Sunday, September 25, 2005
Kris Kobach at Sunday School on Immigration
Conservative Kris Kobach addressed St. Paul's UMC Adult Sunday School class on the topic of immigration policy. He's wrong, he's wrong and he's wrong. Still, very well spoken, smart and interesting, all good qualities in the man who might be the next governor of the state of Kansas.
I need to say I can only speak for myself. My opinion, expressed here, is not the opinion of St. Paul's, merely my own.
Mindful of his location, Mr. Kobach opened with a Biblical quotation - sort of. He said, in Exodus somewhere, God tells us not to move boundary markers. This shows the people are to respect national borders.
He might have been wanting Exodus 22:21 "Do not mistreat or abuse foreigners who live among you. Remember, you were foreigners in Egypt." No, that's not it.
Or perhaps Leviticus 19:34 "Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself." No, I don't think he advocates the Levitical position of treating aliens the same as citizens.
Or even Deuteronomy 1:16 "When you settle legal cases, your decisions must be fair. It doesn't matter if the case is between two Israelites, or between an Israelite and a foreigner living in your community. " No, I'm pretty sure Mr. Kobach feels our laws should not treat foreigners the same way as citizens.
But I think he wanted the following: Deuteronomy 27:17 "Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor's boundary stone." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"
How this applies to immigration policy, I don't really understand. But Mr. Kobach is a law professor, former candidate for Congress, and worked in the Bush administration on immigration policy. Maybe he knows something I don't. I just can't seem to connect the dots.
He spent the first twenty minutes of his hour talking about security issues. Turns out three of the four pilots of the September 11th planes were in the US illegally. Moreover, they had all been arrested, including the ringleader Mohammad Atta. But the arrests were on traffic violations, and the men were let go by the arresting officer. He then went on to talk about improvements in intercepting criminals and potential terrorists as they enter the US. It was not clear any substantial progress has been made on poor local-state-federal coordination. It appeared to the casual listener (me) that if a Mohammad Atta were arrested for speeding again today, that he would again be let go. (If anyone reading this knows more, please comment).
Security concerns are very important, but in my humble view, they are a very minor part of overall immigration policy. I am very concerned about the millions of legal and illegal immigrants.
Mr. Kobach turned his attention to the question at hand. He said there are an estimated 10 million people illegally in the US. He attempted to explain and then rebut arguments in favor of lenient treatment or amnesty for these people.
The idea that some people think other Americans consider certain types of work beneath them is insulting, he said. It insults Americans and Mr Kobach is offended. In his view, Americans are willing to do their own dirty work.
He further argued that the economic impact of having this type of work done at a decent wage would be minimal. He said words to the effect that about 5% of the cost of a head of lettuce is labor. If lettuce is $1.00 a head and you double the labor cost, it will still be only $1.05. He went on to say that illegal labor is a net drag on the economy. Although it is true they pay taxes like the rest of us, he believes the cost of government provided social services for them vastly exceeds tax revenue.
Putting the best face on what he said, he wants the work currently done by illegal aliens to be done by legal workers fully integrated into the US. He wants them to get jobs with health insurance benefits, for example. Who can quibble with that?
I wanted to ask him if any actual economic studies of the impact of illegal labor have been done. I suspect the ten million people he cited are not all picking lettuce. Many illegals work in construction and other higher paying industries.
And, I'm sorry, but the idea that a legal lettuce picker or fast-food clerk has health insurance is ludicrously out of touch with reality. (There are 45 million citizens without health insurance).
Mr. Kobach brought up the equity issue with amnesty. He correctly pointed out that large numbers of people immigrate legally to the US, although it is not as quck as paying a coyote to smuggle them across the border. He said it is unfair to the legal immigrants, who have waited patiently, and those who still wait, to reward law-breakers with amnesty.
In my view, that's the problem with amnesty, mercy, and forgiveness in general. If you forgive a sin, if you welcome the prodigal son, someone else who followed all the rules will see that as unfair. Christianity is unique among religions in that it offers unearned forgiveness. (A subject I hope to fully explore someday).
