Saturday, April 8, 2006

Deja vu

In the April 17 issue, the New Yorker magazine reports that the White House is seriously considering going to war in Iran. An unnamed senior Pentagon advisor is quoted as saying, "this White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran and that means war." According to one former defense official, this scenario is based on the premise that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government."

My God, have these people not been paying attention to how badly they miscalculated the reaction of the Iraqis when we invaded their country? Speaking of which, 19 American have been killed in Iraq so far in April.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, it turns out, at least according to his testimony before the grand jury, that Scooter Libby was given the go ahead to leak classified information to selected reporters based on the instruction of the President and Vice-President themselves. The justification for this is that it isn't leaking when the president does it but Bush stood before the American people and, with a straight face, claimed to abhor leaking, claimed to want to find out who did the leaking and claimed anyone who was caught leaking would be dealt with! Sort of reminds you of "I did not have sexual relations, with that woman, Monica Lewinsky....", doesn't it? Oddly enough, that lie was considered by the Republicans as grounds for impeachment but they blow off this lie as much ado about nothing. (And the Bush folk stood by and kept their mouths shut about the truth as Judy Miller went to jail....and perhaps they will do the same with Scooter Libby, one of their own. With friends like these, you really don't need any enemies.)

Back during impeachment, the Republicans revered "the Rule of Law" and stated repeatedly that "no president is above the law". But they have ignored George's Bush's going above, around and under the law on so many occasions - in spying on Americans' phone calls and internet communications without a warrant (if anyone believes that this is confined to cases in which we are talking to Al Qaida, they are naive. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was recently asked about just this subject and said he could not "rule out" wiretapping purely domestic communications) - in condoning torture in contravention of the Geneva Conventions which America itself was large responsible for writing - in insisting on their power to detain American citizens without providing access to family, attorney or courts or knowing what, if any, charges have been filed against them.

The main concern I have about all this is trying to decide what combination of political power provides the best system of checks and balances. When the Republicans rushed gleefully into impeachment, I came away with the feeling that divided government doesn't work very well when the party that controls Congress can initiate an endless series of investigations, essentially rendering powerless the president duly elected by the people. That seemed to me to be a perversion of how our political system is supposed to work.

So even though I definitely trend more Democrat than Republican, I actually thought that one-party rule might be an improvement. At least President Bush would have a cooperative Congress to help him achieve some of his goals, whether I agreed with those goals or not. But, the Republican Congress has gone so far the other way, ceding every bit of their own power over to the executive branch, that they have tipped the system almost into a quasi-dictatorship when the President can grab more and more authority and the branch of government that we entrust to exert oversight over the Chief Executive simply folds like a deck of old cards.

Now I wonder if the best option might be a president and one house of Congress of the same party and the other branch of Congress controlled by the other party to act as a speed bump in the road of executive over-reaching.

Or maybe it would just be good if our political leaders could find it in their souls to try to work together for the good of the country again.....

It was probably a good thing that Congress couldn't get its act together enough to pass an immigration bill before they left for their Easter vacation. This is such a hot issue and when passions run so high, the resulting legislation is seldom ever sensible. I doubt we'll ever be able to get a firm grip on our long border with Mexico. It seems unlikely we can afford a fence and the number of border patrol officers it would take to see that no one made if over or under that fence even if we built it. (Personally, I'd rather use the money to build a really effective system of dykes and levees to protect New Orleans, one of our most important ports, than a fence between us and Mexico).

Even if we manage to figure out how to police the border to reduce illegal aliens coming to America to a trickle, we still have the situation of the eleven-or-so million who are already here. Realistically, there is no way we are going to round them up and send them back to Mexico so I think we should concentrate on the criminals. If we catch them committing a serious crime, then by all means, send them back (after their punishment). If they are here for economic reasons, obeying the rules of our society, raising families, paying taxes, then they should be allowed to stay with a means of allowing them to gain their citizenship after a certain amount of time.

The worst possible outcome of proposed legislation is a guest worker program. This is good only for the employers who want cheap labor. It combines the ugliness of indentured servitude without even the ultimate pay-off of becoming a citizen in the end. It allows employers access to a plentiful labor pool who have no rights to decent treatment, a living wage or any benefits. This impacts American workers as employers have absolutely no incentive to maintain or improve pay or working standards. It is often said that illegals take jobs that Americans won't take but what jobs are those? My area of the country isn't very diverse. Our work force is primarily white and yet, it seems that everything gets done. White Americans here wash dishes and bag groceries and mow lawns and roof houses and dig ditches....If we suddenly had an influx of illegal aliens who were willing to take those same jobs for a lot less than the current American employees have been making, with harsher working conditions and fewer, if any, benefits, would people then say that Americans "won't do" those jobs? Probably so, but would it have been the chicken that came first, or the egg?

You can't expect people to come here and do our scut work for companies that want to pay them a pittance and then as they are beginning to get established, pack them back to Mexico. For one thing, they surely wouldn't stay within the system knowing what was going to happen eventually. They would go underground so as not to be found when their guest worker visas ran out. For another, they would probably produce children while they were here who would be Americans by virtue of being born in the United States. Would it be legal to pitch these young Americans out of the U.S. and to a Mexico where they might not have even been before?

Instead of flying into thise debate with emotions blazing, we need to give calm, serious thought to the best possible way of handling the situation. The ultimate answer is probably to assist Mexico to come closer to our own standard of living (although in the last few years, it seems we are going in the other direction with the standard of living of working Americans going down) so that people are content to stay in their own country. This would take bold, creative, long-term planning and where that might come from, I have no idea.

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