Saturday, April 29, 2006


Immigration Divide

A recent poll indicated that there is a deep partisan split among the following issues: immigration, the war in Iraq, and the economy. Republicans and Democrats were asked to rank these issues in order of importance. Immigration was rated the most important issue by fifty percent of Republicans, but only by five percent of Democrats. Now, if you haven’t figured it out yet from reading this blog, I will confess that I am a Democrat and a Liberal. However, I seem to be close to the main stream of Democrats, since I also rank immigration rather far down on my list of issues that get me stirred up.

The publicized comments of many Republicans about immigration include rounding up the illegal immigrants, sending them back to Mexico, and building an impenetrable fence along the border with Mexico. That is, if you say “illegal immigrant” to one of these Republicans, he immediately has a vision of a dark-complexioned man who speaks only bad Spanish and who brings poverty and crime to the neighborhood in which he lives.

Not all Republicans think this way. President Bush and others think about meat packing plants in Nebraska or farms in California in which most employees are (illegal) immigrants who are willing to work for low wages, don’t join unions, work hard, and don’t cause any trouble. In other words, they are ideal employees.

Prejudice against strangers is not new, especially if the strangers have dark skins and speak a strange language. I once had a phone conversation with another Democrat (at least she said she was a Democrat) who was appalled at the change in her neighborhood. Armenians had moved in. Their children did not speak English. They were dark complexioned. The lady missed the good old days when the children were fair skinned, spoke English, and had parents who had immigrated to California from Iowa or Ireland.

Republicans seem to be divided into two camps. Both groups share the prejudice against foreigners who don’t speak English and who don’t look like Western Europeans. One group wants them eradicated, sent back to where they came from, and prevented from coming back. The other group sees these same foreigners as a source of cheap, capable, compliant labor.

To his credit, the President also wants to provide these hard-working, under-paid foreigners a path to citizenship. I applaud him for that.

What about the illegal immigrants who have light skins and who speak English, even though it is a second language? For example, there seems to be no sentiment in support of rounding up all the Filipinos who are here on expired visas. Many of them have jobs taking care of elderly and partially disabled Americans. Neither is there any support for erecting a wall in the Pacific Ocean to keep others out. A Filipina who helps take care of my wife points out that it is much easier for Mexicans than for Filipinos to enter the United States. All the Mexicans have to do is walk. Filipinos have to have enough money for airplane tickets. Thus, on the average, they are much better educated than the Mexicans and other Central Americans who sneak in illegally.

Immigration is a very divisive issue for Republicans. At present it isn’t for Democrats. However African-Americans, are becoming restive about Central Americans who seem to be replacing native Blacks in many low-paying jobs. African-Americans have been the most loyal members of the Democratic coalition, with 95 percent of them voting for the Party’s candidates. Republicans may try to exploit this dissatisfaction, this perception that brown-skinned Central Americans are underbidding Black Americans for the low-paying grunt work in our society. If they succeed, or even if they try and don’t quite succeed, immigration will become a divisive issue for both Parties.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


How Stubborn these Conservatives Are

In the Los Angeles Times for Thursday, April 20, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg writes an article belittling Al Gore's recent campaign to alert the American Public to the reality and danger of global warming. Goldberg's column contains the usual put-downs and denigration of environmental scaremongers.

Now, there has been a question, even among reputable climate scientists as to why global warming hasn't been more pronounced, considering the increasing amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO-2) that we humans have been putting into our atmosphere. Conservatives (or some of them, at least) have seized on this question to express doubt and scorn on the whole concept of human activity having any effect on the climate. Then, Tuesday night, April 18, PBS stations broadcast an episode of the program NOVA that dealt with the effect of particulate pollution in reducing the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth. "Dimming the Sun" was the name of the program.

Well, "dimming the sun" provides the answer to the puzzle. Two effects of human activity have been having opposing effects on the earth's temperature. For more details, go to Google and type in the phrase "dimming the sun" to see links to various articles. If Jonah Goldberg has seen the NOVA program or has seen any of the relevant articles, he's in denial. He's a stubborn man.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


About Faith, Religion, Religiosity

I've been reading a lot about religion lately. In the current issue of the New Yorker there is an article about a split in the Episcopal church because of the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. It seems that there are a lot of people who think that the concept of a gay bishop is something new and horrible. There have been thousands of bishops consecrated since the beginning of the Christian church. I wonder how many of them were gay. I know that in the Catholic or Roman branch of the church there was at least one gay cardinal during the last century. He was a social friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

I was an enthusiastic "high-church" Episcopalian about sixty years ago. After a while, especially after I was married, my earlier religious beliefs returned and I dropped out. I still attend church services occasionally. Lately I've attended a few Catholic services. We have a care-giver for my wife. The care-giver is a devout Roman Catholic and occasionally succeeds in persuading my wife and me to attend a service in that church.

