Caravan for Peace from Mexico Visits the Rio Grande Valley Town of Alamo

By Nick Braune…

I was pleased to see an article in The Monitor — and it was front page in the Sunday Mid-Valley Town Crier — about the Caravan for Peace which stopped in the Valley for a rally last Thursday. The Caravan was founded by a Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia, whose son was murdered by one of the outlaw cartels in Mexico.

Composed of two large busses and a contingent of cars, the caravan crossed the border into California and has been traveling east, holding local rallies and planning for a major rally in Washington, D.C. upcoming. I attended the rally in Alamo, which was spirited and drew about 100 people. (ARISE and other concerned groups in the Valley got out the word and organized a reception for the travelers.

One part of the event was sharing stories of lives lost due to the violence of the cartels and particularly the drug trafficking. Sicilia himself spoke. But another part of the event was an expression of hope: If enough people reach out on both sides of the border and reach out for other solutions, this may inspire change, particularly since current policies have failed so noticeably.

A woman traveling with the caravan explained to me that she represents an inter-religious group in Mexico City, although she made sure to clarify that the caravan had many non-religious participants too. She said that obviously the caravan has goals in mind: for instance, stiffening America’s commitment to stopping gun trafficking into Mexico but also rethinking the total “prohibition” of drugs approach. (The “militarization” approach to the problem, the current Mexico/U.S. “war on drugs” approach, has simply failed.) But the articulate woman was also eager to explain that the goal of the caravan was not a blanket “decriminalization of marijuana” or any other panacea. The caravan simply intends to open dialogue on these issues.

I definitely agree it is time for dialogue on new approaches, and in fact the July Mexican elections were unusual in that all three candidates were for re-conceptualizing the “war on drugs” mentality, which many see as one-dimensional and originating in U.S. military circles.

Military music has never been good music; and military solutions have never been good solutions. Despite its thousands of officers, myriad bases, sophisticated technology, military colleges and massive Pentagon (with its connections to think tanks, big industries and academia), the military mucks things up, repeatedly.

A small example: A young woman just back after serving in Iraq was one of my students three years ago. She was upset about the war, saw no real reason for it, and had seen things she didn’t want to see. When she returned to the Valley, she was still a reservist and the military told her to take “anger management” classes. She told me that she thought that was OK until she learned that the classes were in San Antonio. She got so angry on the regular four hour drive up there that she stewed angrily during the classes, and she was even angrier driving the four hours back.

A larger example: The war in Afghanistan has now seen 2,000 Americans killed. Others have been physically and emotionally injured — news reports say military suicides are up — and the ten-year war is going poorly. Newspapers this last week expressed concern that Afghan soldiers paid by NATO are sometimes targeting NATO soldiers.

More news this week: Blimps, used “successfully” in Afghanistan to monitor large swaths of land, are now being tested for use on the Tex-Mex border to help keep illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants from entering the country. (Glance upward, watch for ballooning military solutions.)

(Update, the Caravan for Peace is arriving this week at Fort Benning Georgia, where it is planning a rally and meeting with leaders of SOA Watch. This organization exposed the School of the Americas, an inter-American military training operation, which was probably lurking in the background when the current Mexican cartels were gaining strength.)

[First appeared in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, 8-26-12]

Some History of Solitary Confinement in America

By Nick Braune…

In the 1790s in the Philadelphia home of Dr. Benjamin Rush, an important discussion took place. This was during that period when Americans were trying to formulate what it would be like to have a democratic republic which could tap the best qualities in everyone. This particular meeting was held to discuss what would be proper punishment (effective punishment, but not vengeful, cruel or inhumane) for those who broke the laws. What sort of penal system should develop in a thoughtful new democratic republic?

A number of Quakers were at the meeting, and also the great statesman and nation-founder Benjamin Franklin. (If I could travel back in history, I would surely visit Franklin.) At the meeting Franklin probably made several comments about the ineffectiveness of locking criminals up with criminals. He probably reminded the group that the purpose should be to reform people who have gone wrong, not to put them in situations that would make them worse.

Perhaps stimulated by Franklin’s practical thinking and also by some insights from Quakers (famous for quiet meditation), the reformers decided that solitary confinement would be a good idea. Their plan sprang from good intentions: Build an institution where criminals could be all alone, could reconsider their attitudes, and could become “penitent,” asking God for forgiveness and turning around their lives. This first “penitentiary” was for solitary penitents. But the plan didn’t work. Solitary confinement did not lead to reformed lives but rather to terrible nervous breakdowns and to worse forms of behavior. The Quakers soon recognized the folly and admitted their error.

