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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ELFish Doings

It is probably impossible for a sane person to figure out why "environmentalists" wanted to blow up a Forest Services lab working on the genetics of conifers. But they did. One has already pled guilty and will testify against the other two:
One of three people accused of plotting to blow up a U.S. Forest Service genetics lab and other targets pleaded guilty to conspiracy, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
The three were arrested Jan. 13 as they allegedly bought bomb-making materials at a Kmart in Auburn, east of Sacramento.
Three days before their arrests, the three are alleged to have scouted the Nimbus Dam and nearby fish hatchery on the American River near Sacramento, and the Forest Service's Institute of Forest Genetics near Placerville, in the foothills east of Sacramento.

The three planned to act in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, a shadowy group of environmental activists, investigators said. However, the FBI infiltrated the group with an undercover informant.aid.
Maybe they really wanted to blow up the dam that was strangling Gaia's tears or something like that. I just couldn't see why anyone would think the genetics lab was worthy of destruction. In some confusion, I sought an answer at DU:
1. Do these morons actually think they're helping their cause? Nobody likes a terrorist.
(Are you sure? Galloway sure likes 'em.)
2. Bomb materials from Kmart? From the Martha Stewart collection?
(You've got to stock those hard-to-find items if you want your customers to keep coming back!....)
6. they think they're saving the earth and ANY genetic engineering is a target, real or symbolic. these kids are 20 years old - they DON'T understand the science. would they bomb Gregor Mendel's monastery?

ELF i have less problems with. Hummer dealerships are uncool, no gray areas.
to call this 'Terror', though, demeans terrorism.
Hmm. This one seems to have the answer.... and seems to think that they should have blown up a Hummer dealership instead. Sorry for the demeaning insult to terrorism, man.

There are some very interesting folks at DU - no wonder they get so hysterical about the possibility of NSA picking up calls they make to overseas terrorists.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Complacency And Other Matters

A historical retrospective from the Blorg - Harry Reid's immigration bill of 1993. It makes you want to google recent Reid statements, doesn't it? He has a blog.

We must not neglect Tommy of Striving for Average's interview with Reid. More seriously, Tommy has only one request for immigration reform:
The only thing I really care about in all of this is knowing who’s here and having a system in place to make sure we always know who’s here. ... But we do the birth certificate, death certificate, SSN and immunization records on our own citizens and we should do at least as much on everybody else.
When you starting thinking about how to accomplish Tommy's goal, you realize that reaching it has logical prerequisites. Interestingly, neither the Senate or the House bill comes close to meeting those prerequisites.

Dust My Broom covers more riots in France. So what's new, you ask? That's one reason not to reward riots with handouts - such a strategy generates more riots.

Continuing the "So What's New?" theme, a man was roaming the streets of Key West dressed as a woman. He would approach tourists, flip up the skirt and expose himself, whereupon the tourists would take pictures. So far this sounds like a pretty normal day in Key West. But this guy was reported by a waitress for threatening a massacre, and when police caught up with him he had a flare gun. It sounds like the tourists were lousy tippers or made rude comments about his manly endowments. I guess he wanted to go out with a bang....

Shrinkwrapped's post about the paradoxes inherent in the war on terror is interesting, especially his warning against complacent hubris. It also provoked several extremely worthwhile comments about datamining and the call-mapping program. I heartily recommend the whole thing.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred provoked a commenter with his post about the problems reform-minded Muslims face. I thought it was a good post:
The issue various reformists face is the kind of reform they will embrace. How their faith emerges from that free fall will be determined by the efforts of those who seek to not allow the politically generated Islam or radical Islam, to define their faith.

Reformists living in the west have their work cut out for them, because their frame of reference is very different from most reformists that are found in the Arab or Muslim world.

To begin with, they have to deal with many realities, all at once. They must address not only a radical Islam (that is remarkably well funded and influential), but also, they must address the regimes that that have for decades, proven themselves to be some of the most repressive and duplicitous regimes in the world.
Cultures, religions and societies are measured by what they build and what they contribute. They are not measured by what they destroy or by who theythreaten or by who they hate. In the comparison of cultures, moral equality is not drawn by measuring the lowest of shared failures or values, but rather, moral equality is drawn by the how much of the highest values are shared.
His commenter began with:
If terrorism or atrocity or “cruel regimes” could be measured just by body count, then we should consider the US as way ahead in cruelty.

Innocent Lives Lost in the “War on Terror”: (Round Numbers)
Because of Al-Qaeda: 6500?
Because of the United States: 50,000? At least?

The fact that the United States is vehemently hatred across many continents should not be discounted or overlooked. Nor that the United States holds no moral high ground and has resorted to despicable methods against others and their own civilians.

I am all for “Muslim” Countries living up to Islamic ideals, but we have to see if the problem lies solely with these countries, if Islam somehow drives the problem and actually needs some kind of reform (which I would call a major scapegoat), or if, in fact, there are other forces at work driving and exacerbating the difficulties which are already pressing down on these countries.
Yeah, you guessed it. It's Bush's fault. I'm not sure many of our cultural divisions can be bridged.

I started listening to Hannity on the radio on the drive home a month ago because The Anchoress made a comment about his "yappy Irish voice". Today a woman called into his show and said that Bush should never have invaded Iraq, because we believed Iraq had WMDs, and therefore provoking Iraq put US soldiers and citizens at risk. She included the words "Well, duh".

Aside from my amazement about the idea that our soldiers would normally not be at risk in a war (they are even in peacetime - it's a dangerous profession!), I was mesmerized by the irrationality of assuming that it is safe to allow a regime that had started two aggressive wars and had used WMDs against its own citizens to build up its WMD stocks under the theory that if we just wouldn't bother Iraq, Iraq would never use them. It's difficult even to summon up the wits to counter those who sincerely think that mass-murdering tyrants will not use WMDs if they have them or that the US is a much crueller country than Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

If I had been Hannity I would have asked her about her position on gun control, and whether she would want the police to come and remove the neighbor or the neighbor's guns if he had started threatening the neighbors while waving them. Well, duh.

Which brings me back to Shrinkwrapped's post on complacency and hubris, and the fact that people who are nutty are often very aggressive (even when wearing skirt and wandering the streets of Key West flashing tourists), and the reality that preaching hate and rage does generate hateful, wrathful actions, and the fact that rewarding bullies and rioters creates an incentive for others to riot and bully, and that a defacto open border policy is frankly insane at the moment.

At this point, I think those who do see a threat and those who don't see a threat are divided by a great epistemological gulf which cannot be filled in or bridged by compromises. This may be a point of divisiveness in our culture, but it's one that we will have to fight out using our votes. The majority will win, and if the majority does not believe there is a real problem, the next regime will ignore it.

I Had A Business Meeting Today...

The business meeting was chiefly conducted in a hayfield and was a model of efficiency. I feel sorry for northerners. Life can be so prissy amd sissy up there. There's nothing like pitching hay to cut the nonsense and clarify your mind.

Anyway, with hay-induced clarity I just wanted to make a couple of other comments about immigration. The people who come here should be treated well. They should bring their families and become citizens. They should not have extralegal status, be afraid to go to the police, be a target for cirme and exploitation or be "guestworkers". "Guestworkers" haven't worked out well for any nation.

