Saturday, June 26, 2010

Horatio Alger and the American Dream

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 24, 2010


In a recent edition of this column, my brother Gordon and I discussed the BP oil disaster. Judging from some of the response I received, I think that some readers believed I was soft on BP and did not fully acknowledge the company’s responsibility. While I do believe that assigning blame alone is counterproductive I think this tragedy is a prime example of the impact of corporate misconduct.

Some may have thought my assertions were similar to those of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said recently “The guy that runs BP didn't exactly go down there and blow up the well… …And what's more, if you want them to fix it, and they're the only ones with the expertise, I think I might wait to assign blame until we get it fixed.”

The fact is that indications are that profit-driven decisions to cut corners resulted in the explosion and well leak. So it seems that “the guy that runs BP” technically did blow up the well.

I became frustrated hearing the words of BP CEO Tony Hayward who spent much of the last week denying any personal responsibility. It is infuriating that BP will largely escape penalty for 11 deaths and grave damage to the ecosystem and the U.S. economy. This is because corporations enjoy the privileges of personhood while escaping much of the accountability to which individuals are held. This protection of corporations to the detriment of the individual (and of the greater good) demonstrates the worsening imbalance between corporate America and Main Street America.

Most troubling to me is that many in the working class of the country are the staunchest defenders of BP and other corporations. As I listen to talk radio, I am not surprised to hear a fat cat like Rush Limbaugh excuse corporate wrong-doing and extol capitalism as the purest American value. I find it interesting that so many of his listeners call in and echo sentiments that are counter to their own interests.

When President Barack Obama first suggested capping executive salaries of companies receiving federal T.A.R.P. money, my brother Gordon (a hard-working owner of a small business whose success has not exactly lifted him to wealth) complained that the United States was headed down a slippery slope toward limiting all incomes. I heard like comments from many who were gainfully employed, yet were struggling to even meet monthly bills and provide daily needs.

One wonders why there is such a disconnect between the perception of corporate capitalism and the realities of common folk (not a term meant to insult or condescend). Once, I laid it to a Horatio Alger syndrome. Alger wrote many stories in the late 19th century that featured characters born into lowly station who achieve positions of wealth, success, and power. A conception was born of the fictions that if one pulled oneself up by one’s bootstraps and worked hard, success would ultimately follow. This was an effective premise because it inspired the American dream that success is always within reach and wealth is the right of every man. The spirit of this dream has been an engine of American industry and economy for years. To be fair, there have been “rags to riches” success stories, but these few exceptions prove the rule that the Horatio Alger theme is a myth.

More common (especially in recent years) are stories of hard-earned savings and retirement accounts swallowed by greed and corruption, or of family homes lost to mortgage foreclosures, or of workers tossed out of jobs after years of dedicated service. Still, people stand up and cry out about government regulation of businesses and defend corporate avarice. Why? Because the conservative movement, in all its forms, has convinced us of the undeniable self-correcting powers of the marketplace. The myth is that the law of supply and demand can be applied to all economic ills and the consumer will democratically right wrongs. The principle applied to the corporate model is that corporations will be compelled by consumers to do the right thing. This too is a myth.

Recently, radio host Glenn Beck criticized President Obama’s celebration of increased employment by asking why more manufacturing jobs weren’t created. I assume he was implying that if government just backed off, manufacturing jobs would return to the U.S. and sustainable job growth would be restored.

The sad fact is that manufacturing will never resurge to its past strength. The cost of doing business and of labor will always be far cheaper in China and Taiwan than it is domestically. And under the current structure, corporations are bound to shareholder interests and not to ethics. So supply-side economics has failed us. Corporate success does not trickle down to benefit the working class. The power of the marketplace has failed to regulate business practices.

There are things Obama and the government can do to encourage industry to grow employment, but Glenn Beck would not be fond of them. If tax cuts were eliminated and penalties assessed for corporations that outsource labor overseas, some jobs would return. Unfortunately, corporate lobbying and collusion have prevented the political will to regulate industry in this way.

