Saturday, July 16, 2005

Vigilantes and Illegal Immigration

Phoenix, Arizona July 15, 2005 — Now that I have returned from France and am again living in Phoenix, Arizona in the USA, I have turned my attention to local politics, but in this case, local politics that could affect the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

On April 10, 2005, Patrick Haab paused at a rest stop along Interstate Highway 8 near the city of Gila Bend, west of Phoenix, Arizona, to walk his dog, where he came across a group of seven illegal immigrants. Haab was carrying a pistol, which he used to hold the immigrants hostage as he telephoned the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. When the sheriff’s deputies arrived, they arrested not only the illegal immigrants but also Mr. Haab.

An investigation revealed that one of the seven illegal immigrants was a “coyote” or human smuggler who was transporting the others, and it is thanks to this fact that Mr. Haab is not facing criminal charges. Illegal immigration is a misdemeanor or minor crime in the United States, but trafficking in human beings is a felony, a much more serious offense. Arizona law permits a citizen to arrest someone who has committed a felony, but not to arrest someone who has committed a misdemeanor.

After reviewing the case against Patrick Haab, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas refused to press charges arguing that Haab did not commit a crime, because one of the people he detained, the coyote, had committed a felony. As to the other six detainees, Thomas argues that by cooperating with the coyote, they conspired to commit the felony and are therefore also felons. The second argument seems farfetched to many people.

Thomas’s decision not to prosecute has raised the ire of human rights groups in the Phoenix area, notably the Maricopa Country Hispanic Bar Association, which goes by the name Los Abogados ( Abogado is the Spanish word for lawyer. A representative of Los Abogados, attorney Antonio Bustamante, insists that Haab’s detention of the undocumented immigrants was illegal under federal law, and federal law supersedes state law. According to Mr. Bustamante, “The only persons who can enforce [the federal statute against human trafficking] are authorized members of the immigration service, people who are sworn police officers, not private citizens.” Others say that Bustamante’s argument, while correct as far as it goes, would only work in federal court and not in an Arizona court, where Haab would presumably be tried.

I believe that as much as possible should be done to prevent armed citizens from confronting people whom they believe to be illegal border crossers. Private citizens seldom understand the complexities of immigration law. They have no legal right to pull a gun on people whom they believe to be in the country illegally. If they do, they could spend years in prison. These vigilantes create hard feelings and contribute nothing to law enforcement. Their actions are incomprehensible to the residents of countries such as Mexico that have no tradition of citizen enforcement of the law.

However, I also have concerns with Los Abogados in particular and Hispanic pressure groups in general. Far too often these groups show little regard for the facts when they make public pronouncements. For example, Los Abogados claims that the case against Haab is open and shut, which is far from the truth. Any group that self-rightously claims to have the only valid opinion in such a complex case is either out of touch with reality, or more likely, it is pushing a private agenda.

Some Hispanic groups and Spanish-language news organizations in the United States reflexively use the terms “anti-imigrante” (anti-immigrant) and racist to describe any person with whom they disagree. I may be very much in favor of legal immigration (and I am) but if I object to illegal immigration, they may apply those terms to me. These groups would have much more credence if they would acknowledge the distinction between people who enter the U.S. legally and those who thumb their noses at the law

Perhaps Mr. Haab should be prosecuted in Maricopa Country Superior Court to give a judge the opportunity to decide the legal arguments. However, that is unlikely to happen. It is more likely that the people he detained will sue him for damages in civil court. Another possibility is that federal charges will be brought against Mr. Haab for depriving the people he held at gunpoint of their civil rights. Personally, I hope that something will be done to discourage other would-be vigilantes from following Mr. Haab’s example.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The “Latinization” of the U.S. Economy

In Latin American countries, there is an enormous difference between the rich and the poor. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of wealthy families while a large segment of the population lives in poverty. Between the rich and poor, there is a struggling but relatively small middle class whose members have almost no chance to attain wealth but who face a very real chance of falling into poverty. A few years ago, Forbes Magazine reported that Mexico had more millionaires than Germany and recently it reported that the world’s fourth-richest man in 2004 was Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helú, who had amassed a fortune worth $23.8 billion. (

The United States was the first major country to create a large middle class. Thanks in large part to the unionization of the work force in the first half of the Twentieth Century, factory workers acquired middle-class incomes, and the term working class began to disappear from the American vocabulary. There was a feeling of living in a “classless” society in which anyone could become wealthy through education and hard work. Coal miners and railroad workers sent their children to universities. Harry Truman, who started as a Missouri farmer and later acquired a haberdashery in Kansas City, became president of the United States. What Harry Truman had done, anyone could do. Upward mobility acquired a name: The American Dream.

However, for many Americans today, the American Dream is just that—a dream. The U.S. economy is moving toward the Latin American model with more and more of the country’s wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Of course, the same phenomenon is occurring in most industrialized countries, including most of Western Europe, but according to statistics compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the difference between disposable income of the upper third and lower third of the population is greater in the United States than in any other country that it surveys.

It looks increasingly unlikely that a small farmer will ever again become president of the United States. The last presidential election featured two candidates from elite New England families, both graduates of Ivy League universities (although one of them managed to market himself as a humble Texas boy).