For all of that to happen, we have to get control of illegal immigration, which is an immediate security threat but also a long-term threat to our stability. If we need the labor of these people, we have the obligation to let them become full participants in society. If we offer refuge, we should offer a real refuge from persecution and a real hope for a full life in this nation.

We cannot let the current situation continue. We also bear a collective responsibility for having let this happen. I am in favor of slapping huge fines on employers of illegal aliens - AND THAT INCLUDES HOUSEHOLDS EMPLOYING ILLEGALS. I am also in favor of grandfathering into legal residency most of them that are already here and can prove - really prove - that they have been here for several years, as long as their employers put up a bond and register them.

Then I am in favor of calling a total halt to any sort of legalization program offered to those who are here illegally. Anyone who cannot qualify and who does not have children born here should be deported. In a couple of years all this will settle out on its own.

There will be no problem with enforcement if we impose large fines on employers and offer a reward to those who report employers hiring illegal aliens. The fact that we have groups of people hanging around looking for day work in so many locations proves that we have an oversupply. Life as a day laborer in a foreign land without legal status and protection of law is not a hopeful life.

When Bankers Are Not Brilliant

This is lifted from a banking forum. An "ORE" or "Oreo" is Owned Real Estate (usually real estate that has been foreclosed upon):
We have an oreo that we want to sell. I will use hypothetical numbers.

It is on our books for $3000. The appraised value of the oreo is $5000. We have a customer that is willing to pay $7000 but needs us to lend him the money.

Can we lend more on a property (personal residence) to an individual than what the appraised value says it is worth?

The customer is actually going to be paying 31% more than the value of the property. Are there any regulations that would prohibit us from lending money on a residence that the loan is 31% greater than the appraised value?
Why is this person willing to pay more than appraised value? Were other potential buyers bidding, driving up the value?
There was no bidding. This person is already living in the house & had a contract with the individual that owed us (became an OREO). The person living in the home is willing to pay the remaining contract (which is greater than the OREO amount & appraised value) amount to own the home but they need to finance it.

In order to get the home out of OREO, we need to finance it. Problem is the remaining contract amount is greater than the appraised value.

We (bank) have two choices, actually three.
Proceed with auction, inwhich the person living there may not get it.
Be kind & lower the selling cost to the person living there which would cover the OREO price.
Be business-minded & sell it to the person living there for the remaining price of the contract to make a good profit.
There are multiple issues with what they are considering doing, but the rule for you should be "Caveat Emptor". I thought this one provided a little generally useful perspective.

Real Estate: The Wall Of Silence Is Broken

Reality is beginning to penetrate the world of real estate, and maybe it's a good thing. Those who have been anticipating a "soft landing" in the housing market have been greatly overestimating the risk of inflation and therefore the need to raise interest rates.

Several current articles discuss the reality of real estate in a way of which NAR would not approve. The current situation is that real estate values in many areas have fallen 10% or more, but that at least another 5% is in the works from the funny-money loans that were made. With foreclosures escalating around the country, that much is certain.

The formula to use is that prices will drop by 1/2 of the current price decrease in your area in the next year. That's a floor, not a cap. So if same house sale prices have already dropped 20% in your area, then you can count on real prices being down 30% before prices can possibly rise again. If they have dropped 8%, then you can count on 12%. If they are rising, then the effect will be to curtail prices. However if they are rising and more than 40% of the borrowers are using adjustable-rate, exotic or funny-money(low-doc, no-doc) loans to buy, you are more likely to see price reductions within two years. This appears to be the rule across most of the US, so be very wary about purchasing now. If you can't afford to buy using a fixed-rate mortgage, don't.

Barron's is uncommonly realistic:
"If you want to sell, you've got to go back to '04 prices," says Chip Harris of Coldwell Banker Previews International, which is handling the property.
Though the official figures on sales prices have yet to reflect the current round of cuts, interviews with real- estate pros and others strongly suggest that the averages are deteriorating in a number of key markets.
For starters, many second homes have been sold not to serious vacationers but to speculative investors hoping to cash on the national real-estate craze. How else to explain why six out of 10 second-home owners surveyed by the Realtors group own two or more homes in addition to their main residences?
The Barron's article has a chart of National City's overvaluation estimates that will sober you up quickly, and lists examples of significant prices cuts.

Another article that pulls no punches is the Herald-Tribune's look at the Florida market:
If a consumer compares what a given home would sell for during the market's hey-days in 2004 and early 2005 to now, they would likely see declines ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent, and in some cases even more.
That's true in many hot markets. In markets with less investor participation, prices seem to have dropped 8-12% on average. What's really bad about this is that we have not yet seen much impact from the huge rise in funny-money and exotic loans since 2002. Here is what one insider posted about those on the Inman blog:
Here's my two cents (and this is coming from a mortgage loan officer):

When you get people working on commission who don't get paid if they don't close loans, and you start giving them loan programs that are easily abused to allow a purchase to proceed in nearly ANY situation, you are setting everyone up for disaster.

There are a lot of wholesale lenders these days that have incredibly stupid loan programs available that are intended to take advantage of incredibly stupid/uninformed borrowers who are obsessed with owning a home.

I'm talking about negative amortization loan programs that require no income verification and allow the borrower to qualify for the loan based on the negatively-amortized payments, and they need not bring a downpayment.

I'm talking about loan programs that require no asset verification.

I spoke with the FBI the other day to see what they were doing about fraudulent income disclosure on stated income loan programs (those are the kind where you don't document income). The response I got was astonishing:

"Well, we know about those programs, but they're really only available to people with good credit who are less willing to commit fraud".

The guy was stunned to find out that people with total garbage for credit history can get one of these loans.

In a lot of areas in Florida and California, housing prices are so out of line with levels of income that NOBODY can afford a traditional loan on their wages, so they do these programs that allow them and their mortgage broker to lie about their income.

What's the result?

Housing prices inflate past the point they should have. Where appreciation should have stopped when nobody could afford the prices, it instead continued because people are simply lying about their income just to make the deal fly.

Mortgage brokers, Realtors, consumers - they're all to blame. The funny part is that there's no end in sight. The FBI is clueless (mortgage fraud is a federal crime, so it falls in their jurisdiction), and banks couldn't care less because they're making money on the loans by trading them on the secondary market. As long as they write the loan and get it traded before the person starts making late payments and going into foreclosure, the original lender couldn't care less.
We are in a decidedly unvirtuous cycle with regard to most real estate markets in the US, and you can expect significant further declines in the market. Banks are exposed to losses, because they do hold many non-conforming mortgages, and in addition they hold many home improvement/home equity/HELOC/purchase piggyback loans. The majority of these are last-dollar loans, which means that the bank is last in securitization, and that if the borrower defaults, those holding the primary mortgages will get paid first. The bank will get what is left over, and in some cases that won't be anything.

The impact that this will have on the economy is unknown, but the combined effects of the end of the housing ATM and bank losses are going to exert an strongly contractionary force on consumer spending and banks' willingness to lend. If the Fed keeps raising rates it is running the risk of causing a very significant financial shock.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Indonesia Earthquake, Bird Flu And Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps is on the ground in Indonesia assessing needs after the Indonesian quake. On their website they say that at least 150,000 people are homeless, but on the phone they said 200,000. I would like to urge you to make a donation if you can.

