Posts tagged ‘Berlin’

Fall of the Wall

The fall of the Berlin wall is probably one of the 3-4 "Where-were-you-when..." events that I remember in my lifetime.  I remember turning on the TV and seeing people dancing on top of the wall and being struck with a strong sense of cognitive dissonance, wondering if I was watching some war-of-the-worlds style fiction.  I don't remember even today if this was a surprising event to the whole world, of if it was just I who was holed up in some ignore-the-outside-world zone, but it certainly was a stunning surprise to me.

It was truly a great day, in my mind more great than 9/11 was bad, so it is kind of amazing to me how much it is already almost forgotten.  In the late 1970's, I had the opportunity to take the East Berlin tour through Checkpoint Charlie to see the wrong side of the wall.   Many Americans I have talked to had the same reaction to this tour -- that it was meant to be one long propaganda spiel for communist East Germany but in fact was pathetically self-mocking.  The propaganda failed because even the writers of the propaganda could not conceive of how wealthy the west was compared to the East.  So when they bragged that 70% of the residents had running water or that "almost" all of the city had been rebuilt from the war 30 years later, Westerners were unimpressed.

Update: Remembering the victims of communism.

Damnit Jim -- I'm A Doctor, Not A Thespian

Today is the 30th 40th* anniversary of the most expensive flubbed line in history.  "One small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind."

This is one of the three "where were you when..." moments in my memory (moon landing, Challenger explosion, 9/11).  Actually, I have a fourth of equal power for me, but it does not seem to be on very many other people's lists.  That was the moment in 1989 I turned on the TV and saw people climbing on and partying around the Berlin wall.  I don't know if there was simply not any warning for this moment, or if I was in some kind of new job lala land and missed the lead up, but it was a real wtf moment for me, a total surprise.

* This is the second time I have done this in a week, dropping a decade in the math.  I think it is some subconcious process fighting aging.

The US Erects Its Own Version of the Berlin Wall

Though I would not want to trade my income taxes with those paid by Europeans, there is at least one area where the US has the worst tax regime in the world.  The specific area is the double standard the US applied on eligibility of income when other countries are involved.  For citizens of other countries, the US applies the standard that taxation is based on where one earns their income, so citizens of, say, France that are working in the US must pay US taxes.  However, for citizens of the US, the government reverses its standard.  In this case, the US applies the standard that taxation is based on citizenship, so US citizens must pay taxes on their income, even if it is all earned living in a foreign country.  Since most countries of the world apply the first standard  (which is also the standard individual states in the US apply), US expats find their income double taxed between the US and the country they are living in.

But now, it is just getting worse:

Queues of frustrated foreigners crowd many an American
consulate around the world hoping to get into the United States. Less
noticed are the heavily taxed American expatriates wanting to get out "”
by renouncing their citizenship. In Hong Kong just now, they cannot.
"Please note that this office cannot accept renunciation applications
at this time," the consulate's website states. Apart from sounding like
East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the closure is
unfortunately timed. Because of pending legislation on President Bush's
desk that is expected to become law by June 16th, any American who
wants to surrender his passport has only a few days to do so before
facing an enormous penalty.

"¦Congress has turned on expats, especially those who, since new tax
laws in 2006, have become increasingly eager to give up their
citizenship to escape the taxman. Under the proposed legislation,
expatriates surrendering their citizenship with a net worth of $2m or
more, or a high income, will have to act as if they have sold all their
worldwide assets at a fair market price.

"¦That expats want to leave at all is evidence of America's odd tax
system. Along with citizens of North Korea and a few other countries,
Americans are taxed based on their citizenship, rather than where they
live. So they usually pay twice "” to their host country and the
Internal Revenue Service. As this makes citizenship less palatable,
Congress has erected large barriers to stop them jumping ship. "¦[I]t
may have the opposite effect. Under the new structure, it would make
financial sense for any young American working overseas with a
promising career to renounce his citizenship as early as possible,
before his assets accumulate.

This is simply awful, and is another example of fascism in the name of egalitarianism (the fear is that a few rich people will move to tax havens to avoid US taxes).  Add up your net worth - equity in your house, retirement savings, etc - and imagine having to pay 35% of that as a big bribe tax to the US government to let you leave the country. 

