Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tomorrow May Day, May 1, I'm going to two protests. From 8:30-9:30 a.m. I'm going to picket with my union, Faculty Association at Santa Monica College, for a wage increase (we haven't had a raise in 3 years) and a contract. My union has been negotiating for months with the administration and still no raise and no contract. Since we've had inflation for the last three years, without a wage increase our real wages have gone down. I think it's time for us to have a raise.

Then at 4:00 I'm going to meet up with, march, and photograph the immigrant march. There are two marches for immigrant rights in Los Angeles:

1. 12:00 noon- Broadway/Olympic- march north to City Hall- sponsored by March 25 coalition
2. 3:00- Wilshire and Alvarado- marching down west to LaBrea tar pits- sponsored by MIWON and others. MIWON is an alliance of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. (CHIRLA), Garment Worker Center (GWC), Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de Californi (IDEPSCA), Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates (KIWA), and the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern CA (PWC)

Of course, I want to make a statement against HR4437, which I think is the most horrible bill I've ever seen in my lifetime.

Also, Santa Monica College faculty aren't the only working people to see our wages decline: wages have declined in the United States. In the United States we have the greatest income equality today in any time in the last 70 years. You'd have to go back to 1930s to see such income inequality. What has caused this growing inequality in the U.S.?

A number of factors. According to Michael Lind writing in Harpers, " corporate elites continue to use the imperatives of global free trade as a means of driving down American wages and nullifying the social contract implicit in both the New Deal and the Great Society. U.S. corporations now lead the world in the race to low-wage countries with cheap and politically repressed labor forces." Second, Lind says that elites in the United States have shifted the taxes from the extremely wealthy to the working people. Thirdly, wealthy elites have cut spending on services including police, education, and health care.

Mexicans have also suffered greatly from global free-trade. In Mexico, wages have gone down 25% in the last 11 years. Then elites in both countries pit desperate Mexicans who have their jobs destroyed in Mexico against whites and blacks in the United States who have seen jobs destroyed, taxes raise, and living conditions deterioating.

We've had 25 years of Reagonomics, and all it has done is destroyed parts of the middle class and destroyed most of the high-paying union jobs in the United States. Enough is enough. I think that the immigrant marches are for everyone who wants to stop the decline of wages and living conditions in North America.

As wages and living conditions decline, the right-wing offers up the immigrants as scapegoats, blaming them for the decline. That's a lie. The right-wing assault on immigrants is scapegoating them for the failed right-wing economic policies dominating the United States and Mexico for the past two decades. Impoverished immigrants did not make global trade policy to drive down wages. These immigrants didn't vote to shift the tax burden onto working people. These immigrants didn't vote to defund higher education over 10% in the last twenty years.

Rather than causing any decline in wages, Mexican immigrants in paticular have suffered mightily as NAFTA encouraged U.S. huge agri-business to drive over 2,000,000 Mexican small farmers out of business and U.S. retail giants like Wal-Mart destroyed the toy, candy, and other industries in Mexico. I think we should all march May Day to say we're against scapegoating. If right-wing is allowed to scapegoat 1 group, then all people are endangered.

If we are ever to raise wages in U.S. and Mexico, we need to get both governments to stop making it nearly impossible to form unions, which when organized help raise wages of all people in that industry. We need to radically change NAFTA so it has a social contract. If you want a raise, then find someway tomorrow to show solidarity to the immigrant marches.

Friday, April 28, 2006

End NAFTA: Solve the Immigration Problem

The whole debate over immigration in the United States has ignored NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is the crux of the problem. After NAFTA was signed between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, the treaty starting in 1995 allowed U.S. huge agricultural corporations to to dump their corn and beans into Mexico, bankrupting 2 million small Mexican farmers who were driven off the land. Many remaining small farmers in Mexico are nearly destitute. Tens of thousands of these farmers immigrated north to the U.S..

