Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ridiculous Sign Alert

On the door of a CVS at the corner of Hargett and Fayetteville Streets in downtown Raleigh:

Really? That's all I have to do to provide for the well-being of our soldiers and their families? Pay $2 to some corner pharmacy and soldiers get livable pay, comprehensive health care, proper equipment, reasonable veterans' benefits, and good compensation for the families of the fallen? Such a deal! Remember when we had to ration gas, food, and metals? Or pay more in taxes?

Let it never be said that the spirit of shared sacrifice has escaped us here in the City of Oaks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Only in Alabama...

Everyone's favorite state has apparently taken down an anti-terrorism website that their department of Homeland Security had launched. The website apparently included pretty much every single-issue advocacy group as a terror threat.

Money quote from the website: "Single-issue extremists often focus on issues that are important to all of us. However, they have no problem crossing the line between legal protest and ... illegal acts, to include even murder, to succeed in their goals."

Congratulations, Alabama - you're now the most cynical state in the Union.

It's About Frickin' Time

Looks like the Bush administration is finally talking tough on Sudan. He is planning to introduce new sanctions on oil transactions carried out in US dollars (a big portion of Sudan's business) and to push for further-reaching UN sanctions. The UN sanctions won't happen, thanks to opposition from China (a friend and major client of Sudan's). And the US already has sanctions against Sudan. But Bush's willingness to buck the UN, which had asked Bush to not talk about Sudan much, is heartening.

Here's a question for you. Why was Bush so keen on ignoring the UN and acting unilaterally in Iraq and yet so hesitant to do so in the case of Sudan? It is clear that the UN was failing to do what it needed to do in Sudan, thanks to its unwillingness to cross Sudan's borders without permission from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Bashir (played by Alexander Siddig) has a history of diplomatic double-talk and of frustrating humanitarian efforts. He even harbored bin Laden for a while.

It is the opinion of this blog (and of a few other people I know) that if Al Gore had won in 2000, we would be at war in Sudan right now instead of in Iraq. Given that the case for unilateral action in Sudan is far stronger than the one for such action in Iraq, I don't think that would necessarily be a bad thing.

A limited military campaign is looking somewhat more likely in Sudan, incidentally. France has suggested opening up a humanitarian corridor from Chad, with French-led European forces launching the operation. I worry that the French are too keen on UN involvement which, as I mentioned earlier, won't happen because of China. But France is more likely to take a lead on humanitarian issues in Africa under Sarkozy, who seems more likely to pursue humanitarian goals over French interests in Africa (or at least less likely to block humanitarian efforts because of his country's interests). Of course, American troops won't be available thanks to Iraq. Maybe the Canadians can get involved.

Also from overseas, Israel's Labor Party has sacked Amir Peretz, chief architect of the Great Lebanon Clusterfuck of 2005. Labor can now choose between former PM Ehud Barak and Ami Ayalon, who promises to (figuratively) nuke the government if elected. This creates something of a catch-22 for Labor. If they vote for Barak and he keeps the Labor-Olmert alliance intact, Labor will lose support for continuing to stick with the radioactive Olmert. If they choose Ayalon and he forces new elections, the right-wing Likud will probably win and keep Labor out of government altogether. Yeah, good luck with that.

(Incidentally, the Likud leader is former PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Ayalon might end up winning a new election for the sole reason that he's the only candidate with any real chance who hasn't already screwed something up.)

And also, we're apparently talking to Iran about Iraq. Opening up channels of communication with Iran is a good thing - we can't expect to change their minds about anything if we don't talk to them. Hell, we kept talking with the Soviets throughout the entire Cold War. It's clear Iran doesn't want us in Iraq, so here's what I propose - Iran stops funding JIMF* and Hezbollah, shuts the hell up about Israel, and helps us out against al-Qaeda and we get out of Iraq and promise not to object too loudly if Iran gets involved. I'll take an Iran-friendly Iraq if Iran quits its terrorism shenanigans. Of course, this may not happen until 2010 when the batshit-crazy A-Train leaves the station, but it'll be good to have established diplomatic contacts with Tehran by the time they reclaim their sanity.

