December 07, 2006

The High Costs Associated with Getting an Education

Is having an education a privilege or a right? And, what is a society to do to create an equality of opportunity environment? Obviously, the more educated a society is the better. But it's getting harder and harder to attend higher ed school these days. The majority of those who manage to attend face a mountain of debt upon graduation. Check this video out.

November 20, 2006

The Democratic Ideal as Taught and Practiced Locally

It Feels Good (Doesn't it?) to be Protected from the Troublemakers

We teach about the democratic ideal, how much better we are as a society because we allow diversity of people, preferences, views, etc; that we like the marketplace of ideas and keeping the dialogue going benefits our society and makes it stronger! Well, that's in the classroom, because when it comes to practicing a little democracy--you know, a peaceful protest--on campus, the imperial palace doesn't tolerate dissent. Caesar and his cohorts like the language of democracy, just as many rulers do; they use Newspeak to say one thing but mean another. Of course, they ..listen to your suggestions, and they "appreciate all constructive criticism." But, hey, if the rules say you must get a permit to speak up, then get in line buddy and wait for the stamp of approval. It may speed up the process if you ask permission for the specific language you'll use in your protest... And, you have to give your name to those who you intent to criticize!

Now, if a handful of students decide to peacefully let the powers that be hear their concerns the rulers take this opportunity to ..teach a civics lesson! Oh, yeah, we have rules here! You can't demonstrate without a permit! And, for good measure, you must register your with the bureaucracy; this way it'll be easier to know who's speaking up!

The other lesson those perps received was to learn, first hand, how an arrest is made, and what happens when a citizen is put in a jail cell for the night. Hey, what's a little discomfort in learning more about the system? Now, comes the next lesson: being a student you have certain rights (like where to eat your lunch and what music you listen to in your dorm), but you also have responsibilities! What's a better way to teach you that your actions have consequences than by having those arrested brought up for further punishment (including expulsion) by the university?..

OK, those of you who are bleeding heart-liberals should wake up and leave your dreamworld. These are grave times, and we can't allow willy-nilly any form of dissent, because if we don't stick together we'll hang separately! Rules exist for a reason--so what if, on occasion, a little too much force is used to quell the troublemakers... If we don't nip the problem in its infancy, it'll get out of control. So, control we must have. Of course, it's obvious that this control better be left with the experts who know how to use it!

I wonder who said that it's those who are insecure in their beliefs and ideas that want to stiffle dissent by any means necessary....

Editor's Note: This post was inspired after reading of the recent developments at a local university [click
here to learn more].The author only teaches Poli.Sci. in the classroom and had nothing to do with whatever lessons the students learn outside the classroom. After all, he's not paid to teach outside the classroom.

October 14, 2006

PAPER TOPIC: Discuss the Esoteric Dynamics of a Private Institution of Higher Ed. Compare to Real Life.

Who Dares Question a King?

You know, in the academia we often have discussions about egalitarianism, meritocracy, open dialogue, personal responsibility, and policies to benefit the greatest number of people possible. This kind of talk is mostly confined to the classroom though. In the realm of bureaucracy however there's a different universe. It's ..scientifically proven that people who hold PhDs and other fancy titles are not necessarily bright nor have they accepted the ideals for which a higher education institution supposedly stands. I've witnessed bickering and pettiness among adults that, in another setting, would (and should) have resulted in a good spanking.

I've come to the conclusion that the common attitude prevailing in this country also prevails in many of its sub-sections and institutions. Things can deteriorate further within an organization where there's little public scrutiny and the "trustees" are not to be trusted to promote the public good. Add to this a generous amount of arrogance coming from persons with pompous titles of various importance and you have a fine mess!

Now you may ask, why should a private institution promote the public good? That would depend on the reasons it was established. If it claims it wants to promote knowledge, education and ..democracy [at least by giving an opportunity to the masses to improve their lot], then it should do just that! Otherwise, if its main focus is profit, then, at the very least, it should be honest and not try to deceive the public with fanfare and empty rhetoric. Profit and contributing to the public good, I know, are not mutually exclusive ideas, but, honestly, when push comes to shove we know which way the scale tilts. Often the intentions may be good and honorable but the actions are misguided--usually by incompetent people, I mean, the "in" crowd! Above all, the first priority of any bureaucracy (and the powers that be) is to perpetuate itself. Ass-comfort must be maintained at all costs. Royal bottoms should feel no pain a theory I read somewhere purports.

