Recently in Majority World Category
The media has also been doing a little bit of of a better job covering how this affects rising food prices. Megan Woolhouse at the Boston Globe has a decent article on how ethanol subsidies affect the cost of ice cream. It almost seems like a joke, though, that people are talking about ice cream prices then about how this is starving the majority world. Such is the systemic violence of the world we live in.
Without Corn There Is No Country
Peasant Produced Food For Mexico
Hunger Doesn't Wait!
I've got to admit that these stories snuck up on me. Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), are pushing to end ethanol subsides and House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), are trying to hold the Obama administration accountable for getting involved in yet another war. Is this opposite day or just a continuation of the Republican strategy of opposite Obama? Add all of this to Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich's rebuke of LeBron James, and for some reason I feel like I woke up this morning in an alternate reality where I'm a Republican.
Normally, I wouldn't find time to write about all of this, especially as I'm trying to hold Mass. State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) accountable for stating undocumented rape victims "should be afraid" to the police. However, I can't help but try to bring some perspective to what has up until this point been muddled and, in effect if not in intent, violent media coverage of a globally important issue.
U.S. support of dictators in Arab countries has for decades highlighted the contrast between America's words and its deeds on democracy. Now that system is under stress across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, as people take to the streets to protest their governments.
Youth organized online and then on the streets in Egypt, as tens of thousands of protesters in recent days have challenged the autocratic government of Hosni Mubarak. Al Jazeera in Tunisia broadcast user-generated videos of police abuse found on Facebook, which then inspired others to film and distribute their own content, which fed the cycle.
It is inspiring to see oppressed people take their futures back from a corrupt elite. One day the oppressed in Egypt or Yemen may find they have more in common with the dispossessed in Arizona or Guatemala than their own venal rulers. If so, it'll probably happen on Facebook or something like it.
As the GOP implodes in a fit of nativism (today's CNN headline says it all: "Immigration Foes Target Baby Citizens"), the binational human rights organization Breakthrough has introduced its "I Am This Land" video contest.
Here are the rules:
1. Make a video about diversity
2. Use the phrase I AM THIS LAND & tell friends to vote
3. Win $2500, Activision games, 1-Day internship at SPIN Magazine, and more by uploading your video
Three weeks ago, a group of Palestinian youth posted a manifesto on Facebook excoriating every internal and external political force at work in Gaza today. The manifesto begins:
Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!
The whole thing is worth reading, as well as this follow up by the Observer. I was struck by certain parallels between the situation of Gazan youth and undocumented youth in the U.S.
There are many differences, of course. War does not touch the borders of the U.S., while Gazan youth have faced invasion and occupation. Gazan youth are not at risk of exile simply because of the passport they hold, as Dreamers are. But rather than engage in the dread oppression olympics, I'd like to draw out certain similarities between both groups.
Both groups are physically trapped, unable to travel beyond the borders which confine them. Both have been jailed by their own governments. Both sit beyond many of the benefits and protections of the purported democracies in which they live. Both face depression, suicide, and other social maladies that come from living life without a future.
Both have started to raise their voices. From the manifesto:
In yesterday's post, I highlighted Gregory Rodriguez's recent Op-Ed as typifying some messaging flaws that many of us had hoped would bear short-term fruit with passage of the DREAM Act but which I fear may undermine long term goals of the immigrant rights movement. Rodriguez's Op-Ed called for a reevaluation of the concept of citizenship to include undocumented youth who had lived here since childhood and were therefore sufficiently loyal to the nation.
I can distill Rodriguez's premises with which I take issue to two:
- "I understand that we can't simply open our borders to all. . . . This country, like any other, has the right -- and the need -- to police its borders."
- "[L]ove of nation is a necessary requirement for making a country a better place to live . . . when push comes to shove, I think nations should require their citizens to choose one loyalty over all others."
Today I wanted to identify these assumptions and begin to think about what assumptions they in turn are based upon, why I believe they are problematic, and what might be more fruitful alternatives. I won't pretend to finish this analysis today, only to begin.
To do so, it is helpful to look at a couple of blog posts from Newsweek and the Economist that made the rounds today.