One symptom of the economic decline of the working class in the U.S. is the inability to afford health care. In my youth and into my middle age, almost all jobs came with “benefits’ that included health insurance that was largely paid for by the employer with a smaller monthly contribution from the employee. That insurance paid most of the cost of healthcare. Now some employees of such large corporations as Wal-Mart, Dunkin’ Doughnuts, and McDonald’s have no healthcare insurance at all. Wal-Mart has been accused of offering its employees “rock bottom healthcare” so that it can afford to offer its customers “rock bottom prices.”

Healthcare and the insurance that should pay for it have become very expensive in the U.S., and a company can save big money by not providing insurance and letting its employees fend for themselves. When one company reduces costs at its employees’ expense, other companies follow suit to remain competitive. A single medical emergency can overwhelm an uninsured worker’s financial resources and send him or her into a downward financial spiral that can end in poverty and homelessness.

What is responsible for the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States? Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of George Bush’s economic program. The Bush administration lowered the tax burden on the wealthy, leaving the middle class to bear more of country’s financial burdens. Its policies have also drastically raised the cost of higher education, making it more difficult for lower and middle-income families to educate their children.

However, the main culprit for the growing wealth gap is the U.S. trade policy, which was largely put into place before Bush became president. The United States has the most open market to foreign goods and services of any large country in the world. This open market coupled with Americans’ almost insatiable desire for cheap goods has resulted in a flood of products from low-cost producer companies, most notably from China. The U.S. does not export enough to pay for these imports. They are paid for by printing money and by borrowing. One result has been a loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

A well thought-out trade policy should enable a country to sell its products abroad as well as give its citizens access to goods that can be made better or more cheaply elsewhere. The United States’ trade policy is not well thought-out. It gives imported goods and services almost unfettered and untaxed access to our markets, but it does little to encourage other countries to purchase our products.

The difference between the amount of money that a country earns from abroad and the amount that it spends abroad is called the current account balance. For the U.S., the current account balance is a large deficit. The U.S. sends much more money abroad to pay for its imports than it earns from exports, the sale of investments, etc. The U.S. government borrows and prints money to make up the difference. In other words, the U.S. is running up a huge debt with the rest of the world to pay for American consumption, and it has no plan to pay off that debt.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book ( the U.S. current account deficit in 2004 amounted to $646.5 billion, and the deficit has continued its rapid growth in 2005. The current account deficit in the first three months of 2005 was $195.1 billion, 3.6% greater than during the fourth quarter of 2004. While a country whose money is the main international tender has the luxury of running a modest current account deficit in order to keep the world supplied with its currency, the enormous and growing U.S. current account deficit is unsustainable. The sooner it is reduced, the better off the U.S. and much of the rest of the world will be.

The job of getting the U.S. back on its economic feet will require some hard choices. We must gradually reduce our addiction to cheap foreign goods. This will require us to renegotiate some of our international trade agreements and perhaps even to withdraw from the World Trade Organization. Countries with which we have an enormous current account deficit must buy more from us, or we must buy less from them. Progress must be measured by results, not by promises to end restrictions on the importation of U.S. goods and services, and if goals for a specific country are not met, imports from that country must be decreased gradually, by tariffs, by import restrictions, or by negotiation. Such measures will not be popular domestically or internationally, but they are necessary. A healthy U.S. economy is not only important to the U.S., it is also in the best interest of our major trading partners.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Europe’s Future?

Outside of Europe, the rejection of the European Constitution has cause a ripple of interest, but here in Europe, there is a crises mentality among members of the political class. Where does Europe go from here? Diplomats in Brussels insist that the ratification process continue, but everyone knows that they are whistling in the dark. The European Constitution is dead! The European reaction has been so great that the French government has been reorganized, the value of the euro has fallen, and some even question whether the European Union can survive.

In Italy, Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni told the Repubblica daily newspaper that Italy should hold a referendum to decide that if the country should return to the lira and make it legal tender alongside the euro. It is improbable that any country currently using the euro will go back to its former currency, but the fact that high-level politicians are discussing that possibility shows how deep European despair has become. Mr. Maroni was not the first European politician to bring up the subject of abandoning the single European currency.

Yesterday, French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder had dinner together in Berlin to decide which steps the Franco-German coalition should take next to rescue Europe. They do not seem to realize that they are a large part of the problem and that by meeting to come up with a plan to salvage Europe, they have only made things worse. Their joint statement included an exhortation to the other European countries to continue with the constitutional ratification process, thus demonstrating that they are obvious to the fact that other European countries resent Franco-German attempts to order them around.

The European Union was planned and expanded by Europe’s political elite, and until now, ordinary European citizens have not had a voice. They are fed up with being taken for granted. While the worldwide economy is experiencing dynamic growth, those European counties in that have adopted the euro as their currency are economically stagnant. Unemployment is skyrocketing, especially among the young, as the European Central Bank sits idly by and does nothing to stimulate the Euro Zone economy.

Most Europeans are in favor of the cooperation among their countries, but they feel that somewhere along the line the politicians hijacked their vision of cooperation and turned it into something much larger. Most of them were not ready for a single European currency when the politicians introduced it, and they were not prepared for the expansion of the European Union to include the formerly communist countries of the East. Against their will, they were saddled with low-wage job competition and with a currency that they believe has caused prices to rise. With the notable exception of the Germans, who regard Europe as a legitimate entity to which they can attach their nationalistic sentiments, most Europeans are also not ready for the idea of a United States of Europe with a single economic and foreign policy.