The Indonesian quake comes at a dangerous time. The last thing we all need is for Indonesians to be in large camps; bird flu is probably passing human to human through toilet facilities there (The virus is known to infect the intestinal tract, and is found in an abnormal range of body tissues and fluids, and to make things worse, there are a large number of clusters of human cases in Indonesia. Most of the cases are occurring in clusters.). An emerging virus + natural disaster is a very, very bad combination.

Nor do we have anything to counter it with. The DoD stockpiled vaccine was based on a clade (strain)1 virus, and the virus spreading through Indonesia and the world now is clade 2. As the DoD itself admits, human antibodies produced to clade 1 vaccine don't seem to react to the clade 2 virus. Furthermore, mutations in the virus that make it better at binding to human receptors have been observed multiple times in human cases already! Get it? With only a few hundred cases, the virus has already been proven to have mutated for human infectiveness more than once. Hong Kong and Turkey both had the same mutation. The clock is really ticking on this one. Yesterday WHO confirmed five more human cases in Indonesia.

This is one of those times when the mandates of faith and science and self-interest and humanitarianism obviously coincide. A donation to Mercy Corps will move needed supplies directly and rapidly to the people of Indonesia in the affected area. How strongly do I believe that this is urgent? Between the vets and the quake, my net take-home pay this week is going to be under twelve dollars. I'm not telling you to go to that extent, but you probably can afford something.

If you are living a charmed life now (it won't last forever, so enjoy it while you can. Sooner or later people in your family will start dying and life will have you in its jaws), an excellent reason to give to those in misfortune is that it forces you to come to grips with broader realities and developing a broader perspective. Build your life on rock, because someday you will need that firm foundation.

(It feels wonderful, btw. I cannot believe how wonderful it feels to be giving away money I earned. Due, in part, to a dedicated avoidance of the principles of femininist epistomology and the Seattle Public School system and a dedicated adherence to principles like these and the ones that these women stand for, I am once again a contributor to society. I feel like going out and doing cartwheels.)

Decoration Day, Today

Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day - the day on which the graves of those fallen in war were decorated to show that they were not forgotten. When I went to school they taught the history of Memorial Day. I doubt they do now.

We had parades, we bought poppies, and schools were often involved in going to the local cemetaries and decorating the graves of veterans. I doubt they do now.

Regardless of what your community does, there are many ways for you to remember those who have given everything, and one of them is to donate to a veterans' organization. These organizations look after the disabled and the families of the fallen. What ground in to me as a child that remembering the fallen was not an option but a duty was that my mother always donated to the Paralyzed Veterans of America even when money was tight. That reflection makes the memory of the taste of powdered milk a little sweeter.... After my father died my mother worked as a volunteer in a veterans hospital.

There is a list of veterans' organizations up at the VA. They do great work to assist the families, the retirees and the children of veterans. This often includes scholarship programs for the children of vets. Our own blogging angel, Holly Aho, has links and helpful information about supporting the soldiers and families of today through the Soldiers Angels organization.

I cannot believe how the military is so ignored, spurned and abused today. Our media won't even print information about Medal of Honor winners in Iraq. Why don't we know the name of Paul Ray Smith, who died for his country and left Jessica and David, his children, and Birgit, his wife, behind?

Oh, if Kerry runs again we'll read and hear a million times about his Silver Star, but we'll never hear about the heroes of today! The obligatory mention of McCain's ordeal will be everywhere, but we won't hear a word about what soldiers are enduring today! All too often these heroes are dead heroes, and all too often they have families and children who are left with nothing but a memory. How painful it is to see that memory disregarded!

Why are we afraid to remember? Tigerhawk was guestblogging at Villainous Company and wrote something that rang true for me in a post about the media's refusal to recognize the achievements of military heroes:
The question is, what is its cause? Surely some of it derives from the national obsession with victimization that pervades press coverage generally. I do not understand why any fifth tier pseudo-celebrity can attract the attention of the mainstream media by claiming that he was abused as a child, but I assume it is because a large proportion of Americans are fascinated by it. Whether this is because they, too, have been victimized -- at least in their own minds -- or the reverse -- that they feel that they are giving "penance" for their great luck to be living in this amazing country at this prosperous and exciting time -- I do not know.

There is something deeper, though. I think we resent the all-volunteer military. It is a constant rebuke to those of us who might have done more for our country, but decided not to. When the heroes are draftees, we can honor them for having risen above the misfortune of their low draft number. They lost the lottery, and still they thrived. The draftee is not different from us in the choices he made, he simply made the most of his bad fortune. We imagine we might have risen to the same challenge.

When our soldiers are volunteers, however, many of us are both mystified by the decision that they made and embarrassed that we did not make the same decision. We are ashamed by their heroism, because it reminds us of our own self-indulgence. We then compound the insult by not recognizing our own weakness and honoring the heroes in spite of it.
So remember what this day is about and observe it as it is meant to be observed. (And yes, Mom, I did pay up today. Because I owe them:)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

"Guest Workers" Are Destroying The US

Last year I wrote that the biggest single issue in the 2006 elections would be immigration, and the reason is that unskilled, illegal immigrants are destroying the social fabric of this nation. This is the single issue that impacts the lives of the poorest third of our nation.

In general, I am in favor of immigration. In general, I like the immigrants who are coming here from South and Central America. They are good people. But things have reached a tipping point. Many of the people coming here aren't coming here to live. They wouldn't bring their families here even if they could, because they don't earn enough to support them here. They are coming here just to work, and they send the bulk of their wages back home to support their families. They could not support their families on their wages if their families lived here. That's the problem.

That is why Chief No-Nag, who is an immigrant from Central America, who began life as a Indian peasant, whose village experienced a massacre during WWII, who carried a 50-lb bag of rotten corn on his back 50 miles when he was sixteen in order to save his family in a famine, who got schooling in Central America and rose into the upper middle-class in Central America, who left that and came to this country legally for a life in a just society, who became a naturalized citizen, who went to college here, became a scientist, and holds patents - that's why Chief No-Nag describes the Senate bill as "sickening", "an attempt to generate slave-labor", "insane" and "unjust" and "unconstitutional". It isn't unconstitutional, of course, but "unconstitutional" is pretty much the most pejorative term of which he can perceive. To him "unconstitutional" means a violation of the basic rules of American society - a violation of those rules which have created American society.

You can't fool Chief No-Nag. He knows what he's reading. The reason he is here in the US is because of the just nature of our society, because he would be far better off in terms of lifestyle if he lived in Mexico or his native country. There he would be filthy rich. Here he's middle-class - but there he would be part of an unjust society, and here he feels he's part of something morally valuable. He looked up the numbers of Democrats and Republicans who voted for the Senate bill, and he told me with some relish that the support was majority Democrat. He pointed out that it proved what he has been saying about Democrats - that they are elitists, that they are trying to create a plantation stocked with serfs, that they want a servant class. He says their education policies are aimed at creating a helpless class of people to be captive voters.

Here's what Chief No-Nag knows. The fact is that if an American construction worker is competing to support his family with a construction worker with a family in Mexico, the American will never be able to support his family. Because of massive numbers of unskilled immigrants who aren't bringing their families to live here, millions of American families are sliding out of the lower middle class. That's the problem!

