Why I'm not Standing with Gringo Vigilantes

Notes on Misplaced Economy

By Greg Moses

Texas Civil Rights Review

SouthWest Border Vigilantes say gringos should drop everything they are doing and go stand shoulder to shoulder at the Mexican border to prevent anybody from walking North.

In response, I’m not saying gringo vigilantes are altogether stupid people, because there are most likely many areas of life where they display dignity and intelligence. The sooner they return to those areas the better.

Yet suppose for the sake of peacemaking that we find common ground with vigilantes in their pure anxiety about the border. What they are worried about is a swamped labor market where more people share fewer jobs and declining pay. That anxiety has some basis in reality.

But it is misleading to see the chief cause of the labor problem along an imaginary line that separates the USA from Mexico. Blame America’s problems on Mexicans? The battle cry of the border vigilante is evidence that we live in desperate and confused times.

Where border vigilantes should look is toward the tallest skyscrapers of their hometown cities, up to the penthouses where business plans are being hatched to pay ever fewer American workers ever smaller paychecks. There is where the vigilantes should stand shoulder to shoulder not letting anyone down the elevators until a national labor plan is laser printed and signed by each and every penthouse occupant and posted on the internet in pdf format.

Not only will a national labor plan manage existing American workers toward peak participation, but it will also show how immigrant workers will continue to be integrated (or re-integrated) into an expanding labor market.

America has always been able to do this for gringo immigrants — work them in. And so the sons and daughters of gringo immigrants should demand a plan to “work in” immigrants yet to come. Do unto others, etc.

It is just plain sick to see gringos standing at the Mexican border as if their own gringo forefathers walked the Bering straits or paddled the great oceans to get here 10,000 years ago, got to know all the plants and animals, bred corn and tapped pulque, discovered tomatoes and tortillas. Inhospitality however is a gringo specialty and the sickness we are quite used to seeing, even when they have their mouths stuffed with fajita enchilada specials. For shame.

We must remind border vigilantes that unemployment was nowhere to be found in America prior to gringo arrival which means essentially that gringos have to figure out how they are going to take responsibility for solving at least one problem they carry with them everywhere they go. Because now that everyone has adopted the advanced gringo economic scheme that is never offered as an option, unemployment has spread like smallpox.

Blaming Mexicans for the effects of a poorly managed USA labor policy is a sign of intellectual and moral weakness, as if the leading question asked by the vigilantes is not who is most responsible for this mess but who can we most easily pick on.

But those are the easy truths to face, because they are all rooted in the past. More difficult truths of labor anxiety reach into the future, because gringo nation for the first time in history is about to get old. This is the truth of the social security crisis.

As gringo nation prepares for old age, it will have more to figure out than where to get its retirement checks from. Because retirement checks must be spent. And in order for there to actually be an economy in which to spend the retirement checks, old gringo nation is going to have to figure out how to get some youth into its economy — youth that gringo nation cannot itself provide.

Nor will the cure be found in proposals to deport lower paid immigrants in a dim-witted attempt to raise the average taxable income of an aging nation. Gringos who offer this plan seem not to be aware that where there are no lower paid workers there cannot be any higher paid ones. This systematic failure of their economic comprehension arises most naturally from gringo assumptions that wealthy people make themselves rich.

And yet, we have to sympathize a little with gringo illiteracy in economic theory, because they are just repeating what they are taught in schools. They are taught for instance that gringos themselves made gringo nation rich. And so they assume that gringo nation will be richer without lower paid Mexicans. The logic is as deluded as it is explainable once you see what gringo nation really means by excellence in education.

Now you could unionize the lower paid immigrants and get their paychecks raised up to a living wage. But if you do away with the labor that lower paid workers provide you would have what Douglas Turner Ward called a “Day of Absence” (1965) more recently dramatized in “A Day without a Mexican” (2004). What gringo ideologues tend to forget is that so-called menial labor gets done because without it no fortunes can be built. If you deport all the immigrants who do that work, someone will have to be found to take their places. If it’s a higher average income that you want, why not raise the wages?

So when gazing across the economy from penthouses high atop the USA, planners will have to tell us, are they capable of solving this problem of working in immigrants as usual — just like they did for their own gringo selves — or not? If not, then gringo vigilantes will have found a proper place to lose their tempers.