There is a small but very powerful class of power brokers in this country. I'd add to this class those persons who have managed to skim from the system while they only deserve a treatment of ..tar & feathers at best. Even though there isn't an explicit conspiracy (for the most part), there is an implicit understanding among the members of the elite that the wealthy should get more because they deserve it! Another characteristic I've observed is that performance is not the ultimate criterion in being successful or even desirable as a top executive. Those who fail (while being paid very generously) just circulate in the top echelons of corporate America. The trick is to have enough people (also very well paid) as "trustees," members of executive boards, etc. In other words, the performers and the judges interchange their roles--you serve on my board of directors (and you give me the maximum benefits) and I'll serve on yours and return the favor!

My point is that I don't like people who say one thing but mean something else, or when they beat around the bush instead of giving a serious straight answer to a serious question. Let me construct a totally hypothetical model to serve as a paradigm for my assertions.

For example, an executive-- who asks for drastic cuts and is confronted by allegations "passing the buck" and getting a disproportionate bonus--may create a distraction: he can scream, jump up and down while categorically denying he/she got a salary raise between 18-20% because they "only" got a ..17.72% increase. You see, you can be accurate and totally miss the point! Further, what's good about having leaders (with all the benefits of power they enjoy) but without having any consequences for their actions? What's the cost of failure for the leader? Sure, nobody is perfect, but the good has to be substantially more than the bad in order to receive a positive evaluation. I reckon that an executive who leads an organization into the brink of bankruptcy does not deserve to double his compensation in four years. Am I asking too much? I'm open to amending my views if anyone will explain to me the un-avoidable circumstances that resulted in this dire predicament. Not holding my breath until then though.

Leaders are necessary. But leadership has to be exercised for a purpose--promoting the commonwealth is a good one. The retort, "I feel your pain," isn't very comforting to me personally--it doesn't really take the edge off my discomfort. If you ask me to sacrifice, to tighten my belt, while your policies produce much unnecessary grief and suffering, then I don't want you to feel my pain but rather I want you to feel some pain on your own! Show me that you care by cutting your huge (say, $700,000 a year as a nice round figure) salary in half!

I'd continue my debate with this imaginary leader with some very pointed criticism while making sure I'd use means to trigger strong emotional reactions. On one hand, the leader and his cohorts may realize the excessiveness of their take from the largesse [admittedly, this would be a futile effort to shame them]. One the other hand, however, I'd hope to excite and even enrage the majority of the multitude and prompt them to action.Something like when the French people stormed Bastille. If the starving French could refuse Marie Antoinette's offer, "let them eat cake," we could refuse the pitiful orts given to us today and demand a proper nutrition, for us, for the students, and for the proper survival of our beloved institution.

Most employees received a few dollars (say, $ 7 a week!) on average, so, Sire, why did you accept 700 % more than the peons' pay increase? You, Sir, can comfortably live on half of your salary. We could not. Those who got an increase this year will barely keep up with inflation. The Board of Directors has failed to hold you accountable, so I don't think these trustees are able or willing to explain the necessity of your high rewards. Yet, you have the power to refuse your raise; you can even adjust it downwards so your compensation will reflect some of the pains. That would be a great act of leadership and personal responsibility.

I think I'd ask him to get me something reasonable so I could further validate the excellent points I'm making here. I'd ask the said leader, "could you please buy me a few DVDs and some other instructional material to be used in my classes? There's no budget for them and I can't afford to buy them on my own. My salary is very low and I got no raise this year. Thank you." He would most likely respond affirmatively--if for nothing else but to show he's benevolent (and a couple hundred dollars would be spare change to him anyway).

In summation, examining the esoteric dynamics of a private institution--especially one where reason and higher ideals are on the menu--can be a very educating experience indeed. But caution should be exercised too, because looking closely at and being part of a debate, it may bring to light some inconvenient truths. This process of illuminating the structural recesses of an organization (even a hypothetical one) may lead to the conclusion that ..shades are necessary! Not for the brightness of our future in this imaginary institution but for covering our bloodshot eyes--a result of high blood pressure and lack of sleep. You see, life in the academia frequently produces these symptoms. I haven't found the best remedy yet. I'm experimenting with a variety of actions and substances. Feel free to contribute your ideas in the Comments section. Thank you for reading my paper; I apologize for making it a bit too convoluted but unlike the bureaucrat's ass that needs plush cushions, I just needed to barely cover mine.

September 27, 2006

Reminder: The Midterm is Very Important Too!

OK, I won't say why you should get involved in the affairs of your country, or why you should be an engaged and informed citizen, but in case you think it's a good idea to vote for this "midterm election" here's how you can register to vote. If you haven't voted in a couple presidential elections, or if you've moved, you need to re-register. Usually your voter registration must be received by your local Board of Elections no less than 30 days before the next election. Google-search it "board of elections" of your state. Here are the ones for the New York State, and for New Jersey.