A few weeks ago I attended Sunday services in a near-by Episcopal church. I was rather disappointed that the liturgy had changed from what I was familiar with sixty years ago. The beautiful Shakespearean language of Archbishop Laud has been put away and the liturgy is now recited in 20th century English. In addition, the Episcopalians in that church, at least, have done something with the Lord's Prayer that I have not yet become comfortable with. You may know that the traditional form of the prayer, the one I learned in Methodist Sunday school as a child, contains the words "trespass" and "trespasses:"

...Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us...

Some Christian Protestant denominations have substituted "debts" and "debtors" in place of trespasses. The Catholics still say "trespasses." The Episcopalians in the church I attended used the words "sins" and "sinned against us." I am bothered by the use of the word "sin" as a replacement of "trespass." To me, a trespass may be a sin or it may be a mistake. In either case, one must do somelthing to atone for or correct the action. Even an innocent mistake can cause harm or grief to another person. At the very least, an apology is called for. Committing a sin is a much more serious matter than a mere trespass, although sins are a form of trespass.

I didn't phrase that idea very well. A trespass could be a simple mistake, a mistake caused by carelessness or arrogance, a social blunder, harm from a serious accident, or a sin. A sin is a deliberate act, a defiance or a separation of oneself from moral and ethical behavior, a deliberate violation of one of the commandments of one's religion. The word "sin" is derived from the word "sunder," and denotes the "separation" or "sundering" of oneself from the community, especially by committing an act that is wrong or harmful to the community. "Trespass," on the other hand, means "pass across" some territory or space that belongs to another person. One can trespass by intruding on another.

I meet once a month with other men who also have retired from the company I worked for before retirement. In one of our meetings, two or three of us compared our religious beliefs. We agreed that there probably is a God, but we also agreed that He doesn't go out of his way to perform miracles in response to prayers of the faithful. I am skeptical of the miraculous events that one has to believe if one is to be considered a devout Christian, Muslim, or Jew. Along with Thomas Jefferson I believe that Jesus lived, taught, and died. I don't believe he rose from the dead. Am I a Christian? I was baptized and confirmed as one. If baptism is the test, then I am a Christian. We know or believe that baptism was practised before Jesus became a teacher. The originator of that practice, St. John the Baptist, is remembered on June 24.

I've been thinking a lot about the purposes or usefulness of religion in our lives. Religion serves at least two purposes: achieving public morality and providing personal comfort. Public morality is served by a set of rules or examples of moral behavior. The teaching of Jesus and other great religious leaders provide these rules and examples. I try to follow the rules and live up to the examples. I don't always succeed.

Personal comfort is served by encouraging the individual to seek forgiveness for his various trespasses (errors, social blunders, crimes, etc.) and by provide solace for the guilty. It is also served by a promise of a better life or better existence for the individual after this life is finished. Good Christians and Good Muslims go to heaven. Good Buddhists achieve nirvana. Personal comfort is also achieved by teaching the faithful that bad behavior will be punished in the after-life. Bad Christians and Bad Muslims go to hell. Bad Buddhists are reborn as insects, and have to endure several deaths and rebirths before they again achieve human form.

These promises of rewards and punishments can not be verified by any argument outside the bounds of the particular religion that teaches them. On the other hand, the value of the moral teachings can be challenged and validated by arguments completely separate from any religious teaching. It is self-evident that it is good for our species if we behave decently to each other. A simple rule is for each of us to imagine ourselves in the place of another. How would we wish to be treated? Then, we should treat others as we would wish them to treat us. That particular rule is more ancient than any existing historical religion. It is as old as human society itself.

I admit to having many prejudices and cranky opinions. Some religious people bother me in that they do not follow the "public morality" aspect of religion. To them, it is necessary and sufficient that they have "faith." They emphasize the "personal comfort" aspect of religion and neglect the other. "Good works" are not necessary; only deep abiding faith counts. Too often that "faith" embraces some of the worst prejudices I can imagine. For example, one American cleric believes (or at least says) that such disasters as Hurricane Katrina and the terrorists' destruction of the World Trade Center and damage to the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 are examples of God's punishment of a faithless and sinful people.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Government is More Efficient than Private Charities

The title is a statement that goes against the grain of every “conservative” I know. They all think that government – any government, federal, state, local, municipal – is naturally less efficient than a private, non-profit charity.