In Europe, the summer of 2005 promises to be a time of confusion and soul-searching, Europe’s future is uncertain, but I will venture a few predictions. The European Union with its present members—or most of them, at least—is here to stay, as is the euro in the countries that have already adopted it. Further expansion of the euro zone is in doubt, as is the planned expansion of the Union to include Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. Although the European Union is committed to going through the motions of negotiating Turkish admission, actual Turkish membership is almost certainly a dead issue. These countries may be offered a special relationship as a consolation prize with preferential trade and travel privileges.

The vision of a politically united Europe with a common exterior policy is also dead. It is probable that some unpopular European-wide regulations will be rescinded. Countries in Western Europe that have not already adopted the euro as their currency will now be even more reluctant to do so. The European Union will survive as something larger than most of its citizens would wish, but as a much looser confederation than its political leaders had hoped.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, International Leaders or Buffoons?

Grenoble, France: Two days ago the French held a referendum on the European constitution, and they rejected it 55% to 45%. The French vote has sent the Western European political class into a tizzy. French president Jacque Chirac sacked his prime minister, and in Germany, it will probably accelerate the downfall of Jacques Chirac’s most slavish follower, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The ratification process for the European Constitution doomed it from the start. For the Constitution to come into effect, all 25 members of the European Union must approve it, and the probability that 25 countries will agree on anything is close to zero. By contrast, changes to the U.S. Constitution require ratification by three-fourths of the states, still a high standard, but one that it is possible to achieve.

French law does not require a referendum to ratify an international agreement. French referendums are called by the president as a political maneuver and are non-binding. A French president calls a referendum only when he is certain that the electorate will approve his point of view and thereby demonstrate his popularity. Jacques Chirac is the second president since the Second World War to lose a referendum. The first was Charles de Gaulle. The fact that Chirac thought that he could win a referendum shows how out of touch he is with the French people, who generally regard him as a buffoon.

If the rejection of the Constitution is an indirect slap in the face for President Jacques Chirac, it is also a slap in the face for Chirac’s most ardent supporter, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has taken advantage of Chirac’s popularity among the Germans to enhance his own image. Each time Chirac made a statement against the United States in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Schroeder was there to support him. Admiration for Chirac’s defiance of the United States was high in Germany, a country that admires strong, insolent leaders, and Schroeder basked in Chirac’s reflected glory. Since Hitler, it is considered bad form to be a patriotic German, so Germans have redirected their nationalistic impulses to the European Union and to its would-be leader, Jacques Chirac. By now, however, it should be plain to all but the most ardent Euro-nationalists that Schroeder and many of his countrymen have been licking the feet of an emperor who had no clothes.

In France, the president is a strong figure who wields great power. The French Prime Minister is a secondary figure who serves at the president’s pleasure and who the president can send packing at any time. Jacques Chirac has attempted to make Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin the scapegoat for the defeat and has sacked him. He has been replaced by Dominique de Villepin, a supercilious boot-licker who is has never held elected office. Villepin’s haughtiness neither endears him to the French population nor to their elected leaders nor to diplomats from other countries who have had to endure his arrogance. To many French people, Chirac’s choice of Villepin is proof that Chirac is “losing it.” Most French feel that it is Chirac who should resign.

It will be interesting to follow the developments in France and in the European Union during the next few weeks. The European Union intends to continue the ratification process, even though the Constitution is dead. But, useless activity is what Europeans have come to expect from their international government. It keeps the bureaucrats employed.

I and others would be interesting in knowing your point of view. Please click on the word "COMMENTS" below to add your thoughts.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The U.S. Needs More Legal Immigration, Not Less

Last year, 300 people are known to have died while illegally crossing from Mexico into the United States. Two hundred of those deaths occurred in the Arizona desert, and it is likely that many more died and were never found. The estimates of the number of people living illegally in the United States are between 10 and 20 million, and about a million additional illegal immigrants are believed to arrive each year. More than half of them are believed to enter by crossing the border between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.

Almost all of the illegal entrants are attracted by jobs. A large percentage of the jobs that the U.S. economy creates each year are unskilled and were once filled by high school dropouts. Despite worries about low educational standards in the United States, the number of people born in the United States who finish high school is now over 90 percent, and one-third of the adult population as at least some advanced education. There are no longer enough native-born Americans who are suited to fill the large number of unskilled jobs that the U.S. economy creates, so those workers must be found abroad.

As we should have learned from the history of prohibition in the United States, wherever there is a pressing demand for a product or a service, an organization will spring up to fill it. That has been the case with alcohol, drugs, and entry-level workers. Many U.S. industries such as food processing, agriculture, fast-food restaurants, hotels, and construction rely on inexpensive, low-skilled labor, and because the legal U.S. economy is unable to meet that demand, an illegal industry has evolved to fill it.

The illegal smuggling of human beings into the United States, mainly from Mexico, has given rise to vicious criminal gangs, just as prohibition and anti-drug laws have done. Rival gangs of smugglers of human beings sometimes conduct gun battles in the cities and on the highways of Arizona. Those victims of the smugglers who are unable to pay for their passage are held prisoner until their families come up with the money, or failing this, they may be executed with a shot to the head. The human suffering that is involved in meeting an economic demand in the United States is both unimaginable and immoral.

