Saturday, June 30, 2007

Immigration Compromise

We are told that immigration reform is dead for this term. I'm not sure it had a chance. In the current environment a compromise bill means both sides get an equal number of provisions they like. Often they are provisions that one side loves and the other side detests. Politicians vote for the bill if their joy outweighs their disgust.

A path to citizenship, amnesty, was just too big an obstacle to overcome. For many people, the offsetting compromise, a promise to strengthen the borders and enforcement, was not enough to mitigate the disgust of seeing law breakers profit from their misdeeds.

Maybe we can make progress if we don't try to create a bill that tries to do everything at once. Pull out pieces that move us forward and a majority of legislators can agree on. A compromise means people on both sides can accept it.

We have millions of people in the U.S. who realistically cannot be sent back to their home countries and do need some sort of legal status. What if we give those who qualify legal status (permanent resident status?), but do not promise them a path to citizenship? They can stay here as long as they don't break any laws.

Along with this we pass a law that makes it a felony to be in this country illegally. Anyone convicted would be biometrically identified, deported and would lose future rights to enter the country legally. Further convictions would bring ever longer jail time, then deportation.

This would give the 12-20 million undocumented people in this country a way to legally remain in the U.S. with some strong penalties. Without citizenship it would be harder to bring relatives to this country. These people can't vote. Other penalties could be imposed, if required, like a fine or a requirement to learn English.

It would also remove some of the incentive to cross the border illegally because if you are caught, you have no hope of ever becoming a legal resident of the United States and face possible incarceration. And it will be harder to find a job because the workers who qualified for legal status will have a green card to show employers.

If this compromise is still too much like amnesty, give them a six year temporary status (the number of years would be chosen to try to keep the issue out of a presidential race). In six years Congress would have to decide what to do next. Maybe the solution will be clearer or at least less emotional at that point. If not, Congress can do what it is best at and kick the can down the road again.

I'm sure people who know more about immigration can devise even better compromises, but for an issue that has caused so much political turmoil there is no need to give up. This compromise failed, but that doesn't mean we can't create a better one.

Would God Be Your Vice-President?

All the presidential candidates seem happy to talk about their religion and faith. While I think such matters are personal and private, they feel it is politically advantageous to make their religious beliefs public.

If a candidate's life and actions are as dependant on their religious beliefs as most profess and many seem happy (and some eager) to tell us about, shouldn't we be asking them tough questions? If a candidate's daily life and decisions are guided and affected by their religious beliefs, aren't these principles and beliefs just as important as their stands on health care or Iraq? If a candidate, for example, says they don't believe in evolution, we need to find out why. If their belief is based on religion, what other strange beliefs might they have? Do they believe in the Rapture?

Personally, I would rather have a president who deep down believes "God helps those who help themselves." more than they believe in the power of prayer. I want a president who believes the fate of the country is in our hands and not a god whose actions are often beyond our understanding.

I would have no problem with a candidate who says something like - "I have strong religious beliefs that have helped shape who I am. Those beliefs can be seen in the decisions I've made and the actions I've taken in my life. My religion and faith continue to be a source of comfort and strength in my daily life, but they are personal and not open to public discussion. While I will always be a person of faith, as president of a secular country I will make presidential decisions based on reason, logic and the interests of all the citizens of the United States."

For those candidates not willing to make such a statement, I have a few questions.

How much would your faith and religious beliefs influence your decisions as President?

As President, which would be more the more important guide when making decisions, the Bible or the Constitution?

Do you believe that non-Christians are as moral as Christians?

Is your God the only true God?

Does your God treat non-believers the same as believers?

Would you treat non-believers the same as believers?

Is your God active in the world? That is, does your God, on a daily or regular basis, change the course of events?

Does your God change the world in response to prayer?

If so, does your God change the world in positive response to prayers from people of other faiths or religions?

How often do you pray?

What do you pray for?

Have you ever asked God for guidance with a problem?