Remembering East Berlin, With a Thought about Health Care

I remember in about 1978 going on a bus tour into East Berlin through checkpoint Charlie.  It is hard to describe to my kids what a creepy experience this was.  The state-run tour was clearly run by the propaganda ministry, and they really pulled out all the stops to convince you that life was great in the East.  The interesting part is that all this propaganda failed miserably.  No matter what streets they took you down, you couldn't help but notice the stark contrast in prosperity between East and West.  East Berlin was full of buildings in 1978 that still had not been rebuilt from WWII bomb damage  (this actually might have been a plus, since much of West Berlin was rebuilt in that hideous 50's European public architecture).

The most amazing statement was when the tour guide bragged, "And over 70% of everyone in the city has running water."  It was just so clueless and pathetic, to be so out of touch that what Westerners considered a statistic indicating poverty was hailed as one they thought indicated wealth.

I was reminded of this story when I read the British NHS response to an article that over 70,000 Britons a year travel abroad for health care.  Their response was:

A Department of Health official said the number of patients seeking
treatment abroad was a tiny fraction of the 13 million treated on the
NHS each year.

Waiting times had fallen. Almost half of patients
were treated within 18 weeks of seeing a GP. Most people who had
hospital care did not contract infections.

I had exactly the same response as I did to the East Berlin tour guide.  Half within 18 weeks?!  That's PATHETIC.  Again, what we Americans know to be awful service is being bragged about as a sign of excellence. 

The really creepy part, though, is that America is the last place on Earth that people understand that a medical system can do much better than 18 weeks.  But we are likely to elect a President in the next election whose goal is to bring our system down to the level of the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, someday our grandkids may not know any better.

What Happened to Coyote Blog (Network Solutions Sucks Edition)

Years ago, I, without really knowing what I was doing, established a bunch of my URLs through Network Solutions.  I didn't understand at the time that Network Solutions was both irritating and the high-cost provider. 

Now that I know more, I have doing my registrations via a much lower cost supplier (GoDaddy).  A few weeks ago, I did a mass transfer from Network Solutions.  Apparently, Network Solutions locks the domains down, ostensibly for security (which is probably true) but also to make it harder to leave them, which makes sense as given their prices there must be a serious net drain of business out of the company.  Most of my domains cleared this Berlin Wall to freedom, but I screwed up on a couple, one of which was CoyoteBlog.com.  As a result, the domain ended up expired, and email dead.

Thanks for all of you who have tried to notify me of the problems.  Nearly two days ago I went ahead and renewed at Network Solutions for another year, just to get things back up ASAP.  Unfortunately, the URL still seems to be marked expired.  I don't know if that is their poor service or because I am in Hawaii and at the absolute end of the earth for name server updates.  Hopefully all will be right tomorrow.  For those who visited CoyoteBlog this weekend, I am sorry about the flurry of tacky popups Network Solutions was dealing out at the URL (as many as three at a time, the losers).  For those of you who access via http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/ you should have been able to read the blog but without formatting.  I believe that RSS access was unaffected.

Capitalism Can't Win

It is often said that capitalism won over socialism in the late 20th century, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of powerful Asia market economies.  Be that as it may, this statement certainly does not apply to American university campuses.  In the ivory tower, capitalism is still the number one whipping boy. 

An interesting illustration of this is Jacob Sullum's review of a pair of books that attempt to debunk the myth that being mildly overweight is deadly.  This is a rich topic, given some of the really bad science that has gone into trying to make being overweight the next smoking, and the review is worth a read.  However, this part caught my eye:

Both he and Campos blame the unjustified obsession with weight and the
cruel vilification of fat people on capitalism, which, they say, prizes
self-discipline and stigmatizes those seen as lacking it. To be fair,
Campos more specifically blames a pro-capitalist Protestant asceticism
that encourages the pursuit of wealth but frowns on those who enjoy it
too much. There's an element of truth to this analysis; a similar
ambivalence regarding pleasure helps explain American attitudes toward
sex, drugs, and gambling.

But wait!  Aren't most of the folks like the food nazis who are launching government obesity campaigns leftists?  They are, and Sullum makes this point:

But it does give you pause when you consider that the obesity
obsessives also blame capitalism, for precipitating the current crisis
by making food plentiful, inexpensive, appealing, and convenient. New
York University nutritionist Marion Nestle, for example, blames
America's adiposity on "an overly abundant food supply," "low food
prices," "a highly competitive market," and "abundant food choices,"
while Kelly Brownell claims restaurants exploit consumers when they
give them more for less, since "people have biological vulnerabilities
that promote overeating when large portions are available, a strong
desire for value, and the capacity to be persuaded by advertising."

