Sunday, April 15, 2012

Asma al-Assad: “A Rose in the Desert” or Syria’s Thorn?

Courtesy of Mohamad Adbo Al-Ibrahim
Her Elegance: The 36 year-old British-born, Syrian bride has exquisite taste. Draped from head to toe in Chanel and Christian Louboutin, she shops online boutiques and art galleries in London for lavish jewelry and extravagant butterfly-featured artwork.

Asma al-Assad has been affectionately named Syria’s ‘Princess Diana’ and was profiled as a “rose in the desert,” as early as last year, by Vogue Magazine. She has also risen to the top of ELLE’s ‘most stylish women in politics’ list. An article published in Mail Online, a UK-based news site, characterizes the first lady as ‘in every sense — the way she dresses, speaks and holds herself — an Englishwoman.’

Her Intelligence: She is a woman that doesn’t fit the traditional image of many Middle-Eastern women of power. She is charming, intellectual, out-going, and resolute. Growing up in London, Asma al-Assad studied computer science and French literature at King's College. She has worked in finance for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and has led organizations that deal, specifically, with high-unemployment and social class differences.

Her Impact: Syria’s first lady was once thought to be "a comprehensible and reasonable individual in an opaque regime," according to American journalist and scholar, Andrew Tabler. While living in the region after Bashar al-Assad took power in 2000, Tabler worked closely with the leader’s wife, and recently wrote a memoir, titled “In the Lion’s Den,” chronicling his moments with the Syrian couple.

Alongside her father, Asma al-Assad has founded charities such as the Syria Heritage Foundation. She has also traveled throughout Syria promoting ‘active citizenship’ and ‘openness’ among her people. Because of her Western upbringing, Tabler and many others were hopeful that, Asma, a seemingly staunch advocate of women’s rights, would help bring reformation to an area that has suffered generations of bloodshed and violence.

Interestingly, it becomes apparent, as you examine her actions and words, that Mrs. al-Assad is well aware of the types of atrocities being committed on her own soil. She jokes as being the “REAL dictator” in her relationship with Bashar al-Assad and consciously married into the 40 year-old, oppressive, authoritarian dynasty back in 2000. She knows: because her father grew up in Homs, an area that has witnessed, first hand, the brutal crackdown of her beloved’s unscrupulous security forces.

Her Legacy: In 2000, Asma came to the region with the intention to usher in change. She was often photographed helping the sick and elderly. She reportedly spoke about a rebounding Syrian history and culture that has made great international contributions over thousands of years.

While Vogue’s “portrait” of Asma al-Assad no longer appears online, a new narrative has been weaved through the actions of her husband’s regime and, more importantly, through her own. The first lady has been a public advocate for human rights, sponsored charities and NGOs, and attempted to infuse a Western democratic model into a region that is deeply entrenched in the type of autocracy that employs deadly military force - engaging in the boorish massacre of thousands of its own people. Could the case be made on behalf of the region’s first lady, that “bad company corrupts good character?”

Nevertheless, the question on the minds of many in Syria and the international community, alike, remains: is Asma al-Assad indeed a “rose in the desert” or has she simply become Syria’s thorn?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Payroll Tax Cut Fight: Is This the Last Straw?

Courtesy of Alex Wong/Getty Images North America
The Republican Freshmen Class of 2010 has ended the year on a very familiar note. This time, it has has effectively pushed compromise for payroll tax cuts to the legislative brink, while over the past 12 months, the group has held its breath, closed its eyes, and stamped its feet in the midst of some very crucial deals. In the end, the actions of this GOP minority, left House Speaker John Boehner, no other choice, but to pull the "grown-up" card.

Last Friday, GOP House members conceded to a two-month extension of payroll tax cuts for American workers;  a year-long version of the agreement has been at the hub of President Obama's recent public push to spread his message about protecting middle-class and working-class families. If Congress failed to extend the tax holiday by December 31, many people would see almost $1,000 in taxes stripped from their paychecks in 2012. This was, indeed, a bargain that even the party of "No" couldn't turn down - though many tea party members, adamant about the lack of uncertainty it brought to businesses, fought the temporary "fix-it" measure to the bitter end.

While its resistance, essentially, crumbled under pressure from both constituents, as well as Senate Republicans, the Grand Old Party will most likely pay a heavy political price at the polls next November, due to its legacy of staunch obstructionism.

Interestingly enough, the one thing that Republicans do agree upon - that Barack Obama is a one-term President - makes for a bitter taste of irony. The chances that a Republican wins the Oval Office next year are slim, mainly because the fringe elements of its party are at odds with the Establishment.  Republicans' disunity is compounded by the lack of agreeance upon any one particular presidential candidate and a singular, cohesive message, while the increasing splinters in its political ideology, give perfect credence to the Biblical proverb, "A house divided against itself will fall."

