Friday, March 31, 2006

Immigration Reform

We have lost control over our southern boarder. Daily, tens of thousands of "undocumented workers" come up from Canada. There are currently as many as 12 million comprising nearly 5% of the workforce. Sending workers to America so they can send money home is Mexico's second largest source of income after oil and has become official policy. The Mexican government even printed comic books instructing workers on how to made the trip safely.

In the US, these immigrants have been accorded most of the rights of citizens including access to schools and other government services. There have even been efforts to give them the vote through introduction of voter-rights legislation that only requires proof of residency.

There are two questions facing us - what can be done and what will be done? The question of what we want done is moot. Strengthening the boarder, criminalizing the aliens, and departing them will not work. There are too many of them and the economic effects of losing 5% of the workforce would be disastrous.

Side note - many conservative columnists have pointed out that Mexicans are taking jobs that Americans will not do for the wages that are being offered. If the Mexicans are gone, then wages will have to rise. While this is true, it is also inflationary and represents a big shift from pundits who argue against raising the minimum wage.

So, what can we do? President Bush's guest worker proposal is probably as ambitious as we can get. We would at least have some idea who was in our boarders. It would also help with the really undesirables - gang members from Central America and Islamic terrorists. Pressure for assimilation is also important. America should not be a bi-lingual country. Bi-lingual nations where the populations are intermixed produce a permanent underclass. Even Canada where the populations are divided has major social stresses that continually threaten to break up that nation. At the very least, schools should make teaching English a priority.

What will happen? Probably nothing. Like Social Security, the issue is so polarizing that moderate reforms are impossible. Unlike Social Security, there is no built-in time bomb counting down.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Those Crazy Conservatives

Lew Rockwell (whoever he is) on the Huffington Post thinks that conservatives are crazy. His reasoning? Conservatives think that domestically, government is bad but on defense, government is good.
Do you see the contradiction? Apparently it is not obvious to thousands of writers, activists, and thinkers, and not just today but dating back for decades. The problem is this: in the first paragraph, the government is rightly presumed to be the coercive enemy that takes from the people and saps their productivity. It cannot perform tasks as efficiently as property owners. It hurts rather than helps. Government does not know best. Our choice is government or liberty.
Of course, there are several problems with Rockwell's thesis. The biggest one is that he takes positions from various factions among conservatives and applies them to all. Yes, the Libertarian wing of conservatism thinks that big government is bad. This wing is consistent. The Libertarians as embodied by the CATO institute calls for an isolationist foreign policy. On the other hand, strong defense conservatives are uncomfortable with a hands-off internal policy.

There are conservatives who embody both points of view. Ronald Reagan was for smaller government but was big on defense. Was this a paradox? Not when you consider world events.

Looking back a couple of decades, it is hard to remember that we were at a constant state of hostilities with communism in general and the USSR for nearly fifty years. This conflict often broke into small-scale shooting wars and was usually conducted through proxies on both sides. This makes it easy to ignore but it happened. By the 1950s, the US saw itself as being seriously at risk. A small number of communists inside our country and entire nations of communists outside our boarders wanted our government overthrown.

For the first couple of decades this was not a conservative cause, it was an American one. It was liberals who started the fights to defend south Korea and South Viet Nam (and against fascists). It was only after public opinion turned against Viet Nam that liberals suddenly became the party of peace.

Reagan's philosophy was that communism and socialism were bad. He fought communism through a military build-up and by supporting allies. He fought socialist policies that had built up in our own government.

After a decade or so of peace, we have a new enemy - radical Islam. Like communism, its adherents think that they should control the world by virtue of their innate superiority and, like the communists, they believe that much of American life is decadent. They would change most of what we appreciate about our civilization. Conservatives recognize this threat and embrace a strong military to protect us. That in no way endorses stricter government controls over every-day life.

Note that under Bush, Libertarians have distanced themselves from conservatives. Bush is a big-government conservative so there is no contradiction there.

Now, what about the liberals? These are the people who think that the solution for every social problem is a new government program but, at the same time, insist that the US government is the biggest threat to the world. (Yes, I know I just lumped liberals together the same way that Rockwell did conservatives but I'm summing up.)

