Adventures in Bureaucracy
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Let me see if I've got this one right. We sign a treaty with North Korea, they violate the treaty, so our course of action should be... going back to the treaty and giving it another go? I can understand why Berger and Gallucci would be attached to the Agreed Framework, since they appear to have a lot invested in it, but it seems pretty clear that the North Koreans never intended to abide by the terms. They're right on target when they say that we can't ignore North Korea and that none of the options available to us are good, but the ship has sailed on the 1994 agreement.

The stick and carrot approach didn't work here, because the enticement of ending North Korean isolation doesn't appear to be very important to the North Koreans. But Berger and Gallucci still talk about inspections under international safeguards. I've been to meetings where one person advocates going back to some idea that didn't work, saying that it will work if we just try harder next time. These meetings usually waste lots of time and accomplish very little. Efforts to get North Korea to go back to the terms of 1994 will probably have the same outcome.
Sunday, December 29, 2002
"The Sound of Music" is on this evening, and Julie Andrews definitely owns "My Favorite Things". The Streisand version is sacrilege.
Dave Barry reviews 2002, but I really hope he's wrong about the "Department of Homeland Insecurity", as I can't tell the difference between mauve and fuchsia. It's all purple to me.
Here's another piece from today's paper that managed to annoy me by trying to figure out what Tolkien would have thought about current events. This one is much better, and this one was quite good as well. The story is about not about politics but about the age-old struggle between good and evil.

Besides, I haven't seen the movie yet, but in the book, weren't the orcs slaughtered not by the men of Rohan, but by a rival band of orcs?
It’s immigration day at the Post’s editorial page, with two pieces on immigration issues. One editorial discusses the NSEERS registration program and says it’s a bad program because it resulted in some arrests that irritated Arabs and Muslims living in the United States. Still, inconvenience is not a good argument against what is conceded in the editorial as a legitimate government interest in knowing who is within our borders. I’m sure there are arrests made at DMV offices for things like unpaid tickets and other outstanding warrants, and God knows it’s inconvenient to spend a few hours there, but I haven’t seen the Post arguing against the licensing requirement for drivers. Regrettably, the Post offered no suggestions on how to improve the program or on better ways to keep track of non-immigrants within the country.

The other piece dealt with the deportation of Cambodians convicted of “minor offenses”. The author asks whether we should deport Winona Ryder for shoplifting. Personally, I’m for it (let’s see how far that “I was preparing for a role” defense gets her in Phnom Penh), but Winona is a citizen of the United States, and whatever else she might do, by virtue of citizenship she has the permanent right to live in this country.

Non-citizens, however, do not have the same right, and as guests of the country they are expected to abide by the same laws as American citizens. A country’s first duty is to protect the well-being of its citizens, so when aliens violate the laws, they are subject to expulsion for protection of the common good. There is legitimate room for arguing where to draw the line on which crimes merit deportation, but I’d say that most people would agree that the robber cited by the author is one of the people who should go. Contrary to popular belief, the immigration system of the United States is not set up to shelter every person with a hard luck story (asylum decisions in the Ninth Circuit notwithstanding). It attempts to regulate immigration for the benefit of the American public.

Both of these pieces have the same basic assumption: that immigration laws aren’t REALLY as important as the rest. The editorial mentions all those people arrested on “trivial immigration matters”, while the other seems to argue that a person’s behavior shouldn’t affect their permission to remain in the country. Non-citizens may be held to a higher standard than citizens if they want to stay within the United States. Why exactly is that so bad?
As if the Christmas songs weren't bad enough......
Another Christmas has come and gone, and now we’re in that strange week while we wait for the remainder of the year to run down. I’ve been trying to tidy up some loose ends at work and get some chores done, and that meant a trip to the mall yesterday to pick up a few things. I got there early to see all the things that were marked down to move them off the shelves. It wasn’t hard to see why some of the items didn’t move, as lots of the clothing was just too ugly to give as a gift. Another shop had a whole flock of flamingo lamps in the front window – pink, plastic and totally tacky. I can’t imagine why they didn’t sell.