During administration after administration and congressional session after congressional session, corporate influence has whittled away safeguards that would encourage businesses to behave responsibly. By allowing corporations to act unethically we have encouraged a disregard for ethical standards. By moving toward a laissez-faire attitude toward business we have bred an “anything goes” climate that promotes greed and corruption. By catering to the supply side of the equation we have done an injustice to the consumer and the individual. We have fostered a culture of business addicted to corporate welfare. Over decades we have planted the seeds for the destruction we are now reaping.

There is good news. Cracks in the corporate fa├žade are being exposed. People are waking up. Real outrage was expressed when executives of companies receiving taxpayer bailouts took huge bonuses. When extravagant trips were planned and company jets were purchased the outcry continued. Workers who have lost their jobs no longer the notion (advocated by former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan) that global outsourcing is a good thing.

The current corporate model is unsustainable. Without real reform, the American dream is dead. Hopefully, the desire for change will persist.

The Demon We Know

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 24, 2010

When we see the heartbreaking images of oil-drenched beaches, suffering wildlife and lost jobs from the tragic oil well explosion and subsequent oil leak, we tend to react emotionally, as well we should. We are emotional creatures and carry an empathetic feature within our complex and wonderful design as human beings. We also carry an innate desire for justice – a sense that somewhere, somehow, justice must be meted out and equity should be established. That is why our governments were instituted and our laws were written. It is essential, therefore, that we determine root causes and establish who or what was to blame and eventually attempt to make corrections within the system and measure out sufficient punishment for those at fault. This is the proper and mandated response.

Another response, as illustrated by my fellow columnist, is to go from the particular to the general. In other words, when encountering specific acts of avarice, fraud, deception, reckless disregard for human life, profit-at-all-costs, short-cutting and shoddy business practices, we categorize the entire system as faulty and in need of radical transformation.

To argue from the specific to the general is to disregard the laws of logic and to demonize the capitalistic system because it has failed to fulfill the dreams of every American is to open the door for even more destructive demons.

Just as in Jesus’ story of the unclean spirit which, after being driven from a man, returns to find a clean, swept house, “Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other demons more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:26 KJV) If we were to drive out the “demon” of free market capitalism, we would only be cleaning up the house for a more repressive, unresponsive, unaccountable and cruel tribe of demons called socialism, statism, collectivism and eventually to the most cruel demon of all – atheistic Marxism.

My brother makes the argument that the rags to riches story is an exception and the majority of Americans live lives of unfulfilled dreams and he ends his essay with the conclusion that “Without real reform, the American dream is dead.” It is claims such as these that strike fear in my heart and questions in my mind.

Some questions I would ask of Keith and any others who share his beliefs are:

1. If Capitalism and the Free Market Economy is to be replaced, with which system would you replace it? Would you institute collectivism, such as that attempted by the collective agriculture system of the former U.S.S.R.? If so, please tell me how you would prevent the utter failures experienced by those under that system.

2. If corporations, taken as a whole, (which you have done in your essay) are inherently evil entities driven by profit above ethics and greed above safety, how would you replace the incentive that has brought us such remarkable innovations, luxuries and medical and military advances? Can you point to a state-controlled industry that has produced similar products and services as produced by the private sector for a lower price and at a higher quality? I am not about to become a disciple of Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gecko in Wall Street who smugly claimed that “Greed is good”, but I do believe that the drive for self-interest and the survival instinct we have been endowed with by our Creator can be powerful forces that compel us to produce a better product at a cheaper price. That force is in short supply within the governmental bureaucracy. We all know the stories of dealing with governmental agencies in which the employees have no compulsion to produce or competition from the marketplace.

3. If the increased number of government jobs – applauded by Obama as proof of the Stimulus’ effectiveness – is such a boon to the economy, why did the stock market react negatively to the news? Could it be because one average government job requires at least three to four full-time private sector jobs to pay for that person’s wages and benefits? The corporation is the best tool to pull us out of a recession – not governmental spending.

4. If “Obama and the government” were to eliminate tax cuts and assess penalties to corporations who outsource labor overseas, what would prevent those corporations from pulling out of the U.S. altogether? The present global economy makes it possible and profitable to choose the most business-friendly location for corporate headquarters, and if that location is out of reach of the IRS, no corporate taxes would be available, so I believe some is better than none.

