Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Racist War On Immigrants

The Racist War on Immigrants - by Stephen Lendman

Emma Lazarus' memorable words on Lady Liberty's pedestal once had meaning as a new nation grew. No longer in a country hostile to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the homeless and many others not making the grade in a white supremacist Judeo-Christian state worshiping wealth and privilege. No welcome sign is out for the unwanted poor and desperate. At best, they're ignored to subsist on their own. At worst, they're scorned and abused, exploited and discarded like trash or labeled "terrorists" in a post-9/11 world of mass witch-hunt roundups aimed at Muslims because of their faith or country of origin and Latinos coming north to survive the fallout from NAFTA's destructive effects on their lives.

Immigrants of color, the wrong faith or from the wrong parts of the world are never greeted warmly in "America the Beautiful" that's only for the privileged and no one else. They're not wanted except to harvest our crops or do the hard, low-pay, no-benefit labor few others will do. The ground rules to come were set straight away in our original Nationalization Act of 1790 establishing the first path to citizenship. It wasn't friendly to the wrong types as permanent status was limited to foreign-born "free white persons" of "good moral character," meaning people like most of us - our culture, countries of origin, religion and skin color.

Left out were indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, native Americans being exterminated, and later Asians and Latinos whose "appearance" wasn't as acceptable as the whiteness of English-speaking European Christian settlers and the mix of others from Western European countries like Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. The law scarcely changed for 162 years until the 1870 15th amendment loosened it enough to include blacks by 1875, no longer slaves but hardly free and in 1940 gave Latin Americans the same right. After the war in 1945 it extended it further to Filipinos and Asian Indians. Original native Americans, whose land this was for thousands of years, only were enfranchised and given the right of citizenship in their own land when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 after most of them were exterminated in a genocidal process still ongoing, never mentioned in the mainstream, and for which no redress was ever made or likely will be.

The 1952 Immigration and Nationality (McCarran-Walter) Act (INA) only grudgingly did what no law before it allowed. For the first time it made individuals of all races eligible for citizenship but imposed strict quotas for those from the Eastern Hemisphere with different standards for caucasians from the West. But nothing is ever simple and straightforward in "America the Beautiful." In the early Cold War atmosphere of Joe McCarthy's communist witch-hunts, anyone accused of leftist sympathies could be targeted, and any alien so-tagged could be deported, and like today no evidence was needed.

From the INA to the present, immigration laws kept changing for better or worse, but one thing was constant. White Christian Western Europeans are welcomed. Others, especially people of color or the wrong religion, get in grudgingly in lesser numbers and receive unequal or harsh treatment when they arrive. The 1996 Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)proved it showing Democrat presidents can be as mean and nasty as Republicans, especially with help from a Republican-controlled Congress.

The 1996 acts were ugly and repressive ignoring the rights of due process and judicial fairness. They allowed Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents to detain legal immigrants without bond, deport them without discretionary relief, restrict their access to counsel, bar them from appealing to the courts, and can be applied for even minor offenses little more than youthful indiscretions. These laws under a Democrat president "feel(ing) our pain" showed no more compassion or equity than later ones under George Bush in force today. They allow no second chances and deny targeted legal immigrants their day in court. Their harshness tears apart families unjustly made to suffer by a nation hardening its stance to the wrong kinds of immigrants. They're sent an unwelcome message now much worse in the age of George Bush with his permanent wars on the world and homeland "terrorists" meaning anyone called that on his say alone.

It started post-9/11 with the 2001 USA Patriot Act even harsher in its updated Patriot Act II version. Enacted to combat "terrorism," it's done on the border with more guards to spot, detain, arrest and incarcerate Latinos entering the country for a way to survive. For being undocumented and on the pretext of being suspected "terrorists," they may be indefinitely detained or deported the way it works under any despotic national security police state. It's even worse for Muslims, 5000 of whom were rounded up and held early on with only three of them ever being charged with an offense. And it got far worse for them after that still ongoing.

Today, federal immigration courts can hold secret hearings for anyone here illegally or charged with a law violation, no matter how minor. Those convicted can then be incarcerated or deported to their country of origin often to face arrest and torture. It's now open season on anyone targeted with legal protection no longer shielding innocent victims Justice Department (DOJ) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) go after. They includes poor and desperate mostly undocumented Latinos from Mexico and Central America coming el norte because NAFTA, CAFTA and other neoliberal unfair trade agreements called "free" destroyed their ability to earn a living at home leaving them no other choice but come north or perish.

It shouldn't be that way, and promises were made early on that "free trade" lifted all boats with higher wages and more jobs. Instead millions of jobs were lost while real wages fell under the effects of a globalized market system crafted for investor elites to profit at the expense of ordinary working people paying the price. They've been devastated since by a sustained massive wealth transfer to the top of the economic pyramid that in the US alone has been a generational process of well over $1 trillion annually to corporations and the richest 1%.

For the past 13 years, NAFTA and the rest of globalized trade provided cover for imperialism on the march for power and profit. It prospers from economic and shooting wars of conquest with an engineered race to the bottom driven by giant predatory corporations allied with friendly governments in their service at the expense of ordinary working people paying the price. The result - mass and growing poverty, human misery, and ecological destruction great enough to threaten the ability of the planet to sustain life.

Blame it on the globalized market system. It's the main reason millions around the world are on the move each year as reported by the International Labor Organization. In 2005, the number reached an estimated 200 million fleeing poverty and conflicts, often leaving families behind, heading for developed countries for jobs and safety unavailable at home.

The toll South of the Border alone after 10 years of NAFTA was devastating on Mexico's poor and getting progressively worse.

-- Real wages down 20% and the wealth disparity between rich and poor far greater than in 1994 (NAFTA's first year).

-- Two - three million small farms now gone with Research Director Raul Hinojosa of the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA predicting 10 million small farmers will eventually be forced off the land, many heading north in desperation.

-- Mexico's banks, railroads, airlines, mines and other industry sold off to foreign investors, mainly US ones with possible plans under the new Calderon government to sell off the country's crown jewel - Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-owned national oil company up to now kept free from Big Oil predators itching to get their hands on the company and now may have their chance.

-- Two million hectares of tropical forest turned over to private developers displacing many thousands of people to make way for "development" and clear-cutting forests.

-- Crushed homegrown industries unable to compete against subsidized US giants like behemoth Wal-Mart (Wal-Mex) now the country's largest private employer and biggest retailer in Latin America.

The Message to Immigrants On Our Southern Border - No Vacancy, or Enter As Indentured Servants with No Rights

Post 9/11, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was passed establishing the repressive Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and in March, 2003 its largest investigative and enforcement arm - the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) charged with protecting the public safety by identifying and targeting "criminal" and "terrorist" threats to the country, most of whom, in fact, are just desperate people whose NAFTA-ruined lives at home force them el norte to survive.

ICE was established to head them off at the border or hunt them down ruthlessly once here. It's comprised of four integrated divisions with responsibilities over the nation's infrastructure, economic security, transportation system and the subject of this essay - policing our southern border with Mexico going after people the color of the earth victims suffering for what we did to them by our made-in-Washington trade and other unfair economic policies. So the gloves are off, anything goes, and ICE is free to rampage with its large share of DHS's total budget now up to $43 billion, heading for $46.5 in the president's submitted FY 2008 budget.

On the Homeland Security web site, ICE openly boasts about what it should be condemned for. At FY-end 2006 on October 30, it listed what it called "historic results (and) new records for enforcement activity" including:

-- Total work site arrests sevenfold greater than in FY 2002.

-- Ended the former practice of "catch and release" ICE called "the greatest impediment to border control." It substituted the harsher practice of catch and incarcerate or catch and deport - or hound, threaten, catch, brutalize, incarcerate, then deport victimized people who'll try again to survive.

-- Removed a record high number of 186,000 "illegal aliens" and increased its detention bed space by 6300 to a FY-end total of 27,500 with an average daily number of incarcerated or detained immigrants up to 26,000 since July and rising.

-- Increased the number of "fugitive operations teams" nationwide from 18 to 50 charged with locating, apprehending and removing "criminal aliens" meaning alien victims called criminals. Through its Operation Return to Sender, ICE arrested 14,356 aliens and deported 4716 of them from May 26 to September 30, 2006. ICE intends having 75 teams operating by end of FY 2007 to up the numbers considerably which they'll do.

-- Created a national center operating at all ICE detention facilities to deport "criminal aliens" when released from incarceration. Most will be back.

-- Completed a record high number of "arms and strategic technology" investigations by doubling the number of personnel assigned to do them and by implementing new electronic data entry procedures to track immigration "violators" and "fugitives."

-- Claimed it dismantled the large Colombia Cali drug cartel to stem illegal narcotics trafficking while failing to acknowledge other US agencies, most notably CIA, have a long sordid history of drugs trafficking worldwide as an important revenue source with CIA now partnered with Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan (among others around the world) having turned the country into a narco-state, according to a UN report, supplying 92% of the world's opium used for heroin.

-- Conducted financial investigations of human smuggling and other immigration related cases resulting in asset seizures of $42 million or double the amount gotten in FY 2004.

-- Through its Operation Community Shield arrested 3700 since February, 2005 including 2290 suspected "gang members."

-- From worksites, arrested 716 workers (and a few employers getting mere wrist slaps) on "criminal" charges and 3667 individuals on "administrative" charges - a sevenfold increase in total arrests from FY 2002.

-- Worked with Department of Justice (DOJ) in document and immigration benefits fraud cases resulting in 235 investigations, 189 arrests and 80 convictions.

-- Expanded its partnership with state and local authorities training 40 state and county law enforcement officers as part of the 287(g) program of immigration enforcement with additional partnerships to come.

ICE listed a disturbing array of other FY-end 2006 "achievements" involving enhanced intelligence gathering and analysis; targeting "national security threats;" detecting, tracking and arresting visa violators; "enhancing border security;" targeting transnational gangs, human smugglers and sexual predators; targeting money launderers and others committing financial crimes while granting de facto immunity to large US banks, including major international money center ones, known to launder drug money as one of their major profit centers; and much more.

DHS/ICE Billions for the Border

With a budget increased by 50% over five years ago, DHS/ICE has billions to use guarding our borders from "dangerous" poor people. Ignored is that those working here pay billions more in federal, state and local taxes for performing services (in jobs others don't want) than they get back in meager benefits like sub-standard education for their children in inner city or other public schools and inadequate health care when they're sick.

Still they come from need, not choice in a risky, dangerous journey starting with what it costs for help getting here. It's plenty extorted by Coyote smugglers and other predatory intermediaries treating them like pollos (chickens) once on their way north. They get crammed in trucks and cars, travel after dark, and aren't prepared for the hazards they'll face including 115 degree or higher summer temperatures crossing an unforgiving desert that end up killing hundreds each year from exposure who when found are just anonymous John Does leaving families behind never knowing what happened or what to do next.

And handling those risks depends on getting past heavy DHS/ICE border security in place post-9/11. They're ready and waiting with video cameras, state of the art motion sensors, infrared goggles, other security electronics and helicopters with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) scopes plus an unforgiving thuggish army of 6000 or more National Guard troops as part of Operation Jumpstart. They supplement the Border Patrol agent staff of 12,349 heading for 17,819 proposed for FY 2008, double the number it had in FY 2001.

