Monday, April 28, 2008

The Slavery of Immigrants in Florida

I just finished watching a CNN video (April 28, 2008) on the slave labor conditions of immigrants working in Florida. Investigators say migrant workers enslaved in Florida have every movement controlled, and that they are not allowed to leave the space provided by the employer when they are done working. In other words, they are essentially prisoners of their employers. From the CNN video, it appears the immigrants are often beaten and maltreated as well.

What year is it anyway?? Can it really be 2008 in America? Or are we going backward so fast that we are too dizzy to recognize what is going on?

Section 1 of the 13th Amendment ratified by the 38th Congress on Dec. 6, 1865 states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

It appears that the draconian and repressive climate surrounding the issue of immigration in the US has contributed to this intolerable situation. Since the immigrants are illegal, and since we have not humanely fixed the immigration laws in this country, involuntary servitude programs flourish and the new forms of slavery remain hidden from the public eye.

Studies show that forced labor thrives in agricultural and domestic work, as well as in sweatshops or unregulated industries. Laurel Fletcher, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic was one of several authors of a 2004 report believed to be the first comprehensive study of forced labor in the modern United States. That study, by Free The Slaves and the Human Rights Center of the University of California at Berkeley, concluded that at least 10,000 people are forced laborers at any time across the United States.

The study concluded that forced labor victims came from more than 35 countries, with the most from China, followed by Mexico and Vietnam. It reported forced labor in at least 90 U.S. cities, most often in areas with large immigrant populations. The study concluded that prostitution and sex services accounted for 46 percent of the documented forced labor. Domestic service made up 27 percent, agriculture 10 percent, sweatshop factory work 5 percent and restaurant and hotel work 4 percent.

Just recently I saw another program on the booming and profitable sex slave business in the US where upon arrival the women are sold to pimps, drugged, terrorized, caged in brothels and raped repeatedly. Like immigrant workers, many of these women and young girls were looking for a better life, a chance to earn a living and support a family.

The Florida case reported above should create a call for reform. The Constitution should be enforced, and those caught employing immigrant or other workers under conditions that fit the description of slavery ought to be arrested and tried, and the workers themselves released and compensated.

Furthermore, we need an approach to immigrants that is genuinely compassionate and treats these people as workers trying to feed their hungry families rather than as criminals. We need a new approach that reverses the repressive police state trend of criminalization which provides the perfect shadowy climate for illegal slavery.

Our own CIA estimates 14,500 to 17,500 victims of slavery are trafficked into the United States every year. Slavery is profitable, and experts estimate trafficking in the US yields $9 billion dollars in profit every year.

Didn’t we fight a Civil War to end all slavery? Looks like the abolitionists lost. Nat Turner and William Lloyd Garrison must be turning in their graves.

Compassion: the First Casualty of War

It has often been said that “truth is the first casualty of war.” But there is another immediate casualty –compassion. In fact, compassion may even be the first casualty. Once the war machine has geared up, the propaganda disseminated, hatred of an enemy proclaimed, a culture of malice becomes a necessary ingredient. The enemy must be portrayed as a monster of inhumanity, as an Other with no legitimate grievances, as a dark irrational object that must be destroyed.
Hatred cannot ask the following questions. Why are they the way they are? What social conditions and circumstances are they responding to? Have we done anything that would explain their negative or hostile behavior toward us? These types of questions are forbidden once malice has taken over and compassion has been thrown out the window. Necessarily, truth goes out with it. I got a first-hand lesson in the spring of 2003 during a visit to New England.

Friends I grew up with and went to high school with were enthused about the war against Iraq. Knowing I was against the war, they taunted and provoked me. When I asked them if they cared that innocent civilians were being killed, one of them laughed and mocked me, asking “who cares about a bunch of “ragheads?”The truth was irrelevant - we had to kill the Arab ragheads.

Hatred of the “ragheads” seemed more important to him than the truth of whether Iraq actually posed a threat to America or had WMDs, or had anything to do with 9/11. All Iraqis were racially characterized and all had to pay collectively for the crimes of Saddam Hussein even if such collective punishment is in violation of the Geneva Accords. So far, because greed for oil and malice has indeed triumphed, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed and millions turned into refugees. Over four thousand Americans have also been killed, and the economic impact on American society has been devastating. And the war goes on and on.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize the war on Iraq, recently sounded another war cry on the morning of the Pennsylvania primary when she bragged to the world that she would nuke Iran if it attacked Israel. This statement of an acceptable genocide was treated with reverence by the media, even though it is far worse than anything ever uttered by the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Hillary Clinton was clearly pandering to the paranoia of pro-Israeli voters in the American 2008 elections.

