May 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Compromise immigration bill
Even as the Senate approved an ambitious immigration package (see Washington Post), activists on both sides are gearing up to stop any such change dead in its tracks. Why? Because the interest groups that benefit from maintaining the status quo are far better organized and mobilized than those who work in the broad public interest and recognize that the current system cannot be sustained indefinitely.
It was thus very appropriate that the local PBS affiliate WVPT hosted a panel discussion on immigration this evening. Jacqueline and I drove up to Harrisonburg and enjoyed exchanging views with those who attended. The program was moderated by Chris Graham, editor of The New Dominion, and included four panelists: Amy Lilly, an elementary school ESL teacher, Sam Nickels, with the New Bridges Immigration Resource Center, Jim Patrick, a member of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, and John Vinson, Editor of Americans for Immigration Control. It may be broadcast at some point in the future. The first two speakers were strongly pro-immigrant, emphasizing humanitarian values and downplaying the risks to social stability, while the latter two speakers were strongly in favor of restricting immigration, insisting on enforcing the law. My heart sides with the first two, and my mind sides with the latter two. Chris Graham strained mightily to keep the dialogue on civil terms, showing how fragile the rational middle ground position is on this vital issue.
After the discussion among the panelists, the members of the audience were invited to join in. One of those who did so was Rick Castaneda, chairperson of the Hispanic Services Council in Harrisonburg.
I spoke up to bemoan the lack of attention to applying basic principles of free market economics to this issue. In particular, I took issue with Chris Graham's assertion that American workers would refuse to work in poultry plants no matter how high the wage was. I said that it's just a matter of how high the wage was; I have no doubt that wages of $20 an hour would attract a sufficient number of American-born workers, in which case the price of chicken would of course rise to the natural market level. But the big businesses that dominate this sector want cheap labor to avoid paying for health insurance and other entitlements, and most Americans go along with this because they are used to paying cheap prices for chicken. Everyone around the Shenandoah Valley knows that poultry processing plants employ mostly immigrant workers with essentially no legal rights, curtailing job opportunities for young people who grow up in this area. Much of our "WalMart" economy is based on massive cheating, which disrupts the normal supply and demand mechanism and confusing people about relative value and scarcity. Reforming this system will be very difficult and painful.
I also cited a joke by Jay Leno: If we give amnesty to all the 12 or so million illegal immigrants, they will qualify for minimum wage and get other welfare entitlements, and thus would no longer be forced to do those menial jobs, in which case we would have to bring in 12 [million] more illegal immigrants to do those jobs!
May 18, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Dubious deal on immigration
In a reasonably healthy political system, there might be good reason to hope for a comprehensive reform of immigration policy in this country, one that would accommodate socio-economic realities without violating the American people's basic sense of justice. In our present-day world, however, the best we can probably hope for is awkward, incremental policy changes to narrow the gap between Law and Fact. Yesterday President Bush and several leaders in the Senate announced a comprehensive immigration reform package that seems just a little too ambitious too work. The Washington Post summarizes its main provisions thusly:
The Senate deal would grant temporary legal status to virtually all illegal immigrants in the country, while allowing them to apply for residence visas and eventual citizenship. A temporary-worker program would allow as many as 400,000 migrants into the country each year, but they would have to leave after two years.
Yeah, right. As I argued in February 2006:
Any "guest worker program" should be accompanied by a suitable increase in funding to adequately monitor those who are supposedly here on a temporary basis; otherwise, it will become a cynical charade.
Unless Bush wants to raise taxes to pay for enforcing these measures, I don't think they will be taken seriously. Requiring undocumented immigrants who seek full legal status (the proposed "Z-Visa") to pay a $5,000 fine plus $1,500 fees over a period of several years sounds about right to me, but as for the "path to citizenship," I do not think it should be easy or certain. If we don't make it clear that U.S. citizenship is a supreme privilege, other countries will continue to lose respect for us. I suppose the compromise proposal deserves a chance, but I'm not getting my hopes up that it will satisfy either side. I am quite certain that most immigrants, legal or otherwise, will strongly oppose any policy change short of broad amnesty, and I'm wondering if there are enough strong leaders like Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo to stand up to their pressure. Sadly, most Americans these days are too apathetic about national politics to voice an opinion.
Sayre on illegal immigration
Here in Virginia, the Sayre for State Senate campaign recently sent out a mailing with the loud title, "It's time to crack down on illegal immigration." The unsettling emphasis on using law enforcement tools (as if to say "Round 'em all up!") made me wonder if this issue is more about getting votes or about tackling a vexing conundrum. Nevertheless, I do agree wholeheartedly with this general statement from his Web site:
Those who violate the law by entering this country illegally are diminishing the American Dream for those who have, with patience and commitment, pursued a path to citizenship in a legal manner.
Let's look at Mr. Sayre's specific policy proposals, as contained in the campaign flyer and his Web site:
- Reducing bureaucratic red tape and encouraging citizenship.
This strikes me as lame sloganeering. As I argued at the Sixth District Republican Committee meeting in March 2006, if we really want to keep out the bad guys and make sure that prospective immigrants are bona fide, we are going to need more bureaucrats and more red tape, which means more government spending. It's an awkward predicament for small-government Republicans to be in, and Sayre is dead wrong on this count.
- Opposing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
This is one of the (relatively few) issues where I disagree with Sen. Hanger; see my February 2006 post.
- More law enforcement funding to fight immigrant gangs.
OK, but be very careful not to persecute people of certain ethnic backgrounds.
- Require verification of legal employment on a quarterly basis.
Only quarterly? How about every pay period? See final item below.
- Holding illegal immigrants charged with a felony without bail.
- Requiring identification when voting and ensure that all non-citizens are removed from the voter roles. [sic; he means "rolls."]
OK, but I seriously doubt that this is a widespread problem in Virginia.
- Allowing for litigation when an employer knowingly hires illegal aliens and harms a law-abiding competitor.
This one strikes me as suspiciously weak. Cheating by employers undermines the entire labor market in this country, discouraging U.S.-born workers from striving to make an honest living. The employers should be held responsible for making sure that Social Security numbers of their workers are valid. The sanction for such severe economic violations should be decided in the criminal courts, with possible jail time for repeat offenders, not just damages awarded in a civil court.
I just hope that Mr. Sayre's position on this issue is is genuine; I cringe whenever I hear the phrase "cracking down." As I wrote on February 3,
Many people forget that cracking down on illegal immigrants forces them to lay low, which has the effect of making it easier for sleazy businesses to exploit them. Nothing could be more cruel or cynical.
Fred Thompson's view
UPDATE: Conservative darling Fred Thompson, writing at nationalreview.com, pokes holes in the "comprehensive" approach to immigration reform, observing that the compromise package is so complicated that hardly anyone really understands it. Exactly. "No matter how much lipstick Washington tries to slap onto this legislative pig, it's not going to win any beauty contests." (via Instapundit)
March 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mark Steyn's America Alone
I recently read the provocative book by Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is prone to occasional doubts about the "War on Terror." (Those quotes reflect my belief that it would be more apt to call it the "War on Islamo-fascism," not any doubt about the reality of the conflict itself.) To say that Steyn is an alarmist would be an understatement: he boldly and unapologetically proclaims that The End (of Western Civilization) Is Near. Some complacent folks (tenured university professors?) will no doubt chuckle at such a notion. To deny that his book contains a substantial amount of truth, however -- an "inconvenient" truth, you might say -- would be a grievous error. Steyn makes no pretense of being a scholar (the book has no footnotes or bibliography), but he is keenly aware of the global situation and the nature of the enemy. Steyn grew up in Canada and has a military background, and now lives in the United States. He blogs at Steyn Online.
The basic premise of American Alone is that Europe's welfare state mentality has paved the way for a massive influx of immigrants who are implacable enemies of everything Europe stands for, and that before long, most if not all of those countries will have been taken over by the jihadists. It is a breathtaking and frightening futuristic scenario to contemplate, but it is hardly a novel forecast of global trends. Indeed, for many decades, the fear of being taken over by fast-breeding dark-skinned barbarians has been a staple theme of nativist political activists in Europe as well as the U.S.A. In order to properly evaluate Steyn's book, therefore, we need to keep in mind that historical background.
Steyn begins by laying out the current demographic trends in Europe and North America, both of which (especially the former) are plagued by a low birth rate -- thanks to abortion, birth control, and changes in social roles. I was pleased to note that he quoted Allen Lynch (a very bright and decent professor I used to know at U.Va.) in observing that Russian women who viewed the anti-abortion movie The Silent Scream were too morally numb to be shaken by the images of aborted fetuses. Since Russia stands at the forefront (?!) of Europe's regression into socialist stagnation, that reaction is probably indicative of the attitude trends in the rest of Europe, i.e., moral bankruptcy. Check out the appalling statistics on abortion in this country at NRLC.org.
The author does a great job in drawing the connection between the welfare state and the steady disintegration of a family-based social structure in Europe, and to a lesser extent, here. So how do the Europeans keep their economies going without enough native-born labor? By "outsourcing breeding," as Steyn puts it, otherwise known as unrestricted immigration. (During my trip to Europe as a college student in the 1970s, I was dumbfounded by the hopeless attitude shown by many businessmen that there was nothing they could do about high labor costs, and they had no choice but to rely upon immigrant labor. Cognitive dissonance!) Sadly, that's the condition of stagnation and reality-denial toward which we are headed, too, but we are not quite as "advanced" as the Europeans are.
Steyn then takes a hard look at the practice of religion by the (mostly) Muslim immigrants. He argues that "Islam is not just a religion," but is, rather, a political project in which resorting to violence is a central, defining feature. From suicide bombers to political conspirators to feuding sheiks to mobs of unemployed young men in the streets, the common element is settling differences by violent means. He sometimes over-generalizes about the Arab-Islamic culture, but anyone who follows the news closely* knows that the phenomenon he depicts is very widespread. The "moderate Muslims" upon which Westerners pin our hopes are genuine, but in terms of leadership roles in the Muslim community at large, they have been effectively marginalized by the extremists, who use them as a cloak while they plot against us in our very midst. Those moderates insist that they have nothing to do with the terrorists who have "hijacked" their faith, but by remaining silent they allow the continued recruitment of innocent young dupes to carry out jihad. The dignified-appearing imams, diplomats, and lobbyists from the Middle East (including some countries that are supposedly our allies) constitute the "insulating circles of gray" that cloak the hard-core jihadists, thereby sustaining the diabolical cult of martyrdom.
