Tuesday, December 06, 2005

WAL-MART AND ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

The headline in the newspaper read "Feds invade Wal-Mart; 125 workers arrested, to be deported." Reading farther down in the article one finds that the workers were employees of a contractor to Wal-Mart, not of Wal-Mart itself! A few months ago there was a report of a similar action against a Wal-Mart custodian contractor who was also hiring illegals. What gives? I am certainly not an apologist for Wal-Mart, nor do I condone many of its business practices, but it seems to me that either the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is targeting Wal-Mart or the press is reporting only Wal-Mart related actions. Neither of these actions should be condoned.

I can not imagine that Wal-Mart's contractors are the only large employer of illegals. It is regularly reported that there are several million of them in the United States. They can't all be sitting on their hands, so someone is employing them. I applaud Secretary Michael Chertoff's recently announced intent to crack down on employers of illegals. If there were no jobs, most of the flow of illegals would cease. It is also claimed that the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of devising new Social Security cards that are much more difficult to duplicate. I hope that this does the trick.

There is no doubt that conditions in Mexico are deplorable and that many of its citizens can not find reasonable work for any pay. Perhaps if we begin to get serious about sto[pping illegal immigration the Mexican government and especially President Vicente Fox will start to address the economic situation of their country.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

TO TORTURE OR NOT TO TORTURE

The torture issue first came to light when stories and pictures of tortured prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq on 60 Minutes last year. The prisoners were being guarded by young, inexperienced Army Reservists who were commanded by officers who were also inexperienced. These individuals had observed CIA operatives extracting information from prisoners using what most of us would call torture. Of course there was a public outcry against the behavior of the Reservists and soon charges were brought against not the CIA operatives but against the young, poorly educated, low ranking soldiers like Spc. Lyndie England. Of course the top ranking Reserve officer, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was admonished and demoted. She had been in an untenable position, but was in charge. None of the chain of command above her was directly charged, but Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the U. S. commander in Iraq seems to have completely disappeared from the radar screen. Also there has been no recorded punishment of the CIA civilians who were reputedly involved in torture.

Now fast-forward to Fall 2005 and Senate consideration of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill and Senator John McCain. Senator McCain first reported the extensive effort of Captain Ian Fishback to obtain guidance on treatment of detainees from his chain of command. He was completely unsuccessful and asked the Senator for help. Senator McCain immediately offered, with support from both sides of the aisle, an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill stating that the Army Field Manual on the subject would establish the rules. The amendment passed by a vote of 90 to 9 with 1 not voting. This was in spite of President Bush's promise to veto the legislation if the provision is in the bill that reaches his desk.

Isn't this remarkable - that the President would promise hisa first veto on an anti torture bill initiated by a man who underwent torture for 5 years in North Viet Nam! The President claims that sufficient guidelines already exist, in spite of the report by Captain Fishback. Next we hear that our Vice President, Dick Cheney, has asked that the CIA be excluded from Senator McCain's restriction. What is going on in the White House? First they want to eliminate the amendment all together, then they want to exclude the CIA.

Our country should never use the excuse that our enemy is doing it so we should too. When that happens the enemy has won, whether the fighting continues or not! I think that it is time to send that message to the President. He is the one who has cloaked himself in his morality so we should call him in his pretense.

We must now contact our Representative in the House and our Senators to make certain that the amendment survives the House/Senate Conference Committee meeting to reconcile the differences between the two versions. At present the House version does not include the McCain Amendment requirements contained in the Senate version.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

Over the past few years a rising number of illegal aliens, or as some would label them, "undocumented workers," have invaded our country and the Bush administration has apparently decided to essentially ignore the issue. It should be obvious to anyone that these individuals are a threat to our society, to our economy, and to our national security.

Many apologists both inside and outside the federal government insist on propagating the fiction that these individuals are helping our country because they take jobs that Americans will not take. I believe that this only appears to be true because of the low wages that are offered for the jobs the illegals take. In fact, it appears that wages are depressed because of the illegals, who can not protest about the situation. If the wages were increased, or perhaps even if they were not, I am certain that our citizens would gladly take the jobs.