Someone is insane but I don't think it is conservatives.

bin Laden's in Trouble Now

According to today's news:
Democrats on Wednesday proposed a wide-ranging strategy for protecting Americans at home and abroad, an election-year effort aimed at changing public perception that Republicans are stronger on national security.
[...] In the strategy, Democrats vowed to provide U.S. agents with the resources to "eliminate" Osama bin Laden and ensure a "responsible redeployment of U.S. forces" from Iraq in 2006.
[...] Indeed, the Democratic statement lacks specific details of a plan to capture bin Laden, the al-Qaida chief who has evaded U.S. forces in the more than four and a half years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Democrats suggest they will double the number of special forces and add more spies to increase the chances of finding al-Qaida's elusive leader.
Who knew it would be so easy? Just double the special forces and we've got him for sure.

There is nothing new here. Democrats have been personalizing the war aganst terror (technically the war against militant Islam) as a manhunt for bin Laden. If and when we get him, they will declare vctory and call the troops home. Without their leader, everyone in al Qaeda will stop hating America. This also ties in with the assertion that Iraq is a distraction. It doesn't matter how many al Qaeda fighters are there right now, getting bin Laden is the only important goal.

This sounds a lot like the Kerry campaign.

The part about redeploying the troops in Iraq sounds a bit like surrender. That's how bin Laden took it. In his newest tape, he accepts our surreder and offers a long-term truce. Really!
Based on what has been said, this shows the errors of Bush’s statement — the one that slipped from him — which is at the heart of polls calling for withdrawing the troops. It is better that we (Americans) don’t fight Muslims on their lands and that they don’t fight us on ours.

We don’t mind offering you a long-term truce on fair conditions that we adhere to. We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war.
That makes me feel real safe.

The Democrats also vowed to eliminate dependance on foreign oil by 2020. Since you know they will not allow opening new oil fields on US soil, either in Alaska or off-shore, then they are mean cutting how much people drive. Truth in advertizing: "Elect us and expect a new $5/gallon tax on gas."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Strange Priorities

According to a news report, one of the peace protesters who had been taken hostage and saved is gay.
During his four months of captivity, James LoneyÂ’s sexuality was kept out of the media at the request of his family, said Doug Pritchard, co-director of the aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Keep in mind that this group first started going to Iraq to try to preserve Saddam's government from US attack, then read this:
In 2001, Amnesty International reported that IraqÂ’s constitution was amended to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Although the constitution reverted back to the original 1969 document when Saddam HusseinÂ’s regime was toppled in 2003, the status of gay and lesbian rights remain unclear.
I am not sure if Loney was one of the peacekeepers who arrived in Iraq prior to the war. If so then he was trying to save a government that would have gladly executed him.

While the rights of gays and lesbians might be unclear under the current Iraq government, their rights under kidnappers seems well-defined - they have none and might well be killed out of hand.

I see this paradox constantly among the anti-war left. They support governments that are against human rights and claim that the US is the danger to the world. I've complained before about the self-loathing of the west. What else would make people in the west support groups who would see them dead? The same is true for the women's groups that supported the Taliban against the US. (The protests I saw conducted by Not in our Name were all-women.) Their hatred of their own culture makes them support cultures opposed to their own values.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Democrats Impeachment Problem

The strategy is to first take back the House and Senate with extra support going to candidates who support impeaching President Bush, then to remove him and Vice-President Cheney. With Bush's popularity at a low point, Democrats need have no fear of voter anger for voting this way.

The impeachment movement has become a rallying cry across the country with cities passing resolutions and PACs being formed to support anti-Bush candidates.

There is one important group that has not signed on - Congressional Democrats. Even Bush-hater and conspiracy-monger Conyers hasn't gone further than calling for a committee to investigate impeachment charges. There are several good reasons for this. You cannot impeach a president unless he has broken the law.

The pro-impeachment crowd point to President Clinton and say that if a president can be impeached for lying about sex, then one can be impeached for lying us into a war. They overlook several factors. One is that Clinton's guilt was established by the time of the impeachment. Another is that Clinton was not impeached for lying about sex, he was impeached for perjury - lying under oath in official court documents. This is a felony.

