent occupation of the city center, demanding better pay and work conditions, as well as improvements to the state’s educational infrastructure. At dawn on June 14, state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (popularly referred to as URO) sent in state police to violently break up the ongoing, peaceful teachers’ protest. The brutal police action, which included the firing of tear gas from helicopters onto the crowd below, sparked widespread indignation and outrage in many Oaxacans. The repressive tactics backfired resoundingly, and teachers had retaken the city center by nightfall, pushing back the police—mostly through the forces of their numbers and determination.

More importantly, the violent police action sparked a widespread, broad-based, non-violent popular movement. URO has awakened a sleeping giant—thousands of students, housewives, small business owners, workers, professors, professionals, campesinos, intellectuals and artists have come together to demand the governor’s resignation. And they have formed the People’s Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO), made up of at least 350 different civil organizations working in arenas of indigenous issues, sustainable community development, human rights and social justice. They are working to build a transparent, inclusive, participatory political system—true democracy from the grassroots.

Since the conflict began more than 5 months ago, 17 people have been killed, including U.S. journalist Brad Will, shot in the chest by plain-clothed police while videotaping their attack on a neighborhood barricade defended by people sympathetic to the popular movement. On November 9, leaders of the People’s Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO) publicly asked local leaders of the Catholic Church to provide safe refuge after receiving death threats.

The situation in Oaxaca has become increasingly volatile and violent with hundreds of activists, human rights leaders and community organizers arrested, disappeared and killed. The state sponsored repression as executed by the Federal Police to control a social movement on the rise such as the APPO is a clear example of how the practices taught at the SOA/WHINSEC are put into practice.

We encourage you to take action in your community, find out about local events in solidarity with the people of Oaxaca by checking your local Indymedia, El Enemigo Comun, or the Oaxaca Solidarity Network.

Join the call for solidarity actions on December 22nd, take part in an existing event or organize your community for non-violent protests at your nearest Mexican consulate demanding an end to government sponsored violence and repression in Oaxaca. Published by SOA Watch.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Walls, Amnesty, and False Choices

Walls, Amnesty, and False Choices

Sameer Dossani | November 29, 2006
Foreign Policy In Focus
The national immigration debate largely is split between two camps.

The first "anti-immigrant" camp notes that the number of undocumented workers has shot up in recent years, perhaps to as many as 10 million, and claims that these people are taking jobs and using services that should belong to "Americans."

The other, "pro-immigrant" camp notes that these "illegals" wouldn't be here unless they were being hired for jobs that no one else is willing to do, and claims that therefore they should be allowed to stay and some form of legalization, possibly amnesty, should be accorded to them.

Both of these positions address an extremely narrow question (namely, what do we do with "these people"?) and both fail to ask the primary underlying questions: why are these people coming here in the first place? Will there be more of them? Why do they continue to come?

It may not be possible to comprehensively answer these questions, but let's take note of the obvious: in the U.S. the majority of undocumented immigrants are coming from Central America and Mexico. Equally obvious is that this is an area of the world that has been almost completely under the influence of U.S. foreign policy since at least World War II, and possibly since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. After all, the U.S. has militarily occupied numerous countries in Latin America, among them Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, as well as a long and brutal occupation of an Asian country, the Philippines. Not coincidentally, the largest Asian immigrant population in the U.S. comes from the Philippines. Among the more sordid examples of early U.S. military interventions is the 1854 destruction of an entire Nicaraguan city, San Juan del Norte, allegedly to avenge an insult to an American dignitary.

Policies Favor Big Companies

Perhaps not so obvious to us, but certainly very clear to those who live through it is the fact that in all of these places, U.S. supported governments and companies have put into place policies that greatly favor the interests of the rich and big companies, often companies based in the U.S., over the interests of everybody else.

To give only one of many examples, in the 1950s the U.S. orchestrated a coup against the elected government of Guatemala. Its major crime: taking back some of the land that the Cincinatti-based United Fruit company had been given by the Spanish empire. Though it offered compensation to the company, this wasn't enough for then U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who ultimately succeeded in his arguments for U.S. intervention.