September 18, 2006

Darfur: The First Genocide of this Century. More to Follow, Unless....

The Culture of Life Should be Universal
400,000 dead, 2.5 million displaced, 10,000 dying every month. Yes, I'm talking about human beings. Not much more to add. Just click on the links to learn all there's to know about this first genocide of the 21st century. Then do whatever you can to help, but at least add your voice to the cries for immediate help. And, take notes on who's listening so you can hold accountable the powers that be.

[A couple pictures I took at the rally to Save Darfur in NYC, 9/17/06]

Watch George Clooney's poignant testimony on the urgency of the Darfur situation. Also, this Clooney & Power interview.

Go to to find out how you can help.

Be aware of the world around you. Many of the worst crimes take place because of people's apathy--that's why the government of Sudan & its allies have been killing with impunity.

A Darfur victim pictured (left). Unless the US, the UN, and the whole international community step in with peace-keeping forces by the end of this month, then, for those who care to watch, we'll witness wholesale murder, again. Read more on the Human Rights Watch site.(photo,

PS. Is this a reflection of our collective priorities? Media coverage of the ongoing genocide in Darfur has been woefully inadequate. The Center for American Progress found that during June 2005, CNN, FOX News, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur.

September 11, 2006

Some Personal Reflections on 9-11

On every important date, it’s good to take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of the occasion; and I did just that when I was asked to say a few words to a gathering on the 5thanniversary of 9-11. This is what I said:

When we bow our heads in a moment of silent prayer or introspection, when we shed a tear for fellow humans beings, when we ask what we could do to save lives, how to comfort the grieving, when we give, when we care, when we feel the pain of a tragic loss, then we are affirming our own humanity! And we are re-affirming that we are capable of greater acts of kindness, altruism, and unconditional love.

I believe that there’s something positive to be learned even from a horrible experience. After all, we are equipped with a wonderful mind that has the ability to create, conceptualize, and guide us by reason. We’re standing here in this educational institution because we have a purpose—to pursue our own dreams, to fulfill our potential, to make a difference! Education is indeed the key to a better world, for it provides us with the tools to better understand ourselves and others! Fanaticism and its consequences come from a narrow mind. We are here in a quest to broaden our horizons. And this is good!

I appreciate the concept, “a culture of life”—a phrase often uttered but not quite understood to mean: making a difference when it matters. In other words, enhancing the human condition & the human experience. I believe we have a fundamental connection to each other, despite our differences and personal preferences, because we all have the same basic potential: to understand and to love.

We feel the loss. We grieve for those who cannot be with us today. But, as long as we are alive, we cannot surrender our humanity to those who act inhumanely, or to those who seek to manipulate & exploit our emotions though fear!

Let’s not forget the sorrow and the reasons behind it. But let us not forget that we have an obligation to ourselves and to humanity. So, asking I must do of you today. I ask you to decipher and disseminate the knowledge you acquire here. I ask you to help build a better world that extends far beyond our borders. I ask you to be engaged and involved citizens. I ask you to be the change you want to see!

Like Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

July 06, 2006

The Mugging of the American Dream Continues...

Dumbing Down of America, or, Getting Ahead by Adding More People in the Rear?
We often refer to America as the land of opportunity. Talk to everyone who's made it and he'll tell you that it is so. No surprise there. I don't know if it's easier to make it today than it was in the "good ol' days", but I do know one way to improve your lot is through education. Statistically--you know those numbers that reveal what happens to most people--more Americans are working longer hours, have less job security, are more likely to be uninsured, and they can earn 73% more money over a working lifetime if they have a higher education degree!

As of July 1st, the cost of attending college got more expensive. OK, everything gets more expensive over time, but the question is whether the new pricing system of and the access to higher ed will prevent people from earning a degree. I assume that if the economic pressures on the individual and the family become greater this task would also become harder. Actual family income has fallen. Sure, certain consumer items have become cheaper, but the cost of living as relating to the money people make has been rising faster than their earning power.

a great article that explains a lot more about the burden a student faces in earning a college degree. I assume that most of us would agree that it'd be good to have an educated populate, more competitive and more wealth-producing. Obviously, how we allocate our resources is a matter of national priorities. I often tell my students, it's all about the; how we share it, the compromises on the toppings, the size of the slices, and who gets access to the table!