So to impeach Bush, Democrats are going to have to come up with some real charges. Here are the ones most often suggested:

Phone taps. There might be something here but there probably is not. By most accounts, the phone taps are on terrorist suspects living overseas and US residents are only being listened to when one of these suspects calls the US. The White House says that between Bush's roll as commander-in-chief and the powers given him after September 11, he has the authority to authorize foreign wiretaps, even when a call to the US is involved. Further, other presidents have authorized wiretaps.

The Democrats' problems here are that 1) Bush's position may well prevail in court. 2) Even if it doesn't, can you impeach the president for following the recommendations of the White House legal staff?

Torture. This is really three items: what happened in Iraqi prisons, what happened at Gitmo, and what Democrats think happened at Gitmo. The first one is a non-starter. Unacceptable practices did occur but there is no proof that it was approved from higher-up. The second it also a non-starter. The closest thing to an abuse I have seen documented was a prisoner left hogtied for hours. This happens regularly in city jails. Democrats will have to come up with some specifics on what has been done and who ordered it.

WMDs. This is the big one - the one that all of the pro-impeachment crowd rallies behind. It's also the toughest to prove. It is true that bush-haters can find people who said before the war that Saddam had not re-started his weapons program. To rely exclusively on these people is to engage in the same cheery-picking of intelligence that they claim Bush did.

It has been reported several times, most recently last week on NBC, that Saddam was more worried about Iran invading if they thought he was without WMDs than he was of the US invading because we thought he had them. He kept the world guessing, sure that France, Russia, and China (recipients of Oil-for-Food payoffs) would block an invasion.

You cannot impeach a US president because a foreign leader lied. Moreover, the Clintons and Gore are on record as saying that Saddam had WMDs during the period that they were getting security briefings. It will look very bad for the Democrats to have their standard-bearers at witnesses for the defense.

In fact, the whole case against Bush is so weak that any efforts to push it will help Bush and besmirch the Democrats.

That's a problem for them. Their activist base is expecting, even demanding an impeachment if they take Congress. If an impeachment fails then these same activists will stay home in droves in 2008 or even bolt to the Green Party.

Even if the Democrats fail to take Congress, the impeachment movement hurts them. It pushes more polarized candidates, one less likely to win, and it sucks money that could be used elsewhere.

For all of the problems confronting the Republicans in the next election, none of them look like as big of a landmine as this does for the Democrats.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Justifying the War

Eric Alterman posts this challenge:
I do think that any political commentator who supported it owes his or her readers an explanation as to why they would expect such judgment to be trusted again in the future.
Actually, that is very easy. I can do it in three words: Saddam with nukes.

Alterman and other post-war commentators focus on what we knew before the war that turned out to be wrong and ignore the parts that were right. The parts that were wrong were that
Saddam had reconstituted his WMD programs including an active nuclear program. The parts that were right were that Saddam planned to reconstitute his WMD programs including an active nuclear program but had been prevented by the UN sanctions. Want proof? How about this article that Alterman himself links to.
The CIA said if Saddam obtained enriched uranium, he could build a nuclear bomb in "several months to a year." Sabri said Saddam desperately wanted a bomb, but would need much more time than that.
The world doesn't stand still. By 2002 there was pressure to lift the sanctions. These calls stopped when Bush started talking about invasion. Without Bush's push against Iraq, the sanctions would have been lifted years ago. Possibly the no-fly zones would have also been lifted allowing Saddam to resume bombing the non-Shiite portions of his country into submission.

After the Gulf War, Saddam said that his biggest mistake was invading before he had nuclear weapons. He did not plan on repeating that mistake. The implication was that he planned on developing nukes first, then invading one or more neighbors. He might also have started another war with Iran before they developed their first nuke.

If the sanctions had been lifted three years ago then Saddam would be well on the way to his goals. The former head of his nuclear program estimated that they could start refining weapons-grade uranium within two years. Even allowing a generous margin of error, he might well have developed a bomb by now without our interference.