He then went on to talk about the "famous" lawsuit. Not long ago, the state legislature of Kansas passed a law that allows the children of illegal immigrants access to state higher education at in-state tuition rates, if they can show they attended a Kansas high school for the previous three years. Mr. Kobach represented a group of out-of-state parents who sued. He said this violates a federal statute passed in 1996, that prohibits states from giving illegal aliens any benefits not available to citizens. Apparently only eight other states, including California, offer in-state tuition to their high school graduates who happen to be illegal aliens.
Professor Kobach made a very interesting point: the minor children of illegal aliens break no US law simply by being here. They are assumed to be in the custody of their parents, thus not here by any choice or fault of their own. Once they turn age 18, they are breaking the law. If they remain here for four years, they commit a federal felony offense. Thus, they can never be hired in the US at an appropriate job, because employers at that level always check the status of new hires.
He advises children in that position to return to the country of origin and apply for a student visa. He said the wait is up to a year, but they could eventually graduate and possibly get a good job if they followed that advice. It actually sounded like pretty good lawyerly advice.
He did mention part of the problem with immigration policy stems from excessive paperwork, wait times, and other related issues. He mentioned one spouse who was waiting eight years (I think that's what he said) to immigrate to the US and join her husband.
He then opened the floor to questions.
A woman who is likely someone's grandmother, a woman I'd never seen before, someone who came just to see Kobach, asked him a question. She asked him to comment on opposition to the Bush policies and motives, and specifically mentioned the ACLU. At first he misheard the question, and started to talk about "voters."
"No," said the woman, "motives."
He talked a little in general about arguments against the policy of the administration. I have to admire his restraint: he said nothing or very little about motives. He is very skilled, and I'm willing to think he possesses a certain kind of fair-mindedness.
In rhetoric, a common ploy is to attack the person of an opponent. This is used because the attacker cannot defend ideas on their own merits, so must assassinate the reputation and character of the opposition. In logic, this is called "ad hominem" attack, and is always flawed as argument.
So whether from actual fair-mindedness, absent mindedness or because of skill at appearing to be fair, Mr. Kobach did not stoop to this type of attack, despite the open invitation from somebody's grandma. I'm very glad.
In my opinion, St. Paul's in Lenexa is a somewhat liberal church. We practice inclusion and seek to find common ground. After the talk by Mr Kobach, several people told me they were glad I'd invited him. Now we more clearly understand our differences.
My hope is we can move from understanding to finding mutually acceptable ways to resolve differences. Only by talking together, by trying to really understand, can we work together to solve problems. We have to admit these problems are too big for either side on the issues to solve without the other side's help.
Next week - the other side of immigration policy, presented by Melinda Lewis of El Centro.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Kant's Evil Influence
"You really enjoy helping people. You seem to get a kick out of doing good. People like you shouldn't volunteer - you get too much out of it." She said all this with a serious, somewhat flat affect. I knew her well enough to know she'd never graduated high school, she attended church regularly and she had numerous children.
This woman never heard of Immanuel Kant, but she could apply his philosophy in everyday life.
Kant wrote about "the categorical imperative." One formulation of the idea was that moral action can spring solely from a sense of moral duty. Thus, though we are obliged to help others in need, we can only properly do so out of duty; it would be wrong to take pleasure in improving the lot of another person.
That is, of course, and over-simplified version of Kant. But the point stands; the formulation perverts doing good from being good. That is, it denys that helping others is intrinsically good; helping others becomes good only if done with the proper motives.
Consider the attitude of my coworker who refuses to volunteer for the annual charity workday sponsored by our top managers. He says his motives get all confused; would he be there to get face time with people who can promote him, or would he be doing good for the charity?
Of course, motive matters, but doing good is, unhhh, good. The refusal to participate because of confused motives sounds like a thin rationalization.
These examples demonstrate the evil influence of Immauel Kant.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Remembering the Hard Sell
Within the first two hours on the job, I'm in the car with the assistant manager of the local office when he turns to me and says, "You're not squeamish, are you?"