So what are we to do? Steyn outlines three broad options: submit to Islam, destroy Islam, or try to reform Islam. The first two are not conceivable, however, and the third option is largely beyond the capacity of Westerners to bring about. So Steyn suggests a wide variety of small-scale measures to undermine the legitimacy of jihadist regimes. His prognosis is quite grim, envisioning a new Dark Ages in which what is left of Western Civilization will take refuge in North America. In much of the rest of the world, he expects, chaos will prevail because there will be no superpowers willing or able to police international trade. Ecotourism or saving the Amazon rain forest? Dream on.
Is our future really that bleak? The threat of Islamo-fascism is a very real one, but it is very stealthy and gradual in nature, which is why many people pretend it doesn't exist. This is where the old fable of the "boy who cried wolf" is very appropriate. It offered two contrary lessons: 1) Don't ignore a warning just because you've heard the same thing over and over, and 2) Don't put your credibility at risk by frightening people unless you're sure that the potential threat is real. Nevertheless, most people have only taken to heart one lesson or the other. Some people are prone to hysterical alarm, which invariably backfires; Rep. Virgil Goode is a good example. Other people take advantage of people's desire not to be subject to fear and pretend quite cynically that no threat exists; Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean would be good examples of that. Their attitude of head-in-the-sand complacency is validated by a number of Europhilic scholars such as Charles Kupchan or Timothy Garton Ash, who assure us that Europe will thrive with a pluralistic society. I think Mark Steyn has much clearer idea of where Europe is headed than they do.
(Speaking of which, Baron Bodissey reported on a new movement earlier this month, Stop the Islamification of Denmark, which in turn has a link to a new blog, Stop the Islamification Europe. Thankfully, people in the Netherlands and Denmark are more conscious of the threat of extinction they face than their bigger neighbors.)
In our debates about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about immigration policy, we need to keep in mind the global context. The reason for Europe's reluctance to help us fight extremist movements in the Middle East has more to do with their own domestic social situation than with the merits of our current anti-terrorist strategy. What's more, we need to be aware that there are jihadists in our midst, even right here in the Old Dominion. Americans need to wake up to this threat and face it calmly and resolutely before it gets to the point where anti-Islamic vigilantes begin to take matters into their own hands. The prospect of anti-immigrant mob violence in cities and towns across America in another ten years or so is a very real one. That would be the end of America as we know it.
* Coincidentally there was another senseless riot by those "youths" in Paris yesterday; via Drudge. Before long, these incidents will become a daily occurrence, part of the "background noise" in the news cycle, and we will hardly notice as Paris begins to look more and more like Beirut.
February 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Rove's gaffe on immigration
Sometimes I wonder how a president who is so keenly focused on national security could have such a nonchalant attitude about the massive, flagrant border crossings from Mexico. Most likely, he figures there is a tradeoff between security and prosperity, based on the assumption that our economy needs an endless supply of cheap labor. But perhaps he is also influenced by his inner circle of advisers and their social attitudes. On Tuesday, Karl Rove was speaking at a Republican women's luncheon and used a personal example to justify President Bush's misguided push for a "guest worker" program:
I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas.
Oh, ho! Once again, a simple offhand remark reveals the true attitudes of a public figure. See abcnews.com, via thinkprogress.org, via Andrew Sullivan, who reacted initially by saying, "It's a very big story if true - because it higlights the deep faultline in the GOP on immigration." Yep. Sadly, many Americans are too obtuse to even realize there is something wrong with Rove's statement. It's probably the same folks who see no reason to have to make sacrifices for the war effort. I bet Rove doesn't want his son to serve in Iraq, either.
I should state that one of my basic beliefs about society is that "People who in any way deprecate the value of an honest day's work, however humble the job may be, whether in or out of the home, are reprehensible scum bags." (See my Introduction page.) As for Bush's proposed guest worker program, anyone who thinks there aren't enough illegal aliens in this country to do agricultural and menial jobs already are just plain nuts.
By the way, Sullivan's blog has just been transfered from Time magazine to The Atlantic Monthly, which has long been my favorite literary opinion magazine. James Fallows rocks!
February 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Virginia is not for immigrants (?)
I haven't blogged much about immigration lately, and the last time I addressed the policy issue in serious terms was last June. Obviously, the Republicans in Congress squandered their opportunity to address the matter while they still held power, and the Democrats are quite content to let the problem of illegality get worse. Meanwhile, Rep. Virgil Goode's offensive remarks about the Koran in December once again made the Republicans look churlish and mean-spirited, undermining the cause of honest immigration reform. What a shame.
This week, nonetheless, the Virginia House of Delegates took up the matter once again. They passed a variety of tough bills, one of which would deny funding to any charitable organization that assists illegal immigrants, and another that would force college students who are not legal residents to pay out-of-state tuition. (I oppose the former and favor the latter.) Of course, the Senate will water those proposals down before they become law, and even then they would have to be signed by Gov. Kaine, which is rather doubtful. According to the Washington Post, immigration rights advocates say they will hold four days of protests against the House bills. ("Sí, se puede!" ) For their part, police departments are wary of the proposed law, fearing that it will intimidate immigrants and make them less likely to trust their police for protection. This would only encourage immigrants to align themselves with criminal gangs for protection, which would set in motion a chain reaction of hostility.
Even though I am strongly in favor of serious measures to reform the immigration system, it is primarily a federal matter. Granted, as Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) complained, "The federal guys aren't doing anything." He is quite right. That is why I hope the House of Delegates does pass a serious immigration measure, to put pressure on the U.S. Congress to address the problem. I have one huge stipulation, however: any such measures must be part of a broader agenda to reform entitlements and labor laws. (To the Republicans' credit, the General Assembly did defeat a proposed increase in the state's minimum wage.) There is a big danger that laws aimed at selectively punishing illegal immigrants will be seen as more of way to appeal to angry voters than a genuine attempt to address the underlying problem. Many people forget that cracking down on illegal immigrants forces them to lay low, which has the effect of making it easier for sleazy businesses to exploit them. Nothing could be more cruel or cynical. If the bills passed by the House of Delegates appear to be unfairly singling out a vulnerable portion of the population, I would hope that the Virginia Senate would reject those bills.
Immigration: Get in line, and Speed up the process.
December 22, 2006 [LINK / comment]
Yuletide political roundup
This time of year, when peace, joy, and goodwill to all are the order of the day, politics is one of the last things most of us want to think about. Here are a few recent items that just cannot pass without some commentary:
Goode on immigration
As readers of this blog know, immigration reform is a high-priority issue for me, for personal as well as political reasons, and I take pains to disassociate myself from immigrant-bashing. Unfortunately, Rep. Virgil Goode has created a controversy by writing a letter to constituents about the immigration problem in which he cited the desire of incoming Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) to use the Koran when he takes the oath next month. Even after taking heat, Goode won't back down; see AP News. Today's News Leader editorial calls Goode's position "Neanderthal nativism." I wouldn't go that far, but I do think Goode is way off base. The point of using Holy Scriptures in court or other oath-taking ceremonies is to accentuate the sincerity and solemnity of the oath, and obviously a person's own religion is the most appropriate standard for that. I think this incident ranks behind "macaca" on the gaffe scale, but I fear that Rep. Goode, like outgoing Sen. Allen, simply doesn't understand how such words make it more difficult to fashion a broad consensus on national immigration policy, without which the problem will never be solved. Sigh...
As the Democrats prepare to take over Congress, the old issue of health insurance will no doubt arise once again. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already hinted that he wants his state to follow the lead of Massachusetts in adopting mandatory health insurance, about which I complained April 4; scroll down to second item. In yesterday's Washington Post, John Graham made the case against mandatory health insurance using a very amusing analogy to a high-class restaurant in which most of the customers are deadbeats, forcing a minority to pick up the tab. Read the whole thing. Anyone with half a brain* and a devotion to the principles of individual freedom knows that the only long-term solution to the health care mess is to radically scale back implicit government subsidies to that sector, to remove the unintentional distortions. Go ahead, call me an extremist.
[* CLARIFICATION: Just in case anyone took offense by that, a person with a full brain but who is more inclined toward socialism would disagree with such a free-market policy prescription, obviously. The emphasis is on the word and.]
Farm subsidies, again
The Washington Post had another background article on farm subsidies and the success of lobbyists for Big Agriculture to thwart reforms, one of the biggest disappointments from the recent era of a Republican majority. If the Democrats want to maintain control of Congress after the 2008 elections, they could pick up a lot of centrist votes by cleaning up that mess. I doubt they are up to the task of taking on something that ambitious.
Donkey spank hiatus
I was sorry to learn that local blogger Chris Green, an exuberant France-bashing, Hillary-bashing gun nut and gung ho former Marine, is taking a sabbatical. Hey, we can't be deadly earnest all the time! So, who is going pick up the slack in giving hell to Hillary? Well, my baseball buddy Phil Faranda's brother Tom Faranda, for one. That is one scary-looking doctored photograph! (Phil is on hiatus, as well.)
Bush OKs minimum wage hike?
UPDATE: In normal times, the idea of a Republican president approving an increase in the minimum wage would be too far-fetched to believe. But these are the Orwellian days of "compassionate conservativism" in which core principles are routinely negotiated or even cast aside by the political "wizards" in the Bush White House. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that Bush endorsed the Democrats' call to raise the minimum wage by $2.10, to $7.25 an hour, over a period of two years, in exchange for enacting a set of targeted tax cuts and regulatory exemptions for small businesses. Is that a genuine token of bipartisan cooperation, or is it a "poison pill" intended to sabotage the ostensible compromise, calculating that the Democrats would refuse the bargain? One thing's for sure, it will make the Federal tax code more complicated, requiring more bureaucrats and accountants to figure everything out. Bush's proposal is a perfect example of an unnecessarily self-contradictory combination of government policies, in which one popular but inefficacious policy measure necessitates the adoption of an offsetting (and usually bad) policy measure. It's like putting one foot on the gas, and one foot on the brake.