I bought one.

I also got a gift for my sister’s birthday in February, next year’s Christmas cards, and various other odds and ends. One sign that I’m not a kid any more was that one of the most exciting finds from yesterday’s shopping excursion was a tie rack that hangs from the bar in the closet. I got three of them. Can ear hair trimmers be far behind? But with all that out of the way, I can say that I’ve done my bit for the economy and should be able to avoid the mall for months to come.
Saturday, December 28, 2002
Practical yet elegant.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Somebody should tell this guy about Blogger!
All's well that ends well.
Sunday, December 22, 2002
Several radio stations here are playing all Christmas music all the time. It's great, except for one thing: Barbra Streisand. All the Streisand renditions of Christmas songs I've heard is craptastic. She's got a great voice, and she's had so many good songs, but I just heard her version of "Jingle Bells". Ugh. And what she did to "My Favorite Things" is unforgiveable. Julie Andrews should slap her.

OK, "It Must Have Been the Mistletoe" is a good one, even if I am partial to the Barbara Mandrell version. But I still think Julie Andrews should slap her.
Christmastime is probably the best time of year to be in Washington. The crowds thin out, the weather is generally comfortable, and of course the Christmas decorations come out. The lights, wreaths and bows of the season make any city look better, but they look particularly elegant on the grand buildings here.

This year’s Capitol Christmas tree comes from Oregon and is full of Oregon symbolism – Oregon-shaped ornaments, decorations made from recycled plastic plates and things like that. The branches are a little on the sparse side, but it’s beautiful at night. Every year the Capitol tree has a state theme, and my all-time favorite was the Wisconsin tree from a few years ago. Nothing says “Christmas” like cheese wedges hanging from the branches.

I always enjoy visiting Union Station to see the huge wreaths on the outside and all the decorations inside. The tree, donated every year by the city of Oslo, was beautiful, all lights and branches. The Norwegians also set up a huge train set, with model trains running around the mountains and the sea. There are other Scandinavian touches (like the SAS ads on some of the train cars), as well as the hockey game at one corner and the toboggan run down one of the hills.

The highlight, of course, is the National Christmas tree at the White House, a huge spruce with lights that change from red to green. This tree is surrounded by smaller trees for each of the states and territories, making for a great display. Judging from the number of people there, I’m not the only one who thinks that!

But perhaps the most amazing thing I saw yesterday was at the Farragut North metro station. I got off the train and headed for the escalators as the “Doors Closing” chimes rang out. One woman was making a dash for the doors (and it was a short four-car train), while two others were hurrying down the escalator. And wonder of wonders, the driver held the train for all three of them!

Christmas really is a time for miracles.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
I was reading Tim Blair's site today, as it's always entertaining and is my main source for news on the marvelous land of Oz, and I followed the link to this. Wow. And the fortnightly column is supposed to ATTRACT readers to the site? I have to admit, though, that when I saw the main headline "Carmen's Fans", for a fleeting moment I was expecting something else entirely. Something like the following, which frankly would have made for much better reading:

What's really going on
by Carmen Electra
My resignation from “Baywatch” a couple of years ago released a wave of pent up anger and anguish from many Australian fans. Paradoxically, perhaps, many of them also found renewed hope that my new career directions could again represent their vision of femininity in a way that Pam Anderson just couldn’t. A common sentiment was that it gave people heart... or at least a lot of cleavage! And now, thanks to Margo Kingston and her Web Diary, I can reach out to all my fans in Australia!

As a 27-year-old man from Launceston told me, that as a life-long “Baywatch” viewer, he had "never been so disillusioned as at these times when ‘Baywatch’ is hard to find on satellite. Your actions and appearance in ‘Scary Movie’ have given me new hope."

Thanks! The DVD version would make someone a GREAT Christmas present, or whatever holiday you celebrate in Tasmania this time of year. You’ll also be happy to know that I will reprise the role of Lani McKensie in “Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding” next year. I don’t want to give away any secrets, but my bathing suit will be back. I never had my own name on a bathing suit on “Baywatch”. I was always given one that said Pamela or Yasmine. I earned my own suit, at the end of the season, which I now have framed, but you might see it again soon!

