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Black and Blue

Things fall apart; The center cannot hold
— WB Yeats

I’ve waited a couple days to comment on the unconscionable murder of police officers in Dallas last Thursday night, and the apparently unjustified police killings of two black men in the days proceeding it, to allow for a cooling of passions and a bit of perspective.

Unfortunately too few of us seem willing to take this course. Once again, we’ve allowed tragedy to become another opportunity for Americans to retreat to their respective corners — in this case Team Black and Team Blue – and begin attacking each other. But real flesh and blood people are dead, people with hopes and dreams, families, and others who loved them.

Before we get to the raw politics of the thing, therefore, let’s pause for a moment to remember the five brave officers cut down in cold blood by a madman: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarippa.

At the same time, we cannot forget the two black men who died because other police were not as brave and dedicated, but untrained, unprofessional, panicky, or, let’s say it, quite possibly racist: Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

The cold blooded murders in Dallas were a vicious crime committed by a single individual, either deranged or evil or both. Nothing can justify those murders. But that doesn’t invalidate the complaints that have been raised about police misconduct and racial profiling.

Ironically, Dallas has one of the nation’s best police forces when it comes to reducing police brutality and building trust in the community. But as the killings of Sterling and Castile appear to show, not every police force is as well trained, and not every policeman is as honorable as those who were just murdered.

I’ve heard a number of commentators, in the news, and on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, say that we should always stand up for and support the police. No, we shouldn’t. We should stand up and support them when they do the right thing, as so many of them so often do at great personal risk, but when they do the wrong thing, we should be equally quick to condemn them and demand action.

I’ve also seen and heard a lot of criticism of Black Lives Matter. Some have gone so far as to call BLM a “terrorist group.” Get a grip. Does BLM sometimes use intemperate – even irresponsible — language. Absolutely. But unless you are prepared to be equally quick to denounce every Right-to-Lifer who refers to abortion providers as “murderers,” or those on both left and right who call their opponents “traitors,” you have little room to talk. You want intemperate or irresponsible speech? I give you Donald Trump.

More important than language is the issue that BLM has brought to the forefront. Race is still the great dividing line in America. We have come a long way in this country, but the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow still hangs over us. Nor have we achieved full equality yet. In a thousand ways, large and small, African-Americans go through life at a disadvantage. They will experience things from a perspective that I (and most of you, my readers) never will. And if you don’t believe that, your privilege is clearly showing.

We won’t know for certain what happened in the Sterling and Castile cases until a final investigation has been conducted. Initial reports can be wrong (recall Michael Brown). But clearly something is wrong.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would almost certainly be alive today if they were white. So would Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and so many, many others.

And please don’t try to excuse this by talking about black on black crime. Yes, crime rates in the inner city, fueled in part by our war on drugs, are frighteningly high. A black man is far more likely to be killed by another black man than by a police officer. But the killing of an innocent man by a police officer is far worse than other killings because the police act under the color of authority. Police represent us. We pay their salaries. We give them a gun and a badge. We give them the legal authority to use force. When they gun down an unarmed black man, there is a splash back on us.

I don’t have a laundry list of policy prescriptions to deal with all of this right now. Sure there are things we can do — more community policing, training in de-escalation, ending the Godforsaken war on drug, for example. And we should realize that every time we pass a new law, make something else illegal, and give more power to the government, we are creating the potential for the next deadly confrontation.

But this really isn’t the time for debating policy. Perhaps what we really need to do now – right this moment- is simply to be kind to each other. We could do worse.

And with that in mind, I leave you with this:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cm3hvOKWgAA0viM.jpg:large

Moral Cowardice

There are times when simple moral decency requires one to rise above politics.

When Donald Trump implied that all Mexicans immigrants were rapists, Republicans rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse.

When Trump made misogynistic comments about women, Republicans soothed themselves with the possibility that he might make good Supreme Court appointments.

When he threatened to ban an entire religion from this country, Republicans talked about the failures of Barack Obama.

When Trump re-tweeted racist nonsense about black crime, Republicans talked about party unity.

As trump welcomed the Alt-Right and openly avowed racists and anti-Semites into the ranks of his campaign, Republicans endorsed him.