Illegal immigrant smuggling is also a huge security flaw. Any terrorist who wants to enter the U.S. without leaving a trace can do so by paying a human trafficker a few thousand dollars. Probably some already have. No matter how many Border Patrol agents are deployed along the U.S.-Mexican border, there will never be enough of them to seal the border and prevent the entry of terrorists as long as U.S. immigration law encourages human trafficking.

Current U.S. immigration law arbitrarily fixes the number of immigrants who are admitted to the United States each year with no regard to the number of immigrants that the country requires. A rational policy would attempt to fill by legal means the economic requirements for foreign workers, by admitting temporary workers, immigrants, or both. A bill before Congress that is sponsored by Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy and Arizona senator John McCain would attempt to do just that. It would establish a program to allow temporary guest workers sponsored by an employer to enter the country legally and would establish a process for some of those foreign workers to become residents and begin the path toward citizenship.

Such a change in immigration law would have benefits for the U.S. economy, for border security, would result in a reduction of violent criminal activity in the Border States, particularly in Arizona. It would allow a large part of the law-enforcement resources currently deployed along the border to be redirected towards fighting the genuine bad guys instead being used to hunt down people whose worst crime is that they are looking for a job.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Is China the World’s Next Economic Superpower?

Much has been written in recent years about China’s remarkable economic growth, and many are forecasting that it will be the next economic superpower. But, will it be? A few decades ago, many claimed that Japan would soon have the world’s most powerful economy, but Japan’s growth stalled, and the country went into a recession from which it has still not recovered. Will the same thing happen to China?

If China does not change its ways, the answer is yes. China’s economic policies have helped it to grow at a remarkable pace—9.5 percent last year—but that growth rate cannot be sustained. China’s growth depends mainly on exports, and as Japan and Germany can testify, export-driven economies are vulnerable. China’s expanding exports depend on tremendous consumption of natural resources, a total disregard for the environment, and an undervalued currency. Let’s take those points one at a time.

According to an interview with Pan Yue, Deputy Minister of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration published in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, in order to produce $10,000 worth of goods, China requires seven times as many raw materials as Japan, six times as many as the United States, and three times as many as India. China’s enormous hunger for raw materials has pushed prices sky high, as anyone who drives into a gasoline station for a fill-up can testify. The supply of raw materials cannot grow quickly enough to meet China’s needs if it continues its present manufacturing practices and rate of growth. One or the other will have to change.

In the same interview, Pan Yue said that acid rain now falls on one third of China’s land mass, that half of the water in the country’s seven largest rivers is completely unusable, that one fourth of Chinese citizens have no access to clean drinking water, and that one third of city dwellers breath filthy air, with the result that 70 to 80 percent of cancer fatalities in Beijing are attributed to environmental factors. In other words, the current economic boom is based in part on a disregard for the health of the Chinese people and for the future of the country. If that is not changed, China is headed for environmental collapse.

China’s currency problems have been much in the news lately due to pressure that President Bush has put on China to reform. The Chinese yuan has been valued at 8.28 to the U.S. dollar since 1995. It should be worth much more. China keeps the value of its currency artificially low by buying huge quantities of U.S. currency and government debt. Its under-priced currency helps China manufacture goods more cheaply than other countries can, and as a result, it exports far more than it imports. China had a balance of payments surplus of 4.2 percent of its gross domestic product in 2004, and the number for 2005 is sure to be much higher. China’s reaction to President Bush’s demands that it let the value of its currency rise has not been promising. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao called the currency question an issue of “China’s own sovereignty.” Such failure to address this problem does not bode well for China’s future.

China is in effect subsidizing the standard of living of people in other countries, especially in the United States. It cannot continue to accumulate every larger amounts currency and foreign debt. At some point, China will revalue its currency or market forces will do it. When that happens, China’s its dollar holdings lose value, but the longer China delays in taking this necessary step, the worse that loss will be.

Whether China makes a successful transition to sustainable but slower economic growth is largely up to China’s government. A gradual change in policy in the near future could give China the opportunity to switch its production to industries that are less dependent on the consumption of natural resources, begin to clean up its environmental mess, bring its imports more nearly into balance with its exports, and to raise the value of its currency in a controlled way without triggering panic. Failure to adopt such measures could cause China’s economy to collapse.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Final Word on Newsweek

Since I wrote the following Blog entry, Newsweek has published an article explaining how it got its details wrong about the alleged desecration of the Koran by U.S. interrogators. However, nowhere in the article does it acknowledge that it failed to follow journalistic practices by publishing accusations supplied by a single anonymous source -- accusations that it was unable to verify. – J.Q.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Newsweek Yellow Journalism at its Best

On May 9, Newsweek magazine published an article in which it stated that American interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay military base in Cuba had desecrated the Koran, the Muslim holy book, by placing copies of it on toilet seats. The article farther stated that one copy was flushed down the toilet. Newsweek wrote that it had received the information from “sources,” implying that several people testified to its veracity. The story triggered riots in several Muslim countries including Afghanistan and Pakistan. The riots are reported to have killed 17 people.

