Saturday, October 27, 2012

PERILS OF EXCEPTIONALISM: MAKING WAR IN THE MUSLIM WORLD


Politicians who trumpet American exceptionalism in international affairs—read: supremacy—are prone to undermine and damage America’s national interests, not to mention start, prolong, and lose wars of choice.  The phrase is a euphemism for naked jingoism, an arrogant, aggressive nationalism.  It presumes not only America’s military, political, moral, and cultural superiority, but also its unique exemption from the norms or laws (like those against torture) which govern international affairs.  It acknowledges no limits to its power and discounts or denies the perspectives and interests of other countries.

The biggest defect of American exceptionalism is its inability to offer sensible approaches or reasonable solutions to recalcitrant problems.  Its common articulation, “peace through strength,” may sound good to those who believe that differences are best settled by bullying or back-alley brawls, and who think that weapons like tanks and cruisers for conventional warfare remain suitable for counter-insurgency or counter-terror operations.  But such advocates do not understand the complexities, dynamics, and subtleties of international relations, the likely threats of unconventional and asymmetric warfare, or the military requirements to deal with them.  Worse, this posture handicaps foreign policy and hinders efforts to create international consortiums of common interest.

American exceptionalism creates difficulties in dealing with other countries, the more different from America, the more difficult the dealings.  It merely grates the sensibilities of European countries and their former colonies or commonwealth countries, themselves with a history of conquering, colonializing, or controlling foreign lands and converting their people to Christianity.  But it angers the sensibilities of countries since freed of their occupiers and of Muslim countries everywhere, especially in the Middle East.

Islamic countries have a proud past.  In its first eight hundred years, Islamic power swept across North Africa, into Spain and France, across southwestern Asia, and into the Balkans and Hungary.  In those eight centuries, Islamic lands were leaders in the arts, philosophy, medicine, and science.  No longer: but Islam remembers its past power and pre-eminence. 

Thus, for religious, political, and cultural reasons, Islam resents intrusions and interventions by Christian nations, particularly in the Levant, site of medieval crusades to recover the Holy Land.  In the context of continuing conflicts between imperialistic religions, Muslims perceive the creation of Israel as yet another attempt by the Christian West to re-conquer Islamic lands.  The popular reaction is resistance to, and rejection of, Israel; the extreme reaction is the call to jihad and the labeling of the United States as the Great Satan.

A belief in its exceptionalism blinds America to the perspectives of Islamic countries, which value their culture and history no less than America values its culture and history.  Islamic fundamentalists oppose democracy just as American Christian fundamentalists oppose sharia law.  So, when politicians urge American exceptionalism, they disregard, as if contemptuously, Islamic perspectives and interests, as if such disregard prepares for productive negotiations and good relationships.  To such politicians, resistance to America’s goal of spreading democracy, including women’s rights, and resentment of American’s peace-through-strength intimidations appear to prove Muslims and their societies primitive, and to justify American-imposed reforms.

From their perspective, however, Muslims may not think America to be so civilized, not to mention democratic, as it imagines itself to be when it enters their countries to reform them.  No Muslim can be indifferent to pictures of American troops humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, burning or shooting Korans, or urinating on dead soldiers—the ultimate expression of uncivilized conduct—and think better of America.

Acknowledging Islamic history and Muslim religious, political, military, and cultural perspectives is not apologizing for American conduct toward Islamic countries.  Instead, such acknowledgment reflects the respect necessary to constructive, not adversarial, relationships with many countries and over a billion of their people.  In relationships demonstrating that respect, however, apologies may be in order.  A strong and righteous nation should not be afraid to admit mistakes.

Diplomatic persuasion as a matter of course, joint economic and political sanctions in cases of impasse, and multi-national military force as the last resort permit better results and reduce the chance of self-defeating conflict.  A smart approach to dealings with Islamic countries suspicious of, or hostile to, American involvement in their affairs is a “leading-from-behind” approach.  Though foolishly mocked even though admittedly incapable of ensuring perfect outcomes, this approach promises better consequences at lower costs than a “leading-from-the-front” approach in a region struggling to modernize on its terms.