But Trump’s recent attacks on a federal judge for the offense of being “a Mexican” is as morally offensive as any action by a presidential candidate in modern history. Set aside the fact that Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana, and is as American as you or me. Set aside the fact that Judge Curiel is a courageous man who was actually forced into hiding after taking on the Mexican drug cartels. Set aside, even, the impropriety of a presidential candidate trying to intimidate a judge in a case where he is a litigant.

Set aside all that. Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel is plain and simply racist. The idea that Americans are defined by the ancestry and that people of certain ethnicity cannot be trusted to do their jobs, is the very heart of racism. It is wrong. More than wrong, it is morally repugnant.

So to my Republican friends, I say this is no longer about whether Trump might be slightly better than Hillary on this issue or that one. We would not have said, “well, David Duke had great views on the Second Amendment,” “I like George Wallace’s tax policy,” or “The Klan has a point about quotas.”

This is now about conscience. To continue to support Donald Trump is to acquiesce in the darkest impulses of mankind and stains the American soul. It is not about politics, it is about right and wrong.

I have known Paul Ryan since he was a legislative staffer. I know he is a fundamentally good and decent man. But in continuing to support Trump, he diminishes himself. The same is true for all those other Republicans, from Marco Rubio to John McCain to Bob Corker, who have sold their moral credibility for the sake of party unity or some other temporary political gain. It must stop.

When, someday in the future, your children or grandchildren ask you where you stood today, how will you answer them?

Tubman on the $20

In the era of Donald Trump, perhaps nothing should surprise me any more. Still, I admit I am genuinely perplexed by the amount of criticism I’ve seen of the decision to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with one of Harriet Tubman. Trump, himself, weighed in of course, calling the choice “pure political correctness.” But, he’s hardly the only one. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been deluged by people discovering a new found reverence for our seventh president.

Of course, the outcry is not really about Jackson, an important figure in American history, though deeply flawed and far from the status of, say, Washington, Lincoln, or Jefferson. For some partisans, it is simply that if President Obama wants to do it, it must be wrong. But for far too many of those writing, there seems to be a fundamental objection to replacing a white male Founding Father, with a black woman.

This is pure symbolism, I’m told. Well, duh! What else are portraits on our money but symbols? And, if that’s the case, in a nation as diverse as ours, why shouldn’t women and people of color participate in those symbols. Indeed, given our long history of repressing women, African-Americans, and others, isn’t it all the more important to include them as part of American symbology?

But, I’m told, Harriet Tubman did not personally have the impact on U.S. history and development as Jackson. True. And isn’t that part of the point? Women and people of color were denied the opportunity to help develop this country in the way that white men could. That is changing. And it is long past time to recognize it.

In her own way and in the context of the times – indeed, all the more so given the context of the times – Harriett Tubman was a great woman. Born a slave, frequently beaten and abused, she escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Not content with just her own freedom, she became a key organizer with the Underground Railroad, often risking death, imprisonment, or even re-enslavement to rescue other slaves. During the Civil wat she acted as a scout and spy, and later became the first woman to lead troops in a military engagement during the war, the raid on Combahee Ferry. After the war, she became active in the woman’s suffrage movement. A lifelong advocate for freedom and equality, who could better typify America and the American promise?

Political correctness – real political correctness – runs the gamut from dangerous to silly. No, eating a taco is not “cultural appropriation.” But every change that benefits women, African-Americans, Latinos, gays, or others who have long suffered as second class Americans, is not being politically correct. Sometimes, its simply overdue justice. And if putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill makes us a little more aware of our past, both the good and bad, I’m all for it.

The End of Rand Paul’s Campaign

Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign, and the postmortem begins.

Paul was once celebrated as the avatar of a burgeoning “libertarian moment.”  Now, the failure of his campaign is being taken as evidence, somewhat gleefully by big-government social conservatives like National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru (http://bit.ly/1JYgrHr), more mournfully by libertarian pessimists like Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center (http://fxn.ws/1GpBpYg).   The truth as I see it is, not surprisingly, more complex.

