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Friday, September 30, 2011

U.S. Government: Education Over Immigration

On page A16 of the New York Times issue of September 29, 2011, two stories read side by side make an interesting point concerning the plight of American federalism. Campbell Robertson reports that Alabama won a ruling by a federal judge on the republic’s immigration law. Across the page, Mark Landler reports on Barak Obama’s visit to a local high school in Washington, D.C.

“Our country used to have the world’s largest proportion of young people with a college degree,” the president said. “We now rank 16th. I don’t like being 16th; I like being No. 1.” The last sentence in particular is revealing if one takes it in a broader sense. Barak Obama likes being No. 1. He likes being the center of it all—I suppose like New York City relishes being in the center of the universe. So it is of little consequence to the president that education is not among the federal government’s enumerated powers.  Even by going to a local school, Barak Obama instantiates the federal government’s encroaching nature, albeit for a good cause. He did not stop with education policy; he lapsed onto a parental role of sorts, saying, “I want all of you to set a goal to continue your education after you graduate.” Interlarding himself in the students’ families, he told the students how they should react to their parents. “Don’t give them a hard time when they ask you to turn off the video games, turn off the TV and do some homework,” he urged. Lest it be thought that this is simply some good-natured remarks by a father who undoubtedly cares about kids, it was the second day in a row that he had spoken at a school. In other words, the over-reach involves an opportunity cost.

It is not as though the president of the United States has a lack of things needing his attention within the enumerated powers of the U.S. Government. In fact, state officials have felt the need to step in to take up the slack concerning the U.S. Government’s failure to adequately enforce immigration law. But in what would be a twisted character flaw in a person, the federal government has fought such assistance while continuing to encroach in domains such as education. It is as if the person in charge of an association’s club house were resisting cleaning help by some of the members while going into their houses to take over their roles there. It is not as though the Obama administration were so consumed with visiting local schools that it would not have time or resources to resist state-level assistance on immigration. Moreover, it is not as though the administration were so focused to improve its own enforcement efforts that it didn’t have time or resources to involve itself in education and fight the states on immigration. The administration is making things far too difficult for itself as well as for others.

So while the president was acting as parent in chief at a local school, his administration lost a case in federal court against Alabama’s immigration law enforcing the federal law. Among other things, the Alabama law “nullifies any contracts entered into by an illegal immigrant.” Another section “forbids any transaction between an illegal immigrant and any division of the state,” and still another section “requires elementary and secondary schools to determine the immigration status of incoming students.” Nothing here violates or nullifies federal law; in fact, Alabama is helping said law. The motivation that resists help can and ought to be questioned. It is not as though states implementing federal law is unheard of. In the E.U., it is common for the states to be required to implement E.U. directives. If states cannot be trusted to implement federal law, why have a union at all? With respect to immigration, the orientation of every government in the American federal system ought to be to minimize illegal aliens within these United States. Fighting among ourselves, governmentally, only gives the law breakers more wiggle room to get through and live within the United States illegally—even enjoying benefits of citizenship without being citizens.

So rather than being educator in chief or parent in chief, the U.S. President ought to keep to his knitting—especially as there are some holes in it! Nor is he in a position to refuse help. Otherwise, the resultant encroaching nature of the general government will totally eviscerate American federalism with a one-size-fits-all imposition at the expense of the inherent diversity that exists in an empire-scale union.


Campbell Robertson, “Alabama Wins in Ruling On Its Immigration Law,” New York Times, September 29, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/29/us/alabama-immigration-law-upheld.html

Mark Landler, “Obama Urges Students to Set Their Sights on College,” New York Times, September 29, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/29/us/politics/president-obama-urges-nations-students-to-set-sights-on-college.html

When Police Are the Criminals

Might the personality type most excited by inflicting pain on others be drawn to “serve” on a police force?  Might force itself be an allurement to such a personality? Moreover, might organizations populated by the personality be inclined to set up defenses against being held accountable either internally or by other organizations? At the very least, deference ought to go to the victims rather than the “officers.”

The New York City police department and the district attorney’s office set investigations in motion after video surfaced of Anthony Bologna of the police department using pepper spray against protesters of Wall Street greed and the lack of accountability there. Even as the department’s own investigation was yet to commence, the chief publically questioned whether the video offered enough context to evaluate the inspector’s actions. To the chief, merely protesting in a way that blocked traffic justifies the use of pepper spray without warning. The inspector’s union boss claimed the motive had been to restore order—though the video shows that the victims were not disorderly or resisting arrest. Indeed, the police did not attempt to arrest those sprayed. It is not difficult to see where the police investigation of its own will go.

Beyond the hypocrisy involved in those sworn to protect actually attacking and the anti-Americanism involved in trying to curtail a protest, it might reasonably be asked whether Bologna was acting on his own, or whether Wall Street money was ultimately behind the aggression. In the protest’s first four days, the mega media companies scarcely covered the protest; Bologna’s unprovoked aggression came after the news networks could no longer viably ignore the movement. So was the case simply that of American banks using the police state to keep a movement from spreading to their detriment? Were there actual accountability on Bologna, might the bird sing, affording us some transparency concerning any such hidden relationships?

Even if no such conspiracy existed, there is obviously a need for stronger instruments of accountability that could be imposed externally on police departments and their employees. In the wake of Bologna’s attacks, the media reported that such incidents are not uncommon. Indeed, I have witnessed them. While in Pittsburgh, for example, I witnessed how the police treated black teenagers who were simply walking along the sidewalks in the university area of town (Oakland). It was evident to me at the time (as a bystander leaving a restaurant) that the police employees believed they did not face any meaningful accountability. So I was not surprised to see video surface of Anthony Bologna’s sadism on full display in New York.

Thomas Hobbes writes that in the state of nature, and even in society, each person has the right to protect his or her person, as per the right of self-preservation. A sovereign cannot take this inalienable right away. When Bologna acted outside of the law, and thus outside of the social contract, his victims had the right to defend themselves, even in using pepper spray against the attacker. In other words, Bologna could and should have been treated as a criminal attacker by his victims and bystanders. Perhaps in the future protestors ought to carry pepper spray in case any criminals show up and attempt any aggressive attacks. It could be that the offending attackers are imprisoned while the self-preserving protestors are exonerated. Then maybe police departments will recognize that accountability applied to their own employees is in the departments’ interest. Legitimate force goes only so far before it lapses into criminality, and we all have an obligation as citizens to thwart crime as it is happening by whomever. If police employees do not want other citizens to be put in the position of making this judgment, then perhaps those employees might want to reassess their attitude and habits. In the meantime, citizens need to be on guard against criminals even and especially where they are least expected and perhaps most commonly found.


Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, “Officer’s Pepper-Spraying of Protesters Is Under Investigation,” New York Times, September 29, 2011. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Debt Crisis: A Conflict of Interest Hampers the E.U.’s Response

“As the European Union enters a financial crisis in slow motion,” a Huffington Post reporter avers, “the fragile American economic recovery hangs in the balance. With Greece almost certain to default on its debt, European political leaders need to take decisive action to prevent a resultant string of bank runs and government defaults, which could precipitate double-dip recessions in Europe and the United States.” If Greece suddenly defaults, Kavoussi reasons, other E.U. states “could leave the European Union to flee higher interest rates and to enable themselves to pay down their debt more easily by devaluing their currencies.” Such an outcome, she claims, “would almost certainly plunge Europe into a recession.” She observes, moreover, that “European politicians may lack the political will necessary to prevent the sovereign debt crisis from mushrooming into a global economic slowdown.”

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.