There were two results of that intervention. The first was to return land to United Fruit and to reduce its tax burden and that of all international companies significantly. The second result was to plunge Guatemala into a bloody 36-year-long civil war. When Guatemala finally came out of this in the mid 1990s, it was a complete wreck and it continues to be one of the most impoverished countries in the Americas.

Towards the end of that war, the International Monetary Fund moved in to basically make irrelevant the issues which were on the table in the 1950s. Like structural adjustment programs anywhere, these programs relied on a number of policies designed to take resources away from wherever they are, commodify them, and turn them into profits for the few at the top. So right now a U.S./Canadian company is involved in a mining project which would not be possible without IMF backed land privatization, that threatens to displace thousands of mostly indigenous people, and in so doing possibly create a mini-civil war. Trade liberalization and export oriented policies have meant that farmers are forced to grow coffee, even though coffee prices are low and have been dropping since the mid-1980s, while the country imports grain in order to feed its population. While one would expect life to be getting better for the average Guatemalan since the end of the civil war, the standard of living has gone down for much of the population. Malnutrition, infant mortality and poverty rates are going up and life expectancy rates are going down.

The Appeal of El Norte

Faced with this situation, what are the choices before an average Guatemalan? Well, either you tough it out as best you can, growing coffee or trying to find work in the city, or you leave for El Norte. The same El Norte that you know to be the cause of policies that gave you these grim options in the first place.

Guatemala is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest (after Haiti) in the hemisphere, but this situation will be all to familiar to the average Salvadoran, the average Nicaraguan, the average Dominican as well as to the average Congolese, the average Ghanaian, the average Filipino, the average Indonesian, and so on. In all of these places, neoliberal hyper-capitalist policies are causing a global wave of migration hitherto unknown in human history.

What does this mean for us in the U.S.?

First of all, the idea that people come to the U.S. to "steal" jobs or services is incomplete at best and at worst is simply propaganda. Most of the people who come here do so because they have little choice.

It's worth bearing in mind that there is another kind of foreigner, one who does not come here at all except perhaps to visit or to take up a highly specialized middle class profession. These are the immigrants no one has a problem with because they come here legally. Under H1B visas, they work in software development companies, or biotech companies or even in the U.S. government. But for the most part they do not leave their countries of origin, preferring instead to remain part of an educated and fairly well-off elite in their country of origin.

The difference between the Mexican working for Microsoft on an H1B visa and the Mexican who looks for work every day at the day labor center cannot be understood in terms of nationality. It is a difference of class.

In order to understand that difference, we must be willing to do a class analysis. Such an analysis categorizes people and the communities they come from based not on nationality, which is what the immigration debate in the U.S. is all about at the moment, but on how they live their lives, on their work and on their level of income.

Global Underclass

At the most superficial level, such an analysis reveals that the world we live in consists of at least three classes: the first is a massive underclass, which includes a significant number of U.S. citizens. Those who live on less than one dollar a day, or those who lack access to clean drinking water or access to basic healthcare and education, or those who live in homeless shelters in New York or in Mexico city are all members of this underclass.

The second set of people is a global middle class. These are folks who have access to basic services, who may be somewhat mobile in that they can take their vacations in Florida or in Bali, Indonesia, and who by and large are the university professors, the managers, the technocrats, the knowledge producers, and so on.

The last and by far the smallest set of people are those who represent a global upper class. Though this group of people is almost too miniscule to be seen in terms of population, they are the ones controlling most of the wealth. According to the latest data analyzed in the Economic Policy Institute's State of Working America, in 2004 the richest 5% of the U.S. population controlled 58.9% of U.S. wealth. In contrast, the poorest 40 percent of the population together controlled only 1.2% of the wealth. These figures are bad enough, but in many developing countries, which have been forced to adopt the U.S. economic model, they are likely to be much worse.