When confronted with a large problem, have you ever "turned it over to" God?

Has God ever given you guidance?

Have your prayers ever been answered?

Has God ever spoken to you directly?

If so, how do you know it was God that spoke?

Have you ever prayed for God to change or influence events?

What is a miracle?

Can you describe a recent miracle you believe God made happen?

This list may sound like a lot of gotcha questions, but so many candidates are treating religion like just another focus group issue. If they really believe religion is another tool to attract voters, then we need the details.

Are We Addicted To Cheap Labor?

The President thinks we are addicted to cheap oil. Does anyone think we are addicted to cheap labor?

I keep hearing that we need lots of cheap labor to keep our economy growing. There are two proposals. Bring in short term guest workers - labor mercenaries - psuedo-slaves. They do work that no one living in the U.S. will do for wages that only the truly desperate will accept.

Or we can bring in people and families who will the supply cheap labor with the hope of a future in the U.S. They will eventually become citizens and presumably move up the economic pyramid. Unfortunately the current economic pyramid grows from the bottom down leaving a need for more and more cheap labor at the bottom.

Will our economy always require new people to work for wages below the poverty level to sustain a higher standard of living for the rest of us?

Where does this end?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Paris 45, Scooter 0

Paris Hilton will spend more time in jail than Scooter Libby.

Libby lied to protect the Vice-President, now the Vice-President and President feel honor bound to make sure he doesn't go to jail.

There is one question I haven't heard asked or answered. Conservatives are almost in tears over the fate of Libby. They at least act appalled that Libby might go to jail when the real law breaker was Richard Armitage, which of course isn't true. The other people were consciously trying to out Valerie Plame Wilson while Armitage innocently revealed the fact.

But here is my question, while Libby was purposefully leaking Valerie Wilson as a CIA operative, did he know that Armitage had already unintentionally revealed that information? If not, then Libby would have thought that he was committing an illegal act and committed the act anyway. He is no choir boy.

Libby should go to jail for the crimes he committed, perjury and obstruction of justice. It's a shame that he and others who risked lives and the national defense for political revenge aren't going to jail for those crimes.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Wrestling in Iraq

I saw former Senator Bob Kerrey on TV the other night. He believes neither the Democrats or the Republicans have it right on Iraq when, in general, Republicans believe in the status quo and Democrats want to pull all the troops ASAP or ASARP.

He suggested that we should immediately pull the troops from Baghdad, get out of the middle of a civil war and move the troops to the borders to stop outsiders from entering the country. We should then ask the Iraqis what we can do to help them. We would then do what we reasonably could to honor their requests, but the guiding principle would be to do what is in our best interests. And one of our primary interests is to stay in the region and get al Qaeda.

This is not a particularly new idea. I can't understand why there isn't wider support.

When we leave Baghdad, there may be a blood bath, but the sad truth is either the factions must be separated (the Biden plan), they must compromise and share power, or one side has to be beaten into submission. We can't tell them how to solve their problems, only they can do that.

I think many people, including many Iraqis, see our role as like a referee in a boxing match. While the fighters are trying to beat each other to a pulp, we stay neutral and make sure no one gets hurt too badly. But this is not a boxing match. There are no rules and there is no bell after the 10th round to stop the fight. As long as we are there, in the middle of the ring, with all our resources and power, the best political strategy for them is to use us as a shield or a target.

But this isn't a boxing match. It is closer to professional wrestling and there is no referee and no rules. There are many wrestlers who come and go and join the fight when it fits their needs. And yes, al Qaeda is in the ring also, taking shots at everyone. Their goal is to make sure there is no winner. While all we really want to do is fight al Qaeda, we are just another fighter in the middle of a melee.

We need to get out of the center of the ring, let everyone else fight on if they want and then whack al Qaeda every chance we get.

Go Joe!