Great.  So capitalism causes obesity as well as anti-obesity.  You can't win.

Legislating Taste

TJIC has a good example of relying on the government to legislate taste.

More than 30 years after outlawing big flashing signs"¦
Boston wants to bring back some glitz to parts of town deemed too dark
and staid at night.

It's a good thing we've got a single monopolistic authority making aesthetic decisions for everyone.

Saying it wants colorful electronic marquees to create an
atmosphere like Times Square in New York, the Boston Redevelopment
Authority is planning to amend the city's zoning code to permit
electronic signs that make "bold use of graphics" and create a sense of
"animation and motion" and "images that engage the public."

So, basically, the rationale 30 years ago was "some bureaucrat
finds these tacky, so they're forbidden", and now the rationale is
"some bureaucrat likes these, so they're encouraged".

This from the city of Boston, whose government's sense of aesthetics dropped this butt-ugly eyesore of a city hall into the middle of historic downtown Boston:

Govcenter

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:

Peabody

These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of
urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design
efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the
controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003
issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential
disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum:
"Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in
proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings
confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many
Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous,"
"cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared
it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

Good Freaking Luck

Harvard has a new president.  Good freaking luck.  That job chewed up someone I respected (Neal Rudenstine) and someone who tried to reform the institution (Larry Sommers).  I would rather try to bring good government to Haiti than try to run that dysfunctional organization in Cambridge.  Premiers of the Soviet Union had less power than the Harvard faculty wields.  I am one of many Harvard graduate students I know who appreciate the education we got but hate the institution.  My Princeton roomie Brink Lindsey helped start the NOPE campaign - Not One Penny Ever (to Harvard).

If you want a taste of why, below the fold I have included an excerpt of a chapter from my book BMOC (still at Amazon for those who have not used up their Christmas gift certificates yet).  This chapter is pretty autobiographical, except for the part where the character is, you know, a girl.

From the end of Chapter 8 of BMOC:

Susan looked around her small apartment in the nightmare that was the Peabody Terrace apartments, a pair of Harvard-owned hi-rise apartments located across the river from the business school.  Susan was convinced that these apartments were part of a 1950's Soviet plot to undermine America's youth.  The building design was right out of East Berlin, with its all cast concrete construction.  Even the interior walls were concrete, giving it the warmth and ambiance of a World War II German pillbox.  Her tower had an elevator, but it only stopped on every third floor, a cost saving measure also borrowed from the East Germans.  Of course, her floor was not one of the stops.  

She had dithered about whether even to apply to Harvard, and had applied in the last application group, after most of the spots in the school had already been filled.  She was not actually accepted into the school until well into June, leaving her just about dead last in the housing lottery.  Only a few foreign students from strange, lesser developed countries she had barely heard of were so far back in the room queue, which helped to explain why her entryway was always choked with the smell of bizarre foods cooking using unfamiliar spices.  Her walk to and from school involved crossing a lonely and poorly lighted footbridge, which was, coincidently, the coldest spot in New England on most winter days.

Whenever she walked into her building, she had difficulty fighting off a sense of despair and loneliness, even despite her generally sunny disposition.  The building was that depressing.  To make matters worse, she had spent most of the winter fighting with the Harvard administrative departments over the temperature in her room. She had complained nearly every day about the cold, and knew things were bad when frost started to form on the inside of her windows.  A worker from building services had finally come by, but instead of a toolbox he brought a thermometer, which he placed in the center of the room and just stared at for five minutes.  Then he picked it up, looked at it, and declared that the room was fine.

"Fine?" she had screamed.  "How can it be fine?  It's freezing in here!"

"Mam, the thermometer says 54 degrees.  State law says we don't have to do anything unless it falls below 50 degrees," observed the housing guy.

"State law?!  Who gives a shit about state law?  What about customer service?  What about the sixty grand I pay to this university?"

But she had gotten nowhere, at least until she started putting the oven on broil with the door open to try to keep the room warm.  Once the building services folks saw that, with all the implicit fire and liability dangers, her radiator had finally been fixed.