Besides the obvious party infighting, Freshmen Tea Party members are seething mad. In 2010, these newly-appointed lawmakers, were ushered in on a conservative wave of change. Their principles were clear, direct, and unequivocal: smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and lower taxes. The GOP had a message that seemed to resonate with many Americans. It even came up with the Republican Pledge to America, in September of that same year, where it vowed to "create jobs" and "stop out of control spending." This class was different; those delegates chosen to represent their districts were every-day citizens (many of whom had never held a public office) who didn't care if they were reelected within the next congressional term. This class was on a mission: it was sent to Washington to convey the message of the people, by the people, and for the people.

These days, the right-wing element of the party feels conservative efforts in Congress have fallen short of the message that helped them win back the House of Representatives. "We have not cut spending....we didn't pass the balanced budget amendment.  These are things that nearly all of the Republicans ran on last fall and we have yet to deliver on them and I think I am frustrated but I think more importantly most Americans are frustrated," says Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp.

It wasn't long after the GOP's historic House take-over, that the band of untested Tea Party Representatives began to butt heads with their Republican leader, John Boehner, over issues that, on some occasions, nearly brought the Government to a halt. For these legislators, instances of unpalatable debt ceiling compromises and bereft balanced-budget amendments have left tensions running high, making the group almost impossible to govern. CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent, Dana Bash, commented on the challenge the House Speaker has faced over the last year, "It's been a recurring pickle for Boehner, a political pragmatist trying to please a caucus of new lawmakers who don't care about political consequences."

This recent congressional brawl seemed to do nothing but conjure up old feelings of disillusionment and mistrust between the Speaker and rank-and-file members. With a tax cut extension just days from expiration, Boehner opted not to provide his GOP cohorts with the opportunity to comment on the agreement he made with Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell; Boehner simply went over their heads. To some, it was a move that closely resembled a "backroom deal", a practice Republicans campaigned against in 2010. To others, it left questions about Boehner's allegiance to his own party. "Many House GOP freshmen who were against the short-term tax cut extension feel sold out by Boehner, who announced he was relenting to the Democrats on a conference call with House Republicans, without allowing questions or criticism," says Bash.

Once all was said and done, Democrats (in conjunction with the American people) were the ultimate winners in the debate: a possible foreshadowing of events to come. And while the economy gradually takes a turn for the better, unemployment slows, and the housing market sees a slight growth in numbers, signs of a financial "recovery" and the growing rift within the Republican party, could possibly mean one thing: a second-term for Barack Obama.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Have We Already Begun Feeling the Effects of an S&P Downgrade?

Courtesy of David Prior/Flickr Images 

Last month, the well-known and also highly criticized credit rating agency, Standard and Poor's downgraded the United States' AAA credit rating to AA+: an unprecedented move by the organization to say the least. The U.S. has held on to its top-notch credit rating for the past 94 years and in keeping with the succession of historic "firsts" that have donned our country since 2009; the first time an African American is elected as President; the first sweeping piece of health care legislation is passed since the 1960's; and the first time members of the Tea Party Movement are elected to serve in Congress, S&P downgraded the country's credit rating for the first time in the ratings' history.

Reasons for the downgrade? The U.S. long-term debt to GDP ratio continues to increase, the plan lawmakers agreed to, according to S&P, doesn't do enough to "stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," and the likelihood of any sort of resolution in Washington devised solely by the two political parties to bring down the debt seems ominous. In addition, S&P's outlook on America's long-term rating is negative, which means that if the Administration and Congress fail to put substantial measures in place to lower spending, among other things, we could see our credit rating lowered further to 'AA' in the next two years.

So what should Americans expect after the nation's first fiscal mark down? Ironically, S&P offers that the effects of the downgrade will surface in the form of slower economic growth amid consumer fears. The downgrade could also potentially raise borrowing costs for the U.S. government. However, FDIC-backed accounts, money market funds and such wouldn't see a huge change. Car loans could potentially rise but very little. Most mortgage rates should continue to fall, while ARM's are poised to go up. Federal student loans would remain fixed, while a student who has taken out a private student loan could see higher borrowing costs. In the case of credit card companies, it's not surprising that they could likely raise their interest rates regardless of the downgrade.