Those who support throwing open the doors to basically unskilled immigrants (guest workers) are destroying all fairness in our society. They are foolish beyond belief, and if they succeed they will turn the US into a stratified society with a caste and class system that is utterly antithetical to our culture.

I will not shut up about this: Real wages in the private sector for people who don't have advanced degrees are plummeting, especially in the private sector. Benefits are disappearing. The social costs of allowing this to happen are immense, and they include destruction of the private sector and the necessity to greatly increase government spending on the welfare of the poorer individuals in our society. The society that the Senate bill would produce is at best France, with all of its prejudice, inequities, violence, bias and social stratification.

Here's some data from the BLS. July 2004 wages by occupation and public/private sector.
Mean hourly earnings for all workers:
Public: $22.77
Private: $17.25 ($ 5.52 less)
Mean hourly earnings, white-collar:
Public: $25.73
Private: $21.53 ($ 4.20 less)
Mean hourly earnings, blue-collar:
Public: $17.59
Private: $15.34 ($ 2.25 less)
Breaking down blue-collar into its components -
Skilled Public: $20.05
Skilled Private: $19.41 ($0.64 less)
Semi-skilled industrial Public: $16.70
Semi-skilled industrial Private: $13.69 ($3.01 less)
Transportation & Materials Moving Public: $16.64
Transportation & Materials Moving Private: $14.83 ($1.81 less)
Unskilled Industrial Public: $14.45
Unskilled Industrial Private: $11.42 ($3.03 less)
Service Public: $17.06
Service Private: $9.12 ($7.94 less)
You will see a tremendous number of studies purporting to show that illegal immigration isn't forcing wages down. Every last one of them is ridiculously wrong, and defies all rules of demand and supply. Any occupation in which illegal immigrants are able to work in significant number is experiencing big wage drops. What the statistics show is historically unusual in the extreme.

Below I have reprinted testimony before Congress by Roy Beck of the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation. What he is saying is true:
Consequences of Large Guestworker Programs
Testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives
by Roy Beck, executive director NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation
March 24, 2004

Perhaps the first and most important question to ask about any proposed large-scale foreign guestworker program is what will be its effect on the nearly 15 million American workers who would like a full-time job but cannot find one.1 Just how much of a worker shortage can there be when so many Americans cannot find a fulltime job?

And the available pool of American workers is actually much larger than that 15 million figure which includes people who are actively looking or just recently gave up reporting to the unemployment office. Millions of other Americans who once were part of the workforce and who once were interested in remaining in it have dropped out of the labor force entirely.

As is often the case, the worst damage can be seen among African-American men. The Washington Post recently reported the astounding statistic that 40 percent of black men throughout America do not have a job.2 In New York City where the importation of foreign workers is at one of the highest rates in the nation, 50 percent of black men are no longer employed.3

The competition from the expanded guestworker force would be fiercest with the lower-skilled and lower-educated jobless American workers. But let it be noted that most of the expanded guestworker proposals now before Congress would open every American occupation up and down the economic ladder to competition from the global labor force.

Americans too qualified to do “essential” jobs?

One of the arguments for importing more foreign workers even with such high numbers of Americans out of the job market is that the labor shortages are in very low-skilled and low-paid occupations and that most of the jobless Americans are simply overqualified for those jobs.

But Alan Greenspan last month said America has an oversupply of low-skilled, low-educated workers.4 In fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the rolls of millions of unemployed Americans include a disproportionate number of workers who do not have a high school 2 diploma.5 Official unemployment rates for Americans without a diploma are nearly twice as high as for other Americans.

In other words, this country is awash in lower-educated American workers and no jobs. Yet, the primary purpose of these expanded guestworker proposals is to import low-educated, lowskilled foreign workers for jobs that require no more than low education and low skills.

Now, those jobs are not unimportant. These are jobs essential to Americans’ every day life. A group of businesses and others fighting for more foreign workers calls itself the “Essential Workers Coalition.” These ARE essential jobs. And it makes no sense to move our own essential American workers to the sideline while giving the jobs to foreign workers. While we may lament that so many American workers are poorly educated, it hardly seems fitting for Congress to punish those workers by giving away their jobs.

Who would be most hurt by expanded guestworker programs for “essential” jobs? We got a stark view late last month from a new report by the Urban Institute and the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Entitled “Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis,” the study concludes that barely half of the black, Hispanic and Native American youth who enter high school in this country earn a diploma.6 The rates for the three groups are nearly identical.

That report lets us know of the colossal failure throughout our society in engaging and properly educating these youth. Much needs to be done. Much has been attempted. But while the education establishment tries to figure out how to deal with these incredible drop-out rates, millions of young adults who did drop out of high school in the past need an opportunity to earn a living. Unfortunately, jobs for which a high-school drop-out are suited are being earmarked by leaders of both political parties for foreign guestworkers eager to underbid the price of

Adding further to the incongruity of all this talk about the need for lower-educated guestworkers is the President’s State of the Union call for assuring better job possibilities for inmates as they finish their prison sentences. The President said that some 600,000 inmates a year leave prison desperately needing a job to start a new kind of life. Most of them are qualified for the same kinds of “essential” jobs that all these pieces of guestworker legislation are designed to fill with foreign laborers.

But will Americans do jobs that are this hard and pay this little?

For 13 years as an author on these issues, I have done scores of radio shows and have consistently been told by callers identifying themselves as business owners that these jobless, lower-educated American workers are too lazy, too soft and too demanding to take these “essential” jobs. On NPR the other morning, I even heard a business owner say that his jobs were just too hard for Americans to do and paid too little.

Of course, we all know that is the secret ingredient in why we have so many Americans unemployed and yet so much talk of job shortages. As long as the federal government allows the importation and the illegal migration of almost two million foreign workers a year from countries that pay less than a tenth of our wages, “essential” jobs that don’t require much education will be priced at levels at which American workers cannot live in an American
lifestyle and will be offered with benefits and working conditions also unacceptable to Americans.3 Greatly expanding our present guestworker programs will ensure that those “essential” jobs never pay an American wage or offer American working conditions. That’s the way the free market operates.

Alan Greenspan in his speech to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce last month decried the inability of our lower-educated American workers to earn a dignified income. His solution was for great new investments to further educate them for better jobs. Members of this Congress responded in the news media by wondering where all that money was coming from.

But a better question is this: If we supposedly have large numbers of “essential” jobs desperately needing workers to fill them and not requiring high education, why don’t we fill those jobs with our own lower-educated workers? And if these jobs are so “essential” and so tough to do, shouldn’t the market be forced to raise wages to a level that can attract American workers to fill them? Why shouldn’t workers doing jobs that are “essential” to our economy and to our comfort be paid wages that allow them to raise their families in dignity? One answer is that many in this government do not want “essential” workers to earn middle-class wages. They are addicted to an economy that depends on poorly paid workers who must be subsidized by taxpayers.

For 40 years, this government has systematically gutted lower-middle-class occupations of their dignity, of their decent wages, of their safe working conditions and of their American benefits by flooding those occupations with foreign workers. We don’t have to wonder what expanded guestworker programs would do to American workers; we have a lot of recent history to show us quite explicitly.

Expanded foreign guestworkers programs would just add to the already long list of “Occupation Collapses” created by 40 years of radically increased mass immigration, illegal migration and guestworker programs.