"Not too much," I said.
He pulled over, stopped the car, opened the door and leaned his head out. Then he vomited. After a moment, he wiped his lips, shut the door and we were on our way again. "Hiatal hernia," he said, "doctor tells me that's what causes me to puke." I said nothing.
I would watch and learn, my training would be to see how the experts worked and to copy them. The first call we made stands out in my mind. We drove out to a small house in the country to deliver a life insurance policy to a farmer. I didn't quite follow all that went on in the exchange between my boss and the farmer; at the end, the farmer filled out more paperwork and we left with a check equal to a week's pay at my old job.
The boss said a few curse words. He face turned a shade pink. The policy we'd delivered was not the policy the farmer had been sold. The guy who made the sale was in the hospital, which was why we'd delivered his policy. The boss complained very angrily to me about having to sell both the policy the farmer had thought he was getting and another policy. We would have to return to sell him the policy he'd wanted all along. I was learning a lot.
Each day started with a sales meeting (something I encountered again years later working as a "loaned executive" raising money for charity - another story.) The meeting whipped up greed and money lust in the sales force. The manager produced a parade of material prizes, ranging from cruise vacations down to inexpensive giveaways. He promised the good stuff to the top sales guys and handed out the small stuff. The top performer received special mention. A few of the guys were already getting very rich pretty quickly, so mere greed didn't motivate them as much as the need to beat the next guy. Incidentally, in those days, $50,000.00 a year represented a huge income - equivalent to several hundred thousand today.
I still remember my boss and me calling on a guy who lived alone in a tiny, one bedroom house. We told him we were there to "review" his insurance policies, to make sure he had the right amount and right kind of coverage. He obediently produced seven health polices issued by various companies. He told us how much money he made and how much went to service the policies. They took about a third of his income.
When we left, he had eight policies and we had a check.
"We'll go back and get rid of his excess coverage," the boss said as we drove away.
"If this guy ever gets sick, he'll be rich," I said to myself.
After a few days, maybe three or four, my pay started coming in. Checks for two hundred, three hundred, three hundred fifty, amounts that used to take a week to earn came to me for a single day's work. And these were splits with the boss, half commissions.
I remember the eighty-nine year old deaf woman. Actually, she had just turned eighty-nine and a half, had she been one month older, company policy prohibited any kind of sale to her, at any price. She understood we were from her insurance company, we wanted money, and she understood little else. She wrote her check and we left.
Sunday evening, before my third Monday with the company, I grew more and more depressed. A few weeks before, I'd been living on unemployment, worried about how to pay the rent and buy food and what would happen when it ran out. Now I experienced an entirely new feeling for me: I dreaded getting up and going to work.
I got sadder and sadder.
Finally, I made a decision. I found paper and pen, and wrote my letter of resignation.
Turned out, a lot of that money they paid me had to be returned. People lapsed the policies we sold, so the commissions on future earnings that I had already been paid had to be refunded to the company. It was in the contract I signed.
I can't say these experiences were typical of the industry or of MacDonald's company, and they were nearly 30 years ago. I can say the lessons my boss taught me were not the ones he intended me to learn.
I secretly think he had a conscience, though he didn't know it.
Almost everything he swallowed came back up, each and every day.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Conservatives Bemoan Ascent to Power
Andrew Ferguson, writing in the Weekly Standard, said that as long as the conservatives were struggling to get power, they remained intellectually honest. But "... The Republican takeover -- which is to say, political success -- dealt the mortal blow." Men who came to Washington to do good stayed to do well. (Quoted in David Broder's column today.)
If I'm understanding the argument, it is that a political philosophy that celebrates the supremacy of the individual and equates moral worth with material success was somehow corrupted by the assumption of the reins of power. That a group of millionaires who made no bones about their values and their feelings towards government, taxes and social welfare somehow lost their altruism when they got control of the Congress in 1995. That men openly contemptuous of government and blindly worshipping private enterprise somehow lost their way, changing their mission once they got control.