After the Pentagon said that it could find no evidence to support the claims, Newsweek retracted the story and now admits it was not based on multiple sources, but only on one unnamed source who did not witness the alleged desecration but who had supposedly read about it in government documents. Now says Newsweek even that source is not sure what he read about the alleged desecration.

Basing an accusation of the desecration of the Koran on what one source claims to have remembered without verifying it is sloppy journalism to say the least. In this case, it is highly irresponsible given the tensions between the Muslim world and the West and the cost in human life. However, even the best news publications can have lapses in judgment. Newsweek could perhaps be forgiven if the magazine’s management had made a sincere apology and promised to adhere to journalistic norms from now on. But, it has not done that. Even while retracting the story, Newsweek has been busily evading its responsibility. Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker said that the magazine “behaved professionally” in producing the story and that before publication it had showed the story to a Pentagon official who did not object to the allegation about the desecration of the Koran.

Mr. Whitaker, basing an inflammatory accusation on information that a single source may have read in a report is not professional behavior! Nor is it sufficient to show the story to a Pentagon official who may not have the information at hand to dispute it. Journalism requires that facts be checked. Statements that are made by a single person and cannot be verified are suspect and should not be reported. Additionally, there is a name for editors who make questionable statements appear reliable by falsely claiming that they are based on “sources.” Such people are called liars.

Much of the world believes that mainstream Western news media cannot be trusted. These people will suspect that Newsweek reported the truth originally and recanted under government pressure. Newsweek’s behavior will seem to them to confirm their belief that Western news organizations are mouthpieces for Western governments. Newsweek has given journalism a bad name. The damage that Newsweek has done cannot be repaired. However, to avoid such unprofessional conduct in the future, it is time for Newsweek to make an honest apology and to take steps toward honest reporting.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Is Bush an Idiot?

I was invited to attend a class at the University of Grenoble here in France a few weeks ago to hear a fellow American speak to the on the subject of the religious right in the United States. Her audience was a group of French university students who were taking advanced English. The speaker was an ex-Mormon missionary who had became disillusioned with Mormonism and conservative religious thought in general. She now lives and works in France. In her presentation, she painted a large segment of the population of the United States as foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers who are far out of touch with reasonable people in the rest of the world.

I object to this stereotyping. I admit that the religious right in the U.S. has a disproportionate influence on the current administration, and I deplore that fact. However, the American religious right probably makes up between 10 and 15 percent of the population. I considered it unfair to paint a large segment of U.S. with the same rightwing brush.

Her strongest barbs were reserved for George Bush, whom she called a man “with no education” who “lied to the American people.” She said she recognized in his speech pattern the signs of brain damage done by his history of alcohol abuse.

I have no love for George Bush. I consider him to be a bad president who has gotten the U.S. into great economic difficulty. I believe he has engineered a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the most wealthy among us. It pains me to have to defend him, but I think that when criticizing someone we should stick to facts. The facts are not on the speaker’s side.

Let us begin with George Bush’s alleged lack of education. He graduated from Yale and later earned a master’s degree from Harvard Business School. If education is defined as schooling, George Bush has more of it than most people, including many of his critics.

On the subject of “lying to the American people,” I assume that refers to Bush’s statements before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. When it turned out that those weapons did not exist, some people made the charge that Bush had lied to us. I believe that a liar is someone who makes a statement knowing that the statement is false. Making a false statement that one believes to be true is called a mistake.

Investigations have shown that, before the Iraq invasion, the CIA was convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The CIA was in good company. The intelligence agencies of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Israel also believed that Iraq had those weapons. They were all wrong. They should be criticized for their ineptness, but there is a difference between being incompetent and being a liar. There is no evidence that Bush lied about his belief that Iraq was hiding some very dangerous weapons.

I find the charge that George Bush suffered brain damage as a consequence of his drinking to be the most outrageous part of the speaker’s presentation. A reputable doctor would hesitate to diagnose a person whom he had not examined. Others, with no medical training, have no qualms about diagnosing the supposed mental ills of people whom they only know through news reports and televised speeches.

Is George Bush a bad president? Anyone who understands how to balance a checkbook must conclude that he is. However, let us criticize him for the defects that he has, which are many. There is no need to trump up false ones.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Going Somewhere? Well, Walk! It’s Mayday!

I had forgotten that today is May 1st when I left the apartment this morning to catch the bus downtown here in Grenoble, France, where I am almost at the end of my ten-month stay. Because it was Sunday morning, I knew there would be few buses running, so I settled down with a magazine on a bench at the bus stop to wait. Soon another man joined me. After 20 minutes, we began to wonder aloud what was keeping the bus, to compare watches, peer up the street, and mutter about the unreliability of public transportation. Then two women passed on the other side of the street and yelled across to us: “Il n’a pas de bus ! C’est le 1 mai !“ (There is no bus. It’s May 1st).

May 1st is Mayday, and it is also Labor Day in most countries of the world with the notable exceptions of the United States and Canada. Paradoxically, Labor Day is celebrated by not laboring, and in France that means that even bus and tram drivers have the day off. Here in Grenoble, there is no public transportation whatsoever—unless you are willing to pay for a taxi.

I do not own a car in France, and I am too cheap to pay a taxi driver for a Sunday morning jaunt downtown, so I walked. It is only a few miles, and I am always looking for an excuse to get some exercise. On the way, I saw a few other innocents waiting at bus and tram stops. Apparently, even among the French, not everyone had gotten the word.