“Occupation Collapse” has long U.S. history tied to high immigration “Occupation Collapse” has been one of the gravest blows and continuing threats to America’s working class households over the last couple of decades.
By “Occupation Collapse,” I mean the process of wages plummeting, benefits disappearing and working conditions deteriorating in whole occupations.

The evidence of recent history and of 150 years of U.S. economic history suggests that the initiation of a large-scale foreign guestworker program would expand Occupation Collapse into as yet untouched localities and occupations – both unskilled and skilled – in our country. Many of the pressing social problems Congress is tackling recently are directly related to the collapse of whole occupations from middle-class and lower-middle-class incomes, benefits and working conditions into near-poverty and below-poverty wages.

Look at some of the issues the federal government is trying to resolve for large numbers of Americans: lack of health insurance, inadequate health care, over-crowded and substandard housing, poor education, neighborhoods torn by crime, overloaded jails and prisons. In every one of those problems, you will find a disproportionate population of households who are connected to collapsed occupations. These Americans simply can’t earn enough money to afford the goods and services that make for a life of dignity.

Why have these occupations collapsed? There have been many reasons. In some cases, the 4
collapse has happened only regionally; in others, nationally. But one of the most common ingredients is the large-scale entry of foreign workers into those occupations – through the million legal immigrants a year, through nearly that many illegal aliens settling each year and through a few hundred thousand guest workers each year. These add up to numbers that are six to eight times higher traditional levels in this country.

Americans are not nearly so much in need of more federal programs and assistance as they are in need of higher wages. Current high levels of legal and illegal immigration are a serious barrier to those higher wages. Adopting a program for hundreds of thousands or more guestworkers a year would almost guarantee falling wages, even with stringent safeguards attached.

To imagine what would happen to American jobs and workers under a new, greatly enlarged guestworker program, we can start by looking at what the great increase in foreign workers over the last couple of decades has already done. The primary effect of all forms of adding foreign workers to the domestic labor market has been to distort the way the free market sets the value of labor by legislatively increasing supply.

Examples of Occupational Collapse under the weight of heavy foreign-worker influx

By the 1970s, menial jobs such as janitorial work had become middle-class occupations in many cities. The overwhelming majority of American workers of all kinds were able to live at least modest middle-class lives. That was before the advent of our new governmental ethic that some jobs are just too low-class to deserve decent wages.

Cleaning office buildings was an essential task in this economy, and the economy rewarded many of those who did the task with livable wages and dignified working conditions. But a GAO study found that as federal policies allowed tens of thousands of foreign workers to enter those cities, their presence in the janitorial occupations led to a collapse of wages, benefits and working conditions.7

An especially dramatic example can be found in Miami where occupations began to collapse earlier due to earlier mass flows of foreign workers into the job market. Sociologists Guillermo Grenier and Alex Stepick found that before the 1970s, construction workers earned middleclass wages with middle-class benefits and lived middle-class lives. But the influx of foreign workers led to a series of changes that collapsed a large number of the construction jobs into little more than minimum-wage labor with few employee protections that had previously existed.8 By now, we can find construction occupational collapse in parts of nearly every state as foreign labor has swelled in local job markets.

Perhaps nowhere is the role of foreign labor importation in collapsing an occupation more vivid than the meatpacking industry. Numerous studies have detailed how jobs in this industry by the 1970s were high-middle-class industrial jobs with great safety protections and benefits that allowed the employees to raise families on one income, take vacations and send children to college (many of whom came back to work in the plants because of the high income).9 Today, after 25 years of pouring foreign workers into the occupation, nearly every journalist and politician commenting on these jobs calls them “jobs that Americans won’t do” because the pay is so low that taxpayers have to provide public assistance to many of them, and the accident rate is among the worst in the nation.

And in occupations that always were fairly poorly paid – such as poultry processing, farm 5 labor, hotel and restaurant work – the influx of large numbers of foreign workers has generally driven real wages downward even further.

One does not have to focus entirely on lower-skilled jobs to find Occupational Collapse. Under the combination of the dot.com bubble burst, overseas outsourcing and the presence of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, the information-technology occupation is indeed in the middle of a collapse. Besides having an extraordinarily high unemployment rate, America’s information-technology workers have seen their wages plummet, with large portions now working at two-thirds, one-half and even one-third their incomes a few years ago. Although their wages surely would have fallen some even without the various existing foreign guestworker

programs, adding around a million foreign workers over the last four years severely worsened the supply-demand ratio in the occupation.

Historical precedence for foreign workers collapsing wages

In his presidential address to the American Economic Association in 1955, Simon Kuznets laid out a theory about rising and falling income inequality in capitalist societies. Many economists since then have sought to quantify the factors that, in different countries and different decades, have depressed earnings for the lower working class while increasing the wealth of the affluent and skilled.

One renowned economist who has spent a career exploring these issues is Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard. Delivering the Kuznets Memorial Lecture at Harvard, Prof. Willison showed how economic inequality in America was greatest from 1820 to 1860 and from the 1890s until World War I. Those periods coincided with the two greatest waves of immigration prior to the present unprecedented wave.

According to Williamson, the occurrence of high immigration and high levels of economic inequality at the same time was not happenstance: immigration fosters income inequality. Despite having democratic institutions, abundant land, and a reputation as a workingman’s country, America during those periods of nineteenth-century immigration surges was a land of jarring inequality.

The economist Peter H. Lindert has noted in his writing that American inequality has lessened when immigration was curtailed. When World War I abruptly cut off most immigration to the United States, the huge gap between rich and poor closed incredibly fast: “Within three years’ time, pay gaps dropped from historic heights to their lowest level since before the Civil War.”10 But just as quickly, inequality grew as soon as mass immigration resumed after World War I, so that later in the 1920s, “income looked as unequal as ever,” Lindert said.

Once Congress curtailed immigration in 1924, the middle class grew again and inequities receded to historic low levels by the early 1950s. America finally had become a paradise for the common workingman and woman.

Lindert found it peculiar that America would have such a robust march toward middle-class equality during a period that included widely varying external events, such as the nation’s deepest depression, a sudden wartime recovery and moderate postwar growth: “This timing suggests that the explanation of this drop in inequality must go beyond any simple models that try to relate inequality to either the upswing or the downswing of the business cycle.”11

In the egalitarianism of the era after the 1924 curtailment of mass immigration, the economic bottom of society gained on the middle, and the middle gained on the top. The closing of the gap in wages had as much of an effect in enlarging the middle class as did all the transfer taxes 6 and programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s governmental activism combined, according to Lindert and Williamson.

Several factors caused the fluctuations in inequality during U.S. history. But the “central role” has been played by the change in labor supply, claims Lindert. The rise of powerful unions during that period also played an important role in moving larger and larger numbers of laborers into the middle class. But Lindert concluded that the unions were able to gain their power because low immigration and low population growth kept the size of the labor force smaller while the demand for labor remained high. Not surprisingly, unions have withered in workforce participation during the wave of mass immigration since 1965.