I recently learned about that early Philadelphia meeting from a new documentary, “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard,” produced by an interreligious coalition which gathers data and tries to bring “light and transparency” to America’s immense prison system. The coalition agrees with international standards which consider solitary confinement a form of torture. For the DVD, google the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. (

In the 1890s, a century after the Philadelphia meeting, solitary confinement was almost outlawed in America. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Miller, who was also a physician, pointed to the terrible psychological consequences of the practice: “Numbers of prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still committed suicide.” Miller’s 1890 description of victims falling into those three conditions — catatonic, raging or suicidal — also confirms research done today. (My source: Washington Post editorial, July 1, 2012. This editorial condemning solitary confinement is part of an immense sea-change on this question over the last few years.)

The Washington Post reports on a “human rights issue we cannot ignore”: the U.S. has a higher number of prisoners in this torturous confinement than any democracy in the world. Right this second there are probably 80,000 people being held in solitary confinement in this country, some for months, years. Interestingly, when the state of Maine began re-conceptualizing its policies recently, it found out that it had more people in solitary confinement than did all of England…even though England has 40 times more people than Maine!

America’s solitary confinement practices, symbolized by the “supermax” prisons heralded during the Clinton years, are too expensive, don’t fix bad behavior, and are increasingly out of sync with the practices of many other countries. More importantly, these cruel practices are immoral, as the National Religious Campaign against Torture rightly insists.

Quick Note: Curious about Texas? According to a Houston Chronicle article by Diane Schiller last year, there are 5,205 in long term isolation, “administrative segregation,” and another 4,000 serving short term stints in isolation in Texas. Also the Texas Observer in 2010 ran an article about children in Texas held in pre-trial solitary (for their own protection, it is said) sometimes for weeks or months.

Another Quick Note: The 20-minute DVD mentioned earlier,, is easily available for under ten dollars. It was shown last week during the regular Sunday service at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in San Juan, and the discussion afterward was said to be lively and thoughtful.

[This piece also appears in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, 8-21-12]

Civil Rights: A Common Ground

By Faddy Mac Mough
Doncha Know

In a editorial that was entitled: “One More Reader on ‘Rednecks’ and
Immigrants, with Reply” there are a couple of things I’d like to respond to on BOTH sides of
the argument.

First off, Redneck seems to be one of those terms that depend heavily on
who is saying it. As a white man, my use of the n-word would set
off a huge debate … with all sorts of recriminations. Likewise
redneck … one uses it at ones own peril … even among fellow
rednecks. I have some cousins with necks so red they could compete with
traffic lights … and they call themselves rednecks with a certain
amount of pride.

But when someone else calls them a redneck, them’s fightin’ words. They even get wound up tight as a spring if I use the word because, since I am somewhat educated, I am not in the same class of people with them. I am, and have always been, an outcast … a black
sheep … in my own family. So, the point is that the word can be used
as a denigrating epithet … or as a self-describing term of pride …
dependent solely on who is using it and the attendant meanings thereby

Secondly, our anonymous friend does have some decent points (which in
all fairness you were gracious enough to acknowledge in your reply).
Alas, he is a victim of a propaganda machine that has always kept people
divided through scapegoating especially when things start going to hell
in a hand basket!

Growing up it was ‘g**ks’ and ‘commies’ who were the
threat any time there was either economic or political turmoil. Well,
since the ‘commies’ have sort of dissipated and we lost to the ‘g**ks’
in more ways than one … now we are told to fear the ‘immigrants’ and
the ‘terrorists.’ It is the same argument … just different words
being used. And, we fall for it because way down deep inside we can’t
tolerate, and thus can’t believe, that our own government would lie to
us. Well, it does … and it has … and it will.

Third, you tried to turn the words back on the writer of the bit about
your not understanding rednecks. As a redneck, and one with leftist
tendencies, I know we are a complicated lot. Just as people of African
background don’t agree on some issues at all … consider the mild,
milquetoast disagreements between Jamala Rogers and Rice on foreign
policy … and you begin to see how extensive the fault lines are.
Sadly, it is the fault lines that are the root cause of the battles …
and meanwhile we watch the empire collapse under its own weight.

Now, from my angle down here in the slop at the bottom of society it
seems to me this is exactly what the power elite wants us to do: bicker
over all sorts of names and name-calling, real and perceived.

The Texas Civil Rights Review should, of all organizations, realize what is at
stake … but we get so damned caught up in the bickering … that civil
rights of one person being abrogated is civil rights abrogated for all.
Fer gawd’s sake that is exactly what makes my voice worth printing in
the TCRR, in spite of living in New Mexico, in the first place. What
makes me tick is what makes other people tick … despite race or class
or any of that other stuff we are conditioned to worry about.

