Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoughts on Osama, patriotism and American exceptionalism

The recent death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. military operatives represented the culmination of an international manhunt that spanned almost an entire decade. I, like almost all other Americans, was happy to see the man go. He was a barbaric sociopath responsible for the senseless death of thousands and for the perversion and exploitation of an otherwise peaceful religion. The subsequent jubilation combined with a reorientation of the public discourse regarding foreign policy was understandable and in many ways justifiable. Having said that, the broader implications and symbolic consequences of this event and its byproducts, as well as the auspices under which these events and patterns emerged, are deeply troubling.

I wish to first make clear that in no way should the thoughts and questions posed in this writing be construed as sympathy for Osama bin Laden - I do not lament his passing nor the elimination of any other individual or group found guilty of being responsible for heinous acts of terrorism as were characteristic of bin Laden and his followers. I do however lament the slow but steady demise of American exceptionalism and her once-legitimate claim to the moral high ground. Though I am not so naive as to believe that America was ever perfect or faultless in her actions on the international and domestic fronts, I do firmly believe that there was once a time where she dutifully adhered to the lofty and oft-cited ideals of human rights, self-determination, freedom, democracy, fairness and the rule of law. In the interest of objectivity it should be noted that in times of war and other periods of great distress, we as a nation (but more importantly, the citizenry) have displayed a willingness to stray from these principles in the name of "national security". As early as 1798 with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and continuing with Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and other constitutionally enumerated rights, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt's internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and still prevalent today with policies such as warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention, our seeming readiness to eschew foundational values for the sake of stability and security points to a frightening pattern and raises existential questions about who we are as a nation and as a people.

After the events of September 11th, 2001 a number of new counterterrorism policies were instituted as well as some significant military engagements undertaken. All of the policies and actions initiated following this tragic event would later be defined as crucial components of the “War on Terror”. Here’s the problem with the WoT: you can’t declare war on a tactic used by a small and disparate number of people all over the globe. The very nature of the WoT, with its lack of borders, goals, timeframes and oversight mechanisms, virtually guaranteed that rampant abuses of civil rights and basic human decency would ensue. Accordingly, we soon saw such egregious violations of human rights as extraordinary rendition, the use of torture as an interrogatory tool, indefinite detention without access to legal counsel or due process of law, warrantless wiretapping of domestic and foreign citizens and the list of travesties is nearly endless. Suffice to say that the WoT provided the impetus for a new generation of abusive and morally bankrupt policies and practices through which U.S. standing in the international circuit and her purported role as “moral police” and freedom’s champion were rendered dubious at best and outright fallacious in the eyes of many.

What strikes me as most disturbing about these trends is the complacency and complicity of we the citizens – we literally stood by and watched (there were of course many ardent opponents of the WoT policies) and even emboldened policymakers as our ideals and entire moral code were trampled and denigrated beyond recognition. How were we to admonish the strong-man dictators of developing nations about the virtues of the rule of law when we were disregarding our own? In what way were we (are we) still qualified to lecture the leaders of brutal regimes in Africa or Asia about the necessity for humane treatment of its people when we were simultaneously subjecting suspected terrorists to torture? A related but no less uncomfortable conception that grew out of these policies was the notion that support for them was part and parcel of patriotism and love of country. Conversely, if these policies and practices seemed inimical to the precepts upon which this society bases its customs and values and one were to express those concerns, that person or group would be labeled as unpatriotic and possibly even un-American. In the years immediately proceeding 9/11 (continuing today to a certain extent) we found ourselves in the peculiar position of defending and championing ideas that would have seemed previously antithetical to the “American Way”, to the very essence of what it is to be American.

