Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Immigration Reform

The US Senate is putting immigration law on its front burner this week. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has passed legislation significantly increasing criminal penalties for immigration law violations. In response, thousands of immigrant supporters have taken to the streets in protest.

Immigration, like a coin, has two sides, political and economic. Politicians, being shrewd by nature, can make anything into a political issue. Economics is the engine that necessarily drives society. Both politics and economics ebb and flow naturally. That natural process is subject to further manipulation by politicians.

Current US immigration concern overwhelmingly involves Mexicans. The Library of Congress has an interesting short history of US-Mexico involvement. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it took the US only 25 years to provoke a war with Mexico, quickly secure a military victory and then, with the gun still to the head, negotiate a land steal as part of a peace treaty, paying a token $15 million for what is now California, Texas, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. With the land came lots of Mexican residents, who acquired US citizenship in the process, and then almost as promptly lost their land to non-Mexican Americans.

How a politician plays the immigration cards depends on whose vote is being sought. The current Republican base includes voters with conflicting attitudes on Mexican immigration. The traditional business base wants to have cheap immigrant labor to drive down costs and undermine unions. The righteous law and order voters want strict enforcement of the laws and harsh treatment for violators, including employers. Bush has tried to walk a line between these two with the guest worker proposal, encouraging illegal immigrants to make themselves legal so they can work the jobs “Americans are not willing to do”. The Bush proposal is satisfactory to employers, but criticized by law and order types as amnesty. With Republicans in control of the government, Democrats are somewhat content to lay back and watch Republicans flounder over immigration. Senator Kennedy has joined with John McCain to propose their version of a guest worker law.

At least since the Newt Gingrich Republicans slithered into Congress in 1994, the GOP has managed to keep the political side of the coin facing up. Better late than never, the coin needs to be flipped to its economic side. The Mexican immigration issue can be much more honestly resolved based on economics than on politics. Start with the phoney Bush framing of the issue as about “jobs Americans are not willing to do”. That misrepresentation and slander of American workers needs to be corrected. I suggest framing it as “jobs Americans cannot make a living doing”, or “ jobs American employers are not willing to pay a fair American wage to have done”.

Workers can obtain decent wages, hours and working conditions by two methods: negotiation with employers; and protection by legally required minimums. More than 30 years ago, Cesar Chavez led a heroic struggle to successfully negotiate on behalf of migrant farm workers. Republicans, starting with Reagan, have unfortunately been able to undermine unionism to the point where negotiation on behalf of workers is hardly viable. In the absence of negotiating power, the law needs to step in to bring the minimum wage, hours and working conditions up to date, to make all jobs ones which “Americans can make a decent living doing”. Such updates can be combined with a program to register alien workers through Social Security, putting the burden of document verification on the government, only requiring employers to report the alien social security number to the government.

There may be around nine million Mexicans illegally in the US. Many are here because employers and the government encouraged them and turned a blind eye to immigration violations. They should not be punished for American duplicity. Some sort of amnesty seems the only sensible way to resolve the conflicts of their presence. With decent wage payments being required, enough willing Americans and amnesty registered Mexicans should be available to fill the needs of employers. To prevent the flow of jobs across the border and to raise the standards for workers in Mexico, trade agreement between the US and Mexico should be re-negotiated. A Mexican who stays in Mexico should be able to achieve a standard of living comparable to a Mexican worker in the US. Prices of similar goods produced in the US and Mexico should also be comparable.

As I started writing this, I wondered what the current quota was for legal Mexican immigration to the US. I quickly learned immigration quotas based on country of origin were abolished in 1965. I also wondered about the origin of the law that says anyone born in the US is a US citizen, even if their parents were aliens. I found that the 14th amendment to the US Constitution is the source, having been adopted at the end of the War of the Rebellion [aka Civil War] to guarantee citizenship to the newly freed slaves. Their ancestors had been brought to America as “involuntary guest workers” to also do "jobs Americans were not willing to do” - work for life as an enslaved human, whose very humanity was denied by the enslaver and by the American government that enabled such inhumanity.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sex Offenders

Yesterday, in line with a national trend, the Governor of the State of Washington signed into law 18 new pieces of legislation having to do with sex offenders. Fear of a repeat of 9/11 has probably been surpassed by fear that a sexual offender might move next door.

Terrorists and sex offenders engage in behavior that deviates from a societal standard. Terrorists use violence to obtain submission. But so do soldiers. The standard to be applied to perpetrators of violence may depend on who is doing the application. The society of an occupied nation may see insurgents as soldiers and the occupying forces as terrorists. Tailgaters are terrorists and are in violation of laws about not following too closely, but tailgating seems to in fact be quite acceptable on the freeways and even celebrated in the very popular NASCAR races. By stark contrast, sex offenders receive zero tolerance.

