A Modest Proposal

Posted January 3, 2007

Categories: Articles

Immigration is one of the top election-year issues. When the Bush administration tried earlier to push through a comprehensive immigration reform bill, anti-immigrant groups unleashed a grassroots protest over the proposed amnesty measures and helped to defeat the bill. Last week, the Senate refused to consider a bill that would have allowed the children of undocumented workers to apply for citizenship if they met certain criteria.

Into this debate strides a new coalition: Bring Back the Past (BBP). The coalition supports cracking down on undocumented workers in the United States. But it also recognizes that America is heavily dependent on foreign workers to grow our food, build our houses, and take care of our children.

To resolve this dilemma, BBP has managed to pull together a number of disparate groups around a modest proposal. It argues for importing reliable labor from an entirely different source: the 19th century.

According to BBP spokesman Liam McSorley, “You can’t do any better than 19th-century immigrants. They were hardworking. They assimilated into American society. And they were white.”

On its website, the BBP touts the virtues of particular immigrant groups. The Irish spoke English. The Slavs were strong and worked for pennies. The Italians brought over pizza and pasta. “They made real contributions to American society,” McSorley says. “And they never insisted on being hyphenated.”

Before hitting on their novel plan, the BBP contacted various European countries to see if they would consider guest worker programs. “Then we found out how much salary they expected,” says the head of BBP’s international relations program Vito Dannunzio. “And they wanted all the bennies, too. A month’s vacation? Full health care? European workers today–they’re out of their minds. This is America. Get real.”

The BBP is not unified on every aspect of the plan. There is some dissension within their ranks over which part of the 19th century to solicit labor from. And there is considerable debate within the organization over the slave trade, with some arguing for its overall profitability and others citing its “dangerous legacies.”

“Look, those arguments are petty,” Liam McSorley reports. “We are all unified on the key issue. The 19th century was a golden age for America. Read Patrick Buchanan’s latest book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. Actually, you don’t have to read it. The title says it all.” When asked about certain problems associated with the 19th century–horrifying working conditions, rampant racism, decimation of Native Americans–McSorley replies, “Sure, every era has its minor defects. But here’s the bottom line: wouldn’t you rather have a nice, 19th-century Irish lass taking care of your kids than a woman who doesn’t speak English from, well, you know, one of those countries.”

“Didn’t someone say once that the past is a foreign country?” Vito Dannunzio asks. “So, why aren’t we establishing diplomatic relations with the past and inviting their inhabitants here to do the work that no 21st-century person wants to do?”


Ah, if it were only a satire. The latest incarnation of America’s Know Nothing Party–the nativist political faction of the 1850s that had the gall to call itself in some states the Native American Party–truly does look at the immigration issue today with all the subtlety of 19th-century racists. Patrick Buchanan, a Bible-thumping Catholic, should know better. The Know Nothings were fixated on the notion that Irish Catholics were poised to take over the country. If they had succeeded, Buchanan would be stuck today in County Tyrone, no doubt writing screeds against the influx of Polish plumbers into Ireland.

When they aren’t worrying about the enemy within, America’s Know Nothings are frothing at the mouth about the enemy without. The current object of their fury is Islamo-fascism. As FPIF contributor Phyllis Bennis writes in Responding to Islamophobia, the far right is corralling a number of their different hobbyhorses for Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week on campuses across the United States.

“They deliberately use the provocative term ‘Islamo-Fascism,’ linking Islam (and blurring the religion, the countries where it is a majority, and its adherents) with the most despised political movement in history–fascism,” Bennis writes. “They do so despite the disdain with which the most violent and extremist versions of political Islamism hold both the nation-state and corporations, both of which fascism holds sacred. Their call predicts ‘the biggest conservative campus protest ever’ and identifies their goal as ‘to confront the two Big Lies of the political left: that George Bush created the war on terror and that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat.’”