The notion of patriotism has been a contentious concept for the entirety of our nationhood. Even as far back as the founding generation during which there were debates over what constituted “patriotism” and who, either the Federalists or the Republicans, best embodied the patriotic ethos. Mark Twain once said: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment of the rather amorphous concept and I would even agree with the oft-repeated axiom that “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” If you meld these two thoughts then you have arrived at where I stand on the patriotism definition scale: my opposition to what I view as un-American WoT policies stems from a deeply rooted sense of pride and affection for ideals and principles that used to be almost singularly American. The inalienable rights and truths of freedom and democracy, fairness and due process, compassion and decency – all of these philosophical abstractions resonate in tangible acts of altruism throughout American history. Those of us who stood and continue to stand up against rendition and assassination, indefinite detention and suspension of habeas corpus are not less American or less patriotic for it; in fact, I would contend that we are more American and patriotic than those who stand idly by and allow our moral and philosophical foundation to be compromised.

I will now bring the post full-circle back to the original topic of Osama bin Laden’s death and the broader, tangential consequences beyond just killing the most-wanted terrorist in the world. I have been wondering what might have happened if the shoe had been on the other foot so to speak – namely, what if Pakistan (or any other country for that matter) had conducted a covert military operation in which they crossed our borders without authorization and assassinated someone residing here. I think it is safe to say that there would be hell to pay. Of course the new power and latitude granted to the U.S. government and military leadership through the PATRIOT Act and other WoT policies allowed for this event to occur; that does not mean that the rest of the world has to agree with the way in which we went about it. I want to reiterate that my concern is not for the life of Osama bin Laden, nor do I suspect that the concerns or questions raised by anyone else stem from sympathy for that individual. We are almost all uniformly glad that the man is gone. But in all reality, what has changed? Osama bin Laden is dead and perhaps a modicum of closure or justice has been delivered to those affected by the events of 9/11 or other bin Laden-orchestrated acts of terrorism, both of which are good things. In doing so however we violated the sovereignty of an independent nation and assassinated a person in the process. We continue to capture suspected terrorists and hold them at secret detention facilities or at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without trial, access to legal counsel, the right to face their accusers, the provision of Miranda rights or humane treatment, all of which violates American law. The argument generally is that these suspects are not American citizens and therefore do not enjoy the benefits of the American justice system. These detainees and suspects are categorized as “enemy combatants” in keeping with the “war” theme of the “War on Terror” and this technical maneuvering allows for the treatment of these individuals to be justified as something other than what it is: the perversion of inherent and fundamental human rights.

Despite all of the tangible and abstract sacrifices made under the guise of fighting the “War on Terror”, are we safer today than we would have been otherwise? There is significant evidence that images of detainees from Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities have been used successfully as recruitment tools for extremist and terrorist groups who would be the most likely to attack America again. Human rights organizations and foreign leaders have expressed dissatisfaction with American conduct throughout the duration of the WoT for the reasons listed above and many others as well. The domestic outcry against these policies and practices is equally as ardent, though surely contained within smaller subsections of the larger American populace. The question still remains as to America’s self-described exceptional standing in the world and how that perception has changed over the past decade. The less belligerent foreign policy disposition (though not that much less) of the Obama administration is certainly a start to the reformation process of the American brand in the international arena but it isn’t enough.

As long as the WoT perpetuates itself, with all of its discontinuities, disconnects and dysfunctions, the struggle to regain diplomatic and ideological primacy for America will continue to be perilous. Until the time when we as a people demand the restoration of American values as codified in the Constitution and the rule of law, the uphill battle to reclaim our place at the apex of the moral high ground will grow steeper. For now it is the patriotic duty of those of us who view recent events as detrimental to America’s long-term safety and prosperity to say just that without fear or reservation. I say this because we are exceptional in many ways, though it is important not to cross the thin line between “exceptionalism” to “arrogance.” I propose that America knows how to do the right thing and she has the institutions and framework to do so successfully. Once again America can proffer herself as the emblem of freedom and compassion that the rest of the world wishes to emulate – but it starts with we the people.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Racial rhetoric and ugly truths

The recent faux-controversy over the legitimacy of President Barack Obama's citizenship has got me to thinking even more than usual about matters of racial justice, social inequities and the realities of 21st century American values. My inner discourse on these matters has ranged everywhere on the emotional spectrum from despondence to unbridled optimism. My emotional and intellectual volatility on the issue of race relations is due to my tremendous empathy for those affected by the double-headed pandemic of discrimination and intolerance.

