Immigration - Reinforcing American Values?

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Atlantic Times Article: The Immigration Battle Obama Should Be Fighting: Visas for Start-Ups

In a time where immigration policy is a controversial, polarizing debate, this article questions what the "right debate" is.  As we have read in the Huntington article, most of the debate around immigration centers on illegal immigration, primarily from Mexico.  Furthermore, opinion data shows that the American public has a very negative view of illegal immigrants.  However, framing the immigration issue this way excludes entire segments of society.  After all, unless you are a Native American, we are all immigrants.  Though not as frequently discussed in mainstream politics, immigration into America encompasses many more people than those who decide to jump the boarder.

Thompson argues that illegal immigration is not the debate we should be having at this point in time.  Rather, we should be focusing on a different portion of immigration - the highly educated, self-motivated immigrants denied visas because of filled quotas.  Thompson paints a picture of this group of immigrants as feeding the high-tech science and engineering industries.  They are more likely than natives to create their own business, which is exactly what is needed in our struggling economy.  In a sense, these immigrants have adapted to American culture in the sense that they are self-motivated and are determined to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," so to speak.  Thompson argues, "If it's un-American to export a job, how un-American is it to export entrepreneurs -- job-creators -- just because they weren't born in the U.S.?"

Although he doesn't specifically identify it, many of Thompson's arguments hinge on this notion of an American Identity.  He sees this group of immigrants as assimilating into American culture and identity norms in a manor that not only strengthens our economy, but supports our core values.

However, Thompson only addresses economic values and norms.  He does not address social or political cultures and norms.  Will this group of immigrants, consentrated in Silicon Vally and other high-tech hot spots, face similar integration challenges that Huntington argues Latinos face?  Or is this highly educated immigrant, likely from India, seeking opportunities in white collar industries entirely different from the illegal immigrant with limited education, working for less than minimum wage?  Is Thompson right?  Should Obama and Congress shift attention away from illegal immigration, a polarizing and divisive topic, and focus instead on MIT-educated immigration?  

create your own nation-state

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This isn't a thoughtful blog post or anything like that, but I have recently discovered a website that allows you to create your own country and walk it through problems.  In the setup, you decide the makeup of your country by choosing what types of people colonized your country, where they stand on a political ID scale, their social mores, religious tendencies, and many other Tocquevillian categories.  Every couple days the site presents you with choices and decisions you must make about the direction of your country such as what to do about the Nazi rally, the nudists, pot legalization, and private business.  Here is the summary of my nation.  It still needs work:

The Republic of Richytopia is a fledgling, environmentally stunning nation, renowned for its strong anti-business politics. Its hard-nosed, intelligent population of 5 million are fiercely patriotic and enjoy great social equality; they tend to view other, more capitalist countries as somewhat immoral and corrupt.

The government -- a sprawling, bureaucracy-choked, socially-minded morass -- juggles the competing demands of Law & Order, Religion & Spirituality, and Defense. The average income tax rate is 40%, but much higher for the wealthy. Private enterprise is illegal, but for those in the know there is a slick and highly efficient black market in Door-to-door Insurance Sales.

Crime -- especially youth-related -- is relatively low, thanks to the all-pervasive police force. Richytopia's national animal is the haggis, which frolics freely in the nation's many lush forests, and its currency is the Deniro.

The website is:

Immigration, Past and Present

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When thinking about immigration, I am always mindful of how my own ancestors came to America.  Many, including those of my namesake, came over from Ireland around the time of the Potato Famine.  At this time, millions of Irish immigrants flocked to the US to escape the harsh conditions of their homeland.  Once in the US, however, they faced discrimination, difficult working conditions, and outright racism in their quest to create better lives for themselves and their families.  The sheer number of immigrants was seen as a threat to the status quo, and attempts to curtail their influence, through everything from violence to legislation, were made by those who felt their way of life threatened.  For those interested, the movie "Gangs of New York" is an excellent dramatization of this time period.