Then there is the possible alliance with al Qaida. Saddam and bin Lauden had discussed moving al Qaida to Iraq but bin Lauden was too comfortable in Afghanistan. A nuclear Iraq with an active al Qaida presence would be the US's worst nightmare.

All of this is speculation, but it is informed speculation. These are events that very well might have occurred if Bush had simply let the status quo stand. Is this a present that you would willingly trade for today's reality?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Biggest Threat to Public Schools

So, what's the biggest threat to public schools today? Teachers - at least public school teachers. There are two reasons why this is true. The first is the increasing polarization of public school teachers. The second is their institutional incompetence.

A tenth grade teacher named Jay Bennish recently made the news after a student recorded a long rant Bennish made in class. Bennish not only compared Bush to Hitler, he rejected capitalism, insisted that the US is the most violent nation on earth and called for air strikes against tobacco growers. Interviews about his teaching style indicate that Bennish politicized everything. One example given was that, for the history of Japan, he had the class study WWII Japanese/American interment. The syllabus for his history class gives the primary goal of the class is to teach critical teaching. This relates to my second point and I will get back to it later.

Bennish is not alone. Teachers make up a big block of the Democratic Party. A quarter of the delegates to the 2004 national convention were teachers and teachers' unions have been major contributors to Democrats for decades. As schools become more polarized to the left, parents are perusing other options. At the same time that schools moved to the left, other alternatives have sprung up. The result is that, in many areas, most children get their education somewhere besides public schools.

An other factor here is competence. Too often, teachers insist that their job is not to teach specific subject but to teach "critical thinking" or to "instill a life-long love of learning". This is the culmination of decades of education theory. The problem is that these theories do not work. In some cases, they have been proven wrong but they are still used. An example of this is arithmetic. Studies have shown that the best way to learn to do simple math is through repetition but this is boring so teachers no longer require it.

This attitude is found in other subjects. Reading has somehow become a religious war (really). The method of reading being taught has students looking at the shape of the word, the first couple of characters, and the context. In the early grades, any word that fits these parameters is considered correct. Any form of reading that includes sounding out words (phonics) is associated with Christian fundamentalists and avoided.

Students are encouraged to find their own "best way" of doing arithmetic. For multi-column addition, this involves estimating the result working from the left then adjusting from the right. If this fails... well, everyone carries a calculator, anyway.

Is it any wonder that most colleges spend the first year teaching remedial courses?

Often teachers no longer regard the subject of the class as its primary goal. Jay Bennish gave "critical thinking" as the main goal of a history class.

My own experience matches this. My daughter had considerable trouble passing one teacher's classes. A big factor in this was the assignment to write down information from the board every Monday and have the parent sign it by Tuesday's class. This is something that my ADD daughter could not possibly do but it was worth more of her grade than a major test. This assignment along lowered my daughter's grade by one or two letters. I asked the teacher how she justified something that had nothing to do with the subject (history) having such an effect on the student's grade. Her answer was that it helped prepare the students for responsibility after school. Not long after that my daughter transferred to a charter school where post-graduate responsibility was handled through internships, not history class.

So we have teachers who indoctrinate rather than teach and use ineffective methods when they do teach. No wonder so many parents opt for alternatives to public education and no wonder so many alternatives exist. There is a nationwide group of charter schools that do nothing but try to salvage at-risk students.

The more students who leave the school system, the fewer votes for funding for the public schools. This becomes a cycle that will soon threaten public education. At some point the public will have to decide if it wants to fund huge school districts or to simply give grants of money to parents and let them choose their children's education.

I am not sure that this is a good thing. I support being able to shop around for a teaching style that works for your individual child. I had to do this with my daughter. I am much more apprehensive about people shopping for content.

Education professionals dismiss home schooling, private schools, and school vouchers as a way for parents to teach creationism instead of science to their children. I will admit that there is a bit of truth to this and it worries me that some students are being taught religion as science. The ruse of Moslem schools is similarly troubling.

On the other hand, I have no idea how wide-spread this really is. Education professionals make it seem universal but my own experiences (private and charter school for our daughter, home-schooling for various nephews) was all about failures of public education. Religion was never an issue.