Sandy "Burglar" update
Further investigations into Samuel "Sandy" Berger have revealed that the former Clinton NSC official hid some of the documents purloined from the National Archives beneath a trailer at a construction site in Washington. He destroyed some of those documents, presumably to cover up the failure of the Clinton administration to deal with Al Qaeda in a timely fashion. See Washington Post. Obviously, taking those documents out of the Archives was not an innocent oversight, as he first claimed. (Did anyone believe him?) Where's the outrage? As Michael Oliver writes, "What could be a bigger crime than destroying our ability to discern our own history as a nation, particularly that leading up to the events of 9-11?"
FURTHER UPDATE: The report by the Inspector General's report on Mr. Berger is available via Pajamas Media; link thanks to Glenn Reynolds. It's fascinating to read about the various perspectives on when Berger first came under suspicion from the Archives staff, and yet it's all a bit tedious, with an absurd number of black-out words. Much of the report concerns the "Millenium Alert After Action Review" (MAAAR), the Clinton administration's self-assessment of measures taken to thwart a terrorist attack that many people feared would happen on Jan. 1, 2000.
October 5, 2006 [LINK / comment]
Illegal immigration crackdown
At a symbolic ceremony in Scottsdale, Arizona today, President Bush signed into law a bill which includes $1.2 billion in funding as the first step toward building a 700-mile long fence along the Mexican border. (That doesn't even cover half the total distance, as Jay Leno observed.) Some details have yet to be worked out, however. See Washington Times. It is sad that such a measure was necessary, but it is probably the only way to get the attention of Mexico, where the prevailing attitude is one of haughty dismissal and/or resentment toward the U.S.A.
It will take a lot more than spending Federal money to repair the breach in our southern frontier, however. In Foreign Policy, Peter Skerry writes "How not to build a fence." He notes that the existing fence is a hodgepodge of different sizes and materials, designed for different purposes. He notes, correctly, that the inconsistent approach to policing the border with Mexico reflects the deep ambivalence most Americans have about immigration. This points to the broader dilemma of how to pursue reform of public policies in both Mexico and United States so that human migration is no longer promoted.
Meanwhile, the Herndon, Virginia Police Department is getting involved with enforcing immigration laws under a special program with the Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency. This policy change was in reaction to last year's unpopular vote by the city council to pay for a day-labor center. The incumbents lost their reelection bids, and the new city council has adopted a stricter stance toward illegal workers. Many of the illegal immigrants are now afraid of the police, and are looking for work in other parts of Northern Virginia. See Washington Post.
It just so happens that, while driving through Annandale on Saturday morning, I saw for myself for the first time a large contingent of immigrant day laborers standing along Little River Turnpike. There were probably 50 or more of them within a three-block span. A police car with its lights flashing was stopped near some of them, but I don't know what that was about.
Fighting smut on TV
Do you ever get the helpless feeling that nothing can be done to reverse the hideous "slouch toward Gomorrah" that is gradually spreading from MTV to the major TV networks? Well, you can start here: the American Family Association compiles complaints about objectionable broadcast TV material. (via Stacey Morris).
September 9, 2006 [LINK]
Frist defends immigration record
Senate Major Leader Bill Frist tried to put the best light on the meager accomplishments of Congress on the immigration front this year, saying he thinks voters are willing to give the Republicans another chance. Although he now concedes that the demands by the House GOP for immediate action on border security [must be given top priority], he also said that the 12 million undocumented people already here must be dealt with, via a temporary-worker program and enforcement of labor laws at places of employment. According to the Washington Post,
The legislative standoff amounts, in part, to a back-door victory for House Republicans, who have insisted on tougher enforcement of immigration laws before tackling broader revisions.
Indeed, knowing a little bit about how Congress works and how public policies often emerge in a haphazard process is about the only thing that gives me confidence on this issue. As for the 12 million, of course there needs to be some kind of legal framework to process them, but that doesn't mean our members in Congress need to gnash their teeth striving for some kind of Perfect Solution. As is the case with most big, divisive issues, reform of immigration will be a messy, partial, and frustrating process. The important thing is to start moving, and not to enact any new measures (such as "guest worker" programs) based on phony sentimental premises that will only end up creating new loopholes for lawyers to exploit.
¡Sí, se puede! (otra vez)
The Hispanic immigrant community held another rally on the Mall in Washington on Thursday, and for the life of me, I still can't figure out exactly what they want. "Yes, we can what?" I suppose they're just trying to put the best face on desperately clinging to a status quo that they know cannot be sustained forever. I was watching on C-SPAN and saw Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) make a particularly obnoxious (bilingual) speech slamming the Republican majority in Congress for -- he said -- wanting to keep immigrants repressed and separated from their families back home. What a disgusting spin. It is the current system that tolerates a two-tiered system facilitating exploitation of workers. That would come to an end in an instant if only our laws were consistently enforced. The hard truth is, millions of Latin American folks would rather live here as indentured servants than in their own countries as (more or less) free individuals. As for living apart from one's beloved family members back in the home country, that is a purely voluntary decision in which prospective (illegal) immigrants must weigh the costs and benefits of seeking a higher paying job in the U.S.A. Don't blame those who make and enforce the laws for that!
UDPATE: Webb of hypocrisy
The candidate himself may be playing it very low key in terms of actual campaign appearances, but the first TV ads on behalf of James "Born Fighting" Webb have come out, so there must be someone in his organization who is serious about it. Unfortunately, Webb chose to make use of film footage of him standing with Ronald Reagan, as if The Gipper were giving him an endorsement from The Afterlife. For someone who switched parties, such a move is extremely presumptuous, to say the least. Nancy Reagan has already objected, and this phony stunt will probably end up angering more voters than it persuades. What's more, Webb is on record as having criticized the Reagan administration in sharp terms just after he stepped down as Navy Secretary, and his judgment on European defense policy at that time turned out to be grossly wrong. See Red State, via Chad Dotson. Perhaps the national security credentials of the pugnacious Scotsman are not as strong as many of us had assumed.
September 7, 2006 [LINK]
In the Wall Street Journal, June Krumholz describes the nasty consequences of Congress's failure to address the immigration quandary. Local communities such as Riverside, NJ and Hazleton, PA are taking things into their own hands, passing ordinances that require proof of legal status, which is fueling outrage among immigrant rights groups. Of course, this provides the perfect opportunity for racist groups to stir up even more trouble. Ms. Krumholz calls attention to various candidates in both parties who seem to be tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment in order to gain votes. It makes me ill just thinking about it. It's too late to get any legislative action done this year, but there will be huge pressure on the next Congress to act quickly -- whichever party wins the November elections.
Meanwhile, nineteen people were arrested in northern Virginia and are being charged with facilitating as many as 1,000 bogus marriages between U.S. citizens and illegal aliens who were seeking permanent resident status, i.e., "green cards." Interestingly, most of the immigrants in this case were from Ghana. The fraud came to light thanks to an alert court clerk in Arlington County who noticed that a lot of marriage license applicants didn't seem to know each other. Most bureaucrats probably just don't care, so if that clerk doesn't get a big bonus, promotion, and commendation for taking the initiative to tell his or her bosses, heads should roll. See Washington Post. If they were really looking hard, or if they had enough personnel and resources to investigate, that is, they could probably find ten times that number. This is another example of how any real reform in immigration is going to require a major boost in Federal spending for more bureaucrats, computers, and assorted equipment. That will mean higher taxes. Sorry, folks.
Bell just says "no" to junket
Staunton City Councilman Dickie Bell has opted out of a weekend retreat at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at University of Virginia, on the grounds that the $2,400 cost is unjustifiably high. The "two-day program [is] designed to teach goal-setting and team-building techniques." See the News Leader. Good for Mr. Bell! He is the only Republican on the city council, and this is just the kind of common sense, economy-minded deed by an elected official that make me proud to be a Republican. Insider's perspective: You could probably cut the average university's total budget by ten percent or more by simply axing all the silly feel-good seminars, workshops, and other busy-work created by professional "consultants." Doing so would give professors more time for what they are supposed to do -- teach and research!
More partisan bickering
Lowell Feld at Raising Kaine lashed out in a very ugly fashion at George Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, accusing him of lies, ad hominem attacks, and more. Wadhams had earned a reputation as a hardball politico helping John Thune to oust Tom Daschle in the 2004 senate race in South Dakota. (!) More recently, he drew attention by profanely dismissing a reporter's query about his boss's "Macaca" gaffe. For the record, the words in the heading of Mr. Feld's blog piece leave me unconvinced that he is really concerned with elevating the tone of this campaign. (Hat tip to Chris Green.)
August 25, 2006 [LINK]
Senate immigration bill: $$$!!!
A study by the Congressional Budget Office earlier this week estimates that the Senate's immigration bill -- the "comprehensive" approach favored by President Bush -- will cost $126 billion over the next ten years, as the number of people "entitled" to Federal benefits skyrockets. Details are in the Washington Post. Thank goodness someone is doing some serious scrutiny of the Senate's "Open Doors" proposal. Hopefully it will shock some complacent people into realizing the very dangerous path this nation is on right now. There is a big irony here: Granting legal status to undocumented workers who are currently here would negate the very reason businesses hire them in the first place: to avoid paying the full costs (including fringe benefits) to which legal employees are entitled. So why would our esteemed senators bother to do that? Because they are under political heat to "do something," so they "punt" (letting somebody else worry about it) by pushing a policy that shifts entitlement costs to future years while allowing the labor-cheating status quo to continue.
As for as that $126 billion figure, I pay scant attention to such long-range forecasts, which are full of dubious assumption. It would be much more meaningful (and accurate!) to express the costs of alternative policy proposals in one-year increments.
The Heritage Foundation has a survey on immigration reform. Since they are associated with the Big Business wing of the conservative movement, however, I would refrain from endorsing their position in toto.