I am struck by the similarities between the obstacles the Irish were confronted with and those faced today by immigrants from Mexico.  Fears that Mexican immigrants "steal" jobs, are unwilling to integrate, and will eventually become the majority abound, and recent legislation and uproar from some segments of the US have attempted to curtail these supposed threats.   Having recently spent some time in Mexico, I was intrigued by the similarities in culture that we share, and given our similar points-of-origin (early Christian political influence, independence from an imperialistic European powers won through revolution, etc.) this should not have been surprising.  With this in mind, one would think that the integration of Mexican immigrants, the language barrier not withstanding, would be relatively smooth and accepted, however, this has not been the case throughout much of the US.

Will we be able to eventually move past these issues, as happened with most European immigrants like the case of the Irish?  Or does passive racism toward those who speak a different language and have a different skin tone make this more difficult if not impossible?  Or, to add another possibility to the mix, does the resentment toward Mexican immigrants simply stem from the perception that many are here illegally, and thus are not respective of our existing laws and culture?  So if more effective means to encourage legal immigration and integration existed in the US, effectively stemming the tide of illegal immigrants, would a lot of the resentment dissipate, or are negative sentiments too far ingrained?


Racism, Tocqueville, and Emails

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A week or so ago we discussed Tocqueville's conceptions of race in America.  We noted that he felt despair for race relations because blacks and whites would not, in his opinion, be able to reach equality.  He argued that although immoral laws may be abolished and new ones may be established to ensure equality among the races, the prejudice and ideas about race relations that have been spawned in times of heated contention such as those that came with slavery, cannot be done away with. 

We also examined the polling data for the current time and found that blatant racism among whites had declined.  While this could be interpreted as evidence that racism has declined, I think we need to be careful and take that interpretation with a grain of salt.  What the poll does not make explicitly clear is whether whites are less blatantly racist because they realize that blacks and whites are equal or whether they just don't want to face the very real social stigma attached to racism.  Case in point, and as I'm sure many of you have seen is this article:

There is no question that the e-mail Marilyn Davenport sent was racist- not just in undertones of racism, but deeply, "blatantly" (to use the polling's term) racist but perhaps that is why there has been such vehement backlash to it.  This is precisely the type of racism that Tocqueville was discussing- the prejudice that cannot be legislated away, though the laws may be constructed well and morally correct.  The concept that African Americans are somehow less evolved than Caucasians, and their comparison to primates (despite the fact that all Homo Sapiens are in fact members of the primate family) can trace its own ancestral roots back to slavery and the notion that somehow, given African American's imaginary, socially constructed lesser-status , they must be subservient to whites.  We cannot make laws to get people to stop saying silly or hurtful things, arguably we should not instigate such laws- this is a problem of mores and ideas.

What I find most disturbing about this whole story is how Davenport didn't really apologize.  She was reported as saying, ""I assume that I offended the black people. And having friends that are black I never intended for that, not at all."  First, she assumes that she has offended black people, I would argue she offended many races-even Caucasians, and then she tries to make up for it by bringing in the old argument around the lines of "I can't possibly be racist, because I have black friends."  Second, she argues that she sent the email not to target President Obama's race, but to target the fact that she doesn't believe he is an American citizen.  I feel that this almost just as bad because it puts for the implicit notion that blacks need to prove their citizenry, whereas it has been largely taken for granted with all past i.e. white presidents. 

This case is one example of many that illustrate why I am somewhat inclined to agree with Tocqueville's prediction that blacks and whites will always have a difficult time reaching equality.  While the election of Barack Obama could arguably be used as a barometer for how far the country has come in terms of race, I feel that it has also brought to the surface much racist sentiment- also evidenced in the piece we read about how his election should have been a landslide.  Conceivably this could serve to be instructive though because if these ideas are not brought to the surface, we cannot possibly talk about them.  I, for one, did not know that there was still such deep-seeded racism for blacks until Obama became president and the racial sentiments boiled back up to the top.  Now that it's there though, maybe we can finally begin to tackle the problems with race that are left in that very small group of people- the person who made the e-mail and those who thought forwarding it to their friends would be a good idea.  The laws have been changed, now perhaps; we can finally begin to change people's ideas and conceptions.

