Friday, September 11, 2009

Join the U.K. Socialist Student Union for our fall kick-off meeting, and help us plan another great year of activism at UK!

Monday, September 14
5 pm
CSI (Center for Student Involvement) in the UK Student Center
Euclid/Avenue of Champions, Lexington, KY

All are welcome!
Some of the items on the agenda:
  • Continuing the successful speakers' series begun last year
  • Possibly organizing a couple of forums: on the university in a time of transition (struggles for affordable tuition, a living wage for campus workers, and other concerns) and on health care justice and socialism
  • Finding ways to bring in more people and collaborate with other progressive student organizations on campus
  • Possible attendance of School of the Americas protest or any other large upcoming protests/events?
  • Movie nights? Rallies? What else can we come up with? Your ideas welcome!

Hope to see you then! Anyone who wants is welcome to come get drinks after the short meeting and continue the discussion informally.

Please feel free to contact me ( if you have any questions.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Interview with Argentinean Student/Worker

Joan Braune: Here in the U.S., many students are organizing for affordable college education. Tuition rates are sky-rocketing here, and the economic crisis is hitting students hard. Do students have to pay tuition in Argentina? Do many students work while going to school?

Fabián Bertune: There are two kinds of college education here, far apart: State Universities and Private Universities. College tuition in private universities is absolutely unattainable unless you have a full-time job or your parents can pay it for you. Of course, this is the higher class’ education. However, this is not better than state education, because, like we say here, "you pay to graduate."

State colleges are totally free of charge, you just have to pay for your books, and there is a better quality of education. All the Argentinean Nobel Prizes came from there. But nothing is perfect, and it's hard for the working class youths to go to college and not to work for several years, because academic degrees take time, and most parents can't afford it, so students have to get a job to be able to stay in college. And for that reason almost all students in state universities are full-time workers too, for example, me.

Joan Braune: Is there any chance Argentina will join ALBA?

Fabián Bertune: There is no chance for the time being. Argentina's government does not have a concrete posture about its own politics. In international forums, they boast about promoting Latin American integration, but they're not disposed to adopt the ALBA's leftist doctrines, like the nationalization of natural resources, energy, oil, etc. This won't happen because the electorate still does not have a deliberately leftist posture, like people in Bolivia or Venezuela do. There's no left party in power, although the government is always flirting with some social movements, to get their support when necessary.

Joan Braune: There was a rally here in south Texas on Thursday (7/2) against the coup in Honduras. Have there been protests in Buenos Aires too against the coup?

Fabián Bertune: The common people are beginning to worry, but they initially didn't understand what really happened. There have not been protests against the coup in the streets. President Cristina Kirchner flew to the conflict zone with other Latin American presidents, so, the official posture is in favor of Zelaya, (see answer #2) and that's all. Obviously the Argentinean right-wing journalists spit their poison on TV, but most of the press is against the coup, because we still have the sad memories of the 70's Argentinean military dictatorship.

Joan Braune: I read that about a year ago, there was talk in Argentina about nationalizing some private retirement pension funds. Are the needs of retired people in Argentina being met well?

Fabián Bertune: Yes, retirement pension funds were privatized in the 90's--together with most of the national capital: the national railway company, telephone company, mail, etc.--and re-nationalized about a year ago. This fact can be read in two different ways. On the one hand, the rescue of the possible crash of the private insurance companies, through the National State taking charge of the business, and on the other hand, the use of the enormous funds of those companies on the part of the state, to pay national and international debts. Actually both options are true.

But, beyond all this, the needs of retired people in Argentina are not being met well at all.

Maybe this has improved in recent years, but according to official calculations, 76% of retired people still earn the basic wage--about US $180 per month. This retirement is inadequate, because it meets just 30% of the needs. (A married couple with two children needs at least US $350 per month, so draw your own conclusions.)

Now, this situation will worsen in the future, because in 2001-2002 many workers were sent off the formal employment system, and they will not even get this retirement money: the percentage of old men turning the trashcan upside down on the streets to survive is going to go up in the coming years--and it's already alarmingly high. A tragic case of our reality.