Two examples of smart American leadership.  In Iran, Obama honored the Green Movement’s request that America not intervene for good reason.  Its people in the streets wanted American support—a sign of America’s still-strong, but not universal, popular appeal in Iran—but its leaders in their suites understood that American intervention would be unhelpful by offending Iranian nationalism and strengthening the Ayatollah.  The Movement failed, but American involvement could not have enhanced the chances of its success.  In Libya, Obama provided assistance through a coalition to rebels overthrowing an oppressive regime.  The rebels succeeded in this effort but have failed to create a government strong enough to maintain order.  American intervention short of occupation would not have established a strong democratic or even a stable government, much less headed off or repelled a concerted attack upon the American consulate in Benghazi.

American exceptionalism is not a sensible basis for enhancing American influence in international affairs.  America must understand the limits of military strength and realize that modern leadership depends far more on moral direction, diplomatic persuasion, and economic influence.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ALBERSON: UNTRUSTWORTHY IN CHARACTER AND AS A CANDIDATE


Cathey Jo Alberson would have voters in State Senate District 37 believe that she is an ethical person who can be trusted to represent the interests of her constituents.  In her candidate’s biography in the Sun News (1 Oct), she writes that she is “resolute about leaving a legacy of ethical standards in business and life, and giving the people of Doña Ana County a senator they can trust.”  On her website, she writes that she is “resolute to leave a legacy of ethical standards in business and life.”  She professes presumably high ethical standards but practices deceit and dishonesty to distort or conceal discrediting information relevant to her candidacy.

Alberson’s constituents will not trust Alberson when they learn the truth about her narrow ideological agenda both political and religious.  Among a cluster of concealed positions on social issues is her position on abortion, which is extreme and dangerous, with unforeseen consequences.  For she questions whether those who disagree with her on abortion are trustworthy on other issues (imagine, for example, the pit rule for oil and gas operations).  Her fanaticism on this issue alone makes constructive work with other legislators problematic and honest engagement with, and representation of, her constituents improbable. The questions: what and who does she represent?

This blog differs from my recent column.  First, I elaborate and re-interpret what I know from public or multiple sources; I asked Alberson to confirm or deny membership in a previously undisclosed association, but she has not responded.  Then, I report and examine a private letter from her to her supporters; I asked her to confirm or deny the authenticity of this letter, but she has not responded.  Given her abrupt and unexplained cancellation of an interview, I infer that she seeks to avoid detailing or defending views which she thinks would be unappealing or alarming to voters.

In her candidate’s biography, Alberson responded to its request for “past political or public service positions”: “Junior League, USTA-Jr. Team Tennis, NRA, NRL, Teen Pact, active leader for various family and teen organizations.”  Everyone knows that “NRA” is the National Rifle Association; many know that “NRL” is the National Right-to-Life organization.  But she conceals her position as the Second Vice Chair of the Dona Ana Republican Party and her membership in the Tea Party.

Alberson also conceals her board membership in the Christian Association of Parent Educators.  Its “Statement of Faith” asserts that “the Bible, in its original autograph, is without error in whole and in part; including theological concepts as well as geographical, historical and scientific details.”  Her belief in Biblical inerrancy implies literalism, religious and moral absolutism, and creationism, among other anti-scientific and anti-historical positions suitable for a sectarian indoctrinator, not a public educator.

On her website, Alberson also conceals these affiliations.  These omissions by a candidate for public office signal deceit in hiding relevant information from voters.

In her candidate’s biography and on her website, Alberson is consistent on what she claims are her three most important issues: the former states them as “jobs/economy, education, repeal of drivers licenses of illegal immigrants”; the latter states them as “Jobs and Business,” “Improve Education,” and “Safety.”  These claims have two major defects.