I’m sure that in the last half of the 19th century when my grandfather
left Scotland for Canada, then walked across the border into the United
States he was an illegal alien … and that there were those who felt he
‘took’ their job, or put a strain on social services.

He became a citizen by default … he never did go through the process of becoming a
citizen … he like so many others worked to get rid of his accent, and
to blend right in. Because he was productive, nobody probably noticed
and if those that did noticed they didn’t care. The question was then,
as now, was he a human being and deserving of all of the rights and
privileges thereby appertaining? Sure the local hospital was stressed
by him during the last few years of his life as he died slowing and
painfully from cancer. But, the hospital was a municipal agency and the
citizens supported it because they needed a hospital.

Toward the end, he was indigent, his wife barely hanging on by taking in boarders, but
there was no hue and cry to export him. Now? Now that corporate
profits are at stake, we get all dandered up because ‘indigents’ and
‘immigrants’ use the corporate, for profit, insurance abusing hospitals
and we’ve all been suckered into wanting to blame someone so the
immigrant becomes the target of our concerns.

Similarly when wages plunge and Americans refuse to do the work, we end
up with a whole system that starts blaming immigrants for low salaries
… but what about the corporate fat cats who continue to make obscenely
huge salaries and compensation for holding down wages in the first
place, and off shoring whatever they can so that stuff is cheap? Worse,
then they get us all riled up because the cheap shit they import makes
us sick, or worse (though maybe being dead is sometimes a lot less
miserable than being sick), and nothing can be done because they’ve
colluded with that ‘wonderful’ government of ours to deregulate as much
as they can?

So, where is the common ground?

I’d argue that it is the civil rights of us all … with the caveat that
using terms to describe each other are the quickest way I know of to
fall into the trap of bickering while our lives are being raped.
Whether a redneck likes it or not, he is in the same pot with the
immigrant. We have far more common issues than we have differences …

The question is, how do we define those issues so we all benefit?
Allowing the process to continue only makes sense if we acknowledge that
the total and complete collapse of the US would benefit all Americans.
I refuse to worry about those who might lose large fortunes … most of
them can not only afford to abandon ship, but have already done so.

One More Reader on ''Rednecks'' and Immigrants, with Reply

Your article [“Night of the Living Redneck,” published by CounterPunch, Dec. 1, 2007] is filled with racist language directed against European Americans. Are you of some other race, or are you a “self-hating” European American?

Mexico has EXTREMELY strict immigration laws, as is their right–and as far as I know they enforce them.

There are many “rednecks,” as you call them, who (if they are fortunate enough to have a job) work extremely hard all day every day to support themselves and their families, but cannot even afford, for example, essential dental work, because 1) their wages are below the necessary level to care adequately for their health, and 2) tax money that might otherwise be spent to provide them with essential health care is being spent on ILLEGAL aliens who come here to be supported by THEIR tax dollars.

Meanwhile an influx of illegal aliens has in many cases changed the entire nature of a previously peaceful European-American habitat in the course of just a few years, making it much less much less safe and comfortable for the original inhabitants.

No species of animal is required to sit passive while its habitat is invaded and its own welfare and/or even existence are threatened. Nor are parents required to sacrifice the future well-being of their children and grandchildren for a policy that they NEVER consented to, nor were consulted about.

Neither is any sovereign nation required to passively accept an invasion of aliens against its laws and against the will of its people.

37 million illegal aliens is a strain on the system any way you cut it. I live in an area of Virgina where there are many Salvadorians–they are friendly and law-abiding, and I have absolutely no problem with them. However, in some other areas, especially the Southwest– including parts of Texas, as you know–there are many ILLEGAL aliens, and there ARE big problems with them, including increased crime and alien-borne disease.

It seems to me that if you wish to help these people you should help them in their own country, where they are legal citizens. If US laws had been enforced to begin with, not only would the “rednecks” not be in this predicament, but the Mexicans would not either.

It’s a matter of RESPECT for your fellow-citizens, and consideration for their situation.

Both the gap between rich and poor and the number of poor families in the US have mushroomed in the past few decades. As the Bible says, take care of the beam in your own eye before criticizing the mote in someone else’s. Or, as they say in airplane safety manuals, put on your own oxygen mask before trying to put on your child’s.

Thanks for reading this, and for making your email address available.

Editor’s Reply:

I always appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with thoughtful correspondents. And I take the email above to be sincere.