Some sex offenders use violence or the threat of violence, but many don’t. If society has an honestly informed basis to fear that a violent sex offender will offend again, then continued incarceration would seem a more appropriate societal protection than release with publication of the registered address of the offender. Predatory offenders who seek to exploit the young and otherwise vulnerable need to be treated like violent offenders, if the likelihood of repeat offending is reasonably high. While in prison, offenders should receive counseling, both for the purpose of gathering generic research data on offenders and to attempt rehabilitation. Prisons are currently overrun with drug offenders, but if diversion and treatment programs are properly used for them, space should be available for longer incarceration of sex offenders who are highly likely to offend again.

Marginal sex offenders should be dealt with by diversion and counseling. These are the cases which ensnare people who are not really deviant but may have barely crossed a line one time and got in trouble. The man who notices his neighbor lady undressing with the blinds open and moves closer to her window for a better look, for example.

One of the few things that has been around as long as sex is sexual ignorance. Only in the last 100 years did Freud open doors of thought about the libido and Kinsey gather and publish significant statistical data. Recently, 60 Minutes ran an interesting piece about the likelihood of a male being born homosexual. Statistics have proven the likelihood increases with the number of older male siblings a male child has. Scientists think the reason may be that the mother is programmed to try to keep the sex of her children fairly equal, so as the number of male children gets too far ahead, she tries to change the male child in the womb and affects it hormonally. Apparently the mother can only do this with males, because the inherent sexual difference between mother and son facilitates her detection of the problem, and she possesses the female hormones to pass onto him.

In the 2004 Presidential Debate, when asked if he believes homosexuality is a choice, George W. Bush said he did not know, and he gave no indication he was interested in finding out the answer. I suppose if asked about the research reported on 60 Minutes he might speculate that boys with lots of older brothers may be choosing to act gay in order to seem different.

Our society, like George W. Bush, is irresponsible in not properly educating ourselves and our children about sexual matters. Ignorance of the elders has perennially been passed along to the children. Churches have presented a moral view of sex, requiring abstinence until marriage, based on doctrinal views, but without other educational background materials. Sex education has historically been obtained on the street from older peers, and now the Internet overwhelms our tech savvy children with sexually explicit materials, violent, predatory and marginal.

The more we learn about sex and about how people become sexual deviants, the better job we will be able to do through our educational system of reducing the number of sex offenders in the future.

We need a four part societal program:
1. Keep violent and predatory sex offenders in prison until we are reasonably sure they are not likely to offend again, and counsel and learn from them while they are in prison,
2. Divert and counsel marginal offenders,
3. Fund and encourage worthwhile sex research,
4. Develop and utilize effective sex education programs for both our students and their parents, as a public health requirement to be met regardless of whether the student attends public school or not.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Texas Takeover Ending

The plummeting Bush approval ratings were to be expected as soon as he assumed the Presidency; the only surprise is that it took longer for the plummet to start. The attacks of 9/11 gave political legs to the most incompetent Administration since the 1920s. But with the military occupation of Iraq having turned into the shambles the Administration said would never happen, and with Bush seeming more interested in protecting the economic gains of the United Arab Emirates than in listening to the American people’s fears that he fanned, the legs seem to be coming out from under Bush.

Bush was handpicked by a Republican power elite to be their puppet President. The fact that he was obviously unprepared and incompetent made him that much more controllable by the puppeteers. Recall again the 2000 election and remember that not only did Al Gore get more votes than Bush, but Bush got the fewest votes for President of any Republican since Barry Goldwater was trounced by LBJ in 1964. To the advantage of Bush, Ralph Nader siphoned off Gore votes, the electoral college unfairly over-represents rural States, systematic disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida was engineered by Bush’s brother and the Conservatives on the US Supreme Court by 5-4 interfered to stop the vote counting process in Florida and award the Presidency to Bush.

Bush assuming a cowboy image is as mythological as much else about Texas. We’ve never seen him on a horse and we know he never did an honest days work in his life. Most people outside of Texas probably assume the Crawford Ranch is in the same part of the State where Bush grew up. It is not. He grew up in the oil pumping community of West Texas, but Crawford is in East Texas, in the most conservative and reactionary part of the State, where George feels more at home. It is part of the Old South.

As Michael Lind points out in his excellent book, “Made in Texas”, the prevailing political mentality in Texas is rooted in the slaveholders who flocked to Texas after it became independent from Mexico. Independence had been won by a coalition of Southerners, Tejanos and liberal European immigrants. But the influx of more slaveholders from the South resulted in their expropriating the lands of the Tejanos, deporting the Indians, crushing the liberal European immigrants and exploiting the blacks. Texas always had a third world economy, based on exporting commodities. Roosevelt with the New Deal and World War II buildup gave Texas a more diverse economic base, and gave rise to liberal Texas Democrats such as LBJ. But as Republicans used civil rights legislation as a wedge issue, Texas went back to its political roots and Old South slaveholding and commodity exporting mentality.

Militarism has always been a big part of Southern mentality. Until the 1970s, the birthday of Robert E. Lee was a State holiday in Texas. Exploitation of persons of color has been another hallmark of Southern mentality. After the civil rights laws began to improve conditions for black workers in the 1960s, the Texas ruling oligarchy opened up Texas to the import of cheap labor from South of the border, legal or not.