Looking around the cold and depressing room, she decided she definitely did not want to be here now.  She wanted to celebrate her new job, not stare at four bare condensate-dampened concrete walls.

More Anti-Immigration Scare Stats

A while back, I pointed out that immigration opponents seemed to be depending on American's having poor match skills and a pathetic knowledge of history.  Today in this post from Captain's Quarters we find more statistical funny business.  Captain Ed, like many conservatives, have been stumping for the US to build a big honking fence at the border, nominally as part of the war on terrorism.

Of course according to supporters it is only about security, not xenophobia, which explains why the fence proposal in Congress covers both our northern and southern borders since both are equally porous to terrorists.  Oh, wait, the law only covers the southern border?  Oh.  Well, I hope terrorists can't read a map and don't notice that the northern border is three times as long and in many cases more unpopulated and unguarded than the southern border.

Anyway, another "security" argument by immigration foes is that hordes of criminals are apparently pouring across the border, and walls are proposed as a way to stop them.  The Captain quotes Bill Frist:

One of the most important and most effective ways that we can stop
illegal immigration is through the construction and proper maintenance
of physical fences along the highest trafficked, most commonly violated
sections of our border with Mexico.

Take the case of San Diego. According to the FBI Crime Index, crime
in San Diego County dropped 56.3% between 1989 and 2000, after a fence
stretching from the Ocean to the mountains near San Diego was
substantially completed. And, according to numbers provided by the San
Diego Sector Border Patrol in February 2004, apprehensions decreased
from 531,689 in 1993 to 111,515 in 2003.

Whoa. That sounds impressive.  But, remember what I often say on this site -- correlation is not causation.  Indeed, it is not just random chance that he picked the years 1989 - 2000.  Those were the years that nearly every part of the US saw a huge drop in its crime rate.  Using this data for these years, and presuming Frist is using the crime rate index per 100,000 people, which is the stat that makes the most sense, here are some figures for 1989 - 2000:

Crime Rate Change, 1989-2000:
US :  - 28%
Arizona:  -28%
California: - 45%
New York: -51%

Wow!  The border fence in San Diego even had a similarly large effect on crime in New York State!  That thing is amazing.  Oh, and note these are state figures.  My understanding is that the figures for large metropolitan areas is even more dramatic.  So what happened in 1989 to 2000 is every state and in particular every large metropolitan area in the country saw huge double digit drops in crime, and San Diego was no exception.   But Frist tries to give credit to the border fence.

In case you want to believe that Frist does not know what he is doing with these stats (ie that he wasn't intentionally trying to give credit for a national demographic trend to a border fence in San Diego) notice that 1989 was the US crime rate peak and 2000 was the US crime rate low point.  So with data for the years up to 2005 available, he just happens to end his period at 2000.  Oh, and the new style fences he wants to emulate were actually only started in 1996 (and here, search for "triple fence"), AFTER most of these crime gains had been made.  Correlation definitely does not equal causation when the proposed cause occurred after the effect.

For all of you who always wanted to live in Soviet East Berlin, you may soon get a good taste of that experience:

The first fence, 10 feet high, is made of welded metal panels. The
second fence, 15 feet high, consists of steel mesh, and the top is
angled inward to make it harder to climb over. Finally, in high-traffic
areas, there's also a smaller chain-link fence. In between the two main
fences is 150 feet of "no man's land," an area that the Border Patrol
sweeps with flood lights and trucks, and soon, surveillance cameras.

Below are views of Nogales, AZ and Berlin.  Nothing alike.  Nope.  Totally different.

Nogaleswall_1 Berlinwall

Finally, I will give the last word to Frist, bold added.

That's why I strongly support the Secure Fence Act of 2006 "¦ and that's
why I'm bringing this crucial legislation to the floor of the Senate
this week for an up-or-down vote. By authorizing the construction of
over 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along our southwest
border and by mandating the use of cameras, ground sensors, UAVs and
other forms of hi-tech surveillance, this legislation would help us
gain control over every inch of our borders "“ once and for all.

"gain control over every inch of our borders," except, or course, for those 3000 5525 miles (350 million inches) to the north where the people on the other side have the courtesy not to speak a foreign language.  But its hard to demagogue well about a threat from Canadians, since they are mostly WASPs like we mostly are, or at least it has been for the last 100 years or so.  54-40 or fight!