If you think about it, cracking down on illegal immigrants might have the effect of giving businesses even greater power over their illegal work force, making them cower in fear rather than speaking out about any abuses they suffer. It would be the perfect (disingenuous) strategy for ensuring a large supply of docile laborers. I sure hope that is not a significant part of what is going on. This simply serves to remind us that sincere respect and concern for the welfare of workers in this country, and in other countries, is an absolute necessity if a meaningful reform of immigration laws and practices is to be accomplished. Any political leader who makes a big deal about the threat of illegal immigration and then turns around to either rationalize lapses in enforcement or denigrates the immigrants as second-class human beings deserves contempt.
New local blogger
Lynn Mitchell, a home schooling activist who handles communication duties for the Republican Party in this area, now voices her opinions on politics at SWAC Girl -- as in Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County, as in swacgop.org. Welcome to the blogosphere, Lynn!
July 4, 2006 [LINK]
Sincerity on immigration policy
Mickey Kaus comments on the primary victory of GOP incumbent Cannon over a challenger who campaigned on a tough enforcement-only platform, saying that Cannon held on by pretending, at the last minute, to oppose the legalization / "comprehensive" approach favored by Pres. Bush. It's obvious that voters at the moment are highly responsive to candidates who sound convincingly tough on immigration, so I don't make as much of Cannon's apparent gesture of "appeasement" as Kaus does. He is right, however, to call attention to the rampant hypocrisy on this issue exhibited by many politicans. I am beginning to fear that many in Congress who favor an "enforcement first" option are not really serious about following up that necessary first step by confronting the awkward problem of what to do with the 11 million or so illegals who are already here. Ignoring all those people in legal limbo, after making a big deal about our borders being violated, would be contemptible and cowardly. (via Instapundit)
Minnesota GOP woes
Minnesota blogger / sports commentator Tony Garcia wrote a thoughtful piece on the many wayward Republicans in Minnesota who are putting party over principle. Hence, the lack of fiscal discipline. That of course has been a big problem among GOP legislators in Washington, as well, and even among some in Richmond. It is just another example of the gradual dissipation of the impetus for serious market-oriented conservative reform in the Republican Party, and the growing tendency to simply acquiesce in the status quo. Clinging to power for power's sake...
June 27, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration & identification
Sunday's Washington Post provided some historical background on why the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill ultimately failed: The critical provision to require national identification cards was deleted in the last hour of debate on the House floor. Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-CA) warned that we would be heading toward a Nazi-like regime ("Let me see your papers!"), and that was the end of it. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) recalled having the rug pulled out from under him:
We told them this would be the last amnesty. ... That there would be penalties against employers. It was like, Merry Christmas! But without identification, sanctions are toothless.
I mentioned the proposed REAL ID system on May 17, 2005, and it does pose a real (!) dilemma. At some point, a stark choice must be made between border vigilance and internal policing. Neither alternative is appealing, but I think most people would prefer focusing on the former. It would be nice if a more balanced, less intrusive approach were possible.
Meanwhile, in the present day, the leading Republican moderate in the Senate, Arlen Specter, says he is willing to compromise on the immigration issue and put a priority on protecting border and greater law enforcement in the interior. See Washington Times.
The chairman said he is open to novel approaches to reducing illegal immigration, including a suggestion by Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., who says landlords should have to verify that their tenants are in the country legally, just as employers are supposed to verify that their workers are legal.
It speaks volumes that such requirements are not already on the books. Well, Specter's flexibility on this is certainly encouraging. I am by no means solidly on the House side in this controversy, and the fact that reality is starting to sink in for some senators is a hopeful sign that the same will happen with some of their counterparts in the House.
Speaking of which, I think it is time for conservatives to give due credit to the GOP moderates -- most notably, Senators Specter and Warner -- for last year's compromise on judicial nominations that averted the "nuclear option." Since then, two solid conservatives, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, have joined the Supreme Court, which is a pretty good outcome from a conservative point of view.
Flag amendment fails
I am relieved that the proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote today, but I am dismayed that it fell only one vote short, 66-34. "Three Republicans joined most Democrats in voting against the measure. They were Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Robert Bennett of Utah." See washingtonpost.com. Good for them!
Politics gets nastier
These days, the biggest fear that members of Congress have about their daily mail is anthrax, ricin, or some other toxin. So guess what Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) received in a package from one of her constituents? Dog poop! The alleged perpetrator is Kathleen Ensz, a Democratic activist who has taught at the University of Northern Colorado for 30 years. See The Hill. Apparently, Prof. Ensz has not grown up yet.
June 19, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration: policy and politics
One of the reasons why communication between the United States and Latin America is difficult is the fact that the Spanish language makes no distinction between policy (which is what the government does with its power) and politics (which is the struggle to control government power). Come to think of it, neither does Karl Rove! The immigration issue is a classic case of how politics has corrupted public policy, as both parties have deferred confronting a slowly growing problem for fear they would lose the next election. Today's Washington Post lays the blame for lax border enforcement on the Bush administration: "The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003..." Can you say "remiss"? Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, is quoted as saying the Bush administration's record in this area is "laughable." Even a pro-immigration activist called enforcement efforts "woefully tiny."
That Post article also noted that in 1999, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) pressured the Justice Department to put an end to "Operation Vanguard," a crackdown on illegal labor in meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. Like the other leading "moderate" senator, the one from Arizona, Hagel is known to have Higher Ambitions and therefore panders to the mainstream media. Coincidentally, in Thursday's Post, Hagel was quoted by columnist David Broder as asking,
Is the party of Abraham Lincoln going to allow a permanent second class of people waiting to be citizens?
For a public official who acted to thwart law enforcement and who makes excuses for the status quo two-tiered labor regime to turn around and accuse others in his party of discrimination is the height of hypocrisy. The whole point of genuine immigration reform is to halt the widespread existing exploitation of immigrant workers and put everyone on equal legal terms. Sen. Hagel should be ashamed of himself.
Sunday's Washington Post reported on the changed atmosphere on the Rio Grande, now that the old "catch and release" policy has been replaced by the new zero-tolerance "catch and remove" policy. Many Mexicans are genuinely surprised that the gringos are actually trying to stop them, and the U.S. Border Patrol agents state quite frankly that, until the recent change in policy, "They [border crossers] had no regard for us." What many people fail to understand that prestige and respect are the very foundation of national security. When a country's armed guardians are made to look like fools, it only encourages criminals and terrorists to challenge them.
In yesterday's Outlook section of the Post, George Will contrasts the short-term advantages the Republicans are likely to garner from the immigration issue this fall's elections -- however Congress deals with the pending legislation -- versus the long-term erosion in terms of voting support from Latinos. He does not conceal his scorn for the Bush administration and the Senate "moderates," but his long-term pessimism seems excessive. I say there are plenty of intelligent Hispanic voters who would tacitly acknowledge that the existing system is very harmful to their own people, dehumanizing desperate Latinos and undermining respect for law. It should be obvious that people who can't trust the police are more likely to come under the sway of violent gangs. With proper explanation, immigration reform could attract a large number of Latino votes. Reform-minded Republicans should not write them off.
Catalonia votes for autonomy
In a referendum yesterday, nearly three fourths of the voters in Catalonia expressed a desire that their region of Spain have more autonomy. No one is certainly exactly where this would lead, however, and the wording was apparently vague. Only 49 percent of eligible voters participated, however, so the results don't necessarily mean that much. See BBC.
June 15, 2006 [LINK]
Illegal immigrant crackdown?
The Bush administration has finally begun a serious attempt to enforce laws governing immigrant labor, with a series of sweeps in several high-security locations across the country. Nearly 2,200 illegal immigrants have been rounded up so far. At Dulles Airport, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained 55 construction workers whose documents were not valid. Most of them were apparently employed by Lane Construction Corporation. See Washington Post. If this represents an attempt to persuade immigration reform advocates in the House of Representatives to ease up, it is probably too little too late. Still, it's better than nothing, and you have to start somewhere.
Citizens resist mega-site
The Augusta County Board of Supervisors met last night, and it is clear that public sentiment is strongly against the proposed industrial "mega-site" in Weyer's Cave. As for the alternative of seeking small and medium businesses, Supervisor Tracy Pyles said, "We would like to find those 200-employee industries, but they're not there." See newsleader.com. I think he's just not looking hard enough. Elected officials are duty bound to get the very best bargain for their constituents they can, not selling out our precious heritage to attract whatever kind of development they can get. Have some self-respect and play hard to get, for Pete's sake!
June 9, 2006 [LINK]
My visit to Capitol Hill
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting the offices of Virginia's congressmen delegation, explaining my position on the immigration issue to the respective staff people. I also got a better idea of what is preventing the House and Senate from reaching a workable compromise on that issue -- i.e., one that secures our borders and deals realistically with the problem of the 11 million or so existing illegal aliens. Capitol Hill staffers tend to get contemptuous from years of dealing with nitwit constituents, so it was very reassuring to be treated with courtesy and respect by the folks who work for Senators Warner and Allen, and Representatives Gooodlatte and Davis.
It had been many years since I had last toured the Capitol building, so I decided to seize the opportunity. I got in line for the Senate visitors gallery, and watched a debate over the bill to give Hawaiian native people the same legal status as that of Indian tribes. Earlier that day, the Senate had rejected the Federal marriage amendment, for which I was grateful. The proposal was nothing more than a thinly-veiled chunk of "red meat" by which the White House was trying to appease the GOP conservative base, which is up in arms about Bush's weak stance on immigration. Sorry, I'm not buyin' it.
Today the Senate failed to pass a proposed permanent extension of [the phased-out abolition of] the Federal estate tax, in a 57-41 cloture vote. I think the estate tax has been grossly unfair to farmers and small business owners, an arbitrary confiscation of wealth, but I think a compromise could be worked out, short of total elimination.
In sum, the Senate has been doing its constitutional duty this week, offsetting the impulsive ways of the House.
I also visited the Capitol Hill offices of Numbers USA, an immigration reform advocacy group. I had a very pleasant and informative chat with Mr. Van Esser, who heads the congressional relations office. He thought about my suggestion of "probation" status for illegal aliens who immediately register with the authorities, but thinks it would be in practice little different from the various amnesty proposals, which would indeed be patently unfair to those outside the United States who are patiently waiting for their visas to come through.