* * *
Fabián Bertune was born in Argentina in 1983. Currently he's studying at University of Buenos Aires and works in a factory. He is not affiliated with any party; his socialism springs from a hatred of injustice.

(I (Joan) have been in touch with him over the years and grateful that he was able to contribute this article.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rally at Hutto: Immigration is not a crime, so why are children doing time?

This past Saturday I attended a rally at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas (near Austin, Texas).

About 2oo people were present to protest against this facility, which--hidden behind multiple fences and barbed wire, rendering the building itself nearly invisible--imprisons hundreds of immigrant children (from infancy through teenage years) and immigrant mothers with small children.

One of my favorite chants was, "Immigration is not a crime! Why are children doing time?"

Hutto is not a prison for people who have committed serious crimes--or even crimes at all--although it certainly looks like any other medium-security prison. (Well, there is one difference between Hutto and other prisons: this one has a small playground. But no children have ever been spotted playing on it.)

This prison is for those who crossed the border without proper papers, or over-stayed a visa, or missed an immigration appointment, or--very often--are seeking asylum from persecution or widespread domestic violence in their home countries. Since the only way to get asylum in the United States is to arrive at the border and essentially turn oneself in, asylum seekers are immediately placed into the rather punitive U.S. immigration law system and are often detained in detention centers. Many of those in Hutto were fleeing gangs, death squads or rapists in their home countries.

About a year ago, the United Nations sent an investigator--a "UN rapporteur"--to check up on claims of human rights violations at the facility. The rapporteur was turned away. (Cf.

There is a fairly good documentary about Hutto, which came out recently, entitled The Least of These. ( It's well worth watching. I'm pretty sure it can be seen online for free somewhere, probably youtube. U.K.'s own Geography Department sponsored a screening of it during finals week this past spring, which was excellently attended, even despite the difficult timing and quick organizing. Very impressive.

There's one small problem with the Least of These documentary. The conclusion of the film is a little confusing, making it appear that the conditions in immigration detention facilities have been dramatically improved and that now the only issue is whether immigrants (including children) should be detained at all. Although some immigration lawyers managed to reach a settlement with Hutto and obtain certain improvements, the conditions in Hutto and at other immigration detention centers in the U.S. are still generally appalling. Despite this problem, the documentary is really an excellent exposee of Hutto and a good introduction to the issue of immigration detention.
Another good film on immigration detention--it's not a documentary, but it's fairly accurate--is The Visitor, which the SSU screened last fall as part of the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice (CKCPJ)'s "20 Days for Peace and Justice."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Relevant Updates: Education, Immigration, This Blog and You

*A recent issue of The Nation has a nice piece on the movement for free/affordable higher education, (One correction, however, is called for...the article states that students in the U.S. are fighting for lower tuition and students in Europe for free tuition, which is somewhat inaccurate, as our own group alone proves; there is a growing movement in the U.S. for free tuition, of which we are a part.)

*If you would like to write for this blog, especially if you are a U.K. student or a member of the Lexington activist community, please contact me for more information:

*I attended an excellent community forum last week, sponsored by a local college Amnesty International chapter, on the Valley's immigration detention centers. A few quick facts:

  • The Valley has only four board certified immigration lawyers, serving thousands of immigrant detainees. This, along with the cruelty of the judges here, is one of the reasons that so many immigrants from around the country are sent to the Valley's detention centers. A large number are from states far away from Texas.
  • Approximately 100 immigrants are flown into the Valley *daily* on special airplanes full of immigrant detainees. Some of these people are quickly deported, while others languish in the detention centers.
  • The Raymondville "tent city" detention facility, according to immigration lawyer (one of the four) Jodi Goodwin, has been serving rotten food, and some of the detainees have a toe fungus. Many medical conditions are going untreated.
  • The Hutto detention facility near Austin, Texas continues to imprison many immigrant children. A protest at Hutto and a solidarity protest in the Valley are scheduled for this coming Saturday.
  • Amnesty International is investigating the recent transfer of Rama Carty from the Valley's Port Isabel detention center to a facility in Louisiana. Although the guards claim that the transfer had been planned weeks before, Rama Carty was a leader in the hunger strikes and in contacting the media and advocacy organizations, so his transfer was likely an attempt to cut off the detainees' links to activist groups. Although ICE (or some related agency?) is attempting to deport him to Haiti, Rama has never been to Haiti and was never a Haitian citizen. According to one speaker at the forum, the Haitian ambassador has stated that Haiti refuses to grant the right to deport Rama to Haiti.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hurricanes, the Border Patrol, and the ongoing war on immigrants...