In conclusion, I am not defending BP or any other corporation that was criminally negligent or knowingly put workers or the environment at risk by unsafe practices or profit-driven ideals. I am not saying Capitalism is the perfect system. I am not saying the market is always right and should be free of all governmental controls. I am saying that all human systems are destined to be imperfect and inequitable because humans are imperfect and inequitably created. I am saying that we need to be careful of removing one demon in favor of seven worse demons.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Was it Humanitarian Aid or just another Public Relations Campaign?

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 10, 2010

When the majority of the “civilized” world joins arms and sings a common tune, we should all stand up and join in, right? I mean, after all, we all strive for unity above discord and cooperation above competition, right? Well, my friends, it seems that almost every nation is singing the same song these days and the chorus goes something like this: Israel massacred innocent people on the high seas; the ship boarded by the Israelis was part of a “Peace Flotilla” and its only mission was to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians in Gaza.

Well, before I join my voice in singing along, I have to ask a few rhetorical and a few not-so-rhetorical questions. To explain, rhetorical questions, according to my dictionary, are meant to elicit an effect, but not necessarily a response from the hearers/readers. However, some of the following questions are open for response and I welcome any reader who believes she/he has the proper answer to please respond.

1. It is always a good practice to “follow the money” when faced with alternative accounts of a story, for to determine who has gained or lost in the exchange usually determines who is at fault and who is the victim in the event. Therefore, to alter the above policy slightly, I would ask us to “follow the best interest”. My question then is this: In who’s best interest was the outcome of the attempted effort to break the Israeli blockade? i.e. Who would gain or lose in the Public Relations battle?

2. If the sole intent of the organizers of the flotilla was to deliver humanitarian aid, why did they not follow commands to dock at the southern Israeli port and have their cargo inspected and loaded onto Israeli trucks and delivered into Gaza – just as over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid is delivered each week?

3. A corollary to the above question, if it was concern for the suffering Palestinians in Gaza and not a resurging flood of anti-Semitism that drove these organizers to action, why would they not compel the Hamas leadership to “cease and desist” from launching missiles (over 10,000 since Hamas took over Gaza in 2005) into Israel and commit to peaceful coexistence, as Egypt has?

4. If Israel really wanted to commit massacre and mass homicide on the high seas as Turkish leaders claim, why did they do such a lousy job of it? i.e. Why kill “only” nine people when they could have easily, and without risk to their soldiers, blasted every ship out of the water?

5. If they really wanted the residents of Gaza to suffer and die a slow, painful death by starvation, as UN inspectors seem to claim, why would Israel continue to truck aid to Gaza on a daily basis? During the first three months of this year, for example, 95,000 tons of supplies have found their way via Israeli trucks into Gaza, including 48,000 tons of food products, 40,000 tons of wheat, 2,760 tons of rice, 1,987 tons of clothing, and 553 tons of powdered milk and baby food.

6. If Israel abandons the use of blockade (which, by the way, we Americans have used repeatedly against our former enemies in Japan, Germany and Cuba) to protect themselves from Hamas’ rocket attacks, what defense is left to them? They have been criticized in the international community when they took an active defense (the use of military action to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the enemy, by the way, if those words sound familiar, they are the tactics approved by Obama against the Taliban and al-Qaeda) approach in attacking hostile forces in the Lebanon War of 2006 and in Gaza in 2008 – 2009. They have followed recommendations from U.S. presidents and Secretaries of State in the past and surrendered land for peace, and received no peace; instead, hostilities have only increased.

7. Why do we even have a nation of Israel? And why are they so hated? Of all the ethnic groups that have the ability to trace their origin and retain their ethnicity, why are the Jews still around when multiple times in their history they have been specifically targeted for extinction by great military minds such Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Hitler and others? Why have they returned to the land of their ancestors?