A good example of illegal immigrants keeping wages down is in the reconstruction work after the destruction by hurricane Katrina. There is evidence of hundreds of illegals swarming to New Orleans and costal Mississippi to take the jobs that should rightly belong to American citizens. Since President Bush waived the provisions of the law that requires employers to pay the local average wage his big business cronies have rushed to take advantage of the situation.

It is well known that industry, especially the farm, restaurant, and hotel industries, regularly hire illegals either directly or through contractors. While individuals in these industries as well as those in the administration claim that hiring these persons helps to keep prices down, there is ample evidence that this is not the case. It has been documented that instead this only increases the profits of the employer.

I am disturbed, to say the least, about the President's proposed "guest worker" program and I believe that he is naive to think that illegal aliens will "come out of hiding and participate legally in America's economy." This smacks of "amnesty" which did not work under President Reagan in 1986 and there is no reason to expect it to work today. There is no incentive for the illegal alien to come out of the shadows if we have no plan enforce the current laws.

I also want to express my displeasure with President Bush's almost "kowtowing" to Mexican President Vicente Fox about illegal aliens, most recently at the March 23, 2005 meeting at the Bush ranch. Mexico is the country that has produced a "Guide to the Mexican Migrant" instructing its citizens on how to elude the U. S. Customs and Border Protection system. (I have a translated PowerPoint version of it.) President Fox has even demanded that we provide services (which Mexico does not) to illegal aliens from his country and President Bush seems to have agreed with him. Emergency humanitarian services are one thing but an expectation of continuing services to persons who are here illegally without at the same time permanently deporting them is something else entirely. We should be pressuring President Fox to get his house in order and begin creating reasonably paying jobs for Mexico’s citizens? He is the one and his is the country that should be pressured to help the migrants, not us and our country.

The various citizen border watches, which have been likened to "Neighborhood Watches," have been very important because they have provided valuable information to the Border Patrol about illegal crossings. This service is particularly important since your FY2006 budget allocates funds for about only 200 new agents while the Congress allocated 2000 per year.

This is not the country of the illegal aliens nor is it just the country of the employers of the illegals. It is my country too and I want to see our immigration laws enforced. The provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 regarding hiring of illegal aliens have not been repealed, so why are they not being enforced? That law states "Every employer, therefore, is required to verify that all employees hired after December 1, 1988, are eligible to work in the United States." I recall being required to prove my citizenship to my employer in order to keep my job. Why are current employers not required to obey this law?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

IMBALANCE OF TRADE WITH CHINA = DANGER

In my opinion it is long past time to give close attention to our current account deficit, which seems to be growing nearly as fast as the as the national debt. (The current account is the value of goods shipped to other countries and the value of goods imported to this country. A current account deficit means that we are importing more value than we are exporting.) Hand-in-hand with this problem is our seeming eagerness to move jobs and manufacturing offshore in industry’s ever expanding greed. In spite of admonishment from some economists and from the President and members of his administration that this is good for our economy, I find myself among the growing number of people who say that we can’t continue along this path.

I have educated myself especially about our external debt and our current account deficit. Although the Chinese seem to have not begun to purchase our debt instruments in large quantities, China is our largest trade creditor at nearly $162 billion last year, or one quarter of the total trade imbalance. Much of this is a result of the movement of manufacturing to China that, in turn, has forced us to buy from them. We have created millions of slave-wage jobs in China thanks to this movement of jobs. What we buy from China amounts to 40% of their exports and 10% of their entire GDP. It also appears as though China manipulates its currency to give it an unfair advantage in the marketplace. The recent "revaluing" of the yuan has done little to change the situation. It is frightening to think of what could happen if the current trend were to continue for, say, another four years. By that time it is conceivable that China could in essence control our country by shutting off access to her manufacturing and using the indebtedness to "buy" us. In any case, what else might China do with these dollars but invest in U. S. securities or sell them on international currency exchanges. Either of these options could have long term negative effects on our economy.