A political campaign was always a flawed and limited vehicle for the larger libertarian goal of a freer, more tolerant, more peaceful society.  Candidates must inevitably operate within the constraints of the existing political system, one that requires compromises, waters down principles, and reveals flaws.  Ultimately voters are looking at candidates and positions on particular issues of specific priority to each of them, rather than broad political philosophies.

And, to be blunt, we libertarians need to admit that we are still a minority of the electorate.  Some estimates suggest that only about 11 percent of voters self-identify as libertarian.  That number may be artificially low due to unfamiliarity with the term, but even if you use the broadest libertarian definition, being economically conservative and socially liberal, the numbers remain uncomfortably low.  Using other criteria, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that slightly less than a quarter of the electorate leans broadly libertarian.   And, even those who might be considered libertarian may hold views on specific issues that are not libertarian, and/or may not vote in a libertarian manner.  Remember those signs during the Obamacare saying “Keep the government out of my Medicare.”

That’s not quite as bad as it looks though.  We need to remember that most Americans are simply not ideological at all.  The numbers of Americans who can be classified as conservative or liberal does not greatly exceed the number of libertarians.  A committed minority can move elections.   Still, libertarians should not indulge the fantasy that this is a libertarian country.

Rand, himself, attempted to walk a fine line in this regard.  His strategy was to start with the base of libertarian voters who supported his father, and then expand that base by attracting more traditional conservatives.  This sometimes led him to take non-libertarian positions, emphasizing his social conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage.  He struggled early in trying to define his positions on foreign policy in the face of ISIS and the fear of terrorism, veering from traditionally libertarian skepticism about interventionism and regime change to more mainstream conservative positions on the IRAN deal and limiting the admission of refugees.  He championed his opposition to NSA spying, but seldom talked about cutting taxes or spending.  He was too often neither fish nor foul.   Paul himself called it “libertarinish.” As a result, he often alienated libertarians, without attracting conservatives.

On top of that, Rand’s position as “the outsider” who challenges the establishment was usurped by the rise of Trump.  When compared to The Donald, he looked increasingly conventional.  He was no longer “the most interesting man in politics,” as Time magazine once christened him.

Could a better strategy or a better candidate have performed better?  Perhaps, but most likely not in this environment at this time.

Still, we are better off because he tried.  All too often, Rand was the lone voice of reason on the GOP debate stage, warning about the dangers of military adventurism and calling for greater concern about the poor and minorities.  In a GOP field that is fighting over which country to invade next or which group to demonize the most, it was worthwhile simply to have a voice for the truth.  The other candidates obviously have not paid attention to him, but maybe – just maybe – some Americans did.  If so, that’s fewer Americans headed down the road to Trumpism.

Progress is almost always incremental.  America is a conservative country in the sense that it instinctively resists great political upheavals or radical changes in direction.  Change, in whatever direction, is almost always incremental.   If we want to change things, we must offer real world, incremental solutions that move us in the right direction.

And, we should remember that Rand was a candidate, not the libertarian moment or the libertarian movement.   He lost, the fight goes on.

A Non-Political Post: My New Novel is Out

My latest novel is outbook cover 4

 

An exciting tale of love, intrigue, and dark magic, set against a backdrop of religious and ethnic strife in 13th Century Europe. The story began with Days Dark as Night and continued with Nights Lit by Fire. Now in the thrilling conclusion, Simon and Joet have survived the siege of Cardester Castle, but their hold on Adama’s throne may be more perilous than ever. Caught between a wounded but still powerful papal army and the growing ambitions of Haakon, King of Norway, they must now confront an ancient evil rising once more in their midst. Priests and kings, peasants and sorcerers, all will play their part, as the fate of nations hangs in the balance. And this time, neither Simon’s strength at arms nor Joet’s arcane powers may be enough to save them.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1519436009?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=od_aui_detailpages00

Note: This is the paperback edition. The kindle version will be released on December 28.