Alberson is dishonest in giving misleading information about her qualifications to address the issue of education.  First, although her candidate’s biography and her website claim that she has “experience in education” and has been “an educator for 20 years,” respectively, she does not specify that, in these years, she has homeschooled her children and thus has no experience with either public or private schools.  Second, to support this deception, she claims that her second child is a “high school senior” and thereby misleads voters into thinking that he attends high school when, in fact, he is merely the same age as senior high school students.  These deliberately misleading claims are intended to serve two purposes: to pretend to have, and to conceal not having, qualifications to address the important issue of public education intelligently and independently.  Indeed, her website indicates her legislative inclinations to follow the lead of the Governor; “I am in favor of a lot of the things Susana Martinez has put forward.”  Alberson thus declares herself a rubber stamp because she is not competent to assess education issues for herself on behalf of her constituents.

Albertson lies that the three issues which she claims are her most important ones are so.  For her, the most important issue is abortion.  She does not disclose its priority to the public; instead, she discloses its priority to anti-abortionists in a private fundraising letter.  Her letter—I give a typescript below—does not detail her position.  But I infer from its stridency that she favors a law or an amendment, state or federal, defining life as beginning at the moment of conception, and the zygote, embryo, and fetus as a person entitled to all the rights of personhood—with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life or health of the mother.  She is neither the only candidate for public office to hold such views nor the only one to keep her strident position a secret from voters.

Alberson sets herself apart from other anti-abortion candidates in the pervasive influence of her ideology on this point; for her, the issue of abortion is “absolutely dominant.”  Her commitment is so all-consuming that she questions whether those who do not agree with her position and its pre-eminence, can be “trusted on other issues.”  For sheer ugliness in political perspective, I cannot think of an equal to this statement.

In her letter, Alberson decries the lack of “personal responsibility” in society.  In her sweeping assessment of many people (like Romney’s assessment in his “47%” speech), this statement reveals smug self-righteousness and lack of personal responsibility.  No responsible person seeking public office would be distrustful of legislators, or dismissive of constituents, who disagree with her view on abortion.  Her dogmatic stance on this issue—not to mention her Tea-Party ideology—shows that Alberson is not suited for any position of public trust and public service.  For someone who distrusts and disrespects those who disagree with her views cannot herself be trusted on any issue to represent her constituents or the best interests of the state and cannot leave “a legacy of ethical standards in business and life” worthy of the name.

---   ---   ---

Cathey Jo Alberson
State Senate, District 37
P.O. Box 13336
Las Cruces, NM 88013
575-652-0100

October 1, 2012

Dear Supporter of Life,

Thank you for supporting the fight for life and protecting our unborn.  My belief in this important issue is quite strong.  Unborn children are a very important part of our population and require protection.  I have been, and continue to be, a strong supporter of the pro-life movement here in Southern New Mexico.

I believe this issue is absolutely dominant.  It is from this perspective on life, that I will evaluate every vote.  If a person does not have this fundamental issue, can they really be trusted on other issues?  I humbly appreciate your consideration and ask for your vote.

Personal responsibility is seriously lacking in our society today.  One’s decisions do have consequences that not only affect their life but the lives of others.

This coming term will see votes on many issues affecting the unborn.  There will be legislative efforts to limit the kinds of abortions, provide parental notification, and stop our tax dollars from going to support abortions.  Unfortunately, there will be proposals that would increase the number of abortions, the types of abortions, and the availability without parental consent.

As you know, this will be a fierce battle.  I would appreciate your support in this coming election.  November 6th will play an important role for the unborn.  Your vote is vital in this election as I suspect that we will continue to see low voter turnout.

Early voting begins October 20th.  Election day is Tuesday, November 6th.  I need your vote in this fight to protect the unborn!

Respectfully,

[signed: Cathey Jo Alberson]

Cathey Jo Alberson

Life is the gift of God and is divine.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


[Note: The heading subtitle pretends that Alberson is the incumbent, not a candidate for an empty seat.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

ALBERSON VS. SOULES--CONTRASTING CANDIDATES IN NM SENATE DISTRICT 37


The contrast between candidates Cathy Jo Alberson and William P. Soules for the District 37 senate seat appeared in the Sun-News’s 1 October article and endorsement, and at the candidates’ debate on 3 October.  I found neither the paper’s unexplained “fresh perspective” opinion of Alberson credible (she is the Second Vice Chair of the Dona Ana Republican Party—a fact not disclosed in her candidate’s bio), nor its once-convicted-always-a-convict opinion of Soules sensible (he and all other school board members violated an open meetings provision a decade ago).