Add to this army an extremist well-funded volunteer force in place called the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) or "Minutemen" for short. Their name comes from those "ready in a minute men" dating back to the mid-1600s when volunteers were trained to be first on the scene to defend their communities in case of conflict. Today's Minutemen on our southern border are for offense, not defense. All they defend is white supremacy and racial hatred against poor, desperate people unable to survive at home. Left no other choice, they come north, but doing it pits them against these ultra-hard right volunteer paramilitary thugs licensed to kill. They man the southern border by the thousands hunting down and terrorizing anyone caught entering the country without visas.

They're supported by other anti-immigrant hate groups and organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR, not to be confused with the noted media watch group using the same acronym standing for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting). The racist FAIR is lobbying Congress for repressive immigration legislation that will deny Latinos and others coming here basic civil and human rights by stepping up harsh border security, increasing Gestapo-like crackdowns against those already here, and giving predatory corporations the right to exploit the ones allowed in or manage to come anyway. The fate of millions of honest, hard-working immigrant families depends on exposing and stopping the kind of work these groups do and what they stand for.

In spite of them and all the other hazards they face, and word gets back about them, the courageous poor keep coming for a better life to support their families usually left behind desperate for whatever aid their loved ones can send back. No amount of manpower, security and technology in place can stop them. Those caught and sent back try again, eventually circumventing the obstacles against them on a near-2000 mile long border, all of which can't be patrolled. But that takes them into the harshest stretches of desert many each year never leave. And still they come, risking everything, tens of thousands each year, their numbers growing as NAFTA and neoliberal market-imposed rules leave them no choice - head north or perish.

Congressional Reform or Deform in 2007

Things could change if trade was fair, not unfair, under made-in-Washington one-way "free trade" rules legalizing unfairness, especially in areas like agriculture so crucial to millions of small farmers in developing countries like Mexico forced off the land unable to compete against heavily subsidized US agribusiness. But carrots aren't on the legislative docket in Congress, only assorted sticks in the stalled compromise immigration bill providing no relief the way things are progressing so far in both Houses.

So-called "immigration reform" stalled last year after the House passed the repressive HR 4437 Sensenbrenner bill, The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Act of 2005, in December, 2005. It was a law only racists and hatemongers could love. It galled, or embarrassed, enough senators to clean it up some and pass S 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act or Hagel-Martinez bill last May. It was still bad enough to create a permanent underclass of low-paid workers, allow employers the right to exploit them, place restraints on wages and benefits, and create a nightmarish multi-tiered bureaucratic structure for temporary partial legalization leaving out of the mix millions of undocumented workers already here and delaying citizenship for those eligible for almost two decades.

Workers, most unions and others for immigrant rights oppose this bill, but shamefully it's supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE representing hotel, food service, apparel, textile and gaming industries with both unions sacrificing their members' rights for whatever the leadership gets from collaborating with employers and Washington.

Proposed Immigration Legislation Includes A New Bracero Program

New immigration legislation proposed in Congress leaves in it most of the harsh measures in S 2611 including a new temporary or guest worker plan with shades of the infamous Bracero Program in force from 1942 - 1964. It created a system of indentured servitude ongoing to this day, even after its official end, with an army of serfs with no rights giving employers the legal right to exploit over 4.6 million Mexican migrant farm workers. They were denied basic rights; got only temporary, low-wage jobs; often were cheated out of pay earned; held in virtual captivity by employers seizing their documents; denied the right to change jobs freely; forced to live in squalid conditions; denied medical care or benefits for injuries received; forced to endure severe harassment and oppression from employers knowing they could ship braceros home whenever they complained too much about what they had plenty to complain about. It happened in 1954 when a recession triggered a political backlash against Mexican communities resulting in the deportation or flight of over one million Mexican migrant workers and their families under Operation Wetback including children born here as US citizens.

Today, 120,000 foreign guest workers receive temporary H-2 visas established under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 for farm and other low-skilled work (H-2A for farm and H-2B for the rest), usually for three to nine months, under conditions similar to the former Bracero Program under which they were mistreated and cheated on entry, while here and on the way out in a cycle of abuse sure to be repeated if a George Bush-style guest worker program becomes law. Even professional workers are harmed under the H-1B program assuring they, like non-professionals, are marginalized and mistreated under a system where employers control everything, and workers are just indentured servants with no choice but to take it or leave it and go home.

Immigrant rights groups oppose the legislation, and the National Alliance for Immigrants' Rights wants full legalization for all immigrant workers in the country and a halt to all raids and deportations - provisions not in the compromise bill and unlikely to be added. Fear of arrest haunts the undocumented at a time when terrorism in the news trumps immigrant worker rights, especially Latinos (and Muslims) getting none.

That came out in a scathing Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report based on thousands of guest worker interviews and dozens of legal cases documenting appalling abuses of vulnerable immigrants unable to get redress. SPLC's Immigrant Justice Project director, Mary Bauer, said: "Guest workers are usually poor people who are lured here by the promise of decent jobs. But all too often, their dreams are based on lies, their hopes shattered by the reality of a system that treats them as commodities. They're the disposable workers of the global economy." SPLC president Richard Cohen added: "The mistreatment of temporary workers in America today is one of the major civil rights issues of our time."

New Senate and House immigration bills will soon be debated including bipartisan legislation unveiled March 22 in the House by Latino Democrat Luis Gutierrez and Republican Jeff Flake. Sadly, it's little more than the usual "same old, same old." In this case, it's largely a rehash of last year's stalled S 2611 bill that rightfully is sure to mobilize immigrants' rights groups against it. It proposes a repressive guest worker bracero program with provisions allowing those qualified to get three year visas renewable for another three years after which workers would be forced to go home. To be eligible, immigrants would have to learn English, pass criminal and security checks and pay back taxes ignoring the fact that most all undocumented workers already pay taxes, give far more than they get back, and are honest hard-working people.

To get a green card then and be eligible for future legal residency (only for those arriving before June 1, 2006), they'd then have to go home (under the so-called "touch back" provision) and start again. They'd also have to pay a $2000 fine and prove to authorities they're model material enough to qualify to stay here. More than half the bill is even more repressive. It contains harsh provisions for stepped up DHS/ICE (paramilitary) border security above what's now in place with more manpower and a multi-billion dollar high-tech border surveillance "shield" now under construction. Other provisions include a mandated biometric system employers must use to verify workers have legal status while overall this bill, like the others from both Houses, contains a corporate wish list at the expense of undocumented Latino immigrants it wishes to exploit. In short, it's appalling and will surely be opposed on the streets en masse around the country in the spring and summer.

This proposal and others will be on the docket in both Houses for debate in coming weeks with final resolution planned for late spring or summer unless protest opposition delays it again or defeats it. Neither House version improves much over what stalled legislatively last year, and only mass civil rights protests like the historic ones in dozens of cities last spring have a chance to do it or find a way for real immigration reform benefitting people, not the special interests exploiting them with help from Congress and the administration.

Support for continued exploitation is driving the political process, even from unexpected places showing how long the odds are for legislative justice. It's coming from the National Council of La Raza, "the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States (working) to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans." NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics in and outside the country. It was founded in 1968 by noted labor organizer, community leader and author Ernesto Galarza who wrote about braceros being "indentured aliens" and prototypical "production (men) of the future" stripped of all political and social rights in what he called an "input factor" to suck worth from and discard. He and labor leaders like Cesar Chavez and others all campaigned to end the program.

His organization today, under President Janet Murguia, is now an apologist for corporate America lobbying for braceros at home like the ones they exploit around the world in a global race to the bottom affecting working people everywhere. In a February 11 Washington Post op-ed piece, she wrote her "organization and many (unidentified) Latino leaders (support) a significant new worker visa program as part of comprehensive immigration reform." Incredibly, Ms. Murguia denounced the original bracero program for its abuses while advocating a new version of the same thing now. It's no surprise because NCLR also supported NAFTA before it passed opposing US and Mexican labor and community-based organizations against it at the time for all the damage it would do now apparent.

The new guest worker program NCLR supports, in proposed House and Senate legislation, will embrace all the faults of its bracero predecessor. It will create a large desperate, defenseless immigrant workforce vulnerable here to the same kinds of abusive exploitive practices corporate giants inflict on their overseas workers - denying their right to organize, receive fair wages and benefits or be guaranteed basic civil and human rights everyone should have by law. These rights can only come through legislation guaranteeing all immigrants permanent legal residency, a fairly defined path to citizenship, and provisions for family members to immigrate so they all can be together.

Immigrant and other civil rights groups also need to lobby and protest for repeal of the 2006 Deficit Reduction Act denying immigrants the right to receive Medicaid that's also harming tens of thousands of poor US citizens having trouble complying with new requirements. They include showing passports or a combination of an original or certified copy of a birth certificate and driver's license proving their legal status in the country. This is another example of the Bush administration's racist war on Latinos and the poor with Congress going along in a long-term bipartisan effort to roll back the country's social safety net till nothing in it remains. It's time human, civil rights and other progressive organizations of all stripes mounted a combined effort to fight back, no longer being willing to see the social state destroyed in service to wealth and privilege at the expense of society's most vulnerable that includes the immigrant population giving America back much more than it receives and now getting even less.

They may also have to take on another potential opponent - the nation's oldest and best known environmental group, the Sierra Club founded in 1892 by noted naturalist writer and wilderness preservationist John Muir, that's up to now been neutral on immigration but no longer. It's leadership split on the issue with one side called Support US Population Stabilization (SUSPS) focusing on population control that includes restricting immigration to preserve the environment. So far, there's no resolution and internal debate continues, but it needs watching as it's a slippery slope from advocating responsible world population growth to one focusing on US immigration that always means those of color, the most vulnerable, and mainly desperate and impoverished Latinos forced here by made-in-the-US predatory trade and other neoliberal policies leaving them no other choice. That should be the Sierra Club's target, not the innocent victims of bad policies coming here to survive them.

In the Meantime - Terror Raids in the Workplace Continue

Workplace assaults targeting immigrants continue as part of a generational war on labor including the right of workers to organize and bargain on equal terms with management. They're also part of the Bush administration's campaign for a government-controlled (exploitative) new bracero guest worker program explained by DHS secretary Michael Chertoff's message (through the media) to Congress for the need for "stronger border security, effective interior enforcement and a temporary-worker program (because) businesses (needing) foreign workers....can't otherwise satisfy their labor needs (so government must help out with) a 'regulated' program." He also told reporters in Mexico City February 16...."total immigration reform (addressing) migrants is actually an enforcement enabler because it lets us focus more on the people that we don't want....criminals and dangerous folks" - racist code language aimed at Latinos. It's meant to sanction DHS/ICE detentions and deportations and allow employers the right to abuse and fire Latino workers on any pretext as part of an endgame strategy, Operation Wetback-style.

The plan is a shocker. It's to mass-remove an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants by 2012 while allowing others under captive contacts to stay as exploitable guest workers. This was what immigration reform legislation was all about in 2006 to be repeated when debate begins again in both Houses and a final bill emerges showing both parties support corporate interests and will affirm their right to exploit all working people, starting with guest workers. Part of it includes Chertoff and ICE assistant sectretary Julie Myers unleashing a paramilitary-style reign of terror against so-called illegals or undocumented immigrants in the workplace aimed at easy-to-target Latinos. Both parties want to assure businesses have a large exploitable documented temporary worker pool they can use as needed, abuse as they wish, underpay, deny benefits and above all use as a wedge to destroy organized labor and the rights of all working people in the country.

