Adventures in Bureaucracy
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Now this is interesting.

I often wonder about how the refugee policies of Western countries affect totalitarian states. The sudden outflow of East Germans in 1989 led to the collapse of the entire East Bloc, visibly demolishing any shred of legitimacy that the regime had claimed. West Germany had always guaranteed resettlement to any East Germans who made it, so the pull was always there, but the logjam broke when Hungary decided to suspend enforcement of exit controls along the Austrian border. Suddenly the East Germans had a way to get to West Germany without getting shot in the process, and the trickle soon became a flood.

But then look at Cuba. The touch-base policy of the United States means that pretty much any Cuban national landing on U.S. shores gets to stay, while any stopped at sea are repatriated. This has helped pull a continuous stream of people north across the Florida Straits at least since the Mariel boatlift in 1980. Here it seems that Castro has used U.S. refugee policy as a vent, thus diminishing internal pressure against the regime.

So what will it be for North Korea? To date South Korea has guaranteed settlement to any North Koreans who make it, but the border between the two is perhaps the most militarized on the planet, making it practically impossible for North Koreans to cross it without being killed. That leaves the northern borders with China and Russia. It looks like there have been a few thousand that have crossed into Russia, but most of the news reports indicate a fairly heavy flow into China. There are fairly regular stories of North Koreans seeking asylum at foreign missions in China, but China's policy is to repatriate any North Koreans caught in China back to North Korea.

So I guess the $64,000 question is what will China do?
Monday, July 28, 2003
This one brought back memories. I don't know who wrote it, but it arrived in my inbox after making the rounds...

You know you might be an immigration inspector if:

You don't know what day of the week it is, but you know the date six months from now.

You hang counterfeit green cards on your Christmas tree.

You initiate dinner conversation about a country's new passport or admission stamp.

As you go through the front door of a restaurant, the employees run out the back door.

You are skeptical of anything anyone tells you.

Wherever you go, you insist the authorities stamp your passport.

Your relatives say you aren't doing your job because there are too many Mexicans where they live.

You cringe when your friends introduce you as a "Customs" officer

You cannot rember the last time you did anything socially on a Sunday.

You entertain your friends and family by imitating the accents of the people you inspect.

Your co-workers call you by your stamp number.

You greet visitors at your door with "What is the purpose of your visit?"

You wash your hands at least eight times a day.

Your co-workers know you better than members of your family.

You refuse to visit a country because you do not care for the people you have inspected from there.

You think the academy was the greatest vacation ever.

Your uniform is the nicest part of your entire wardrobe.

While being sent to secondary in another country, you start laughing out loud.

You take your passport whenever you drive anywhere 50 miles or more

Based on job experiences, you think most stereotypes are correct.
The U.S. government wants to deport poor Andre Aniba just because he overstayed his visa by four years? The injustice of it all!

The reference to a "government-sponsored program" for legal residency wasn't exactly a green card giveaway. The people who applied through its provisions had to be otherwise eligible for immigrant status, and since there are numerical limits on the number of some types of visas (like those offered for unskilled workers, which I would guess is the type Aniba was going for), there are multi-year waits before the numbers of new applicants come due.
Saturday, July 26, 2003
It appears that my fair city is being plagued by rats. Obviously something needs to be done, but we need to bear in mind the lessons foreign policy so whatever action is taken is right and proper.

First, is the intelligence absolutely reliable? Sure, there have been a lot more sightings of the creatures this year, but what does that REALLY mean? Maybe it's just because we're moving our suburbs into the rats' natural environment. And what does it mean when a rat barks at a child? Maybe that's just how they say "hello".

Second, is there really an imminent threat? Everyone brings up that old canard about rats spreading bubonic plague and other diseases, but that's so 13th century. When's the last time there was a proven case of rat-borne disease in modern America? West Nile virus is the real threat, and we don't get that from rodents.

Third, are the actions proposed commensurate with the real problem? There's talk about "exterminating" the creatures, but this seems almost barbaric. The problem isn't so much the rodent's existence, it's just that they are too close to people. Can't we all just learn to live together peacefully, with people minding their own business and rats minding theirs? And if that's too much to ask for, perhap a more targeted solution would be in order instead of wholesale slaughter, which would include many baby rats who have never done anything to anybody. Perhaps a catch-and-relocate policy would be better - we could send the creatures to their homeland where they could be free. I'm sure that Brigitte Bardot and PETA would approve of this option.