Contrary to superficial thinking, a tightened labor pool that forces employers to pay more for scarce labor does not necessarily hurt business nor the economy. It can be a great stimulator of a country’s creativity. The economist Harry T. Oshima has helpfully described the “virtuous circle” that occurs in an economy that is far different from our own very loose labor market with surpluses of workers.12 He has particularly studied the mid-1910s and the mid-1920s when immigration was seriously restricted. He notes that during that time, employers were forced to raise wages. That induced the employers to press for major advances in mechanization.

The resulting new technological applications of gasoline and electric machines made it possible to

mechanize enough unskilled operations and hand work to release many workers into more skilled jobs. Growth in output per worker hour was phenomenal. That made it possible to raise wages still further. Because of the increasing demand for skilled workers, American parents realized they would need to spend more money to help each child gain a better education. This contributed to lower birth rates, and thus to slower labor-force growth, and thus to tighter labor markets, and thus to higher wages, which pushed manufacturers to push the skill levels of their workers up even further. In this cycle of productivity and wage gains – each feeding on the other – the United States became a middle-class nation!

What we have had for three decades in this nation is the opposite of that economic “virtuous circle;” we have had the “vicious cycle.” The availability of larger and larger numbers of foreign workers has led employers to substitute labor for capital development and innovation. A key example is the atrophy in our agricultural industry which relies on incredibly low-wage labor instead of continuing its once global leadership in innovation and technology.

And, of course, the rising incomes of American workers during a “virtuous circle” economy drives consumer purchasing and business success. Fundamentally changing the economic and social structure of our society
At stake is whether the United States manages to remain a middle-class culture or becomes what I would call a “servant culture” more on the line of Europe or even third world nations – a path we are currently traversing. Europe is a continent that long has had a servant class. When it began to find it difficult to keep its nationals in those poorly paid servile roles, it imported foreign workers to “do the dirty work.”

In the United States, however, we long have been a culture in which most people live middleclass lives. People may have servants but they are expected to pay them wages that allow for at least lower middle-class conditions. If there was dirty work to do that the genteel didn’t care to do, the folks who did the dirty work tended to get paid a decent wage for their trouble. Witness the meatpacking industry jobs in all their disgusting sights, sounds, smells and squishiness before our immigration policy collapsed the occupation. The people who did that work got some of the best semi-skilled manufacturing wages in the country. 7

1 David Streitfeld, “Jobless Counts Skip Millions,” Los Angeles Times, 29 December 2003, A1.

2 David Finkel, “The Hard Road to A Paycheck,” Washington Post, 4 November 2003, A01.
3 Michael Powell, “In New York City, Fewer Find They Can Make It,” Washington Post, 14 March 2004, A01.
4 Nell Henderson, “Greenspan Calls for Better-Educated Workforce,” Washington Post, 21 February 2004,
5 Ibid.
6 Linda Perlstein, “Report Disputes U.S. High School Graduation Rates,” Washington Post, 26 February
2004, A03.
7 Government Accounting Office, Illegal Aliens: Influence of Illegal Workers on Wages and Working
Conditions of Legal Workers (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Accounting Office, March 1988).
8 Alex Stepick and Guillermo Grenier, “Brothers in Wood,” in Newcomers in the Workplace: Immigrants and
the Restructuring of the U.S. Economy, Louise Lamphere, Alex Stepick, and Guillermo Grenier, eds.
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), pp. 148-9, 161.
9 Roy Beck, “Jobs Americans Will Do” in The Case Against Immigration (New York/London: W. W. Norton
& Co., 1996) 100-135.
10 Peter H. Lindert, Fertility and Scarcity in America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977), p.
11 Ibid., p. 234.
12 Harry To. Oshima, “The Growth of U.S. Factor Productivity: The Significance of New Technologies in the
Early Decades of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Economic History, vol. 44 (March 1984).
But most of these expanded guestworker proposals would guarantee that whole occupations would be considered “foreigner work,” always paid below American standards with below American benefits and below American working conditions. Those Americans whose wages are not pulled below middle-class by the presence of the guestworkers would be able to revel in status found in so many countries in the world of having their own peasant class.
These massive guestworker programs are about assigning a certain portion of our economy to a new foreign peasant class. And inadvertently, they are about creating a much larger permanent underclass of American natives largely dependent upon taxpayers and ever-increasing government programs.

Earthquake Kills Thousands In Indonesia

It struck several hundred miles east of Jakarta, destroying buildings and causing fires. USGS. This AP story puts the current death toll at 2,500:
The magnitude 6.2 quake struck near the ancient city of Yogyakarta 250 miles east of the capital, Jakarta, around dawn as many people slept, causing death and damage in several nearby towns.
Nine hours after the quake struck, the number of dead stood at 2,517, said Direvan, an official in the Social Affairs Ministry's task force office, with two-thirds of the fatalities occurring in the devastated district of Bantul.

"The numbers just keep rising," said Arifin Muhadi of the Indonesian Red Cross, adding that nearly 2,900 people were hurt.
Indonesia will have a hard time coping with this, so donations to relief organizations would be a good idea. Reuters has more current and detailed information. This is very close to Mount Merapi, which seemed to become more active after the quake.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It Ain't Over Until The Fat Kennedy Sings

See below for more, but this Washington Times article about the Senate immigration bill is easier to read and does provide specifics. The conclusion is a rare, rare exercise in truthtelling:
The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. We have had several amnesties since the big amnesty in 1986. The results have been an exponential increase in illegal immigration, burdening the taxpayer, crowding the schools, closing emergency rooms and providing a third of the prisoners in the federal prison system. The Senate bill, which would change the status of 15 million to 20 million from illegal to legal, is just "deja vu all over again."

I know why Teddy Kennedy and his ilk want a bill that would bring in an estimated 60 million to 100 million people over the next 20 years: It is a ready source of new Democratic voters. Unskilled immigrants depend more on government services than they pay in, making them a natural Democrat constituency. On the other side of the equation, Republicans are beholden to the big-business, country club lobby. Their need for cheap labor trumps the need for strong enforcement and border control.

Middle-class Americans will be bowed and broken under this burden being piled on their shoulders.
The country is being told to bend over and take it. I say this is not over, and the political elites will reap what they sow. It's time to let your voice be heard. I am in favor of immigration in general, but the Senate bill, which I will read this weekend, appears to be a purely political exercise of stupidity and short-sightedness. We need to get rid of half of the people in Congress, and unfortunately voting for neither party will be the solution. The idiots are doing their level best to reenact the Great Depression, secure in the knowledge that the rich always get richer and that government employees will not suffer the fate of the private sector.

This bill should not have passed the Senate. This is one of those tipping points that cannot be ignored.

Friday's Fools And Follies

NOTE: Scroll down for something that will have you grinding your teeth. According to one senator, the Senate's immigration bill makes it far more advantageous for an employer to hire illegals than for an employer to hire American citizens. For one thing, the employer gets tax amnesty for withholding taxes.

The life of a criminal defense lawyer is not always an easy one.This one got slapped, and this one got choked by their own clients in the courtroom:
Jacobson, whose eyes were focused elsewhere, backhanded his attorney without warning, said Undersheriff Neil McClanahan, who was in the courtroom because he had received a summons for jury duty in the case.

"Not only did you see it, you heard it," McClanahan said.
The case against Jacobson stems from a reported attack on two guards while he was incarcerated at Maple Lane School, a state institution for juvenile delinquents.
The judge in this case declared a mistrial. I'm not sure that's a good idea - this punching out your attorney to delay matters might become a well-known strategy in prisons. I think the rule should be that if you attack your own attorney in the courtroom in front of the jury, the jury stays and you go.