I've been watching the presidential candidates as they position themselves to win the nomination. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both are strong candidates. I was impressed by Bill Richardson early on, but lately I've been a little disappointed. While I would have never thought of Chris Dodd as presidential material, he has shown himself to be a strong candidate with well stated positions.

At this early stage of the campaign, any one of these people would make a good candidate.

At this point, I don't believe John Edwards has what it takes. I'm not sure what is missing, but I don't see him as a winner against a Republican candidate.

My favorite candidate is Joe Biden. I've watched him on the news shows many times and I'm always impressed. He's a passionate man who doesn't seem to be afraid to say what he thinks. Occasionally that gets him into trouble, but I would rather have a candidate who takes a position and vigorously defends it than a candidate who chooses words carefully so as not to offend any group. You are never sure what they really believe.

It is still very early, but if you haven't been watching Joe Biden, start. This guy is definitely presidential material.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Is Immigration Anti-Capitalism?

Why is it that our capitalist country believes so strongly in free markets until the product is cheap labor? If the need for more corn to produce ethanol drives the price of milk up, we expect that more farmers will plant corn as a response and prices will drop. But when the problem is a shortage of labor, the response is to bring in cheap, foreign labor. Why don't we let market pressures solve the problem?

I heard a California farmer complain that he couldn't find farm labors willing to harvest his crops. He said he didn't think he could find people willing to do the back breaking work at even $20 an hour. So what's the answer? He wants foreign laborers to come in and do the work (and I bet they'll be paid a LOT less than $20 an hour).

Why isn't the answer "Let the markets work it out"? It seems to me that there are people who will do that hard work if they are compensated well enough. $30 and hour? $40 an hour? Benefits? You can get workers if you pay enough. Of course, the higher labor costs may mean that the produce will be so expensive that consumers will not buy it, but then the farmer has another choice. Grow something that is not so labor intensive. Or go into some other business.

We don't have a problem with people with valuable skills being paid high salaries, so why should we penalize people without specialized education or unique talents from being paid whatever the market requires? I person who has the ability and motivation to do hard work that others won't do should be paid appropriately. We sympathize with the professional athlete who demands a high salary partly because their professional careers are short and subject to an abrupt end if they are injured. How is that any different from anyone who does hard physical labor?

When I was young, a neighbor had a small roofing business. I occasionally did odd jobs for him during the summer and I know the roofers who worked for him were happy to have a good paying job. Now we hear that only cheap foreign labor will do these jobs and many other construction jobs. Baloney! Give a person good pay and benefits and people will be lining up for the jobs.

Our problem is that we want prosperity and low prices and don't mind getting these on the backs of low paid workers.

Robert Reich, who for several years during the Clinton administration was Secretary of Labor, was on NPR this morning. I usually find him to have reasoned and well stated opinions. This morning he took issue with at least part of the proposed immigration bill. He did not like the idea of letting more educated immigrants into the country. If I remember correctly, he had two main arguments. As an example, he pointed out that the salaries of U.S. information technology works have been stagnant the past few years (partly due to globalization), so bringing in skilled people from overseas will just suppress wages even more. He then tackled the complaint that even today there aren't enough information technology workers in the U.S. to fill the jobs that are available. His argument, if we bring in new workers from overseas, that will remove the incentive for U.S. companies to recruit and train new U.S. workers. I'm not going to defend or attack his position, but don't these same basic arguments support the case that we shouldn't bring in low cost foreign labor to undercut low skill U.S. workers?

What really puzzled me about Reich's comments is that I believe he is in favor of bringing in low cost foreign labor.

I still believe that if we are going to bring in foreign labor, employers should be forced to pay them more than what they would pay a U.S. citizen. Twenty-five percent sounds good. If you have a job that pays minimum wage to a U.S. worker, a non-citizen would be paid minimum wage plus 25%. If you are hiring an information worker, you can pay a U.S. citizen $100,000 or a foreign worker $125,000. Market pressure would reward U.S. workers and help insure that there are truly no U.S. workers who are qualified and willing to do the work.