8. If I could show you a book that would answer that last question for you, would you be interested in reading it?

The book was written by a man who saw the scattering of the Jewish nation among all the other nations of the earth and he foresaw the persecution and attempted annihilation of the Jews as well, but he also foresaw the re-gathering of the Jews upon their soil of Jerusalem. The author was a man named Ezekiel, the book was written in 600 B.C. and it can be found anthologized within a book that has many other answers for your life. I highly recommend it to you.

A Special Relationship

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 10, 2010

Much attention has been paid in the last couple of months to President Obama’s failure to publicly recognize the “special relationship” of the U.S. and U.K. As much as conservative pundits would like to assert that Obama’s foreign policy represents a departure from previous policy, it is undeniable that the unique bond shared by the two superpowers is alive and well in the current administration. Other than the brutal Revolutionary War at the birth of our nation, the United States and Great Britain have historically stood side by side as allies.

Similarly, a special relationship exists between the U.S. and Israel. This one, however, has its dysfunction and implicit pitfalls. In past editions of this column (March 2008; January 2009), I called attention to this relationship and mentioned concerns that I saw in the fact that our nations’ fates are so closely entwined. The pro-Israel lobby in Washington and security interests in the Middle East are a part of that equation. Another component is evidenced in my brother Gordon’s piece.

For many religious conservatives the prophetic importance of the nation of Israel is a key to their perspectives. Unfortunately, the modern world and dynamics between the Israel and the Arab world are much more complex and perilous than can be addressed with biblical references. The situation becomes more problematic still when one suggests that we model policy and agendas around millennia-old prophesy.

What results often is a perspective that throws broad support behind Israel and excuses any wrongdoing committed by her. One can note this attitude in the demonizing of the activists seeking to bring aid to Palestinians in Gaza. Gordon suggests that organizers may have instigated the aggression (and willfully caused the deaths of the victims) in order to gain leverage in the arena of public relations. This characterization is unfair to the organizers of the flotilla (who also have been instrumental in supplying aid to Bosnia, Haiti and New Orleans). Certainly, it serves the organization’s interests to shine a spotlight on the human rights violations perpetrated by Israel. Certainly, they wish to generate international support for the cause. Certainly, they seek to end the blockade that continues to choke the citizenry of Gaza. But sacrificing the lives of activists as a PR stunt makes little sense.

What I have found interesting over the last week is that there has been coverage of the flotilla raid that has been highly critical of Israel. Furthermore, the international community, as Gordon recognizes in his column, has largely condemned the actions taken by Israel and the loss of life as a result.

One can look first to the party who enjoys the special relationship that I mentioned earlier. Former British foreign secretary David Milliband has urged Israel to lift the three-year blockade that has denied humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip and has ultimately resulted in the deaths of the flotilla activists and the suffering of Palestinians in the region. In a recent interview he argued that the blockade was counterproductive to the peace process in the Middle East, stood in the way of a Palestinian statehood and was detrimental to the security of Israel itself. He also maintained that the blockade was in violation of United Nations Resolution 1860, which also called for a stop to arms trafficking to Gaza.

The United Nations called for emergency talks almost immediately after the incident to discuss Israel’s actions. Some nations called for in depth investigations into the matter and the evidence provided by Israel to support its version of the story. The deaths of Turks among those killed in the raid, and strains in the aftermath have led to tense relations between Israel and Turkey (an important ally in the Muslim world).

Even internally, support for the Israeli operation was far from unanimous. Parliament member Einat Wilf had warned against military action in reference to the aid flotilla, citing public relations issues. She also said the action was misdirected because the ships didn’t represent an arms threat. “This had nothing to do with security… … The armaments for Hamas were not coming from this flotilla,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. Some Israeli journalists were also critical of the navy.

The incident presents a problem to the current U.S. administration. President Obama has been measured in his response to the attack, but has gone as far as calling the incident tragic. While he hasn’t been vocal in reaction to the issue, it seems clear that the Obama policy regarding support of Israel largely echoes that of the previous administration. This may create complications in the Middle East as the United States attempts to bridge tensions and as the humanitarian situation in Gaza worsens. There has been talk among State Department officials that the current blockade is not sustainable and actually creates security issues for both the U.S. and Israel.