The numbers tell a terrible story: a very small number of people in the world are getting much richer at the expense of the majority of the world's population. Getting back to the question of why immigrants are flooding in, it is not that the U.S. is doing things so well that "those people" want to come over to take "our" jobs and "our" services. They come because of a bleak reality: it is better to be a member of the global underclass in the U.S. than to be a member of that underclass in Guatemala or in Mexico or in the Philippines or in Cameroon.

Policy Alternatives

The solutions on the table in U.S. policy include border-hugging walls, amnesty, and the tightening or weakening of immigration restrictions. These are all band-aid solutions. There is no wall high enough or strong enough to hold back the millions of people that our foreign policy has helped condemn to poverty.

Meaningful solutions will instead address the rising inequality and injustice that is the root of the problem, whether here or in countries from which immigrants are coming. Some possibilities:

1) Get rid of the IMF. The International Monetary Fund effectively makes economic policy for countries around the world based on its own outdated market fundamentalist economics which perpetuate global inequality and the violence of poverty. These policies have been acknowledged by many governments, including the government of Great Britain, to be unsuccessful even when it comes to what they're supposed to do. This needs to stop. Decisions about Ghana's economic policy should be made by Ghanaians, not by Washington, DC technocrats.

2) Un-do NAFTA. It has now been twelve years since the implementation of the North America Free Trade Agreement. During this time, the investors' rights provisions of NAFTA, which allow foreign companies to sue governments who do not allow "equal treatment," have been used as a weapon by U.S. companies to ensure them access to the Mexican market, usually at the expense of developing viable Mexican industries. At the same time, the threat of "exporting jobs to Mexico" has allowed companies to keep their wages low, and is part of the reason that there has been only one increase in the Federal minimum wage in the twelve years since NAFTA came into effect. NAFTA has been an attack on workers and the poor both here and in Mexico.

3) Implement wealth redistribution and home and don't block it abroad. In many ways, the situation we are in now is similar to where we were in the late 19th century. Then, "robber barons" were making millions while everybody else had to work for pennies to survive, leading to huge and sometimes violent clashes between workers and police. By the time the Great Depression came about, it was understood that this kind of a society would be unworkable, and therefore a system of progressive income tax (meaning you tax rich people more) coupled with social services (meaning ordinary people get something out of those taxes) was promoted as a method of wealth redistribution. In the past three decades, we have moved away from this system, by reducing taxes for the wealthy and simultaneously reducing public spending on social services. We need to move back towards this system.

At the same time, the IMF conditions have by and large ignored the development of a national tax-base for these kinds of purposes. In some places where taxes have been proposed on industries that have been under-taxed, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo's diamond industry, the IMF has effectively vetoed this option. Similarly nationalization programs aimed at redistribution in Bolivia, Chile, Iran and elsewhere have been opposed, sometimes with force, by the U.S. government. Until the U.S. stops promoting policies that enrich a few while impoverishing millions, wave after wave of immigrants will trade in one kind of poverty for another, less brutal kind of poverty.

And what if the U.S. were to embrace policy alternatives, to allow meaningful pro-poor development in Africa, Latin America and Asia? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the tide would indeed stop and some may even choose to return to their country of origin. After all, there's no place like home.

Sameer Dossani is Director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S Network for Global Economic Justice in Washington, DC and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. His parents immigrated to the United States from war-torn Bangladesh in 1971.

Recommended citation:
Sameer Dossani, "Walls, Amnesty, and False Choices," (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, November 29, 2006).

Web location:

Thoughts on a Strategy

Thoughts on Strategy

By Ted Glick

Future Hope column, Dec. 3, 2006

It is instructive to think about a few key differences
between where the country and the progressive movement
are at right now, several weeks after the 2006 mid-term
Congressional elections, and where we were at the same
time after such elections in 2002.

Four years ago, the Bushites were getting their ducks
in a row moving towards the invasion of Iraq. The mass
media were overwhelmingly complicit in allowing that
invasion to happen by their parroting of the
government's positions about "weapons of mass
destruction" and other lies and half-truths. Congress
had voted in October to give Bush the political cover
he needed for his pre-emptive war, although close to
30% of Senators and Congresspeople had voted "no," a
larger number than political pundits had expected.