As most of us know, a certain unnamed buffoon has been making a lot of noise lately about the citizenship status of President Obama and demanding that the president produce his birth certificate to prove that he is in fact a natural-born citizen. Much to my dismay, Mr. Obama descended to the depths of the levels in which the aforementioned buffoon has established pernanent residency and publicly produced an official copy of his long-form birthcertificate. Controversy solved right? Nope. Next (originating from the same idiotic source) came challenges to the academic record of the president which, by every measure imaginable, is unquestionably impressive and remarkable. And in yet another conspiracy theory emanating from the vast expanse of ultra right-wing delusions comes the accusation the President Obama did not author his two critically acclaimed memoirs but rather that it was done by Bill Ayers. It is difficult to pinpoint which of these three exercises in lunacy is least credible and most devoid of factual grounding; when taken as a package deal however they do shed  a bit of light on a disturbing pattern gaining momentun in what passes for public discourse today.

All three of the ludicrous charges listed above carry with them racially charged undercurrents - doubts over President Obama's citizenship ("Come on, look at him!"), questioning his academic record ("Come on, look at him! Obviously he was the beneficiary of 'affirmative action' and therefor undeserving.") and of course, in the fundamentally backwards logic of those making these accusations, it appears to be unfathomable that a black man could have composed not one but two brilliant memoirs. The individual mentioned above, and the growing population that he speaks for and to, are engaging in a classic case of race-baiting which is simultaneously illuminating a vile reality about this country.

The ugly truth is that we are not in the midst of a "post-racial" or "color blind" revolution in American popular society; in fact, it seems as though racial tensions and discontents were merely flowing beneath a thin facade of increased harmony, waiting for a galvanizing event to act as the catalyst for renewed animosity. That event came in 2008 with the election of a black man to the highest office in this country, perhaps in this world. At the time I was (along with many other observers) in a state of euphoria with the apparent death of racial intolerance, heralding the dawn of a new age of unity and cooperation. Less than a month after President Obama was sworn into office in January of 2009 the Tea Party, which has engaged in many public displays of overt racism, held its first rally and has continued to hold numerous rallies and protests ever since. The dream of a more accepting and tolerant America hadn't lasted very long.

The reaction to the election of President Obama in combination with some disturbing facts about the plight of the black community in this country points to the disheartening realization that pervasive disparities, distinguished largely by race, still exist to an alarming degree. African-Americans compose 13.6% (42 million) of the American populace and over a quarter of them (25.8%) live in poverty. The median household  income among the African-American population is $35,575 as compared to the national median of $52,029. The unemployment rate among African-Americans (16.6%) is nearly twice the national average and African-American males comprise 35.4% of the 2.1 million Americans who are currently incarcerated. According to the Department of Justice, African-American males are six times more likely to end up in jail or prison than their white counterparts and only 18% of all African-Americans achieve a bachelor's degree or higher. Other metrics, such as obesity and hypertension rates, highlight persistent health issues in the black community in addition to the pervasive economic and social obstacles mentioned above.

The circumstances faced by the black community paint a bleak picture for the prospects for a more harmonious and integrative America. The election of President Obama served in some part to awaken latent racial intolerance and animus among some segments of the American citizenry when it should have had the opposite effect. I am however optimistic for two reasons. The first of which is that high school dropout rates among African-Americans are dropping: 80% of African-Americans have achieved their high school diploma which is a marked improvement over where that rate has been in the not-so-distant past. In my opinion, the first step in the process of increased enfranchisement and greater political influence is education.  I firmly believe in the old axiom about knowledge being power.

The second cause of cautious optimism is the very fact that posterity will now have to recognize and report that a black man did in fact hold the most important position in the world. Children who are just now beginning or will soon begin their education will be introduced to the American presidency and American history as a whole with the inclusion of a black man occupying the White House. To put it in terms of one of my other passions (baseball) Barack Obama is the Jackie Robinson of American political history. Just as it is now normal and uneventful to see baseball players of all colors and backgrounds, future generations will no longer find it unimaginable for a non-white person to be the leader of the free world.