NAFTA also allowed Wal-Mart to sell in Mexico low-price goods made in China, destroying most of the Mexican shoe, toy and candy firms . Roger Bybee and Carolyn Winter said, "An estimated 28,000 small and medium-sized Mexican business have been eliminated." After NAFTA, wages in Mexico have fallen 25%. Bybee and Winter say, "NAFTA essentially annexed Mexico as a low-wage industrial suburb of the US and opened Mexican markets to heavily-subsidized U.S. agribusinesses, blowing away local producers."

Before NAFTA there were 2 million Mexican undocumented in the United States, but after NAFTA passed in 1995, 8 million more Mexicans migrated North. NAFTA was sold as designed to improve the Mexican economy but it has done the opposite: driven down Mexican wages. Also U.S. corporations opened low-wage factories (maquiladoras) along the border which pollute heavily. So Mexicans suffer not just the low wages but also the pollution, horrible housing such as as card board shacks, lack of sanitation seen in open sewers. Further, Mexican government lacks resources for improving services, hiring enough police, erecting streetlights.

There is an alternative to NAFTA and all its ill effects: the European Union and its "social charter." When European countries joined in a free-trade zone similar to NAFTA, they did it totally differently. They insisted on adopting a "social charter" that demanded decent wages, heath care, and investment in all countries. Bybee and Winter said, "Before then-impoverished nations like Spain, Greece and Portugal were admitted, they received massive EU investments in roads, health care, clean water, and education. ... The underlying concept: the entire reason for trade is to provide impoved lives across borders, not to exploit the cheapest labor and weakest environmental rules." EU countries also invested in Ireland, another impoverished country, improved its highway system. This improved highway system helped ignite the Irish economic boom of the 1990s, which drew back to Ireland many exiles.

Bybee and Winter argue that the huge immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is a symptom of the problem caused by NAFTA. The only way to deal with it is to change NAFTA to a social charter like the European Union's. If we don't, the situation will worsen with the Central Amerian Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with five Central American countries, which will do to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador et. what NAFTA did to Mexico.

Of course, HR 4437 should be voted down. A guest worker program should be eliminated from the Senate bill. A social contract should be added to NAFTA.

The U.S. should start immediatley investing in Mexican sanitation systems, housing, education etc. The Mexican government should stop repressing its trade union movement. Industries in Mexico such as the dairy industry should be protected from competition with U.S. giants. Both U.S. and Mexico should enforce strict environmental rules on U.S. companies on the border and start a cleanup of pollution. Such measures may sound utopian now, but the European Union has done similar work for over a decade. Such measures are the only way to solve the immgigration problem.

To read Rogert Bybee's and Carolyn Winter's excellent article "Immigration Flood Unleased by NAFTA's Disasterous Impact on Mexican Economy" go to

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Art of Empowerment /L.A.

I went to the opening of the "Totems to Turquoise: Native American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and the Southwest" at the Autry National Center, which is a splendid show. The jewelery was some of the most beautiful I've ever seen; in addition, many pieces incorporated the myths and beliefs of the Native Cultures. What astounded me about the Native jewelry was it just wasn't for show-off or adornment but the many pieces connected the wearers to identity, spirit and culture. The show, through August 20, is splendid.

I went to the UCLA Fowler Museum to see "Carnival in Europe and the Americas: Photographs by Robert Jerome" and "Carnival!"--both shows ended on April 23. I also saw the carnival at UCLA including stilt walkers, costumed krewes, a best costume contest, and music and dance. The two exhibits portrayed carnival in eight cultures: Spain; Berne, Switzerland; Venice, Italy; Brazil; Bolivia; a Caribbean city; Mexico; and New Orleans. What was fascinating is that though there were common elements--costumed groups portray mythical creatures--each country changed carnival and made the celebration its own. The Indians in Bolivia snuck in their native deities and made cutting comments on the upper (Spanish) classes. The Fowler show was amazing. Again and again street people use costumes to satirize those in power and to celebrate themselves and their own populist cultures.