On the Left, debate had begun to open up about what
should be done to get the Bushites out of office. Some
of those who had supported Ralph Nader and the Green
Party in 2000 were beginning to publicly urge Nader/the
Greens to forego a Presidential campaign so that we
could all unite to get Bush out of office behind
whomever the Democrats chose and to try to influence
that choice.

Today, four years later, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are
seriously weakened. Their anticipated quick and easy
war has now gone longer than U.S. involvement in World
War II, and the U.S. is losing. Rumsfeld is gone, Bush
is at 31% in the polls, Cheney is in the low 20's, the
Republicans are seriously divided and Congress is in
the hands of the Democrats.

As far as Presidential politics, the big thing of the
moment is Barack Obama, preaching the need to overcome
the "red/blue" division, reach across political
differences and find the ways to "move forward together
as Americans." At the same time, non-progressive voices
like Thomas Friedman and Lou Dobbs have been writing
and speaking, from different standpoints, about the
need for a Reform Party-type, "middle-class"
alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. And
recent articles have reported that there is a
noticeable increase in the number of people who are
registering as independents.

Within the progressive movement, there's been almost no
debate so far that I've seen over the question of what
should be done or who might be progressive Presidential
standard bearers to get behind, whether as Greens/third
party or within the Democratic Party.

It seems to me that this combination of political
realities--a very weakened Bush/Cheney administration,
broad discontent at the grassroots with both
corporate-dominated parties and less vitriol among
progressives over the third party question--provides
some very real openings over the next two years, and
beyond. We can take some big steps forward as far as
the cohering and strengthening of a consciously
progressive, grassroots based, independent political

One very concrete manifestation of these improving
possibilities is the development of the U.S. Social
Forum movement, building towards a gathering of an
expected 20,000 or more people in Atlanta, Ga. in late
June, 2007 ( And its
significance is not just in the large numbers being
projected. The U.S. Social Forum is of note because
much of the leadership for this effort is being
provided by grassroots organizations rooted in
low-income communities and communities of color, those
most affected by the ravages of global corporate
policies. Two well-attended regional social forums have
already been held, in the Southeast and the Southwest
(not New York and California), indicating in a very
real way that this is something new and important
emerging on the U.S. progressive scene.

Strategizing is part of what will go on at the U.S.
Social Forum. The third party question and what to do
in 2008 will certainly be part of the discussion. But
this is, ultimately, only one of a number of possible
tactics in our arsenal. It seems to me that there is a
need to look for other kinds of campaigns, approaches
to building a massive issue-based movement that can
unite people who may have differences on the strategy
and/or tactics of Presidential politics but who are in
agreement on issues and who agree that we should aim to
have a political impact in 2008, present a common front
to the country.

Over a year ago I was in discussions with some people
about the idea of an organized campaign of town
meetings convened for the purpose of discussing and
developing an up-from-the-grassroots people's agenda on
issues. I continue to think that this is a good idea.
What if, leading up to and emerging out of the Atlanta
Social Forum, a broad cross-section of groups agreed to
work together on such an effort, raising the funds,
recruiting well-known speakers and musicians willing to
travel, organizing a network of local grassroots-based
groups and coalitions, putting together a skeletal
initial draft of some possible planks in a people's
agenda to help focus local town meetings? Then, as the
Presidential primary debates begin in the fall of 2007,
we can be out there with our effort, building up steam
and engaging more and more people, with the ideas
emerging out of our campaign washing over, potentially,
into both the Democratic (and even Republican) primary
debates as well as the Green Party's process of moving
toward its decision. And, just as importantly, we will
be about the process of continuing to bring together
the potentially powerful, organized national political
force that rejects corporate politics-as-usual as it
puts forward its emerging vision of an alternative.

It is true that another world is possible; indeed,
another world is emerging out of the misery and
oppression of the present. Let's step up our efforts
here in the belly of the beast to advance as quickly as
possible toward that new world!