Investors believe U.S. treasury bonds are still a good investment option. In fact, discussions are under way among Federal officials as the agency deliberates buying long-term treasury bonds to help boost the economy. The Washington Post reports: "The Federal Reserve is moving toward new steps aimed at lowering interest rates on mortgages and other kinds of long-term loans, without making another massive infusion of money into the economy." This latest potential move by the Fed would reportedly lower interest rates, reduce mortgage rates, and make it cheaper for businesses to borrow money. Still, the general sentiment within the financial sector is that U.S. Treasury bonds are still among the safest in the world. According to Peter Crane, president of Crane Data, "Double A will become the new triple A, because their simply isn't a viable competitor to Treasuries."

Many Americans have already experienced the more tangible effects of the downgrade. Oil prices fell almost 20% after S&P's announcement and according to, "It touched the lowest levels in almost eight months ." Initially, we witnessed lower prices at the pump, but in the last two weeks we've actually seen a significant increase, depending upon which region you live in.

The U.S. dollar continues to take a hit in light of the mark down, but still remains a safe-haven for many. S&P has also downgraded the debt of government-backed mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the jury is still out on whether S&P's latest move will affect mortgage rates. As expected, gold prices continue to hit record highs and some experts predict that we will see gold peak to about $2,075 by 2012.

As anyone who watches the stock market knows, it's been pretty volatile over the past month to say the least: clearly, a sign of the times. To add to the chaotic financial environment, no one really knows what to expect since the United States' credit has never been downgraded before. Some argue, however, that just as in the case of countries such as Canada and Japan, stocks had initially lost some traction once these nations had been downgraded, but subsequently ended up gaining more within a year's time.

Even before the U.S. lost its triple-A credit rating, there was a growing sense within the financial markets and beyond that people had begun moving toward being less dependant upon credit ratings agencies like Standard and Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch. The entire financial debacle of 2007 and the nation's recent S&P downgrade have solidified that.

The purpose of credit rating agencies is to determine the financial strength of a business based on its financial history. A letter rating is then given based on the organization's capacity to meet its debt obligations. Just like anything else these entities are prone to miscalculations, bias, or inaccurate information. Reflecting on the different causes of the financial meltdown back in 2009, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, stated that, "Too many financial institutions and investors simply outsourced their risk management. Rather than undertake their own analysis, they relied on the rating agencies."

More recently, the Treasury Department pushed back on S&P's downgrade of the U.S. sovereign credit rating citing that S&P had "acknowledged an "error" in its calculations and that the rating company made a $2 trillion mistake." Still, S&P continued in its rationale for the downgrade. Acting assistant secretary for economic policy, John Bellows, speculates that in the end the organization's reasoning for the downgrade had shifted from economics to politics: "After Treasure pointed out this error," Bellows wrote, "S&P still chose to proceed with their flawed judgment by simply changing their principal rationale for their credit rating decision from an economic one to a political one."

The bright side? Congress will finally be FORCED to get something done. But whether or not they do still remains a question. The debt ceiling deal both Congress and the Administration agreed to included an initial $917 billion in spending cuts over 10 years, while giving the charge to a bi-partisan committee of 12 members the next-to-impossible task of searching for another $1.5 trillion in cuts by November 23 or face a pain-staking $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts, beginning January 2013. Yet another incentive to reduce spending is the nation's current negative outlook by not only S&P, but Moody's as well.

Many lawmakers on both sides of the isle acknowledge that the way Washington has handled its finances in the past is null-and-void moving forward. Whether it's fueled by what many have viewed as conservative fiscal extremism by the Tea Party or quite simply the economic sinkhole we've found ourselves toppled over into: the voice and tone of Washington and the way we do business will most likely be changed forever: "For decades, political careerism has trumped statesmanship in Washington," says Republican Senator, Tom Coburn. "Both parties have done what is safe, not what is right. The dysfunction in Washington is the belief that we can live beyond our means forever. We can't."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why John Boehner's Chances of Reelection Are Now Null