This response, one of approximately 6000 faxes, e-mails, phone calls and letters, is typical of all the correspondence waiting for me in Margo’s office: "You are saying exactly what many ordinary members of the public have been saying for a long time now. It is absolutely clear that the party has got itself into the car salesman mode. You no doubt know what I mean.”

No! I'm such a modest person. Truthfully, I still feel like a regular girl from Cincinnati, Ohio. You know what I mean?

Some of the other responses were a little freaky. For example, a former natural resource manager and planner wrote:
"I learnt early that there were three basic steps in planning - philosophy, principle, practice. Labor has fallen into the common trap of deciding out of logical order a practice it proposed to implement to achieve its goal before developing a 'policy' inevitably devoid of philosophy and principle. In following this course it has developed a strategy, not a policy. A recognised planner/author called this process 'solutioneering'."

Uh, yeah, OK. You know, Margo, people are surprised at how down-to-earth I am...I like to stay home on Friday nights and listen to The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. So I know about something about philosophy.

Lots of other letters came into Margo’s office for me. Many argued strongly about something called “ALP”. Like this one: "The Labor Party, in fact any political party, does have a responsibility far beyond reflecting populist sentiment. Political activism is about building, and implementing a vision. In the past, the party has had a resilient and open approach that enabled political vision to be built on the input of people concerned over equality, redistribution of resources, open debate and open decision making processes. Now, it appears, the first goal is to attain power, and political goals are built according to how they facilitate the achievement of that goal. This necessarily limits debate and visioning to those directly involved in strategy, excluding the majority from the thinking process, and necessarily alienating them from the final positions established, and alienating the political leaders from the passions and concerns of the people in the party."


But I can totally understand the part about alienation. Sometimes the public doesn't realize that you're actually human. Just because you're famous, people think you're always happy and you have everything you want. But you know, I actually have real human emotions and I deal with real human things that happen. But people expect me to be superwoman. That can be really hard. I was tired of dealing with the media, so I just stepped away from everything and I took a year off and just spent time trying to heal and focus on work and myself for once.

A gentleman from Cooma expressed the view that: "The way we are currently treating asylum seekers is a disgrace, as attested to in the human rights report released today and in previous UN criticism. We are destroying our image in the world as 'fair minded'. We are also creating future potential enemies."

Margo tells me about that you put asylum seekers in jail in the middle of nowhere. That reminds me of the time I was watching an HBO special ... on real-life maximum-security-prison guys. I glanced up, and my poster was in quite a few cells. I was screaming “Oh, no!"

Some of the other letters wrote disparagingly of the "Deputy Sheriff" approach of the Howard government to whatever. I saw John Howard on TV, and I have to say that I think he’s kind of sexy… and now I’m picturing him dressed up as a Sheriff! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I'm more attracted to a stronger man rather than a feminine man. Someone who would just throw me down and take control. I love feeling helpless. I definitely like a man who is aggressive and confident. For some interesting reason, I also like a guy who has a little bit of a belly. I think that's really cute.

There’s something weird about all these letters, Margo. Look at this one:
"Australia is in a unique position to capitalise on its many strengths, but don't let its myopia and insecurity stop it from unleashing its potential as a truly great, compassionate, peace-loving nation."

Margo? I think all these faxes and letters might be for somebody else. But at least none of them mentioned Dennis Rodman.
A heart-warming Christmas story, just in time for the holiday.
This entry in Asymmetrical Information reminded me of the mandatory EEO refresher training I had to attend a few months ago. It wasn't too painful. The course consisted primarily of a video. The main character was an unenlightened white male who was complaining about the diversity policies of the new personnel director, Sam Lee, to a cook at a diner. An Asian woman was sitting next to him, and she proceeded to explain how wonderful diversity is, as did a whole host of other representatives of the officially-sanctioned aggrieved who happened to be passing through. The video was a bit disingenuous, as it defined "diversity" as being any and all differences between people. The main point I got out of it was that without diversity, we wouldn't have any good restaurants. Or something along those lines. And, in a surprise ending, the Asian woman in the diner introduced herself to the newly-enlightened white male as - wait for it - Sam, the new personnel director! Who could have seen that coming?