What would be best would be a public education system that actually worked but the teachers will never go for that.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Disgusted About Dubai

There are going to be economic consequences from the death of the Dubai ports deal. An immediate one is the postponement of free trade talks with the UAE. This could affect the long-term security of the US. Despite what critics said, Dubai has been consistently pro-US since 9-11. That may change.

It also signals to Arabs and Moslems that they should not invest money in the US.

There are three groups that killed the deal. In order of increasing annoyance they are:

  1. People on the right who are afraid of Arabs. The links between the UAE and 9-11 were about as strong as the links between Germany and 9-11.
  2. Democrats in Congress on the left who were trying to score political points against President Bush. Hillary Clinton heads this list. She's also high on the list of people who should know better. All she has to do is ask her husband. Bill has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars of speaking fees from the UAE and gave them advice on how to get the deal through Congress.
  3. Republicans in Congress trying to dis-associate themselves from the President. What really killed the deal was the bi-partisan nature of the attack and many of the Republicans seemed to be acting from self-preservation rather than principles.

As a nation we need to agree on a few things. The biggest is if we actually at war and, if so, who are we at war with? Are we at war with violent Islamic fundamentalists? All of Islam? All Arabs, even non-Moslems? The message we just sent is that we might be at war with all Moslems or all Arabs. At minimum, we will not distinguish between terrorists and the countries that they (or their parents) are from.

The only good thing to come out of this is the possible collapse of Hillary's campaign. Regardless of her time in the Senate, her main qualification to the Presidency is the time she spent in the White House. After taking a leading role in killing the transfer, she will have to explain why it is ok for her former-president husband to have close relations with a government she doesn't trust.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bad days for Free Speech

It's been a bad year for freedom of speech. First there was the controversy over the Mohamed cartoons and calls for the cartoonists to be punished (or even executed). Then a Nazi-appologist was jailed for Holocaust denial and the Mayor of London was suspended for a month for making a Nazi-related insult to a reporter.

Even al Qaida can see the problems here. Their number two man issued a statement over the weekend complaining about Europe's hypocracy.
Referring to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have been printed in a number of European newspapers, al-Zawahri said: “They did it on purpose and they continue to do it without apologizing, even though no one dares to harm Jews or to challenge Jewish claims about the Holocaust nor even to insult homosexuals.”
To be fair to Europe, the laws in question were passed after WWII to prevent nazis from rising again. Hitler had just conquered more of the world than Napoleon so they had a right to be worried. Also, the laws prevent Holocaust denial but there is nothing on the books to prevent other slanders against Jews. It is fashionable and legal in Europe to compare Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with Hitler's treatment of the Jews.

It's time for these laws to be repealed. Any appeal that Hitler had is irrelevant 60+ years after his death. The conditions that allowed the nazis to seize power in the 1930s just don't exist today. Holocaust denial may be vile, but freedom of speech only counts if it includes vile speech.

In the US, things are more subtle. It was announced a couple of weeks ago that the IRS was investigating a number of churches and non-profit organizations for political involvement. Press reports say that the investigations covered a "full spectrum of political viewpoints". Maybe, but several Ohio churches made the news late last year for filing a complaint over two conservative churches' involvement with politics. One complaint was that they had allowed Ken Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of State and candidate for Governor to address the congregations on specific issues. Considering that one of the complaintants, the Universal Unitarian Church, hosts two advocacy groups, the IRS complaint seems like political intimidation.

This is where it gets tricky. Freedom of speech normally means that you can endorse candidates and issues. Freedom of religion means that the government cannot tell a minister what he can say inside his church. The tricky point is that by giving churches tax-free status, the government asks them to give up a measure of freedom. This becomes a threat if the IRS determines that a church engaged in unsanctioned behaviour for some time. This can lead to huge fines in the form of back-taxes.

A couple of other free-speech issues - Larry Summers was forced to resign as president of Harvard for expressing ideas that were unpopular with the faculty and a high school teacher in Colorado is on leave after ranting at his class.

