Thoughts on Illegal Immigration

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By Mike Cronin

The topic of amnesty and “a path to citizenship” for those illegally present in the US has been making the news lately.  Illegal immigration is a complicated issue; perhaps we can unravel it a bit.

Illegal immigration occurs for a variety of reasons (economic opportunity, drug smuggling, social benefits, joining family, human trafficking, etc.) but only one principle applies: Incentive. People come here (or are brought here) illegally because they (or their abductors) perceive a benefit that outweighs the risk.

There are about 11-12 million people present in the US illegally.

Illegal immigration is not a felony, such as robbing a bank. It is a civil offense that comes in several forms: illegal entry and overstaying a visa are two. These violations carry relatively minor penalties. Nonetheless, illegal immigration is a violation of federal law.

PC police would have us believe the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” are racist.  The reasoning goes that the terms should be treated as slurs because most (about 70-75%) of those to whom they apply are Hispanic and hale from Mexico and Central America, or because no person is illegal, only acts are. “Undocumented” is the preferred substitute. No doubt, there are racists who use one or other of the terms as code for those of Hispanic descent.  That does not mean everyone who uses the terms is making a slur. If I drive faster than the speed limit, I am a speeder.  If I steal candy from a convenience store, I am a shoplifter. People who commit such minor offenses and misdemeanors earn themselves appropriate sobriquets, which do not brand them for life. Likewise, people who are illegally present in the US, especially those who remain so of their own free will, have earned a descriptive moniker; “illegal immigrant” is factual, fit for polite company, just like “speeder” or “shoplifter,” and it can be overcome.  It certainly has a more benign connotation than many other terms one can think of.

Amnesty has been granted at least once before: By Ronald Reagan. Whatever their opinion or stance on amnesty, Republican politicians are generally not in favor of providing a path to citizenship, because, as has been mentioned, the vast majority of those who would benefit from such a path are Hispanic, and Hispanics, as a demographic, tend to vote for Democrats. By the same token, whatever their stated rationale may be for supporting a path to citizenship, Democratic politicians are aware of the huge voting bloc that would accrue to them if “path to citizenship” legislation came to pass.

In my opinion, this entire problem can be greatly reduced in the following ways:

  1. Legal immigration is a nightmare unless you are related to a citizen, rich, or eminent. We need to bring back the “Ellis Island” style of immigration: One shows up at the port of entry, gets documented, enters legally, and works towards citizenship. No quotas.
  2. We need to eliminate the incentives for immigration that stem from dysfunctional governance, such as minimum wage laws that incentivize paying paltry wages under the table to migrant workers, draconian drug laws that ensure the street prices attract the most ruthless minds to the narcotics trade, and “in-state” tuition rates at colleges and universities.
  3. Any “amnesty” or “path to citizenship” for those already here illegally must include paying the routine fine for the applicable original offense(s). Amnesty should only be from deportation, not from being cited and fined for the original immigration offense. Exemptions should be given for those who were brought here as minors or demonstrably against their will. Any “path to citizenship” should not be rewarded to those already here illegally simply because they are here illegally. It should include being placed last on current applicant lists – in other words, people who have followed the law and are waiting to gain entry, legal residency, and/or citizenship should be ahead of “path” applicants for citizenship consideration. Public or military service for qualified candidates could serve as an alternative mechanism, provided the same opportunity is given to standard applicants.
  4. We need to secure our borders.

A Response to TIME Magazine’s Mark Thompson

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By Mike Cronin

Writing for TIME magazine, Mark Thompson asks: Are U.S. Veteran’s Selfish?  

In the article, he argues that since veterans have received substantial pay and benefit increases since 9/11, they should not be so testy about recent cuts to the cost-of-living raises for retirees and proposed cuts to commissary subsidies.  I wrote the following response: (full disclosure: I am a military retiree).