That's all. Carry on.

*I've long ago decided that Hamas, which stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement, is the worst moniker since the Holy Roman Empire. They're not particularly Islamic, they're hardly a coherent movement, and they have never engaged in anything that even resembles an effective resistance. Thus, they are now the Jihadist Incompetent Murderous Farce, or JIMF.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Deal or No Deal?

The Senate and the White House have come to a deal of sorts on immigration reform. The provisions, as I understand them, are as follows:

- Temporary legalization for everyone who entered the country before January. They would then be able to apply for residency and eventually citizenship if they pay a $5000 fine and a $1500 processing fee (and pass a background check, of course).

- Beefed up border security, including new border patrols, unmanned drones, fancy fences, radar systems, etc.

- Once the border security measures are in place (anywhere from 18 months to four years), a temporary worker program will start which will bring 400,000 workers into the country for two years and then force them to leave. The Post article makes no mention of a path to apply for legal residency.

- Visas will be awarded on a "points system" that favors skilled and educated workers and English speakers instead of simply granting favor to those with family in the country.

As with all compromises, there are good things about this bill and bad things about it. The bill gives all the undocumented workers currently here a chance to come out of the shadows. I like that, and while I'm not a big fan of the expensive fine, it's still reasonable - honest workers or not, they did break the law, and a minor punishment is worthwhile. I fully expect to see a new crop of charitable organizations working to help undocumented workers pay those fines. (It'll also be a nice new source of income for our budget - if even half of the 12 million undocumented workers pays up, that's $6500 x 6,000,000 = $39 billion, or roughly a fifth of our current budget deficit.)

Second, the emphasis on skilled and educated workers can help fix some of these horror stories we hear in the academic community about grad students or professors who leave the country for a visit and can't get a visa to come back. It's good to see Congress tackle this issue.

Third, as much as I rip on the people obsessed with border security, beefing up the Border Patrol is a good thing. The Patrol is horrifyingly undermanned and has no resources to fight the actual crime that occurs on the border. The extra funds and equipment will help out a lot.

Now, the things I don't like...

First and foremost is the guest worker program. Guest workers are often tied to a certain employer - if they quit because of low pay or bad working conditions, they would have to go back to the country from whence they came. Furthermore, who actually thinks that all these guest workers will go home after two years? It's not going to work that way. A fairly significant portion of the undocumented workers in our country are visa overstayers - they simply didn't leave when their visa expired. (I think that's about two-thirds of the current undocumented population, but I'm not sure.) This simply recreates the problem we currently have. Furthermore, guest workers will be tied to their current employers, who can hold over their heads the prospect of being forcibly returned home - just like now. This seems to legally approve the underclass status of the current shadow labor force while doing nothing to ensure that all laborers, immigrant or no, are treated by the same standards.

I wouldn't mind so much if the guest worker program had an option to earn a green card after two years of work - say, if you could demonstrate English proficiency, show a tax return, pay a fee, or something - and if there were whistle-blower protections so that a worker could point out violations of labor laws in exchange for a green card. An even better system would be that a guest worker had to stay employed for two years with someone, not necessarily the company that brought the worker over the border - so the employee could leave and find another job if the employer that brought them over was sketchy.

Another problem is the limitation on unskilled workers. With the new emphasis on the educated and skilled, you'll still have unskilled workers who can't get visas and who thus have to cross illegally. Only now, many of those unskilled workers may have family here and thus be even more motivated to cross illegally. The new visa rules will not cause a decline in the number of attempted border crossers. A better solution would be to simply increase the number of overall visas and beef up the background check capability (so we're not giving visas to people who might blow us up).

I suppose I'm a little bit wary of replacing one broken system with a system that contains very visible cracks. However, a flawed solution is better than no solution at all, so I support the bill. Furthermore, the cracks in the system are very obvious and visible - they're known unknowns, if you will - and are fairly easily filled once the political will is there. It's better than the current system, and as Senator Feinstein said, no sense in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Bush will need every ounce of his infamous steamroller strength to get this bill through. He has a 29% approval rating, and the 29% who approve of him are the 29% of the population most likely to abhor the path to legalization for current illegal immigrants. He'll be smart to let the senators take the lead on this one - Kennedy is well respected by the left, and Kyl by the right. And Heaven only knows what will happen in the House, where windbags like Tancredo and Hunter will try anything to stop it. We'll see if this one comes out alive...

