Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, George Bush, Evangelical Christians, and Reinhold Niebuhr

I can't stand George Bush, and I think right-wing Christians are a block to progress on many moral and social issues. But Nicholas Kristof points out that on the issue of child sex trafficking, Bush, pushed by evangelicals, is doing a lot of good, while liberals, except for some feminists, aren't doing much.

Reinhold Niebuhr is right again. Ambiguity pervades nearly everything.

Monday, 1 May 2006

I am getting a little tired of hearing drug companies on TV proclaim how much they love patients and put them first. Au contraire, profit is the end; patient satisfaction is the means. The prosecution offers three points in evidence:

1. If they love patients so much, why do they spend so much money in ads to persuade them to suggest their newest and most expensive drugs to their doctors instead of older and cheaper alternatives that work about as well?

2. Why do they spend so much money wining, dining, and plying doctors with gifts persuading them to prescribe the aforementioned newer, more expensive drugs instead of cheaper alternatives?

3. Why do they do everything within their power to keep their patents from expiring in order to prevent much cheaper generics from coming on the market?

The prosecution rests.

Immigration and Troubles Ahead?

Religion and Society

Whatever immigration policy is adopted at the moment can be dealt with. More important is what present trends suggest for the future. If the 10-12 million immigrants of illegal status are put on the road to become citizens, in another few years, will there be 10-12 million more and later 10-12 million more? If the answer is negative, how do we propose to keep them out in humane ways? We can and ought to liberalize legal ways for immigrants south of the border to come to the United State, but will it ever be enough to prevent others from coming in droves illegally?

A lot of these questions are speculative, but they are worth raising in order to give us perspective on what we are doing. One of the main issues is whether large numbers of Mexicans and other Latinos will continue to assimilate into American society, culture, and values. Or as their numbers increase, will they create enclaves in which the desire to perpetuate their own culture will become stronger?

Small groups who retain their own ways of life can be incorporated without great problems, but will large numbers intensify the desire to have little Mexicos in Los Angeles and other cities? Will there be a growing desire to sing the national anthem in Spanish, create a two-language nation like Canada, and fly the Mexican flag? A nation is enriched by diversity, but it also needs symbols of cultural unity like flags, language, a national anthem sung in the original language, and well as a core of common values.

Immigrants from the south are largely Roman Catholic and many share the views of the church on abortion, sex, women, divorce, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the like. Would the hierarchy be as favorable to immigration from the South if 90% of them were liberal Protestants on these issues? I don't know; I just wonder. Would ever-increasing numbers of social conservatives retard the progress we have made so painfully and slowly in these areas? Should those of us who are liberal Protestants be concerned about the possibility of adding so many more votes to reactionary policies? Will Hispanics tend more to the Republicans (on social-cultural issues) or Democrats (on economic issues)? Is it not important from the point of view of progressive and liberal folks like me what the answer is?

Would ever-increasing numbers exert an ever greater downward drag on already low wages for immigrants and unskilled Americans already here? One op-ed piece on May 2 commented on the spectacle of immigrant workers protesting in behalf of even lower wages, for that is what will happen in the pool of available workers becomes ever larger.

The worst case scenario might have the following elements:

1. Large enclaves of immigrants form in the big cities and elsewhere who become increasingly militant and resistant to assimilation while making growing demands on government on economic and cultural matters.

2. A backlash occurs among non-Hispanic whites that resists signs of increasingly militant demands for the Mexicanization of American society.

3. Tension moving toward violent conflict emerges between Hispanic and African American groups over jobs, falling wages, and cultural matters.

4. Riots with accompanying violence break out in cities with large numbers of alienated Mexicans and other Hispanics, resulting in burning cities reminiscent of the civil rights era.

If that sound outlandish, recall that tendencies in all these directions were much in evidence in the May 1, 2006, demonstrations, protests, and work stoppages. Mexican flags were much in evidence, and more would have been had not leaders warned against the bad public relations it would engender. Some are all ready in singing the national anthem in Spanish. Voices could be heard saying, "Los Angeles is ours," "we want a new America," "illegal immigrants from Mexico are not illegal, just back on native land," "we have the right to be here," and the like. All this hints that much more activism could be expected in the future. African American groups are already forming in opposition to Spanish culturalization and the competition with blacks over jobs. White militancy is evidence in posses forming on the southern border to keep immigrants out.

Whether this indicates that serious trouble is ahead, I don't know. It would be foolish to dismiss the possibility out of hand.

I speak here not so much of what is right and good as of troubling signs and realistic possibilities. European nations are learning how their liberal policies have created enclaves of alienated Muslims shut off from economic opportunity and at odds with the majority culture on matters of free speech, religion, morals, and the like. Granted the differences with the situation here are significant, it does not mean the similarities harbor no troubles for us.

Thursday, 27 April 2006
Immigration: Problem Without a Solution

Politics and Justice

Immigration at the present, at least with respect to Mexico and countries to the south, is a problem without a good solution. It is complex with many facets and subtexts. What commends itself in some respects is distasteful in others. What helps some groups hurts other groups.

Let us first dispose of some simplistic items. It is said that immigrants take jobs Americans don't want. That is true only if you add "at current wages." And it is not true even then, since Americans in fact do hold most of the kinds of low-paying jobs that unskilled immigrants take.

Signs proclaim that no human being is illegal, refuting a claim nobody is making and ignoring the intended meaning that an illegal immigrant is one who is here illegally not that this human being is illegal, whatever that could possibly imply.