This morning I attended a press conference in front of the McAllen, Texas Border Patrol office.

The event, timed to mark the beginning of the Rio Grande Valley’s infamous “hurricane season,” was organized to demand that the Border Patrol make public their policy about hurricane evacuations: Specifically, in the event of a hurricane evacuation, will the Border Patrol be checking evacuees’ IDs, trying to figure out who is in the country legally and who is not?

If the Border Patrol does not tell the public whether it will check IDs, then many undocumented immigrants and their family members can be expected to remain in the Valley in the event of a hurricane, risking being killed by the flooding to avoid deportation or imprisonment.

Chanting “What do we want? Answers!”, those organizing the press conference demanded to know which the Border Patrol values more: capturing undocumented immigrants or protecting human life? Unfortunately, the answer is pretty clearly the former. For over a year, the Border Patrol has refused activists and lawyers' requests that it make its hurricane evacuation policy public.

In an area of the country where there have been many terrifying ICE "raids" on immigrant neighborhoods and where the border is highly militarized, a veritable police state, a hurricane would be the kind of disaster the Border Patrol and ICE would exploit to round up even more immigrants and create even more fear. (If you're interested in the connection between disasters and police states, Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a fun read.)

The press conference was sponsored by a wide variety of groups in the Rio Grande Valley, including LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero/Union of the Entire People, the community activist arm of the United Farm Workers Union), a pro bono immigration lawyers' group (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), and Valley-based organization CASA (Coalition of Amigos in Solidarity and Action). Other groups nationally have joined in signing a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, demanding that the Border Patrol release its hurricane evacuation policy to the public.

* * *

This is not the first time that the Valley's vulnerability to hurricanes has been a major topic of concern among social justice activists here. A number of hurricane-related controversies have arisen over the last couple of years.

Last summer, in the rush to complete the construction of the U.S./Mexico border wall in the Valley before the new Presidential administration could take office, levies along the border were demolished--at the height of hurricane season, no less--to allow the wall to be more swiftly built. During that time, the Valley was left especially vulnerable to a potential hurricane disaster of catastrophic proportions.

The construction of the border wall has also raised concerns that in the event of a hurricane, the water surging up from the southern part of the Gulf Coast, from Mexico, would be pushed back into Mexico, causing major flooding and deaths in Mexican border towns. (Along much of the border, the wall is not just a “fence,” but is composed of high concrete or metal panels, appearing much like the wall in Palestine.) A recent flood in Mexico has already caused controversy, as the wall seems to have exacerbated the damage.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Immigrant Detainees' Hunger Strike and other news

[Note: My dad, Nick, has a weekly column in the small-town border newspaper Mid-Valley Town Crier. Here is one of his recent columns. Some of you may have heard about the recent hunger strike taking place in the immigration detention center here. More of his columns can be found online at the website of the Texas Civil Rights Review. --JB]

Over the last three weeks, there has been an attempt to get a story out to the public about the Port Isabel Detention Center: there has been a hunger strike going on. One of the problems is that the authorities, ICE and facility directors, have been denying that any serious discontent exists there. However, a number of activists in the Valley -- and I am happy to say basically young people -- have continued to be concerned and have been reaching the press various ways and speaking to groups about what they know.

