Adventures in Bureaucracy
This is an old one
, but it brings up a lot of issues that are relevant to DHS - hiring and recruitment, morale, security. There's even a backhand to a lawyer for good measure.
One of today’s tasks at the office involved editing, and I had to break out a dictionary to check on the usage of a word. Computers may be great for a lot of things, but they still can’t compare to the satisfying heft of an actual hard-backed dictionary. No pointing and clicking twenty times to find the right word or definition – just a quick scan down the page to locate the appropriate entry. In this case, the text had one “mis-“ word when another one turned out to be better. The new, improved word was right there on the same page, no mousework required.
In between the two was a great new word: misoneism. From the Greek words for “hate” and “new”, it means the hatred of change. I guess that makes me a misoneist (among several other things). It’s not an absolute rule, but change is usually for the worse. While the change itself may bring the promise of something better, it’s usually accompanied by confusion, frustration and other unwelcome side effects. Look at televisions. Every generation brings with it new features, which is all well and good, except that each generation is also way more complicated than the last. My current remote control now has almost as many buttons as my computer keyboard, and the remotes are always the first things to go. If you don’t lose or step on the damned things, the batteries die, and always when something truly awful comes on.
Now government is moving into the next generation with the Department of Homeland Security
, which promises big changes for the city of Washington. Over 170,000 people from 22 agencies will be brought together under the aegis of DHS, and I will be one of them. It’s probably a good thing overall to focus the government’s domestic security efforts and to have clear priorities for law enforcement.
Unfortunately the law creating DHS cannot conjure a functional bureaucracy overnight, and that means that soon we’ll begin that worst aspect of change: the transition process. Nobody knows how that’s going to work yet, except for maybe the higher-ups, but they’re not telling. From what I’ve heard most of the working level people - the ones who actually do things - will keep doing what they’ve been doing. The managerial level, however, will probably be ripe for a lot of streamlining. Reducing 22 chains of command down to one is not going to be pretty, and it’s something that is keeping a lot of Washingtonians up at night (luckily I’m not one of them). I have heard stories of people who are now trying to prove how indispensable they are to position themselves for the new regime.
It should be interesting to see which agencies win out in the competition for the management of the Department. Each of the agencies has its own culture, and the agencies that place the most decision-makers will probably put its own institutional stamp on DHS. My money is on Customs and Coast Guard. INS and TSA managers should probably start preparing their resumes now.
TSA should probably serve as a case study for DHS, as it shows some of the perils of creating a new bureaucracy from scratch. The creation of Transportation Security snatched up a lot of people from other government agencies who were eager to become sky marshals and get in on the ground floor of the new agency. A year later, morale at TSA has plunged, and its people are scrambling to get out. Personnel issues are a big part of the reason for the problems at TSA, and questions about personnel matters loom in the minds of federal employees about DHS. Employees of the new department will lose some of the civil service protections they have now. One of my co-workers worries that this will make it easier for people to get fired as scapegoats for public managerial failures (we all now what rolls down hill) or because of personality conflicts with supervisors. I think these worries are largely misplaced and that it should be easier to ditch the people who don’t or can’t do the jobs they were hired to do, but there is that nagging doubt that my colleague could have a point.
The logistics of the transition are going to be interesting as well. No doubt there will be meeting after meeting after meeting to discuss the implementation of the new department, and there may well be lots of new training as each section tells the others what exactly it does and tries to teach them how to do it as well.
The next year promises to be a tumultuous one within the bureaucracy. Times they are a-changing.
Another weekend driving through the wilds of western Pennsylvania. When the weather is decent it’s a pretty relaxing drive once past Frederick, and my favorite part of the trip is the radio station roulette between the big cities. There’s always something good to be found, and the good part to driving alone is that I can switch the stations whenever I want without having to listen to any complaints. Every trip seems to have the one inescapable song. I once went two hours unable to get away from Avril Lavigne. She was everywhere up and down the dial. But the best songs are the ones I don’t even remember I like until hearing them. “The Name Game
” is one of those songs I always belt out at the top of my lungs (another benefit of driving solo), although I always wonder how long it took before someone figured out “Let’s do CHUCK!”