I say "disingenuous" because any successful manager, organization or country makes use of the different talents and different skills that people bring to the table to fulfill the goals of the larger group. Of course everyone is different - that's diversity in the non-politically freighted sense of the word. The problem with diversity the buzzword is that it isn't about individuals, but about groups, and it's defined along those lines.

After the video we reviewed the different federal policies that are in place to prevent discrimination and harassment. Some of them seem pretty heavy handed, but then, according to some of the war stories from the trainers, there are quite a few people in federal service who don't know how to conduct themselves around other people and do really stupid things.

But then we started to discuss things like decorations and pictures to adorn the fabric walls of our cubicles, celebrating holidays, and all the other little things that people do without putting much thought into it. The advice? Use common sense, but if someone complains, stop whatever it is you're doing. Thus, the one who sets the standards for what is acceptable in the office is the most thin-skinned and irrational one in the unit.

Luckily, my current office has a lot of fun people who are not easily offended. And lately they've been bringing food. Thank heaven we don't have anyone with a moral objection to brownies.
It looks like the registration program is picking up on lots of people who "had violated immigration laws, overstayed their visas, or were wanted for crimes". That fingerprint requirement apparently isn't just for show! My guess is that the program isn't going to pick up on any REALLY bad criminal types, but it will catch those who figured that nobody would bother with the minor violations, as has been INS practice in years past. And, as an added bonus, if the really bad ones are picked up, they can be detained and deported just because they didn't register. This gives investigators a little extra time to make the case.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Remember the Kremlinologists? The old Soviet government wasn’t exactly noted for its transparency, so the Kremlinologists tried to glean information on its inner workings from arcane bits of public knowledge, like who was present at state funerals and where they stood on the parade stand while watching the Red Army march past. The Kremlinologists are gone, but their legacy lives on across the federal government, which is now full of people trying to understand how the Department of Homeland Security will look based on very little concrete information.

Tom Ridge had a town hall meeting yesterday to try to reassure his 170,000 or so future employees that there is no need to dread their future. The problem is, nothing definite has been decided yet, which makes it difficult to reassure people about what’s in store during the next twelve months. The anxiety is real. It’s bad enough when two large corporations merge, but this merger involves 22 separate entities, and it’s not going to be easy. Government workers probably have less to worry about than workers in the private sector, as the government does not lay off workers to reduce costs or increase stock prices. The problem is that jobs can (and no doubt will) disappear, leaving employees with the prospect of reassignment. Many of Homeland Security’s concerns involve border issues, but very few people want to be transferred to places on the border. Look at a map of Texas and contemplate spending the next three to five years in Eagle Pass or Del Rio. Of course, there are always options. There’s also Douglas or Naco in Arizona.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Some people have no sense of humor at all. And I meet a lot of them in my line of work.
Fox is reporting on confusion about the new NSEERS program, whereby certain foreign nationals have to register with INS. It will be interesting to see how it works. You would think that out-of-status aliens and others with legal problems would opt to take their chances by staying in the shadows where the eleven million or so illegal aliens are hiding, but that doesn't appear to be the case if they're running out of handcuffs.

Thought of the Day:

"Of course, everyone knows that you don't achieve Oprah-esque levels of ubiquity by composing clever couplets. Rather, you do it as Oprah did--by making blood pacts with Satan."
Monday, December 16, 2002
The commentary on this article from Porphyrogenitus brings up most of my concerns about the European Union. I think I've got the answer to the question about the grand re-unification of Europe that is so often discussed. The "again" from the article isn't the Red Army - it's the Holy Roman Empire, and the EU is seeking (probably unconsciously, but you never know) to restore it. The big empires in Europe were usually trying to restore the glories lost with the empire before it, whether it was the Holy Roman Empire attempting to bring back the golden age of Rome, or the Romans attempting to re-unite the realm of Alexander. This would just be par for the course.