But what she said was objectively horrible - that she was willing to nuke over 70 million Iranians to protect Israel, even if most of them had no impact or say on Iranian policy. Ironically, it came in the context of numerous US and Israeli threats to launch a pre-emptive militarily attack on Iran should it try to obtain nuclear weapons. This is surely a road to madness.

Israel, which has a significant modern nuclear arsenal and superior conventional weapons systems and air power, obviously wants to maintain its nuclear monopoly and has opposed Iranian proposals for a “nuclear free Middle East.” Iran knows it would be suicidal to attack Israel and has not attacked another country in the modern period, although it did defend itself when it was attacked by Iraq in the 1980s.

Yet these facts are irrelevant to Hillary Clinton. Her malice is obviously what triumphed. Once she demonized the Iranian “Other,” no level of violence could be ruled out. Under no circumstances could I vote for the mad bomber Hillary Clinton as President. She is obviously too desperately hungry for power and will say anything to get elected.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that compassion was the highest human virtue, and humanity’s greatest mystery. Compassion, Schopenhauer wrote, is “the sole source of disinterested actions and hence the true basis of morality.” Compassion overrides odious and arrogant self-assertion and fosters self reflection –what would I do, how would I behave if I was in their shoes? Is the Other’s behavior understandable given the circumstances? Should I intervene to help them, to alleviate their suffering? Should I protest those responsible for the unnecessary suffering? So speaks compassion. It is the opposite of malice which is based upon the desire to do harm to others.

Compassion is a form of wisdom that requires us to look outside the narrow shell of our self, our gender, our group, our tribe, our religion, our ethnicity, our race, our nation state, our civilization. It is a form of wisdom that tries to understand and alleviate the sufferings of others who are different. It is an antidote to boundless egotism, anger, and hatred. It involves a different type of enlightenment than the cold western enlightenment based on science, rationality, knowledge, and technology. Compassion is different from pity, since the latter is condescending and further diminishes the suffering victim.

I see very little genuine compassion for others expressed in America’s ruling strata or in the mass media. They are blinded by their craving for power, money, and oil. For many in the third world, America is “the land of no Buddha” in as much as it deliberately pursues policies that starve and harm others. Under American supported neoliberal economic policies, the gap between the rich and poor is growing as is hunger and poverty at home and abroad. We are creating, as author Mike Davis argues. A PLANET OF SLUMS where the oppressed and impoverished live in misery in the shadow lands of the American empire. This is why President Chavez of Venezuela is viewed as such a threat by American elites– he is practicing a politics of compassion by redistributing some of Venezuela’s oil wealth to help the poor.

We see little commentary in our mass media of the innocent Iraqis that have lost their houses or their lives as a result of the American Crusade and occupation. Many Americans just refuse to examine the violence or suffering brought about by the policies of their own government. This was true in the Vietnam era when it was rare to hear any concern expressed for the millions of Vietnamese who were being bombed and pummeled by American B-52’s. I saw more compassion expressed for animals then I did for the burned human victims of napalm. Animals certainly deserve compassion, but so do humans even if our greatest danger comes from other humans.

While it may be true that most human beings in most societies are a mixture of egoism, malice and compassion, I have met many dedicated people in the peace movement and other oppositional social movements in America that display genuine compassion that goes beyond caring for one’s own little corner of the social world. They are people who are trying to change society for the better, who are protesting the bombings, the torture, the occupations, the rendition programs, and opposing the general drift of American society towards authoritarian rule, militarism and war. And they often do it while making sacrifices in their personal lives. They represent a hope for humanity, a compassionate and peaceful humanity that is still waiting to be born.

Aggressive war, as we see in Iraq, is the antithesis of compassion and truth –it requires lies, acts of revenge and hatred to continue. It is a true crime against humanity. Certainly, it is important to analyze the structural, political, ideological, and sociological tendencies that gave rise to it. Yet without compassion for the suffering of others, especially those others who are different from us, it is unlikely that anyone will ever raise a finger or take a risk to stop it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Ever Happened to The Notion of A Public Good?
by Richard Nadeau

Recently, a long term public employee about to retire from the government told me: “I know from working on the inside that the effectiveness of Government is at its lowest level in my 30 years of service.” An American individualist who went into government in the name of “public service,” my acquaintance told me how depressing it was to watch the dismantling of the “public service” side of government during his career. In many ways, he is an old fashioned American - out of place precisely because he believed in working hard for “the public good.”