Talking about making a better life for oneself, I found that the best predictor of a person social & economic status is his ..parents! Very few people escape this reality. Of course, if you interview the NBA stars, they could tell you that invariably they came from very poor backgrounds, started learning the game on concrete with a worn out basketball hitting a "basket" with a crooked rim and no net. Millions of young kids in poor neighborhoods are still playing the same game and dream of someday becoming another Michael Jordan. Actually, they believe that they will do so. Unfortunately, way less than 1% ever manage to get a chance to become an NBA player.

Americans want to give a tax benefit to the heirs of the super-rich

This leads me to the question why so many poor & middle-class Americans consistently vote against their own economic interest. The answer is simple, but not simplistic: they vote their dreams not their economic realities!

As for that "dream," it's worth reading Bill Moyers's
speech last year at the Take Back America Conference where he cites numbers, observations, and actual experiences of real people. Here's a short excerpt for you to ponder:

And the outlook is for more of the same. On the eve of George W. Bush's second inauguration The Economist - not exactly a Marxist rag - produced a sobering analysis of what is happening to the old notion that any American can get to the top. With income inequality not seen since the first Gilded Age (and this is The Economist editors speaking, not me) - with "an education system increasingly stratified with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries" and great universities "increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities" - with corporate employees finding it " start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchy by dint of hard work and self-improvement" - "with the yawning gap between incomes at the top and bottom" - the editors of The Economist - all friends of business and advocates of capitalism and free markets -- concluded that "The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society."

Putting higher education out of reach isn't a good thing for most Americans. It isn't a good thing for the long-term health of our country. I'd be the first one to admit that a higher ed degree should not be just a means to a better job, though economic success is a worthwhile goal. But I believe going through college should be an opportunity to further one's horizons, open his eyes to a greater world out there, acquire critical skills and a sharp inquisitive mind. This is progress! We should all be progressives, change things for the better--and, gosh, we need to improve a myriad of things to make a positive difference in the lives of our people. When it really matters, here & now.

PS>Did I make this a political issue by referring to progressive values?

May 04, 2006

Making Noise Versus Being Heard

This past Monday, on May 1st, Mayday, the original Labor Day, immigrants across the country took it to the streets and rallied in protest of legislation that makes being and/or aiding an illegal alien a felony. Rallies were, in general, large, disorganized and peaceful. The rally in Union Square, NY, was reportedly "without incident" according to local news. Having been there, I would agree and I would add that it was a thoroughly hospitable rally. People were not only not fighting, they were smiling. There were dozens of countries of origin represented, several continents and languages to match. However, all seemed to be content to translate for one another as they were able. I heard no obscenities, in either of my two languages. I experienced no pushing or yelling. Attendees seemed calmly pleased.

While many political scientists have suggested that what went on on Monday was illconceived, poorly planned and have warned that it will ultimately be ineffective, I must disagree. First consider the group looking to make noise. They are undocumented immigrants, i.e. according to recent legislation, felons on the loose. These are people who have spent every waking moment of their lives inside the U.S. borders keeping quiet. While they may not have been heard, the simple act of showing their faces and making noise was indescribably empowering. People were smiling with their hearts. They were happy and proud and felt like people, probably for the first time since crossing the border. If we judge the Mayday rallies as a foundation building event instead of a change creating event we may be able to assess them more authentically.

April 17, 2006

The American Dream May Become Just That: A Product of Sleep!

As graduation time approaches for many college seniors this year, I wonder how many of them realize the burden the older generations have placed on them. There's lot of talk about education and how beneficial it is, not only for the individual to better his lot, but it's good for the whole nation to have educated citizens. But, access to education isn't easy, because it carries a big price tag; and, it's not getting any better. Not only the US is losing talent to other countries but we are not producing enough engineers and scientists. Fewer people go into the creative arts too, as there's a prevailing cultural attitude that sends young people into fields "where the money is." The conservative bend the country has taken under the current national political leadership is producing a deficit in the three "T"s--Technology, Talent, Tolerance. It is my contention that you need all three "T"s to be a leader and a prosperous country especially in this inter-connected world.

The income gap between the bottom 20% and the top 20% was 30 fold in the 1960s. Today, it's over 70 fold! Obviously there's been a re-distribution of wealth, and since no person operates in the vacuum of space, the national policies implemented in the last 40 years have established certain priorities and have benefits certain groups over others. The argument that rising water lifts all boats might be true, except that in the US the yachts have risen while the rickety boats are sinking. Real wages, or, in other words, the buying power of the mid & lower strata has decreased in the same period. Many Americans have taken a paycut while our economy grew.