DeLay's farewell address
I've never been a big fan of Rep. Tom DeLay, but I'm glad in a way that he went out "swinging" in his final speech to the House. On the PBS News Hour, David Brooks put it exactly right in commenting on DeLay's lack of remorse:
You can give him credit for honesty. He believed in partisanship. And to some extent, I have no problem with partisanship. My problem with Tom DeLay was sometimes he could be partisan at the expense of conservatism. And especially on matters ... of spending. What he did was he turned the majority into a fundraising and spending machine in order to get more Republican fannies in those seats. And that's fine, but the spending was not what Republicans were supposed to stand for. The earmarks was not what they were supposed to stand for. So, in some ways, he was an old-fashioned party boss who built a majority by betraying some conservative principles.
I should note that one of the Capitol Hill staffers I talked to put in a good word for earmarked ("pork barrel") spending, on the grounds that tends to be more efficient and responsive to local needs than spending directed by bureaucrats in Washington.
June 4, 2006 [LINK]
This is immigration "reform"?
As the House and Senate prepare for a tense conference session to hammer out a compromise immigration package, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate bill would increase the number of legal immigrants by 20 million over the next ten years. That includes the 11 million undocumented people already here, plus eight million new ones. See Washington Post. In short, it is a recipe for a massive eventual increase in entitlements spending and increased ethnic tensions. Obviously, those who favor the Senate version are grossly underestimating how many people would gain full legal status under their approach. Even worse, the bill lets illegal immigrants off the hook for committing identity fraud to obtain employment, making them more privileged than native-born Americans. That won't fly.
Actually, an increase in legal immigration is not at all bad in itself. Let's try to keep one clear thought in mind, however: Any serious reform of our immigration laws (and practices) must provide for a substantial increase in legal immigration, so as to minimize the incentives for people to immigrate illegally. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. But as long as labor laws remain untouched, however, the latent economic imbalance that invites illegal immigrants will persist. Specifically, the more workers to whom full rights are extended, the greater demand there will be for new illegal workers, so as to keep labor costs down. Why can't "immigrants' rights" activists admit that?
The word "reform" can mean different things to different people. For people like me, it means a broad restructuring of existing policies aimed at consistency, rationality, and fairness. For others, it has the vague meaning of being "nice." Under most of the proposals that have been advanced so far, including the House bill pushed by Rep. Sensenbrenner, there are critical omissions or loopholes that would virtually guarantee even more illegal immigration. That, of course, is exactly what many people want, including certain businesses and "immigrant rights" activists. On Thursday, President Bush criticized "unscrupulous" firms and called for increased penalties for those who hire illegal aliens, but there is huge lobbying effort to prevent such action from taking place, and many membes of Congress are no doubt ethically compromised as the result of having taken campaign contributions from those businesses.
In a globalized economy, the intended effects of "reforms" are often thwarted by foreign competition. So, we should perhaps contemplate more radical, internally consistent policy alternatives, including a wide-open "laissez faire" policy. That would only be feasible, however, if minimum wage laws and most labor standards were abolished. Still, it's something to think about.
May 25, 2006 [LINK]
In today's Washington Post, George Will took exception to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's dismissal of the suggestion that laws requiring bilingual ballots be repealed: "Of course not." Will notes that Federal statutes in 1906 and 1950 made English proficiency a requirement for obatining citizenship, and concludes:
Hence, if someone needs a ballot written in a language other than English, that need proves the person obtained citizenship only because the law was not enforced when he or she sought citizenship. So one reason for ending ballots in languages other than English is that continuing them makes a mockery of the rule of law, including even the prospective McCain-Kennedy law that pro-immigration groups favor.
As Will emphasizes, encouraging people who don't know much English to vote is a step toward the Balkanization of our national polity. As I wrote on May 19, passing a law making English the national language without repealing mandatory bilingualism in public places and work places is "like one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator." Every time you see an official notice written in Spanish displayed in some business establishment, bear in mind that it basically signifies tacit official acceptance of large-scale violation of immigration laws. This practice simply cannot go on forever. Moderate (i.e., crowd-pleasing) Republicans like Lindsey Graham (see May 22) and John McCain (see April 7) seem oddly oblivious to the fundamental necessity of crafting laws that will be enforceable and therefore respected.
May 22, 2006 [LINK]
Graham: wimp on immigration
I used to think very highly of Sen. Lindsey Graham as a rising star on the side of honest reform in the Republican Party, but his comments on Meet the Press yesterday were a big disappointment. Most galling was his comment, "If the law doesn't create a just result, what good is it?" Now, I'll grant his points that the past failures by the government to enforce the laws must be taken into account, as should the military service of immigrants, but anyone who poo-poos the rule of law like that does not deserve to be a leading voice of the Party of Lincoln. Graham contradicted himself by saying that if his approach if adopted, "we'll be rewarded at the ballot box not just by Hispanic voters," and then, "It's not about the next election. What Republicans need to get away from is fear of the next election, and do things that are good for the country down the road."
He needs to make his mind up. Is it not obvious that Graham and people like him are the ones who are most afraid of the electoral consequences of real reform? Like John McCain, he is prone to mouthing the lame canards about how our economy "needs" underpaid illegal workers, not even bothering to reflect whether our labor laws might need to be part of the reform. Fortunately, Rep. Charles Norwood, appearing with Graham on Meet the Press, rebutted the red herring about "mass deportation," stating quite clearly that a reduction in the illegal work force could be accomplished gradually, through attrition of those who choose to return home to their home countries. Even though the specter of mass roundups is too far-fetched to contemplate, it might help matters if Reps. Sensenbrenner and Tancredo could offer to compromise by including provisions spelling out such details, to allay the fears some immigrants have.
May 19, 2006 [LINK]
¡Hay que hablar inglés, carajo! *
In a bold move aimed at asserting our nation's cultural identity, the United States Senate included a provision mandating that prospective immigrants learn English. See Washington Post. I used to oppose the movement to make English the official U.S. language, thinking that imposing it was contrary to our free, pluralistic heritage. In fact, I argued about this with a guy whose family came here from Cuba that I knew at U.Va. Suffice it to say that I have come around to his way of thinking in recent years. Nevertheless, the Senate measure reeks of symbolism, concealing the overall weak substance of Senate's immigration bill as it now stands. The English-language provision might carry a little more meaning if the existing laws mandating bilingual education and public signs were repealed. Otherwise, it's like one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator.
Objections to this measure raised by Senators Kennedy and Reid were utterly preposterous, as usual. I do take exception, however, to the argument that learning English is the key to success in this country. In fact, millions of immigrants enjoy a great deal of economic success without speaking anything more than rudimentary English. What many people do not realize is that the various immigrant communities are effectively "ghettoized," with members of each respective language group dealing primarily with each other, rather than the mainstream business sector. That is one more way that the current wave of immigration differs radically from past waves in our history.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, that means, "You have to speak English, dammit!"
Landes resists industrialization
Delegate Steve Landes objects to the secretive process by which the Augusta County Board is paving the way for industrial development near the regional airport at Weyer's Cave, which is part of his district. As for the specific proposal, he says "the size of the project is inappropriate." As a solid pro-business Republican, his opinion in this matter ought to carry a lot of weight. There are also concerns that a large factory would cause exceesive pollution runoff, and the Shenandoah River is already under severe environmental stress, as witnessed by the fish kill last summer. See the Staunton News Leader and my May 15 post. We are fortunate to have far-sighted public officials who recognize the priceless value of the fresh air and verdant pastures in the Shenandoah Valley. You don't have to be a counterculture Luddite to realize that "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."
May 16, 2006 [LINK]
Bush militarizes Mexican border
The President may say otherwise, but that's exactly what he proposes to do in the short term, and I suppose there was no other choice. There simply aren't enough Border Patrol agents to do the job, and it will take a year or more to train the 6,000 new agents Bush wants to hire. It would be nice if this was more than just a gesture aimed at placating his conservative base, and perhaps it is. Some people think that sending the National Guard to guard the nation's borders is highly inappropriate, but isn't that function a no-brainer? This raises another red herring aspect to this issue, the principle of posse comitatus under which soldiers cannot be used for domestic law enforcment. Is it not obvious that the border region is inherently not domestic? Or are our soldiers supposed to defend our territory on Mexico's side of the border?
To his credit, President Bush said almost all the right things in his brief address to the nation last night (the transcript is at whitehouse.gov), but the real test will be the actions. I wholeheartedly agree with Bush that the idea of deporting all 12 million (or more?) illegal aliens is just not practical, but shouldn't we at least consider deporting, say, the ten percent of them who are least desirable? Allowing 90 percent of the invasores to stay here would still be pretty generous, I would think.
Curiously absent from Bush's speech: any mention of the fundamental public policy distortions that give rise to the problem on both sides of the border. U.S. labor laws (minimum wage, mandated benefits) create a huge incentive for U.S. businessmen to cheat by hiring illegal workers, while the crooked, anti-capitalist economic systems in Latin America create a huge artificial surplus of labor that ends up here. As long as most people don't pay attention, the distortions on each side of the border sustain each other, in an indirect but very real way. Hardly anyone pays attention to those underlying sources of the problem, focusing instead on treating the symptoms. That approach will be futile, ultimately.
Some say that the deployment of combat forces to the border may make President Fox and other Mexicans unduly nervous. Well, perhaps Bush should have spelled out that we have absolutely no intention -- none whatsoever -- of sending American forces into Mexico like we did in 1917. Would that have calmed them down? I should note that Jose Rodriguez suggested to me recently that sending troops to guard the border would jolt Mexicans into facing reality and voting for the conservative (PAN) candidate in the upcoming elections, but I think an anti-U.S. backlash (in favor of the leftist PRD) is just as likely. In any case, the numbers just aren't that great: If you take 5,000 troops and divide by 2,000 miles, you only get one soldier for every half mile -- not even within shouting distance of each other!