We need to ask: what are the root causes for rat infestation? What makes the rats come out? It's obviously because they're hungry and can't produce their own food. So if we just installed feeding stations for the little critters, they'd go away and wouldn't bother us any more.
Monday, July 21, 2003
Speak of the devil... a news story about U.S.-Iceland relations in today's Post.
Sunday, July 20, 2003
The Swedes make fun of the Norwegians, the Norwegians make fun of the Swedes, and the Danes laugh at them both, but what about the other Nordic countries? I wouldn't want anyone from Finland or Iceland to feel slighted. Finnish stereotypes are easy enough to find, but it seems that nobody gives Iceland a second thought. But then, they've got Bjork.

And here's a page of gratuitous jokes.
And after a little research, I think I know why the Danes need Scania back: to reinvigorate the Danish music scene. The most notable Danish entry into the world music market was Aqua, and "regrettable" seems like a charitable description to say the least.

Then look at the Swedes. Bad enough for the Danes that the Swedes have they won the Eurovision contest twice as often, but now the upstart Balts are horning in on the act! Whatever else you might say about the Swedes, their high taxes and boxy cars, they can really crank out the pop. ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, the Cardigans... Amazon even has Swedish pop as its own category of music.

They Danes had better cross the bridge soon. Eurovision 2004 isn't all that far off.
It appears I can never get away from immigration issues here at AIB, but this entry from Bjoern Staerk's Blog caught my attention not because it deals with the dreaded I-word, but because it addresses stereotypes of my favorite Scandinavians, the Danes. Copenhagen really is wonderful, wonderful, though unfortunately it's also expensive, expensive, so I couldn't stay very long. Still, I was there long enough to hear about the Nordic stereotypes:

"Jokes featuring 'the Swede, the Dane and the Norwegian' are ubiquitous among children in the three countries: the Swede is always depicted as a rich and arrogant child of the Enlightenment, the Dane as a slightly decadent hedonist, and the Norwegian as an uneducated, often stupid country bumpkin."

Where, oh where do these things come from? Despite the jokes, the Danes allowed the construction of the Oeresund Fixed Link to connect Zealand to southern Sweden. I'd wondered about that, since the Swedes still take the ferries across to buy the relatively cheaper booze in Denmark, but now it's all clear. The bridge is obviously part of a diabolical plot to return Scania to the Danish crown. Four centuries of Swedish occupation is long enough!
Friday, July 18, 2003
The big guns, part two.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
This uranium issue is really starting to get on my nerves. The President puts a non-verified bit of intelligence into his State of the Union speech, and suddenly the entire war was completely unjustified.

I’ve been thinking back to my high school days, when I was but a young geek in the debating club. (I know that geek part is hard to believe.) Anyway, in the competitions, debaters would write out the argument, counter-arguments and rebuttals across legal pages to see the “flow”. I can’t help but think about the flow when I hear all the shrill criticisms of President Bush. Sixteen words in the State of the Union address started this brouhaha, so let’s have a look at the important parts of the speech and think about the debate on its merits.

Here was the President’s main point with regards to Saddam Hussein and Iraq: “A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.”

Let’s review this sentence in light of everything we’ve discovered since Saddam’s regime fell. The brutal dictator assertion? All those mass graves and all those stories of torture from Iraqis themselves would seem to be fairly solid evidence that that part is true. The history of reckless aggression? Invading Iran and Kuwait when both seemed weak counts. Ties to terrorism? That one’s still open to debate, but I believed the Czech intelligence about Atta meeting with an Iraqi agent before September 11th, and there’s been more evidence since for this point as well. Great potential wealth? Back on solid ground here, since everyone agrees that there’s quite a lot of oil in Iraq. So the main argument for war in the State of the Union address was that Saddam Hussein wanted to dominate the Middle East, and that posed a direct threat to the United States.

Maybe I’ve missed it in all the news coverage of the uranium sentence, but I don’t recall hearing anyone disputing these arguments directly. But the speech put forth quite a lot to show just how Saddam sought dominance and threatened this country.

“Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons -- not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.”

And then the President discussed just how Saddam pursued biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in turn:
- Biological agents found by the United Nations inspectors included anthrax and botulinum.
- Chemical agents included sarin, mustard and VX gas, and the armory included the weapons to deliver them – and let’s not forget that Saddam’s Iraq DID use them on several occasions.
- And then there was nuclear capacity, which all the President’s critics are currently howling about - except that all the howling doesn’t directly address the argument in the State of the Union address. The President said that Iraq had a nuclear weapons development program (which nobody’s yet disputed); that the Iraqis were working on several methods for producing weapons-grade uranium (again, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall hearing anyone say that that was false); and that Iraq was trying to obtain aluminum tubes suitable for weapons production (anyone arguing against that? Anyone at all?). So here are all sorts of indicators that Saddam was actively trying to build a bomb, and all he needed was the uranium – and we had heard from British sources that there were indicators he was trying to get that as well.