One classical station on this trip played one of those tunes familiar to everyone, but I couldn’t think of the name. I guessed something Soviet from that brief flowering of culture in the 1920s before the dictatorship of the proletariat crushed the life out of such things. At one point I thought they had segued into another piece, and there was something going on at the top of my lungs, and it wasn’t singing. Luckily it was just a slower part of the same piece, which turned out to be Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights
’ from “Romeo and Juliet”.
Certain songs always bring back memories of times and places for me, and one of the songs that always brings back those college days in the 1980s is, oddly enough, Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl
”. It’s how I learned the months in Czech, and eventually I translated the chorus too. Now every time I sing along with it, all the important bits are in Czech:
Jo, jo, viri ma srdce.
Mam rad, mam rad, mam rad mou kalendarskou divku
Kazdy den (kazdy den), kazdy den (kazdy den) rokuuuuuuuuuu (kazdy den roku)!
Bond is back
, although I can't say that I've seen any of the movies with Pierce Brosnan, as I never thought he was right for the role. He's Remington Steele, not James Bond. I haven't really paid much attention since "The Living Daylights". That was a good one, but most of the really fun ones were the originals. "From Russia with Love" is probably my favorite of the whole series. Bring back Sean Connery! And maybe have Catherine Zeta Jones as a femme fatale. Or did they do that one already
I just got back from dinner with some friends of mine who I don't see very often because they live 30 miles away, where housing is still more or less affordable. On a Friday afternoon, that translated into nearly an hour and a half down I-95 to get their, and this was avoiding the Beltway and the Springfield Interchange
. And they say the traffic in Bangkok is bad! The only difference is that there are very few tuk-tuks in northern Virginia. That's one reason I was happy to see that they plan to expand the Metrorail system
. The rail system is running close to capacity now, especially out here on the Orange Line, but commuting patterns have changed since the system was planned.Metrorail was meant to bring government workers into Washington come hell or high water (although snow sometimes causes problems) from the suburbs. It does this quite well, but in the mean time, government offices have taken offices in any place with vacant space at a good rate. Now the suburb to suburb commuting clogs the highways, and there aren't too many options for people who don't have cars. And the traffic is constantly bad - it's not just rush hour any more. I personally try to avoid driving whenever possible. With the Metro extension, at least there will be a way to avoid driving to Tyson's and to Dulles. Too bad the wilds of Stafford County are still too far away!
By now I think everyone with a television has seen the pictures of Michael Jackson dangling a baby off a balcony. Granted, it's a new frontier in lunacy for Michael, but let's face it, bizarre behavior from the King of Pop isn’t exactly surprising. The really strange thing is the veils covering the children’s heads in every picture I see
. My theory is that the veils are meant to hide the evidence that the little kiddies are being stripped for spare parts.
I also worry about other people going down the yellow brick road to complete insanity. The number one singer at risk? Britney Spears. Think about it:
* They both started out as child stars in larger groups of people.
* They both went on the fame and fortune in their solo careers.
* They both acted in not-so-great movies.
* They both started appearing in quasi-military uniforms that would do a tin-pot Third World dictator proud.
* Pepsi hired them both as spokesmen. Hmmm….maybe it’s the Pepsi, since Michael didn't start to get REALLY weird until after his hair caught fire filming a Pepsi commercial. There is already evidence to support my theory
that the soft drink company is behind all this.
Already Britney appears to have started dabbling in surgical improvements
. Save yourself now, Britney, before it's too late! It's not like you don't have other talents
to fall back on!
At least the British are on our side... and thank God for that
What is it about the French that inspires things like this
? OK, I'm with him on French fashion, but the food is great, and Paris is beautiful, if no longer safe
I see I got an honorable mention in the Ms. Crunchy Granola Pants Contest
over at Cornfield Commentary
- woo hoo! It's like Dad always said: when in doubt, go with the fart joke.