Courtesy of Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

Beside the fact that those to the Right of him are absolutely fed up with the idea of “compromise” and are clinging desperately to the notion that an increase in the debt ceiling means an increase in spending, John Boehner has to also play to the moderate members of his party, not to mention Independents, and Democrats    and that’s a tough spot to be in.  It seems the days are long gone that the GOP could move to the center and actually legislate from that position: the highly conservative faction of its electorate has made sure that its message is being heard loud and clear. They remain persistant in their view of “no compromise” by any means necessary; although, ironically, and yet interestingly enough, they have  admitted, lately, that an agreement to raise the debt ceiling by Tea Party members, IS compromise on their part. So, maybe, or perhaps arguably, there is a little room to wiggle.
While many taxpayers, politicians, and financial experts, alike, feel that the failure to raise the debt limit would yield increasing financial consequences, many right-wing conservatives and Tea Party members believe that the future of our country hangs in the balance due to the egregious spending binges that have become so prevalent in Washington. Some Tea-Party backed GOP members plan to “hold it down” and vote against raising the debt ceiling, unless Republicans can come up with a deal which spells out an immediate balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. What proves to be more of a political quandary, is that the Tea Party also feels members like Boehner have not represented their ideals from day one and that the Republican establishment has sold them out.  Warnings were issued in December 2010, by the Tea Party to the newly appointed Republican House if they did not deliver the kind of results they campaigned upon. Referencing earmarked-laden government spending bills that were pending in December, the message to GOP members was emphatic:  We will go after them. We're not going to accept it," cautioned Amy Kremer, leader of the Tea Party Express.  Houston Lawyer, Ryan Hecker, a driving force behind the Tea-Party-endorsed document “the Contract From America”, states, "They have to build legitimacy -- they don't have legitimacy right now. They are the same Republicans, in many cases, who voted for TARP and did not put forth real conservative solutions over the course of six years when we had the presidency and both houses of Congress."
As politics would have it, the debt ceiling negotiations would not be the first instance where Boehner would promise significant cuts in spending and fail to make good on that promise.  Back in April, when Congress was attempting to hammer out a budget agreement to avert a government shutdown, the Speaker initially managed to secure a deal with the President for roughly $38.5 billion in savings. The Congressional Budget Office later announced that the spending bill would only result in savings of less than 1 percent of the original deal landed by Boehner, by the end of 2011. With an atmosphere of skepticism already brewing, Tea Party Republicans were ready to put Boehner on the chopping block. RedState's Erick Erickson, ripped Boehner on his inability to lead effectively, We might really need to reconsider whether or not our existing leadership has the moral authority to continue leading." The National Review, a leading conservative publication, renounced its previous endorsement of Boehner’s deal, penning, “The episode is strike one against the speakership of John Boehner.”

Courtesy of Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 
Due to the growing public sentiment of mistrust towards politicians in Washington, in September of last year, House Republicans rolled out their legislative agenda called the “Pledge To America," where they vowed to: fight to ensure transparency and accountability in Congress and throughout government, fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain, and give members at least three days to read a bill before a vote. These promises, along with many others, were made to the American public.  Now, nearly 10 months later, the GOP is struggling to remain steadfast in its commitment amidst one of the most unprecedented financial and global crisis of our lifetimes.
In a matter of months, tensions between newcomers and the Establishment have intensified dramatically.  Earlier this week, a riff occurred within the GOP, as members of the Republican caucus split over Boehner’s proposed budget bill, which some said, failed to include an adequate balanced-budget amendment.  Staff members for the Republican Study Committee began emailing outside conservative groups, urging them to “put pressure on fellow Republicans to oppose Boehner’s plan.”  The email sent by one staff member, also called for lobbying efforts against 30 Committee members who were identified by District.  Meanwhile, in an effort to reinforce their position, Tea Party members rallied in front of the Capitol, Wednesday, touting hand-held messages that read “hold the line” and “balance the budget.”  By Thursday, there were a growing number of conservative Republicans that refused to sign on to Boehner’s bill, forcing him to postpone a vote in the House. 
As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich knows all too well, failure to reach a debt agreement could possibly result in catastrophic results not only financially, but politically as well. Much like Boehner, Gingrich and Republicans came in sweeping the Democratic Majority out of the House of Representatives. Like Boehner, Gingrich pledged to govern differently; he and his Republican cohorts concocted the “Contract With America,” which laid out GOP policy plans in 1994. And much like Boehner, he was met with stiff opposition from his within own party. "Gingrich came to office in 1994 claiming to be revolutionary and then found that some of his members were much more revolutionary than he was," said John Pitney, a former Republican House aide.
According to recent polls, Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Independents (even Boehner himself) want compromise. It’s what moves things in Washington.  Because you have to reach across the isle, especially having a Democratic-controlled Senate, there must be concessions in order to get things done. The Tea Party has a very different mission – they believe that the members they elected in the House of Representatives were sent to Washington to do one thing and one thing only: cut spending; even if that means no compromise. Their philosophy and that of most other Congressional members will never be fully in line. We have seen evidence of this divide play out more and more over the past week. Many Tea Party-backed Republicans have rejected the bill passed by the Speaker, which undercuts his credibility now and will, eventually, probably undermine his efforts to serve another term.   
In the coming days, John Boehner and his caucus have some serious choices to make-either they agree to the deal that is currently being drafted by Senate Republicans and Democrats in order to raise the debt ceiling, or stand firm on the convictions of the far Right and be remembered in history as the members of the House that stood by and allowed the U.S. to default on its obligations. Unfortunately, no matter what the decision will be, many are already questioning Boehner’s leadership ability; and in regard to future legislation, the failure to tame his losely-controlled caucus will, no doubt, add to that air of ambiguity and uncertainty.        