It is also said that we are a nation of immigrants, so we should continue be receptive to others who want to share the same benefits our ancestors found in coming here. Fine, but it neglects two things: all humans beings living today, or nearly all, have ancestors who came from somewhere else, and we have to deal with new immigrants under the conditions that prevail here and now and not at some previous time.

To tackle the problem itself, there is little doubt that adding immigrant workers who will work for very low pay drags down the wages of those already here. If employers can hire workers at a dollar less per hour than they are now paying, it stands to reason they will do so. Employers who benefit in this way are favorable to a large influx of potential workers from the South who can be hired at low wages.

Let us add some complicating factors. Allowing free immigration from Mexico provides a safety valve for the Mexican government and reduces the pressure to improve conditions for their own workers. An author who has studied the problem for years claims that the Mexican government is being cynical. They are happy to have these impoverished people leave and don't want them back.

Mexico has a harsh, punitive policy toward immigrants entering from their southern borders but wants the US to be generous to immigrants from Mexico -- the old double standard issue.

One reason so many immigrants from Mexico will risk everything to get in is that Mexican farmers have been devastated by the subsidies paid to American farmers to grow corn, thus undermining the prices of a major Mexican crop. NAFTA has been hurt many poor Mexicans badly, pitting the interests of poor Mexican farmers against rich agribusiness interests in the United States. Guess who wins.

Both parties in Congress try to figure out how to get the Hispanic vote, so that self-interest rather than the common good tends to dominate.

Turning to solutions, all have drawbacks. To treat the millions of illegal immigrants already here the same as those who are pursuing a legal track would not be fair. To deport them is all but impossible as well as cruel. Any penalty or punishment administered them would only add further hurt to vulnerable people. Building a wall or fence sufficient to keep out all trespassers would be expensive as well as inappropriate given our national values. Completely open or completely closed borders is either impossible or bad policy.

The best solution, of course, would be to make the countries who are supplying unskilled immigrants so attractive that few would want to leave. That will not occur in the near future. Lacking that we have to search for the least bad answer. Practically speaking, the issue will be settled in a political battle in which all interested parties seek the best deal for themselves. Maybe that will, or maybe it won't, produce the least bad solution. In any case, it is what we will have to live with it. One could wish for an outcome that will require everybody to bear the burden imposed by a generous immigration policy and better wages for everybody at the bottom. This burden could be either higher taxes or prices on goods involving immigrant labor, if not job or pay loss.

One final note with two parts can be added. One is that liberals should be cautious about proposing policies that will cost them nothing but require others to take the loss. Middle class and upper class folks and professional people would not have their jobs threatened or their pay cut by a generous policies toward unskilled immigrants in large numbers. So let them be modest in their idealism. I speak in particular to Christians who would go unharmed.

The other point is some Christians want to leap from principles of love and compassion right to generous policies toward unskilled immigrants. I am suggesting that love needs to be mediated through principles of justice that take into account all the complexities involved and the differential gains and losses suffered by various groups. The hope is to arrive at some form of proximate justice that will also have a practical chance of enactment in the power struggle between different self-interested parties vying for what benefits them most.

Elements of tragedy pervade the situation. Skulls of Latinos are scattered in the Arizona desert in border areas testifying to the failure of some immigrants to make it to safety and a job. Would-be immigrants include honest people who want to work make a better life for themselves and their families, a few gang members, criminals, and perhaps now and then a potential terrorist.

I saw on TV a young man who had just entered the country illegally. In all earnestness he said, "I didn't come here to hurt anybody. I just want to work and help my family." One TV show followed a deported immigrant back to his village. The squalor, poverty, and desperation were heartbreaking. The young son was willing to risk his life to come to the United States to work and help his family. Christians will be moved by compassion for such people and be willing to sacrifice in order to help them, but they will not do so without counting the costs involved for everybody and trying to see to it that everyone shares the costs entailed by their loving kindness.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Small Scale Frustrations

In the cosmic scheme of things rebates and manufacturers' coupons are a minor evil but nevertheless deserve indignant renunciation.

Rebates are a way of fooling you into thinking you are getting a special deal. It only means the price has been lowered, which is always a good thing, of course. But rebates are an inefficient means to achieve this end. They are trouble for the manufacturer, the retailer, and the customer, adding unnecessary time and cost to a transaction that could be simplified. The giver of the rebate puts off sending your check as long as possible, which means they get your money interest-free for 6, 8, 10 12 weeks or more. Moreover, frequently they resist honoring them anyway. The find all sorts of things that make them invalid. I have been told they have no record of a claim when it was sent with another claim -- which they did honor -- at the same time in the same envelope to the same place on the same deal. I have been told the check has been sent and cleared when I never saw the check at all. I could go on. They are a nuisance and add unnecessary costs that could have been avoided by simply lowering the price. On retailer said to me, "I hate them."

Manufacturers' coupons are even more inefficient. They have to be conceived, designed, printed, distributed, and redeemed. The customer has to look for them cut them out, organize them, search for the exact product, and wait while they are scanned. The the manufacturer pays the store about 7 cents each to process them. This adds up to a whole nest of inefficiencies. The customer is forced to use them or end up subsidizing those who do.

Whey, then, do rebates and coupons flourish? Apparently because they work for the advantage of the seller. It seems there are enough people out there who think they are getting something for nothing to sustain the troublesome process that ends up costing the consumer more in the end. P. T. Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute." Those of us who hate them are caught up in a system where we must act defensively by using them to keep from losing more that we would otherwise. Everybody who agrees say, "AMEN."



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