Senator Jeff Sessions does not like the Senate's immigration bill. Minor technical details such as an estimate that it will cost $500 billion in additional welfare (EIC, etc) costs over ten years, special rights for immigrant workers (that's right - they'd have more rights under this law than an American citizen) have him irate. Read it and contemplate matters. Sessions is particularly steamed by the way these and similar provisions were written into the bill. It's amazing what you discover when you actually read the legislation upon which you are voting:
So all the big print, “temporary guest workers,” “temporary guest worker task force,” and then you read in that section down there that it effectively converts them from temporary workers to legal permanent residents, granting them a green card.
Under the AgJOBS component of the substitute, illegal alien agricultural workers who have worked 150 “workdays” in agriculture over the last 2 years will receive a “blue card,” allowing them to live and work permanently in the U.S. However, because current law defines an agricultural “workday” as 1 hour of work per day—the bill language restates that definition on page 397—an alien who has worked for as little as 150 hours—there are 168 hours in a week—in agriculture over the last 2 years will qualify for a blue card.
No alien granted blue card status may be terminated from employment by any employer during the period of blue card status except for just cause.

Because blue card aliens are not limited to working in agriculture, this employment requirement will follow the alien at their second and third jobs as well.
The AgJOBS amendment specifically states that recipients of “funds under the Legal Services Corporation Act” shall not be prevented “from providing legal assistance directly related to an application for adjustment of status under this section.” Interestingly, page 414 of the bill requires the alien to have an attorney file the application for him. Not only will AgJOBS give amnesty to 1.5 million illegal aliens, it would have the American taxpayer pay the legal bills of those illegal aliens.
The employment requirements are weak - only 1 day out of every 60. Furthermore an affidavit can be used as proof of employment. Illegal aliens would qualify for in-state college tuition rates. The future provisions for guest workers apply to illegal immigrants already in the US. The bill would fine federal agents who investigate the applications:
A Federal agent, trying to do his duty to enforce the law and investigate fraudulent information provided by an illegal alien in their amnesty application, for law enforcement purposes, what happens to them if they take the amnesty application and actually examine it and find out it is fraudulent? What do they do? The agent would be fined $10,000.
As Sessions says, this appears to be a way to allow people to file fraudulent applications as a matter of routine. Illegals who apply for amnesty are only required to pay back taxes for three out of five previous years, and they get to pick the years. Employers of illegal aliens are given tax amnesty on withholding taxes, which will favor the employer who hires illegals and will ensure that the employer gets the workers to file for immigration amnesty:
Employers of aliens applying for adjustment of status—amnesty—“shall not be subject to civil and criminal tax liability relating directly to the employment of such an alien.” That means a business that hired illegal workers does not have to pay the taxes they should have paid. Why? This encourages employers to violate our tax laws and not pay what they owe the Federal Government. They are excusing these employers and giving them amnesty from not withholding taxes. That is a very bad thing. Every American business knows they have to pay their withholding taxes.

What about two small businesses, one hiring illegal aliens not paying Social Security, not paying withholding to the Government, and paying some low wage, and another one across the street doing all the right things, hiring American citizens, perhaps paying higher wages and withholding money and sending his Social Security money to the Federal Government, what message does that send to the good guy, to give complete amnesty to the guy who has manipulated the system and gotten away perhaps with tens of thousands of dollars in benefits that his competitor did not get?
I leave you with that question.

Earlier I wrote on this topic that it was class warfare, and I stand by that statement. The elite in this country is bound and determined to work over the working class. They want cheap nannies, cheap houses and cheap labor and they don't care who they destroy in order to get it. If anything like this bill becomes law, Howard of Oraculations is correct that it will mean a revolution.

In most areas of this country, a roofer now makes no more per hour than he did when I was in high school - and I graduated in 1978. What does that tell you? In some areas, a roofer makes less. This is because the market has been flooded with cheap, often illegal workers. When I was in high school, a construction worker could buy a modest house. All that has changed, and proposals like these would cripple our country.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Congressional Royals And The NY Times

First, on the congressional royalty: Betsy Newmark has several succinct and pointed posts on the subject. I guess we now know what will produce bipartisanship in Washington - a threat to congress critters. This doesn't look good, and that is because it is very telling to anyone not mired in NY/DC groupthink.

Our senators and representatives were willing to play party politics with national security, with the borders, with wars, with Social Security and Medicare. They wouldn't sacrifice their little state slush funds in the wake of one of the worst disasters ever to hit this country. Suddenly we get a bipartisan consensus on the sacrosanct nature of the offices occupied by congressmen who take bribes? I think we should all draw the logical conclusion, email Bush and demand that the FBI investigate every last one of them. Those investigations should produce progress on many fronts.

Second, the NY Times has continued its slide into a willful, elitist irrelevancy with the slam article on Hillary Clinton's marriage. To the blithering remnants of a once-respectable news organization, I can only say "That's something the voters will decide, you idiots!" I won't link to the NY Times article, but I will link to David Broder's commentary on it, although it is far too kind to the NY Times.

Why did the NY Times send 50 reporters out to nose around to see who Bill may or may not be sleeping with? What, did they take a look at the Inquirer's circulation figures and develop a revenue-enhancing scheme? This reminds me of the attempt to nose around Roberts' adoption records, and is just as contemptible. Perhaps the Gangrenous Lady should considering assigning a few of those reporters to do a comprehensive, well-researched series about alternative energy technologies, or a survey of the public health and retirement strategies of other countries.... They could find something useful about which to research and write, but I suppose that would be a lot of work, whereas hanging in bars on expense accounts and gossiping is less mentally taxing.

I am not a Hillary supporter, but this was clearly not appropriate. That the Clinton marriage is somewhat atypical is already a matter of public record. Byron York brings up some more reasonable issues, but again, this is a matter for voters to decide. With dual-career families now the norm, voters will face the issue of the spouse's career and connections in other candidacies sooner or later. There is a reason we hold primaries - let that process work.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

First A Knife Amnesty, Next A Cricket Bat Amnesty?

Update: see end of post for an example of the problem with controlling the size of kitchen knives and letting violent offenders go back on the street.

A while back a commenter took issue with my objection to using foreign law as a basis for Supreme Court decisions, and suggested I was a Luddite. I'm not, but we are very different from European society and our laws should reflect that.

For example, take these two articles together. The first is an AP article about the move toward allowing "deadly force" in self-defense in the various states of the US:
A campaign by gun rights advocates to make it easier to use deadly force in self-defense is rapidly winning support across the country, as state after state makes it legal for people who feel their lives are in danger to shoot down an attacker -- whether in a car-jacking or just on the street.
At its core, they broaden self-defense by removing the requirement in most states that a person who is attacked has a "duty to retreat" before turning to deadly force. Many of the laws specify that people can use deadly force if they believe they are in danger in any place they have a legal right to be -- a parking lot, a street, a bar, a church. They also give immunity from criminal charges and civil liability.
It sounds good to me. The article is written with a great slant against such laws, but the truth is that they don't allow anyone to just walk up to someone and blast them, and the reason that these laws are getting support is that people do feel threatened and think they ought to have the right to fight back. As it stands now, if you kick the crap out of a 16 year-old who is trying to mug you and injure his back, the teenaged sociopath can take you to civil court, which will cost you a bundle even if he loses. That needs to end NOW.