For years I worked for a faculty union in higher education as an “arbitration specialist.” It was my job to defend “academic and faculty rights” as they were defined in both the collectively bargained faculty contract and the University policy documents. Many of the difficult cases I worked on such as denial of retention, tenure or promotion, disciplinary actions, and allegations of age, racial, and gender discrimination, involved a complex hierarchical social setting with articulate and highly educated intellectual workers who were also employees.

Although the job was stressful I always felt that the faculty union was providing a public good by bargaining and enforcing a contract, defending faculty rights, and protecting academic freedoms. Giving people a “due process,” a right to be heard before a neutral arbitrator, was considered a public good. Today, this essential right of “due process,” the right to face and challenge your accusers and to be protected against arbitrary punishment, is under attack everywhere from Abu Graib to Guantanamo.

This notion of serving the “public good” has been under attack by a predatory corporatist and capitalist ideology called “neo-liberalism” for over two decades. The Republican Party, and its voice in the media, FOX NEWS, has been the chief sponsor of this frontal neo-liberal attack, although many Clinton Democrats have capitulated to it as well. “Neo-liberalism” is essentially a market fundamentalism that argues for the privatization of everything in order to reduce taxes for the rich and increase profits. In other words, less public revenues for the elderly and the poor, for public health ,education, and welfare, and more money for the deep silk pockets of the corporate millionaires.

The trend of reducing taxes along with public funds for health, education and welfare, has been central to the so called “Reagan revolution” since 1980. The Two Bush administrations have furthered the cause of this narcissistic neo-liberal empire, practicing what Naomi Klein in her book THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, calls economic shock therapy via "disaster capitalism.".

The defense budget also continued to grow alongside a gigantic private army (BLACKWATER), because the neo-liberal empire apparently needs endless war and “full spectrum” military dominance to maintain control of the world’s markets and natural resources. For many around the world, America is perceived as a tyranny that rules through fear and threats and punishes violently anyone who dares to be insubordinate to its “global interests.” Iraq is a showcase, an example of what happens to those who fail to comprehend that “what we say goes.”

The neoliberal shock troops want to privatize everything - our democracy, our culture, our health care, our educational institutions, our military, our work environments, and our food. And everything is in ruins! The entire American infrastructure is deteriorating, worn out, riddled with problems, and dysfunctional. Katrina showed us just how dysfunctional it has become. We can’t rescue a city in distress; we can’t even seem run a clean election anymore.

In the words of Ralph Nader: “Disintegration is everywhere. Public works are crumbling-schools, clinics, public transit, libraries, drinking water and sewage-treatment plants. Tax dollars are being used to destroy more of Iraq and to subsidize or bail out companies recklessly run by obscenely overpaid CEOs. Public deficits are soaring.”

Meanwhile, as everything deteriorates at home, corporate CEOs remain unaccountable and continue to rake in record amounts of money. Do we have to experience more ENRONs to make corporate America accountable?

America needs a new enlightenment where science, reason, the promotion of public service, the monitoring and regulation of corporate malfeasance, and a secular tolerance is a matter of public policy. We need a “truth movement “that is based on an American citizen’s right to know and receive accurate information. We need a politics where vacuousness is not treated as a virtue and intelligence a threat.

This would mean reforming our shameless corporate media that sold us the false bill of goods on the Iraq war, that continues to this day to be a mouthpiece for the Pentagonians and the Bush administration, and that continues to be a source of obfuscation, misinformation and disinformation instead of enlightenment. The complete “black out” of the antiwar efforts of the peace movement and the WINTER SOLDIER testimonies this mid-march only shows us how far we still have to go.

A new enlightenment would also entail creating a real democratic Congress that would hold the President accountable for failing to uphold the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We need a Congress that would have the courage and strength to impeach a President for waging a war of aggression, what the Nuremburg trials labeled a “crime against humanity.”

A new enlightenment should also have an eastern dimension of compassion and ecology focusing on our understanding of our connectedness and interdependence in a conditioned world. We have to find a way to live in this world together.

We also need to elect a Congress that would protect our civil liberties and our right to investigate facts and speak openly and critically. We need a Congress that would protect citizens from the kind of autocratic arrogance we have seen in Bush and Cheney.