Or start at the beginning:

Days Dark as Night is the story of Joet, a young peasant girl with magical abilities, who survives the massacre of her village to become the leader of her people. It is also the story of Simon, a disillusioned young knight, who must stand for what he believes is right—even if it means taking arms against his king and his own father. Caught up in a conflict that sweeps from the beginnings of the Inquisition to the founding of Amsterdam, from the bloody battlefields of Northern Europe to the papal palaces of Rome, these two young people will find themselves facing enemies far more dangerous than mere flesh and blood. Together, Simon and Joet will have to cast off a legacy of superstition and ethnic hatred, or see everything they hold dear consumed by the fires of war.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004KAAXUI?keywords=days%20dark%20as%20night&qid=1449498206&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

Simon and Joet have fought their way to Adama’s throne, but now they face new enemies both within and without. As civil war threatens to tear the kingdom apart and a papal army prepares to invade, a new threat arises—one that may be a match even for Joet’s arcane powers. As the action sweeps from the glittering palaces of Rome to the mead halls of Norway, Simon and Joet will find their lives and love tested by war, treachery, and the fires of dark magic.
http://www.amazon.com/Nights-Lit-Fire-Ellen-Maidman-Tanner-ebook/dp/B004MME64I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449498245&sr=8-1&keywords=nights+lit+by+fire

On Terrorism

Every weekday, I get in my car and drive into Washington, DC to work.  At other times, I eat in restaurants, go the theater and concerts, or visit museums in the city. I live less than a mile from the DC line. So, yes, I find it a bit disconcerting when ISIS releases a video promising a Paris-style attack on the city.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/isis-threatens-attack-dc-video/story?id=35242900

Do you know what I’m going to do about it?  Absolutely nothing.  And, that’s a good thing.  The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.  That’s why we call it terrorism. I refuse to be terrorized. I refuse to change my life or spend my days looking over my shoulder. I refuse to stop doing what I did before.

The same should be true for our government and our society.  I don’t want to give up our civil liberties in order to purchase a little added safety.  Should we be vigilant?  Of course. Should we track down and arrest or kill the terrorists? Absolutely. But in an open, liberal democracy, there is no such thing as perfect safety.

I fully expect that, sooner or later, terrorists will strike again in the United States.  Americans will die.  That is terrible and tragic. But, last year, more than 35,000 Americans died in auto accidents. The reality is that I’m more at risk from driving my car to work than I am from terrorists. If all we cared about was preventing deaths, we would ban cars. That we don’t, shows a proper sense of perspective.

I want a similar sense of proportion when it comes to terrorism. I don’t want the government monitoring my communications, detaining people without trial, closing mosques, or otherwise violating our civil liberties in order to fight terrorism.  We can be reasonably safe – not perfectly safe, but reasonably – without making America something less than America.

http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Ghosts-The-Policing-Terrorism/dp/0190237317

Similarly, I am disturbed by the hysteria surrounding resettlement of Syrian refugees.  Is it possible that a terrorist might slip in amidst the widows and orphans (only about 2 percent of Syrian refugees coming to the US are military-age men without families)? I suppose so, although there are certainly easier ways for a would-be terrorist to get here.  But is that very small risk worth denying America’s heritage as a refuge for people fleeing tyranny?

Nor should the fear of terrorism become an excuse for religious bigotry.  As I wrote the other day, the attack in Paris was carried out by a cult of radical islamicists.   That does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or evil, or that Islam itself is a threat.  As one Facebook meme put it very well: There are 1.2 billion Muslims. If they were all terrorists, we would all be dead by now. In fact, consider that those Kurds we are all cheering for their pro-Americanism – and for retaking ISIS-claimed territory in Iraq and Syria – are Sunni Muslims.  And, lest you say that moderate Muslims are not condemning these attacks – yes they are:

http://www.isisnotinmyname.com/

ISIS is not going to conquer the United States. It is dangerous, indeed barbarous, but it is not an existential threat. But it can make us change our way of like.  It can make us different than the country that I love. If they do, they will have won.

Thoughts After Paris

Before all else, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of Friday’s horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris.  And, not just the French.  The day before the Paris attacks, suicide bombers in Beirut killed more than 40 people.  The same day, a bomb at a funeral in Baghdad killed 24.  And every day, terrorists murder countless numbers in Nigeria and Yemen and Syria and Bangladesh and….