Similar to the evolution of baseball however, just because one exceptional individual has forced a paradigm shift does not mean that everybody is ready to accept that change just yet. It will be a long and difficult process - as are all important social changes - and not all people will cooperate. The hope lies in what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the "better angels of our nature" winning out over the ugly truths that plague us. Only time will tell.

Main reference sources:

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t02.htm
http://www.blackdemographics.com/
http://2010.census.gov/2010census/


    

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Faith, charity and cosmopolitanism

On what is arguably the second-most important holiday for the Christian community, I happen to be in the midst of a bit of a "crisis of faith". As a self-avowed secular humanist, I am not struggling with my belief (or nonbelief in my case) but rather with a decision I recently made to apply for an internship with a local charitable organization with a strong denominational affiliation. For the sake of decorum the name of the organization and the specific denomination will remain anonymous but frankly those details are not of particular relevance to my thoughts on this paradoxical matter.

My confliction does not stem from an insecurity regarding my own beliefs but rather from my opposition to many of the professed beliefs and principles upon which this denomination, as well as many other religious doctrines, base their public relations and political activities. In particular I find myself very much chagrined by the institutionalized homophobia expressed by many orthodox faiths and the subsequent anti-gay activism that results from that policy. The work I am seeking to do with this organization is truly altruistic in nature and represents an opportunity for me to gain practical and tangible experience in the field I have chosen as my mission in life. On the one hand, I have the utmost respect for this organization in its efforts towards refugee and immigrant settlement and assistance (which is the area of the organization that I am applying for) while on the other hand I am having trouble reconciling this admirable venture with the proportionally deplorable efforts to thwart marriage-equality campaigns and other such gay-rights movements.

The question I have been asking myself as of late is "Can I put aside my disagreement with this organization on one issue in order to work positively towards another objective?" The answer I have arrived at is an emphatic "yes". I am willing to compartmentalize my feelings on the issue of gay rights in order to become an agent of good and help to bring about some semblance of dignity and stability to an incredibly vulnerable and unfortunate group of people seeking refuge and asylum in this country. I've reached the conclusion that interfaith cooperation is beneficial to all parties involved, especially when working cooperatively towards a common philanthropic goal. Though I may disagree heartily with certain aspects of many religious beliefs and principles, I am willing to accept these differences in philosophy in order to affect positive social change.

The thing that allows me to bridge these doctrinal disparities is the unifying and all-inclusive force of cosmopolitanism. Part of the application process for this internship was to submit a writing sample in addition to all of the usual resume-related materials. I decided to compose an original piece specifically directed towards this internship in which I highlighted my adherence to the moires of cosmopolitanism. I have included the brief essay below so that those of you who are interested may take a gander. As always, I'd love to hear what you think!