In the Washington Post, Dan Balz notes the political aspects, noting correctly that Bush got himself (and the Republican Party) into this vexing predicament by not acting in a more timely fashion. If you ask me, it's probably all the fault of Karl Rove and the folks who base all policy decisions on their likely effect on the next election. Another Post news item spotlighted Gov. Bill Richardson's "Third Way" approach to immigration. (That is the triangulation-obsessed purportedly "moderate" Democrat agenda, popularized by Bill Clinton, borrowing from the success of New Labour's Tony Blair in Britain.) Some think that forward-thinking Western Democrats can take advantage of this issue, but Dems are just as divided by hypocrisy as the Republicans are. Most Dems will be content to sit back as spectators while the Republicans agonize over the responsibilities of governance, making some wonder if winning is really that important. This is one of those issues of vital national urgency -- like the budget crisis was in the mid-1990s -- where some degree bipartisan cooperation will be essential to achieving a real reform.
In the blogosphere, reactions are mixed. At Power Line Blog, John Hinderaker writes that Bush blew his chance as soon as he talked about "guest worker" programs. I too am quite dubious of that concept, and Bush has contradicted himself by talking about "guest worker" status as being a bridge toward ultimate citizenship. Who is kidding whom? I can relate to Hinderaker's anecdote about the African cab driver who could not fathom the possibility that Bush might have a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. There is a huge misperception problem, and it's too late for Bush to overcome it, I'm afraid. Bobby Eberle points out, as I have over and over, that the main problem is lack of enforcement, which is an executive branch responsibility. Get it, Mr. President?
Here's a thought: If enforcing the letter of our laws and deporting those who are here illegally is considered beyond the capacity of our government to do, as Bush says, then what does that say about our ability to create a democratic regime in a country (Iraq) that has never known real democracy before? Why should we be resigned pragmatists at home and starry-eyed dreamers abroad? The "power of positive thinking" has a lot more "oomph" when it is consistently applied.
Gore in 2008???
I got a good chuckle from Al Gore's relaxed, self-deprecating humor on Saturday Night Live, doing a fantasy skit in which he had won the 2000 election, there was never a 9/11 attack, and the whole world loved us. "What a wonderful world it would be!" Unlike his last appearance on SNL, it was not forced at all, which makes me wonder: What is he up to? Andrew Sullivan thinks he may just be preparing to run for Prez in 2008, another unthinkable political comeback a la Richard Nixon.
May 1, 2006 [LINK]
May Day U.S.A., 2006
All across the Fruited Plains, undocumented workers are boycotting stores and workplaces to back up demands that their "rights" be respected. What is unclear is by whose authority those "rights" are derived. The action was orchestrated in part by the League of United Latin American Citizens, whose President Hector M. Flores explained the basic reasons for the boycott: showing "opposition to HR 4437 and expressing how important their worker's contributions are and the value placed on their employees." Under the status quo, ironically, illegal workers are getting paid less than legal workers, that is, they are clearly undervalued. That situation simply cannot be sustained. To me it sounds more like a blunt threat of "Do what we want, or you're going to regret it" than an earnest plea on behalf of justice. I'm still waiting to hear a coherent argument from the pro-immigrant lobbyists.
I heard a good quote from one of the activists calling in to Sean Hannity today: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!" The same person blamed poverty in Latin America on free trade and capitalism, revealing the real underlying agenda of many of the activists. If Americans do not have enough confidence in their own system to emphatically reject the absurd claim that poverty in Latin America is our fault, obliging us to open our doors to everyone out of misplaced guilt, then we deserve to lose control of our own country's destiny.
While this emotional debate rages on, let us try to remember one thing: Whether a given person is good, decent, or hard-working has little or nothing to do with whether they should be allowed to live in the United States. Bad behavior can disqualify someone from citizenship, but good behavior alone does not entitle anyone to become a permanent resident or citizen.
We should also remember the occasion of May Day: In most of the world, especially in socialist countries, it is the day for honoring working people. During the Soviet Era, there was a big parade in Red Square every May 1, featuring ballistic missiles, tanks, and large formations of troops. Maybe we should conform to the rest of the world, at least in a symbolic gesture, by switching Labor Day from early September to May 1.
Unlike President Bush, who is just a little bit too eager to demonstrate firm resolve to his conservative base, I see no big harm to singing the National Anthem en español. (For the lyrics, see Washington Post.) This amusing "side show" is, in part, an "in-your-face" expression of assertiveness by the immigrant community. It also illustrates, sadly, the extreme reluctance by most Latin American immigrants to learn any more English than is absolutely necessary to get by in the United States. Indeed, why bother, when the gringos bend over backwards to make essential information available to the public in Spanish? To an extent, the reluctance also reflects the prevailing disdain for American culture many of them hold, reinforcing the existing unhealthy tendency for them to remain in their own cloistered communities, isolated from mainstream society.
Today's Washington Post renewed my worries that the various factions within Republican Party may be unable (or unwilling) to work out a reasonable bargain on the immigration issue. On April 24, Pres. Bush declared,
A person ought to be allowed to . . . pay a penalty for being here illegally, commit him or herself to learn English, which is part of the American system, and get in the back of the line [for citizenship].
As long as that last clause is emphasized, I wouldn't have a big problem with that approach. Like me, however, Rep. Sensenbrenner is skeptical of the President's commitment to uphold the law, and he flat-out refuses to consider anything that smacks of "amnesty." What if they take my suggestion and call it "probation"? What I do know for sure is this: If the GOP leaders in the House, the Senate, and the White House don't get their act together soon, it would let an issue that is of great concern to a majority of Americans slip through right their fingers. In an election year with a discontented electorate, that would be unforgiveable.
In fact, this scenario reminds me a lot of what is happening in Richmond right now, with the Republicans in the state Senate and those in the House of Delegates working at cross purposes on transportation funding and taxes, to the benefit of the Democrats and Gov. Kaine. Just split the %#$&*@ difference, for cryin' out loud!
2ND UPDATE: You Don't Speak for Me!
Lest everyone think that all immigrants from Latin America are radical sympathizers who make excuses for lawbreakers, the Federation for American Immigration Reform held a forum at the National Press Club today, promoting the efforts of a group of American Latinos called You Don't Speak for Me. It's sort of a "Silent Majority," you might say. As one who deeply sympathizes with immigration on the legal path, it was very moving to watch this gathering on C-SPAN. Retired Col. Al Rodriguez, Mariann Davies, and Miguel Cruz (Peruvian!) made it clear that a large number of immigrants from Latin America believe in the United States, its values, and its laws. Two members of the Virginia House of Delegates, Jack Reid and Dave Albo (both Republicans), insisted that American businesses must be held accountable and duly punished for flaunting U.S. labor laws by hiring undocumented workers, which is by definition exploitive. Perhaps this movement will catch on in the American mainstream after all...
April 22, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration and the GOP divide
Craig Shirley wrote a superb column in today's Washington Post: "How the GOP Lost Its Way." It summarizes almost perfectly my thoughts and feelings on the widening chasm within the Republican Party that has been brought to light by the immigration issue. The elite "country club, Rockefeller Republicans" want a large supply of cheap (i.e., illegal) labor and therefore resist any change in the status quo. In an attempt to regain control over the party, GOP elitists Ed Gillespie and William Kristol have recently disparaged those who call for strict controls over the border as wanting to turn the GOP into an "anti-immigration Know-Nothing party." Needless to say, the populist "Reagan Republicans" resent being impugned. Excerpt:
Far from being driven by xenophobia and intolerance, conservative populists are motivated by a profound respect for the rule of law and by a patriotic regard for America's sovereignty and national security.
Exactly. Why is that concept so difficult for elitists to grasp? Shirley bitterly laments that the Republicans have squandered an historical opportunity:
The elites in the GOP have never understood conservatives or Reagan; they've found both to be a bit tacky. They have always found the populists' commitment to values unsettling. To them, adherence to conservative principles was always less important than wealth and power.
Unfortunately, the GOP has lost its motivating ideals. The revolution of 1994 has been killed not by zeal but by a loss of faith in its own principles. The tragedy is not that we are faced with another fight for the soul of the Republican Party but that we have missed an opportunity to bring a new generation of Americans over to our point of view.
Wow. Shirley really gets it. As they say, "read the whole thing." I'm not kidding.
Ironically, I find myself squarely in the middle of this divide, perhaps because I see a more nuanced, complex overlapping of factions and interests on the Right. For example, there are economic conservatives inspired by libertarianism, and social conservatives who are fond of using government as a tool, like Bismarck did in Germany (see March 10). Contrary to widespread impression, not all of the economic conservatives are elitists (Arizona Rep. John Shadegg would be one example), and not all of the social conservatives are populists (Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would be one example). Here's what puzzles me: President Bush and Karl Rove are usually associated with the populist wing in terms of their appeal to constituents, but in terms of policy substance (e.g., immigration), they seem to be squarely on the elitists' side. Could Bush's problem be boiled down to an internal contradiction between populist image and elitist practice?
Someone who simply does not get what's at stake in the immigration debate is academic blogger Daniel Drezner. He concludes a comment on a recent New York Times op-ed piece (which takes pain to refute the red herring argument about the alleged wage-suppression effects) by saying, "Illegal immigration poses significant policy problems -- but those problems have little to do with economics." Good grief. Now I'm starting to understand why people like him and Thomas Friedman are so upbeat about globalization: They are blissfully ignorant of the moral foundation of social order.
April 7, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration compromise fails
Prospects for passing a meaningful immigration reform bill faded today when Democrats in the Senate balked at the terms conservative Republicans were demanding. See Washington Post. I must say, McCain's and Kennedy's complicated formula for treating immigrants differently on the basis of how long they have been in this country seemed totally unworkable, another invitation to fraud. When you add the abnormally bitter partisan hostilities of recent years to normal election year politics, the chances for passing anything truly significant are not that great. The main question is whether passing some paltry half-measure this year would be preferable to doing nothing until next year, when legislators will be less confined by the calculus of reelection.
Referring to the huge demonstrations across America last week, Wednesday's Washington Post, "A sleeping Latino giant has awoken." Indeed. The huge Anglo giant woke up first, however, and their superior numbers are made stronger by the widespread conviction that they are on the right side of justice.
Speaking of which, the letter to the editor on immigration which I wrote appeared in today's Staunton News Leader. I was a bit irritated that they deleted some key words in a few places, such as "and in others" after "Xenophobia is a real, enduring problem in our country." That really changed the whole thrust of what I was trying to say. I drew an ironic parallel between Bush's contention that our economy needs illegal workers and his lament that we are "addicted to oil." Closing line: "The only people who really "depend" on illegal immigrant workers are those who think that low, low prices are an American birthright."