So far we do not have such a Congress and the public opinion polls reflect it. To get such a Congress we would also have to have what Jim Hightower and COMMON CAUSE have called “clean elections” where all candidates receive no strings attached public funds to run their political campaigns. This would loosen the stranglehold that corporate money has had over the electoral process.

Currently, we live in a world run for profit by Washington, Halliburton, Exxon, Wal-Mart, Network News, and the Pentagonians. They are poisoning our world and our minds. They are destroying our hope. It is time to change, to reassert the notion of public good, and to take back our American society so that the politicians and private businesses work for us in a sustainable economy and a real democracy precisely “because people matter.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Pervasive Militarism Threatens American Democracy

It is a beautiful day in Sacramento. The freedom of wild wings, the flight of birds, bees, and butterflies blends with many colorful budding flowers to lift my spirits. It is difficult for me to believe that the world we live in is so fraught with violence and disaster. If it weren’t for my network of friends, my family, my wife, and my cats, it would be easy to lose my sanity and give up all hope for the fate of the planet and the foolish human species that seems determined to destroy it.

The news was dismal once again this morning. Associated Press reports that more troops will be sent to Afghanistan as part of an expanding counter-insurgency war effort there. Currently, we have 158, 000 American troops and over 100,000 American private contractors in Iraq. Another 30,000 soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan. The plan is to send thousands more to Afghanistan over the next year.

At the center of the violent whirlpool of the Middle East, the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks continue to flounder in the face of new Israeli settlement construction on the West Bank. Tensions mount in Lebanon threatening a new civil war, while Syria and Jordan struggle to accommodate the stream of millions of displaced Iraqi refugees fleeing into their countries. American supplied intelligence has helped Turkey bomb Kurdish sites in northern Iraq.

A greater violence threatens to erupt throughout the Middle East. Israel, for example, is talking about another military campaign against Hamas and Hezbollah. It is also threatening to attack Iran before it gets WMDs. Overall, it’s safe to say that the American Crusade in the region, with its state organized “terror from the skies,” the terrorist violence against Iraqi and Afghan civilians that comes from cluster bombs, B-52’s, and tomahawk cruise missiles, has destabilized the entire region and only beckons more “non-state” terrorist violence in response. Al Qaeda’s recruitment of new terrorists is up. Sadly, I see no end to this horrid cycle of violence in my lifetime.

The Bush administration has tried to sell the idea that “the surge” has been successful in Iraq, while Republican Presidential nominee John McCain talks about “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if it takes a hundred years. But there are signs that the whole devastated country of Iraq is likely to explode in violence independent of whether or not we leave. We should leave and try to get the international community to help forge a political settlement, but that is not in the cards. Our military occupation is unlikely to bring the peace.

The administration also continues its hostile rhetoric against both Venezuela and Iran, claiming the first is “a terrorist state,” and the second, already a designated member of the “axis of evil,” is building WMDs. While much of this may be rhetoric designed to alter behavior, there is not much evidence that either George W. Bush or pseudo maverick John McCain have learned anything from Iraq. With Israel pushing us for aggressive action, it is unlikely that either of the two Democratic Presidential contenders will be able to bring peace to the region. Once again progressives will be asked to vote for “the better of two evils.”

A Deeply Embedded Militarism

Like so many others, I see a pervasive and deeply embedded militarism in American life. Several recent scholarly works have reinforced that ominous perception.

Nick Turse’s book THE MATRIX: HOW THE MILITARY INVADES OUR DAILY LIVES, shows how the “unwarranted influence of the military/industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned against has expanded dramatically in American society sending its tentacles into every sector of the economy –the mainstream media, the university, the scientific community, the intelligence network, the entertainment industry, STARBUCK’s, the two dominant political parties, and the corporations, particularly the oil industry. The Department of Defense has gone from 22 thousand prime contractors in 1970 to 47 thousand in 2008. Many of these are big name retailers. Turse’s book follows a character named “Rick” through his daily life showing how dependent we all are on THE COMPLEX. Rick is against the war, but consumes numerous products that directly benefit the military/corporate complex. The pervasiveness of the military in /American life is amply demonstrated.