This theory even works out with the geographical expansion of the EU. The Baltics were Hanseatic territory, so welcome back, guys. Cyprus was a Venetian possession. Strange as it may seem, the EU is the modern version of Christendom, except now mostly without the Christianity. This means Croatia will probably get in eventually. But Russia? It's in the Orthodox tradition, not the Western one.

So where does that leave Turkey? On the outside looking in. The place hasn't been in the Western tradition since the Great Schism, and after Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, it was lost forever. This may explain why Turkey will never have "European" values in the eyes of so many European leaders. There's no room for your sort in the Empire, Porphyrogenitus, so back to Blachernae with you!

I haven't written anything about the whole Trent Lott controversy because everyone else has, and frankly, I don't care that much. Still, the appearance on BET (which I didn't see) plays like some Saturday Night Live sketch gone horribly, horribly wrong. Lott's position now seems eerily similar to Clinton's before the impeachment. At this point, what led to the whole situation doesn't matter so much as the situation itself and how he handles it. Once again a politician has a choice: trying to preserve his dignity and resigning for the greater good, or making a transparent grab to hold on to power no matter what the cost to the party or the country. We know which route Clinton chose. What will it be for Senator Lott?
This is what happens when homesick New Zealanders drink.
Saturday, December 14, 2002
The Rudolph Story 2002 – on Lifetime

One wintry day at the North Pole a reindeer is born to Donner (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and his wife Erin (Julia Roberts). Their joy quickly turns to sorrow when they see their son Rudolph is deformed, with a hideous glowing red nose. Donner and Erin promise to love Rudolph, but it drives a wedge into the family relationship as Donner becomes cold and emotionally distant, seeking consolation in the bottle. Erin tries to find an explanation for Rudolph’s condition.

She soon discovers the dirty little secret of the North Pole – the toy workshops of a Mr. S. Claus (Danny DeVito) have been burying toxic waste in the snow, where it has been leeching into the drinking water. Erin also finds that the poison has been stunting the growth of the elves, keeping them small and easy to dominate by Santa’s enforcers… including, she is shocked to find out, her very own husband Donner! Erin organizes a huge class-action lawsuit against Claus, Inc., on behalf of all elves, reindeer and other North Pole denizens. Santa is found liable and ordered to pay $322 million in damages.

With their share of the settlement, the elves leave the North Pole for Hollywood, where they hope to play themselves in the film version of their story. The Clauses are forced into bankruptcy, almost ruining Christmas until Hannukah Harry (Jon Lovitz) steps in to save the day yet again. Erin leaves Donner, ultimately finding love again with the caring and sensitive Prancer (Nathan Lane). Rudolph gets plastic surgery and lives happily ever after with a normal reindeer nose.
A pretty good run-down of the things people do to stay in the country. And people wonder why immigration officers are suspicious.
Friday, December 13, 2002
And so the transition begins... the Department of Homeland Security is on the way! The e-mail traffic at the office has included messages on the transition (we've got people at HQ diligently attending working group meetings on the transition - I know I'll sleep better tonight), and at least one message to dispel a rumor about the transition that the HQ people found out about. There are lots of rumors flying about about who wins, who loses, and everything else, but I tend not to pay too much attention to any of them. According to the scuttlebutt, Customs personnel are going to take over the whole DHS, at least according to today's gossip.

The ramifications of the new department are also starting to sink in outside the agencies being merged into DHS. There's already wrangling about where to house the place. If I had to guess, I'd say that Southeast Federal Center in downtown Washington is probably going to get it. GSA has been trying to develop the area, it's centrally located (which means no Beltway commutes to suburban locations) and even has its own Green Line Metro Station. As for the agreement to house the headquarters for the Department of Transportation, it hasn't been built yet and TSA and Coast Guard are both moving to DHS, so how much space will DOT really need then? And this is really scary.
Here's my nomination for woman of the year!
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
The tone of the EU diplomats really bothers me, especially this line: "Diplomats say that they are frankly startled at Poland's uncompromising, no-holds-barred haggling." Thinking of the national interest is so gauche. The Poles would be much better Europeans if theu just queued up meekly, proverbial hat in hand, and did whatever the other countries said was in their interest.