What would you say if told that there's a country that has the second highest GDP (behind Luxemburg) but because of its inequality in the distribution of this wealth, this country ranks dead last among all advanced industrialized nations? Not good! Wait, it gets worse! That country is dead last also in fighting poverty! Among the same rich countries, it has the highest percentage of its people that live on half or less the median income. If this isn't a skewed way to divvy up the national wealth, I don't know what is. The working poor and the middle class in our country find it harder and harder to achieve their American dream since the doors of opportunity are fewer today. The commonwealth, the public avenues, the common good are all under attack.

Millions of Americans did achieve their American dream because they could read at the public library when they couldn't afford to buy books. They could go to public schools, and on to higher education, which was public and inexpensive. The GI Bill was a great success--not only in broadening people's horizons through education, but for every federal dollar spend, the economy got $2 back from having an educated and more wealth-producing generation. What happened to this notion of the common good? We've seen a huge surplus turn into a huge deficit in a just few years time, while there are ever increasing cuts in education and in funds that support the commonwealth, that is, all those good things that make a positive difference in the "average person's" life.

The report by the American Political Science Association makes it clear that "increasing inequalities threaten the American ideal of equal citizenship and that progress toward real democracy may have stalled in this country and even reversed." Further, a quarter of all whites in this country have no financial assets, the median white household has 62% more income and twelve times as much wealth as the median black household and that 61% of blacks in this country and half of all Latinos have no financial assets at all!

The illusion that still holds well in this country is that anyone can become anything he/she wants. But, mobility in America has become a myth. Surely, there are exceptions, and we all know of someone who came from very low and rose to heights. But, if we examine the nation as a whole, it's been very hard (impossible to millions of Americans) to climb to economic ladder. Our national leaders speak of an agenda that would further shrink the social services, the scope of the commonwealth, and those mostly affected are the ones with the fewer means. The rich don't need a universal-coverage healthcare system, they don't need libraries, they don't need loans or scholarships to go to college, they don't need the subways & buses to run on time; don't need them at all as a matter of fact.

Yet, our elected leaders who shape our national agenda manage to convince Americans to vote against the latter's own interests! No wonder why the elites want a largerly un- or under-educated public. It's easier to confuse it with a bumper-sticker approach to complicated issues. Sadly, many college graduates are failing the test of citizenship by not being interested & engaged in the political affairs of our country. Politics reflects the people involved in the process, and democracy is as good as the quality of the people. Aristotle characterized politics in the normative sense--as the ultimate duty of a citizen; as the activity in which responsible people ought to be engaged in.

The American dream was about opportunities, about pride in a country as the leader of the free world, about personal & national prosperity, and individual choice and self-fulfillment. Instead our graduates are facing job prospects with lower pay, longer hours, no pensions & health insurance, and a national debt that amounts to $30,000 for every American! [did I hear: bring in the immigrants to share some of this burden] Of course there is hope, but hope for action won't happen by itself. We have to face our problems and deal with them in a responsible way. Dreaming about something we want won't make it so until we decide to wake up and face reality. Otherwise, the American dream will be just that, a dream.

April 12, 2006

A Little Poli Sci Humor

I've seen several versions of the "political science as two-cows", but this one is quite good.

April 06, 2006

The Uneducated Future

How many of our youth must be lost before this nation recognizes that the most important investment in the world is guaranteeing a fulfilling future for the next generation? Education is the most important tool and/or catalyst to reaching life goals. However, believe it or not countless thousands in the United States cannot afford higher education. The lucky ones who can afford to go to school do so baring a much larger burden than their parents once did. An average college student today works two jobs, goes to school full time and relies very heavily on state assistance. The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) budget has been recently cut and now president Bush is proposing to cut into the most widely used assistance: Federal Loans. About 40 of college students receive the assistance of Stafford and/or Perkins Loans. These loans are extremely valuable because they are provided by the government and have low interest rates. If these loans are cut many will no longer be able to attend College. With the astronomical increase in tuition costs and the continuous cuts in assistance, soon college will be a luxury only afforded to the nations wealthy.
On Monday April 3 Congresswomen Nita Lowey cam e to Pace University to speak to faculty and students about it the importance of investing in this nations youth. The Congresswomen spoke about the many students that would need to incur if it were not for these loans. Lowey also stressed the need for more government action to protect against the reduction and or eradication of federal loan programs. “This is one investment that this country needs to make,” the Congresswomen said and it is quite clearly the truth.
In the end, though it is wonderful to know that some of the nations legislative branch is fighting for our future, we as college students must recognize our importance and find our voice in this struggle for an educated future. Since these legislation impact the youth of this nation the most, it is that same youth that must be heard most loudly.
Know you might be asking: what can I do about this. The answer is that you can do a whole lot. First do a little internet serving about loan cuts or go onto Congresswomen Nita Lowey’s website and see what bills she is fighting against, or lobby for that pertain to education. You should also exercise your right to free speech and contact your local senator. Call them and tell them that you are urging them not to support any legislation that cuts federal loans. Don not be intimidated by calling your local officials, because they really work for you. These officials are elected and you are the one who has power over that so take it. You could also start a petition on campus etc. I think you get my drift that there really is a whole slew of different things you can do. So do not let this nation’s future lose their right, or yours, to a better tomorrow.