A Call To Cosmopolitan Compassion
            The very definition of what it is to be cosmopolitan does not adequately explain the importance of the cause: “free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attatchments”. While this definition does outline crucial components of cosmopolitanism, it lacks the subtle but no less important moral and ethical responsibilities incumbent upon those of us who claim the cosmopolitan mantle. To be a true cosmopolitan or citizen of the world means to lead a life characterized and defined by compassion and a deep, abiding devotion to the idea that we all have the right to human dignity and prosperity, regardless of such demographic factors as national origin or racial identification.
            One of the most vulnerable subsections of the world population is the growing number of refugees and asylum-seekers attempting to escape immensely difficult, often mortally perilous conditions in their native homelands. Many of these people have witnessed or experienced atrocities and hardships that most of us can only dream of in our worst nightmares. In addition to the traumatic and violent experiences from which they are fleeing, they must deal with the cultural and language barriers presented to them once they arrive at their desired place of refuge. The notions of social justice and equality are often alien to refugees and asylum-seekers who have known nothing but despotism and oppression. This presents another set of obstacles to overcome as these people must undergo a fundamental reorientation of their outlook and expectations regarding society and government. Refugees from Africa, Asia and Latin America come to the shores of the United States seeking an opportunity for a better life while at the same time possessing very little in terms of material objects and even less exposure to democracy and institutional fairness.
The application of cosmopolitan values while trying to settle and assimilate refugees would be immeasurably beneficial. Equally as, if not even more important than providing access to clothing and housing for physical comfort and stability is the provision of kindness and understanding to begin the process of healing mental and emotional wounds. It is vitally important to make clear that despite what they may have been told or shown in their tumultuous pasts they are equally valuable members of the world community and deserve the respect and dignity intrinsic to all human beings. It is difficult to imagine growing up in an environment where human life and dignity are valued so little by those in power; being consistently treated as subhuman and worthless can only serve to critically damage the self-esteem and self-worth of any individual subjected to such treatment for so long. The cosmopolitan ethos stresses the principles of egalitarianism and the value of all people and the practical implementation of these principles in helping refugees and asylum-seekers is a moral imperative that cannot be ignored.
            As a self-professed cosmopolite I am obviously subjectively advocating the increased awareness and instillment of the philosophy; the beauty of cosmopolitanism is that, in accordance with its emphasis on inclusiveness and universality, it is compatible with most other ethical or moral codes. The principles of Christianity and Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, and any other religiously or spiritually derived ethical system, are fundamentally in unison with cosmopolitanism. All of these belief systems and philosophies stress charity and compassion towards others as not only a desirable disposition but a clear and self-evident duty. We cosmopolitans view ourselves as the unifying force espousing values and tenets that people of all faiths, nationalities, races, and ethnicities can embrace. This is a call for all of us as a global community comprised of truly global citizens to the cause of cosmopolitan compassion.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Baseball is beautiful

For as long as I can remember, the turn of the calendar from March to April has not only heralded the promise of more pleasent weather but also marked the coming of the closest I ever get to observing a religious holiday: Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. As I compose this blog post my favorite team (Boston Red Sox) is mired in a league-worst slump, having lost 10 of their first 13 contests. The mere fact that I am able to still reflect glowingly upon my sentiments towards baseball despite thisdisheartening start to the season is a testament to just how deep and true my love for this game flows.

Baseball has been my constant companion since I was about five or six years old and not much has changed since then. The start of the season still marks the happiest time of the year for me (yes, it rivals Christmas) and the game still manages to provide a blissful distraction from the vagaries of everyday life. Part of what makes the game so wonderful is that it is an everyday occurrence throughout the duration of the six month season; it's like the comforting warmth of a pet or a lover, or the familiar weight of your favorite necklace dangling from your neck. Baseball is constant, consistent and comforting. It also happens to coincide with the peak seasons for warm weather - birds chirpin', sun shinin', flip flops flippin' and floppin'. And oh yes: baseball.

If you have not had the pleasure of attending a live professional baseball game then you simply must do so. Even if baseball is not of particular interest to you, attending a game in person is a sensory experience of epic proportions. The sights, sounds and smells combine to create a singular and unforgettable event that should be experienced at least once in any given lifetime. The smell of steaming hot dogs and frying fries, the sounds of vendors hocking eheir wares and the crack of the bat striking the ball, the startling, almost surreal colors of the oh-so green grass and the contrast of the freshly painted white basepaths against the deep brown of the infield dirt; words alone cannot do justice to the wonderous secular miracle that is a live professional baseball game.

In addition to the more visceral pleasures that go along with baseball, there is a larger and more socially oriented aspect that is even more important to me. Baseball is one of the true microcosmic renditions of the phenomenon we know as the "melting pot". This put simply is the notion of different racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic entities mixing and melding together to form a cohesive end product. Hopefully a delicious one. As most of us probably know, this idea is a noble one and a goal to which we should all aspire but it does not manifest itself as seamlessly or coherenetly in our society as we might like it to; racial and religious tensions still abound in America (and in the world for that matter) and conflict still results from these tensions. Enter baseball, stage center. Baseball is one of the only places where I have ever observed the peaceful and harmonious cooperation of so many different nationalities, races, religions and cultures. It is quite common in a baseball clubhouse to observe a Japanese pitcher who no doubt ascribes to some Eastern form of spirituality (if he adheres to any faith at all) playing cards with a good 'ol boy from Texas whose religious and cultural moires could not be any more different from and alien to those of his counterpart. But what matters to these guys is their common goal, their shared purpose.