Mickey Kaus, who blogs at Newsweek, has a knack for hiding conservative arguments in liberal clothing in service of his goal of keeping
brown people immigrants out of America. Yesterday, Kaus conceded that he doesn't believe income inequality is a problem, but he nevertheless finds it useful to bludgeon President Obama with over his supposedly lax immigration policies.
In full concern troll mode, Kaus wrote:
Even experts who claim illlegal immigration is good for Americans overall admit that it's not good for Americans at the bottom. In other words, it's not good for income equality.
Odd, then that Obama, in his "war on inequality," hasn't made a big effort to prevent illegal immigration--or at least to prevent illegal immigrration from returning with renewed force should the economy recover.
Yet Kaus's analysis of income inequality excludes all poor people outside of the U.S. It's as though people not physically present in the U.S. don't even exist. This is an assumption commonly made by American pundits--what surprised me was to see someone call Kaus out on this, which a correspondent for the Economist ("W.W.") did:
This Christmas Eve come two reminders of the suffering that migrants in the U.S. currently endure. Each shows us the distance we still have to travel, the imagination, courage, love, and tenacity still required of us in this struggle. Each reminds us that the suffering of migrants is a small subset of the suffering of the disenfranchised who remain in their home countries.
First, via Jaya Ramji-Nogales at IntLawGrrls, comes a new report from the Women's Refugee Commission on the harsh impact on families that ICE enforcement actions can have. The intersection of immigration enforcement and state and local child custody rules leaves a dangerous gap through which immigrant children fall. Too often, the result is that the U.S. government doesn't just take a parent's freedom, but also takes their child. Baby theft from indigent immigrant parents wasn't just something Americans did in Guatemala and other poor countries in recent years, it is happening now to immigrants in the U.S.
Jaya breaks it down:
To start, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apprehend undocumented immigrants, their protocols are insufficient to identify parents and prioritize them for release. Indeed, the guidance for agents who encounter juveniles during fugitive operations directs officers to contact child welfare services, which can complicate parents rights. In any case, there are no procedures to ensure that parents can make care arrangements for their children before they are detained.
Once undocumented parents are detained, it becomes extremely difficult to communicate with their children and the child welfare system due to limitations on telephone access and frequent distant transfers of immigration detainees. Not only does this pose serious obstacles to ensuring safe care for immigrants' children, it may contribute directly to termination of parental rights. For example, the child welfare system's family reunification plan may require regular phone calls and contact visits that are all but impossible for detained parents. Detained parents are also often unable to participate in family court proceedings, either because child welfare services cannot locate them so they do not receive notice of the hearing or because they are unable to be present at the hearing.
Finally, when undocumented parents are deported, the dearth of information provided by ICE about the timing of deportation can make reunification very difficult. Parents are often notified of their deportation at the very last minute -- too late to make travel arrangements for their children -- or ICE changes travel plans after parents have already purchased expensive, nonrefundable tickets for their children to accompany them. This and the other failures of coordination between immigration and child welfare systems described above result in the long-term and in some cases permanent separation of families, inflicting serious psychological trauma on the citizen children of undocumented immigrants.
Second, the Economist has a piece on the heartbreaking challenges undocumented farmworkers in California face today. The article follows poor indigenous families from Mexico who have relocated to the fields of California, following the "Okies" generations ago.
One family left Oaxaca after their oldest son died because they couldn't afford to pay a doctor after he became ill after a flood. They have been robbed by coyotes, chased and beaten by border patrol, exploited by employers, poisoned by pesticides, harassed by police, and threatened by neighbors. They faced these obstacles so their other children could have a future, so their children could survive childhood.
This is the dark side of the American Dream, the one most Americans prefer to ignore and forget. But pretending not to see migrants and their problems doesn't mean they don't exist. It does mean that all Americans are responsible for this moral monstrosity--voters, elected officials, consumers, and taxpayers all have a hand in maintaining this perverse systemic injustice. Building the border wall higher and sturdier won't make the poor and their problems disappear, either, whether inside or outside the U.S. It only underscores our culpability and the hypocrisy of our willful blindness.
The Economist correspondent reminds us of the globalization of poverty and the connectedness of all human beings by ending the report in this way:
People like the Vegas will always keep coming, no matter the fences that go up on the border and the helicopters that circle above. For they are like the Joads. As Steinbeck wrote: "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other."