This is what the racist war on immigrants is all about. It's to empower employers by creating a workplace of unempowered serfs including US citizens with few or no rights or job security at the mercy of business to hire and fire at will and treat their employees as they wish written into the law of the land. It's to create a "bracero America," corporate America's wet dream.

The Bush administration is using high-profile workplace assaults as a sinister strategy to get it. Complicit with them are the corporate media trumpeting the message that desperate Latinos here for jobs to replace ones NAFTA destroyed are threats to national security. It happened last December 12 in the largest ever workplace raid when ICE storm troops swooped in on Colorado-based Swift & Company targeting six of its plants. Agents rounded up 1282 allegedly undocumented immigrant workers, including 170 accused of identity theft, detained them at the plants, then bussed them across state lines to be processed with most later released far from home. The raids were vicious and racist as are all others around the country targeting immigrants of color. The Hispanic National Bar Association reported December 18 "non-Latinos and light-skinned employees were provided blue wristbands which exempted them from questioning, while Latinos, persons perceived to be of Hispanic or Latino origin, underwent immigration processing (the notion being that) all persons perceived to be Latinos are illegal."

Most immigrant workers at Swift and around the country are impoverished-by-NAFTA Mexicans or other Latinos driven North for jobs in desperation resulting from the Global North's failed neoliberal agenda. They're helpless victims of savage capitalism forced to leave home, exploited in the workplace, and terrorized by Homeland Security ICE storm troop enforcers earning their keep at the expense of ordinary working people targeted as criminals because they're less white than other workers passed over in the raids.

But that's not how DHS and corporate media trumpeting characterized the victims. ICE and its media mouthpiece claimed the raids were a major victory in the war on illegal immigrants, and by implication the so-called "war on terror" (against innocent people they call "terrorists)." The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) representing Swift workers scoffed at the claims as outrageous denouncing them saying they're "not an effective form of immigration reform (and) They terrorize workers and destroy families." ICE also trumpeted a (hollow) victory against criminal elements supplying phony IDs that could also be used by "terrorists" or as part of an identity theft scheme victimizing many thousands of US citizens and lawful residents.

It was subterfuge and part of the current political climate with headline-making theatrics more important than defending the homeland against legitimate threats. It showed in the aftermath of this hugely expensive ICE operation amounting to little more than a PR stunt providing red meat for hard liners wanting their kind of immigration reform meaning no rights for workers, especially ones of color. The raid ended up netting 65 "criminal arrests," many for minor offenses like reentering the country after being deported, a technical violation rarely resulting in prosecution. The others were shipped around the country and likely released except for those voluntarily agreeing to be deported.

The December Swift raid was the largest ever, but immigrant workers everywhere have reason to fear the same threat that was repeated against meatpackers from Smithfield Foods' processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the largest hog processing plant in the country. Most of its workers are African-American and Latino, and hundreds of them defied plant management's refusal to give them the day off by rallying in nearby Fayetteville honoring Martin Luther King Day January 15.

Retaliation came January 24, when ICE agents raided the plant arresting 21 immigrant meatpackers on trumped up "administrative immigration charges" meaning they were poor Latinos vulnerable to ICE assaults made to send a message. DHS supports management rights, not those of working people. The Tar Heel plant's 5000 workers have been trying to organize within the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) since the early 1990s, but are opposed by management and its policy of retaliatory firings, intimidation, and beatings by plant security. Smithfield like other corporate giants plays hardball. So doesn't ICE acting like Gestapo ruthlessly assaulting working people with special viciousness reserved for vulnerable Latinos (and Muslims) having no defense.

Still another ICE assault the AP called "the largest immigration bust in the history of southern Massachusetts" happened March 6 against Michael Bianco, Inc. in New Bedford, MA, a manufacturer of high-end leather goods now producing safety vests and backpacks for the military. In this case, conditions for workers were deplorable, according to US Attorney Michael Sullivan, who called them similar to the sweatshops of the early 1900s. He arrested and charged the owner, three managers and another employee but freed them pending a court date for hiring undocumented immigrants. It's likely outcome will be the way it usually is for corporate offenders - a small wrist slap fine....case dismissed.

Hundreds of workers weren't so fortunate with as many as 350 of them apprehended and initially detained at Fort Devens for processing. From there, some were jailed in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, others released, and most were flown to jails in Texas and a few to Miami, far from their families and facing deportation or incarceration for those unable to prove they're in the country legally. Most are poor Latino women from Central America. In the meantime, as in other raids, parents and children are separated and traumatized, their lives disrupted with an estimated 100 children in this instance, including nursing infants, left stranded with babysitters and caregivers. Many will end up at the mercy of strangers in foster care, uncertain of their parents' fate only here to earn enough to support them. Left unmentioned is that those born here are US citizens entitled to the constitutional rights they'll never get because they're less-than-white poor Latinos.

One other example deserves mentioning as well as it's now in the news. This one is in Pascagoula, Mississippi where hundreds of guest workers from India are protesting job conditions at Signal International's Gulf coast shipyard they compare to slavery. Signal brought in about 300 Indian workers in December and another 300 to work in Texas as part of the H-2B visa program. Workers got promises of pay and working conditions Signal reneged on plus workers having to pay recruiting contractor Global Industry (sent by Signal to India) up to $20,000 to come. They were promised $18 an hour for up to 30 months work but most only got half that amount. They also had to pay Signal $35 a day to stay in company labor camp barracks inside the yard where workers described conditions as "very bad (with) 24 of us....in a room in a barracks that measures 12 feet by 18 feet, sleeping on bunk beds (with) two toilets for all of us and only 4 sinks."

Workers began meeting at a local church to discuss how to get Signal to refund their contractor fee, which they said the company promised to do, and to protest their working conditions. They organized a group called Signal H-2B Workers United. When the company learned of it, it responded harshly calling the workers unqualified and cutting their already lower than promised pay. In addition, eight were declared completely incapable and told they were being sent home immediately. Outside the yard, dozens of workers and community supporters protested denouncing the firings and mistreatment. So far, nothing is resolved, but the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance and Southern Poverty Law Center are going to court on behalf of the fired workers to stop their deportations. Other workers still employed are continuing their actions challenging Signal to refund their contractor-paid money they're entitled to receive with that issue possibly heading for court as well.

Plants like Signal's involved Indian workers and wasn't raided because workers in it were legally recruited by the company. Others, however, employing Latino immigrants, are savagely assaulted, and so are communities with programs for day laborers like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles targeted in January by ICE sweeps in Southern California Latino neighborhoods. Coalition leader Antonio Bernabe told Reuters "The police didn't just take people with deportation orders, they took anybody--guys who were just hanging out in the street and even from a Jack in the Box restaurant....and now people are afraid to go out." The sweep aimed mainly at Latinos, mostly Mexican nationals, sent a message following George Bush's State of the Union address calling for "comprehensive immigration reform" combining a (mean-spirited) guest worker (bracero) worker program with tougher workplace and border enforcement meaning it's open season on Latinos and working people overall.

Immigrant Communities and Supportive Organizations Respond

Immigrant communities and organizations are fighting back against ICE rampaging terror raids and are rallying their members and supporters to take a stand. The Immigrant Solidarity Network is promoting May Day 2007 and a National Mobilization to Support Immigrant Workers Rights calling for a "national day of multi-ethnic unity with youth, labor, (and) peace and justice communities with immigrant workers and building (a)new immigrant rights & civil rights movement."

Proudly and boldly they proclaim "We are all human! No one is illegal! It's call to action stands for:

-- No anti-immigration legislation or criminalization of immigrant communities.

-- No militarization of the border with fences or other barriers.

-- No more immigration detentions, deportations or funding for immigrant detention centers.

-- No oppressive guest worker two-tiered program allowing employers the right to pay visa workers lower wages, provide no labor protections, and offer little or no right to future US citizenship.

-- No employer "no-match" Social Security letters to fire immigrants and repeal of employer sanction law.

-- Yes to a clear, fair one-tiered path for undocumented workers to gain legal status and an opportunity for citizenship.

-- Yes to family reunifications through additional visa numbers and elimination of long family reunification backlog delays.

-- Yes to strengthening existing labor law protection to include all immigrant workers including their human and civil rights.

-- Yes to the right to organize and bargain collectively on equal terms with management.

-- Yes to the Dream Act with provisions for states to aid immigrants with benefits like providing in-state tuition aid and enable students of good moral character to qualify for legal residency.

-- Yes to extending benefits to LGBT immigrant families, passing the Uniting American Families Act for same sex and unmarried partners, and lifting the HIV ban on immigration.

Other organizations as well are working for immigrant rights. They include:

-- The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). It calls itself the most influential Hispanic advocacy group in the country standing for open-borders and for all legal and undocumented immigrants to be entitled to the same rights as US citizens.

-- The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF). It calls itself the most important organization for day laborer rights in the Northeast standing for real immigration reform so that millions of the undocumented have a clear path for legalization and citizenship.

-- The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR). It's a broad-based organization advocating for immigrants, refugees, community, religious, civil rights, labor and activists. It promotes a just immigration and refugee policy defending and expanding the rights of legal and undocumented immigrants and refugees.

-- The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). It advocates for people of Arabic origin harshly treated post 9/11 and was a co-plaintiff challenging Section 215 of the Patriot Act allowing for government access to medical, educational and library records relating to "terrorism" investigations or others claimed for national security. At least two ADC chapters publicly condemned immigrant apprehensions, detentions, disappearances, the denial of legal representation, and "secret military (or other) tribunals calling these actions chilling "similarities to a police state."

-- The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA). It calls itself the most effective legal fund in the country committed to preserving, safeguarding and promoting the civil and legal rights of American-Islamic institutions and Muslim Americans.

-- The Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants (CHRI) formed in response to increased workplace raids by the INS, now DHS/ICE. It advocates for undocumented immigrants' labor rights (mainly Mexicans) confronting "anti-immigrant policies through grassroots education and action."

-- The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) - an organization involved in training more than 800 nonprofit personnel and attorneys in areas of immigration law including naturalization, deportation defense, ethics, and Delayed Enforced Departure. It condemns the harsh practices now employed against immigrant communities and in the workplace as unconstitutional.

Street Protest Actions with More Planned

Protests for immigrants' rights are beginning in cities around the country like the week of them in the San Francisco Bay Area from February 26 through March 2. Throughout the week, community leaders, people of faith, labor leaders, teachers and youths rallied against ICE raids and guest worker programs speaking out for "yes to legalization for all (undocumented workers)."

Similar actions are planned elsewhere including in Chicago by a group called the March 10 Movement named after the 500,000-strong largest ever protest in the city held on that date in 2006. They'll include rallies for passage of real immigration reform including a path to legalization for all undocumented workers and an end to detentions and deportations. The first of the planned marches was held on March 10 - of course - in the city's downtown area to be repeated each week "until there is a real solution" from Congress, signed into law. If they follow through, it will mean a long spring and summer of protest marches.

Last year's mass Chicago march inspired millions of immigrants and supporters to rally in cities around the country that helped defeat the worst parts of anti-immigration legislation mostly crafted in the racist House Sensenbrenner bill now a dead letter. Since then, however, no progress for reform has been made and pending action from the compromise House-Senate bill and most recent new House proposal will continue an ongoing war on immigrants only mass opposition street protests have a chance to stop the way last year's actions achieved modest success now stalled and slipping.