The Not so Silent Minority: Muslims in France

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France boasts Europe's largest Muslim minority (5m)

And, incidentally, it's most stringent laws impeding their cultural deliberation.

An article published in the Economist this past week correctly attributed this law to and older statute known as laicite, forbidding religion to enter any part of public life. Next week, the French government will officially begin to enforce its ban on the Niqab (the full face cover), and Muslims are not happy.  Now, an unhappy minority has begun to speak out.

Outspokenness occurs in arguably greater demonstrations of cultural Islam, such as conducting Friday prayers en masse on public streets. Much to the dismay of culturally staunch supporters of French Secularism, Muslims are forcing the unwanted topic of religion into French discussion. Among other things, this has most recently manifested itself in the current UMP leader's decision to hold a public discussion on French Secularism and religion, to which he has invited the major leaders of France's Muslim community.

I think this is interesting because it highlights diversions from Noelle-Neumann's Spiral of Silence Theory. Regardless of your opinions on Islam, it is interesting to see the power of the minority once spoken to not only challenge the ideological foundation of a nation, but also create a space for deliberation were one formerly did not exist.  

Comedians as a sub-GII?

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In his book, Sunstein talks about general interest intermediaries, which he considers to be newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters.  Sunstein feels that GIIs are very important in informing people because, "People who rely on such intermediaries have a range of chance encounters, involving shared experiences with diverse others, and also exposure to materials and topics that they did not seek out in advance (p. 8-9)."  Basically, Sunstein worries that as people selectively choose what they are going to watch they potentially eliminate hearing from the opposing view point or miss out on important information altogether.  

Sunstein says: "From the standpoint of citizenship, and freedom as well, problems can emerge when people are choosing alternatives that sharply limit their own horizons (p. 126)."  I agree with Sunstein that we need to broaden our horizons when it comes to what information we are presented; however, I think he exaggerates how polarized we make ourselves in our information sources.  Since I rarely watch anything other than Comedy Central or Adult Swim on television, and skip watching network news completely, I thought I'd take a look at what comedians had to say about the possibility of a government shutdown and the budget, and whether or not it was informative. While I know that a large portion of comedic material is related to politics, I think that it might get sold short when it comes to informing people about current events.  

Here's what I found:

·         In last night's episode of Saturday Night Live, "Obama" addressed the nation on solving the federal budget.  He talked about how nobody got what they wanted.

·        Stephen Colbert lit a Congressional Budget Shutdown Menorah in anticipation of a federal budget shutdown:

·       Jon Stewart talked about how both Republicans and Democrats were acting ridiculous in their attempts to solve the budget. (This clip is a bit long).

·       Jimmy Kimmel suggested putting Congress members into a Star Wars trash compactor in order to get them to solve the budget (2:00-3:00)

·        Jay Leno proposed that Congress members aren't really doing much to solve the budget, but are instead goofing off.

·        Jimmy Fallon talks about solving the budget (1:00-1:20) and compares it to reaching a deal for another season of Jersey Shore. 


What I got from looking at these videos were tidbits of current events. Although they are intended to be humorous and definitely cannot be taken literally, I think that they expose people to what's going on around them.  If a person had not watched the news and saw one of these bits, it might spark an interest in them to search for more information on the topic.  This might mean that a person who would normally completely avoid politics may desire to learn more.  Therefore, I don't think Sunstein has to be so pessimistic - but then again, maybe I'm being too optimistic.  

Do you think comedians can be considered a sub-GII?


Going Shoeless, Helping Others?