Veterans aren’t selfish for wanting to keep the benefits they were promised and that they earned with their blood and sacrifice, anymore than any civilian corporate employee is selfish if they get upset when their company unilaterally cuts pay and/or benefits. Veterans understand the need for cuts and savings; they simply demand that ways be found to do it honorably. Regardless of how military compensation has increased over the last decade (those increases were meant to close a significant pay gap, by the way), there is no moral justification for reducing promised compensation to those who held up their end of the bargain. If cuts to military pay and benefits must be accomplished, it would be moral to make new promises to new troops (before they sign on the bottom line), but cuts could also come from other sources that are, at the moment, off the table.

We are in the current predicament because Congress has boxed the military in by not allowing more strategically considered fiscal savings, such as a round of stateside and/or overseas base closures, or cancellation of major weapons systems.  It’s simply not politically expedient for an elected official to face their constituents and tell them the base is closing or that they won’t be needed to build ships, tanks, or fighters.

That political expediency is further exposed by Congress’ refusal to reign in the Fed’s “qualitative easing” to the tune of $85 billion per month. If we need to make spending cuts so bad, (and we do) how about we start by picking the ridiculously-low hanging fruit first and turn off the free-money tsunami?

So Mr. Thompson: who is really selfish?  The vets who more than earned what they were promised through their sacrifices, or the politicians who make empty promises and no sacrifices at all?

Read more: Veterans fighting benefit cuts sought by Congress and the Pentagon | TIME.com http://swampland.time.com/2014/01/26/are-u-s-veterans-selfish/#ixzz2rf7JYtI5

Your Income: Earned or Distributed?

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By Mike Cronin

When you received your pay check, was it because you earned it by trading your time and skill for money, or because it was just “distributed” to you?  I suspect you answered that you earned it. Most of us do. That’s why talk about the vast “income inequality” in our country can be very misleading.

When a statistician talks about income distribution, he or she is referring to how income brackets fit in a bell curve, like in the chart above.  When a politician or a pundit talks about income or wealth distribution, we are supposed to just act as if our money has been unfairly distributed and not earned, and  certain adjustments are necessary to make things “fair.”  These adjustments take the form of taxes, if you “received” too much, or hand outs and benefits, if you “received” too little.

The statisticians’ usage of the term distribution is neither bad nor good, it’s just math. The politicians’ and pundits’ usage of the term distribution is insidious, because it sounds so fair, but it drops contexts in at least two ways.  Every dollar that is “given” by the politicians to those who didn’t have “enough” income “distributed” to them, either:

  1. Had to be taken away from those who had produced it, then “redistributed” to the “have nots;”
  2. or, it had to be minted, printed, or digitally conjured up out of thin air and “pumped” or “quantitatively eased” into the economy.

The first is literal and direct theft (though we call it income taxes) and the latter is indirect theft, because it steals value from our existing money. (Full disclosure: I work for the government, so almost my entire income during my working life has come from your taxes – and my own. The part of the government I work for is clearly derived from the enumerated powers in the Constitution, and I favor The Fair Tax vice the confiscatory taxation system we have today. Decide for yourself whether I am a hypocrite. The thought has given me pause from time-to-time.)

So, statistically speaking, we have a vast disparity between the highest income earners and the lowest. That does not mean income distribution is unfair, because it does not mean that the “haves” with huge incomes somehow just got lucky and received an unfairly large distribution of money. Maybe they earned it, maybe they inherited it, maybe they embezzled it. The fact that they have It is not proof that they got it unfairly. Likewise, the fact that “have nots” at the low end of the income bell curve don’t have more doesn’t mean that they have somehow been cheated. Perhaps it means that they can work hard, gain skills, and climb into higher income brackets.

Is Your Water Organic?

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By Mike Cronin

Have you heard that scientists have found that our drinking water contains dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO)? Something needs to be done!  No it doesn’t. Dihydrogen (DH or H2) monoxide (MO or O) IS water: DHMO = H2O. Dihydrogen monoxide sounds scary, because it’s a chemical term, and because it contains the word monoxide, which is also in carbon monoxide, the harmful gas that can be released in your house by a leaky furnace or into your car from a leaky exhaust system.