I know from my interactions over the years with DOS that many foreign service officers join DOS because they want to improve U.S. relations with other countries or show non-Americans that we're not all in thrall to Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. In fact, I completed an internship at the Rome Embassy in college and once dreamed of becoming a foreign service officer, or "FSO" for those in the know.
But Mayer experienced some inner conflict in Haiti that he didn't quite know how to deal with:
To say that it was heart-wrenching to do this work doesn't fully capture the feeling. Many tears were shed and many voices were raised. Time and time again, we would hear people begging us, "Please, what are we supposed to do?" It was so, so hot, and we all perspired copiously, but we knew that the people waiting in the queue were hotter and thirstier than we were. As much as it hurt, we had to say no to the unqualified cases; not doing so would be against the law and would also disadvantage those American citizens whose safety and well-being was our first priority. Under U.S. law, the State Department has very clear guidelines for the aid and assistance we provide American citizens in times of crisis, and our office of Overseas Citizen Services in Washington is there to support and guide us every step of the way. The Foreign Affairs Manual (we call it "the FAM") explains things in precise detail.I propose that this inner conflict stems from Mayer's job description: to prevent the poorest and most vulnerable from coming to the U.S. It is the organizing principle of the entire immigration system. As he points out with some regret, the laws are clear and he must not stray from enforcing them. Yet as Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Montreal, Mayer has uncommon insight into the impact of the screening function of the immigration bureaucracy. He knows that the people he turns away will suffer; he knows that some will die.
The FAM, however, doesn't prepare you for the feeling you get from saying, "No" and "I'm sorry" over and over. The FAM doesn't tell you how many bottles of water you will need to give people who've been standing in line for six hours. The FAM doesn't tell you how quickly you need to take the Power Bars you'd bought at Wal-Mart out of your backpack, just so you can give them to the people who are saying, "Please, j'ai faim." The FAM does not tell you whether you're permitted to shed a tear when you see the look of resignation in a person's eye after you've said, firmly, "I'm sorry, but you do not qualify." People just walked away, with their kids in one hand and their suitcase in the other. There were 500 more in the queue, waiting for their turn to come. This was Day 6 after the earthquake.
This is the particular tragedy of FSOs around the world: cosmopolitan and compassionate, their instinct is to give refuge to the dispossessed, but rules are rules and must be obeyed. Who are they to challenge the System That Keeps Us Safe? Those who question authority tend not to work for the most powerful institution in the world, policing the boundaries between Us and Them.
But there are other paths.
Today's New York Times story titled "Pakistan Reported to Be Harassing U.S. Diplomats" highlights the hypocrisy of the Pakistani government in accepting U.S. aid and military support while refusing to renew visas of U.S. personnel and subjecting American diplomats to routine vehicle checks. Certainly Pakistan's government doesn't have to accept the billions of dollars the U.S. government is giving it. But there is more to this story.
First of all, the U.S. wrote the book on denying visas for opaque, often senseless reasons.
The State Department has a history of denying visas for political reasons, and should not be surprised when other countries do the same from time to time. (I believe denial of the right to travel is rarely justified, but this is an oft-used tool of U.S. foreign policy.)
Second, the U.S. is unpopular in Pakistan because it bombs Pakistanis using unmanned drones and has this year pressured the Pakistani military to take action that led to societal upheaval and mass suffering. This has had the not unforeseeable consequence of making the current Pakistani government's relationship with the Americans somewhat toxic.
But this is mostly missing from the Times story. Only near the bottom of the article do we get any indication of why Pakistanis might not be grateful for the presence of the Americans in their country:
This by way of pointing out that an uncouth pseudonymous libertarian blogger has again accurately deciphered the most recent chapter of the U.S. imperial adventure--Vietnam Part VIII: Afghanistan. Now that the last U.S. troops have finally exited Iraq, all four million Iraqi refugees have happily returned to their ancestral lands, and Iraqi citizens have breathed a collective sigh of relief to live in the peaceful, fully sovereign, beacon of democracy they now inhabit, President Obama has turned a stern eye to the Enemies of Freedom currently plaguing the good people of Afghanistan.
Or at least that's the version of events Tom Friedman subscribed to until recently.