Update: Here is that terrifying Canadian border barrier (from this site).  This demonstrates why our terrorist security dollars need to all be invested on the southern border, since this one is already locked down tight.  Heck, there is one of these babies (below) every mile!  Beware terrorists!

Canada

And don't forget these terrorist-proof border checkpoints along our northern frontier:

  Canada2

But it's not about race.

Update 2:  Yes, my emailers are correct.  I did not actually give Frist the last word like I said I would.  Gosh, I feel so bad about that.

Update 3:  Welcome to readers of my favorite site, Reason's Hit and Run.  It looks like Texas may soon consider a border fence, though with Louisiana instead of Mexico.

Immigration, Individual Rights, and the New Deal

Until recently, I have never really been a passionate participant in the immigration debate;  however, living here in Arizona, it is virtually impossible to avoid this discussion.  One observation I can make with some confidence is that, like most political debates, few of the participants seem to have opinions that are grounded in a consistent philosophy (rather than just a pragmatic collection of political points of view, as discussed here).  As a result, rather than quoting stats on illegal border crossings or the number of Al Qaeda operatives supposedly running around the Arizona desert, I thought I would try to lay out the philosophical argument for immigration.

Individual Rights Don't Come From the Government
Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud.

So Citizenship Shouldn't Determine What Rights You Have
These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.  David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

In fact, when the US government was first formed, there was no differentiation between a "citizen" and "someone who dwells within our borders" - they were basically one in the same.  It is only since then that we have made a distinction.  I can accept that there can be some minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain government duties, but again these are functions associated with this artificial construct called "government".  There should not be, nor is there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship, since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of border.

New "Non-Right Rights" Are Killing Immigration
In fact, until the 1930's, the US was generally (though not perfectly) open to immigration, because we accepted the premise that someone who was born beyond our borders had no less right to find their fortune in this country than someone born in Boston or New York.  I won't rehash the history of immigration nor its importance to the building of this country, because I don't want to slip from the philosophical to the pragmatic in my arguments for immigration.

In the 1930's, and continuing to this day, something changed radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the current immigration debate.  With the New Deal, and later with the Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we began creating what I call non-right rights.  These newly described "rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above.  Rather than existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself and could only exist in the context of having a government.  These non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Here is a great test to see if something is really a right, vs. one of these fake rights.  Ask yourself, "can I have this right on a desert island".  Speech?  Have at it.  Assembly?  Sure, if there is anyone or things to assemble with?  Property?  Absolutely -- if you convert some palm trees with your mind and labor into a shelter, that's your home.  Health care?  Uh, how?  Who is going to provide it?  And if someone could provide it, who is going to force them to provide it if they don't want to.  Ditto education.  Ditto a pension.

These non-right rights all share one thing in common:  They require the coercive power of the government to work.  They require that the government take the product of one person's labor and give it to someone else.  They require that the government force individuals to make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own free will. 

And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these rights.  The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all these non-right rights to its citizens  -- just as a practical matter, it can't afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new entrants.  It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very successful party, attracting more and more guests each year.  The party had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people had to go home thirsty but most had a good time.  Then, suddenly, for whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn't like the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free.  But they quickly learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn't afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up.  After a while, with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole thing suddenly got kind of dull.

Today, we find ourselves in political gridlock over immigration.  The left, which generally supports immigration, has a lot at stake in not admitting that the new non-right rights are somehow subordinate to fundamental individual rights, and so insist new immigrants receive the full range of government services, thus making immigration prohibitively expensive.  The right, whether through xenophobia or just poor civics, tends to assume that non-citizens have no rights whatsoever, whether it be the "right" to health care or the more fundamental right, say, to habeas corpus.