The question about my race seems to presume that when I say “redneck” I am referring to anyone of European American descent, which I am not. In using that term I follow Hubbard in referring to the “kicking hippies asses” variety of folks who practice a certain form of social and political life that tends to be overtly racist and violent. Foxworthy, Jones, Jackson and others use the term a bit more expansively I think to refer to something like “country culture” which is increasingly suburban and urban in scope. If you listen to Don Imus in the morning, you might be a redneck.

I believe that “irregular migrant workers” (here I will choose the United Nations language for people who cross borders without administrative permission) do have an impact on the wages of the lowest skilled jobs, usually those kinds of jobs that require a high school education or less.

However, the impacts of migrant workers appear in contexts of falling wages and disappearing opportunities that they do not create by themselves. These problems have sources as old as the industrial revolution, as technology displaces labor in one area and grows new jobs in another, without anyone being able to direct the overall outcomes. In fact, these very problems, associated with US-led adoption of NAFTA, are the causes of vast migrations we see today.

The Inclusion think tank reports John Schmitt’s findings that one in four American workers have “bad jobs” with low pay, poor benefits, and bad working conditions.

If we apply Schmitt’s 2004 ratio to today’s labor force of 147 million workers, we see that 37 million workers in the USA have bad jobs today. That is a lot of frustration and pain to deal with, and some of the hardship (about 3 percent in lower wages) is caused by massive migrations. But the migrations themselves have been largely caused by the pain and frustration of US-led trade policies. So it’s a dangerous and misleading thing to take the problem of “bad jobs” in America and blame the migrants for that problem, because they have nothing to do with 97 percent of the problem; in fact, they are often driven northward by the impacts of US-led trade policies in the South, and they are abused like the rest of us by a national culture that accepts “bad jobs” as a way of life.

As for the problem with health care, I’m glad you bring that up. “Noncitizens make up about 20% of the 46 million uninsured people in the United States,” says the New England Journal of Medicine. And thanks to US law, hospitals who care for migrants cannot receive compensation from public funds. This problem of “uncompensated care” is a real issue, to be sure.
“Treatment of unauthorized immigrants contributes to uncompensated care costs, but the main reason such costs are increasing is the rise in the number of people who lack health insurance.”

Once again, in health care we have a problem, and migrants are part of the cause. But in the case of health care access, 80 percent of the people causing the problem of “uncompensated care” are not migrants. And you’d have to have Scrooge in your genes not to notice that Congress is the body that refuses to pay back American hospitals for taking care of American people in the first place.

Likewise with crime. Yes, migrants do commit crimes, but one hundred years of research suggests a common pattern. Immigrants commit less crime than the rest of us. If it’s crime rates we’re worried about, there are other places to look besides immigrants for the more persistent causes.

I think I see your point about people having a kind of natural right to protect their own well-being. I only want to point out that this is true for migrants, too. All of us have this right to seek our well-beings. For those of us baby boomers who are now headed into elderly years, we might want to consider the well being produced by young workers in the labor force, especially if these young workers could get full access to education.

You say you experience no difficulties with the immigrants in your area, yet you fear that other areas are different and worse. I’d encourage you to reconsider where those fears of “other people” in “other places” are coming from.

Finally, you claim that “if US laws had been enforced to begin with” then the predicament would be different for everybody. Once we notice that the NAFTA laws have in fact been very carefully enforced, we’ll begin to understand whose interests the actual enforcement of US laws continues to serve.

So let us close on the main point of agreement between us. When it comes to the actual history being made by the actual power of law, the “rednecks” and the “Mexicans” face exactly the same sources of aggravation so long as they don’t let Lou Dobbs trick them into blaming each other.–gm


Hanson, Gordon H. The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration. The Bernard and Irene Schwartz Seri
on American Competitiveness. CSR NO. 26, APRIL 2007, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS.

“On The Record: A Conversation with Pia Orrenius: The Economics of Immigration.” Issue 2, March/April 2006 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Boushey, Heather, Shawn Fremstad,
Rachel Gragg, and Margy Waller. “Understanding Low-Wage Work in the United States.” Center for Economic Policy and Research (March 2007).

“Employment Situation Survey.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 7, 2007.

Okie, Susan, MD. “Immigrants and Health Care — At the Intersection of Two Broken Systems.” The New England Journal of Medicine. Volume 357:525-529. (August 9, 2007) Number 6.

Horowitz, Carl. “An Examination of U.S. Immigration Policy and Serious Crime.” Center for Immigration Studies (April 2001).

PS: Indeed, Mexico has attempted to STRICTLY enforce its immigration laws on certain occasions. Who can forget the valiant efforts of General Santa Anna?