And as a special added bonus, I also added a brick to the Paula Poundstone Family Christmas comedy pyramid on the Ron and Fez
show. That's probably about as far as it will go on the road to media whoredom, but then, the night is young. Bitter and caustic.... qualities that have served me well as a civil servant!
Updating another classic, I bring you: The Wizard of Oz, 2002.
Wide-eyed young farm girl Dorothy (Jennifer Lopez) rushes into her Kansas farmhouse with dog Toto (portrayed by the dog from the Taco Bell commercials). Following behind her is vicious and haggard old crone Elvira Gulch (Susan Sarandon), who says that Toto has been digging up her garden and has an order to take Toto to the pound. Dorothy tells Aunt Em (Betty White) that Elvira Gulch tried to kick Tot. Aunt Em calls in PETA and files a $1.2 million lawsuit for animal cruelty. The case goes to court, climaxing in a memorable musical number featuring Liza Minelli as the judge and Johnny Cochrane as Dorothy's attorney. While everyone is in court, a tornado destroys the farm.
Audiences say the movie was worse than "Glitter". A distraught Jennifer Lopez proceeds to marry, divorce, remarry and redivorce Ben Affleck.
There seems to be a tendency to try to judge the past by the standards of today. This article
in today's Washington Post talks about the Sudeten Germans who want their land back. They too were innocent victims, they say. Maybe, but the expulsions after World War II did not take place in isolation. The entire continent of Europe was emerging from ruins, and the government of Czechoslovakia understandably was not too favorably disposed to the group whose spokesemen ultimately led to the dismemberment of the country. The attitude is not unique to Europe, as the arguments over reparations go. I lived in a dorm that was renamed, since the original name belonged to someone who owned slaves.
I got to wondering whether this updating and sanitizing of the past would have any effect on some of the old movies I loved.
Gone with the Wind, 2002
Atlanta is under siege, and a spunky Scarlett O’Hara (Reese Witherspoon
) returns to her house to find paragon of virtue and purity Melanie (Brittany Murphy
) in labor. Scarlett sends slave girl Prissy (Jada Pinkett Smith
) to find a doctor, but none are available. Scarlett has a tantrum and protests her lot in life, but Prissy says, “I know all about birthing babies.” Prissy slaps Scarlett. Audiences across America cheer.
Later, Scarlett, Prissy, Melanie and child escape the burning of Atlanta and return to Tara, where they find Scarlett’s mother (Kim Basinger) dead on a table in the dining room. This caused Scarlett’s father to become unhinged (Billy Bob Thornton
), so the running of the plantation has fallen to wise old Mammy (Alfre Woodard
) and the dignified house slave (a special cameo by Morgan Freeman
). They instruct Scarlett in the ways of business and enlighten her on how to succeed in the white man’s world, bringing her to realize that she too has been oppressed. Scarlett’s sulky sisters Suellen and Carreen (Alicia Silverstone
and Shannen Doherty
) complain about Scarlett’s behavior, leading to a three-way girl fight in the red Georgia clay, which Melanie breaks up in the end. Men line up at cinemas around the country for this scene.
Scarlett eventually becomes a shrewd and successful businesswoman, opening a design firm called Sugarbaker’s in central Atlanta, where she meets old flame Rhett Butler (Matt Damon). The two marry and have a daughter, but in her heart Scarlett still longs for Melanie’s husband Ashley Wilkes (sensitively portrayed by Eminem). Scarlett finally confesses her love to Ashley, who rebuffs her. Scarlett realizes she does not need a man to be happy and decides to leave Georgia to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a stage actress and tells Rhett she is leaving for New York. Rhett demands to know whether their marriage can be saved, but Scarlett retorts, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a flying $#@!” Rhett flies into a murderous rage, and the two fight until Scarlett pushes Rhett down the staircase. She opens the door and begins to walk off into the sunset, but suddenly Rhett appears again, lurching toward Scarlett with a knife. Melanie, appearing from nowhere, delivers an impassioned speech about sisterhood and centuries of misogynistic attitudes towards woman and shoots Rhett. The theme music swells and the two walk off into the sunset.