On the same page, coincidentally (?), there was a column by Linda Chavez, who strives to clear up some of the misconceptions. Most of her points were on target. She points out something I mentioned in my letter, that many if not most illegal aliens are "otherwise law-abiding." Likewise, most of them do pay their taxes. I would take issue with the way she equates the current flood of immigrants to earlier periods in our history. In particular, there was never a time when the influx literally overwhelmed the ability of our patrol officers to guard the southern border. But she correctly insists that "It's bad for all of us when laws are so wantonly flouted," calling for stiff fines, tighter border controls, and "more flexible" immigration laws. That's fine, but the problem won't go away until we reform the entitlements in this country that undermine the incentive to work and save.
President Bush has said that his "guest worker" proposal would encourage undocumented aliens to register their presence so we can keep track of who is actually here. Why do they need to be "encouraged"? Simple: It's because, generally speaking, they have no respect for the United States or its government. They probably wouldn't take seriously any registration deadlines, either. Unless Congress enacts laws on immigration and labor standards that are reasonably consistent, and therefore likely to be observed, America's global prestige will continue to erode.
Bottom line: Get in line, and Speed up the process.
The answer: probation
I may be wrong, but I really don't think Reps. Tancredo or Sensenbrenner want to "release the hounds" and make every illegal alien in the country subject to immediate expulsion. That would be a recipe for a mass uprising, possibly even unleashing a civil war. On the other hand, no reform could contemplate mass amnesty or "guest worker" program, either, so what are we to do? Sen. McCain is not far off base when he talks about a very thorough, rigorous screening procedure that would put current illegal residents on a path toward eventual legality. The problem is that it would be very tempting to ease up on scrutiny and make all sorts of exceptions for a variety of flimsy reasons. What I say is, offer illegal residents a one-time-only opportunity to register their presence, providing as much documentation as they can regarding their employment and tax payment history. In return, they would be obliged to pay a small ($100?) fine to help cover administrative expenses, plus interest on any back taxes, and would be "sentenced" to probation, five or so years, depending on their circumstances. As long as they stay out of trouble, notify the authorities of their whereabouts, and only take legitimate jobs that pay at least minimum wage and adhere to applicable labor laws, they should be left alone and accorded the respect that is due to all human beings. If not, adios amigo.
But let's not kid anyone. This problem would never have gotten out of hand if our political system were not so terribly dysfunctional, letting our proud "free market" economy become corrupted over the years by massive cheating. All scams involve two willing parties, and the status quo in America's labor market amounts to a colossal, hideous scam that simply cannot be tolerated any longer. That is why I think our so-called "leaders" in Washington should refrain from piously scorning those new arrivals who flaunt our laws when they themselves are so lax in carrying out their solemn duties.
Kaine & Chichester
What could explain the puzzling cooperation on pushing for higher taxes to fund transportion between Democrat Governor Tim Kaine and the Republican (?) Senate leader John Chichester. I have no clue, but there are signs that it is nothing more than old-fashioned tacky cronyism, as Michael Shear suggests at Washington Post blog (via Commonwealth Conservative). He notes that Kaine and Chichester will appear as featured guests at a fund-raiser for the Foundation for Virginia on April 18, one day before the legislature reconvenes. Former Governor Mark Warner set up that foundation as a vehicle for promoting his vision of a hyperactive state government colluding with big business on various futuristic projects.
April 2, 2006 [LINK]
House vs. Senate on immigration
On CBS's Face the Nation today, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, widely reviled as a mean-spirited Republican, or even mocked as a Nazi, for his bill that would raise penalties on those who violate immigration laws, came across as very reasonable and sincere. Sen. Dick Durbin, who compared the U.S. treatment of detainees to Nazi Germany, came across as cynical. You can tell the Democrats are licking their chops as the Republicans beat each other up over this vexing issue. Sensenbrenner pointed out that he introduced an amendment to reduce penalties for those abetting illegal immigration from a felony to a misdemeanor, but it was voted down by Democrats and some Republicans. That was one of those too-clever parliamentary maneuvers, no doubt, but it also sheds light on what Sensenbrenner is trying to accomplish. That unduly harsh provision is obviously meant as a bargaining chip when it comes time for the House and Senate conferees to work out a compromise. Can they get together? Much like the situation in the Virginia General Assembly, where the Republicans in the Senate are at cross purposes with the Republicans in the House of Delegates, it depends on the party's own leaders. In the case of the U.S. Congress, much also depends the leadership of President Bush, which has been pretty weak lately.
March 31, 2006 [LINK]
Senators flinch on immigration
Fearful of inciting riots across the country, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee moved to soften language in the Senate version of the immigration reform legislation. I am not encouraged by what Senators Specter and McCain have had to say on the matter. The committee action makes it much less likely that a workable compromise can be reached with the House, which passed a tough bill, including stiff fines for those who hire illegal workers in December. That is quite proper, but I think the House went too far in criminalizing social action support activities, however. For many people, that is a religious duty, which is fine. Hopefully we can maintain a distinction between individual and collective responsibility for the plight of immigrants. When I heard Sen. Kennedy on one of the morning talk shows last Sunday, he actually seemed to make sense on some aspects of the issue. That may be a sign of "A New Consensus on Immigration," as Albion's Seedlings suggests.
Today's Washington Post had a mostly unfavorable story on Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who has been leading the charge on immigration reform, along with Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner. I have heard Tancredo on C-SPAN a number of times, and he just doesn't strike me as the angry rabble-rouser that the mainstream media portrays him to be.
Rep. Virgil Goode expressed indignation at protesters who waved the Mexican flag, eliciting sharp criticism for "extremist" language from likely Democrat challengers Al Weed and Bern Ewert. See Richmond Times Dispatch. One of the last of the rural conservative "blue dog" Democrats, Goode switched to the Republican side in 1999 or so. He is a staunch opponent of NAFTA and wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a sadly isolationistic stance.
In Cancun, Mexico, President Bush called for "controlled" migration, desperately trying to please Mexico's outgoing President Fox. Well, it would be nice if the "World's Only Superpower" could regain control of its southern border, without resorting to such extreme measures as a Berlin Wall or military patrols. It mostly depends on Mexico's attitude and inclination to reform its economy. See BBC.
UPDATE: According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Senate bill is "one of the most irresponsible pieces of immigration legislation ever brought before the United States Congress."
Religion and politics
Andrew Sullivan reminds us that one reason our Founding Fathers put limits on the power of government, and on the democratic majority, was fear that religious passions might get out of hand if they were not suitably constrained. Yes, the Founders were "elitists," out of touch with the "common people." Good! Sullivan's piece also hints at one of the little-known historical ironies of American politics: In the early years of the Republic, Massachusetts was a hotbed of puritanical religious zealotry and Virginia was the home of reasoned, secular moderation. I would almost be tempted to call this a "role reversal," except for the fact that the Massachusetts of today, though secular, is hardly moderate.
February 10, 2006 [LINK]
Hanger: mercy for immigrants
In a partial reversal from his previous firm stand against in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens, our own Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) offered an amendment to his bill that marks a significant compromise. His revised bill would provide a legal channel for some immigrants' children to qualify for the lower tuition rate, on condition that the parents have been paying their taxes and have already applied for normalized legal resident status. Hanger's change of heart came about through the pleadings of immigrant advocates and his own personal experience. Even if his bill passes the Senate, however, it would probably fail in the House of Delegates. See Washington Post. Last week Sen. Hanger introduced legislation that would provide for castration of repeat sex offenders, which raised quite a few eyebrows.
This is one of those ethical dilemmas that cannot be reconciled: Either you hold children accountable for the transgressions of their parents, or you undermine the basic sense of fair play and respect for the rules that is the hallmark of American society. Overall, I think Hanger's bill is a reasonable effort to balance justice and mercy, but I would object to the way he characterized the denial of state education benefits as "punishing" the children. To me, that smacks of the entitlements mentality that is at the root of many of our deepest social policy problems. From my experience, our colleges and universities are already jam-packed with kids who really don't belong there in the first place, and I emphatically reject the notion (often espoused by former President Bill Clinton) that every American deserves to go to college. Whatever the state legislators do, they should work toward achieving consistent standards and practices across the state, to avoid confusion, heartache, and bitterness.
To reiterate my basic position on immigration, I boil it down to two phrases: Get in line, and Speed up the process. The sooner a person who is in the United States takes formal steps to apply for permanent resident status and otherwise registers with the authorities, the sooner they should become eligible for equal protection under the law. There should be no "amnesty;" that was tried in the 1980s, and it failed. Any "guest worker program" should be accompanied by a suitable increase in funding to adequately monitor those who are supposedly here on a temporary basis; otherwise, it will become a cynical charade. Only after becoming full citizens, if they so choose, should immigrants become eligible for government benefits in health, education, and welfare. In my view, those who are in this country without taking any steps to normalize their status have no legal rights other than fundamental human rights. The longer a person has lived in this country illegally prior to making such an application, the longer he or she should have to wait in line. Those who have applied for U.S. permanent resident status or work visas and are still waiting in their home countries should get priority treatment.
Of course, no immigration reform will work unless it is accompanied by fundamental reforms in labor laws and entitlements in this country, to reduce or eliminate employers' incentive to cut costs by cheating. In that respect, the Virginia legislature's rejection of a proposed increase in the state minimum wage was entirely appropriate, if only a first step in the right direction.
February 1, 2006 [LINK]
The State of the Union, 2006
Once again, President Bush performed above the level of most people's expectations in his address to the nation last night, and he set the right tone of optimism leavened with sober realism. (As I noted yesterday, that is part of the recently-recalibrated White House communications strategy, reaching out to a skeptical public.) This tone stood in contrast to last year, when Bush was fresh from reelection: "On a roll, not lookin' back."
The President's fundamental message was clear and very apt: The United States must continue to lead in pursuit of freedom around the world, and resist the temptation of retreating into the "false comfort of isolationism." (For the complete text, see whitehouse.gov.)