That's how things are now in a nation dedicated to permanent war, a bipartisan criminal class in Washington beholden to capital, and workers everywhere losing out in a race to the bottom. Poor Latinos (and all Muslims) face some of the worst of it, and those in Mexico and Central America face a Hobson's choice. Wither at home under NAFTA and CAFTA or try making it north to suffer abuse and neglect in an uncaring state dedicated to keeping its tired and poor and huddled masses permanently that way. That's the message from Congress in the kind of "immigration reform" being crafted, but Latinos and others on the streets have other ideas.

At over 45 million strong, Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in the country and fastest growing with its Mexican component rising fastest of all. Nowhere is this more apparent than in California where about one-third of all Latinos live and make up over one-third of the state's population of 36 million. It's even more pronounced in Los Angeles where Latinos are now a majority providing a future glimpse of America with this group becoming more dominant than ever but still marginalized, demeaned and denied real equity and justice in a country clinging to its Christian white supremacist roots.

That can only change with mass civil disobedience street protests, employer boycotts and a campaign targeting Congress for justice long delayed and denied and now demanded in the current legislative session. Real change never comes from the top down. It's always from the bottom up that's unstoppable when enough people mobilize in the streets and halls of power for it.

That's where things now are entering spring that promises months of rallies and protests around the country. With enough of them, Congress might start hearing the Immigrant Solidarity Network's message that "We are all humans (and) no one is illegal," and the one from the Mexican American Political Association that Mexican and Hispanic people want and deserve the same constitutional and democratic freedoms all others in America are entitled to. That's what they say and want. Now they're coming out again demanding it. Stay tuned.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com online live each Saturday at noon US central time.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Review of John Ross' Zapatistas

A Review of John Ross' Zapatistas - by Stephen Lendman

John Ross is a Latin American correspondent and activist who's been living in and writing about Mexico for nearly four decades turning out some of the most important and incisive analysis of events there of anyone covering the country, its history, politics and people. Few writers anywhere make the country come alive like he can. He lives among the people and knows them well including Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos who may have given Ross his first ever interview.

Ross has written eight books of fiction and non-fiction and is one of the few surviving Beat poets with nine chapbooks of poetry in and out of print, the latest of which is due out soon called Bomba. He's also been called a new John Reed (who wrote the classic 10 Days that Shook the World on the Russian Revolution) covering a new Mexican revolution playing out around the country from its most indigenous, impoverished South in Chiapas and Oaxaca to the streets of its capital in Mexico City.

Ross' books include the Annexation of Mexico, From the Aztecs to the IMF and his eyewitness frontline trilogy on the Zapatista rebellion beginning with Rebellion From the Roots, Indian Uprising in Chiapas in 1995 for which he received the American Book award; The War Against Oblivion, The Zapatista Chronicles; and his latest work and subject of this review - Zapatistas, Making Another World Possible, Chronicles of Resistance 2000 - 2006 just published. It's subtitle is taken from the misnamed anti-globalization citizens' movement for global justice from Seattle to Doha, Genoa, Washington, Prague, Quebec, Miami, Cancun, Hong Kong and dozens of other locations everywhere where ordinary people are struggling for a better world against the dark neoliberal forces pitted against them.

The book's theme is the heroic ongoing Zapatista struggle for autonomy and liberation as "a dramatic and inspiring effort to make this possibility a reality" matched off against a made-in-Washington world of permanent wars for conquest and domination from the sands and streets of Iraq and desolate rubble of Afghanistan to the Israeli genocidal terror war against the Palestinians to the streets of Mexico City and Oaxaca and the mountains and jungles of Chiapas.

This book comes after Ross' Murdered by Capitalism, A Memoir of 150 Years of Life & Death on the American Left in 2004 for which he received the Upton Sinclair award. Ross is a gifted writer whose prose is passionate and poetic. From its beginning, he documented the Zapatista "rebellion from the roots," and in his latest book covers it from the July, 2000 election of corporatist Vincente Fox through the mid-2006 stolen presidential election, unresolved when the book went to press. He notes like all other elections in the country, it was orchestrated "before, during, and after the ballots (were) cast" just like they are in the belly of the bestial empire in el norte whose current high office incumbent Ross calls "an electoral pickpocket (twice over)."

He also reminds us of past events that may foretell Mexico's future: "The metabolism of revolution in Mexico is precisely timed. It seems to burst from the subterranean chambers every hundred years or so - 1810, 1910, 2010? To be continued." And he notes the theft of the 1910 election from Francisco Madero triggered the Mexican Revolution led by Emiliano Zapata Salazar with readers left to wonder if Subcommandante Marcos is his modern incarnation. Stay tuned. As in Venezuela, the Mexican revolution will not be televised, but John Ross will chronicle it.

The Zapatistas' Chronicles of Resistance - From Its Beginning

Ross begins his book with a Preamble of the Zapatistas' own words saying: "We are the Zapatistas of the EZLN (who) rose up in January 1994 because we were tired of all the evil the powerful did to us, that they only humiliated us, robbed us, killed us, and no one ever said or did anything. For all that we said 'Basta' (enough) we weren't going to permit that they treat us worse than animals anymore." The Zapatista commentary continues saying they want democracy, liberty and justice for all Mexicans, and to get it they organized to defend themselves and fight for it. And so they have. Their spirit of resistance continues in their ongoing struggle for autonomy and freedom.

Ross begins volume three of his trilogy in year 2000, but let's go back to where it all began to understand its roots. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was founded in 1983 taking its name from the Liberation Army of the South led by Emiliano Zapata Salazar, the incorruptible Mexican Indian peasant rebel leader who supported agrarian reform and land redistribution in the battles of the Mexican Revolution. It began in 1910, went on till 1921, and saw Zapata betrayed and executed by government troops in 1919. It wasn't before he got new agrarian land laws passed that for a time returned to the people what President Porfirio Diaz confiscated to sell off to foreign investors the way things work today where everything's for sale under market-based rules. It's the reason for indigenous Mexican impoverishment today the way it is everywhere and why modern-day Zapatistas began their campaign to end centuries of imperial repression to liberate their people.

They planned quietly for years learning from successes and failures of earlier peasant struggles. The were all crushed or co-opted by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) showing real change in Chiapas could only come through struggle from outside the political process that time and again proved those in power can't be trusted even though the Zapatistas gave gave the system a chance to prove otherwise knowing it would let them down which it did. It's the way it is in all developing states and most elsewhere as well. Mexico is no exception, and it may be one of the worst under repressive oligarch rule for the privileged and the people be damned, especially the indigenous Indian ones Mexico has plenty of.

Ross chronicled the Zapatistas' struggle in two previous books beginning January 1, 1994 when 2,000 from the EZLN marched into San Cristobal de las Casas and five other municipal seats in Mexico's Chiapas state. They seized control stunning the nation's leaders who knew something was up but kept it under wraps so as not to affect passage of the NAFTA that brought it on. The EZLN declared war on the Mexican state and its long-standing contempt for ordinary peoples' rights and needs now with new harsh neoliberal trade policies in place that could cost them their lives. Their struggle would highlight the plight of Mexico's 70 million poor and 20 million indigenous people including in the most indigenous city in the world plagued by poverty - Mexico City.

Rebellion for change erupted in the open the first day NAFTA went into effect. Zapatistas in Chiapas called it a "death sentence." It would threaten their agriculture and way of life creating even more hardship than Indian campesinos already face. Chiapas is the poorest of Mexico's 31 states where most people live off the land earning a meager living in the best of times growing crops, the staple of which is corn, "maiz." The state is predominantly rural with 70% of its 4.3 million people living in 20,000 localities in 111 municipalities mostly in the countryside. The state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez is its one major city with a population of 250,000 while several others have populations half that size or less, one of which is San Cristobal de las Casas in the mountainous central highlands that was one of the six municipal seats the EZLN took in its 1994 rebellion from the roots against the Mexican government.

Their action stunned the nation and world, and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari responded ferociously against Chiapans cutting short his planned celebration. The Zapatistas weren't to be denied as they stated in their manifesto that "We are a product of 500 years of struggle...against slavery....against Spain (and then) to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism... later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (so) people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us (so we continue the struggle for our) inalienable right (under the Mexican constitution) to alter or modify their form of government (and set up) liberated areas (in which the people will have) the right to freely and democratically elect their own administrative authorities."

They weren't alone as hundreds of thousands of supporters flooded Mexico City's vast Zocalo plaza near the country's Palacio Nacional seat of power. They sent a strong message of solidarity to the "People the Color of the Earth" in the South forcing Salinas to abort his effort after 12 days without subduing the first major Global South blow against the neoliberal new world order that prevailed triumphantly unchallenged in Mexico following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union - until the New Year's day rebellion from the roots changed things.

A single event may have inspired the EZLN's shot heard round the world launching their armed rebellion for autonomy. It was the Salinas government's 1992 decision to repeal Article 27 in the country's constitution that came out of the 1917 Revolution. It gave only natural born or naturalized Mexicans the right to own land and water, stipulated all land is originally the nation's property that can grant control of it to private citizens with restrictions, and that only the state may control, extract and process oil and its derivatives. It also returned stolen peasant lands to their owners and generally protected Mexican peoples' land ownership rights from foreign exploitation.

Repealing Article 27 changed everything for what the Revolution had "giveth," Carlos Salinas had "taketh" away by ending land distribution to the landless. His action drove a "final nail in the revolution's coffin" polarizing indigenous peoples and igniting the uprising beginning the day NAFTA became law. Rewriting the Article was a key condition of NAFTA that would henceforth deny indigenous peoples' right to the land so the state could sell or lease it to private investors (aka corporate predators), mostly from el norte.

Mexico's poor, including its rural indigenous population, suffered terribly in the last generation from the disastrous effects of global restructuring tight monetary and fiscal policies, unfair "neoliberalized trade laws, privatizations of state enterprises, and abandonment of earlier economic and industrial development strategies. The result was regional growth collapsed throughout Latin America. From 1960 - 1980, regional per capita GDP grew 82% falling to 9% from 1980 - 2000 and 4% from 2000 - 2005.

It meant trouble always affecting the most vulnerable poor the most. It hit Mexico with falling oil prices, high interest rates, rising inflation, an overvalued currency, and a deteriorating balance of payments causing capital flight that by 1982 saw the peso collapse and economy hit hard. IMF and World Bank-imposed mafia-style loan arrangements followed imposing their special kind of austerity to people least able to tolerate it. It included structural adjustments with large-scale privatizations of state-owned industries, economic deregulation, and mandated wage restraint allowing inflation to grow faster than personal income with the poor feeling it most again.

As predicted, things got much worse under NAFTA-imposed trade rules. They hit the rural poor the hardest especially the country's farmers crushed under the weight of heavily subsidized Northern agribusiness they can't compete against including for corn, "maiz," the sacred crop, the struggle for which went to the root of the Zapatista rebellion also against made-in-the-USA neoliberal new world order rules of the game rigged against them.

They include Washington Consensus market uber alles diktats that led to Mexico's growing dependency on capital inflows with lots of "hot money" free to enter and leave the country under its deregulated financial markets. Again it caused an unsustainable current account deficit and peso collapse in early 1995 resulting in the country's worst economic depression in 60 years after experiencing the same type collapse 14 years earlier.