Where planners won’t do their planning, that’s where activism is needed, autonomously creating the economy that planners have abandoned.

But for the time being, it turns out to be a very handy exercise to have gringo vigilantes standing at the borderlands where they can look around. Because just to their South bubbles the fountain of youth that their aging economy needs. It will come as a gift if they let it in.

As they stand there looking around at the great crossing grounds that is their last best hope for a grateful old age, they can ask, what do we need to build here as welcoming mats?

And I have no doubt about it, as soon as the gringo vigilantes begin to work out answers to the “welcome mat” problem, we’ll see how intelligent and creative they can be. They will still be gringos, God bless them, but they won’t be vigilantes anymore.

* * *

Note: by way of full disclosure, the author is a recovering gringo.

KBR in Iraq

email from a Spanish correspondent: apart from the red necks, easily spotted by their duck-hunter look, there were a noticeable bunch of people from the Balcans and East Europe employed by KBR in the Middle East (Baghdad & Kuwait) as well

from 2004 Halliburton press release: Halliburton’s team — multi-national employees from America, the United Kingdom, Australia and eastern Europe — were ready to start their assignments in Iraq…

and don’t forget Poland: Poland’s state fuel holding company Nafta Polska has created a joint venture with Halliburton Co. unit Kellogg, Brown and Root to seek contracts in rebuilding post-war Iraq, Reuters reported senior officials said on Tuesday…

Will KBR be sold off? See Wikipedia

Cubic–another PMC (Private Military Contractor) with Balkan roots: Along with preparing after-action reports and adjudicating “kills,” Cubic brings in Bosnian refugees from around the U.S. to recreate their experiences at the Army war games at Fort Polk. It’s a big production–in January more than 600 Cubic employees were needed to create an exercise for 6,500 troops.

but wait, there’s more! (from link above) And now the military training industry is expanding overseas. MPRI advised the Croatian army shortly before it launched a pivotal attack against Serb forces in Bosnia in 1995 and more recently advised the Colombian Defense Ministry. Cubic has won contracts from the Pentagon and the State Department to train the armies of new NATO members like Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in NATO doctrine. That work has given the San Diego company entree to winning direct business from these governments in the future. “We may not be a household name in America,” says Gerald Dinkel, who runs Cubic’s defense unit, “but we’re getting to be pretty well known in Eastern Europe.” DynCorp helped train the Haitian police and is now advising members of the new Afghan police.

Is War Profiteering Making You Sick? pdf

Growling at Halliburton from the Belly of the Beast

Houston Activists Target Shareholders Meeting in May

By Greg Moses

CounterPunch / DissidentVoice / GlobalResistanceNetwork

On April Fools Day in the most obese and most polluted city in the USA (no wonder Houston is famous for its cancer centers) Halliburton subsidiaty KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root) hosted an Open House for jobs. Come in they said and help yourself to a tiny handful of cash from the billions we’re scarfing up in Iraq alone. All you have to do is switch off your conscience and give us what’s left over. In return we will fly you to the Baghdad Airport where you can join our “Red Neck Mafia” building Texas-style democracy for Iraqis while beating the shit out of Mexicans that we will provide on site Easter Day. From there you can join other mercenary forces such as security contractors Custer Battles, Dynecorp, or Ultra Service where you will be taught valuable skills for the new world order such as how to kill or be killed while shredding human rights and disposing human remains. No it’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a paycheck, and we have 30,000 employees over there to prove that it can work for you.

Well if that’s not exactly how things went inside the Open House you at least have some idea of the counter-recruitment information that was being flyered by Houston activists outside. A Halliburton spokesman whom we would not have reached for comment said April Fools! But seriously the counter-employment action was the first of an ambitious seven-week campaign that will culminate in an international protest to get Halliburton out of Iraq, to be staged May 18 at the stockholders meeting at the Downtown Houston Four Seasons Hotel.

“For Houston we kind of use the term, Belly of the Beast,” says Scott, a lifelong Texan and one of the activists present at the April Fools event. “Halliburton is the third largest employer in the city, so we run into employees who say Halliburton pays my bills and they are not nice about it. On the other hand there are former and disgruntled employees who say I’m with you but I’ve got to pay my bills.”