The seething resentment felt by the minority party exploded in a chorus of sarcastic cheering when Bush recalled the failure of his proposed Social Security reform last year. I can hardly imagine how he must have felt, after having spent so much of his "political capital" on an earnest, if somewhat misguided, reform initiative. "No good deed goes unpunished." Let us hope that at least some of them were sincere [in applauding] when he went on to admonish the entire chamber that the looming crisis of entitlements must be addressed, one way or the other. I was glad he mixed conciliatorty gestures with an emphatic rejection of the inappropriate dissent by the antiwar movement:
Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.
With regard to the core element of his foreign policy, the promotion of democracy, he handled the awkward question of frustrations in a delicate way. He called on the repressive Egyptian government to "open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism." Easier said than done. Hardly anyone seriously believes that his pro forma call on Hamas to choose peace will be heeded, but he had to say it.
I was prepared to be disappointed that Bush remains committed to "compassionate conservatism," which basically panders to (liberal) conventional wisdom on certain issues, in an expedient search for an expanded voter base. Two of the biggest missed opportunities were energy and immigration:
America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.
That is a sad recitation of one of the lamest cliches in the American political lexicon, evading the real issue. The idea that public investment in new technologies will somehow solve the problem with no inconvenience to our coddled masses is the perfect example of how democratic societies are prone to fatuous delusions. New technologies certainly may lead to greater energy efficiency, but the only consistent, rational way to encourage that is to allow energy prices to rise to their natural market level. In a true market society, there would be a built-in profit incentive for such technologies to develop on their own. The real reason that alternative energy sources are not being adequately developed is that energy in this country is artificially cheap! Leftists often cry out "No blood for oil!" To that, I would respond, "No implicit subsidy for oil!" To the extent that the price of energy is held down by virtue of the stabilizing influence of U.S. armed forces in the Middle East, the cost of such intervention should be explicitly borne by energy consumers, via a tax on gasoline. If a strongly "conservative" president cannot bring himself to come right out and say that energy is a scarce commodity whose price reflects that scarcity, then who ever will? .
We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them. (Applause.) All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction -- toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.
I admire Bush for sticking to his guns on this issue, but I am very disappointed that he does not want to face up to the consequences of turning a blind eye to the massive cheating upon which a large portion of our economy is based. Too many Republicans have the cynical attitude that it is OK for businesses to hire illegal aliens so as to circumvent the labor laws, even though that practice reduces opportunities for American workers. Economic integration of North America will proceed in an awkward, uneven fashion, but there is a real danger that the impetus of economic liberalization will dissipate unless political leaders on both sides of the border maintain a courageous devotion to the ultimate principles and goals of NAFTA. To live up to the ideals of peace and prosperity, Bush needs to stoutly resist calls for a Berlin wall along our border, while allocating increased funds for border patrols and resuming candid dialogue with Mexico over free trade. The point is to increase opportunities for Mexicans and Central Americans within their own countries so they don't have to come here for a job!
As I keep insisting, if Bush were really intent on pursuing a radical restructuring of the American society and economy along free market lines, as many people believe he is doing, he would effectively link the immigration issue to entitlements reform, economic policy, and national security. What a wonderful world it would be! Alas...
Reaction by Democrats
For the Democrats' response, our own governor of the Old Dominion, Tim Kaine, stepped up to the plate. Still "wet behind the ears," in office for less than two weeks, he has not yet gained full control over the facial muscles that constantly propel his left eyebrow upward. His real function was to draw attention to the political success of his mentor and predecessor, Mark Warner, who is actively exploring running for president in 2008. That should be a good sign for the sane moderates within the Democrat Party, but Kaine felt obliged to pander to the leftist base by challenging the President's veracity on justifying the war in Iraq. Saying "America can do better" came across as a lame, hackneyed slogan.
A certain "unmentionable wacko" was arrested for disorderly conduct in the Capitol Building. She was wearing a concealed protest shirt, and recently accused the President of "waging a war of terrorism against the world."
November 29, 2005 [LINK]
Bush "tackles" immigration
Trying to regain the confidence of conservative malcontents in the GOP, President Bush unveiled yet another revision of his immigration reform proposals. He still wants a long-term (six-year) "temporary" worker program, but now he is willing to devote resources to patrolling our southern border. See Washington Times. In Mexico, U.S. border patrols are regarded as an outrageous insult, and President Fox has demanded that the United States tear down the walls that protect the border south of San Diego. My initial impression is that this is just another half-baked compromise aimed at pleasing Hispanic voters (presumably anti-abortion), in hopes of building the GOP voter base. Since no serious person contemplates mass expulsion, some reasonable accommodation to reality as Bush suggests -- i.e., amnesty -- is necessary, quite obviously. Unless immigration reform includes stiff penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, and is tied to major reforms of entitlements and labor laws, however, it will be a complete waste of time, and we will be back to square one within a few years. For more, see the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Government falls in Canada
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin lost a vote of no-confidence in Parliament yesterday, obliging him to begin the process by which Parliament is dissolved and new elections are called. This is the long-anticipated fallout from a series of huge bribery scandals that have plagued the dominant Liberal Party for the past year or two. Martin bitterly denounced the three opposition parties for their obstructionist stance, saying that the Canadian people do not want a new election now. The election is set for January 23, and the campaign is expected to be acrimonious. (Well, at least it will last less than two months!) See the Toronto Globe and Mail. Martin inherited the top post after former Prime Minister Jean Chretien resigned two years ago, and this will be the first time he faces the judgment of the electorate. Since the other three parties have little in common, however (one of them is the separatist Parti Quebeçois), it is hard to imagine how an effective governing coalition could be formed without the Liberal Party.
August 9, 2005 [LINK]
Kilgore opposes help for illegals
This issue should be a no-brainer, but in the politically correct environment of today, anyone who questions the de facto toleration of massive inflows of illegal immigrants is deemed a hateful, racist fear-mongerer. Jerry Kilgore, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, is not one who refrains from speaking his mind for fear of offending people. He said that Virginians should not pay to establish centers at which immigrant day laborers (typically without proper INS documentation) can more easily meet up with
ruthlessly exploitive businessmen who are looking for cheap labor. See Washington Post and some insider commentary from the Virginia Conservative blog. Kilgore has taken a strong position that is not only politically useful, but is right on target in terms of public policy. The problem is not that the Latinos who predominate in the underground labor force in this country are bad people; indeed, most are hard-working and law-abiding. The problem is that the atmosphere created by the routine flaunting of legal norms undermines respect for law and authority in general. As one prime example, folks in Northern Virginia are getting very nervous about the escalation of brutal violence perpetrated by "Mara Salvatrucha" and drug-related gangs. Narcoterrorism, which plagued Latin American countries for many years, is making its presence known here in the U.S.A. for the first time. People who are complacent about flagrant breaches of immigration laws in the post-9/11 era have their heads in the sand. In France, it's probably too late to resist the Muslim invasion by means of law enforcement, and time is running short in the United Kingdom. Is that the route we want to follow?
Local media flubs story on GOP
With some exceptions, the Staunton News Leader has been notably cool toward Republicans in their editorials, and their news coverage often seems less than favorable as well. In today's edition, their reportage of yesterday's Harley Hog Fest contained an egregious mistatement of fact: "Local Republicans who forked over at least $500 a plate for the event liked what they heard from their political representatives." WRONG! I was there, and just like everyone else who feasted on the pork barbecue, I only paid $10. I suppose that the reporter, like many people, automatically assumes that most Republicans fit the "country club" stereotype.
May 17, 2005 [LINK]
Immigration and identity theft
To my surprise, yesterday morning C-SPAN broadcast live from Arizona, where volunteer border patrols have caused great controversy lately. (See my post of April 19.) Doing a remote broadcast feed is rare if not unprecedented for the staid Congress-focused television service, a clear indication of how hot the immigration issue has become. In recent weeks Latino activists in Maryland have protested the proposed "Real ID" bill that would be a step toward a national identification card, something that libertarians and civil rights folks have warned about for many years. See Washington Post. The REAL ID Act of 2005 was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on January 26. "H.R.418 : To establish and rapidly implement regulations for State driver's license and identification document security standards, to prevent terrorists from abusing the asylum laws of the United States, to unify terrorism-related grounds for inadmissibility and removal, and to ensure expeditious construction of the San Diego border fence." See "Thomas" (Library of Congress), and a FAQ page from the usually reliable C-NET. Most of it makes perfect sense and is long overdue, but there are some provisions that may be a cause for concern.
The entitlements issue
Seldom acknowledged in all the discussions over immigration is how our own country's social policies create artificial shortages for labor that create a "great sucking sound" (How's that for irony -- remember Ross Perot?) drawing workers northward. Part of the problem is all the social safety net entitlement programs that make it easy for parents to shirk responsibility for providing for their offspring. It is not that working class people are too lazy to pick tomatoes or mop hospital floors, it's that there are so many labor regulations and minimum wage laws that discourage legitimate hires. Data are simply not available of course, but it is almost certain that the vast majority of firms that currently hire undocumented immigrants fail to live up to all the worker protection laws or Social Security. Indeed, many if not most illegals get hired by submitting fraudulent Social Security numbers, and the employers typically just wink or look the other way. Hey, it holds down costs, doesn't it? And besides, everyone else is doing it, right? (Thanks, Wal-Mart.) Toleration of this disgraceful practice is tantamount to indentured servitude and is unworthy of a country that prides itself on freedom and opportunity. Enough is enough. ¡Ya basta!
Fortunately, there are more and more organizations to push for major reforms. From some searching, I came across a list of links to immigration policy organizations, of which Federation for American Immigration Reform is the most well-known, and numbersusa.com looks interesting.
The requirements that states uphold stringent documentary standards might be construed as a classic "unfunded mandate." Like President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education reform, it risks upsetting the balance of power between the states and the Federal government. It is on that basis that I think we need to think through the implications of the REAL ID Bill and give it some REAL scrutiny before putting it into law.
My blog practices
My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:
- Wild birds (LAST)
- Science & Technology *
- Latin America
- Culture & Travel *
- Canaries ("Home birds")
- Baseball (FIRST)
* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007
The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or
strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.
The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.