A Not-so-Modest Proposal
So what would I do?  Well, this is blogging, so I am not really obligated to come up with a plan, I can just complain.  After all, Howard Dean said "Right now it's not our job to give out specifics", so why should I have to?  But, I will take a shot at it anyway:

  1. Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason.  Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency.  Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
  2. The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not.  The government may also define a certain number of core emergency services (e.g. fire, police, trauma care) to which all residents, citizens or not, have equal access.
  3. Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship".  Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony).  The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
  4. All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way.  A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else.  Note that this is not radical - I am a citizen and resident of Arizona but other states like California tax me on income earned in that state and purchases made in that state.
  5. While I would like to eliminate much of the welfare state altogether, I won't address that today (Don't underestimate, though, how damaging the welfare state and the
    highly regulated economy can be to immigrants, and the problem that can
    cause, as demonstrated today in France)  For purposes of this plan I will merely state that the non-right right type government services should be divided into two pools:  Services only available to citizens and services available to those who are paying into the system. 
    • The first category might include pure handouts, like Welfare, farm subsidies, and public housing.  This category can even include public policy decision like "allowing squatters or vagrancy on public lands", since this is an effective subsidy as well in the form of public housing. 
    • The second include services like public transportation or unemployment insurance -- if the individual is paying the fair (for example, the employer is paying her unemployment premiums) then they should have access to the service.  Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured, but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system.

That's enough for now.  I wrote more on immigration here.

Postscript-  And please don't tell me that a government's job is to "defend its borders".  Its not.  A government's job is to defend its citizens and residents.  There are times that this job may literally require defending the borders (e.g. France in 1940) but that clever misrepresentation of the role of government is the linguistic trick immigration opponents use to justify all sorts of semi-fascist actions, like building this happy little wall in Nogales:

Nogaleswall_1

Which seems awfully reminiscent of this wall in Berlin:

 Berlinwall

Compare Berlin and Nogales.  What is the fundamental principle that makes preventing the movement of people one-way across a border one of the worst human rights violations in the last century, but preventing them from moving the other way across a border is a fine policy with bi-partisan support here in Arizona?

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More Observations from Paris

  • I got tripped up today by my American expectations.  The hotel had this little breakfast buffet in the lobby.  It had some coffee and juice and a few croissants.  It was not nearly as nice as the free breakfast at a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express, but it was still a quick and easy way to eat and get out the door.  OOOPPSS.  My wife and I got hit with a bill for 52 euros, or over $65, because we grabbed some coffee and pastries off the buffet.  Bummer.
  • Service is a strange thing here.  I try fairly hard to submerge my ugly-American impatient tendencies.  I know to expect that meals will be paced much slower here, and have come to enjoy that pace, at least on vacation.  Shopping, though, is another story.  I still just want to get the stuff I want, pay for it, and go.  I have made the following observations about French service:  When you have a service person's attention, they will serve you for as long as you need, chatting about the product and about your life, for hours if necessary.  The problem is, that they will do this even if 10 other people are waiting to be served.  The lines here are awful, and you have to wait in them for everything.  Women in the US complain about bathroom lines at sporting events, but the women's rooms here have lines all the time, everywhere.  Even my wife the europhile is getting fed up with 45 minute transaction times
  • We chose to blow it out one night, and have a top notch French meal at a top restaurant.  We ended up spending a ridiculous sum, more than half the people in the world make in a year, for one meal.  It would embarrass me to spend so much consistently (heck it embarasses me this once), especially since there are equally fine meals out there for 1/4 or less the price.  Also, we were actually nervous for the first 20 minutes - is that nuts?  But there is nothing in the world that can make an American like me who knows the McDonald's value meal numbers by heart nervous like a great French restaurant.  We eventually got into the spirit of the once in a lifetime experience, enough that we were laughing pretty loud about the little fried goldfish we got for appetizers.
  • By the way, condolences for the French and the Olympics.  Paris would make a fine venue.  The only real mar in the city's beauty is that it has a real trash and dog poop problem on the streets (no scoop laws here, at least none that anyone enforces) so an Aolympics might help them clean it all up.  Maybe they need a few years of Mayor Giuliani?  Really, it is a beautiful city - did I mention that?  Perhaps the most beautiful city in Europe even before WWII, and certainly the most beautiful after given that it was spared most of the bombing and fighting other great cities faced (not too mention the horrendous 1950's architecture they were rebuilt with.  I mean, my god, look at Berlin.  It was rebuilt during the most horrid period in modern architecture).
  • More later on hotels and restaurants you might visit if you come here,
    plus I will just have to post a scan of our restaurant bill from tonight

Viva Immigration

Sticking with the Cinco de Mayo theme, immigration has been a big issue of late down here in the Southwest.  Last election cycle Arizona passed a law limiting benefits to illegal immigrants.  This last few months have seen the "minuteman project", ostensibly to have private citizens help "defend the borders" and which got surprising support from America's most famous immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I have a number of friends who passionately support these efforts.  I am forced to say that not only do I disagree with them, I am actually embarrassed by the Minuteman project.  Michelle Malkin makes the argument that these are good people and not crazed racist KKK crazies.  OK, I am willing to accept this (for most of them) but this just makes it worse, wasting the patriotism and labor and time of people to such a wrong-headed end. (Matt Welch is less willing to believe they are just happy misguided soles).