The Zapatistas got hammered by it with no relief when economic conditions improved. It caused mass discontent and anger making the country ripe for rebellion as an elite few grew rich at the expense of the great majority sinking deeper into poverty and no where more than in indigenous rural areas like Chiapas.

The Oakland Institute think tank specializing in social, economic and environmental issues documented the harm done. Their researchers reported heavily subsidized US corn exports to Mexico tripled after NAFTA and in 2003 topped 8 million tons. It came at the expense of Mexico's farmers where corn is the country's staple. It drove over two million of them off the land that was predicted in advance and allowed to happen anyway. It ruined lives and led to suicides but not like in India where WTO-imposed trade rules caused 100,000 deaths because of farm foreclosures from indebtedness.

The worst is still to come in Mexico if UCLA professor and Research Director of the North American Integration and Development Center Raul Hinojosa's worse case prediction comes true. He believes NAFTA will eventually force 10 million poor farmers off the land with Ross saying it's already over 6 million people in a country where farm families average five members and they're all counted in the bloodletting.

Ross laid out the other ugly damage from NAFTA's first 10 years through 2003:

-- All Mexican banks controlled by foreign corporate giants, mainly from the US.

-- All the railroads sold off to Union Pacific with former President Ernesto Zedillo now on its board as his reward.

-- The country's mines and airlines in private hands.

-- Two million hectares of tropical forest destroyed for private development with junk tree plantations sprouting up throughout Southern Mexico controlled by corporate behemoths like International Paper and Temple-Inland.

-- Homegrown industries, especially in textiles and plastics, shut down unable to complete with US giants.

-- Even the "Maquiladora Miracle" once creating 2 million jobs on the US border losing out to China and other lower wage countries in the inevitable race to the bottom WTO one-way trade deals always cause to countries from North and South.

-- Real wages down 20% over 10 years with the disparity of wealth far greater than in 1994 when the Zapatista struggle began.

-- 600 Wal-Mart megastores crushing small homegrown retailers and Mexican chains. Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB is the country's largest private employer and biggest retailer in Latin America far and away. This predatory colossus dominates Mexican retailing (like it does up North) with forecasted 2007 sales of $21 billion and soaring profits gotten at the expense of its workers even more than in the US because in Mexico Wal-Mex can get away with anything.

-- The Mexican landscape littered with thousands of McDonald's, Burger King's, Wendy's, and other US retail chains destroying local culture and homogenizing markets to sell the same stuff in Mexico as in Milwaukee, Missouri and Maine.

-- The importation and consumption of genetically modified (GMO) corn presenting a clear danger to "the People of the Corn" by displacing and contaminating locally-grown varieties cultivated for thousands of years as dietary and cultural staples. The GMO poison from el norte is now spreading like an uncontrollable infestation from indigenous cornfield to cornfield.

Add to the above, former President Vincente Fox's Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) that so far flopped but isn't dead. He proposed it early in his term as a multi-billion dollar development scheme to turn Southern Mexico (including Chiapas) and Central America all the way to Panama into a colossal free trade paradise displacing indigenous people, destroying their culture and sacred corn, and harming the environment for profit. He wanted to induce private investment by handing over to them the region's natural resources including its oil, water, minerals, timber and ecological biodiversity. Fox wanted to rip into the area with new ports, airports, bullet trains, bridges, superhighways, 25 hydroelectric dams, new telecommunication facilities, electrical grids, and a new Panama Canal - for starters, with more development to follow. He also wanted to open the country's wildlife reserves for bioprospecting in a giveaway to giant seed, chemical and drug companies and connect everything with new highways linking Mexico to Central America facilitating business throughout the region - meaning indigenous people had to make way for it.

The area planned for development is enormous and so far stalled. It covers 102 million hectares with 64 million inhabitants in eight countries few of whom would benefit from a scheme to exploit masquerading as infrastructure and private development and more without consent of the people the way it's always done. It's the reason the plan went nowhere - so far. It's irrelevant to the poor, rural South gaining nothing except picking up the tab so corporate predators can take their land for private gain selling back to the people what's already theirs like Chiapas' fresh water that's 40% of the country's total Coca-Cola is dying to get its hands on. It would also destroy the last significant tropical rain forest in Chiapas' Montes Azules Integral Biosphere in the Lacandon jungle where the government wants to remove native Mayans from lands belonging to them.

An Enduring Struggle for Liberation and Autonomy

The EZLN struggled to win redress for their major demands, but the Zedillo government in the 1990s reneged on a promise to address them. The key betrayal came in 1996 when EZLN leaders thought they had a deal known as the San Andres Accords. It was a landmark document based on the International Labor Organization's Resolution 169, the universally accepted benchmark for defining an indigenous people stipulating they have both territory or habitat and "territoriality" meaning they have autonomy over their own lands free from government control.

Had it passed, it would have given Mexico's 57 distinct indigenous peoples local autonomy over all aspects of their lives - agrarian policy, natural resources, the environment, health and educational institutions, judicial system, and their overall social and cultural rights. It needed to be legislatively approved by changes in state, federal, local laws and the Mexican Constitution committing the government to eliminate "the poverty, the marginalization and insufficient political participation of millions of indigenous Mexicans." But like before and always, it wasn't to be as PRI President Zedillo, an "inflexible globophile" and technocratic servant of empire, upheld Mexico's business as usual mal gobierno (bad government) dark forces reneging on the deal as fast as he could unleash Mexican army troops against the people of Chiapas stepping up his "dirty war" on them to undermine their popular support and end the EZLN rebellion.

"PRIista" Zedillo failed, biting off more than he could chew, because the Zapatistas then and now aren't giving up their struggle or going away. Their response was a greater effort to mobilize broader support throughout the country. In 1999, the collective Zapatista Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee (CCRI) leadership made up of 23 commanders and spokesperson Subcommandante Marcos organized a national consulta, or referendum, for indigenous rights and implementation of the San Andres Accords that were signed in 1996. More than three million Mexicans participated with 95% of them endorsing the EZLN's demands providing the kind of mass support hard to ignore.

In December, 2000, National Action Party's (PAN) Vincente Fox (and former Coca-Colaista big cheese) had to address it. He shook Mexico's political firmament in the July elections becoming the country's first president able to end the PRI's stranglehold single party 71 year rule under a system known as "Presidentialism." After taking office, he arrogantly promised to cut the Gordian knot deadlock with the EZLN and would meet with Subcommandante Marcos to "fix things up in 15 minutes" by committing to submit the San Andres Accords or La Ley Cocopa Indian Rights Law to Congress for resolution where almost for certain they'd be none.

Still, the Zapatistas and their supporters went on the road for it for 16 days going from Chiapas to Mexico City in February and March 2001. The climax was a mass rally of hundreds of thousands in the capital's Zocalo, to no avail as the Congress gutted the Accords ending the EZLN's hope for redress through the political process that was reinforced when the nation's Supreme Court upheld the legislators 8 - 3 on September 7, 2002. It left the Zapatistas high and dry and more than ever determined to work for change outside the political process that works for the privileged, not the people.

La Otra Campana - The EZLN's Other Campaign

The Zapatista's Other Campaign grew out of the organization's Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (the Sexta) issued June, 2005 calling for a new approach outside traditional party politics the EZLN rejects because it doesn't work for ordinary people. The idea was to build a grand alliance of all jodidos (the "screwed" over people) to include Indians and the "real left" to join in solidarity from the bottom up outside the political process and call a constitutional convention to write a new anti-neoliberal document protecting the nation's land and resources as well as enact an Indian Rights law.

The Other Campaign went on the road to all parts of the country during the 2006 electoral period working outside the political process withholding support for opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) presidential candidate and ex-PRIista Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, popularly known as ALMO.

Ross calls him El Peje, his nickname, noting while serving as Mexico City's popular mayor he eschewed ostentation; provided essential social services for the people like free milk for young mothers; shelters for the homeless; and jobs for tens of thousands. He also cut deals with the business class from Mexico's Council of Businessmen (CMHN) made up of the country's 37 richest men like he did with billionaire tycoon Carlos Slim showing he was a "demon in disguise, a demagogue, (a) dreaded politician. A danger, in short, for Mexico." A man who sleeps with the devil. Not anyone the Zapatistas could trust or support, and they didn't, sitting out the campaign to further their own to end Mexico's unjust economic system of corrupted predatory capitalism exploiting people for profit. Their goal is noble, and they're committed to it - to one day bring real social, economic and democratic change to the country but do it outside party politics within which it can never happen.

Working through the system always turns out the same. The dominant PRI and PAN are Mexico's Republicans and Democrats - two wings of the nation's property party exploiting the masses to serve the country's capital interests, latifundistas, and foreign investors from el norte. It hardly matters whether PAN or PRI rules with the PRD scarcely better as most in it are recycled "PRIANS" (formerly from PRI and PAN) - aka, Mexico's bipartisan criminal class with softer edges offering the people more crumbs, but still crumbs. In power they'd never address the Zapatistas' original 13 demands - land, work, labor, bread, education, health, shelter, communication, culture, independence, democracy, liberty, and peace as well as foster solidarity with the aggrieved.

Ross' criticism is even harsher calling the PRD "mortally flawed, venomously venial and vulnerable to splintering into brittle battle over scraps of power." In his judgment, if ALMO became president (he didn't, but it was unresolved at press time), the dominant business class, Washington, and even the Church would slap him down each time he proposed overly generous crumbs. And if he managed doing more than thought possible, Ross adds an exclamation point - "Think Salvadore Allende" who was no match for Nixon-Kissinger the way a Mexican progressive today would be out of his league against the demon-duo Bush-Cheney, even meaner and nastier than their uglier-than-sin predecessors.

They don't daunt the EZLN's 13 year resolve against mal gobierno, running strong and gaining strength with the Other Campaign continuing throughout 2006. It's still ongoing in the new year with the country now under PAN president-by-mass-electoral-fraud Felipe Calderon. Ross will pick up the story in his next book, sure to come, continuing his chronicle of rebellion for a better world Zapatistas are in the vanguard for.

La Otra Campana grew out of planning meetings and is comprised of many thousands of supporters including Indians, farmers, workers, social movements, NGOs, autonomous collectives, all groups on the left and all others willing to join a social movement for change. The plan was to take Subcommandante Marcos (who's mestizo, not Indian) and a 16 member Sexta commission on a six month barnstorming blizzard, beginning January 1, 2006, to all 31 Mexican states to meet and listen to a diverse range of people, groups and organizations. They want their ideas as input to use toward building broader support toward the goal of real change in a country stultified by decades of corruption and mass exploitation.

This was the fifth time the Zapatistas left their Chiapas stronghold home taking their message to the country, the last time being in 2001 for the "March of Those Who Are The Color of the Earth" after Congress gutted the La Ley Cocopa or Indian Rights Law. This time the plan was much more ambitious with goals great enough to make Marcos tell his followers "we could be jailed, we could be killed. We may never return home" because at stake is the future of Mexico also playing out in the streets of Oaxaca since May for social justice long denied because getting it is never easy in a country ruled by powerful interests unwilling to sacrifice their privilege and till now never having to.