It’s not often that you see someone picketing a church, but someone was holding a sign about the Pope and child abuse in front of St. Matthew’s Cathedral for 11:30 Mass today. I was running late, so I didn’t stop by for a chat.
Although the outside of the Cathedral is rather drab, the inside has some beautiful mosaics and artwork inside the dome. It’s difficult to see any of it because of all the scaffolding in the way, but the priest assured us that all work should be complete by next September. The choir sang beautifully during the Mass. The same could not be said for the man sitting next to me. His timing was off, and he sang quite loudly and very off key. At first I wondered whether he was in league with the demonstrator out front and was planning to disrupt things, but no, he knew the Mass and was actively participating in it.
These things struck me as the Church in microcosm these days. By its very nature, the Church represents an ideal, a timeless and eternal guide to perfection. The problem is that normal people tend not to be perfect – we want to sing like the choir, but like the man sitting next to me, we fall short of the ideal. A lot of the criticisms of the Catholic Church fault it for being less than perfect, as though every problem is the result of the structure of the Church itself.
The current crisis in trust has come about because so much was either tolerated or ignored instead of dealt with at the time. The problems are very real, and they need to be repaired.
just gets worse every time I see it. I wonder how much would be covered by Blue Cross?
Tom Brokaw managed to piss me off this morning. In an interview on the morning radio show, Tom was asked whether he had any trouble staying objective when covering terrorist stories, considering how emotional the events of September 11 have been to everyone in America. No, said Tom. Ordinary people may see things in black and white, but journalists are able to see the varying shades of grey. Right, since as well all know journalists are different from normal people, who are completely unable to distinguish anything like nuance or subtlety. And I thought the main hiring criterion for TV news was just good hair.
I found this piece
interesting, as I had actually met Agent Schermerhorn years ago at some INS thing. His comments don't surprise me - he seemed like a pretty straight shooter. This naturally works against him, as the management track in government too often goes not to the most diligent or the hardest working, but to the people who spend the most time sucking up. INS and its employees are regularly beaten up, but it was my experience that there are a lot of people in the agency who want to do a good job and enforce the laws as they are written. How many conversations have I had with co-workers ended with, "If the American people actually knew!"
INS management regularly seems to take the course of action that will squelch bad publicity in the short term, usually from the groups that complain about everything anyway. We always whispered that a number of managers made decisions just to make problems go away - after all, you never get a complaint letter from someone you admit. But this article may be the first time I've seen fear of special interest groups used as a rationale. It's things like this that kill morale and lead so many INS people to leave the agency.
If you stumble across this remote corner of the Internet, say hello at email@example.com.
Reading over Andrew Sullivan’s piece on recent U.S. cultural imports from Britain
reminded me of a running debate I had with an Australian friend of mine. She said that the world was awash with an inescapable American culture, one that was forcing other cultures in the world to adapt to its ways. Indeed, I often read similar arguments about how the rest of the world is drowning in an unstoppable wave of Americana. Cultural imperialism, they sniff. It goes without saying, of course, that this is A Bad Thing.
There are several problems with this argument, not least of which is identification of the problem itself. “American culture” is inescapable… except that it’s not really American so much as Anglophone. It’s pretty easy to understand the confusion, as the United States is by far the largest English-speaking country, with a population closing in on 300 million. The idioms of the modern era had their beginnings in the United States – moving pictures, then television, now the Internet.
But it is a mistake to associate popular media solely with the United States. When people complain about “American culture”, they inevitably bring up Hollywood, shorthand for the entertainment industry, peddling its American propaganda to the world. Let’s look at last year’s top ten movies
. The top one: Harry Potter, with a mostly British cast. Number two was Shrek, whose voice was Canadian. Coming in at number three was Monsters Inc, followed by Lord of the Rings, with a cast from the entire English-speaking world. And the star of Rush Hour 2, the number five movie, was from the one-time British crown colony of Hong Kong. Think about some of the top names in Hollywood and you get stars like Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. And the longest running franchise in the business, with sequel after sequel after sequel, is James Bond. All things considered, Hollywood is hardly the American juggernaut that so many whine about.