April 03, 2006

Motherhood and Apple Pie Still Popular in the US

The other day I attended a Congressional luncheon by the Westchester Community Affairs (WCA). The best part of the affair was the food. The three House members present made a few remarks about the Indian Point nuclear plant, immigration, healthcare, and how hard everybody works to bring good things to life. Obviously this wasn't a symposium whereas a good debate would take place, nor it was the place to acquire knowledge. The elected officials didn't really make news, nor did they fall outside their wide platitudes of all things to all people.

On Indian Point all agreed that there have been serious violations and safety
concerns. The agencies charged with supervising our nuclear plants are dominated by industry insiders and have the efficiency of heck-of-a-job Brownie's FEMA. So, the 20 million people within 50 miles of this plant still face a grave threat. I suppose that the nuclear plants are here to stay as the President's vision of the future (in addition to a Rapturist view) reveals. On healthcare, the most pointed remarks against the failed system and the few who make multi-million dollar bonuses for keeping the rest of us holding the screw came from the WCA's director C. Mooney. The responses from those in-the-know were targeted at blaming the "wrong-doers" but not much in terms of fixing a healthcare system that costs so much and leaves so many Americans unprotected. There were some ideas for yet a few more patches in a worn & small-sized quilt that leaves too many of us exposed. No one wants to talk about a single-payer, universal health care system. We spend 17% of GNP on healthcare, more than any other country. Canada and Switzerland come in second place as the big spenders with 12% and with universal coverage. I wonder how many more Americans are at risk from an inadequate health care system than they are from the deadliest terrorists...

Speaking of terrorists, all are for a secure border, whatever it takes. Never mind that the terrorists didn't need to climb a fence, dig a tunnel, cross a desert, to get in here and do their work on 9-11. We couldn't wisely use our laws and tools at our disposal to prevent the attacks, so instead of being smarter we built a bigger bureaucracy, named it in Orwellian fashion, The Dept. of Homeland Security, and passed draconian laws to make us less free. Immigration poses a threat to our way of life, our economy, our culture, they tell us. Most of the arguments today aren't new at all. They've been re-circulating every so often since the 1800s! A bad law doesn't address reality, and if we get a bad law today it'll stay on the books for a very long time. Maybe DeLay's disgraceful departure from the House will open the door for some fresh air this November.

Like millions of Americans who break the law by buying prescription drugs from Canada, the undocumented immigrants skirt a bad immigration law that's even worse in its application & enforcement. In the din of the forks & knives hitting the china, there was agreement in the room against giving amnesty "to those who broke the law." Though, I think I heard some murmur from the waiting staff, and then I thought that those remarks should have been delivered after all the food and drinks had been served. Having a full stomach, I wanted to ask those upper class people why they've already given amnesty to themselves and to all American businesses that have benefited from this hard-working and underpaid labor pool....

Anyway, I can say that there were many well-intentioned people present and it was nice meeting some of them. I hope I'm invited to the next WCA's Congressional luncheon, because I don't often get to have such a scrumptious food for lunch. And, you know, working in the academia makes one very hungry.

March 31, 2006

Human Trafficking: Where Have All the Data Gone?

I have stumbled upon a bit of an abyss. There is a discrepancy in the information available on human trafficking. As a side issue to immigration "reform," human trafficking, also called trafficking in persons (TIP) or modern day slavery, is relevant to the current political discourse. Thus, I have been formulating some blog posts, emails and handouts on trafficking. There are a number of good books available on trafficking (Human Traffic: Sex, Slaves and Immigration, The Traffic in Women, Global Human Smuggling) but I was in search of some online resources to use as blog links. What I have found is shocking in its absence.