The “homeland security state” is also spying on Americans without warrant, detaining and torturing people without due process, and waging a continuous pre-emptive war against “terrorism” that has no clear objective, no boundaries, and no end. Naomi Wolf’s recent book, entitled THE END OF AMERICA: LETTER OF WARNING TO A YOUNG PATRIOT, has warned that we are moving to a new kind of fascism as our nation’s freedoms and civil liberties are being systematically dismantled and dissident speech criminalized. Wolf argues that America has already taken several steps toward fascism such as expanded surveillance, the development of paramilitary forces, the infiltration of citizens groups, the practice of Rendition and establishment of secret CIA “ghost prisons,” the arbitrary detention of citizens, increased press censorship, the open embrace of torture, and the targeting of key individuals to silence and make an example of.etc, etc. Wolf argues convincingly that we need a movement to save our democracy before it is too late.

In fact, much of this attack on our freedoms had been done in the name of the “war against terror” which in reality has been a “war of terror” as many civilians have died as a result of America’s attempt to bomb its way to an elusive victory against an ill defined foe that is found nowhere and everywhere. The ideology of endless war and of the need for increased national security has been woven into the very the fabric of American life in spite of the fact that polls show most Americans opposed to the war. Jeffery St. Clair, in his book GRAND THEFT PENTAGON, demonstrates the corruption and profiteering that accompanied the war on terror, how the manipulation of fear since the horror of 9/11 has been an essential ingredient of enhanced executive power and aggressive pre-emptive militarism. ST Clair shows how the Bush administration hired a team of marketing and PR executives to sell the war on terror to a compliant media and a panic stricken American public while at the same time refusing an offer by the Taliban to turn over Osama Bin Laden. Bush and his neo-con advisors wanted total war irrespective of the facts.

Andrew Bacevich’s THE NEW AMERCAN MILITARISM, argues that excessive militarism and a powerful defense establishment has become so deeply embedded in American society that elections will have no effect on it. Bacevich, a Vietnam Veteran, argues: “American militarism cannot be laid at the feet of a particular president or a particular set of advisors.” He adds that “no particular presidential election holds the promise of radically changing it.” Finally, Bacevich quotes James Madison who wrote in 1795: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midsts of continual warfare.”

This notion that American militarism is a threat to America’s Democratic Republic is one of the key themes in Chalmers Johnson’s book THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE: MILITARISM, SECRECY, AND THE END OF THE REPUBLIC. Johnson notes that we have over 700 American military bases around the world which allow for the projection of American military violence into every continent. He argues that both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are imperialist wars, and that America has become “a massive military power athwart an angry resistant globe.” Johnson sees imperialism and militarism as anathema to democracy. While he still has hope that our civil society is strong enough to reverse the trends, he concludes that at this late date “it is difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman Senate in the last days of the Republic, could be cleansed of its endemic corruption.”

While most Americans say they oppose the war, they don’t want to talk about it or lift a finger to end it. A “post-modern” lethargy and apathy is fed by the mainstream media which has created a literal blackout of antiwar news such as the recent testimony of American atrocities committed in Afghanistan and Iraq by the 2008 “WINTER SOLDIERS.” This apathy and sense of hopelessness is a poisonous acid eating away at the American social body. Meanwhile, Congress continues to fund the wars and write the Pentagonians a blank check to the tune of over five hundred billion a year as America prepares for new overt and covert wars (eg: Iran, Venezuela ?) and modernizes its nuclear arsenal in an effort to maintain its tottering empire.

Meanwhile, as the war drags on endlessly, the American economy is on the brink of bankruptcy with a financial and housing crisis causing serious hardship for thousands of Americans. Thousands have lost their homes and a majority of economists argue that we have already entered a recession. Some economists link the tailspin in the economy directly to the war, with cost estimates running as high as three to five trillion dollars before it’s all over. The war has boosted oil prices from 25 dollars a barrel to 110 dollars a barrel, and this has generated a wave of inflation throughout the American economy as higher gas and transportation costs are translated into higher costs for American consumers at the grocery store. Now the politicians are saying we don’t have enough money to maintain Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as they vote for increased military spending each year.

All of this is, frankly, rather depressing. It augurs a dismal and dark future for the American people. Our only hope is that a new social movement for real change will arise to take up the challenge of deconstructing the corporate “complex” and ending its militarism. Although the prospect of such a wide scale social movement developing soon seems bleak, I continue to hope. We have to save America from the dark authoritarian forces that are threatening to engulf it.

Meanwhile, when we can, we must take time to love and smell the flowers and not allow the Pentagonians and their empire to destroy our humanity. We have to risk standing up for our civil liberties and our right to dissent before it is too late, before there is nothing worthwhile to defend.