The debate did a better job of giving an overall impression of what the candidates know or do not know about one of their most important issues: education.  However, platitudes about its importance or recitations of K-12 problems should satisfy no one; only their proposed solutions should.

The candidates’ websites contain statements more or less detailed on education.  I make allowances for their decisions to write long or short, specific or general, statements in this format.  Even so, Alberson’s statement is inadequate because it mentions only one problem, literacy, and only one solution, third-grade retention.  She gives no information about her qualifications or experience in public education.  Soules’s statement links problems to solutions: curriculum enrichment, teacher support, educational leadership, and affordability of higher education.  He details his qualifications and experience.

The differences in qualifications and experience are stark.  Alberson has a degree in finance and a background in business.  She has no formal training or professional experience in education, and homeschools her children—a significant but undisclosed fact with two implications.  One, she has no parental experience with public or private school education.  Two, for reasons unexplained, she finds schools not suited to her children’s needs or not to her liking.  She is not alone in her concerns about the content or quality of public education.  But her lack of training, experience, information, understanding, and empathy regarding public education makes her unprepared to address statewide issues and unsympathetic to constituent interests.  Worse, given campaign funds from the Tea Party and the governor’s PAC, she likely shares their rigid political ideology on educational issues and, in the absence of a background in public education, would likely take direction from them on appointments and legislation.

Soules has considerable training and experience in public education.  He has three degrees, including a Ph.D. in psychology and education.  He has been a teacher, a school administrator, and a member of the LCPS School Board and the DACC Advisory Board.  This range of experience indicates a long-term involvement with, and commitment to, public education as well as knowledge of the connections between education and jobs.  Even in his relatively short statements of positions, he reveals a solid understanding of diverse and complex educational issues at all levels.  He also shows an awareness of the level of expenditures on public education and the need to control costs.  I am neither surprised nor dismayed that the NEA and the teachers union support his candidacy because his approaches and positions, developed long before this campaign, suggest independent thinking which happens to coincide with, not comply, with theirs.

I invited both candidates to detail their views on education at my favorite restaurant for face-to-face interviews, Ciro’s.  I said that I would focus on education but ask some questions on a different subject (to see how they handled an issue involving conflicting values).  My education questions were simple ones: What are your first three areas of concern, and what legislation would you propose or support to address them.

Alberson did not meet me for an interview.  Last week, she accepted my invitation, then postponed it because of death and illness in her extended family.  Tuesday morning, she scheduled a Wednesday meeting, then Tuesday evening abruptly cancelled it without explanation.  She did not respond to my query what was I to think.  But I think that I know what to think.  Alberson is a stealth candidate who knows little or conceals much about her positions on education and sensitive social issues; see my blog next week).

Soules’s three areas covered different aspects of major issues with public education: funding, accountability, and emphasis.  The first is state funding of local districts.  Soules believes that difference among districts require an abandonment of top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches.  Districts should receive block grants with general criteria to enable accountability.  The second is state evaluation of teachers.  Soules believes that teacher evaluation should be adapted to local circumstances, and multi-dimensional, with student performance as measured by test scores one part of the overall evaluation.  The third is the attention and resources given to technical/vocational education.  Soules believes that a greater jobs-skills orientation in K-12 public education will, on balance, do more for the future employment of more students than the preparation of students for the college-preparatory track.

The choice between these contrasting candidates is clear and all yours.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

NMSU'S GIVEAWAY DESERVES A "NO" VOTE ON BOND ISSUE #3


 As a long-time educator, I have supported almost all bond issues and all tax-funded programs which support elementary, secondary, and tertiary education.  But I have concluded that good reasons argue for not supporting any and all education bond issues at this time and for some time to come.  The first target of my “no” is bond issue #3.