Again the special relationship between the United States and Israel has troubling consequences. A broad view of the big picture is more valuable than unconditional support of, or than mere condemnation of Israel. Often biases stand in the way of lessons that may be learned from incidents like last week’s raid.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Blame Game

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 27, 2010

Over a month ago a tragic explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of eleven workers and caused a horrific oil leak that is pouring thousands of barrels per day into the Gulf of Mexico. Certainly, there are unanswered questions about what could have been done to prevent this catastrophe; who is responsible for its occurrence, and even the scope of the problem it presents. However, it is troubling that opposing factions have exploited those questions with certain implications and clear motives. The fact that a story of undeniable consequence would prominently grace the editorial sections of media outlets (including the Broader View Weekly’s) is a testament to the politicization of this tragedy.

To be fair, this is not the first event of its kind to be treated as a political weapon or tool. For example, I was disappointed in the way that Katrina was treated during George W. Bush’s presidency. The way the natural disaster was kicked around like a football between both sides marginalized the real suffering and diminished the value of those who lost lives or livelihoods as a result of the hurricane. Likewise, the lives of the eleven lost souls in the recent oil rig explosion are obscured in the fog of debate.

Finger pointing has trumped meaningful problem solving. The blame being thrown about while the problem worsens is counterproductive and is exacerbating the situation. Still, scapegoating will not cease, but only grow more prevalent, if history is any indication.

Investigations into the cause of the explosion are ongoing and will continue for some time, but emerging information indicates that the Deepwater Horizon incident may be a symptom of a greater ill within the oil exploration industry. Responsibility for the failures that brought about disaster rests on many shoulders. More important than assigning blame is solving issues and moving forward in the right direction.

Oil giant British Petroleum (BP) owns majority stake in the oil field in which the Deepwater Horizon was drilling. The rig was owned and operated by Swiss drilling contractor Transocean. Oil services corporation Halliburton contracted the cement and “mud” used in the drilling operation. Mineral Management Service (MMS) is the government agency charged with (among other things) inspection and oversight of the industry. Each of these entities shares some of the blame for this mishap, but assigning blame alone serves only to placate one interested party or another. We need to determine what went wrong and work to prevent future problems.

According to testimony and accounts in MMS and congressional hearings, faulty drilling plans and elimination of safety steps are believed to be the causes of the explosion. Plans for the cement called for an inadequate amount of materials to contain natural gas surges and used chemicals that actually heightened the risk. Natural gas “kicks” occurred frequently in the weeks before the explosion, but the bursts were labeled by BP as a “negligible” risk. Instead of following standard procedures while attempting to cap the well, the decision was made by either BP or Transocean to save time by displacing drilling mud with lighter seawater before cement caps were allowed to be set to prevent surges in the piping.

It can be assumed that profit was the motivating force behind the blunders. According to sources, BP paid approximately $500,000 per day for the use of the rig and its crew. Chemicals used by Halliburton were designed to speed the curing time for cement, another cost-saving technique. Economics should not be the determining factor where safety is concerned, especially when the consequences go far beyond the personal safety of those directly involved.

Corporations cannot be relied upon to put ethics above profitability. Corporate structure is designed to declare capital king. Greed takes over from there and the results can be deadly.

The trade-off of ethics, environmental concerns, and safety considerations for cash is something we all would do well to ponder. We can apply lessons learned to our own communities. As we weigh natural gas exploration of the Marcellus shale against the potential impacts on environment and safety of our drinking water, we need to look beyond the financial benefits that might come.

Perhaps the most troubling factor in the Deepwater Horizon story is the inability or unwillingness of MMS to adequately police the industry. An impartial agency free of conflicting interests is necessary to regulate the oil exploration and other industries. Instead, an ineffectual entity corrupt with industry collusion dropped the ball in overseeing the drilling there, and is currently charged with regulating similar operations elsewhere. One can only assume that other violations of procedure and design standards are committed in other operations and are going unchecked by the bodies responsible for oversight.