The incompetent Southern militarism of the Bush Administration, with Texan General Tommy Franks leading the charge, has resulted in a totally botched occupation of Iraq, and to a lesser extent of Afghanistan. Osama is still “Osama been Forgotten”. Huge tax cuts for the rich have created the largest debt in history. America is on its way to becoming primarily a commodity exporter, like a third world economy, piling up huge trade deficits to Asian countries. Immigration from Mexico is being sought to keep wages depressed and to expand profits of the oligarchy. Ironically, racial prejudice of the Republican base is contributing to the Bush decline, with many of them opposed to America having more Mexican workers and a US ports operator from Arabia.

As Republicans running for re-election distance themselves from the failed Bush policies, one might wonder if they will revert back after the election. I have my doubts, since people seem definitely ready for a change from the Bush approach. Tom DeLay got a 62% vote in his primary, but that was 62% of the Republican voters, by far the lowest support he has ever received, with 38% of the Republicans saying they would rather not have him represent them in Congress any longer. But look how many of the Republican Presidential hopefuls come from the same Old South mentality that spawned Bush. It will be interesting to see if the Republicans nominate another Southerner in 2008, or go with someone different like Governor Romney of Massachusetts.

The Democrats probably will not take over control of either house of Congress as a result of the November elections, but Republicans in Congress will probably continue to move away from Bush after the elections. John McCain will never be a viable candidate in my opinion; his stunt in the recent Republican straw poll in Tennessee, asking his supporters to vote for Bush, was an embarrassment. The Democrats have a better shot at the Presidency in 2008 than they did in 2000, particularly if they have a center left candidate. Potential third party voters may have learned their lesson from 8 years of Bush, so especially if the Republicans do put up another Southerner, all progressive votes should go to the Democrat.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ain’t We Got Fun

Several notes I wrote for possible Sense posts have a common theme of the rich getting richer, at the expense of the poor. I suppose it is the nature of the human animal for the stronger to take advantage of the weaker, thereby guaranteeing the survival of the species. Capitalists lovingly embrace this Darwinian truth.

But humans also believe they are the highest of animals and that the rich must not exterminate the poor. In Deuteronomy 15:11, we read, “For the poor will never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land.” In Proverbs 22:22 we are warned, “Rob not the poor because he is poor.”

So how does society allow the natural course of rich advantage, while at the same time protecting the poor from extermination”? The philosopher Spinoza in the 17th Century informed us, ”To give aid to every poor man is far beyond the reach of every man....Care of the poor is incumbent on society as a whole.” As Western society developed economic concepts and technological inventions to produce unprecedented riches, the gains accrued to the rich in enormously disproportionate amounts. Laissez faire capitalism was advocated and widely adopted, and the gap between rich and poor grew to obscene proportions.

Communist economic theory was advocated as a natural antidote to capitalism, but it was only adopted by one major nation, the Soviet Union around the time of World War I, until China adopted it after WWII. Soviet economic communism ended in the late 1980s because of a sequence of events leading the Soviet Union to conclude it was time to change the way their economy operated. The same thing happened to laissez faire capitalism as a result of the Great Depression. China has been moving its economy away from communist principles for several years. The few other communist nations, such as Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea are not major economic players.

So how are we in the US doing nowadays in controlling the natural course of the rich exploiting the poor? Not so good, according to my notes. Here are a few examples:

● Exxon Mobil last year made the largest profit in the history of mankind, a 40% increase, but its tax bill only went up 14%.

● The Federal Reserve reports that between 2001 and 2004, the typical American household net worth remained flat, with a savings decrease of 23% offset only by the inflated value placed on housing.

● In King County (Seattle area), in 2004, the top 20% of people earned almost half the income, while the bottom 20% earned less than 4%.

● The Bush budget proposes total repeal of estate taxes on the death of the wealthiest of the wealthy, foregoing $300 billion in taxes over 10 years, while making $10 billion a year cut in medicare for the poorest of the poor.

● The Federal Pension Guaranty Benefit Fund continues to provide welfare for incompetently managed corporations and their shareholders at the expense of lifelong workers who are seeing their hard earned pensions diminished or wiped out by corporate bankruptcy.

● Personal bankruptcy laws were made more onerous to bleed more money out of the impoverished for the benefit huge financial corporations.

● While new tax benefits for wealthy investors are being added, the minimum wage for workers languishes.

● Bush advocates “guest worker” laws for immigrants as part of the ongoing Republican war against unionism.

● Without any valid evidence in support, the new Chair of the Federal Reserve wants to see the largest tax cuts for wealthy Americans in history made permanent.

● In New Orleans, we are witnessing the start of a process by which the catastrophic displacement of the poor is going to result in tremendous economic gain for the rich.

● As young Americans who enlisted out of economic need continue to die in Iraq, corporate giants like Haliburton are making huge fortunes on no-bid contracts.

Songwriter Raymond B. Egan, seemed to foresee the coming of the Great Depression when he wrote these lyrics in 1921:
“There’s nothing surer,
The rich get rich and the poor get poorer,
In the meantime, in between time,
Ain’t we got fun.”