As for Cyprus, the situation there has been in stasis for going on three decades. Where's the incentive to change things now?
Monday, December 09, 2002
Somehow I don't think Kabul is going to draw the expatriates the way Prague did in 1990. Americans in Czechoslovakia in 1990 didn't face ambushes and snipers.
Popular support of joining the EU seems to be a function of the weakness of a country's economy. The people in basket cases like Romania and Bulgaria are largely for it, while in the better-off northern tier countries, there's a lot more ambivalence. Here's the Czech version of Don Quixote.
Sunday, December 08, 2002
Ambivalence from eastern Europe about invitations to join the EU. I was one of the hordes of Americans who flooded then-Czechoslovakia to teach English after the Velvet Revolution, and it's interesting to see how attitudes have changed. Back then people were thrilled to be able to look toward Europe instead of toward Moscow, and most of my students quickly took advantage of the opportunity to go to places like Paris, Hamburg, Zurich or elsewhere. Just about everyone hoped to join "Europe".

But "Europe" was different back then. The point was free trade and economic growth, but now the whole thrust of the European Union is political union. Prospective entrant countries have to enact EU legislation before they are even considered, and even then they cannot achieve full benefits for another seven years at least. EU rules and regulations have gone far beyond pure economic considerations. The Brussels bureaucracy seems intent on papering over the continent's histories and cultures to create a new European identity. Sounds rather like the ideal of the "Soviet man". No wonder the euphoria has evaporated.
A good piece from a morally superior Canadian.
I don't have TiVo, but Amazon thinks I'm schizophrenic. (via Joanne Jacobs)
I couldn't just let this one go by without comment. The one line that really jumped out at me was this: "We [Canadians] jointly possess most of the essential attributes of being a North American — optimism, love of freedom, a sense of limitless possibilities — but, in addition, have done a better job of being a collective, of having a sense of solidarity." Kind of a funny solidarity, I guess, when one of the biggest provinces keeps threatening to go its own way!

Canadian self-confidence is a good thing, not to teach us United Statesians "to understand how the rest of the world feels" but to help Canada define itself. Most of the Canadians I have met truly have been salt of the earth. They really ARE nicer than other people (or maybe that's just my impression after spending so much time in the northeastern U.S.). But so many seem to define Canada by what it isn't, instead of trying to say what it is.

I think PJ O'Rourke was the one who said the United States is like your big sister's best friend - beautiful but self-absorbed - and so much of the Third World was like a bratty eight-year-old trying to get her attention. It's as good a model as any. But what would that make Canada? Down south of the border, we don't much care what the rest of the world thinks of us, and we're not trying to turn the rest of the cheerleading squad into copies of ourselves. We would rather hang out at the mall with secure, confident friends than neurotics who are constantly lecturing us about our make-up and dating habits.

So if Canadians feel morally superior to the United States, that's fine. Friends don't have the think the same way all the time, and friends can benefit and learn from these differences. As long as they keep shipping Labatt's across the border we'll be fine. I just wish they'd keep Alanis (speaking of whining) up north.

Saturday, December 07, 2002
The Washington Times is reporting on a study on INS inspections of incoming travellers.

"Millions of illegal aliens armed with bogus documents enter the United States each year through the nation's 300 ports of entry because of inadequate screening methods by federal immigration officials at the country's airports and border checkpoints, a little-publicized study says." So says the lead paragraph. The rest of the article estimates that between 2.95 million and 5.45 million illegal aliens enter the United States each year. Assuming that this is correct (it seems a little high to me, but since I can't find the study on-line, I'll just have to go with what the article says), the lead doesn't accurately reflect the study. The rest of the article seems to be pretty much on the money, or at any rate it fits with what I saw when I worked Inspections.