Why did MMS fall down on the job? Again, economics is a clue to its inaction. The mission statement found on the agency’s website prominently declares that it “collects, accounts for and disburses an average of $13.7 billion per year in revenues from Federal offshore mineral leases and from onshore mineral leases…” Though responsible for inspecting and investigating the industry, that section makes no mention of that capacity.

The loss of life on April 20 was appalling and tragic. Sadder still, is that we have only begun to feel the sting of the oil rig incident. One estimate says that nearly 95,000 barrels a day are pumping into the gulf (19 times the BP estimate of 5,000 barrels). Oil has already reached Louisiana’s wetlands, threatening vegetation and wildlife species. The spill is reaching the Gulf’s Loop Current which promises to carry it to Florida and up the Eastern coast of the U.S. The impact on fishing and other industries in the region will be extreme, with as-yet untold losses and a protracted recovery, which may take decades to achieve.

“Drill baby drill” is a dangerous policy. Without regulation and reform in the industry, oil exploration is bound to produce problems similar to the ones we are currently facing. We need to witness more from our government than a blame game or lip service toward oversight. We need to protect more than the bottom line. There is too much at stake.

Lessons from the Gulf

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 27, 2010

For those of you who may be taking score at home in the ongoing battle between the “Brothers Cooper”, you may score this particular column as a tie. I have to agree with several points in my fellow columnist’s essay. For example, I agree with him that the 11 human lives that were tragically cut short by this event have been forgotten as the “not my fault” charade is played out before the cameras.
I also agree with Keith when he said that “corporations cannot be relied upon to put ethics above profitability.” It is further proof of the validity of the scriptural admonition: “… the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10 KJV)
I will concur again with Keith in the idea that assigning blame, while necessary at some point, is not as important as limiting the destruction to our environment and correcting the policies and procedures that led to this catastrophe.
If I could construct a perfect world, I would design an environment where vital natural resources such as coal and oil could be obtained as easily and as safely as picking cherries from low-lying branches. However, our Creator saw fit to bury those precious commodities beneath our soil and beneath our oceans. Hence, we are left with no choice but to put our fellow humans and our environment at risk to obtain these necessities. Now, before you take up pen and paper or fire up your word processor to tell me that we do indeed have a choice – and that choice is alternative forms of energy – let me say that I am one who believes in the Hippocratic Oath approach toward obtaining and exploiting our natural resources – i.e. “First, Do No Harm.” We can and we must find ways to deliver these products from the depths of the earth to the consumer at the pump with a minimal amount of damage to our landscape, water or air.
We must accept the fact that our economy and our lifestyle are, at this point in our civilization, inseparably linked to the use of fossil fuels. You and I may wish for a day when wind, solar and other renewable sources would be able to be harnessed in a way that would make oil and coal a minor commodity, but that day is not on the horizon just yet.
As we accept this fact, we must also be aware that the law of supply and demand is as undeniable as the law of gravity and as long as we demand a product, someone will make a profit as they assume the risk to supply that need.
In my opinion, if we over-react to this tragedy by initiating new regulations that would serve to stifle new oil field discoveries or burden the domestic oil industry with heavy fines and fees, we would be opening the door for foreign competitors who would be exempt from and indifferent to those same regulations. The end result would be a greater risk to the environment and to the safety of the workers.
I am not defending the careless attitude that led to shoddy work practices, nor am I approving of the “Let’s do whatever it takes to give the shareholders a good return on their investment” mindset that seems to justify cost-cutting at the expense of safety.
I am saying that we need to get our priorities in order. First of all, we should stop the leaking (obviously), secondly we should develop a strategy for removing the oil from the ocean in a responsible way. Thirdly, we should not make long-term, over-reaching reforms without first of all, trying some common sense mid-range tweaks of a system that – for the most part – has been trouble-free.
I know it is within our nature to respond to the stimuli of tragedies with knee-jerks. While that may be advisable in some situations, it is costly in others. The energy industry is a vital cog in the security of our nation and the competitive nature of the global economy is such that we need to make sure our domestic companies are not over-taxed or over regulated to the point where foreigners have the advantage.

welcome to 1984

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 13, 2010

In his epic novel published in 1949, George Orwell painted a picture of a dystopian world that awaited his readers in the year 1984. Among the many fearful aspects of that world there was the introduction of a policy called Newspeak and within that policy was a practice known as “doublethink” in which the word blackwhite was used to alter the perception of the adherent of Newspeak in such a way as to think that black is white and to eventually force them to forget that black and white were ever, well, black and white.