Downtown I ran into the big Labor Day parade. It was not like a parade in the United States. There were no bands, no prancing girls in short skirts, and no floats. There was just a tightly packed mass of humanity filing through the streets, waving banners, and chanting in time to instructions bellowed from a megaphone. It was more of a march that a parade.

Oh, there was one vehicle in the crowd. A small pickup truck, dwarfed by the four stadium-sized speakers it carried, was blasting salsa music at a deafening volume. Why was someone playing salsa music in a march to celebrate the French worker? I have no idea.

Someone handed me a flyer that promoted Esperanto as the European Language. Although the word English appeared nowhere on the flyer, I could not help but feel that the flyer’s author was trying to combat the use of this insidious language. I briefly considered calling one of the numbers on the flyer to register for an Esperanto class. The flyer made it seem as if Esperanto was so easy to learn that I would be fluent within a few weeks. But then I changed my mind. With whom would I speak? No one I know understands Esperanto or cares to learn it. Everyone is busy learning English.

I walked back home where I am writing this blog. When I finish, I would like to go out again, but where would I go? With no public transportation and no car, my freedom of movement is limited to the places where my legs will carry me. I will be happy when Mayday is over.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Andean Nations – Democracy in Trouble

Democracy is in trouble in all of the nations of South America that were freed by Simón Bolívar: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. In Venezuela, César Chávez, who once led a military coup against a former president, has established a personality cult that has divided the nation along class lines; the poor are generally for him, while the middle and upper classes despise him. Colombia has a long history of democratic government, but its control does not extend beyond the middle-class sections of the country’s large cities. Paramilitary groups and drug barons fight for domination of the rural areas and of the city slums.

Moving down the Pacific coast, Ecuador’s Congress recently threw out the country’s president, Lucio Gutiérrez, for “abandoning his post,” although Mr. Gutiérrez was in the presidential palace issuing orders at the time. In fact, the Army had to remove him forcibly from his post.

Mr. Gutiérrez angered Quito’s street mobs by dissolving the Supreme Court – for the second time in four months – and putting Quito under a state of emergency. Thousands took to the street to protest Mr. Gutiérrez’s actions until Congress gave in and replaced him with Vice President Alfredo Palacio. As this is written, Mr Gutiérrez is reported to have taken refuge in Brazil’s embassy in Quito where he awaits the opportunity to flee the country. The new government refuses to let him go and wants to arrest him on charges of…. Well, what the charges are is unclear. Replacing the entire Supreme Court may not be politically astute, but it does not seem to violate any Ecuadorian law. Mr. Gutiérrez was the third president to be ousted by Congress or by a coup since 1997, and all of Ecuador’s presidents since 1997 have been accused of corruption or of abuse of authority.

Peru is said to be the basket case of Latin America, in even worse shape than such Central American countries as Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. Unemployed or underemployed Peruvians are leaving the country in hopes of finding work in Argentina or Spain. The country’s ex-president, Alberto Fujimori, lives in exile in Japan, the country of his ancestors, while the current Peruvian government seeks to extradite him and put him on trial for crimes that he allegedly committed while in office.

The Bolivian government’s attempts at introducing economic progress are stymied by indigenous groups that seem intent on keeping the country in a primitive state. In the mid-1990s, the Bolivian government privatized the oil and gas industries and invited foreign companies to explore. This move proved to be a boon for the nation’s economy. Proven and probable reserves of gas increased by a factor of ten, and gas exports to Argentina and Brazil went up by a factor of four. The government and industry came up with a plan to export gas by means of a pipeline through Chile, Bolivia’s traditional enemy, where it was to be loaded onto tankers and sold to California and Mexico. The indigenous population, which believes that foreigners are exploiting the country’s natural resources, protested by setting up roadblocks. The Bolivian government gave into mob rule and cancelled the pipeline, thereby robbing the country of a future source of income, which could have gone a long way towards alleviating the country’s poverty. Paradoxically, those who suffer most under Bolivia’s feeble economy are the same people who consistently block efforts to improve it.

In both Ecuador and Bolivia, democracy has given way to mob rule. Colombian democracy seems to be in no imminent danger of disappearing, but it the government does not control large areas of the country, and even in the portions that it does control, it has been unable to come to grips with the country’s endemic violence. I suspect that Hugo Chávez, who is an admirer of Fidel Castro, would like to make himself “president for life” of Venezuela (a polite way of saying dictator), and he may have the mob support to do it. The outlook for democracy in these South American countries is not good.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

France, the Land of McJobs?

On May 29, the French will vote to ratify or reject the European Constitution, and it appears likely that they will reject it. Polls show the no vote leading by a small, but growing, margin. The European Union could shrug it off if one of its smaller members rejected the Constitution, but no one knows what to do if an important country such as France or Germany rejects it. If either France or Germany left the E.U., the organization would almost certainly collapse.

A large segment of the French populace no longer shares its government’s enthusiasm for the European Union. French unemployment now exceeds 10% and continues to climb, whereas the United Kingdom’s unemployment has been hovering around 5%. Although the U.K. is part of the European Union, it has refused to accept many of its policies including its common borders and its currency, the euro. To some people in France, the U.K.’s decision to deal with the European Union at arm’s length appears to have been a wise one. The U.K. is certainly fairing better than France.