The second is a Daily Record article about the UK knife amnesty:
A NATIONWIDE knife amnesty to end the carnage on our streets was launched yesterday.
Launching the amnesty for England and Wales, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: "Every weapon handed in will be a weapon that cannot be used in crime."
Last year in the UK the suggestion was made that kitchen knives sold in stores should be limited in size, to prevent them from being used in crimes. But what about cricket bats? Screwdrivers? Hatpins and chopsticks? Americans might be wondering why there are so many stabbings (quote from the article "At a time when knife crime is reaching almost epidemic proportions, an amnesty to get these lethal weapons off the streets is clearly a step in the right direction."):
Boyd said yesterday the Crown Office were also carrying out a major review of their policy on knife crime.

He added: "They will give careful consideration to prosecuting persistent and violent offenders, in a court empowered to send them to prison for the maximum period allowed by law."
If you read on, it appears that most such offenses are getting light punishment now. The suggestion is to increase the maximum time for use of a knife in a crime to four years - but I wonder how many times one would have to do it and how violent one would have to be to get the four year term? As you read on, you find out that the current laws are not being enforced in most such incidents.

(Update: Go here for the meat and pototoes, which was provided by SC&A out of the kindness of his heart - er - out of the kindness of their three dead hearts. There are other, even worse examples in the City Journal article by Dalrymple, but here's a quote:
An engineer—Philip Carroll, the father of four—was tinkering with his car outside his home. Four drunken youths sat on a wall on his property, and he asked them to leave. They argued with him, and one of them threw a stone at his car. He chased this youth and caught him, but between 20 and 40 more youths loitering drunkenly nearby rallied round, and one 15-year-old hit the engineer to the ground, where he too banged his head and received severe brain damage. Unconscious for 18 days, he needed three operations to survive; and now he too has an impaired memory and might never work again.
Before passing sentence, the judge said: “I have to try to ensure that the courts will treat incidents like this with great severity, to send out a message to other young people that violence is not acceptable.”

Another prelude, you might think, to a stiff sentence—but again you would be wrong. The young man got 12 months, of which he will serve six.
end update - but you can see why the idea of sentencing repeat offenders to a couple years in prison seems radical. A society that will not defend itself against the hawks finds that they proliferate with stunning speed. When police refuse to even come and admonish teenagers setting fires, but abuse those who report the incidents, it should be no surprise that many fires are set and that the mass of law-abiding citizens become bystanders instead of partners with the authorities.)

I think it's time to get the cricket bats off the streets of the UK too. And the tennis rackets, because those are very effective weapons. You can easily kill or maim someone with a good tennis racket. And if you live in one of the places where criminals rule the streets and the laws don't allow carrying of self-defense weaponry, I strongly suggest that you take to carrying a tennis racket and work on your stroke.

Especially if you are a woman.

Shrinkwrapped's Nightmare Scenario

Shrinkwrapped wrote a thoughtful post about utopianism and its effects in our society. The post begins with this sentence:
On almost every front in our culture wars, there is an underlying thread that distorts our understanding of the issues involved and makes compromise and resolution significantly more difficult than in the past.
You'll want to read the whole thing, but he ends with this:
Let me offer a nightmare scenario: The 2008 Presidential primary season and elections are likely to be presented as a choice between various Democrats promising us that there are simple solutions to major problems in the world and the (incompetent, evil minded, venal, take your pick) Republicans (and some allied Democrats) who have thwarted their attempts to bring the live flying reindeer of Peace, Love, and Happiness to the world. Furthermore, since achieving Peace, Love, and Happiness should have been an easy matter requiring relatively minor changes in the lives of their supporters, consider the implications when the world refuses to cooperate. If the next President, whether Gore, Bayh, Clinton, or someone as yet unknown, is a Democrat, they will find themselves trapped by the unrealistic expectations of a large segment of their base, who are already filled with rage and lusting for revenge. The MSM will only be able to protect the Democrats from reality for a short time before even the most fervent supporters of the left become uneasy. If a Republican wins despite the sense that everyone can see they are evil and corrupt, then the feelings of betrayal and hatred can only escalate. How can any President hope to govern in such an atmosphere?
This touches on a common theme among multiple bloggers recently. SW links to several, and you will find excellent additional links in my prior post. I honestly don't know how any president can hope to govern a nation if it will not be realistic. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves...."

Consider the left's war against Lieberman, and Richard Cohen's hate mail. There are some both on the left and the right who consider the centrists and those guided by conscience and pragmatism to be the worst possible betrayers, and in doing so the absolutists diminish themselves, not those they declare beyond the pale. Whenever you find yourselves declaring all those who don't entirely agree with you to be your enemies, a rational person ought to pull up short and rethink. You are multiplying your foes and diminishing your friends, and you should not do that unless it is a matter of the most extreme moral necessity.

I am thankful to live in a democracy. My best, most informed guess has often turned out to be wrong, and that of other voters has often turned out to be right. Sometimes you really win when the candidate for whom you voted loses the election.

Can we not at least try to recollect this feature and benefit of a democratic society? The best judgment of 51% of the voters, over time, is going to be better than the best judgment of a dictator over time - as long as we do try to exercise our best judgment when voting. Stamping our feet and demanding impossibilities is not exercising our best judgment.

Noted While Browsing

Just some quickies, because I'm busy.

Evacuation of a trailor park during an LA hurricane drill was cancelled, because no one knew what to do. I'm sure some people will take the opportunity to snark about this. The opportunity to take a swipe at Blanco will be too tempting to resist. I won't be among them. That's why you run these drills - to find the gaps in your planning. A drill that doesn't find any is probably not a serious drill.

I say give them credit for a new seriousness instead of abusing them because their planning wasn't perfect. Now let's hope they revise the plan and run the exercise again, because the people in temporary and not fully reconstructed housing are quite vulnerable.

China reports that migratory birds have died in Tibet and Qinghai province. Right on schedule. These birds are flying north, probably from India, which should make us all think rather seriously about what may be happening in India.

There's a hilarious (to me) thread on DU regarding news of an incident at a Kentucky high school graduation in which students spontaneously erupted in prayer during the graduation ceremony. The ACLU had gone to federal court to get prayer removed from the graduation ceremony, and the federal judge had issued the order earlier that day. The moderators finally had to lock this thread after more than 200 comments because things got so hot.

Why is this so funny? Because among others, an ACLU guy and a pagan preacher end up trying to explain to some of the outraged DU denizens that individuals do have a right to pray publicly. I don't think they made any converts, though. The thread shows DU's strong points, but has many extremely laughable moments, including a demand that the school punish the students or that the ACLU should go back to court to get the judge to punish the school, the theory that the students could be cited for contempt of court, and the new theological position that "Xtians" are forbidden by Jesus to pray in public. Don't tell the Pope, okay?

It probably says something about human beings in general that we have such a problem in understanding fairness and the concept that for one person to have a vested right, others must have the same right. Unfortunately it's not really an accepted principle either on the extreme right or the extreme left, and I don't know how much of the center really understands this either.

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