So the effort to destroy Social Security, the cuts in Medicaid, the bloated energy bill and highway bill, the tax cut bonanza for the wealthiest while deficits threaten to destroy our children's legacy were all aberrations. They were all corruptions of a somehow pure conservative vision.
Mr. Ferguson, with all due respect, rereason that argument. They did, or tried to do, exactly what they said they would. Look a little deeper. Is not the conservative agenda an unsubtle plan to increase the wealth of those already holding vast fortunes?
What kind of man puts himself over all others? And what do you expect of him after you make him your ruler?
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Katrina Opens Eyes
In announcing the multi-billion dollar attack on poverty, the president asserted that now is not the right time to raise taxes. I can only assume he somehow imagines the tax cuts of the last four years helped lift people out of poverty.
The evidence, in terms of census figures, is that more people slipped over the line into poverty while the tax cuts went into effect. It would appear that cutting taxes for the wealthiest members of our society does not actually help the poor in the way the ruling party's economists have theorized.
Remember >"voodoo economics"?
We hope the ruling party avoids the mistakes of the past. Concentrating the poor into ghettos puts the most vulnerable people in the worst possible location. The pockets of extreme poverty we built or allowed to develop result in depressed areas lacking jobs, decent schools, opportunities and hope.
Social science has learned a lot in the last twenty years about how society and the government can help poor people.
Integration of low income people into the rest of the culture has proven effective in many localities. The government, using zoning laws, requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of housing units for low income families. Typically this is ten to twenty percent. The government then subsidizes the rent or mortgage for the poor inhabitants. As a result, kids grow up in neighborhoods with decent educations and the same kinds of opportunities as the rest of us. Families often "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" when given this kind of chance.
For a full treatment of the subject, read Orfield's Metropolitics.
Of course, upper class and middle class enclaves do not welcome "Section 8" people. I have witnessed some very ugly prejudice first hand.
We can only hope the ruling party proceeds with foresight and insight. We can only hope they base policies on the realities of modern urban life, not ideology.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Bus Ridership Swells by 3%
The article went on to say about 50,000 people ride the bus every day. The opportunity to serve more riders excites the ATA, who hope to keep the new customers even after the shock of recent rises in fuel costs wears off.
What the article did not point out is that the metropolitan area has over 1,864,000 people. Bus ridership is pitifully small as a percentage of the total. And a 3% increase in a 50,000 rider base is actually only 1,500 individuals.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad those 1,500 people will no longer be competing with me for a parking space. Moreover, I'm glad their reduced fuel consumption will help ease pressure on prices. But 1,500 people out of a population of 1,864,000?
Putting this change in behavior into context underscores the basic point: rising fuel costs hurt only poor people.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Traffic Unimpeded by Gas Prices
That's a pretty big fine, if you're caught. I know.
My theory that the high cost of gas hurts only poor people is confirmed. Poor people do not drive gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks to their jobs as salesmen, accountants, and so forth.
I believe most people, at least most people over the age of 30, know observing the speed limit saves gas. But the cost of gas does not exceed the thrill of speed, at least, not yet.
The ability to connect individual choices with mass effects would appear to be crippled in this country. But that's the subject of a long essay.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Ten Books that Most Influenced Me
Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
The Republic Plato as translated by Francis Cornford
The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud
The Meditations of Emperor Marcus Aurelius
A History of Western Philosophy and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day by Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell
The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences by Michel Foucault
1984, Animal House by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B. F. Skinner
Okay, that's 14 books, but 10 authors. I feel people interested in social issues and political philosophy do well to become familar with these books - and the ones on my next list.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
St Paul's Speaker Series
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
Presents September Speaker Series on 'Hot Topics'
Explore Some of Today's Most Controversial
Local and National Topics with Experts on Both Sides
LENEXA, Ks. (September 10, 2005) - Intelligent design, immigration, school financing are topics in our news daily. These topics and more will be explored during a fall speaker series at St. Paul's United Methodist church. Known for presenting controversial speakers in an open environment, St. Paul's will present this series on Sunday mornings from September 18 through October 31, 2005. All speakers are at 9:30 a.m. in the Adult Space. St. Paul's is located at 7740 Lackman in Lenexa.