At the end of the day, the vast, vast majority of people crossing the border are looking for a job.  That's it.  They are not terrorists or foreign spies or criminals -- they are ordinary people looking for a job, often to support their family.  This is why I find it an incredible waste that we have Arizona's private citizens, many of whom probably lament the slacker mentality of recent American generations of kids, standing around along the border making sure that people who are looking for a job in this country don't find one.

Of course, these Minuteman folks won't say that is what they are doing.  They are saying that they are:

  • Defending the borders.   A Government's job is NOT (repeat NOT) "defending its border".  A government's job is to defend its citizens.
    In 1939, if a country was next door to Nazi Germany, defending its
    citizens probably meant defending the borders.  Today, though, next to
    Canada and the Mexico with whom we have been at peace for 150 years and
    with whom we share a common market, its harder to argue that defending
    our citizens requires having a Maginot Line at the border.

I am sure that our southern border is vulnerable to terrorists crossing, but I am equally sure that the minutemen did not find a single one.  Here is the real problem:  Because we force Mexican immigration to cross illegally across the open borders, terrorists trying to use the same approach are masked by thousands of others crossing the border.  By making free passage of Mexicans across the border illegal, we shift them out of monitored border crossings and onto the frontier, where they mask true criminals and terrorists.  Think of it this way - would you rather try to find a single terrorist who is alone in an empty stadium or one of 60,000 people at a football game?

  • Enforcing the rule of law.  Maybe, but why not start with sitting beside the highway and writing down license plates of speeders too?  At the end of the day, enforcing current immigration law is as hopeless as was prohibition, the war on drugs, and enforcing the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit.
  • Protecting American jobs.  I would not be at all surprised to find a high degree of overlap between the Minuteman supporters and the anti-NAFTA crowd.  The fear that "immigrants might be willing to do your job for less than you are willing to do your job for" has always been a strong part of anti-immigration movements.  The fact of the matter, though, is that this takes a very static view of the world.  The economy is not a zero sum game with competition for a fixed number of jobs.  New sources of labor can spur economic growth that creates new jobs.  The best example of this was in the last three decades, where a totally new, sometimes unskilled, work force of 40 million people showed up at industry's door suddenly looking for work:  women.  I told the story here (towards the bottom of the post), but the bottom line is that these new workers made the economy stronger, and now, with a generation or two behind them in the work force, women are really the backbone of entrepreneurship today in this country.  Besides, if we don't allow companies to legally hire immigrant workers, businesses in this global economy will just pick up and move to Mexico.
  • Reducing cost of government services.  As a libertarian, I am very sympathetic to the argument that you don't want immigrants coming in and being able to immediately live off our safety net at taxpayers expense.  In my mind, though, this has historically been a problem of poorly crafted law rather than immigration per se.  It certainly would be possible to craft an intelligent immigration policy that allowed access to social services in steps.  By the way, shifting illegals into legal guest worker programs would likely increase tax revenues by bringing these folks into the system.
  • Preventing Hispanics from becoming the dominant ethnic group in the Southwest.  Yes, I am positive this is a concern of many of these folks, just as the Italians in Boston at one time were worried about being overrun by the Irish.  It barely dignifies a response, except to say that if you are really concerned with the number of permanent Hispanic residents, then a guest worker program might actually reduce the number.  The reason is that many Mexicans still love their country but want work.  If they were allowed to freely move back and forth, they would do so.  But, since the border is the riskiest point for them, once they get in the US, they are reluctant to ever leave again.

We have got to have an intelligent immigration policy that

  • Allows for free movement of guest workers across the border, with few limits on total numbers allowed. 
  • A clear and fair system for guest workers to move up over time towards full citizenship
  • A clear and fair system of tiered access to social services as immigrants progress from worker to citizen (e.g. emergency services access to all, but welfare/social security require full citizenship).
  • Includes a taxation system on guest worker labor that causes these workers to help pay for the services they use.