I set about web-sleuthing for information on trafficking in the United States. As a researcher, I am quite savvy about finding what I am looking for, but after several days of searching I began to doubt my abilities. I was finding nothing that discussed statistics on trafficking inside the United States. I contacted some people I know who work in immigration, aiding refugees, and asked them where I might go to find reliable statistics. They sent me to a few general information websites that did not have numbers on trafficking in the U.S. (These are wonderful sites which are active in preventing trafficking and aiding victims around the world, which is of course vital, but not what I was looking for)

What I did find was startling. The number "16,000" was sited several places as a number of persons trafficked in the U.S. every year. If you need a reference: the total population of Pace University is about 15,000. But here's the part of this number that is not explained on the web: 16,000 is the estimated number of foreign nationals that are brought to the U.S. each year... not including the victims that are still enslaved from last year and the year before and the year before. Additionally, every expert I spoke to indicated that 16,000 is low. I have also located online sources that use the number 40,000-50,000, but have been unable to speak with any representatives of these organizations to substantiate the calculation of these numbers. But what it suggests is that there are no reliable statistics.

I was also directed to the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by Codoleezza Rice in June of last year. And while there is a section that outlines the U.S. government's efforts to prevent and address trafficking, the language is mostly targeted towards prosecuting the smugglers and ending child sex tourism. The report says little about Americans who exploit trafficked persons inside the U.S. Additionally, the TIP report has a section entitled "Country Narratives,"which I was hopeful would contain some numbers on U.S. trafficking. However, what I discovered was: "United Arab Emirates", "United Kingdom", "Uruguay", "Uzbekistan". Now, I'm no spelling champ, but I think that "United States" comes in there somewhere.

Dealing with human trafficking also means addressing the problem of Americans exploiting Americans. Children, particularly runaways and foster children, are at the greatest risk. There are sources that suggest 400,000 children are prostituted in the U.S. every year. According to one source, the Justice Department believes that there are between 100,000 and 3 million children involved in prostitution in the U.S. every year.

The data that do exist are sickening. But there is a shortage of good, reliable information, which results in a lack of awareness. So I am proposing two things: one, check your numbers! I call the contact numbers available on websites and ask them about their statistics. Often the true numbers are not accurately displayed. Two, consider becoming active in the battle against human trafficking. Raising awareness can be as easy as taking a picture or having a conversation.

March 23, 2006

In the Business of Making Automatons

Welcoming Big Brother
It’s been quiet around campus this week; it’s Spring break. Yet, things are brewing since a big-name politician visited the school and was heckled by 2 students—yes, two out of hundreds present. It was horrible. These two “anarchists” got up, yelled, “war criminal”, and sat down. This “unauthorized protest” took no more than a few seconds. In the ambient sounds of the auditorium and the exaltation on stage, what those poopers shouted wasn’t really audible. I was sitting near them and I couldn't understand what they were yelling about.

Most of us treat such events as a normal occurrence in a democracy. No harm done. As a matter of fact, politicians usually take the opportunity to point out how different we are from those other undemocratic countries. The “evil empire” and the “axis of evil” don’t allow for such dissent. Mad Saddam made it a serious crime to satirize & critique him—the most enlightened and gracious leader. That's over there; we have the rule of law here, and citizens have plenty of rights. We believe that our government can’t act arbitrarily outside the law, to spy on us & search our possessions us without warrant, to squelch free speech, and to make sure that our right to vote (and our votes counted accurately) will not be infringed. Well, sorry to report, not all of us Americans hold that view.

We know that the present government uses the politics of fear. The “war president” and his administration have nothing else to stand on—they’ve messed up on all matters pertaining to the common good—except to keep reminding us that we live in a time of terrorism and strong-armed policies are necessary to combat the enemy who’s everywhere, in a war without fronts & without end. Hello, Big Brother, may I take your order? All right, you say, we still have some bastions of free inquiry, discussion, and even dissent. They are our universities, where we value free speech so much that we give tenure to professors in order to shield them from the community and from those who may not like what they profess! To this I reply, not so fast! The disease of acquiescing and deferring to the wisdom of the rulers has taken hold here too.

How then would you explain that a university is considering punitive action, up to and including expulsion, against those protesting students? “They didn’t have a permit for a protest,” I heard someone of authority saying! Yes, you need to file a petition way ahead of time and obtain a permit to hold up a sign on school grounds to protest against a visiting politician! Surely, you have rights of free speech, unless the administration forgets to issue the permit in time for the event, and unless your speech is embarrassing to the powers that be. Well done. Wait, there’s more. Like many things in life, the actual event may not be of a great significance, but the reaction often makes a lot more noise. Likewise in this case, it’s not “the crime” that’s generating the controversy but the subsequent treatment of it.