Monday, June 27, 2011

Could America's Economy Be on the Verge of Collapse?

Courtesy of Paul Katz / Getty Images

Lately, it seems we have seen a barrage of videos, ads, text messages, and internet links about the demise of the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency. Many economists, investment researchers, politicians, and the like, have bombarded us with their personal forecasts for the fiscal future of the United States. One of the most controversial videos that has recently surfaced is "The End of America": brainchild of Porter Stansberry of Stansberry & Associates Investment Research. The firm was founded by the investment researcher, whose video has gone completely viral, drawing considerable criticism and skepticism, on one hand, and support and validation on the other.

      Many Americans are legitimately concerned about our country's economic outlook and are searching for answers to questions that are being raised publicly, as well as those that we've never even thought to ask. In turn, we seek sound advice from experts who could possibly help us navigate through all of the propaganda disseminated by the government, as well as those watch dog or whistleblower organizations that claim to be serving the best interest of the people.

      Sentiments expressed in many of these messages forecasting the collapse of the dollar, have been said to play on the consternation of an already fearful American populous, concerned about the direction our economy has taken. While there has been some debate about whether Porter Stansberry's recent web video has been formulated to illicit sentiments of fear, it's also worth focusing in on the facts that he asserts in order to determine if the U.S. could possibly experience the type of fall out that is essentially being predicting.

      It is becoming a commonly known fact that the Unites States' currency is in trouble, but in his video, Stansberry has prescribed the formula for the collapse of our monetary system in some pretty graphic terms. He claims that although the global banking system has not yet abandoned the dollar, the rise of many other commodities such as gold, silver, oil, and wheat, are telltale signs that the world's economy will, indeed, reject the dollar much more quickly. He asserts that superpowers such as France, Japan, Russia, and China have begun talks to "end dollar dealings for oil..." and instead move toward currencies like the euro, the Japanese yen, the Chinese yuan, and even a new unified currency created for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council. According to Robert Fisk of The Independent, a news organization based in the U.K., finance ministers and central bank governors in Brazil, China, Russia, and Japan plan to "...transition from dollar markets within nine years." One of the reasons for the transition has been the (global) financial crisis that has crippled the U.S. economy, branding China as the new financial power. To Stansberry's point, by 2018, we could be seeing the conversion from the dollar become a reality. Once this transition takes place, he predicts prices for everyday things like gas, food, and clothing will shoot straight through the roof. Interest rates will soar and housing prices will be virtually unattainable. He argues that inflation will be higher than we've ever seen before.

      One of the causes that Stansberry cites for the continuing financial crisis, is the strategy of quantitative easing (QE) employed by the federal government. The Federal Reserve resorts to QE in order to keep interest rates low, but many argue that while it looks for ways to improve the economy, the fed runs the risk of causing hyperinflation and the devaluation of the US dollar. According to the National Inflation Association, "... the U.S. dollar is likely to lose nearly all of its purchasing power over the next few years." The NIA predicts that programs like unemployment, food stamps, and social security will become extinct and those dependent on these programs will likely lose their livelihood.

Courtesy of the National Bank of Serbia

An extreme example of the type of chaos that ensued during a currency crisis referenced in Stansberry's video was in Yugloslavia in 1993. Not only had the country's way of life begun to drastically change, it had also experienced the worst bout of hyperinflation in the world. Its government's attempt to create currency to deal with its budget deficit, led to an all-out economic catastrophe. It began to impose price controls, depriving citizens of basic necessities like electricity and heat, and had even resorted to pillaging the savings of its people. In less than two years, prices of everyday items increased 5 quadrillion percent and according to Economics instructor Dr. Thayer Watkins, Yugoslavia's "... social structure began to collapse."

      Stansberry also made claims in December of 2010, about the economic future of Greece: "In 2001, the Greek government borrowed $1 billion from Goldman Sachs to help balance the budget. In total, the Greek government owes $1.2 trillion. It's merely a matter of time before the Greeks default." Last Friday, news of a pending Greek financial meltdown sent American and European financial markets into a tailspin (escalating protests in the streets of Athens). Stansberry asserted that the fate of the U.S. economy will be no different: possibly even worse. He states that any government that has used paper money has ended up borrowing in excess, stressing commodity investor, Rick Rule's sentiments: "Paper money's track record is unblemished by success. The return of paper money to its intrinsic value (nothing) is guaranteed."
Take a look at the facts; judge for yourself.