Fine, but American television is everywhere too, and the inevitable trump card played here is always “Baywatch”. It could only happen in America… well, until they started talking about moving it to Australia, that is. Sullivan’s article talks about some of the recent imports, like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “The Weakest Link”. But American television has long taken inspiration from British television, with classics like “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son” starting out on the other side of the Atlantic. Some programs don’t translate too well, so they were left as is – think “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, “Absolutely Fabulous” and all those Britcoms they’ve got on PBS. And the foreign influence is more subtle as well, with Canadians infiltrating U.S. television everywhere you look. The all-American Alex P. Keaton? Canadian Michael J. Fox.
The printed word tends to transcend nationality, and when people complain about American culture, it’s usually not about American writers (except perhaps for Stephen King). The best-sellers in the entire English-speaking world have been the Harry Potter books, and the only complaints you hear about them is that the next one can’t come out soon enough. (Though they’ve taken care of that problem in China!)
Music goes beyond language more than any other medium, but even here English is the international standard. How many Eurovision contestants sing in any other language? All those Swedish groups starting with ABBA probably wouldn’t have reached the world (and featured in the soundtracks of all those Australian movies starting with “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”) pa svensk. Indeed, the two sides of the Atlantic have traded musical influences over the years. We sent them Elvis and the Supremes. They sent back the Beatles, the Stones and the Who. The Brits send over another musical invasion in the 1980s. Singing submerges accents, and everyone sounds the same on the radio. You’d never know Kylie was Australian.
When people complain about American culture, two words always pop up almost immediately. The first is Hollywood, the second is McDonald’s. With these swords the United States shall conquer the world.
Except that it’s not cultural imperialism, and it’s not exclusively American. Almost all the complaints are not so much about American culture as about popular culture. It’s about giving people what they enjoy, not what some elites think is good for the masses. America has always been good at providing what people want, because the government stays out of the way. This seems to be the source of all the complaints. People aren’t supposed to want “The Simpsons” when they should be listening to opera.
This giving people what they want is an outgrowth of a larger culture, and it’s one that is shared by the countries of the English-speaking world. After all, a common language is one of the basics for any type of culture, but common beliefs, values and ideals are required as well. Some of the basic attitudes of America started in Britain, and they spread not just to the United States, but to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere with the British. Freedom of the individual as an ideal. A sense of fair play. An openness to new ideas. These have been some of the basic values passed along from generation to generation and may be considered as England’s legacy to its descendants. America allowed these ideas to fluorish within its borders, and that gave rise to the popular culture we have today.
There is no “Academie anglaise” trying to preserve an ideal of the language, either in the United States or in any other country. There is little restriction on what can be said or done. If that leads to low-brow shows like “Baywatch” or to simple foods like a McDonald’s cheeseburger, no problem. Anglophone culture has succeeded and prospered because it does not dictate what people should like; it gives them want. It takes people for what they are, yet it is faulted for not trying to “improve” them.
American cultural imperialism. Almost sounds like the United States is marching its legions abroad, cramming pizzas down the throats of the downtrodden locals, forcing them to listen to Michael Jackson at gunpoint. But what’s on offer is the mingling of ideas in a constant search for what is better, and people from around the world seem to like it and want to enjoy it for themselves. The problem is apparently that too much of it takes place in English. And it often has an American accent, but then again, a lot of times it doesn't. Just like Madonna.
Arkansas Attorney General and Democratic candidate for Senator Mark Pryor was accused of employing an off-the-books Mexican housekeeper in a last-minute ad. Most of the public argument has revolved around whether woman is a legal immigrant or not, but I wonder whether the ad isn’t actually just another invocation of the race card.
Arkansas is a small but growing state. The last census put the number of people in the state at about 2.7 million. Arkansas has long had a reputation as being something of a rural backwater, almost a holdover from the bad old days of the Old South. Race was always an issue of black and white, and one of the country’s battles for desegregation began in the state.