In reality, France’s unemployment and poor economic growth are not only caused by its membership in the E.U.; France has severe structural problems in its labor market, as well, and there is no will to correct them. The cost of employing a French worker is very high. Permanent employees in France enjoy a high minimum wage, lay-off protection, and a 35-hour workweek. As a result, French companies are hiring fewer permanent workers and are relying on temporary and part-time workers. In Germany, employers are going even farther and are contracting labor out to service industries with offices in Eastern Europe who often pay their employees slave wages. Soon, those contract workers could also be cleaning rooms in French hotels and cutting meat in French processing plants. Both France and Germany are becoming countries that offer most of their citizens McJobs while a shrinking portion of the population has full-time work with extravagant benefits.

France’s response to its unemployment problem has been to come up with stopgap solutions rather than to make the French worker more productive. The country plans to increase its apprenticeships by 40% to 500,000 a year by the end of the decade and to offer one million welfare recipients job training and subsidized jobs. Apprenticeships are unlikely to help unless there are genuine jobs available to those who finish them, and subsidized jobs, while preferable to welfare, do little to make a society competitive. If it comes up with no better plan, France is sure to keep losing ground

With members of the European Union falling to keep economic pace with the rest of the industrialized world, it is understandable that French workers, especially younger French workers, are leery of the European Constitution. If they reject it, could they later reject the European Union itself and the euro? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I hope that it is no.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Minutemen, a Shame for Arizona and Showing Disrespect for U.S. History

A group of men calling themselves the Minutemen have arrived in Arizona and have been talking about patrolling sections of the border between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. To most who live in Arizona, they are not welcome.

In case there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know who the Minutemen are, they are a group of mostly middle-aged white men, headed by two men from California, who portray themselves as an aide to the Border Patrol in stopping illegal border crossers in Southeastern Arizona. They have announced their intention to mount patrols to look for people crossing illegally, and on at least one occasion they took up positions on lawn chairs on the border near the city of Douglas for the benefit of press photographers.

The leader of the Minutemen is Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Orange County California. His right-hand man is Chris Simcox, the new owner of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper and who also hails from California, although he has been living in Tombstone, Arizona for the past three years.

When members of the Minutemen spot an illegal border crosser, they are supposed to notify the Border Patrol and not confront the immigrant, but some opponents of the movement including both the U.S. and Mexican governments have expressed the fear that the Minutemen could illegally detain and even injure Mexican nationals. Adding to that fear is the fact many Minutemen are armed “for self-defense.”

The Border Patrol says that it detained 1.1 million illegal crossers along the Mexican border in 2004 and that 52 percent of them crossed the 370-mile stretch that separates Arizona and Sonora, so the Minutemen are undoubtedly correct when they say that the Arizona border has a problem. However, the Border Patrol claims that the Minutemen are a detriment to border enforcement rather than a help, getting in the way, tripping sensors, and causing false alarms. The Border Patrol also fears that it could run into a group of armed Minutemen along the border at night, and that in the confusion, someone could be injured or killed.

The Minutemen are few in number. They have seldom been able to gather more than about 150 people. However, this small group has managed to draw a great deal of media attention from both sides of the border. If the Minutemen have been better at drinking beer and posing for press photographers than at detaining illegal border crossers, their media attention seems to have indirectly contributed to more border security by lighting a fire under the U.S. federal government. In the spring of 2005, Robert Bonner, the head of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, hightailed it to Tucson just before a large Minuteman gathering to announce that Arizona would receive 155 additional Border Patrol officers and 23 aircraft to guard the border.

The Minutemen should go back to California. They have given Arizona an underserved reputation for racism and a vigilante mentality. They are a hindrance to the cross-border relations, and they have little effect on illegal immigration. The name they have chosen to call themselves is an insult to the memory of the genuine Minutemen who fought for American independence. If they want to meddle in border affairs, let them call themselves the Southern California Drinking Club and hold their publicity events in San Diego, closer to home.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Language of Politics and the Politics of Language

What does language learning have to do with politics? A lot! The European Union has 20 official languages, if I counted them right, with more on the way. Those languages are, in alphabetical order, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish. Have I left any out?

Why do the Europeans not settle on a single official language for the European Union? For reasons of national pride, of course. Can you picture the French government willing accepting English as the sole European official language? Or, worse yet, German? Unofficially, however, much of the communication among European countries is carried out in English.

Language is taken very seriously here in France, where I am studying at Stendhal University in Grenoble. The French love their language and culture, but years ago they realized that French was no longer the international language, and now most French spend years studying English. I purposely used the word study and not learn, because those years of schooling seldom produce graduates who can express themselves in English. The French study modern languages the way other nations study classical languages: They analyze the target language without learning to communicate in it. Classroom discussions take place in French, of course. Rare is the foreign language class that is actually taught in the target language.

Because the French do not use the target language in the classroom, they do not learn to think in it. They think in French and translate. If a person cannot think in a language, that person cannot speak it. Translation is a poor way to teach a language.