Today we see that fearful scenario played out in the debate over Arizona’s SB1070 and HB2162 legislations, which, in essence, do little more than allow law enforcement officials to arrest anyone who, after being interrogated in the course of a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” or during the apprehension of someone committing a civil crime, is reasonably suspected of being in our nation illegally. In other words, anyone who cannot produce a valid form of legal identification like a driver’s license or a tribal enrollment card would be subject to being charged with a state misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $100 or a maximum sentence of 20 days.

A few weeks back, my fellow columnist waxed philosophic about the difference between responsible and irresponsible speech. I find it very ironic that that word – responsible – has become the very word manipulated by our president in the aforementioned Orwellian use of Newspeak.

Following the signing of SB1070 by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, President Obama made the following statement:
“Indeed our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona.” He further added another incendiary remark in an Iowa town hall meeting, when he said: “You can imagine, if you are a Hispanic American in Arizona…suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed.”

Despite the fact that Obama has, time and again, acted below the level previously described as Presidential, these words are much worse than just being inaccurate or exaggerated campaign speech. These words were intended to alter the very meaning of words and to inspire fear and anger among the intended audience, which could only be the future voters from the Hispanic community.

First of all, his altered use of the word “responsible” is problematic because it was partly true in that the feds have been less than responsible in enforcing their own immigration laws. It was not true, however, in claiming that Arizona’s new law is “irresponsible” nor is it even remotely true that a legal citizen, regardless of her/his race, will be “harassed” as a result of this law.

The catch phrase used by Obama and his fellow Newspeak adherents in their criticism of all things Arizonan, is the “show your papers” line. As if Arizona just became the epicenter of neo-Nazism or a revived stronghold of apartheid. From Desmond Tutu to Cardinal Mahony and from Dana Milbank in the Washington Post to the editorial board of the New York Times, many examples of intentional doublethink can be cited. Those quotes can be found in Byron York’s article, titled “The 10 dumbest things said about the immigration law”, in washigntonexaminer.com, dated 5/01.

The sad and scary fact is that most readers or listeners of the above voices will never take the time to actually read the law in question, but will be led, lemming-like, to the cliff of ignorant activism with cries for boycotts and/or even worse, may be inspired to act out in violent protest like the instances in Phoenix and Santa Cruz in which windows were smashed and vandals destroyed public property.

The reality behind both the necessity for and the wording of the Arizona law has been shaded by the hyperbolic, hate-filled and race-baiting rhetoric of the vocal critics. The reality is that Arizona is the epicenter of the illegal immigration plague that has diminished the wages of legal citizens, burdened our schools and health care facilities, increased the crime rate, introduced gang violence to border states, and has weakened our national security by allowing terrorists an easy access to our once sovereign soil.

With almost 500,000 illegal immigrants in this relatively small state, Arizona was forced to take responsibility (there’s that word again) when the feds failed to act responsibly. The state budget was being stretched to the point where legal immigrants were suffering, which is why over 70% of Arizonans support the law, many of those supporters being of Hispanic descent and here legally, if I may be redundant for the sake of emphasis.

My concern is, first of all, for the protection of our borders, our rule of law and our national sovereignty, and secondly, for the protection of our vocabulary, meaning that I want words to have meaning and speakers to have responsibility for how they use those words

Friday, June 4, 2010

What’s Behind Arizona’s New Laws?

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 13, 2010

There has been much discussion over the last couple of weeks, of the implications of Arizona’s new tough legislation regarding undocumented immigrants. A full picture of the legislation, and the buzz around it, is only possible when one looks at the motivation and politics behind the legislative changes and other actions by the state’s governor and legislature.