Things changed during the 1990s. The state was home to some big players in the national economy – Walmart and Tyson Foods – and the expansion of these companies led to growth at home. Both provided lots of jobs where college education was not necessarily required, and their success helped bring prosperity to Arkansas, particularly the northwestern part of the state.
The poultry business also brought in huge number of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, willing to do the dirty work cheap. Between 1990 and 2000 the state’s population grew by nearly 14 per cent. The Hispanic population more than tripled
. In Benton Country, home to Tyson Foods and other poultry concerns, the number of Hispanics increased nearly tenfold. Suddenly rural Arkansas faced a large number of people who were very obviously from somewhere else. The rapid changes have necessitated a lot of adjustments and caused more than a little resentment
Processing chickens is a hard, dirty job, and this large-scale migration to Arkansas has provided the companies with a large work force willing to work cheap. This keeps labor costs down and allows cheaper goods for consumers nationwide. Without the migrants, the food companies would have to pay more to get other workers willing to do the same jobs. Thus the presence of a large immigrant labor pool tends to suppress wages locally. It’s therefore the lowest strata of the local work force, people without higher education or specialized skills, who lose out in the competition with the newcomers. It doesn’t make much difference whether they are legal immigrants or not. What matters is that they are in the local labor pool and are therefore potential competition.
Is the Republican commercial in Arkansas an effort to play up on tensions between native and immigrant? By all accounts the Senate race is too close to call, so persuading just a handful of voters could be the difference between winning and losing the race. The commercial portrays Pryor as flouting tax laws by paying the woman under the table, but it also ties Pryor to the highly visible and not always welcome newcomers to the state. Arkansas was never one of the main destinations for new immigrants, and their presence may add a new dynamic for the elections - though not as voters, since the permanent residents and illegal immigrants are not eligible to vote. Clearing up Osorio’s legal status and tax issues shouldn’t take long, but the timing of the issue suggests that this ad was meant as an emotional appeal, bringing any simmering resentments to the surface just in time for voters to think of them as they walk into the voting booths.
The elections are tomorrow and we find that the Democratic candidate for Senate in Arkansas hired an immigrant to do housework
"'`When Ortenzia came to us she provided documentation stating she was in the United States legally. She did light housework for us, as needed, for a few hours a week and only for a few months. We have never employed an illegal immigrant,' the statement said."
I'm guessing this means that she showed a green card that turned out to be fake. This would give Pryor plausible grounds to say he didn't know if she does turn out to be an illegal immigrant. The part about paying her in cash and not paying taxes or Social Security on her wages will be harder to explain though.
Now off to work.
Putting thousands of National Guardsmen on the borderline would probably deter some illegal immigration, but it might just drive it underground... literally. The US-Mexico frontier has several towns and cities right on the line, and the infrastructure underground has been expanded in several of the places to smuggle people into the country. And not just people either - this is a good example of the nexus between "simple" illegal immigration and more serious problems. It's happened in El Paso
, in Arizona
and other places as well. Building this kind of infrastructure should give some indication of the money involved in smuggling drugs, people, weapons and God knows what else.
I read with interest the Right Wing News interview with Michelle Malkin
and comments on it over at Little Green Footballs
. The whole topic of immigration is a fascinating one, because it touches on so many other issues. My perspective is a little different than most, since I spent several years up close and personal with the huddled masses. I’ll give that job one thing: it was never dull (unlike my current one!). Sometimes I miss those days at Immigration, but then when I wake up on a Sunday or a holiday and realize I DON’T have to spend the rest of the day at the airport, I get over it real fast.
Malkin seems to have a pretty good understanding of how the system works, and she has some pretty good ideas on fixing some of the problems with it, but a lot of the debate on immigration matters becomes emotional very quickly. The usual arguments start at the extremes: either we should close the borders completely, or we should open the doors wide. The problem is finding a balance. The distinction between legal and illegal immigration starts off blurry in most debates and gets even further obscured from there, but it’s an important one.