The hunger strike story has surfaced a bit in the regional newspapers, and a public rally I attended was covered on Channel Five, although to my knowledge Channel Five has not followed up by visiting Port Isabel to interview detainees.

Information also circulated at the founding event of the new Amnesty International student chapter at South Texas College in Weslaco; the forum drew about 100 attendees, with students, teachers, and visitors attending.

The energetic new Amnesty club invited Ann Cass of Proyecto Azteca to speak on the border wall and invited Juan Guerra, the previous Willacy County district attorney who indicted State Senator Eddie Lucio and Vice-president Dick Cheney for profiting improperly on the construction and operation of taxpayer-supported private prisons. (Incarceration is a huge business, involving giant corporations, public money, and many slick consultants. Guerra’s indictments did not get very far and his opponents drummed him out of office last year, but he is a convincing speaker, has the facts needed and certainly seems on the right trail.)

At the Amnesty event, members of the Student Farmworker Alliance and Southwest Workers’ Union told the audience about the hunger strike and some of the issues which provoked it. The activists reported that there is a rolling hunger strike going on now…some taking turns refusing food so that they do not get too weak in the process. Anayanse Garza, a spokesperson for the activists, has spoken to several inmates and estimated that 100 to 200 have participated in the hunger strike.

One person she spoke to said he was retaliated against for the hunger strike, basically put in the “hole” for not eating, even though he felt weak and should have been monitored by the infirmary. He has been at Port Isabel for two years. The activists interviewed four detainees and got many little stories of abuse: forcing the prisoners to stand in the sun in the recreation area when shade is obviously available, serving undercooked meat, delaying in answering written requests, and more serious things like roughing up prisoners and not providing proper medical attention.

Most of these people detained have not committed a crime and should not be in these centers. The U.S. holds 440,000 immigrants in prisons, often keeping them indefinitely until some paperwork requirement is straightened out. Even though fewer undocumented immigrants have been entering recently, there are three times more detainees than ten years ago. In summary: the centers are profitable, are run horribly, and are causing growing discontent.

In other news…

Since conditions are deteriorating in Iraq again and some are saying we cannot leave on schedule, more comparisons with Vietnam have been in the news. Hearing this week that Sgt. John Russell, on his third cycle in Iraq, shot five fellow American soldiers, I emailed Darrell Muckleroy, an STC historian and Vietnam vet, and asked if this reminded him of Vietnam where there was also such anger on the part of the soldiers.

Muckleroy’s response:

“When I read about this tragedy in Iraq, I was immediately reminded of an incident in which I myself very nearly became “collateral damage” in a fragging. (The use of a fragmentation grenade by one GI to attack another.)

“I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, very much like the victims of Sgt. Russell. I had returned from a mission in the field and had just finished the debriefing by the battalion G-2 (intelligence) officer and had to walk through the First Sergeant’s (top enlisted man) office to exit the building.

“As I and a colleague went through his office, the sargeant opened his desk drawer and suddenly jumped up from his chair staring into the drawer white as a ghost. Startled, we looked over at him and saw his problem—a fragmentation grenade had been rigged to go off when he opened the drawer -- but luckily the wire attached to the pin had come loose. We never found out who planted it. (This was on one of the most secure bases in Southeast Asia, so there was absolutely no chance this was placed by an enemy sapper—there was no doubt it was a GI).

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Welcome to the new blog of the University of Kentucky Socialist Student Union!

The SSU welcomes students or others, who are socialists or interested in socialism, to get involved. We're an official student organization at U.K., and our activities thus far have included a rally for affordable education (which received excellent press coverage), a speakers' series, movie nights, and parties. We are unaffiliated with any larger socialist parties/organizations. Our three issues of focus currently are:

(1) Tuition-free college education for all
(2) Support a living wage for campus workers
(3) Oppose imperialist U.S. military invasions

Stay tuned for updates!

Any help you can offer in spreading the word about this blog would be greatly appreciated.

For more information, check out our Facebook group, "U.K. Socialist Student Union," or feel free to contact me at for more info.