Friday, February 25, 2011

U.S. Intelligence-A Failure of Imagination

As young (and not so young) Muslim men and women rise up to claim their democratic rights, the U.S. intelligence community is once again caught by surprise leaving our nation and its leadership without any context for evolving foreign policy. Since 2001, our so-called intelligence leaders and agencies have warned us that young Muslims were flocking to anti-western fundamentalism and, as terrorists, they were out to destroy America. They increased their budgets, created contingency plans, propped up autocrats and totalitarian governments in the Arab world to prevent these youth from coming to power and imposing their incompatible ideology on us. Clearly our intelligence communities were wrong (again and again). Young Muslims were more interested in democracy than terrorism and and aspiring to enlightened modernity instead of fundamentalism. The only question is: Are our intelligence communities just that uninformed or (and I think this more likely) are they inherently unable to imagine a nation without an enemy set out to destroy it. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist east in 1989, (which, by the way, our intelligence community was clueless and surprised at the actual weakness of the Soviet regime) the intelligence agencies needed to imagine another sinister enemy. They found Terrorism- a sinister force, with opposing values from the West, influencing the young minds and with a goal of destroying the USA (just like communism from 1947-1989). While communism and Cold War and terrorism and Al-qaeda exist, when superimposed in a simplistic way on peoples and regions in an effort create "enemies of the state," it leads to bad intelligence, bad foreign policy and limits our ability to support democracy worldwide. Intelligence is about the truth the exists, not phantoms in a bad imagination.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why the DREAM Act is a bad idea

The debate about the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) over the educational rights of "undocumented" or "illegal" (you can choose your term) individuals living in the U.S. is a case study in knee-jerk political debate. The bill supports the idea that if individuals graduate from high school, are of good moral character and have lived in the U.S. for five consecutive years before the bill passes, they should earn conditional permanent residency. There is also a similar provision for military service. Rational advocates argue that if the bill passes,  undocumented students will be entitled to the same rights as citizen students including in-state tuition to public colleges and universities where they live and work. The "right" of education is extended to these permanent residents of the U.S. Rational opponents reject that claim, arguing that education is a privilege of citizenship and undocumented workers are not citizens. Going to high school, graduating and living here does not entitle students to any form of citizenship rights and is a "back door" to the privileges of citizenship. Of course irrationalists on both sides sling the necessary labels and insults to make cable news and website commentary: Advocates call the other side "racist" and anti-immigrant while opponents call the opposing side "unamerican" and irresponsible communists aiming to bust the deficit, flaunt the law and destroy America. The immigration issue is usually lost in irrationalism. My opposition to the DREAM Act is rational and it comes from the progressive left position. Supporting it simply codifies and legitimates the irresponsible and unethical immigration situation in this county. Even worse, it rewards the private sector exploitation of undocumented workers and transfers the cost to an already overburdened public sector. As landscapers, restaurants, service industries, construction companies and manufacturing companies pay below minimum wage, avoid payroll and other taxes and skirt occupational safety laws and landlords gouge for overpriced rents, the public sector is inundated with more high school and public university students (DREAM Act as an incentive) stressing an already overburdened and financially-devastated public education system. The transfer of costs from the private sector to public sector is exponentially accelerated and a new and nefarious form of corporate welfare created. Taxpayers can now pay to increase the skills of workers who can further the profits of the same exploiting companies. At the same time, ALL our public education students get less and less service and higher tuition and fees leading to greater income inequality and access to higher education. Why not ask these companies to provide educational financing for their undocumented employees?? Yeah right. Long live the left! Extend unethical policy, increase the profits and workers skills of companies who exploit undocumented workers, transfer the financial burden from the private to public sector and tax the middle class to pay for it. Until we have a rational, transparent and fiscally-responsible immigration policy and guest worker program, the left and right will scheme bad policies like the DREAM Act and couch them in such nice acronyms.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

First Post: Why Blog at all?

I continue to write and speak about politics, culture, society and history in many public spaces. So, why blog at all? In short, I see blogging as a heroic attempt to recapture the spirit of the democratic public sphere theorized and partially realized in the 18th century Enlightenment. That ideal (theorized by Jurgen Habermas) has been lost in an age fragmented and competing publics (thank you 1960s), the decline of news reporting (thank you Fox and MSNBC and increasingly, CNN...look at me insert myself in every story, I'm Anderson Cooper) and the narcissism of popular culture (thank you Facebook, Twitter and TMZ). The fragmentation and the decline of the public sphere has had profound effect on every aspect of our individual and social lives, but most notably, the decline, dare I say crisis, of the possibility of consensual politics or rational public culture. Acerbic political discourse, personalized political bashing, irrational national dialog, hardened ideological lines are the RESULT and not the cause of the long term decline of the public sphere. Modern public culture is a perfect representation of that intellectual and structural decline. Possibly, blogging by individuals can recapture the energy, possibility and purpose of the public sphere. If it descends into crass, irrational and angry discourse, it will merely be another reflection of decline. If it is polite, rational and positive it could be revolutionary. This is my attempt at contributing to that ideal. Join me?