Before I get to the important background story, I feel compelled to call attention to a provision in the Arizona House bill to which my brother Gordon refers in his column. He asserts that “anyone who cannot produce a valid form of legal identification like a driver’s license or a tribal enrollment card would be subject to being charged with a state misdemeanor….” While technically accurate, the wording of both House and Senate bills is problematic. In one section of the House bill, a driver’s license is indeed listed as a potential proof of citizenship. However, in another section and in the Senate bill (which is vague on requirements for proof), it states that officers are obligated to verify alien status “pursuant to § 1373(c) of Title 8 of the United States Code” (which would mean consulting the federal Immigration and Naturalization Services). In most states of the country, while driver’s permits constitute appropriate proofs of identification and age, they are not sufficient evidence of legal citizenship. It shouldn’t be assumed that a driver’s license will be accepted as acceptable proof of citizenship.

This is important to note because defenders of the Arizona policy have attempted to minimize the effect of the law by claiming that its enforcement represents nothing more ominous than the obligatory expectations most of us face when we purchase alcohol, cigarettes, or spray paint. The fact of the matter is that the change in expectations has an impact on several American citizens and a diminishing of liberty toward standards adhered to in many European countries, which currently require documentation of citizens and travelers. I find it interesting that the same voices that decried the European influence they saw in the administration’s approach to health care, would applaud such a similarity in Arizonan law.

This brings us to the “why” of the legislative change and why the voices I mentioned above have spoken in its defense. The stated purpose is that Arizona had to do something because crime was rampant and the federal authorities were ineffective in solving the situation.

The problem with this argument is that the crime rate in Arizona has actually declined over the last decade. The current violent or property crime rates of Arizona are below the national average. A comparison between the crime rate of Phoenix, near the Mexican border, and that of Cleveland, Ohio (far from the border) shows a greater occurrence of violent crimes and property crimes in Cleveland. And even if crime were on the rise, there is little evidence of a correlation between undocumented immigrants and crimes not related to immigration laws. In fact, despite bogus claims by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News that over 2,000 people are killed each year by undocumented immigrants, studies show that such immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes.

Also noteworthy is the fact that some law enforcement officials have called the law change unnecessary. Phoenix police chief Jack Harris has argued that he has all the tools he needs to address issues of human smuggling, kidnapping, robbery, etc., that are cited as immigration-related issues. In fact he believes it would “divert our officers from investigating property crimes and violent crimes and divert… …our personnel to enforcing civil portions of federal immigration law…” and that it “takes officers away from doing what our main core mission of local law enforcement is, and that's to make our communities safe and enforce our criminal codes in that effort.” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik agreed that the law was “unnecessary and that he would not be enforcing it.

So, why did Arizona Governor Janice Brewer and the legislature feel the need to change immigration laws at this point? Certainly, many point to the recent violent death of a rancher as a catalyst. While the killing of rancher Robert Krentz is tragic, it has less to do with the new law than does the political climate in Arizona (and, indeed, the country as a whole).

Governor Brewer faces a tough campaign against Democratic challenger and Arizona State Attorney General Terry Goddard this fall. Brewer and the conservative legislature see the passage of legislation like the toughening of immigration laws and the relaxing of gun laws as a way to mobilize an important base of support. Also, after six years under her Democratic predecessor, Janet Napolitano, who vetoed similar legislation on both immigration and guns, conservatives are seizing the opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.

One should also look at why the actions of one state’s legislature should resonate throughout the country. Certainly Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs have been hard at work “informing” those who would likely ignore the issue in favor of the statuses of American Idol contestants. Whether or not they would choose to take credit for the tempo of rage and fear inspired among a certain sect of conservative Americans, I don’t wish to assign them that much influence.

Instead, I would prefer to ask why the issue of immigration (legal or otherwise) does enrage so many. Perhaps it makes sense to examine our collective psyche. What elements lie at the core of our propensity to scapegoat and discriminate against the “other”? Without investigating this nature within us, it is difficult to explain why we express so loudly our outrage at the immigration dilemma while so vehemently denying any racial or ethnic motivation.