      Could the U.S. be heading down that economic slippery slope that so many countries before us have succumbed to? Only time (and money) will tell.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

American Perspectives and the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Courtesy of Allen Tannenbaum 
      There's something unmistakably inevitable about events like the one the U.S.,and even the world, has experienced in the death of Osama bin Laden. Something that stirs emotions and resuscitates the consciousness of events that have long since passed; although the memory of these events has never died, it now seems to have, in some strange way, been given new life. Perhaps, it's the intrinsic ability that humans possess, to connect with other human beings, especially during times of tragedy or crisis. Suddenly, the world seems a much smaller place with lives that intertwine, no matter the physical distance, cultural differences, or language barriers. It's India, it's Haiti, it's Japan, and even Libya. The crisis; the tragedy; the emotional toll; and the aftermath - we all seem to internalize, in some way, the human factor within these events.

      Yet, what is even more amazing is that we all seem to be affected by these circumstances in different ways and on distinctive levels. Recent conversations and discussions have revealed this. We perceive these events from different points of view and through a different life lens. If one believed that the death of Osama bin Laden, one of the most nefarious men in the history of the world, would bring relief or closure to all Americans, especially those that were either involved directly in the 9/11 tragedy, or knew of someone who was: despite the heinousness of the act committed, this is, indeed, not the case.

      Some Americans were seriously torn over the news. They oppose the idea of violence in retribution of violence. In his 1957 sermon, "Loving Your Enemies
", Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expresses this same sentiment by stating that, "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars." And although his timeless words were erroneously intertwined with another quote recently, they went viral, nonetheless.

      Yet another point-of-view reveals that others feel strongly about the celebration of retaliation against our enemies, even those that have committed heinous crimes. This perspective, expressed eloquently by 24-year old English teacher, Jessica Dovey
, speaks to the heart of what some felt upon witnessing the outcry of the majority in response to the U.S. Navy SEAL raid: "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." Dovey's thoughts may reflect a belief that is more heavily focused on the response to an action like that which occurred on 9/11, more than the action itself. In many cases, there is an abundance of emotion attached to the reaction, and these Americans may very well agree that bin Laden's actions were barbaric, but the question then becomes, "What should our response be?"

      A number of people feel that the legacy of bin Laden has been, systematically, bequeathed through the undertakings of the U.S. and many other countries worldwide, as we have adopted an attitude of violence and defensiveness that should be uncharacteristic of our great nation. Kai Wright
, writer for "In These Times", argues that two wars, racial profiling of Muslim Americans and a broken immigration system "turned into an arm of national defense" does not make a nation great. In response to President Obama's speech following the death of Osama bin Laden, he pens, "And yet, the Nobel Peace Prize winner can fix his mouth to say that killing a man on the other side of the globe provides proof of America's exceptionalism."


Courtesy of Getty Images
The, seemingly, prevalent response to bin Laden's death is best put in terms articulated here by The New York Daily News: "It's a psychological victory for a country in desperate need of good news." Many in our country are touting the phrase "proud to be an American" in conjunction with the sentiment that "there is justice in the world." It was, undoubtedly, one of the few 'stop and watch' moments that we rarely catch a glimpse of, as the world stood captivated by the news of bin Laden's death.

      Some argue, that the news of bin Laden's death speaks to the unsuccessful 1980 U.S. raid of Iran
, where eight soldiers died in an attempt to rescue American diplomats. It calls into account the tragedy on September 11th that was witnessed, almost simultaneously, in New York City,
 Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Its encompasses a seven year-long war in Iraq and 10 years of unyielding combat in Afghanistan. It, indistinctly, undercuts the ideology of al -Qaeda and the growing tide of Islamic extremist groups sprouting up in countries all across the globe. As Afghan President Hamid Karzai says, bin Laden's death is "a serious blow to terrorism". It's a sense of relief or closure and a feeling of, justifiably, wanting to just "move on". A few Americans even expressed the hope that the victims of 9/11 can now 'rest in peace'.

      Whether one heralds the "victory" of the U.S. or stands firm on the belief that the death of one's enemy does not make a nation great; the demise of Osama bin Laden, has, ironically, brought together the ties that bind us as Americans and even beyond. It's rare moments like these that make us stop, if only for a moment, and realize that, on one level or another, we are all simply human beings.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Illegal Immigration: The Beginning, The Illegal, and the Argument

     Sometimes in order to understand where we are; we have to go back to where we came from.    