It is clearly long past time for us to address and solve these serious problems. Just because other industrialized countries might have higher debt to GDP ratios doesn’t mean that we should emulate them. Additionally we seem to be one of the few with a significant current account deficit. We must have budgets that are more nearly in balance, even if it means doing away with tax cuts. It is astonishing to me that the Republicans, who claim to be fiscally conservative and responsible have generated budgets with the largest deficits in history. They claim that it has become necessary because of the "war on terror." I think that is because of the war on Iraq.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS BILL FOR FY2006

This week the Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the Defense Appropriations Bill for FY 2006. At first glance the $440+ billion legislation bears little difference from the House-passed version of a few months ago. However, on closer look there is a significant difference between the two, thanks primarily to Senator John McCain. As everyone knows, Senator McCain spent five years in a North Vietnam POW camp, where he was subjected to unimaginable torture.

Over the past year several incidents of prisoner torture by members of the United States military have been reported. Perhaps the most heinous of these incidents occurred at the Abu Grahib prison in Iraq. In this case several young, low rank enlisted personnel were involved. While these individuals are currently in the midst of court martial trials, no officers or even senior noncoms have been indicted. As the investigations have proceeded it has become clear to Senator McCain, and to all thinking Americans, that there have been no guidelines - either written or oral - as to the correct handling of prisoners. While some might argue that torture is a correct policy, saying thet "they torture American prisoners so we should do the same," I believe with Senator McCain that if we adopt the enemy's policies then the enemy has won. We must behave like a civilized nation no matter what our enemies do.

In support of his convictions, Senator McCain introduced an amendment to the house version of the Bill. This amendment, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate, requires that "No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation." This amendment, which clearly sets out the rules for treatment of prisoners, was vigorously objected to by the White House. The President has even threatened to veto the legislation if this provision is included in the final version.

Since Senator McCain's amendment is not included in the House version it must be negotiated during the House - Senate conference. This amendment is obviously a slap in the face of the Bush administration and particularly in the face of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but in my opinion Senator McCain and his colleagues have "called them as they see them." I hope that the Senate conferees stand firm during the conference and insist that this provision remain.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

TIME TO GET STARTED

Here it is, October 5, 2005 and I have been procrastinating about starting this blog. There is a lot to talk about in the context of my stated objective so I will begin with the aftermath of the recent hurricanes, especially Katrina.

In response to our President's generous offer that "we will spend whatever it costs" to repair the devastation along the gulf coast, the potential contractors are lining up at the trough and elbowing each other out of the way. Meanwhile, the politicians, especially those in Louisiana and Mississippi are putting wish lists together to the tune of $200 to $300 billion dollars. Governor Barbour of Mississippi has even said publicly that there should be no monitoring of the spending of Federal dollars. He has said "we in Mississippi know how to spend the money." That is scarey to me!

President Bush and the Republican-dominated Congress seem to be happy with these numbers and have proposed various ways to pay for it, none of which make sense to me. It has been proposed that the Congress continue with making the tax cuts for high income individuals permanent, which would increase the Federal deficit even more (it is already projected at ~$300 billion). Meanwhile, to pay for the cleanup the Republicans have proposed cutting the pork out of the highway bill, by cutting other domestic spending, and perhaps even delaying implementation of the Medicare prescription add-on by a year.

Cutting pork from the highway bill is about as likely as the sun rising in the west tomorrow! With elections for all Representatives and one-third of Senators coming up next year the incumbents need the pork. It also seems likely that even the Republicans would have difficulty cutting much from domestic spending, and the Medicare prescription addition is one of the President's few victories. Thus while probably most of us want the Federal government to assist with the rebuilding, none of us really wants to "bite the bullet" to pay for it.

Does this mean that we will increase the deficit to an even greater level than it is already? I hope not. Aren't the Republicans the party of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets? One would hardly suspect that for the past five years as our leaders have led us deeper and deeper into the clutches of the foreign lenders.

A quick look at the Treasury Department's list of "MAJOR FOREIGN HOLDERS OF TREASURY SECURITIES IN 2005" reveals that Japan is far and away the largest holder of US debt instruments, followed by rapidly increasing China in second place. Others in the top ten of creditors are Taiwan, Korea, and OPEC. Given recent attitudes by China we should ask how much more of our country do we want to sell to them. I for one would like to reduce their ownership.

So how do we pay for the cleanup? If we are really serious about it should we increase our taxes to pay for it? Should we cut so-called discretionary spending? Our representatives in Congress (House and Senate) will take the path that is, in the short run, the easiest unless we speak out. We can't just sit around at home and do nothing. We must all get involved by writing to our representatives and telling them what we want.