Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Immigration, Legal and Illegal

Many proposed solutions to the problem of illegal immigration are floating around these days. None of them appeal to me. Here are a few:

I believe that I am a rational and compassionate person. None of these alternatives is both rational and compassionate. Although some loud-mouthed nativists complain that the ten million or so illegal immigrants are criminals and should be treated as such, in fact the immigrants are committing only misdemeanors. Their crime is only as serious as the one I commit when I drive my car at a speed somewhat over the speed limit on some of the streets of Los Angeles.

I am struck by the fact that the nativists urge a fence to separate the United States from Mexico. No one has gained any notoriety for advocating a fence along our northern border with Canada. No one is offended by illegal Canadian immigrants. They have fair complexions and speak English. The offense seems to be that of having a dark complexion and speaking New World Spanish. I dismiss these nativists as being prejudiced against dark skin and the Spanish language.

A stronger argument is that these undocumented immigrants, having no papers and knowing that they are in the country illegally, are push-overs for contractors and other business operators who hire them and pay substandard wages, provide no employee benefits, and make them work in unsafe conditions. To continue the argument, these low-wage workers have destroyed the American middle class. American workers formerly protected by strong unions and union contracts now see their jobs done by non-union immigrant workers at a fraction of the wages formerly paid for the work.

What is to be done? In our present open society, it is not possible to round up all ten million workers without papers (they used to be called WOP's) and expel them. We do not have a system of identity cards or personal passports. I do not carry on my person a single document that proves that I am a legal resident of the United States. Building a fence and beefing up the border patrol would probably diminish the rate of illegal immigration but would not stop it completely. Border guards can be bribed. Authentic-looking visas can be counterfeited. Humans can be transported in cargo containers. There are other ways of defeating the fence.

Actually, the problem is one of globalization. Just as work tends to be moved to places where labor is cheap, so workers tend to move to places where jobs exist and pay is better than in the place from which they come. It's all part of the process in which living standards and working conditions tend toward equality all over the world. Canadian immigrants are not a problem because Canada and the United States have comparable living standards and wage scales. The realistic solution to the problem of cheap labor from Mexico is to assist Mexico to bring its standard of living and wage scale to the same levels as in the United States.

However, this is not a solution that is under consideration right now in the Senate or the House or the White House. It is not a proposal that politicians like because it is not a quick fix to a problem and it is not a cheap fix, either.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


The "War" Against Terror

From the beginning in 2001 I was disturbed by President Bush's use of the expression "war on terror." I thought then and still do that he should have called for a police action rather than a war. I've been trying to think of a way to express my disagreement with a "WAR" against terror. To my delight, a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times today expressed the thought very well, certainly better than I could. Here is the letter:
[March 26, 2006]

Boot suggests that Iraq is not yet in a civil war. I agree. Following this line, how then can he, or any reasonable person, suppose that there can be a "war" against terror? There is no strategic objective to win. There is no specific force to overwhelm. Terrorism is a technique, not an opponent.

In our society, terrorism is a crime and would be more efficiently and effectively treated as such.

However, even a false war can have casualties. Calling it a "war on terror" has suppressed so much democratic discourse that we need a truth and reconciliation commission to reclaim the vigor of our own democracy.

Campbell, California

Thursday, March 23, 2006


About Mercury in Fish

We all know, or should know by now, that fish contain mercury. The concentrations vary according to the diet of the fish and where they are caught. California has a law that requires that fish offered for sale be labeled to indicate the concentration of mercury. However, the federal agency that watches out for the safety of the food we eat, the Food and Drug Administration, has decided to preempt the California labeling law and impose its own much less restrictive mercury labeling rule.

A few days ago the Los Angeles Times published an editorial criticizing the action of the FDA regarding the labeling of mercury content in fish. Today (March 23) representatives of the Sierra Club have a letter to the editor of the times in support of the State’s labeling requirement. A representative of the Center for Consumer Freedom has a letter defending the FDA’s action. The letter complains that California’s labels have the result that “Risk-wary Californians thus eat less fish and miss out on the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent strokes, heart disease and premature births.”

We Californians, along with everyone else, are asked to accept the risk of mercury poisoning to avoid the risk of “strokes, heart disease and premature births.”