Rejecting bond issues can be a constructive way—indeed, it is often the only way—to deliver a message to politicians who assume that a good cause will always secure public support.  Usually, they are right, and the public reflexively votes approval of education-related bonds.  But a good cause which never achieves a good effect does not deserve such support.  Public education at all three levels in New Mexico has been mediocre for decades, perhaps throughout statehood, and the expenditure of tax and bond dollars in the name of public education has achieved little.  So it is long since time for the public to say “no” and to repeat “no” until politicians and educators reform public education and stop squandering a poor state’s scarce resources.

The choice—to vote for bond issue #3 or to send a message by voting against it—depends on the circumstances and the message.  The circumstances in Las Cruces are clear.  The NMSU Board of Regents—Governor Martinez’s two appointees included—unanimously voted nearly half a million dollars to a president who, it claims, resigned her position.  Far from credible, the claim reflects the corruptness of NMSU governance, not one whit less so under Martinez, who promised to end corruption.  That half a million dollars should have been spent on something of educational value.

The message is also clear—actually three of them.  One, no money for waste.  If state educational institutions cannot spend money responsibly, for mission-oriented purposes, then taxpayers should not vote them more money.  A showing that public expenditures are not waste requires that they be explained in detail—how much, what, and why.  What the NMSU regents have done is to use hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay off on a fired official to keep quiet about, if not official misconduct, official decisions inappropriate or unworthy at best—likely theirs or NMSU’s most senior staffs’—on the misuse or waste of other hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Two, no support without accountability provided by real transparency.  As used by NMSU regents in this case, the word “transparency” is meaningless; they intone the word as if doing so magically ensures, or assures everyone of, the result.  Protecting individual privacy in “personnel matters” is a good idea in most cases, especially rank-and-file employees.  But it is a bad idea in some cases, particularly senior officials, for good reason.  They occupy positions which have great power, shape policy, and implement it.  Departures other than publicly planned retirements entitle the public to know how they have used or abused their power, and that and how their policies or performance has succeeded or failed.  Without accountability and the real transparency which makes it possible, “public education” is an entirely private affair of politics of the worst and most wasteful kind, as New Mexicans have seen in Couture’s sudden, unexplained, and expensive departure from NMSU.

Three, no funding without participation.  “Public education” is anything but public, as rigged elections favor interested parties, and unaccountable appointments reward political supporters.  At the K-12 levels, separate elections for school board members and school bonds attract less than 10 percent of the electorate, mostly district employees and parents.  The results are non-representative officials and taxation virtually without representation.  Yet school boards limit public participation at board meetings or in standing and ad hoc committees.  Boards of regents permit less public participation.

For these reasons, citizens have only one effective way to send a message to political and education officials: “no” on bonds.

My assumption thus far is that New Mexicans care about public education, but it is likely wrong.  For the persistent mediocrity of public education means that neither citizens nor their representatives care very much about it.  They give it lip-service and, in its name, waste resources, including about 45 percent of the annual state budget, which might be better spent on substantial benefit to the public.  K-12 schools providing day-care for minors have some merit, but community colleges and state universities, some with low graduation rates for adults—about 7 percent at DACC, about 50 percent at NMSU—, may have less.

Otherwise, if citizens and representatives cared, the state would not lack a coherent philosophy, cogent policies, and concerted, consistent efforts to implement them for public benefit.  In their absence, the only way to make sense of great expense for little benefit is to see that the purpose of educational institutions is primarily employment, secondarily education.  Thus, State Sen. Carlos Cisneros argues for bond issue #3 because it will create much-needed jobs in construction; as an afterthought, he argues against its defeat owing to the Couture controversy because the unidentified new or improved facilities will do students $120 million worth of good (educational patriotism) and its defeat would mean the loss of jobs (scare tactic: now, not their creation).  In addition, as the importance of NMSU donors has made clear, higher education is a dispenser of patronage, a plaything of elites, and a sine qua non of prestige.

The state cannot afford governor-appointed, legislature-approved, big-spending cronies, “hush money,” and “golden parachutes.”  So, if change is to come, it must come by buyers’ rejection, not buyers’ remorse.  “No” worked in 2010; “no” on bond issue #3 must work now, and “no” must work in 2014 and every two years thereafter until governors and legislators have demonstrated fiscal responsibility and legislated official accountability and public participation in public education.