- On a different note, I'd like to acknowledge the death of Jerry Falwell this past week. When I was first gaining my political bearings, Falwell had already contracted the severe case of foot-in-mouth disease that plagued him during his later life, so I didn't get a sense of Falwell's actual power during the '80s and early '90s. He was still influential, mind you, but he was fading fast. Soon he became a self-parody, a laughable dinosaur, and his power was ceded to a new breed of evangelical more willing to play well with others. He was not an evil man, and as I have a policy of not celebrating the death of anyone who isn't evil, I will not rejoice.

I will mention this: we cannot understate the negative effect Falwell and his ilk had - and continue to have - on the mainstream public's impression of Christianity (especially evangelical Christianity), an effect that is only beginning to be undone by warmer, fuzzier leaders like Rick Warren. On a personal level, Falwell and his ally, fellow Virginian Pat Robertson, were enough to give me an almost hateful view of evangelical Christianity that persisted until I met an an actual, loving, caring evangelical Christian. There are many people out there whose view of evangelical Christianity is shaped by people like Falwell, and this is unfortunate. While Falwell preached that the secularists and non-Christians were destroying our society, he obscured the true nature of evangelical Christianity to those who he was railing against. I'm afraid this sharp division characterized by mutual distrust between non-Christians and conservative evangelicals will be Falwell's most enduring legacy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stupid Question...

In honor of the debate questioning...

If you could vote for any movie/TV President, who would it be?

Ask A Stupid Question...

Anyone who watched the Democratic debate last week, and anyone who will watch the Republicans go at it tomorrow, knows that the political season is fraught with questions that can only be described as "completely and utterly moronic." So it is with the AP, who asked presidential candidates what they would bring to a desert island with them.

It pains me to say that Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo came up with the best response: a boat. Tancredo, I guess, is not one to resign himself to being stuck on an island. What AP doesn't tell you is the rest of his response: " I can get the hell off the island because it's overrun with damn Mexicans!"

And I think I know who's getting Jacob's vote: Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who wants coffee.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

April Baseball Review

- Only three teams under 10 wins for the month: Kansas City, Washington, and... the Yankees? Eh?

- There's always one crappy division; this year, it's the NL Central. Six teams, only one of which is over .500: Milwaukee. Oh, and the .500 team? Pittsburgh.

- Is there any pitcher out there who enjoys going through that Mauer-Cuddyer-Morneau-Hunter stretch in Minnesota? Anyone? Yeah, didn't think so.

- In his last two losses, Dice-K has given up five earned runs. In his last two wins, he has given up 10 earned runs. Solution: Dice-K should pitch poorly if he wants to win.

- Worst run support award goes to Matt Cain: 1.54 ERA, five starts, 1-1 record. Wasted pitching effort award: Gil Meche, who has a 2.18 ERA for the Royals.

- How bad are the Nats? They're the worst in the major leagues at scoring runs (81; only St. Louis with 82 in two fewer games is even close) and third-worst in runs against (only Texas and Florida are worse). No pitching, no hitting... no good. I'm still looking for the magic 100-loss barrier.

More Utah Hijinks

A Republican precinct chair (this was my job for the Democrats in NC until recently) submitted a resolution to the Utah County (Provo and environs) convention blaming the illegal immigration problem on... Satan.

Finally. A proposal that gets at the heart of the matter.

Having been at a county party convention once, I can testify that some pretty weird stuff goes down there. When I went, we had 60-odd resolutions on the table and only one of them passed - a resolution approving the idea of legalized marijuana. Needless to say, that was rejected by the party higher-ups as being unrepresentative of the party line (even though I still like the idea). So this is absolutely not representative of the Utah County Republican Party, even if it passes. It's just... awesome.

Hat tip to Colbert.