Next, I speak as an educated and reasonably well-read layman.  I am not an expert on military or diplomatic strategy.  These are not policy areas that I work on.  But, like many Americans, I have thoughts and ideas that I wish to share.  Take them for what they are worth.

Let me begin, then, by disposing of some silliness – no stupidity.  The attack in Paris was carried out by a cult of radical islamicists.   That does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or evil or that Islam itself is a threat.  As one Facebook meme put it very well: There are 1.2 billion Muslims. If they were all terrorists, we would all be dead by now.  In fact, consider that those Kurds we are all cheering for their pro-Americanism – and for retaking ISIS-claimed territory in Iraq and Syria – are Sunni Muslims.  And, lest you say that moderate Muslims are not condemning these attacks – yes they are:

http://www.isisnotinmyname.com/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/11/14/muslims-strongly-condemn-paris-attacks/75772102/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/11/14/how-muslims-around-the-world-condemned-the-paris-attacks/

So, if you are among the people on my Facebook feed saying that we should nuke Mecca or shut down all the mosques, you are teetering dangerously close to idiocy.

That said, the failure of the Obama administration, the Democratic candidates for president, and certain liberal media outlets to admit that the attackers were radical islamicists is absurd.  ISIS may practice a twisted medieval version of Islam, but there is no doubt that their vision of Islam is what motivates them.  You cannot wage an ideological and theological battle if you don’t know – or admit — what your opponent’s ideology and theology is.   Truth should not be a casualty of this war.

Second, the big question is what to do next.  Like almost everyone else, I agree that “ISIS must be destroyed.”  But how?  The Obama administrations approach could hardly be less effective.  The very fact that French warplanes struck a command and control center in Raqqa last night raises an obvious question.  Why, after more than a year of US bombing, was there still a command and control center in Raqqa?  The administration’s approach seems to be doing just enough to make us a target, but not enough to accomplish anything.

But what are the alternatives.  “Bomb the shit out of them,” as Donald Trump says?  Are we really prepared for massive civilian casualties from that type of bombing campaign.  What do you do with a city that has a few thousand ISIS fighters hidden amongst tens of thousands of civilians?  Are the civilians we will kill less innocent than the victims in Paris?  I know and accept there will always be collateral damage during war.  Sometimes its necessary.  But how much are we prepared for, and what will be the blowback?  Will we lose allies? Radicalize more Muslims?

Others cavalierly suggest more American troops.  How many?  And, recall that Vietnam started with just a few advisors.  How will Iraqis and Syrians react to Americans occupying their land?  And, how long must we stay there?  Decades?   We can conquer if we are willing to accept consequences, but then what?

Still other hawks, including Hillary Clinton and various Republicans, are calling for a No Fly Zone in Syria.  But as Rand Paul pointed out in the last debate, what happens if Russians fly in our no fly zone?  Are we ready to shoot down Russian planes?  And what if they retaliate by shooting down ours?  Do we risk war with Russia? Or do we back down – again – and look pathetically weak.

That leaves our current policy of arming and supporting allies like the Kurds and a motley array of Syrian rebels.  The Kurds have done well, and I think we should arm them, but there are limits to what they can do. Syrian (and even Iraqi) Arabs have no desire to be ruled by Kurds.  Sunni Muslims don’t want to be ruled by Shiites.  Shiites don’t trust Sunnis.  The Alawites, Druze, and other insular minorities have their own histories of ethnic hatreds.    So who are our allies – and for how long?  Do we decide who runs the place – or do they just fight it out?

On the other hand, I actually do think that territory matters in this war.  ISIS needs its image of invincibility.  It says it has reestablished the caliphate.  Take that away from them, and they will be a lot less attractive to the disillusioned young people now joining them.  I don’t think military options should be taken off the table.  But we should recognize that there are consequences to our actions.  There are always consequences.

I don’t have any answers.  I have no moral objection to fighting a war (properly declared) against ISIS.  I’m open to ideas about how to do this.  There are many people – including many of you reading this – who know more about it than me.  But, so far, much of what I’m hearing is cathartic but facile.

