Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Citizenship Fast Track for Mercenaries

The military-industrial complex is at it again. After failing to ram the nightmare Nuremberg laws for the 21st century through the U.S. Senate, the forces that crave a two-tiered labor system have broken up the old omnibus immigration bills (s. 1348 and s. 1639) into pieces that they're trying to pass through smaller bills.
The next one up for a vote next week is a Defense Department authorization bill that would give citizenship to undocumented residents who arrived when they were 15 or younger and serve two years in the military.
This means that while the Department of Homeland Security is threatening fines and criminal sanctions against private employers whose workers lack documentation, the military will be cheerfully recruiting these people. An immigrant can be hired by one branch of government security to kill Iraqis, but will be imprisoned by another branch of government security for picking a tomato.

At present the government already has waived legal residency requirements for those who have "performed active duty during World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, [or] on or after Setpember 11, 2001." (U.S. Congressional Budget Office. "immigration Policy in the United States." Table A-1, Requirments for Naturalization (2006), p. 18.
True, the distance between being part of the military and active service is now largely hypothetical, but the proposed legislation should be a call to action against the current measures, not grounds for their extension.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gene Therapy Kills

It's tempting to think that we could crack the secret to long life and cure all diseases. The lure is not only one to perfect health but a fantasy about the overall importance of our genes, our heredity, in contrast with the influences of this world on our well-being.
There is a fantasy that an individual secret identity tying one back to a select community of special ancestors is the true source of one's history, culturally as well as medically. The fantasy is deadly not only as a source of warfare but also as lure to poor medical research. The unfounded faith in genes as a cure-all for human disease diverts scarce government funding from proven public health solutions to alchemy-like pursuits, and for the individual patients involved in this research, the experiments can be deadly.

To give one example: asthma rates in the United States have increased 100% in the last 20 years. This cannot possibly be attributed to changes in our genes. And yet more resources are devoted to finding genetic than environmental causes of asthma. I have published a few articles on this, including one about the first gene therapy death in 1999 discussing the origins of the Human Genome Project in the Manhattan Project. There's also a critique of racialized genetic medicine's intellectual history I published in Social Text and a policy article advising on alternative approaches to health research comparing ethnic and racial groups.

Here's what the New York Times reported today about Jolee Mohr:
Jolee Mohr, who had a 5-year-old daughter, died on July 24 at the University of Chicago Medical Center, three weeks after trillions of genetically engineered viruses were injected into her right knee as a test of an experimental treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The type of virus used as a gene carrier has widely been considered safe and is being used in 35 other trials.

Autopsy data presented at the committee meeting yesterday in Bethesda, Md., suggested that the main cause of death was a fungal infection, histoplasmosis, that had gone out of control, destroying her organs. Ms. Mohr also suffered from internal bleeding, with a pool of blood in her abdomen that was so large that it displaced her kidneys and other organs.
The Times buried this story on A20, in contrast with its front page coverage of "promising" developments in the field, thereby contributing to the mindset of someone like Ms. Mohr. Her widower says that she was betrayed by researchers, who should not have enrolled a largely healthy 36-year-old in their risky experiment. But the fault is also with the media who perpetrate genetic iconography. Who doesn't want to be in on the ground floor of the next exciting cure?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Study of International Relations: Brought to You by Racists

With sheepish apologies for the silence, I'm back. The APSA meetings in Chicago were a blast, which surprised me. Got to catch up with some old friends and colleagues, and also meet new ones. Among these are Errol Henderson, a University of Michigan PhD whose day job is writing on war and civil war, and who is on the faculty of the Political Science department at Pennsylvania State University. He asked a sharp question of his colleagues on the Black Political Thought panel (with many eminences participating, including Cathy Cohen, Michael Dawson, Hawley Fogg-Davis, and Michael Hanchard, with Cornell West jammed in the audience with the rest of us. Henderson took issue with the idea that Black Political Thought was just emerging and not a full-on project with its own illustrious roots, especially W.E.B. DuBois. Afterwards we chatted and he sent me an amazing chapter he'd written.

"Navigating the Muddy Waters of the Mainstream: Tracing the Mystification of Racism in International Relations," is in a collection African-American Perspectives on Political Science edited by Wilbur Rich and with a forward by Charles Hamilton (Temple University Press). Hendeson's essay is the best researched and most insightful article on the racist roots of international relations I've read. I knew the discipline of political science was founded by social Darwinists, but Henderson provides some eye-openers that should grab the attention of cynics and the naive alike. For instance:
The centrality of race in the analysis of world politics can be documented in the origins of the most venerable international relations journal in the US, Foreign Affairs. It became the house organ of the council of Foreign Relations in 1922, having been renamed that year from its previous title, the Journal of International Relations from 1919-1922. However, from 1910 to 1919 it bore its original title, which suggests its dominant orientation: the Journal of Race Development.
Henderson also dishes dirt on Woodrow Wilson, who was President of Princeton University before slumming it as President of the United States. Henderson points out the noble sentiments Wilson uttered in the name of the League of Nations and their incompatibility with his actions in the academia.
As president of Princeton he advised a black seminary student interested in attending the school that 'it is altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton' and he suggested Harvard, Brown, or Dartmouth as alternatives ... In 1889 he had argued in The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics, that in order to understand the origins of modern government, 'one should not study the 'savage' traditions of 'defeated' primitive groups but rather the contributions of the 'survived fittest,' primarily the grups compsing the Aryan race" (quoting from Ido Oren's research Our Enemies and US: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science

And Henderson points out Wilson's obstruction of language in the charter of the League of Nations to require racial equality. In addition, Henderson provides an insightful, biting overview of the double-talk used in policy circles to demonize anti-racists questioning colonization policies in the interwar era by stigmatizing them as race conscious:

Race-consciousness was neither a characteristic of white peoples pursuing racist policies in the colonies nor was it even a reflection of white racism, but it came to be seen as a condition that afflicted indigenous (i.e., nonwhite) peoples that at times compelled them to seek 'racial revenge.'

This is great stuff. Read and learn.

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