OK, dihydrogen monoxide is safe, but what about sodium chloride? Surely you’d be concerned if you were eating that? After all, it contains chlorine, the same stuff that’s in bleach! Well, too much of it can certainly be bad for your blood pressure, but you probably eat it every day. Sodium chloride (NaCL) is just table salt!

“Organic” food is better for you than inorganic food, right?  Well, consider this: The diet & health industry has smuggled a new meaning onto the word “organic.” We’re supposed to think that “organic” food is better for us because it contains fewer chemicals than non-organic food. In some cases it may actually be true, but there’s a catch: In its truest sense, the word “organic” simply means “containing carbon.” By that definition, almost any food you care to name is technically organic (I’m not sure about Twinkies).  Just as our “fossil” fuels, i.e. hydrocarbons, are organic, our body fuels, i.e. carbohydrates and proteins, are also organic. that means that if a food manufacturer labels an item “organic” that doesn’t pass the government’s criteria for “certified organic” food, the firm can get in trouble for mislabeling the package, when in fact if the item has carbs or protein it most certainly is literally and factually organic! About the only food items we put into our bodies that are truly not organic are salt (sodium chloride – no carbon!), trace minerals (iron, zinc, selenium, etc. – no carbon!) and WATER! (Dihydrogen monoxide – no carbon!)

So what’s the point of these scientific word tricks?  Only this: Sometimes you can be lead to worry, or to panic, or to pay more by folks selling you snake oil – especially if it’s factually accurate but misleading (in the case of organic food) or when it’s packaged in double speak, as in “organic water.”

Are You Guilty of Enjoying White Privilege?

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By Mike Cronin

On the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I find myself recalling a class on multiculturalism in my MA program. During the class, one of the topics was “white privilege.”  The essence of white privilege is that being born white, especially as a male, comes with certain privileges that members of other demographic groups don’t get.  The course hinted that white men could and should feel guilty about this privilege, and that they should take unspecified actions to atone for this guilt. 

I had very mixed feelings about this. I acknowledge that, as a white American male, compared to most people in the US and the world, I have a relatively benign position in life. I even accept that due to the accident of my birth, I began life with more advantages than most. If life is a game, then I acknowledge that I started on the easiest setting.  What I could not, (and still cannot) accept, is that I should feel guilty about it.  Guilt implies wrongdoing, and wrongdoing implies a choice between right and wrong. Infants have no understanding of right and wrong, and have not developed the mental faculties to make conscious choices. I cannot be guilty of being a white male, because it is not wrong, and because I had no choice in the matter. 

That means I have nothing to atone for. On the other hand, knowing that just about every other demographic may be “playing life” on a more difficult setting than I am requires that I ask: As an adult with the ability to understand right and wrong and to make conscious choices, what should I do, if anything, about “white privilege?”  I cannot undo history, nor can I change  anyone’s heritage.  I could give money to various causes, but that would have mixed results at best. 

The answer that I arrived at: Context matters.  While, as whole, white males may get the best “starting position” of any group, all groups are made of individuals, and individual circumstances vary. Some white males had it worse than I did, and some had it better. Likewise, while as a group, Asians, blacks, Hispanics, women, or others might not have had as good a starting position as white men, there are individuals in each cohort that started life out in an even better position than I did. In other words, the answer to “white privilege” is not to feel guilty and attempt to atone for something outside of one’s control, but rather to see and interact with every person as an individual, not as a representative of a demographic group (race, ethnicity, gender, etc.). The best thing anyone can do to create a level playing field is not to dole out compensatory advantages to some members of this or that “underprivileged” group, but simply to not hate or act against others because of their differences – to not purposely be bigoted, prejudiced, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, etc. Instead, respect individuals, and be a proponent of individual rights. Since the smallest possible minority is an individual, individual rights ARE minority rights.

Is Your News Real?

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Image comparison: L: actual image. R: “Photoshopped” image published by Reuters in 2006.