The other day I saw a Facebook group urging people not to wear shoes for a day to bring up the problem of people not being able to afford shoes.  The goal of the group was to make people aware of the fact that others do not have access to shoes, a commodity most people take for granted.  This got me thinking about the debate we had in class about the effectiveness of activities like this, such as putting your bra color on facebook, to promote awareness of breast cancer.  Thinking about our discussion made me believe that not wearing shoes will fail to benefit those that cannot afford them.  It seems to me like a passive way to help those in need.  I feel like many people will forget about the issue or fail to actually pursue the goal of helping those in need get shoes after their one day of pariticipation.  I think many people are already aware of the fact that some people cannot afford shoes, or other basic commodities necessary for a decent life.  I feel like people not wearing shoes could actually be insulting to those who cannot afford them because some people would be doing it for fun while it is actually a serious issue.  I believe activities like donating shoes or helping volunteer organizations provide shoes to the less needy would be a way more effective way of helping the problem.  I think a fewer number of people doing these activities would be far more beneficial than a lot of people walking around without shoes on.  What do you guys feel about no shoes day?  Does it help raise awareness to the problem or is it a passive means around actually helping solve the problem?
"While modern and enlightened racism are based on the assumption that the struggle for equal rights is over, I believe another form of racism operates at a much deeper level. Passive racism assumes the struggle for equal rights doesn't matter. Racism, ultimately, has little relevance for these people because it doesn't intrude into their social reality. The existence of passive racism can undermine even the most coniferous outcries against racism; people can decry racism all they want, but if it remains essentially irrelevant to them, they're unlikely to do anything about it."
-Rebecca Ann Lind: "The Relevance of RAce in Interpreting a TV News Story"

"Thus the Negro is free, but can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labors, nor the grief, nor even the tomb of the one whose equal he has been declared ; nowhere can he meet with him neither in life nor in death...In the North, the white no longer perceives distinctly the barrier that will separate him from a debased race and he draws back from the Negro with more care since he fears one day being intermingled with him."
-Alexis de Tocqueville: "Democracy in America"

These two quotes demonstrate the present realities of race relations in today's world as well as the complexities the United States was faced with during the 1800s. As Tocqueville illustrated the differences between race relations in the North and the South, he poignantly comments on the racism that was taking place as the North eliminated slavery. Although rights were afforded, the wounds were still deep, and no legislation could erase the past. Nor could legislation erase the sentiments of the white population, North or South. Although certainly not passive racism at the time Tocqueville discusses, the refusal to recognize the newly free African Americans as equal was pure and evil racism. 

The refusal to attempt true amends has haunted the United States in the form of passive racism. This racism that Tocqueville so accurately characterizes when he explains the refusal to integrate exists in today's society, throughout the media and in our everyday lives. New York Times' film critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott discuss in a February article the "Whiteout" of today's film industry, in particular reference to the Oscars nominations this year. While modest strides may have been made in the year leading up to President Obama's inauguration by "popularizing and normalizing positive images of black masculinity," these images and advocates for them seem to have diminished or have been fleeting. Dargis and Scott go on to highlight that even movies like "Precious" and "The Blind Side" demonstrate the all too common image of violence, oppression and a marginalized race-- images that have been linked stereotypically to hegemonic references toward this race in popular media all too often-- do nothing to break the barriers, or to break through a sort of passive racism. Dargis and Scott reference the relationship between a "volatile friendship between two soldiers, a hot-headed white bomb-disposal specialist played by Jeremy Renner and his cautious black sergeant, played by Anthony Mackie." They write, "Race in that movie was not a theme or a problem to be solved, but rather a subtle, complex fact of life." Where have these images been? Where do we see them in society? Or do we not see them? How might these demonstrations harken back to both Lind's comments as well as Tocqueville's-- that is, if the problem can be avoided, pushed aside, little change will be made. 

Would Tocqueville be surprised by these demonstrations? Or simply assert that the historical damage has been done? How must this problem be resolved? Would Tocqueville be surprised?

The American Dream... in pictures!

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The title speaks for itself, so I shouldn't have to do much explaining, but I thought you all would be interested in browsing through BBC World's photo album of the day, especially since it pertains so well to our class's overarching theme.



The shoe-thrower's index.

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We haven't really been talking about the Middle East recently, but I try to keep an eye out for interesting presentations of data since we spend so much time on that in class.

The Economist has put together a really neat tool they've dubbed the "shoe-thrower's index." Using this tool, you can adjust weighted sliders based on demographic information for a given country. Using this tool, you can attempt to see which country might next experience political upheaval.

Obviously Tocqueville did not have access to such information, but it does make me wonder what attributes a country should have before such a revolution can take place.