The Other Campaign aims high continuing into 2007. It calls for enacting a new constitution barring privatization of public resources and getting rid of the whole array of neoliberal poison served up by Washington-controlled international lending agencies and WTO one-way "bunko game" free trade deals unmasked as unfair. It also wants indigenous autonomy for Mexico's 57 individual Indian peoples and a nationwide public stage for the EZLN to spread its message to people in every Mexican state. It comes down to "the Other Campaign vs. Politics as Usual" meaning elections for sale to the highest bidder or easily stolen when the Mexican power structure controls them and won't tolerate power to the people in a country run by and for the privileged alone, the way it's always been. The EZLN renounces them all while knowing the PRI's return to power would be a big step backward in Mexico's glacial struggle for democracy that at best advances in mini-fragile steps easily reversible.

The Other Campaign is still ongoing aiming toward its longer range goal for a new constitution with regional autonomy run from the bottom up outside the political process it wants no part of. Today the EZLN is the most interesting, radical and important grass roots democratic movement in the world. Subcommandante Marcos believes new fraudulently elected Mexican president Felipe Calderon "is going to start to fall from his first day (December 1 and) we're on the eve of a great uprising or civil war." He believes the Mexican people will join him in "spontaneous uprisings, explosions all over, civil war" the way it's gone on uninterrupted in Oaxaca since May. "When we rise up (he says), we're going to sweep away the entire political class, including those who say they're the parliamentary left" as the political process corrupts them like all the others.

It's the way all social revolutions take root that begin from a committed core, then broaden into a unified network of mutual support for real democratic change. The spirit of resistance is alive in Latin America. It bubbled up in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, and in Mexico it's electric and more alive than since Emiliano Zapata Salazar led the 1910 Revolution that ushered in a period of real change, albeit short-lived. Today Mexicans again are fed up with decades of fraud, corruption and abuse, and modern-day Zapatistas are in the vanguard of resistance for real social democratic change for people long denied it. No one knows how this will end and if it will turn out to be a watershed moment in the country's history. Those in power never yield it easily, so things may get ugly as events play out. For now, Mexico's future is unfolding on its streets and mountains and jungles of Chiapas that will chart the road ahead for better or worse to an uncertain time the Zapatistas are struggling to make a better one.

It isn't easy, and since early 2007 Zapatista communities have been up against increasing opposition from a government-allied paramilitary group called the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Peasant Rights (Opddic). It uses threats of violence, land invasions, crop thefts, beatings and kidnappings to expropriate Zapatista land so private developers can exploit natural resources and develop large tourist projects. Opddic has been around since the late 1990s but grew more powerful while Vincente Fox was president. It's present activities signal what's ahead from the Calderon government's policy to seize Zapatista land, weaken the movement, and give corporate predators an open field to develop the land indigenous Chiapans claim as their own.

Zapatistas say they'll defend their lands against Opddic incursions but up till now have avoided violence. That may not last as attacks continue that may be intended to provoke a response strong enough to set up the ominous possibility the government may step in with force making things very ugly.

It won't step in to help the Chiapas-based NGO Center for Economic Political Investigations of Community Action (CIEPAC) threatened by a late February note saying: "Enjoy your last day. We will kill you I am looking for you and now we have found you." This followed other incidents of threatening surveillance and harassment against CIEPAC members for several months. The organization takes the threats seriously and asks for "national and international organized groups (to join) in solidarity (to) maintain your vigilance in anticipation of events that might occur shortly, continue your solidarity with social movements in Mexico, and denounce the continuous violations to human rights that are affecting civil society in this country." Whatever may happen, John Ross will be there following the Zapatistas' struggle against the dark forces affecting them and ordinary people everywhere.

Ross ends his current chronicle in 2006 where it began - in Chiapas with the Mayan people the color of the earth and the corn, "maiz" in the "milpa" that's the core of their life. The country and people can't survive without it. He writes: "The Zapatistas are Mayans and the Mayans are the People of Maize, not just because it is the center of their universe but because they are actually made from it. And like the maize....the people the color of the earth return, renew themselves, are reborn and flourish." They won't allow the country's dark forces to take that from them. Their spirit is alive and so is their hope another world is possible. Their struggle for it continues, and Ross will be there chronicling it all for us.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen each week to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com Saturdays at noon US central time.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fake Congressional Opposition to War

Fake Congressional Opposition to War- by Stephen Lendman

The US electorate sent a clear, unequivocal message in the November mid-term elections. End the Iraq war and bring home the troops. Many supporting war in the 109th Congress lost out to more moderate voices taking over their seats because voters want change and expect new faces to deliver starting with the top issue on voters' minds in recent polls - Iraq. A majority of the public demands it, protests and heated rhetoric continue building over it, and the Congress is about to disappoint again proving getting into war is easy but even an act of Congress can't get us out because doing nothing is less risky than taking a stand against the prevailing view in Washington.

So the best this Congress can offer is non-binding stuff with no meaning and a wishy binding proposal rolled out March 8 guaranteeing support for the war with billions more spending than the administration wants. It also sets a timetable for partial withdrawal far enough in the future to be laughable. It proves again expecting elections to change things in Washington is like betting on an early end to winter in Chicago. Hope springs eternal but never fails to disappoint.

The House proved it February 16 sending a pathetic non-binding no-action message repudiating the administration's decision to "surge" more troops to Iraq showing its spirit lay in its rhetoric, not in its actions where it counts. The floor language was long, loud and toothless with pieties from House Speaker Pelosi saying "We owe our troops a course of action in Iraq that is worthy of their sacrifice" but failing to provide one. So much for resolve. The Senate was even more non-binging than the House failing for second time February 17 even to pass a procedural measure to allow for a full vote on a resolution opposing more troops guaranteed to make things worse as they're sent. Once again with chips on the line, both Houses of Congress show party member profiles in courage are as rare as ones with honor and integrity or like finding a friend in a city Harry Truman once complained about saying if you want one in Washington, "get a dog."

Politics, Washington-style proves again campaign promises are empty, the criminal class is bipartisan, and the atmosphere is charged with empty rhetoric and business as usual. Instead of ending the war, Democrats propose continued war with more funding in new legislation sounding like an old Miller Lite commercial. Their plan is drafted to sound good, but not be ful-filling as it won't work and won't pass both Houses or override a presidential veto signaled by White House spokesman Dan Bartlett saying...."it's safe to say it's a nonstarter for the president." So much for Democrat intentions, good or otherwise.

The new legislation calls for withdrawing US combat troops beginning no later than 120 days following passage of legislation to be completed by September 1, 2008 in the House version and suggests March 31, 2008 only as a goal in the Senate proposal. It also calls for George Bush to certify Iraq's "government" is progressing toward established "benchmarks" July 1 and October 1 leaving that judgment to a president always claiming progress in the face of clear evidence on the ground proving otherwise.

Left out of the proposal is what Democrats like John Murtha (no dove) and other so-called "moderates" in the party wanted in it to prevent further escalation of war:

-- A call for a political, not military solution to the conflict.

-- Changing the military's mission to training, logistical support and "target(ing) anti-terrorism operations."

-- Requiring the Pentagon to abide by combat readiness and training standards to include proper equipment and enough time for recuperation.

-- Language prohibiting no further war funding after September 1, 2008.

-- Mandating deployment extensions not exceed 365 days for the Army and 210 days for Marine units. Unmentioned is why should there be any let alone what right have we to be there in the first place.

-- On March 12 the Democrat leadership backed off further announcing their proposal will exclude any limitation on Bush's unilateral right to attack Iran, including with nuclear weapons, bowing to the demands of the Israeli Lobby and Republican hawks.

When it emerges in final form, legislation from both Houses will be another lesson in Politics 101 - same old, same old meaning both parties in both Houses support imperialism on the march, and Congress will do nothing to stop it, rhetoric aside intended only to soothe, comfort and again deceive the electorate.

This proposal gives George Bush unrestricted power to continue waging war masquerading beneath rhetoric to curtail him. It provides near-unlimited continued funding giving him cover in the name of national security to act as he pleases, placing no restraint on his deploying as many additional combat brigades and support troops as he wants, with no restrictions on how long they'll remain. It also allows an undetermined number of US forces to stay in Iraq in perpetuity the way they still are in Germany, Japan and South Korea proving when America shows up anywhere we're not leaving - ever.

Congressional Democrats have also larded their bills with funding for Afghanistan, relocation of US troops from bases in Europe and Asia, homeland security, veterans' health care (far too little), farm disaster aid, Gulf Coast recovery and flu pandemic preparation in the usual kind of hodge-podge legislation always coming from Congress likely to add still more provisions costing more billions in its final form. In hopes of getting enough votes for passage, this and other small print pork ad-ons lard the bills the usual way things are done on Capitol Hill. No need to guess who picks up the tab.

Congressional Authority to Wage or End Wars

Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution authorizes only Congress to declare war even though since 1941 it deferred that authority unconstitutionally to the president. Congress also has power to end wars. What it lacks is backbone stiff enough to do it by cutting off funding because it alone controls the federal purse strings. Article I, Section 7, Clause I says: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills." Either House may originate an appropriations bill although the House claims sole authority to do it. Either House may amend bills of any kind including revenue and appropriations ones. Congress may have trouble rescinding funding already approved, but there's no disputing its power to withhold future amounts without which wars end and troops are withdrawn.

Congressional appropriation power is the key. In the House it resides in the Appropriations Committee and in the Senate with the Committee on Appropriations both charged with the power given it by Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution saying: "No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time."

This language means only Congress has constitutional power of the purse it alone can authorize by laws both Houses must pass. That includes the federal budget in which spending for wars and all other discretionary and mandatory categories are included (like servicing the federal debt). Only Congress can fund them, and no funding means no spending meaning Congress alone can end the Iraq war if it wishes. Cut off the funds, war and occupation end, and troops come home with or without presidential approval - or at least that's how it's supposed to work and has in the past.

How Congress Ended the Vietnam War

Cutting off funds finally ended the Vietnam war after Congress was mostly deferential to presidential authority throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1964, it granted Lyndon Johnson broad authority to use force and provided funding for it. Still, unlike today, some bold legislators then publicly challenged the administration applying some but inadequate budgetary pressure. An early critic was Senator Frank Church who said early on sending troops to Vietnam would be a "hopeless entanglement, the end of which is difficult to see." Others in Congress agreed but voiced it privately. They included noted senators like William Fulbright, Albert Gore Sr. (the former vice-president's father), Stuart Symington and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.

Even Lyndon Johnson was conflicted about the war early on, had doubts on what he was getting into, and privately expressed them in May, 1964 to his best Senate friend Richard Russell in taped Oval Office conversations. He wanted advice about the "Vietnam thing," Russell called the "damn worse mess I ever saw" warning we weren't ready to send troops to fight a jungle war. He told Johnson if the option was sending over Americans or get out "I'd get out" and the territory wasn't a "damn bit" important.

That was three months before the fateful Gulf of Tonkin Resolution empowered the president to wage war without congressional approval which he did while believing and saying the war was unwinnable. It ruined his presidency, shortened his life, and ended it a disgraced, defeated man who once was bigger-than-life as Senate majority leader and then President.

While still in office, the war deteriorated and influential congressional Democrats used their investigatory power to force contentious but ineffective public debate. It began as early as 1966 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by William Fullbright who no longer could conceal his private opposition to a war he opposed. Hearings went on forcing the administration to face up to budgetary consequences of war and peacetime social program priorities at a time Johnson's Great Society meant something and included his War on Poverty that would be an unimaginable priority under George Bush.