Scott (who has a day job and prefers not to use his last name) is co-inventor of the Halliburton campaign that began in Feb. 2003 when millions around the world tried to stop the USA-led invasion of Iraq. Weekly demonstrations continued from the time the war started in March until the Halliburton stockholders meeting in May. One year later at the 2004 stockholders meeting, five protesters covered in blood handcuffed themselves to hand railings inside the entrance while outside another 25 staged a sit-in at the driveway. In total, about 500 activists joined a demonstration that attracted international media attention. This year, “a bunch of different things are being talked about,” says Scott.

“Do you want to watch the video of the Halliburton stockholders meeting?” asks Rob the Editor on Friday night at MonkeyWrench Books in Austin. Rob is speaking to a small but cozy audience as part of a big-city tour that will take him also to San Antonio, Fort Worth, and New Orleans in the next few days. In hand he has Issue Number One of The Alarm, a free zine that Rob edits in Houston, touting “Voices of Resistance from the Heart of Empire.” A disclaimer on the cover portrays Bush the First warning, “Don’t read this, it’ll rot your brain.”

“Where are we?” asks page two of The Alarm. “We are in the city of Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States. Houston is the belly of the beast, the bowels of the empire. It is the home of the Political Family which controls our country, and the seat of the oil economy that creates sprawl, pollutes our air, water and bodies, dictates a neo-colonial strategy of conquest for petroleum in the middle east, and wages a campaign of violence against the people who live atop oil reserves in the global South.” That’s where we are. Rob is a re-patriated Houstonian who returns to his family homeplace with “breath in his lungs” and a “song on his lips.” He signs his work with “Love and Rage.”

The video of the 2004 Halliburton stockholders meeting shows a few folks milling around outside the Houston Four Seasons Hotel. Suddenly they hit the ground together and before you know it, there is a sit-in blocking the driveway. Several of these “Hallibacon” protesters wear pig noses. Someone holds a sign: “Will Kill for Profits.” Then they start chanting, “Pull Dick Out!” That was of course prior to the November election scandals when Americans allowed Dick back in. A police horse seems to be enjoying itself, head bobbing up and down in pantomime har-har-har.

“We felt obligated to target Halliburton,” explains Scott speaking by phone from Houston. “Halliburton is a pillar of support for the war effort. It is helping to build 14 new permanent bases. It is working to reconstruct the oil industry. And it provides laundry, food, and fuel. During the 1990s Halliburton replaced the US government in providing services for supporting the war effort.”

An alternative annual report on Halliburton produced by CorpWatch calls Halliburton, “the number one financial beneficiary of the war against Iraq, raking in some $18 billion in contracts to rebuild the country’s oil industry and service the U.S. troops. It has also been accused of more fraud, waste, and corruption than any other Iraq contractor, with allegations ranging from overcharging $61 million for fuel and $24.7 million for meals, to confirmed kickbacks worth $6.3 million.”

Against this sort of beast, where do activists begin? “We use two tactics, direct action and popular education,” explains Scott. Popular education means bringing in speakers, showing films, and organizing breakout sessions where people can talk about how to challenge the war in Iraq, corporate globalization, or war profiteering. Direct action includes street theater, protest, marches, and rallies. “We also do a lot of community organizing,” he says, “working with students and campus groups.”

Editor Rob, working the literature table Friday night says to me, “here be sure to take this.” It is a crisp 8-page brochure on Peoples’ Global Action (PGA). “PGA is not an organization and has no members. However, PGA aims to be an organized network.” The web page at agp.org (because pga.org belongs to racist patriarchs who invented country clubs) gives you the basics in six languages. Next action BTW is A16 DC v IMF/World Bank. So if you have your affinity group ready to go…

Halliburton actions in Houston, says Scott, are being coordinated under the umbrella of the Houston Global Awareness Collective which he describes as, “a loose collection of anti-authoritarians, radical, and progressive social activists.” The collective is working with other groups such as Global Exchange and Code Pink. Some of its inspiration comes from the Bay Area’s People Power Campaign, but I forget to ask him which Bay Area. I think he meant the Galveston Bay Area which is sprouting several progressive groups with Bay Area names. The main point here being that with all this Houston activism, you can excuse a writer for getting his Bay Areas confused.