We Have Trust Issues



I think it gets us through each day. We go to bed trusting our alarm clock will go off. We get up for class trusting our professors will be there too. We cross the street, trusting others will obey the traffic laws. But what happens when that trust is broken? Sure, these mundane events are simple examples, but what happens when our government breaks our trust? Or our banks? Our employers? 

Carl Richards quoted a retiree in his New York Times blog, "Buck." He said, "The heart of the problem is the rapid change that has left Americans confused, disoriented and struggling to adapt." Richards went on, "Institutions we believed were worth trusting, like our employers, banks and states, have made changes that undermine that trust."

It's no wonder that public trust in government has been diminishing year after year. Those bonds broken are hard to repair, and to a society that looks to advance- always looking toward their neighbor in envious comparison- trust in that dream. It matters. Trust in an America where this is possible gets us through the day. Does America as we know it end when this bond of trust can no longer sustain the sense of entitlement most Americans feel today? How do these sentiments affect our participation? What will happen to today's democracy? What would Tocqueville say? 

Rango and Natural Resources Crises


Last weekend, I was thrilled to see Nickelodeon's smart and hilarious cartoon flick, Rango. Although the film has been largely marketed to young audiences, it is far more grown-up than its "PG" rating would suggest. I encourage you all to check it out, either in theaters or when it is available for rental. The film tells the tale of a thespian lizard who undergoes an existential crisis. Rango, a tropical-shirt sporting chameleon, is violently expelled from his comfortable but unfulfilling plastic aquarium existence (his point of departure, Toqueville might say). Looking to satiate both a physical and existential thirst, Rango treks through the harsh desert to the draught-stricken town of "Dirt," where he reinvents himself into a tough, murderous Westerner. In his most challenging role yet, Rango is appointed Sheriff. Because of a series of coincidences and mishaps that reinforce his lofty self-portrayal, Rango becomes a hero and a legend among the townsfolk. Eager to live up to his reputation, Rango vows to save the town by investigating the mysterious causes behind the vanishing water supply. The citizens of Dirt, thirsty and impoverished, take on a mob mentality and begin to accuse one another in a sort of witch-trial (the tyranny of the majority in action). The natural resources crisis seems to have been manufactured or worsened by some corrupt individual, but who? and for what personal gain? (don't worry, I won't spoil the end of the movie).



In many ways, the film reminded me of contemporary American politics. Like Wally, Rango is a light-hearted portrayal of a real social and political problem. The message is clear: those who control scant natural resources wield a great amount of control over people. Those in power, those who own a monopoly on a commodity, might manipulate supply and demand in order to coerce or even oppress a population. While Rango focuses on a scarcity of water, the same principle could be applied to other in-demand natural resources, like oil. I began to consider the ways in which Americans are at the mercy of those who control fuel. Since Americans rely on gasoline to fuel commerce and daily life, they are especially vulnerable to manipulative forces. Rango is a cautionary tale; it warns us of the danger of relying on natural resources where they are scant. But the solution to this problem is less evident. No sooner will Americans shed their dependence on oil than will animals learn to live without water. Corruption and greed will persist. Though the conflict is resolved in the film, it's only a temporary fix.  It is for this reason that I left the theater feeling less-than-optimistic. The best we can do, it seems, is strive for independence and place our trust in honest political leaders.


What do you guys think about the natural resource dilemma? Did anyone else find political relevance in Rango, or am I reading too much into the Nickelodeon cartoon?  


Inequality, again

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Even though we discussed this before spring break, it remains an important public issue and some of you, like the author of the last post, even thought about it over the break.

The New York Times asked several academics to comment on rising inequality and why Americans do or do not seem bothered by it.  Check out today's Room for Debate discussion for their thoughts.   

There's no escaping Tocqueville

Finally, the week had arrived. I could keep my Tocqueville at home and enjoy the sun...or so I thought. 