In 1968, Johnson accepted a $6 billion budget cut in exchange for a tax surcharge to curb growing inflation that wasn't enough to keep it from getting out of hand later on. He went along with powerful Democrats concerned enough about a "guns and butter" economy to reduce some of the former for their more important domestic agenda. That's impossible today under George Bush and a bipartisan Congress committed to shredding the nation's social safety net for reckless "global war on terrorism (GWOT)" spending meaning wars without end and big profits for their corporate paymaster allies.

Johnson's Great Society had different ideas that continued under Richard Nixon under whom most people forget capital punishment was halted, abortion was legalized, EPA and OSHA were established, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) was created, and the first large-scale integration of public schools in the South began along with normalizing relations with China. Nixon was bad, but not all bad.

But he was baddest of all on Vietnam (not Watergate) as war continued under the Nixon Doctrine. It included the secret war on Cambodia killing hundreds of thousands leading to the rise of the Khmer Rouge Gerald Ford supported as an anti-Soviet ally ignoring their scorched earth policies against their own people. It also continued massive bombing and Vietnamization to let South Vietnamese troops do our killing for us so US forces could withdraw just like today's plan is to let Iraqis do our fighting and dying while we train them inside secured permanent super-bases we won't give up no matter what, or so we say as we did in Vietnam till we did.

Nonetheless, under Johnson and Nixon, Congress reasserted its power of the purse incrementally. It was mostly political posturing in the 1960s, but by June 30, 1970 the Church-Cooper amendment (attached to a supplemental aid bill) passed stipulating no further spending for soldiers, combat assistance, advisors, or bombing operations in Cambodia. It was the first congressional budgetary act limiting funding for the war. Nixon ignored it but others followed leading to the key Church-Clifford Case 1972 Senate amendment attached to foreign aid legislation to end all funding for US military operations in Southeast Asia except for withdrawal subject to the release of prisoners of war. It was the first time either House passed legislation to end all war funding. It was defeated in the House but showed anti-war forces strengthening that in time would prevail.

They finally did in June, 1973 when Congress passed the Church-Case amendment ending all funding after August 15. Congress then overrode a presidential veto passing the War Powers Act (still the law) that year limiting presidential power by requiring the chief executive henceforth to consult Congress before authorizing troop deployments for extended periods. Unlike today, Congress began taking its check and balancing role seriously enough to act, if slowly, to curtail presidential authority and assert its own with the most important power it has - of the purse that forced Richard Nixon to end the Vietnam war. It can do it again today as then but so far shows little inclination or courage with few and rare exceptions, one being a modest effort by Senator Russ Feingold who detailed his position on the Senate floor even though now he's gone wishy on it.

Senator Feingold's Position on Ending the Iraq War

First the good news. Everyone in Congress knows the law, but Feingold had it in mind in remarks delivered February 16, 2007 on the Senate floor saying people want the war ended, and Congress should stop funding it. On January 31, he introduced the Iraq Redeployment Act of 2007 to force the president to redeploy US forces there by cutting off war funding. He said "We must end our involvement in this tragic and misguided war. The President will not do so. Therefore, Congress must act." The same senator was one of 23 in the upper chamber voting against H.J. Resolution 114 on October 11, 2002 authorizing George Bush to use US Armed Forces against Iraq. On August 17, 2005, he was the first senator calling for withdrawing US forces from the country and a timetable to do it suggesting a completion date of December 31, 2006. He further stated April 27, 2006 he would move to amend emergency appropriations funding of $106.5 billion requiring troop withdrawal instead. He also introduced a March 13, 2006 Senate resolution to censure George Bush for illegal wiretapping in violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requiring court approval the president never sought.

Feingold got nowhere, but at least he tried even though his record isn't lilly pure. His end of February comments showed it saying congressional Democrats are beginning to move in the right direction on Iraq. He knew then and now that's false and saying it tarnished his otherwise good intentions. He also praised the flawed March 8 Democrat leadership proposal to continue funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with legislative provisions for troop withdrawals by 2008 that's wishful thinking at best.

Nonetheless, Feingold stood tall earlier as the only senator voting against passage of the USA Patriot Act in October, 2001. He also fought its renewal and is now part of a bipartisan congressional minority demanding lawmakers defend our constitutional rights because those on Capitol Hill swore an oath to do it. Further, he opposes the president's right to "surge" new troops to Iraq, believes the notion is flawed and unconvincing, and feels congressional action must go beyond nonbinding resolutions. It must include Congress using "its power of the purse (not about) cutting off funds for troops (but) cutting off funds for war." He rightly believes Congress has constitutional power to do it and wants a strategy for getting them out to be redeployed "within the context of the global fight against al-Quaida....and other international terrorist organizations."

Indeed Feingold isn't true blue, but at least he's got it half right even if he sadly misstates the terrorist threat that's a home-based state-sponsored one inciting people around the world we attack to strike back. Ending the threat is simple as the senator knows. Stop attacking them, and they won't hit back, but keep it up as we do relentlessly, and it guarantees eventual harsh blowback at home and abroad certain to get worse and may become catastrophic in US cities if the administration pursues a plan to attack Iran, with or without nuclear weapons.

Is There An Edward Boland in the House....or the Senate?

Readers may forget his name but should recall his amendment during the 1980s Contra wars when the Reagan administration secretly escalated them. It led to the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 involving illegal administration arms sales to Iran, then illegally diverting funds from them to US-armed Contra forces adding to what CIA supplied them with through illegal drugs trafficking.

In 1982, the House passed the Boland Amendment as a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983. It cut off CIA and other intelligence agency Contras funding used against Daniel Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) that led the popular 1979 revolution ousting the hated US-backed Somoza dictatorship. The bill became law because politicians from both parties were outraged by Ronald Reagan's secret Central American wars undertaken without notifying congressional oversight committees as required. The president went around the restriction, got in trouble doing it, and only escaped criminal responsibility when the Tower (investigating) Commission absolved him other than to blame him for not better supervising his subordinates.

What Congress did in 1982 and during the Vietnam war, it can do now with full constitutional authority backing it. With an administration possibly heading for nuclear war with Iran, Congress must head it off, defund the Iraq war and end our ill-fated adventurism in the Middle East. Some in high places want it, but it remains to be seen what's next and whether a majority in Congress will ever put their legislative powers where their rhetoric is, act before it's too late, and be able to override a certain presidential veto from an administration bent on wars without end for goals impossible to achieve.

Is There An International Lawyer in the House or Senate?

None are needed as lawmakers are duty bound to be law-readers to know and understand the Constitution they swore to uphold "so help them God" who may not sympathize with those using the Almighty's name in vain. That includes knowing Article Six stipulating "This Constitution and the Laws of the United States....and all Treaties made (to which the country is a signatory) shall be the supreme Law of the Land (and) The Senators and Representatives (and) Members of....State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers....are bound by Oath....to support this Constitution (and everything in it so help them or be criminally liable)."

That includes the aforementioned treaties of which the UN Charter is one to which this country is a signatory and bound by its provisions including its Chapter VII. It allows the Security Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and if necessary take military or other action to "restore international peace and stability." It permits a nation to use force only under two conditions: when authorized to do it by the Security Council or under Article 51 allowing the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."

No nation attacked this one on 9/11, and no Security Council resolution authorized the US to go to war against Afghanistan or Iraq. In both instances, US military actions were willful and malicious acts of illegal aggression the Nuremberg Charter called the "supreme international crime" above all others making every member of Congress supporting them criminally liable along with George Bush, but who'll hold them to account. It's why no one in Congress ever mentions what should be central to any "debate" on the war and why no mainstream journalists worthy of their profession have courage to remind them.

There's no reminder either that Article One, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution gives Congress alone power to declare war so presidents never have sole authority to do it. It's how the Founders wanted it as James Madison wrote in 1793 that the "fundamental doctrine of the Constitution....to declare war is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature." And George Mason stated during the constitutional convention the president "is not safely to be trusted with" the power to declare war. Sadly it hasn't worked out that way. The president and Congress only observed the supreme law of the land five times in the nation's history, the last being in December, 1941 following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Following WW II, Harry Truman criminally broke the law setting a post-war precedent his successors followed, and no Congress intervened to stop them. It made every post-war president criminally liable but none more so than George Bush and all in Congress conspiring with him. Following 9/11, the president rightfully called the attacks acts of terrorism (whoever was responsible) as they are under US law even though international law provides no generally accepted definition of this crime. They weren't acts of war, and calling them that crossed the line breaking the law as only nations can attack one another, not individuals. No evidence existed then or now Afghanistan was behind them nor did Saddam pose an imminent threat justifying our aggression.

George Bush tried and failed getting legal Security Council cover for both wars. He then tried getting it from Congress, couldn't get his preferred formal declarations and had to settle for joint-War Powers resolution authorizations to protect the country against international terrorism he chose to do by waging illegal wars against two countries.

The result today is a nation embroiled in two unwinnable wars some high officials and observers feel are the greatest strategic blunders in the nation's history. Combined they may also end up our greatest crime surpassing in lives lost the mass carnage we inflicted on Southeast Asians. That's the legacy of George Bush about to get a renewed lease on life to continue his reign of terror on the greater Middle East for another two years in spite of mass public opposition to it worldwide.

The people have spoken, but imperialism marches on aiming next at target Iran with nuclear weapons cleared for use if an attack is launched. If they are in any future conflict, every member of Congress will be criminally liable to indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague according to University of Chicago professor Jorge Hirsch even if they're authorized without congressional approval. Hirsch states why:

-- the act will be one of "most serious crimes of international concern."

-- Congress funded the weapons' creation paying the military to use them.

-- Congress knew having these weapons means they may be criminally used.

-- Congress can act preventively now to prevent these weapons being used. Failure to do so is a crime.

-- If they are, at least some in Congress "actively aided, abetted and assisted in the commission of the crimes."

Hirsch explained further that Congress has "constitutional power to legislate" conditions, limits and restrictions over if, how and when the president can authorize military use of nuclear weapons as commander in chief. Even more damning, he points out, is the Bush Doctrine policy illegally proclaiming the right in various national security documents to wage preemptive wars using all weapons in our arsenal including nuclear ones against any country or force the administration feels threatens the national security even if it isn't true.

If Iran or any other country is so-designated and attacked with nuclear weapons, Hirsch points out every Western European signatory country to the ICC will be obliged to arrest any congressional member on their soil surrendering them to Court authority in the Hague to stand trial since none of these nations has bilateral "Article 98 agreements" with the US granting immunity to US citizens.

This needn't happen if Congress acts responsibly and legislatively prevents George Bush from waging war with Iran, nuclear or otherwise. Warning the president against acting without congressional approval won't stop him any more than wishing will. George Bush does what he wants, and statements from leading Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Speaker Pelosi that he must get congressional authority first are plain wrong, misguided, stupid, and now irrelevant as Democrat leaders changed their mind and will say nothing. Only an act of Congress has a chance, and unless the 110th body passes one in clear strong language it's practically telling the president do as you please and ignore what we say which he may do anyway with a stroke of a "signing statement" erasing whatever Congress legislates.

If that happens and the US attacks Iran, all bets are off on what's next with impossible to predict consequences that won't be good for the West and especially Washington. It will expand the Iraq conflict to a regional one, inflame the entire Muslim world and unleash an unpredictable backlash fallout from a desperate strategy doomed to fail. Further, it would be more proof of joint administration-congressional complicity demonstrating again the criminal class in Washington is bipartisan, but who already doesn't know that.