So just on flow, the anti-Bush side has essentially conceded the points on Saddam being a threat to the United States and an all-around nasty guy, and they have never countered two of the three weapons of mass destruction planks to show how Saddam was a threat. The only argument I’ve seen lately has been about whether Saddam was trying to get uranium, and if I were judging this round, I’d have to say that this doesn’t effective take out the nuclear point because of the other undisputed evidence. Advantage: President Bush.

Somehow this business about whether the intelligence was actually true and correct information was apparently supposed to nullify all the horrendous possibilities that came next in the speech: “With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own. Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”

And this is the biggest problem I have with the current “debate”. Everything now comes down to second-guessing. But the issue was not whether one bit of information was true or not, but on what the totality of evidence indicated that Saddam would do.

The President of the United States, whoever it may be, has the burden of enormous responsibility. Now, if you were faced with all sorts of indicators that Saddam was still trying to develop not just nuclear bombs, but also chemical and biological weapons that he has shown no hesitation to use on the one hand, and more indicators that a terrorist group that had already carried out several horrific attacks on the United States was trying to get these weapons on the other, what would you do?

The Democratic candidates would apparently have preferred to look nice before the world than to have done anything effective – even the ones who voted for the resolution authorizing war, if you listen to them now. I for one take this issue a little more personally. I am a Washingtonian, and there’s a good chance that if al Qaeda gets its hands on any of these weapons that I could be one of thousands exposed to sarin or anthrax on the Metro, or get vaporized by a briefcase bomb out at Tyson’s Corner. I don’t want a President who thinks that we can ignore terrorists whose stated goal is the destruction of this country, and I don’t want a President who is willing to sit on his hands until another attack like September 11th gives enough hard evidence of their capabilities.

President Bush looked at the risks posed by al Qaeda and at the probability that Saddam could help them, and he took decisive action to remove the risk… and in the process, removed a tyrant who ruled the people of Iraq by terror. I may not agree with everything he has done since taking office, but national security is my number one voting criterion. All those nitpicking from the safety of their offices should stop quibbling over whether Saddam really was trying to get uranium and address the big issue: was there any other sensible alternative? And what would they have done in his place?

To win a high school debate, you need to demolish your opponent's main argument. You do that by taking out the critical supporting evidence, not just one or two bits of information. Perhaps it would be a good idea to bring some high school debaters to Washington to explain that to those that think we went to war because of uranium in Niger.

Or perhaps we could just bring in the big guns.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
This seems to be unnecessarily gloomy:

"What can we learn from this? Two things. One is that the Department of Homeland Security apparently thinks the War on Terror isn't important enough to occupy its full energies anymore, and that -- in the interest of bureaucratic survival -- it's branching out into the kind of operations that have generally been associated with, well, ordinary law enforcement, even if the targets, in this case, are foreigners.

"I suppose that should be a relief, since it suggests that, at least in Tom Ridge's mind, we have little to fear from Osama's ilk anymore. On the other hand, I'm not comforted, because it proves that lesson two is alive and well: any powers confided to bureaucrats in the service of vital objectives will quickly be abused in the service of other, less important purposes."

Actually, it's not "branching out" into law enforcement activities. This article discusses "Operation Predator" and notes that it's led by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This section is made up of the investigative sections from the old Customs Service and the old INS, with the Federal Protective Service thrown in for good measure. "Predator" looks like an attempt to prioritize who gets deported first, and sex offenders don't seem like such a bad place to start.

Remember that the Department of Homeland Security was created from a whole bunch of law enforcement agencies, and their mandates haven't gone away just because they're part of a new organization. Yes, the priority is still on fighting and preventing terrorism, but that doesn't mean that everything else - like ordinary law enforcement - must be excluded.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
I don't know what to make of the rest of the piece, but this paragraph had me rolling on the floor:

"The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the immigration bar's equivalent of the American Bar Association. It is a national professional organization that requires membership, keeps immigration lawyers abreast of developments in immigration law and acts as an advocate for immigrants before legislative bodies. It also promulgates ethical standards for immigration lawyers."

Ethical standards? For IMMIGRATION lawyers? Ha!

OK, to be fair, I'm sure there are some good and decent ones out there. Talking to people whose lawyers charged them over $1000 to fill out an application which had a fee of $100, well, I guess that's the entire legal profession, not just the immigration lawyers. But immigration lawyers are all too common with ethics like this. And this. And this. And this. Good thing AILA's there to keep them honest.
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
If I had a dollar for every time one of the characters on "Friends" said "Oh my God!"... but it's idle day-dreaming, as obviously some of the writers have that job already.
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
What was that saying about sticks and stones breaking one's bones, but words will never hurt? I seem to recall it from my childhood, not that anyone says it any more. Now words are grounds for lawsuits. And the Italians are beating up on the poor Germans yet again. Bismarck must be spinning in his grave.