Baseball's distinct form of unity and camraderie is made possible by its unique demographic makeup. Hispanic and Latino baseball players compose 28.5% of the baseball population; Caucasian/white players compose 60% while the numbers for Black/African-American and Asian players (9% and 2.5%, respectively) have been steadily increasing every year. I mentioned the societal impact of baseball because yesterday (April 15th) was "Jackie Robinson Day" which commemorates the first black baseball player to ever break the color barrier. This happened in 1947, almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act was ever enshrined into law by Congress. Was baseball a catalyst for the civil rights movement? Perhaps. That's a question far beyond the scope of this blog poast and definitely one beyond my pay grade. The point is, to me, baseball is not merely a game. It's more than that to me but I would argue that it has historically been more than that to this country. In short, baseball is beautiful.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Shattering the American DREAM (Act)

In early December of 2010, during what is known in Washington parlance as the "lame-duck" session of the 111th Congress, the House of Representatives passed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (more commonly known as the DREAM Act) by a 216 - 198 party-line vote. As is the case with many pieces of legislation, the DREAM Act would die in the Senate a short time later. The bill would have paved the way to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young people whose parents brought them to this country illegally; potential beneficiaries would be eligible only after meeting a plethora of requirements and adhering to strict parameters regarding educational achievement and demonstration of "good moral character". Supporters of the bill tout the economic benefits while opponents contend that the bill amounts to a policy of "amnesty" for criminals. But, as is so often true in life, the devils (and angels) are in the details.

An estimated 755,000 young people would be eligible to receive the benefits outlined in the DREAM Act; that number increases every year by about 65,000, as that is the estimated number of children of undocumented residents that graduate from high school in this country per annum. In order to qualify for the bill's benefits an individual must meet a strict range of prerequisites; a potential beneficiary must have graduated from a U.S. high school or attained a GED, submitted to and passsed an exhaustive background check, have been brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and have been living in the country for at least five years prior to enactment of the bill, and then the real demands begin. Once it has been determined that the DREAM Act applicant is neither a criminal nor a security risk and has met the other educational and residency guidelines, that person must then enter a ten-year period in which they are granted "conditional nonimmigrant status". During this period the individual must complete either two years of college or two years of military service. In addition, an applicant must also avoid any sort of legal or criminal issues, which would further demonstrate the aforementioned "good moral character". After this initial ten-year period, if all requirements have been met, the individual is permitted to apply for a three-year period of "permanent legal resident" status. Only after this 13-year stretch of pristine living and societal contribution can a beneficiary even contemplate achieving citizenship in the United States. Does this seem like an easy undertaking? It isn't.

Now that I've bored you with some of the nitty gritty of the bill, let me bore you further with some of the positive economic impacts that enactment of the DREAM Act would provide to a struggling economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enactment of the bill would lower the federal budget deficit by $1.4 billion over the next ten years. In a study conducted by RAND (Research ANd Development) it was estimated that for every immigrant that eventually graduates from college as opposed to those who drop out of high school, there is an average increase of $5,300 per person in tax revenue and an average decrease of $3,900 in federal government expenditures. That alone amounts to a net-positive impact of over $9,000 for every immigrant that would be eligible to attain higher education through the DREAM Act. The Congressional Budget Office also reported that the newly legalized workers and students resulting from enactment of the DREAM Act would increase revenues by $2.3 billion over the next ten years. We're hearing quite a lot these days about the solvency and long-term viability of programs such as Social Security; the Foundation for American Policy states that newly legalized immigrants will contribute $407 billion to the Social Security fund over the next 50 years. If I were so inclined, I could literally enumerate beneficial economic impacts that would result from passage of the DREAM Act, and from a comprehensive legalization policy in general, for pages upon pages. But I think that I've droned on long enough with the numbers and the dry factoids.