September 18, Dr. Marjorie Kaplan, Shawnee Mission School District, School finance
September 25, Kris Kobach, UMKC Law School, Immigration
October 2, Melinda Lewis, El Centro, Immigration
October 9, John Calvert, Intelligent Design Network, Intelligent Design
October 16, Pat Hayes, Author & Webmaster "Red State Rabble", Intelligent Design
October 23, not yet scheduled
October 30, Bill Tammeus, Kansas City Star, Separation of Church & State
St. Paul's Welcome Statement - We, the people of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, believe that God's love is expansive and unconditional and that, through Christ, God calls us to love one another as God loves us. We welcome all people, regardless of gender, race, age, cultural or religious heritage, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstances, family configuration or difference of ability. We celebrate the worth, dignity and gifts of every person as a child of God.
St. Paul's UMC worships on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. with adult and children's Sunday School at 9:30 a.m.
Please direct all media inquiries to: Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Local, State or Federal Fault?
One gets the impression that the writers cannot, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, admit that their guys performed poorly.
If one were to grant their arguments (which I don't) then certain questions must logically arise. If the state and local authorities failed, then shouldn't we press for an expanded federal role? Should we add more manpower and resources to the federal agencies charged with disaster preparedness? How should we pay for this expansion of the federal government? Higher taxes?
We should be asking these questions. One way to expose errors is to try to follow the logic wherever it leads. If the state and local leadership cannot be relied on, and if we want to minimize loss of life, then we must look to an expanded federal government.
Of course, if we view the failures as a leadership problem, the solution becomes much more obvious. Get rid of the incompetent leaders.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Man Cries in Church
The pastor showed the congregation a few images from Katrina's aftermath, projected onto a screen. Music played, and the choir director sang a song about need "Not Far Away."
My friend, the liturgist, got up to read today's Scripture. His voice hesitating, eyes full of tears, he managed to keep his composure until he finished. Most of the rest of us also had tears in our eyes. He then left the altar.
The King James version of the passage:
How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.
2 Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are upon her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is none to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.
Pastor Jim said words to the effect, "We call natural disasters acts of God. But they are not acts of God. When you open your heart, when you give to one in need, that is an act of God."
We made a special offering today for the survivors of Katrina. Some of us have opened our homes. UMCOR asked for donations of specific supplies, so my wife and children went out and purchased what they could find. Many stores, here in Kansas, have already been stripped bare of the supplies asked for.
Our hearts ache as we helplessly watch wave after wave of suffering.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Katrina Reveals Flaws in National Character
We saturate the culture with messages that exult individuals at the expense of the community and hype winning at all costs as the American way. It's not surprising that people internalizing these values become thieves in the absence of law enforcement. How can we expect self-restraint in this situation when all external restraints have been literally washed away by floods?
New Orleans embodied the trends that prevail in America today. More and more, our cities resemble third world outposts. Last Tuesday, buried by the disaster news, the US Census Bureau released a report showing that more and more Americans slipped over the line into poverty. Numbers of citizens without health care increased, and real wages for most of us declined. One of the hallmarks of third world nations, the enormous gap between rich and poor, continues to expand rapidly in the USA.
Concentrated pockets of extreme poverty spread from inner cities to the suburbs, and now threaten to swallow entire metropolitan areas. By the time inner ring suburbs realize poverty metastacized to their cities, the cancer has spread too far to save the patient. People with means move further and further out, draining the centers of resources that could combat the problems. The future of the American urban landscape, like the disaster in New Orleans, is easily foreseen. If present trends continue, our children will live in heavily armed enclaves of wealth or surrounding oceans of grinding poverty.
Successful strategies to combat the decay and decline of our metropolitan complexes have been known in scholarly circles for some time. For example, Metropolitics by Myron Orfield contains a clear, concise explanation of the causes, effects and the inevitable spread of pockets of extreme poverty. (One surprising finding: tax structures designed to foster development create a situation in which the poorest neighborhoods actually subsidize the richest, exacerbating the problem.) Orfield also reports on political strategies to fight the growing blight. The first step, as with all problems, is to admit there is a problem. Next, the metro area community must take responsibility for the solution.