Courtesy of Photoworld
A law was signed in 1882 banning nearly all immigration from China into the U.S.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was, in many respects, the beginning of illegal immigration which saw a new wave of migrant workers entering the United States.  The composition within the U.S. had undergone many changes, as people entered its borders from various backgrounds, cultures and walks of life. 
      Before 1882, hardly any regulation existed within the states. There was no need for passports. Immigrants came to the U.S. by way of Castle Garden in New York.  Illegal immigration was a distant thought and anyone was free to enter the U.S.  During that time, Chinese, as well as Mexican, Australian, European and South American immigrants headed for San Francisco to try their luck during the Gold Rush of 1848. By 1853, over half of San Francisco’s population was foreign-born.  
      As the Chinese population grew, so did work on the U.S. railroads. The Transcontinental  Railroad saw strikes by white factory workers on the East Coast. Many more Chinese moved to California.  San Francisco factory workers fought for more pay, but, in turn, were replaced by Chinese immigrants.  Americans were angered by the jobs being lost to the Chinese and soon, laws began to be put in place that reflected these sentiments.  A miners’ tax, that subtly targeted Chinese miners, was assessed soon after.
      A very weak economy and a growing number of jobs being lost and, subsequently, filled by immigrant workers, turned up the heat in the already, very volatile climate in the United States.  Riots sprang up in San Francisco and, frighteningly enough, 1877 proved itself to be a deadly year for many Chinese workers.  10,000 Americans burned buildings in Chinatown and docked boats were also burned in the riots.  At that time, four people were killed and fourteen others injured.  The Chinese had no rights when it came to testifying in criminal and civil cases in California and there was no recourse of action for the violent acts that were being committed against them.  In the aftermath, many Chinese migrants returned to China.
      In 1881, one California senator moved to halt Chinese immigration in its entirety for the next 20 years; he introduced a bill that was shot down by then President Chester Arthur; in protest, Americans burned President Arthur in effigy.  (Its interesting to note, that in the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, was an agreement between the U.S. and China promising “the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance” and guaranteeing that “Chinese subjects . . . residing in the United States, shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities, and exemptions in . . . residence, as may there be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation.”  Needless to say, the U.S. needed to renew its pledge within the agreement and the Burlingame Treaty was amended in 1880, due to increasing political pressure from the Western States.)  One year later, a watered down version of the senator’s bill was introduced, which banned Chinese immigration for 10 years, allowing only teachers and students to come to the U.S; others including criminals, were barred.  Once the bill was made law in the subsequent years, the price the U.S. would pay, was yet to be seen.  All Chinese residents had to register for certificates and could not bear witness in court cases. The Chinese fired back through protests; they brought legal challenges up in court, refused to patronize American businesses and prevented U.S. ships from unloading cargoes in Shanghai and Canton. 
      After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, many birth and citizenship records were destroyed during a fire, which made it impossible for the government to tell who was a citizen and who was not.  In China, fake papers were created and names of fictitious children were registered in the U.S.  The name, “paper sons” was adopted, allowing Chinese immigrants to migrate to the United States. Between the years of 1943 and 1965, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act were both repealed, which lead to a greater influx of Chinese immigrants.  As history would have it, the Chinese Exclusion Act affects much of our policy on immigration today.  
      During the time the Chinese Exclusion Act was initially passed, somewhere around 1883, the number of Chinese migrant workers began to dwindle; roughly 30 years prior to the Exclusion Act, the cultural face of migrant workers slowly began to change and a new wave of peoples had begun to be ushered in.       
      In 1846, the Mexican-American War was fought, which ended with Mexico surrendering to the U.S. by way of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848.  Within the terms of the treaty, states like California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico; parts of Utah and Nevada, were relinquished by Mexico to the U.S.  After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, in yet another unsuccessful turn of events, Mexico’s government could no longer provide the kind of financial support its citizens needed to survive; many Mexicans fled to the U.S. where they found a growing number of opportunities available, as many American men were overseas fighting in World War I.
      During this time, Mexican immigrants were also being recruited and brought to the U.S. to work and live.  Many remained in positions obtained, laboring for years and under “unspoken terms”.   As long as no one complained, it is said, the migrant worker, “…proved particularly useful during World War I”.  Many of these migrant workers were skilled in areas of trade such as painting, plumbing, machinists and the like.  This was especially beneficial for the U.S.
Courtesy of Dorothea Lange / Gelatin silver print
       What would benefit the U.S., would bring a bittersweet reality for the migrant worker.  In 1942, The U.S. Border Patrol was birthed and with it, the term “illegal alien” was born. Many of these workers were subject to harsh labor and lack of constitutional protections, as they were recruited to work on railroads, being paid a fraction of what such labor entailed. 