By Mike Cronin

No matter how hard you try with diets, make-up, and exercises, you will never look as good as a celebrity or model in a magazine.  That’s because they don’t even look that good in real life! It takes professional make-up artists, photographers, and designers to produce such photos, but it doesn’t end there. Photoshop is used to alter almost all celebrity/model photographs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP31r70_QNM

Likewise, if you run the propaganda department for your local dictator, Photoshop is your best friend…if you can use it without botching the job:

http://www.thewire.com/global/2011/07/tour-worlds-worst-photoshop-propaganda/39932/

The motive for “Photoshopping” in the above cases is s clear: To improve on reality. In this next case, the motive for faking reality is not so clear. Several CNN and HLN reporters are in Phoenix covering the Jody Arias trial. Four of them are in the same place covering the same story. Two of them are in the same parking lot, a few yards apart.  So why do they conduct split-screen “satellite” interviews with each other as if they were on opposite sides of the country?  Perhaps because, while it does nothing for the story itself, it does pump up the visual “action” level:

http://www.thewire.com/national/2013/05/nancy-grace-ashleigh-banfield-cnn-parking-lot/64965/

While Photoshoping and adding “drama” with split screens may improve on reality, sometimes the “news” is just outright faked: In Nov of 1992, NBC Dateline ran a story about the alleged propensity of Chevrolet/GMC pick-ups to catch fire in a side-impact collision due to the placement of the fuel tanks. The video in the story included two “test” accidents. During one of the tests, flames did indeed erupt from one of the pick-ups. GM conducted its own investigation into the story and found that the contractors NBC had hired to set up the test accidents had rigged the trucks with model rocket motors to ensure there would be a fire if fuel leaked.  NBC aired an apology in February 1993, and several of the journalists involved in the story were fired or resigned:

http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/10/us/nbc-settles-truck-crash-lawsuit-saying-test-was-inappropriate.html

The morals of the story:

1. Don’t base your self-image on a comparison against celebrities or models enhanced by professional image-makers.

2. Even the “news” is sometimes rigged to present you with a filtered and scrubbed reality. Watch skeptically.

The Deficit, the Debt, and Unfunded Liabilities

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By Mike Cronin

You’ve heard politicians say we need to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. You may have also heard other politicians say our government is spending too much, because we have such a high national debt. Then, invariably, the first group of politicians will respond that they’ve cut the deficit. So how can the debt go up, when the deficit is coming down? What’s the difference?

The deficit is the amount the government has spent over and above what it has taken in during the current fiscal year. For 2013, that amount was over 1/2 trillion dollars. The national debt is the total amount of money, from all years, that the government owes to those from whom it has borrowed (namely US and foreign banks). This number is somewhere around 17 trillion dollars. That’s 17 thousand billion, or 17 million million. Written out, that’s $17,000,000,000,000. Because the deficit is overspending, whenever we have a deficit, any deficit, the debt will go up…even if the deficit is smaller than the previous year. A reduction in deficit spending doesn’t mean the government got it’s financial affairs in order, it just means they slowed down the overspending a little. in fact, the debt can go up even if we have zero deficit in a given year, because the interest on the debt keeps it growing.

If those facts & figures aren’t shocking enough, there is another number we must consider, but you almost never hear about it in the news. That figure represents the unfunded liabilities of the government.  That’s the amount of money it will take to pay for all of the benefits and entitlement payments the government has promised to pay in the future, such as Social Security and Medicare, to people who aren’t old enough, or otherwise eligible, to receive them now. That number is estimated to be anywhere from 55 trillion to 222 trillion dollars, depending on who is doing the estimating and what is included.   That is more than the gross national product of all of the countries in the world, combined.  In other words, our government has overspent, or will overspend, more money now and in the future than the total economic output generated by the entire world!

So, do you think  we have a revenue problem, or a spending problem?

Deficit: What the government overspent in fiscal year 2013 (about $700 billion, according to the US Treasury Dept.)

Debt: What the government has overspent in total (about $17 trillion)

Unfunded Liabilities: What the government has promised to pay in the future over and above what it is projected to take in ($55-222 trillion)