A careful reading of the letter showed that the writer represents the Center for Consumer Freedom. I went to Google to look up the organization and discovered this assessment from Sourcewatch:

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (formerly called the "Guest Choice Network") is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture -- the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.' "

I confess to being an old Democrat, an old Progressive, an old Liberal. I came of age at a time when we looked to the federal government to protect us from the depredations of unscrupulous business firms. Now these selfish businessmen have taken over the federal government. Environmental protection laws are gutted to transfer decisions about logging and oil drilling and mining and the like to local officials who “know better than a federal bureaucracy” how to take care of their environment. Similar arguments are presented in favor of repealing laws to protect endangered species. However, in the case of California, the federal government is more qualified than State residents to specify warnings about the presence of mercury in fish.

There is no logic here. It depends on whose ox is gored.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Backing my Car in a Parking Lot

is a chancy proposition. The other day after buying a greeting card in a drug store, I walked to my car parked in one of the marked stalls in the parking lot in front of the store. I got in the car, disengaged the "club" which grips the steering wheel to discourage car thieves, started the engine, and looked out through the three rear view mirrors to see what was behind. I waited for two cars to pass in the aisle between parking stalls. I waited for a man walking to his car. Finally, everything seemed clear. I started to back out, but was stopped by someone beating on the back of the car. A woman walked by, gave me a dirty look, and got into the small SUV parked next to my car. I did not return her glance.

If I had hit her, it would of course be my fault and I would be the defendant in a costly lawsuit. However, the woman herself drove a vehicle with poorer backward-looking visibility than my car provided. Why wouldn't she have been a bit more careful and have given my car a wide berth, knowing that I probably didn't see her?

I myself often am in parking lots and I am careful to stay well away from any car or SUV or truck that is occupied and shows that the driver is about to back up. I've noticed that very few people are that careful or even that observant.

Any comments?

Saturday, March 04, 2006


South Dakota Leads us back to the Past

The South Dakota Legislature has passed a bill that outlaws abortion except when necessary to save the life of the woman. The governor says he will sign the bill. Friday evening the PBS television News Hour program aired a segment on the bill, with comments from legislators who favor and who oppose it.

I was particularly incensed at the comments of one of the supporters, State Senator Napoli. He said that if the bill becomes law (that is, if the reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court upholds it), things would return to what they used to be in South Dakota. To quote him somewhat inaccurately, he said that in the old days if a young man got a girl pregnant, the entire community would know about it and he would be forced to marry the girl so that the two of them could properly care for and raise the child. He also said that the exception for the life of the woman would also apply to cases in which the woman had been brutally raped and assaulted. However, the language of the bill allows for no such exception.

Senator Napoli believes in a past that never was. What about the woman who is impregnated by a man who already has a wife and several children? What about the man who turns out to be a wife-beater and child abuser? What about the girl impregnated by her father, her step-father, or other male relative? All of these are examples of events that happened in the past and that happen today. My own grandmother became pregnant by her sister’s husband and had to find a man to marry her. Her first child, her favorite son, was born a bit too soon after the wedding ceremony. Such babies used to be called “foot-sore” for that reason. In her case, she was lucky. Her husband was a humane man and a good father. She bore him several other children, including my mother.

In fact, the way things used to be was that middle-class girls and women never had any problem obtaining abortions if they wanted one. A good father with a pregnant teen-age daughter would find a physician who would perform the operation safely and in secret. The community would know, but the knowledge would be quiet gossip, not public outrage. There would be no compulsory wedding. That’s the way it was in the village where I grew up. At least two girls in my high school class became pregnant out of wedlock. One had an abortion. After graduating from high school, she married and had a family. The other girl followed Senator Napoli’s example and married the man who’d impregnated her. It was a bad marriage and she eventually divorced her husband after giving birth to more children. She subsequently made a good marriage, so her story has a happy ending. I also knew of married women who had abortions because they already had several children.

In my little village, abortion was illegal, of course, but it wasn’t a disgrace. There was no talk of when life begins. Abortion was not equated with murder. Except in certain very strict Protestant sects, a woman was not publicly shamed for becoming pregnant out of wedlock.

Those are the “good old days” that I remember. My memory is rather different from that of Senator Napoli.

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