The numbers and the nuts-and-bolts aspects of this issue are important and I would not contend otherwise. I am however more compelled by the moral and ethical implications that this debate brings to the surface of our collective consciousness. This is a debate over the kind of country, the kind of society that we want to be. These young people are de facto Americans who have undergone the same uniquely American brand of cultural socialization that I have; they grew up watching the same cartoons, following the same sports teams, going to the same schools, observing many of the same social norms and customs that the rest of us have. These young people were brought here at even younger ages then they are now and are here "illegally" through absolutely no fault of their own. Having lived here since the age of two, or six, or twelve, the hundreds of thousands of individuals who would be affected by the DREAM Act love their adoptive country and know no other home. Opponents of this bill are exacting a harsh, punitive form of xenophobia in which innocent bystanders are held accountable for the proverbial "sins of the father". The DREAMers we're talking about here are high-achieving potential assets that are left in a legal limbo once they've graduated high school; these are our future doctors, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs and scientists. These are not criminals or social parasites, freeloaders or fiscal burdens, or any of the other hateful and factually inaccurate epithets used by immigration opponents. The 755,000 young adults who would potentially be eligible for the relief provided by the DREAM Act are ostensibly as American as any of us. So what is it that they lack? Paperwork. The only thing that seperates a 25-year old whose parents brought him here illegally when he was a young child from, let's say, the 25- year old composing this blog post, is mere paperwork and a small rectangular piece of cardboard with a randomized nine-digit code printed on it. Is this what we have finally reduced that indefinable notion of American-ness to? Is being an American simply crossing t's and dotting i's? In my opinion, being an American is far more than that. It means striving to better oneself and ones community. It means experiencing and ascribing to the singular American ethos and way of life. The DREAMers at stake here represent the next generation of innovators, leaders and visionaries and they deserve the opportunity to realize their dreams. But not just any dream: the American dream.

Addendum: For those of you desiring to learn more about the DREAM Act, either for your own edification or to fact-check me, I have provided links below to the House and Senate versions of the DREAM Act legislation. Upon request, I can provide further documentation to support my assertions as contained above or to provide more educational resources.

House version: : http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:H.R.1751
Senate version: : http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:S3992     

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why me? Why now?

After making the decision to finally take the plunge into the bloggosphere, I shared my decision with a friend and he asked three simple questions: when, what and why? This prompted me to make my first post a bit of a preface or the equivalent of the "Author's Note" that sometimes appears at the beginning of a book. I will attempt to present a compelling case as to why I've chosen to blog and what I have to offer that is in some way unique or interesting.

First thing's first, let's talk about the name of the blog. For those of you not familiar with me personally, the "BlindSight" is a reference to the fact that I am, for all intents and purposes, blind. The term "BlindSight" in combination with "20/20" is a not-so-clever play on the old expression that "hindsight is always 20/20". I submit that, though I lack traditional visual acuity and eyesight, I do possess a unique perspective as a result of my unconventional sensory spectrum. In an emphatically visual world, a person without much vision is forced to analyze and interpret the world in a different way. I call this unorthodox method of assessing the world around me "blindsight".

As for the "what" question, this blog is going to be a veritable smorgesboard of commentary on topics ranging from politics to policy, sports to society, lifestyle to literature, and everything in between. I want this blog to act as a virtual "town square" wherein the free exchange and flow of ideas and thoughts will compose a beautiful mosaic that Michelangelo would have envied. Even if I am the only one contributing ideas and thoughts, at the very least it will be a form of catharsis for me personally.

So here we go. I've officially started blogging and I couldn't be more excited about getting my thoughts and musings out there. I look even more forward to hearing the feedback that anybody may have to offer whether it be good, bad or indifferent. Just as a preview, my first real blog post will be pertaining to the issue of the DREAM Act and the moral and ethical implications that go along with it. Stay tuned!