Florida's sun was not enough to take my mind off the Tocqueville's work and the incredible accuracy in which he characterized America, not only in the 1800's but also today. I was having a beautiful night on a ferry; enjoying the warm breeze, beautiful waters-- when the guide came on the loud speaker. He cracked his jokes, asked us where we were from and made jabs about the weather in MinneSNOWta. Then, an interesting thing began. As we passed enormous mansions, beautiful yachts, the guide began his narration of the lives these "lucky ones" led. He went on about the cost of each boat, not stopping to forget the amount it costs to maintain them. What struck me was the fascination everyone around me had with this topic-- this chance to see how the "others" live. This fixation was undeniable. Tocqueville's words quickly reentered my mind, "In democratic peoples, men easily obtain a certain equality; they cannot attain the equality they desire. It retreats before them daily but without ever evading their regard, and, when it withdraws, it attracts them in pursuit. They constantly believe they are going to seize it, and it constantly escapes their grasp."

Although I can't be sure what was going through each person's mind while watching the mansions go by, I can be certain that Tocqueville's understanding of the American fixation on material gain is real today. It is real when we turn on the television to watch the Real Housewives of wherever. It is real when we tune into the latest "Cribs" episode, and even when we sit in a classroom. Gain, prosper, move ahead, pull yourself up by your boot straps; it all resonates with us and Americans prescribe to this notion despite the perilous reality that inequality exists and is growing. 

Whether McCall and Kenworthy are right, that Americans are keenly aware but unsure of the proper way to solve the problem of inequality or, as others purport Americans are unaware of the magnitude of inequality and its direct effects, one thing is certain, equality is retreating before us all. Whether or not the pursuit of the attraction is becoming a feeble goal is still perhaps unknown. 
The Lessons of Friedman Revisited.htm

(I had trouble loading the second article, so the URL is provided..)

Two articles appeared in the Star Tribune business section back in January. The first article, posted by Harvard professor Bill George highlights Milton Friedman's influence on the American economic landscape during the 20th century, and how it has significantly contributed to America's current recession. The second article is a response to Professor George's article, authored by a Minnesota CEO, Howard Root, in which he critiques Professor George's assessment of Friedman economics on the current American economic landscape. Root dismisses Professor George's claims, noting how he often misrepresents Friedman and how Professor George's critiques do not account for Friedman's calls for rules and regulations to govern business practices.  

What is perhaps most perplexing about Mr. Root's argument is his assertion that Friedman economics requires players (CEO's) to play within a certain parameters. One of my favorite silver screen moments comes from the 1957 Academy Award Winning flick Bridge on the River Kwai. Alec Guinness (who plays Obi One Kenobi in the original Star Wars Trilogy) is a World War II British Prisoner of War commander who attempts to inform the Japanese POW commandant of the "rules" under the Geneva Convention governing the proper treatment of Prisoners of War. Before Guinness finishes his sentence, the Japanese commandant slaps him across the face, snapping, "rules, what rules? This is war!!!"

I think corporate CEO's live by a similar code. Mr. Root and Mr. Friedman may be more correct in their assertion that corporations must play by the rules if government and regulators operated as objective, disinterested arbitrators. But they don't. Corporations bring in business. They create jobs and capital that communities rely upon. Furthermore, many government officials, including Dick Cheaney, possess financial stakes, often as owners or shareholders, in a corporation's success. If governments and regulators are compromised by corporate interest, and if a corporation's only constituency is its shareholders, than who's looking out for Middle America? It is simple---no one.

Yet people insist they want smaller government. They assert, with justification, that government can't be trusted. But doesn't this simply insulate corporations? With the bailouts of large financial firms, many of whom were responsible for the financial crisis, it seems as though a certain segment of society can act with impunity, insulated from the repercussions while the majority of rule following Americans end up financially broke. Yet we protect them, as if we were protecting ourselves. Why?

As the middle class continues to struggle, with jobs in the public sector disappearing, and with private institutions gaining power as unions and organized labor are continually phased out, it is important to consider what, if anything can be done to stem this seemingly negative trend. I believe a paradigm shift is needed. Our interests are simply not aligned with corporate execs. Let's ensure, as Professor George champions, that corporations abide by a mandate. Let's ensure that our government officials and regulators are not compromised---that they are acting in the best interest of majority and not those of the oligarchs and aristocrats.   

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