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (L.A.C.M.A.) I saw the "Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings From the collection of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer." Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer were wealthy Austrian Jewish art patrons who befriended and supported artists in 1920s Vienna. Klimt made two wonderful portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer. In both portraits Klimt portrays Bloch-Bauer as a intelligent, sophisticated and beautiful woman. Growing up I never saw such a portrait of a artistically sensitive Jewish woman, who befriended the leading painters of her day as well as buying their works.

Adele Bloch-Bauer died before World War II; during Nazi period her husband Ferdinand fled to Switzerland, leaving his art collection behind. The Nazis basically confiscated the collection, and after the war the Klimt paintings wound up in a Vienna gallery. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer had willed his Klimt paintings to his neice Maria who in the last decade sued the Austrian government for the paintings and won 5 out of 6 of them. I agree with this court decisions. L.A.C.M.A. is exhibiting them to the public for the first time. Through June 30. The Klimts, particularly the two portraits of Adele Block-Bauer, are gorgeous paintings. It's good to see how a citizen was finally able to triumph over a government to get control of her artistic inheritance.

The next day I stopped by to see the new Ruth Weisberg show at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 No. LaBrea, thruough May 31. Ruth Weisberg is my contemporay favorite painter; her paintings are on the cover of my last two books of poetry. I think of her as a present-day counterpart of Chagal--a splending Jewish-American woman artist. She has a long career of over 40 years from the 1960's to the present doing both paintings and drawings including a wonderful series on the shtetl which she made into a book.

In her paintings and drawings of the 1960s you see a young woman exploring sexuality and politics of the 1960s including paintings of Che; in the 1970s she became a mother, so many of the paintings show pregnant woman swimming and then celebrate young children. Over the decade she has many wonderful paintings on both art historical and biblical themes but she always makes them new--shows these subjects in the eyes of totally modern woman.

Weisberg's painting "Wrestling with the Messenger" of an adrogynous figure wrestling with the angel is on the cover of my book Shulamith while her painting "Exile and Exodus" of a strong woman figure walking barefoot into the unknown is on the cover of my book Walker Woman. Weisberg gently criticizes the male gaze of macho artists through her own portraits of naked women such as the pregnant bather who is not a sex object but enjoying swimming through water.

Finally, this afternoon I went to see the opening show for the Hannah Wilke at Solway Jones, 5377 Wilshire Blvd., Tuesday-Saturday, 11-6, through May 20. Wilke was a leading American Jewish performance/conceptual artist. She used the body as the site of art from the 1960s to her death from cancer in the 1990s. In Wilke's "I Object: Memoirs of a Sugar Giver, 1977-78" is a "Performalist Self-Portrait" she did in Spain near Marchel Duchamp's home. The work is a critique of Marcel Duchamp's objectification of women. What I like about Wilke's work is her agressiveness in-your-face confrontration as she says, "Here am I! Here is my naked body! Here is my authority!" Wilke is assaulting the male gaze as well as male authority in art.

I admire Adele Block-Bauer as art appreciator and support, but Wilke as well as Weisberg are no longer like Bauer-Bloch the subject of the art but both are makers of the art. Both artists are using arts to explore their exile from dominating male traditions of art, to show how they are taking an exodus from those alienating traditions, and are entering into a new land where they empower themselves as artists.

Ruth Weisberg at Jack Rutberg Gallery, 357 N. Labrea thru May 31, 10-5 Tuesday=Sat

Hannah Wilke at Solway-Jones, 5377 Wilshire Blvd. Tuesday-Saturday 11-6 thru May 20

5 Klimt paintings from the Bloch-Baur collection, Los Angeles County Musuem of Art, thru June 20, 5905 Wilshire, M, Tu, Th noon-8 Fri noon-9 (Friday after 5 free), Sat & Sun 11-8 pm

Totems to Turqouise: Native American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest through August 20, Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Waym, LA Tues-Wed, Fr,-Sun 10-5 Thurs 10-8