      In 1942, The Bracero Program allowed temporary guest workers to work in the U.S.; labor protections excluded.  Mexican workers had to prove they had indeed secured employment within the states in order to be eligible for visas.  Thus, the issue of hiring immigrants for cheap labor is also one for which the U.S. takes responsibility.  Soon after, the U.S. became one of the most thriving agricultural countries in the world.
     Today, we continue to see the lack of any kind of reform or any lasting attempt to close the border; this could be attributed to many U.S. businesses benefiting tremendously, for more than a century, from undocumented workers.  Amnesty was granted to 3 million illegal immigrants in 1986 by Ronald Reagan. Corporations continued to push for undocumented labor and since 1986, about 11.2 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in the U.S. today.  Many feel that granting citizenship to those that have come here and been utilized for work, would be in order, to close the door, at least on this aspect of the issue. Securing the border also rates high on the list.       
      There have been a litany of arguments for and against illegal immigration since the beginning of immigration and the debate continues to confound and anger many, on the left and the right, caught in its midst.  The problem many on the right are having isn’t so much with immigration itself, but whether or not it is legal.  A very interesting case to be made against illegal immigration, poses the question: (and by the way, it seems that most people on the other end of the spectrum are not in FAVOR of illegal immigration; perhaps in some ways the issue has a tendency to pull on the heartstrings of those on the left and this makes it difficult to imagine just deporting immigrants, breaking up families and squashing the dreams of many who have tried to make a better life for themselves and their families-just to clarify) why would so many risk putting families and loved ones in jeopardy by crossing the border into the U.S. illegally? There are consequences to any action outside of the law and as a nation of laws, we must uphold that. Many families here illegally, are thrust into poverty and are forced to live sub-standard lives because opportunities are limited without proper documentation. Many find themselves involved in gangs; committing crimes or putting their lives in jeopardy, as well as others.  A growing trend of Islamic terrorism is said to be on the rise, as extremists from Yemen and Afghanistan find their way into the U.S. illegally, holding on to their identity instead of acclimating into the culture of the U.S.;  i.e. learning the language or attempting to become U.S. citizens. Some even argue that we will, through amnesty or even immigration reform, in a way, be encouraging and supporting illegal immigration.   
      Others argue that since many areas in the West, were built off of the backs of migrant workers (or natives at one time), amnesty should be considered for illegal immigrants. Some that side with the left, say that since there has been an unspoken agreement between the government, corporations and undocumented workers; there has also been a hesitation to close the borders.  Some argue that the attempt to deport 11.2 million undocumented immigrants would lead to less immigrants on the path to citizenship, more availability by corporations to take advantage of this labor, less protections and more money in the pockets of big business and their political caretakers.  Others would argue that so many illegal immigrants come here because of the opportunities to make a better life for their families or that economically, Mexico, their home country, is systematically structured to accommodate the mass exodus of its peoples to foreign lands. Its' economy depends upon the monies being sent back by immigrants from these new countries.      
      It seems that since the dawn of America’s rising, immigration has existed as well. Both the immigrant; whether from China, Mexico, etc., as well as the United States, have depended more on each other than we would care to give mention to.  If it weren’t for Chinese, Mexicans and even other immigrant workers, a much different story would be written in the books about many of our railroads, fields factories, and households. Would we, as a nation, be as prosperous and developed as we are just by our hand alone?  One should take a look at the countries that each of these immigrants have fled.  Imagine the success and prosperity these lands would have if they could hire workers to build their railroads or till their fields, build their homes or even care for their children. On the other hand, many immigrants, even at a very young age, dream of living in America; the land of milk and honey. They see the richness of our culture and way of life. Many see an opportunity to not only provide for their own families, but, to also give back to their own communities in their native land. They envision the chance to live in a Democratic society; where every American has the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The things that we sometimes take for granted, are things that many give up all they have for; risking their lives and those of their children, to take hold of.  

      Immigration is not a new topic; there are many similarities weaved into the debate today that have taken place over a century ago. It is extremely important to dig deeper to find out what fuels the controversy over immigration. It may just provide a different perspective on an age old argument. Its interesting to find that nothing has really changed much since the beginning stages and why it would truly be historic to break this cycle of dependency we’ve grown accustomed to.  Still, it may be even more important to know exactly where we’ve come from, to know where we are headed.