The whole idea behind inspections is to try to identify illegal aliens. Try to remember that the next time you fly through Miami and get stuck in a line stretching all the way back to the airplane door. Half a billion people come through the the country's ports of entry every year, so going by the statistics in the article, less than one per cent of them are illegal aliens. The trick behind inspections is to get the other 99 per cent through as quickly as possible. Spending more time on each passenger increases the odds of identifying the illegal aliens, but it also increases the wait time for everybody else. Finding the balance is not easy, especially when you consider the 45-minute clearance time mandated by Congress (at least before September 11) and the perennial staffing shortages faced at every port of entry in the country. Immigration Inspectors tend to get burnt out with constant contact from the huddled masses (and the occasional wretched refuse) and move on to other jobs with regular schedules and better pay.

There are two ways that illegal aliens can get into the country through a port of entry. One is by the use of fraudulent documents. Everything that a teenager can do to a driver's license to get into a bar is also done with passports and visas to try to get into the country. The one in nine intercept rate is probably an accurate reflection of how many get through, since when inspectors catch on to a fraud scheme, it tends to dry up as the bad guys switch to something more effective.

But most illegal immigrants come through with genuine travel documents. The bulk of the travellers passing through ports of entry are coming to visit relatives, to attend business meetings or to see the sights, and most illegal immigrants tend to try to blend into the crowd. With a fraudulent passport or green card, there is tangible evidence of excludability. That's often not the case with those who pose as tourists, which means that it takes a lot more time to figure out whether any particular traveller is bona fide or not. The whole idea behind all those people in the booths is to move people along, either by letting them in or by referring them for a more thorough interview. Inspectors generally have about a minute to make the call.

The article does not mention what the study counts as an illegal alien. Estimates of the illegal alien population resident in the United States range from 5 to 15 million, which doesn't quite jibe with the proposal that 3-5 million are coming in every year. If it counts the seasonal migrants and other status violators - and I think it does - then the figures make more sense. There are lots of people who come to the United States to earn money. They'll spend several months working hard, then returning to enjoy the fruits of their labors in their home countries. There is a mechanism for this in the Immigration and Nationality Act (the H2 visa covers unskilled labor), but most of them come in posing as tourists. Tourists are not legally allowed to work, and those that do are in violation of their status. It's a lot easier to detect them after they've established a pattern, but it's practically impossible to pick up on their intent on the first entry. (The standard State Department argument is that those who overstay or who work are seduced by their first glimpses of America, so how can you tell which ones actually intended to work when they were initially applying for their visas? They were ALL legitimate at the visa window.)

It's very easy to miss these people during a sixty-second inspection, although from what I've heard, improved computer systems and other measures are helping to raise the intercept rate. Still, it comes down finding a balance between an inspections regime that is better at catching the one per cent of illegal aliens and one that does not overly inhibit the movement of the other 99 per cent of legitimate travellers.

NOTE: The Times articles reminded me of the strange case of Portland, Oregon. It was a small port of entry that Delta was developing as a trans-pacific hub. They didn't have a great deal of traffic, which gave the inspectors there a lot more time to check the bona fides of any suspect travellers. Guess what happened there.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
I got this one by e-mail a few weeks ago:

In a train carriage there was Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Janet Reno and Bo Derek. After several minutes of the trip, the train passes through a dark tunnel and the unmistakable sound of a slap is heard. When they leave the tunnel, Clinton has a big red slap mark on his cheek.
Bo Derek thought - "That sleazeball Clinton wanted to touch me and by mistake, he must have put his hand on Janet Reno, who must have slapped his face."
Janet Reno thought - "That dirty Bill Clinton laid his hands on Bo Derek and she smacked him."
Bill Clinton thought - "George put his hand on Bo Derek and by mistake she slapped me."
George W. Bush thought - "I hope there's another tunnel soon so I can smack Clinton again."

Kind of reminds me of how he's been conducting foreign policy: a lot going on that nobody can see to achieve a desirable result. Not bad for a supposed moron.
And for once the forecasters got it exactly right. The government was open for business today, but unfortunately the roads between my home and my office were in bad shape, so I took the day off. I suppose there are perks to being "non-essential"...
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
Oh please, oh please......
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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