I don’t know from direct experience how efficient private charities are at delivering services. I’ve read that some of them are pretty good and nimble at responding to emergencies. My experience is with the fund-raising ability of private charities against that of government. I receive periodically solicitations for money from the Alzheimer’s Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Association, the Christopher Reeve Foundation, Doctors without Borders, Paralyzed American Veterans, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, St. Labre’s Indian School, St. Joseph’s Indian School, and other. Their fund-raising costs must be greater than the cost of raising money for Social Security or Medicare. There’s postage on the letters they send me. There’s the cost of the little gifts they send as rewards for my past donations or inducements for future gifts. The address labels, the greeting cards, the ball-point pens, and other gifts must cost them a good fraction of the money they are able to get from me. I have read that the cost of fund raising for such organizations can be anywhere from ten to forty percent of the money raised. The most efficient fund raising operations are those that do not provide gifts to donors.

Compare this with Social Security and Medicare. I have never received a gift from either organization (aside from the monthly pension from Social Security and the health insurance from Medicare). They are very efficient at raising money. On the other side, my experience with Social Security and Medicare is that they are very effective in delivering services. I admit that, before I joined an HMO and had to keep track of both my co-payments and Medicare payments to my doctor, Medicare did require some accounting skill on my part and usually took a couple of months to provide payments to the doctor.

I still assert that Social Security is more efficient at both collecting revenue and providing services than many private charities. So, take that, all of you conservatives.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Moussaoui Trial

The feelings of survivors and relatives of victims of the destructive acts of 9/11/2001 are being taken into account to determine the punishment of Mr. Moussaui. Mr. Moussaoui has confessed to being part of the ring that was responsible for flying airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He has bragged that he was to have been flown a plane into the White House. There is a question as to whether he was the "20th hijacker" who didn't make it to one of the four hijacked planes. The man apparently seeks death, as did the nineteen hijeckers who succeeded in taking over control of the airplanes.

I am bothered by the deference given to the survivors and relatives of victims. If their feelings are to be one of the grounds for determining Mr. Moussaoui's punishment, then the trial will be about revenge for the deaths of the victims. I was led to believe many years ago that our "civilized" system of criminal justice evolved centuries ago to replace a system of vengeance killings and resulting blood feuds between different tribes. The sentence of a convicted criminal criminal should be based on the following criteria and not on vengeance to appease the victims or relatives of victims of the crime:

  1. Protection of society. The convict may be a serial criminal and locking him up will protect society from any crimes he might otherwise commit.
  2. Rehabilitation. The convict is made to learn new ways of earning a living and of behaving toward other humans so that he or she will not continue to commit crimes after release from prison.
  3. Example to others, as a deterrent. The convict is given a sentence in proportion to the gravity of the crime to show other potential criminals what awaits them if they commit similar crimes.

These are three reasons for having punishments for criminals. Vengeance or closure for victims and survivors are not among them. The extreme emotion of the spouse of a murder victim should not be a basis for the punishment assigned to the murderer. Otherwise murderers who prey on homeless people or other victims without relatives or friends to express anger at the act would get lighter sentences than those who murder public figures or persons with many relatives and friends.

At least, that's what I believe.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Hatred of Immigrants

A fair-sized fraction of the public hates immigrants, particuarly illegal immigrants from Mexico. These immigrants are blamed for the shortage of such services as good public schools and free health clinics. I can remember a time, many years ago, when Los Angeles County maintained a system of free health clinics. My wife and I used to go to one to obtain our annual flu shots. Most of the people at the clinic we attended were young women with children. The women were mostly latinas. I expect that most of the people who used the clinic didn't have the money to pay a doctor for similar services.

In those days also, California had good public schools. Our public schools were as good as any in the nation.

Today, as a result of the "taxpayer revolt" of the 1970's and 1980's, the County of Los Angeles no longer supports free health clinics. In fact, some hospitals in the county are closing their emergency rooms because of lack of money to run them. Furthermore, our public schools are poorly funded, down near the bottom of the list along with Mississippi. Unfortunately, wage scales and the cost of housing are much higher here than in Mississippi. Allowing for the difference in the cost of living between California and Mississippi, I'd say that our schools are even less amply funded than those of Mississippi.

How does all of this relate to illegal immigrants? Simply this: many people blame the illegal immigrants for putting an unacceptable strain on our schools and our medical facilities. Many people, both in and out of Congress, advocate denying illegal immigrants and their children the use of schools and hospital emergency rooms. The argument is made that if they were denied these facilities, they would choose to return to Mexico (or whatever other country they came from).

My point: Illegal immigrants are not the cause of public schools being overcrowded and underfunded. Illegal immigrants are not the cause of the closure of many hospital emergency rooms. These events are the result of the taxpayer revolt, not a wave of immigration.

Howard Jarvis explained the strategy behind the taxpayer revolt. It was simply to deny government at any level the money to provide all the unnecessary services for the public. Jarvis argued, for example, that libraries should be private and users should pay for using them. So also hospitals. The goal of Jarvis and his followers was to "shrink" government. We have Howard Jarvis to thank for our underfunded public schools, for hospitals having to close emergency rooms, for an understaffed police force, and others. Let us put the blame where it belongs, not on immigrants.

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