Ted Glick works with the Climate Crisis Coalition
( and the Independent
Progressive Politics Network ( He can be
reached at or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield,
N.J. 07003.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Calderon takes oath

Calderón takes oath as Mexico's president
By James C. McKinley Jr.
The New York Times
It was not pretty, and it lasted only four minutes, but Felipe Calderón, the new president of Mexico, managed to take the oath of office in Congress on Friday, while leftist lawmakers whistled and catcalled and the losing leftist candidate staged a huge protest march down the central avenue of this capital.

Calderón and members of his conservative National Action Party overcame attempts by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party to block the entries to the Congress. With his own partisans crowding the dais, the new president and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, were spirited in by bodyguards through a door near the front of the chamber at 9:50 a.m.

Calderón quickly took the oath of office, and Fox handed over the traditional presidential sash and left the chamber.

Never before in modern Mexican history has a president been sworn in under such chaotic and divisive conditions. After three days of sit-ins, fisticuffs and pushing matches broke out between rightist and leftist lawmakers as they jockeyed for position in the chamber before the four-minute ceremony, with leftists trying to obstruct the entranceways and the conservatives protectively ringing the dais and podium. Opposition politicians blew whistles and held up banners suggesting Calderón was "a traitor to democracy."

The courts determined that Calderón, 44, won the election on July 2 by about 240,000 votes out of 41 million ballots cast. But his rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has insisted that the official results were tainted and has never conceded defeat.

Calderón's term of office began at midnight, and for legal reasons the incoming president is usually sworn in privately at the presidential residence at that time, with the oath later taken again at a public ceremony at the Congress. This year, the departing Fox administration took the unprecedented step of broadcasting the private midnight swearing-in live. Shortly afterward, Calderón spoke on national television, urging lawmakers to "respect the Constitution" and let the public ceremony go forward without disruption.

"I don't ignore the complexity of the political moment we are living, nor our differences," he said. "But I am convinced that today we should put an end to our disagreements and, from now on, start a new chapter that has as its only objective to put the national interest above our differences."

His call went unheeded. Just before the public swearing-in, López Obrador held a mass rally in the city's historic central square, Constitutional Plaza, attracting more than 100,000 supporters. Then he led a march down Paseo de la Reforma toward the National Auditorium, where Calderón spoke Friday afternoon.

There, the new president called again for Mexico to move past the divisive presidential race and to focus on the economy and to combat kidnappings and drug violence, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking to his supporters, López Obrador charged once again that the election was fraudulent and that Calderón's victory had been engineered by a "neofascist oligarchy." He claimed the "imposition" of Calderón as president amounted to a "coup d'état."

He also hinted that he and his party might resort to violent protests in their efforts to "defend democracy."

"We don't want to generate problems, but they have to understand for once and for all, we are going to defend the democracy of this country," López Obrador said. "We have always acted in a responsible manner, but understand me well: Everything has its limit."

In Congress, the left and right seemed as entrenched as armies in World War I after the donnybrooks and yelling matches of the morning, boding ill for any agreements on important changes the country needs to remain competitive.

In the end, the conservative legislative leaders were successful not only in getting Calderón to the podium, but also in ensuring that dignitaries like former President George H.W. Bush, who represented the United States, were able to attend.

The raucous behavior of the leftist lawmakers provoked strong reactions.

"The Democratic Revolution Party should lose its party registration because they don't respect institutions," said Héctor Larios, the Nation Action Party leader in the Chamber of Deputies. "We have put a stop to the continual threats and extortions of the PRD," he said, adding, "We cannot respect people who don't respect institutions."

But the leftists, for their part, continued to lob verbal grenades at the new president, suggesting that his refusal to accept a recount in the general election had pushed the country to the brink of a revolution. "Felipe Calderón does not enjoy legitimacy in his position, even when he has the law on his side," said Senator Carlos Navarette of the Democratic Revolution Party. "Calderón's government has started its rule by throwing matches everywhere, on dry straw."

A Copyright © 2006 The International Herald Tribune |
See posts below for video.

Calderon siezes power : part two

Today's demonstration in Mexico City.