After the two students sat down in their seats, the police and the Secret Service took them into custody. This on private property of a sovereign university. Without the presence of any representative from the school, the students were detained for 45 minutes. According to them, they were told that the police could detain them for 72 hours and order a psychiatric evaluation [I suppose they meant the students, not the other hotheads]; they were also asked to sign a release form so their medical records could be examined [as if the government really asks for permission nowadays]. Then the students, along with four more people in their party, were escorted to their cars. The police asked them if they had any illegal drugs in their cars, because, they were told that if they admitted the had contraband before the search took place, “it would be better.”

I don’t know what probable cause, and I mean reasonable probable cause, the police had to search the protestors vehicles, but they did and found nothing our of the ordinary. Until today, I haven’t heard a good explanation regarding what rules these students broke to justify their appalling treatment.

A recent poll showed that 49% of all Americans would give the President any authority to do whatever to keep us safe. Any! Aren’t we supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave? Ben Franklin wisely observed that those who seek to exchange liberty for safety deserve neither. Aren’t we supposed to have institutions where free speech is cultivated and dissent is an aspect of a free people engaging in a public discourse? I find it distressing that educated people entrusted with promoting knowledge & empowering the younger generations have a dim and narrow view of civic activism and political engagement.

Editor's note: In the Comments section, the official response by the University is posted.

March 16, 2006

In the Devil's Territory

Since my recent run-in with the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) I have done a bit of thinking about where, exactly, this system went awry. And why has it not been mended appropriately? Immigration reform is a hot topic in Washington, and yet I am skeptical that anything meaningful will be done to repair this mortally injured system.

I have now been there. 26 Federal Plaza, while heavily secured, is an Administrative Assistant's worst nightmare. There are towering stacks of books on desks each looking more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than the last. There are rows of offices with various papers littering the floors. There are more cubicles than Rain Man could count. The scene behind the one-way glass doors is veritable mayhem.

Additionally, the immigration officials engage in behavior that, while understandable in the private world, is totally unconscionable for an immigration official:
Immigration: I need to see your receipt.
Customer: Uh, uh, no... uh (clearly is not fluent in English ) Uhhh...(shuffling of papers as he displays a variety of pieces of paper to the officer)
Immigration: (louder, without looking at the papers) You are required to display your receipt!
Customer: ressit?
Immigration: (louder) you MUST show me your NOTICE OF ACTION!

O.k. who here finds "Notice of Action" clearer than "receipt?" I don't even know what a Notice of Action is.

It is impossible to fully explain what the experience is like, and this, I believe is at the root of the problem. Not enough of the voting population has been through the USCIS system. One gains a profound appreciation for what does and does not work within a system, when one actually goes through it. This is why I feel the need to use my own story, and speak about immigration in the first person. I have hundreds of books and articles on immigration issues and I have studied much of the current research on immigration, but by actually having a case and being processed by USCIS I have gained a knowledge that is unique and invaluable. The experience, as I found it, has not been captured in any of the material I have read.

Here's my analogy: the DMV is notorious for being difficult to deal with. Most of us find the DMV to be a time vacuum staffed with drones who can't help you beyond reading the bureaucratically produced card in front of them. We all hate going to the DMV. However, it seems to have gotten better. Yes, yes there are bad days at the DMV, but I have not heard anyone say that it is significantly worse than it used to be. USCIS is the DMV on it's worst day. Instead of the process taking hours or days, it takes years and decades. I would rather have gone to the DMV everyday for the last two years than deal with USCIS for even one day. I am without a hint of doubt when I say that if the DMV was as bad as USCIS, there would be riots in the streets.

Unfortunately, the people serviced by USCIS are, most often, in precarious positions. They are beholden to the government office for their rights to live here or work here or seek refuge here. For many, their lives depend on approval by the USCIS. These are not people who are likely to riot in the streets. The inner workings of the USCIS are experienced by people who are not likely to point out the shortcomings and demand change.

So as an educated American citizen, I am here to attest that the USCIS is archaic and dysfunctional, and we must fix it. How do we fix it? I am not entirely sure what the answer is, but I am not at all inclined to believe that anyone who has not been through the USCIS process can develop an effective plan for change. I can say from experience, that even the most empathetic or the most educated of people could not appreciate the atrocities that lurk within the USCIS system. I propose that before anyone (... that includes the White House) formulates an opinion on how to reform the immigration system they need to consult with someone who has actually been processed by USCIS.

March 15, 2006

Welcome to this POLI.SCI. blog

A Pace Forward
The first step is now taken, but many more paces are required to give legs to this blog. Professors, students, staff, are all encouraged to submit posts, so we can have an exciting dialogue here, freely and without any "official" approval. Welcome!

The Comments section is open & unrestricted to all and we hope it stays this way. If anyone wishes to write an essay, please send it via email to one of the blog's administrators/contributing editors so we can post it for you.