The French government, realizing that something has to be done to bring French education at least into the Twentieth Century, if not the Twenty-first, has proposed a package of school reforms that would put more emphasis on computer skills and genuine language learning, and it wants to change the method of evaluating pupils. At present, many courses are graded on a single, written examination taken at the end of the term, and the examination does not always reflect the material that was taught in class. In courses where there is supposedly “continuing evaluation,” that evaluation often consists of another single test, administered shortly before the final exam. In other words, there are two final examinations instead of one.

The French reaction to the proposed reforms? Rebellion! French pupils have been taking to the streets to stop traffic, blocking the entrances to schools so that more dedicated pupils cannot enter, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

I cannot claim to really understand the reluctance of so many French pupils to change the school system. Perhaps they are right, and the proposed changes are not what is needed. However, something needs to change. Although French pupils score decently in international comparisons in the fields of science and mathematics, their language skills are abysmal, even in their native language. In fact, when it comes to the ability to read and write, French pupils score at about the same level as Americans. Sadly, that is nothing to be proud of.

Friday, March 25, 2005

U.S. Immigration – The Hispanic Challenge?

In March 2004, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington caused quite a stir in Mexico with the publication of his article “The Hispanic Challenge” in Foreign Policy magazine. The article was also expanded into a book entitled Who Are We. Such intellectual heavyweights as Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa were called upon to refute Huntington, who points out that U.S. immigration is overwhelmingly Hispanic and, when legal and illegal immigration are combined, predominantly from a single country: Mexico. He calls that lopsided immigration a danger to U.S. “Anglo-Protestant values” and says that it “threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages.” You can read the article on Foreign Policy’s Website at the following URL:

Huntington’s article and book might not have received so much attention if it had not been for an earlier work. In 1993, he published an article called “The Clash of Civilizations” in which he divided the world into seven or eight different civilizations that he claimed would be increasingly in conflict with each other. After the attacks of September 11 in New York, some saw the article as prophetic. That article is also online. The URL is:

While I agree that it would be better to have a more varied immigration, I believe that Huntington greatly overstates the problem. His basic error is in assuming that the United States has a static, Anglo-Protestant culture. I do not believe that a country that has elected an Irish-Catholic president, whose current and past Secretaries of State were Afro-American, which consumes more salsa mexicana than ketchup, and which has a Jewish mayor of one of its two most important cities (Michael Bloomberg, New York) can be considered Anglo-Protestant. I believe that most people in the U.S. would agree that the U.S. culture is both varied and dynamic.

The other weakness of Professor Huntington’s study of immigration is his exclusively academic approach. He bases his argument on statistics and quotations from prominent figures. The statistics indicate that Hispanics are integrating into American society more slowly than past immigrants. That may be the case, but there is a difference between integrating more slowly and not integrating at all. The statistics show that Hispanics are integrating.

Huntington quotes several Hispanic “leaders” to show their anti-U.S. bias. If Huntington had left his office and gone out in the street to mingle with immigrants, he would have learned that most Hispanic immigrants do not share the opinions of these self-appointed spokespeople. For example, in California and Arizona, the majority of Hispanics ignored the urgings of the Spanish-language media and voted to abolish poorly run bi-lingual education programs. Most Hispanic parents want their children to learn English, and they realized that the so-called bi-lingual programs were not doing a good job of teaching it. Although many Mexican-born immigrants have an understandable nostalgia for the country where they grew up, they do not want to turn the U.S. into the society that they struggled so hard to leave.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Are the French Anti-American?

Tuesday March 22, 2005 – Grenoble, France – I have been fascinated by French society ever since I arrived in this country as an exchange student almost seven months ago. At the age of 60, I had decided to learn a fourth language, and I choose French. In two years, I completed three years of college French at Arizona State University near Phoenix. However, French is taught poorly at ASU. I realized that I would have to come to France if I were ever to learn to speak the language. I enrolled in a student exchange program, and here I am.

I did not have as many prejudices about the French as many of my friends in the U.S., but I had some. I knew the French in general do not hate us, as so many Americans believe, but I expected some negative encounters. I was not at all prepared for the warm reception, even from the Arabs that I have met.

I once walked into a room that was occupied by four Algerians. After we exchanged greetings, they asked were I was from. A bit hesitantly I admitted that I was from Arizona in the U.S., and I prepared myself for a hostile reaction. However, their eyes lighted up, and they jumped up to shake my hand. One of them said he had a cousin studying in Tucson, Arizona and that he had a special fondness for the United States. Another pulled out a camera and went to find someone to snap a picture of the five of us together. They were delighted to meet someone from a country that they said they all aspired to go to.

Most of the French that I know here in Grenoble are young university students who may not be typical of the French population. I take several classes in which I am the only person who is not from France or one of its French-speaking former colonies, and I am always warmly received. The French read in the newspapers, just as Americans do, that French have an antipathy for Americans, and like Americans, put far too much faith in what the media tell them. Occasionally a French person will apologize to me for the anti-American attitude of other French people in the mistaken belief that I must have encountered it. However, I have not been able to figure out just who these anti-American French people are. I don’t seem to have met any of them..

Granted, almost all French people dislike President George W. Bush, but they do not confuse him with the American people. They are baffled by Bush’s reelection, and they do not understand why the U.S. went to war in Iraq. However, they like us Americans, even if they do not understand how we could re-elect a man that they consider to be a bad president.

I find the French as a whole do be more tolerant and understanding than Americans. Do the French have faults? You betcha! We will talk about those in another entry.