Kudos to Professor Bainbridge for breaking with the conservative ranks to support an intelligent guest worker program.  More here from Steven Taylor.

Postscript:  I want to propose a thought experiment.  Most everyone considered the Berlin Wall a travesty.  Now, keeping all the facts about East and West the same, make one change:  suppose the wall was built instead by the West to stem the flood of immigrants from the oppressive east.  Would the wall suddenly become OK?  Even if the reality on the ground for an East Berliner (ie they can't escape) remained unchanged?

Border walls in Nogales, AZ and Berlin, Germany:

Nogaleswall_1   Berlinwall

Oh, and from this site, here is the Montana-Canada border "wall" and a "checkpoint"

Canada  Canada2
But its not about race.

 

The Rules of Alias

I just finished watching 3 seasons of Alias in about 2 weeks.  I love the show, except maybe in the early part of the third season, which I thought dragged a bit.  Given the way each show is structured with cliff hangers, this is a much better way to watch the show -- not to mention that each show is only about 41 minutes long which implies that I am missing a good 19 minutes of commercials every episode for a total of 1,254 minutes of commercials over the three seasons.

From watching these episodes, I have distilled certain "rules" of Alias:

  • There is always a next Rambaldi device, which are probably just part of a 500 year practical joke scavenger hunt (see the Amazon film tooth fairy to get the idea)
  • Your wife is probably an enemy agent
  • Satellites can do anything
  • Competing spies always show up at the same place and at the same time
  • There is always an arbitrary time limit set by the technology, usually under 4 minutes
  • Spies never run missions to Dayton or Bloomington.  Always to Berlin or Kazakstan.
  • The bad guys always shoot worse than Imperial Storm Troopers.
  • Marshall Rules.

Good Stuff at Scrappleface

First, Scrappleface reports:

After a week of tough negotiating by France, Germany and Britain, the Islamic Republic of Iran has conceded to reduce the size of nuclear warheads it will use in the eventual bombing of Paris, Berlin and London.

I might have thought this was humor until I read this line, which seems all too real:

Iran has pledged to stop enriching uranium, while retaining 20 operating centrifuges, and continuing to process plutonium

LOL.  Even better, Scrappleface also reports that CBS is considering emulating recent moves by the Ukraine press to abandon bias:

Inspired by a public pledge from Ukrainian TV journalists to provide unbiased reporting from now on, CBS News has launched an internal investigation to assess the potential impact of such a move.

Go read it all.

Two Faces of Islam

For years, a number of more conservative groups have been warning that the messages given by Islamic leaders and holy men in English for world consumption were far different than the messages given to their own people in Arabic.  And indeed, their translations of Arabic speech aimed at Muslims can be pretty scary.  Few Westerners believed or wanted to believe these warnings, preferring to hope that most arabs were like themselves, basically peaceful and supportive of democracy and plurality. 

For years, I was skeptical of these claims.  I felt like it would require extraordinary laziness and incompetance on the part of the media to just digest the English statements of Islamic leaders without ever checking out what they were saying in Arabic.  However, over the past couple of years, I have lost all faith in the work ethic, intelligence, and dilligence of the western media, and have come to believe that it would be enitrely possible for Arab leaders to manipulate Western media in this way.

For this reason, a part of this article (hat tip LGF) about German reactions to Musilm violence in the Netherlands is interesting to me.  It seems that, after the recent violence, the media finally had the idea to actually listen in on what some Islamic religeous leaders are saying in Arabic:

"These Germans, these atheists, these Europeans don't shave under their arms and their sweat collects under their hair with a revolting smell and they stink," said the preacher at the Mevlana Mosque in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, in the film made by Germany's ZDF public TV, adding: "Hell lives for the infidels! Down with all democracies and all democrats!"

Beyond the bizarre body hair reference, this is NOT what the media has been saying that Islam is teaching here in the west (I don't imply this represents the majority, but the media has essentially claimed it does not exist at all).

By the way, the proposed "solotions" strike me as nuts, and should also be enlightening to anyone in the US who looks up to Continental Europe as a counter-weight to percieved creeping fascism with the Bush Administration.  I may not be a fan of the Patriot Act, but nobody in the Bush administration, with far more provocation, has suggested anything as loony as making all religeous ceremonies English-only.