It's also no secret corporate interests thrive on wars and fund the parties to wage them. It's thus unlikely Congress will bite the generous hands feeding it unless the price to pay starts exceeding the benefits received. Getting reelected is top concern, but fearing a shakled trip to the Hague might focus some minds as well. Members of Congress agreeing to nuclear war against Iran will henceforth be unable to travel freely in Western Europe knowing their final destination might not be what they had in mind or their quarters the kind they're used to for a stay longer than planned for a fate usually imposed on others.

With this in mind, we learned from Secretary Rice on February 27, the US agreed to participate in an international conference with Iran and Syria on Iraq with the agenda limited to Iraqi security sure to include Washington's accusations about support for anti-US resistance. It would be foolhardy imagining Washington's offer of engagement is well-intentioned as this administration has an unblemished record of speaking with forked tongue, so nothing it's up to should be taken at face value.

What is known is that first round talks were held March 10 in Baghdad at a sub-ministerial level with no announcement at their conclusion other than agreeing to the formation of several low-level regional working parties with a further thus far unscheduled conference to be held at the foreign ministerial level at a location to be decided. They won't be bilateral unless Tehran agrees to abandon its uranium-enrichment program and Iran and Syria satisfy Washington's claim they've stopped supporting anti-US resistance in Iraq and Lebanon. Attending participants in this exercise are members of the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Unity, G 8 members, and the five permanent Security Council members who all together will likely achieve nothing.

The talks represent no softening of Washington's stance that may be hardened as they proceed with US repeating unproved claims Iranian elements support anti-American forces in Iraq meaning ultimatums will follow, no compromise is possible, and tensions in the region will end up further heightened. That's where things now stand following the Baghdad session at which senior State Department official David Satterfield accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militias claiming Washington has evidence to prove it without showing any. At the same time, back home US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns was pressing ahead with efforts to get the Security Council to impose harsher sanctions on Iran because it's pursuing its legal right to develop commercial nuclear power.

How this is perceived and portrayed at home has a lot to do with what's going on. The administration may use the talks to mollify critics giving Congress more leverage to pass Bush's requested $93 billion Iraq supplemental funding request Democrats upped to $120 billion + with unenforceable add-on provisions to be debated in both Houses. Without a touch of irony, it's business as usual in Washington with the Pentagon readying a "shock and awe" attack against a country administration officials are engaging in phony diplomacy no one on either side is fooled by......and the beat goes on.

So much for good intentions from an administration having none and a Congress matching it misstep by misstep. It's clear from the Democrat leadership with most others in the party acquiescing, their public posturing notwithstanding. The congressional Dems and their presidential aspirants have tacitly or explicitly kept the "military option" against Iran open meaning they'll not oppose administration plans to launch an all out attack if it's ordered. That's despite Senate Majority Leader Reid's March 2 claim he would support legislation barring an attack on Iran without congressional authority he's now backed off on.

The only issue Democrats pathetically raised is whether the administration or Congress can authorize it, but now we know a matter that serious won't be part of the Democrats' final legislative proposal. Also ignored is the fundamental issue that launching an attack will be a further act of illegal aggression against a country posing no threat to us or its neighbors and therefore must not be allowed to happen. Democrat presidential aspirants feel otherwise and have so stated it as Senator Clinton did at the late January AIPAC annual convention saying: "In dealing with this (Iran) threat....no option can be taken off the table." Senator Obama agreed saying on CBS's 60 Minutes: "I think we should keep all options on the table." And former senator John Edwards showed his resolve at Israel's Herzliya Conference in January saying: "To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table." Sounds like they all have the same script writer, and they surely deliver their party's message that Democrats are as eager to attack Iran as are Republicans and won't stand against it if George Bush so orders.

What's Next from Congress

Rhetoric and wishy proposals with no chance of passage are once thing, real bipartisan action with teeth another, and so far there's none from either House with key senators and congressmen voicing the usual boilerplate about not wanting to cut off funding the troops because we have to support them. Their kind of support means letting them die or get maimed and be disabled for life for imperialism on the march. Some support.

A less than credible crumb of it came from Speaker Pelosi's backhanded pronouncement she'll link new funding requests to strict standards of resting, training and equipping the troops now off the table. Earlier, she and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote the president that "thousands of the new troops (sent over) will apparently not have the armor and equipment they need to perform the mission and reduce the likelihood of casualties (and that problem needs correcting)." Now the tactics have changed with the 2008 withdrawal proposal to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and on with war till we win it.

Some proposals with echos of Richard Nixon's "peace with honor," his being elected in 1968 as a "peace" candidate, and his hope history would call him a "peacemaker" at the same time he was determined never to be "the first president of the United States to lose a war." So his policies ended up killing almost as many US forces as his predecessor along with one to two million Southeast Asians during his watch alone who never got to see the "peace" he promised except the one he sent them to rest in. All the while Congress debated, and war continued another 6 and a half years with serious funding cuts stalled until 1972. Even then, Richard Nixon continued waging war until the January 23, 1973 treaty was signed in Paris ending it and the last US troops came out in March. War went on in the name of peace in the same spirit coming from the White House and Congress today couched in terms of supporting the troops and "spreading democracy."

George Bush says it and so do key Democrats like Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid as well Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Carl Levin and Senate Foreign Relations Committe Chairman, Joe Biden. Funding war will continue showing the one way to end it won't be taken, and the best out of Congress is non-binding posturing and the latest proposal to withdraw combat forces between March 31 and September 1, 2008. The administration's response - it can barely contain its contempt and continues doing as it pleases.

Democrats spoke but who's listening and acting. Levin and Biden mentioned other congressional action, with no chance of passage, including changing the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq of October, 2002 whereby Congress surrendered its authority to the Executive on the most important of all constitutional powers presidents never should have. It followed the even more outlandish joint House-Senate resolution passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of September, 18, 2001 authorizing "the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States."

It effectively gave George Bush carte blanche authority to attack any nation he claims threatens national security on his say alone allowing him to declare a state of permanent war that won't end in our lifetime unless Congress stops it. So far it hasn't and shows no signs it will. Whatever it does, it faces a Bush veto meaning any chance for legislative relief needs a two-thirds majority that's practically impossible on any issue opposing the president, especially as beneath the rhetoric Democrats support Bush wars as much as Bush does.

All this will be part of the interesting "debate" on the Democrats' March 8 proposal including their proposed $120 billion and rising supplemental funding to keep the war machine oiled and running plus all the added pork. The president already wants and should eaily get a nearly half trillion dollar defense budget with $142 billion more in emergency 2008 supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan and anti-terrorism efforts that don't include additional funding for Bush's planned troop "surge" to cost billions more. Combined, the funding from 2001 through 2008 raises the amount of war spending to over $690 billion eclipsing in current dollars Vietnam's war cost making Bush's war second only in amount to what was spent on WW II.

But there's more, lots more. The total doesn't include the following:

-- An estimated $100 billion direct cost of the 9/11 attacks.

-- $66 billion to replace destroyed or unusable military equipment.

-- $125 billion in backlogged veterans' claims.

-- Unknown billions for CIA torture-prisons.

-- Multi-billions for homeland security (now budgeted at over $45 billion and rising) to keep a growing restive population in line with hardball tactics like illegal spying, mass roundups and incarcerations, and construction of secret US concentration camps for tens of thousands of aliens and US citizens Bush may label "unlawful enemy combatants" meaning lock-em-up and throw away the key.

-- And there's another major suppressed future expense: the hugely underestimated cost to provide care alone for chronically sick, wounded and disabled Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes believe will be a minimum $536 billion and may end up much higher. They arrived at the number from their calculation of the number of wounded soldiers to each one killed coming up with the astonishing ratio of 16 to 1 the result of improved medical care and life-saving armor. They used data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) indicating 50,000 surviving casualties from the wars and 200,000 veterans so far treated at VA centers, 40% of whom incurred serious brain or spinal injuries, amputations of one or more limbs, blindness, deafness, severe burns, or other severe chronic injuries.

They also cited data from the brief Gulf war in which less than 150 Americans were killed noting 48.4% of its veterans sought medical care and 44% filed disability claims, 88% of which were granted. That amounts to an astonishing total of 611,729 Gulf war vets now getting disability benefits, a large percentage suffering psychiatric illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression - for a campaign lasting six weeks with no occupation.

So far, it's known over one-third of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war vets have already been diagnosed with similar conditions, and those numbers are guaranteed eventually to skyrocket. Unlike the brief Gulf war after which US forces withdrew, the total combat and support force since 2001 is hugely larger - on the order of 1.5 million or more and growing serving multiple deployments lasting a year or longer with frequent extended tours of duty in all creating a looming epic human calamity already unfolding that will explode in the out years.

Even the VA's Deputy Undersecretary for Health Frances Murphy is concerned admitting there's now a 400,000 claims backlog resulting in waiting lists of months in some cases "render(ing)....care virtually inaccessible." The VA expects claims to reach 874,000 this year and 930,000 in 2008 which helps explain why care provided at Walter Reed and other medical facilities deteriorated so badly and are now appallingly inadequate and shameful.

It all adds up to what Stliglitz and Bilmes now estimate will be a cost of $2.5 trillion or more for George Bush's wars having raised their earlier estimate of around $2 trillion. It's a shocking indictment of imperial recklessness and failure to achieve anything but build bottom lines of corporate war-profiteers by looting the Treasury courtesy of US taxpayers supplying the loot. Stiglitz believes the economic damage to the country is severe enough to cause a global economic depression within two years unless major changes are made in how the economy is managed going forward.

It's starts with defunding wars and addressing huge unrepayable deficits from them. It also means Congress finally confronting a president crazed with power and on a doomed imperial mission for more of it that will destroy the nation unless he's stopped. Congress finally confronted Richard Nixon ending his misadventure he never would have on his own. But before they did, debate and posturing went on, and real action only came incrementally while the war went on for 11 bloody years following the August,1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that escalated it. It continued even though it was repealed six years later in May, 1970 and replaced by the 1973 War Powers Act limiting the president's power to wage war without congressional approval. The law is still in force, requires presidents consult Congress before and after engaging in hostilities, and amounts to much ado about nothing for all the good it does stopping George Bush from doing what he wants as long as Congress only talks and won't act.

It's time Congress took its sworn oath seriously and began undoing its lack of resolve since 9/11 that changed everything. But even if it does, it remains to be seen if a president thinking the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper" will take it seriously or just go around it the way he's ignored adverse Supreme Court rulings and gotten away with it. The times keep getting more interesting with dangers becoming so great we'd better hope what Congress lacks in courage it makes up for in fear before letting war in the Middle East get to the next perilous stage meaning out-of-control and too late to matter.

In the meantime, the same forces are combining today that helped end the Vietnam conflict and in time may have the same result in the Middle East - a redoubtable Iraqi resistance to occupation, mass anti-war sentiment at home reaching the halls of Congress, and a deteriorating American fighting force with growing signs of internal rebellion against war with no end and for no purpose. What administration and congressional hawks won't do and Democrats are too ineffective or timid doing, the people of Iraq, America and our fighting men and women may do for them leaving them no other choice. The lessons of history are clear. No greater force exists than the will of millions of angry determined people set on achieving what governments won't do for them. We may now be heading for that moment of truth that may be the way to end Bush's wars and anyone after him with the same intentions. Stay tuned and never lose hope.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and tune in each Saturday to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com at noon US central time.