Summers is remembered for suggesting that the IQ distribution for men might be spread wider than for women with more at the very top and bottom. This was one of four possibilities that he threw out as topics for discussion about why more men go into math-heavy specialties. He also suggested that patriotism was not a dirty word, that it was unbecoming for an institution such as Harvard to engage in anti-semitism over Israel, and that professors such as Cornell West should do some actual research. All of these were positions that would be reasonable, not only to most Americans, but to most Democrats. They were not acceptable to the Harvard faculty.

Finally, Jay Bennish, the high school teacher who was suspended - was this right? Most news stories just mentioned his Bush/Hitler comparison but there was much more to what this teacher said. It was a rant against Bush and the Iraq war, America in general, and even capitalism which he pronounced as anti-humanity. Is Bennish's right to free speech being abridged? No. He is a high school geography teacher. While teachers must be able to include some of their own opinions, they cannot be allowed to substitute the course with a communist indoctrination (at least not without approval of the school board). Bennish was hired to teach geography. This rant and his teaching in general have little to do with that. He is teaching ideology. As a paid employee, Bennish has an obligation to teach the perscribed curriculum. No free speech issues here. The same is true for teachers who want to teach Creation Science or Intellegent Design. As long as they are employees, they have to teach what the school system approves.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Katrina and the Media

Last week was full of news about White House briefings on Katrina. It was shown that Bush was told in advance that the hurricane's damage would be severe. Former FEMA director Michael Brown gave interviews saying that he told everyone how bad things were and waited for the army to come to the rescue, but they never took over.

This all plays to the preception that the government was slow to respond to Katrina, that it was caught off-guard, and that Bush was to blame. There are problems with this narrative.

Popular Mechanics took a look at Katrina and the response. They debunk several common myths about the storm. The first one is that the government was slow to respond.
In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest--and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall.
Reporting on Katrina never matched reality and the MSM is now drawing on the preception that they reported instead of what was actually happening on the ground. Also, Katrina was far more than New Orleans but most of the reporting has been limited to that single city. Rescue operations in New Orleans were slowed because of the MSM. After they reported that people were shooting at rescue helicopters, the rescuers pulled back until they had ground support. This happened with other aspects of the rescue operation, also. Reports of lawlessness slowed rescuers who thought that their lives were in danger.

It is far too late for the truth. People will remember vivid images of reporters standing in hip-deep water while saying that the government forsook people on the basis of color. Little of this was true but it made for great ratings.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Playing Gotcha with Katrina

As the streets on New Orleans were flooding, the Democrats were fuming that Bush was detached and uninvolved A picture of him on stage at a fundraiser was posted on the Democratic Underground.

Now the complaint is just the opposite - that Bush was involved and knew about everything ahead of anyone else but he still failed to act. Some of this is coming from ex-FEMA head Michael Brown who insists that he did everything right and that everyone else dropped the ball. Some of it is coming from congressional democrats who are looking for campaign issues. Some of it is coming from the press which continues to be fixated on New Orleans.

That fixation on New Orleans is important. Katrina was a huge storm so resources were strained by it but the reaction outside of New Orleans was about as good as can be expected.

New Orleans was a special case. There is still some debate over exactly what was predicted. NBC presented it both ways last night before finally showing a clip of someone saying that they expected water to overflow the levees ("overtop") but not to break the levees. That makes a huge difference in the response required. If the city had flooded but the levees held then the pumping stations would have returned the city to normal in a couple of days. With the floodwalls gone, the pumping stations had no place to pump the water so the city was flooded for weeks. So far no one has aired a clip of anyone saying that the floodwalls might break.

The thing about New Orleans is that no one had good information, not Bush, not FEMA, not Gov. Blanco, not Mayor Nagan, and not the news. Yesterday's clips included the White House asking if the levees had broken and Blanco assuring them that the levees had held. This was an hour after the floodwall broke.

It is appropriate to review the response to the hurricane to improve response to future disasters of this magnitude. It is inappropriate to spend so much time looking for a "gotcha" moment where Bush can be blamed for everything. I honestly expect a press statement from some prominent Democrat demanding to know why Bush allowed the hurricane to hit the US when he knew it would cause such destruction.