Stereotypes come from somewhere, and luckily there's a whole collection of European stereotypes all in one place for easy reference. (via USS Clueless) And this one can't be beat.

Actually, I have to stand up for the Germans, as they made great tourists. Every now and again we'd get a group of them in lederhosen, which always made for fun conversations at the inspection booth (in 60 seconds or less, had to keep the line moving). They always had passports and papers ready to go, unlike some other nationalities I could mention (see above about where stereotypes come from - after seeing between 45,000 and 60,000 air passengers a year for several years, I think I'm entitled to generalize). I never had any trouble with the Germans, with their rundfahrts and their geschaeftsreisen.

I remember one summer day, when I was stuck in primary inspection for hours on end as flight after flight after flight arrived, when a young German guy gave me his passport just as a Dutch woman from one of the charter airlines started giving the welcome announcement in German, but with a Dutch accent so strong that even I could pick it up. I commented, "So THAT's what a Dutch accent sounds like," as I stamped his passport. He replied, "Well, they try so hard."

And they say Germans are humorless!
The last part of this piece was interesting: "Several readers said the Kavan story is a reminder of the need for the U.S. to do away entirely with visas for Czechs." I obviously can't speak on behalf of the U.S. government on this, since everything here is my own personal opinion... and I have no earthly idea what kind of proposals are going through the system these days about the Czech Republic anyhow. But why let something like lack of an informed opinion stop me from commenting? My guess is, sorry, damy a panove, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

First, I don't think ANY countries are likely to get added to the visa-exempt list during the war on terror. If anything, some might get chucked off it. Security is the number one concern these days, and opening the doors to the country wider is probably a non-starter. Although some recent articles on Vicente Fox have mentioned the possibility of another amnesty for illegal aliens here in the United States, so you never know what might happen.

Another reason is that both the Canadians and British tried it, and both got swamped with Roma Gypsies from the Czech Republic asking for asylum. In 1996 Canada dropped the visa requirement for Czech citizens to visit Canada. The number of asylum claimants spiked, and over 600 people arrived in Canada in just two months after a documentary about life in Canada was shown on Czech television. The visa exemption for Czech citizens ended shortly thereafter. A similar situation took place with Hungarian nationals, but it looks like the Canadians may have changed their minds again.

The British situation is pricklier, since the Czech Republic is rapidly integrating into the European mainstream. The United Kingdom gets asylum seekers from just about everywhere, so that their system is even more overburdened that the one in the United States. The British got a big increase in the number of Czech Roma in 1998 after yet another documentary (see, TV really DOES influence people), and so the British re-instituted the visa requirement for the country. That lasted for a while, then they dropped the visa requirement and more Roma came to put themselves into the British asylum system. This eventually led to the on-again, off-again placement of British immigration officers at Prague's airport to screen passengers boarding U.K.-bound flights. The Czechs didn't like it, with the predictable cries of racism and all, but it beat the reimposition of the visa requirement.

And these situations don't exactly bode well for those who want the United States to drop its visit requirement for Czechs. Visa policy is not exactly a finely-tuned instrument of foreign policy. Easier access means more tourism, more trade and more goodwill, but it also means more security risks and more entries by people who never plan to leave. The policy-makers are supposed to weigh the costs and the benefits and see which one better serves the overall interests of the United States.

Of course, for the Czechs there is another concern. For a country to become eligible for the U.S. visa exemption, their citizens have to have a low rate of visa status violators. Years ago when I worked the airport, it seemed like a lot of Czech guys would come over to America for a multi-year working holiday (on a non-working visa) right after completing military service. I don't know if that still happens, but there's one reason it's harder for a Czech to get a visa now than a few years ago. It doesn't exactly help the case for waiving the visa requirement either.

By the way, this looks like an interesting site on all things Roma.

Friday, July 04, 2003
There is a God, and He's got a sense of humor.
You have to wonder what kind of joyless person injects politics into absolutely EVERYTHING. Like a discussion of the best place to view the Fourth of July fireworks in Washington.
Thursday, July 03, 2003
Ah, looking at it again, I see how it would work. Picture it: Ilsa (Jennifer Lopez) and Victor Laszlo (Matt Damon) walk into Rick's, the phattest hip-hop club on the block. Berger (played by whichever rapper is the flavor of the week at the tiome of filming) meets them at their table, but Laszlo turns him away... until he offers to sell them a huge-ass diamond ring. Laszlo and Ilsa stare meaningfully at Berger, and he says, "Yes. It's all about the bling."

“Casablanca” is one of the best movies ever made, and watching it again, I couldn’t help but wonder: who ever thought this would be a good idea? Luckily, there's something you can do to help.
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
If you see any Canadians, just wish them a happy Canada Day and don't let on that their secret plans have been revealed. (Via Jay Caruso)
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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