Those who think we can close the borders completely should take a closer look at the borders. It’s almost reflexive that when people hear “immigrants”, they think “Mexicans”. There’s a reason for that. Mexicans are our closest neighbors, and they provide the bulk of migrants to the United States, both legal and otherwise. The border with Mexico has also been the biggest problem in terms of enforcing the law. Stretching from Texas to California through deserts, mountains and generally forbidding terrain, it’s pretty tough to patrol it all, and there’s no way it can be sealed.
The closest the authorities can come is to make it as difficult as possible. Remember about ten years ago, when the news stories showed huge groups of people waiting for nightfall in Tijuana so they could make a run for the border after dark? INS spent huge sums of money upgrading border security at the most used crossing points, which at that time tended to be near urban areas. The end result was that the number of illegal crossings plummeted in these areas. Government measures didn’t stop the crossings; they just forced a change in tactics.
Illegal immigration patterns, like so much else in life, tend to follow the path of least resistance. Remember the migrants dashing through the border crossing post and running up I-5? That worked for a while, because the numbers were so big that Border Patrol couldn’t get them all… and those who were caught got back to Tijuana to try again the following night. But the long-term switch led the migrants to go through the mountains and the deserts. Enforcement in those areas was sparse, but the terrain was much more difficult. This made the illegal crossings more dangerous, and more illegal migrants died while making the attempt, either from exposure or dehydration. This is one end result of stricter enforcement. People die. Harsher policies do nothing to stop people from other countries from coming, as the lure is too great. The United States really is the shining city on a hill, where the streets are paved with gold, and many migrants consider the rewards worth risking their lives. Stricter enforcement simply leads to more dangerous ways of trying to get in.
It’s sobering to think that people are literally willing to risk death just for all those things we take for granted – an economy that lets even illegal immigrants make enough to send money home to their families, the chance to worship in any way or in no way at all, the ability to complain about politicians without worrying about disappearing one night. What’s more, most of our ancestors came with little more than dreams. Is it fair to put all these obstacles in the way of people who just want the same chance?
This brings the security issue into play. The United States is the most generous country in the world in the sheer numbers of people we let in every year. These are legal immigrants, and there is a background check for each one of them. We know who they are. The same cannot be said of illegal immigrants. The majority are simply people searching for a better life, but others use the same methods to evade border controls. They go with what works. Back at the airport we caught people with fake passports, fake visas, fake green cards, you name it, all the time. At the time all those who said they feared for their lives and wanted asylum got released onto the streets. How many of them were criminals? Or even terrorists? Impossible to say.
Any debate on immigration inevitably comes down to individuals, because the issue lends itself to those gushy news stories like few others. Debate on a law to toughen deportation laws? Meet Jane, the American girl next door and mother of three whose life will be devastated if the INS sends her husband back to Egypt just because of a couple convictions. Harsher provisions against illegal aliens? Let me introduce you to Jose, whose parents brought him across the border as a child who can’t legally get a job to help his sick mother. New asylum criteria? There always seems to be another case deserving of our pity. Every change to immigration law has a thousand human faces. The only issue that even comes close in terms of personalization is farm policy, where any changes will cause someone to lose the family farm. Meet that family, at 6 and 11.
Focusing on the problems of one person does not make for good national policy. Immigration policy is important, and it deserves a more open debate. More of an open door? Or better controls? The policy has been for strict enforcement as long as it didn’t inconvenience anyone, and Lord knows that didn’t work.
I almost drove off the road last night when I heard Dan Rather on the radio gravely reporting that people are "dissing" this year's mid-term elections. "Dissing"? That term grates on my nerves like Rosie Perez doing a Fran Drescher impersonation. Is that now considered standard English? Because it sounded forced. Come on, Dan, that's not how you speak! Your reporting style may be legitimately criticized for a lot of things ("When Good Similes Go Bad", coming soon to FOX!), but you've always had a simple, direct way of communicating. I have respected you ever since that night after Bush's speech on stem cell research when you told your viewers that the issue was too complicated to explain adequately on television, so go pick up a newspaper. So please, please, PLEASE don't change because some snot-nosed writer tells you that it will appeal to a younger demographic.