“Making money off of imperialist occupation is fucked up,” concludes Rob the Editor as the Houston band Work starts hauling gear into the room. And later Rob asks if I’m staying for the band. No I won’t be staying, but if Work is anything like what I’ve been hearing from Scott and Rob, there is a Houston sound I’m really missing right about now.

Note: for updates on the Halliburton campaign in Houston see the web page of the Houston Global Awareness Collective.

The recruiter in each of us

By Susan Van Haitsma

CommonDreams / DissidentVoice

The woman who sat next to me during a recent Greyhound trip was a working class widow returning to Michigan from San Antonio, Texas, where she had traveled to attend her grandson’s Air Force training graduation. She wore a sweatshirt that read “Air Force Grandma” in star-spangled lettering, and she clutched a cowboy hat, a parting gift from him.

I told her that I was an Air Force sister-in-law. When I asked why her grandson had chosen the military, she hesitated a moment and said, “He’s a good kid. His father pushed him to do it because he was 22 and he didn’t have a plan.”

Some enlist in the military because it is a plan they have had for a while. But most enlist because, like my seatmate’s grandson, they don’t have a clear direction in life or there is trouble with the direction they’ve taken. A well-timed pitch from a recruiter seems to provide the answers. In the United States, where great value is placed on opportunity and personal freedom of choice, how is it that young adults feel their options in life are so limited, and why would they gravitate to an institution that suppresses their own individuality?

Teachers, parents and counselors work overtime to steer high school students toward promising futures, but real obstacles exist. College tuition rises as money for grants dwindles. Costs of living go up while living wages become less attainable. More college students juggle work, school and family responsibilities, lengthening the time they take to earn degrees. Federally funded programs that help guide high school students toward colleges and careers are facing elimination by the Bush administration.

Investing in war means less money is available to educate young people when, at the same time, more funds are allocated to transform young people into soldiers. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, the government is now spending approximately $16,000 per recruit just to recruit them. One hand of the government takes away options for young people while the other hand pushes them in the direction of the armed forces. It’s a deadly maneuver.

I’d like to place all the blame on the Bush administration for maintaining this insatiable war machine that eats our young. But I think we all share responsibility. If we pay income taxes, recruiters are on our payroll. I have heard the same good-hearted school counselors, teachers and parents who are passionate about college also say that there are “some” kids who would be “better off in the military.” Maybe there is a behavior problem, and they think more discipline would help. Or they think some kids “just aren’t college material.” Being a soldier seems a better risk than “a life on the streets.”

Even students express similar sentiments. In an opinion survey of local public high schools in which students are asked to write down what they think about the Iraq war, recruitment in their schools and the possibility of a draft, the most frequent combination of views is reflected by this student’s response: “The war is crap because we’re fighting for nothing. The military recruiting is good because the people who want to fight for our country can. The draft is, well, it sucks.”

Why is it O.K. for “some” kids to “choose” to be soldiers while others of us transfer our share of the risk onto their shoulders? Why is it O.K. to transfer the risk to any kids at all?

Near the end of my Greyhound trip, my seatmate quietly confided that the most difficult moment during her San Antonio visit had been hearing her son tell her grandson as they parted company, “Just keep on walking. Don’t look back,” and watching as the young man squared his shoulders and followed his father’s orders.

We have a propensity in this country, and surely our current administration does, to keep our eyes on the future. Perhaps it’s a brave and rather hopeful outlook, but it makes us disinclined to understand ourselves, our history and what we could learn from our mistakes. We also have a fondness for gambling, which is another way of ignoring the past in favor of unlimited if unrealistic possibilities of the future.

The Air Force Grandma and I both are gambling that our loved ones will not die in war. If we look at our gamble collectively, however, there are no odds in our favor. If we are really a human family and a global village, we know that our loved ones include Iraqis, Afghanis and every soldier we send into battle.

A recent NY Times article on military recruitment described the guilt consuming one Army recruiter who had learned that 3 soldiers recruited by his station, one by him personally, had been killed in combat. He wondered if he would be considered responsible for their deaths.

We all recruited those young men. How could we have forgotten that children are our only future?