But we live in a nation that acts as though extreme poverty is a lifestyle choice. We require women on welfare to leave their children and work. We pretend that lack of health insurance results from laziness; we suppose if the uninsured had jobs, they would have employer provided insurance. We fault the poor for their condition. We blame them, tell them to get jobs, clean up, be like us. We ignore the lack of jobs, low pay, no healthcare, no daycare, no education, no opportunity.
That destruction of New Orleans was inevitable was well known to engineers familiar with the waterways of southeast Louisiana. Scientific American published a detailed account, The Drowning of New Orleans in 2001. It's a pity that the fine folks at FEMA do not read Scientific American. As I recall, the engineers proposed many ideas on how to manage the waters of southeast Louisiana. The expense of the improvements kept them out of public awareness.
As often noted, the catastrophe of Katrina hit the poor the hardest. People with sense and means left the city. Large numbers could not leave the city because they did not have cars. If they did, many could not afford to pay for gas, food and shelter. Now they are refugees.
Prominent black leaders are asking us not to call them "refugees." One of them said recently "They are Americans."
The ugly truth is that they are both, Americans and refugees, fleeing this catastrophe as helplessly and desperately as the hopeless populations threatened in the Sudan.
As other American metro areas gallop towards third world status, we should pause to think of the consequences of our reckless policies.
To be fair, the crises brought out the best in many people. The attitude of the people abandoned at the New Orleans convention center is presently one of trying to help each other. Stories of heroism and kindness emerge hourly.
But attitudes of kindness and helping each other are reserved for the American response to life-threatening emergencies. The everyday attitude of Americans measures the moral worth of an individual by the size of his bank account. Material success is seen as flowing from virtues of hard work, thrift, and entrepreneurial spirit. Despite the dismal scandals of the S & Ls, the rapacious and destructive corporate failures of Enron, WorldCom and others, despite the business pages daily reporting on convictions of business leaders, despite the brutal personnel policies of Jack Welch, despite CEOs earning hundreds of millions while destroying the wealth of their shareholders, despite all that -- we trust giant multinational companies more than we trust our own government. We all expect to be rich one day. After all, we are Americans.
Not that the government has done well with Katrina. But the government does respond to elections. And when we want to, we can hold elected officials accountable for failures.
We Americans expect to fend for ourselves. We do not ask for handouts from the public purse. Well, we do make allowances for energy companies like Exxon. They recorded record profits in the billions; but congress, in its wisdom, decreed they should have tax credits that also add up to billions. But I digress. We revile welfare cheats, while we tolerate non-compliance with the income tax. (According to the IRS, approximately 15% of all income taxes owed are not paid.)
We cut Medicaid benefits for tens of thousands of poor while strenuously arguing for the elimination of estate taxes that literally affect only a few dozen people each year. Oops, another digression.
The economy of the United States moves far more people into poverty each year than it makes wealthy. Large numbers of poor, with no resources, are inherently destabilizing in a time of crises. People with nothing to loose who are driven to desperation will act out of that desperation. They will riot in Los Angeles or loot in New Orleans. The cities are primed to burn. The policies we have in place today, cutting taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor, add fuel to the fire.
Of course, no other great city in the United States developed below sea level, between a large lake and the Mississippi. Similar natural disasters appear highly unlikely. But the United States has many enemies. God help us if any city faces a man-made disaster of like proportions. The multitudes of poor will again suffer. We will help each other until some new distraction moves the crises off the front pages. Then, as we did after the riots of the sixties and the eighties, we will forget. We will return to our "normal" attitudes of closing our eyes to the unraveling of the social fabric.
In the long run, in the absence of acute crises, God's help is certainly the only help we can count on. In the current "every-man-for-himself" climate, we dare not count on each other.
Katrina holds up a magnifying mirror to our culture. It's hard not to look away.