Trade and Drugs and Street Protests

Costa Ricans recently went to the polls to vote on a referendum on whether the country should enter the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). It was a close vote, and the pro-free trade side won. But the fight is not quite over, explains FPIF contributor Elsa Arismendi.

“The citizens’ ‘patriotic committees’ set up to oppose the trade agreement have re-grouped in full force, with newspaper reports stating that the number of people attending some recent meetings is higher than at similar meetings prior to the vote,” she writes in Fear and Voting in Costa Rica. “CAFTA opponents’ energy will now be channeled toward presenting official complaints in regards to the irregularities observed throughout the process, as well as toward resisting the implementation agenda.”

Free trade is also on the agenda in U.S.-Colombian relations. But the Colombia free trade agreement faces stiff opposition in the U.S. Congress because of the abysmal human rights situation in Colombia and the failures of the U.S. anti-drug campaign. FPIF contributor Sanho Tree reports on the effects of this campaign.

“As the U.S. ‘War on Drugs’ rages on in Colombia, more and more of its farms have been turned into swaths of scorched earth,” he writes in Postcard from…Colombia. “Aerial fumigation — intended to cut off the production of coca (the plant from which cocaine is derived) at the source by wiping out farms — has unfortunately destroyed much more than a simple illicit plant. Colombia, the second most bio-diverse country in the world, has now had more than two million acres of its land blighted by U.S.-funded spray planes.”

And, in a Postcard from…Mexico, FPIF contributor Katherine Kohlstedt reports on the commemorations in Mexico City to mark the 39th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre when government forces killed hundreds of unarmed student demonstrators. “Important leadership from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which lost the last elections, have shown the deep divisions in the Mexican left by recently formally recognizing Felipe Calderon as president,” she writes. “Even when the next presidential election in 2010 gives the other parties a chance to re-organize against the conservative National Action Party (PAN), it is far from a united front. At the commemorative marches, men armed with machetes displayed their anger over the still-unresolved political repressions of the past year with the slogan, ‘imprison politicians NOT political prisoners.’”

Crackdowns Elsewhere

Turkey is poised to escalate its attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan to wipe out the Kurdish separatist movement (PKK). FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes provides a comprehensive background on who the Kurds are and what they want. He concludes with a number of recommendations for Ankara and Washington.

“On the Iraqi Kurdish side, the United States must insist that the Kurdish Regional Government crack down on PKK military activities inside their territory,” Zunes writes in The United States and the Kurds. “Though the Turkish Kurds have many legitimate grievances against the government in Ankara, the PKK’s reliance on armed struggle–particularly their propensity to engage in acts of terrorism — has actually hurt the Kurdish cause, serving to legitimize the Turkish government’s repression. Allowing the PKK to continue to operate out of Iraqi territory puts Iraqi Kurds at risk as well. The Bush administration needs to make it clear that failure by the Kurdish Regional Government to rein in the PKK will mean an end to U.S. financial and strategic assistance.”

In Burma, meanwhile, the military junta has suppressed the demonstrations. Maneuvering is taking place behind the scenes to resolve the decades-long standoff between the powers-that-be and the people. FPIF contributor May Oo warns that a simple dialogue between the government and the chief opposition party is not enough.

“The current effort by the UN envoy and members of the UN Security Council for dialogue between the ruling junta and NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi is undoubtedly plausible, but plausible only if it leads to subsequent dialogues that are more inclusive,” she writes in Plausible Dialogue in Burma. “Otherwise, the continuation of the vicious circle of internal armed conflict seems likely. We should learn a lesson from October 2000 “secret talks” exclusively between NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi and SPDC. Any resumption of such talks would be unacceptable.”

And finally, if you are interested in an omnibus review of the latest books on China’s foreign policy, check out my article Big Red Checkbook in The Nation, in which I write that “China is simply doing what the United States did during the cold war: cozying up to the powerful, extracting resources, and buying influence.”

FPIF, October 29, 2007

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