From those running for president, both Democratic and Republican, we need and deserve something more thoughtful.

The Budget Deal Stinks

In Washington, the word “bipartisan” usually means “watch your wallet.” If anyone needs any further proof, just look to the bipartisan budget agreement announced yesterday.

Hailed in the name of “coming together” and “compromise” to “get things done,” the proposed deal is a dog’s breakfast of every bad budgetary idea to land on the table in recent months.

It’s a deal so bad that even incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan says it “stinks” (although, it appears, he will still be voting for it). Still, current speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who hammered out the deal behind closed doors, can probably put together enough votes to push it through, with a united Democratic caucus and just enough pro-defense spending Republicans.

The deal essentially guts the spending limits in place under the 2011 Budget Control Act which brought about sequestration. It would increase spending by at least $80 billion over the next two years above current spending limits, split equally between domestic and defense spending. It would also increase funding for the military’s Overseas Contingency Operation slush fund by $32 billion, meaning the total spending hike would top $112 billion. More domestic spending for Democrats. More defense spending for Republicans. Everyone wins except the taxpayers.

But the deal is much worse than just the particular spending increases it contains. Sequestration may have been a blunt instrument but it has been one of the few successful restraints on federal spending in recent years. Without it and the caps in the Budget Control Act, federal spending would have been at least $200 billion higher since 2011.

This really would mark the second consecutive budget deal in which Congress agreed to ignore the caps. That’s a pretty clear signal that Congress plans to return to its wide open tax and spend past.

The deal would supposedly offset these increases through a rehashed collection of budget gimmicks such as selling some of the strategic petroleum oil reserves, auctioning telecommunications spectrum (again), and making changes to the crop insurance program. Been there. Done that. Still paying for the t-shirt.

In fact, this deal actually weakens long term entitlement reform. For example, it cancels coming increases in Medicare Part B premiums for the 30 percent of beneficiaries not already shielded from premium increases by a hold harmless provision. It would also allow Congress to avoid reforming the Social Security Disability Insurance program by shifting funds to it from Social Security’s retirement program. The move weakens Social Security’s overall financing, but props up the disability program for another six years.

So we will spend more on domestic discretionary programs, more on defense, and more on entitlements, while papering over the cost. Happy days all around.

The deal would also raise the debt ceiling by enough to last through March 2017. In fact, the deal doesn’t just raise the debt ceiling, it simply does away with it for a year and a half.

Of course, no one really expected Congress not to raise the debt ceiling eventually. But this deal surrenders even token Republican leverage.

We’ve been fortunate the last few years. A combination of renewed economic growth and sequestration-driven spending restraint has reduced our budget deficit to just (just!) $435 billion. But this is only a temporary respite. Within just a couple of years, deficits are expected to start growing once more. By 2025 we could again see $1 trillion deficits. Worse, our $18.2 trillion debt is scheduled to rise to $26.9 trillion over the same period. And all of this is before the big cost of entitlements really kicks in. By some measures, our real debt tops $80-90 trillion.

But at least we’ve found something everyone in Washington can agree on: screwing the taxpayer.

Cross-posted to Cato@Liberty

Some Questions for Immigration Opponents

No matter what policy topic I write about lately, the comments section (and my in-box) quickly blows up with a discussion of immigration. And, judging from the otherwise inexplicable success of Donald Trump’s campaign, it appears that there are a lot of Americans who share a Trumpian opposition to immigration. It also appears that opposition to illegal opposition is increasingly slopping over into opposition toward all immigration, both illegal and legal.

I’m having a great deal of trouble understanding this, so maybe my readers can help me. I admit that, as a libertarian, I am pretty close to an open borders advocate. Yes, I believe that immigration needs to be orderly and that we need to be careful about terrorists or criminals slipping in. But in general, I feel that this country benefits from immigration. Besides, my political philosophy is essentially based on individual rights, and its hard for me to see whose rights immigrants are violating. And, certainly, it seems to me, that most anti-immigration policies would end up violating a lot of rights.

But, as I said, perhaps my friends on the other side of this debate could answer some of my questions:

How do you envision deportation working?

Those seeking to expel illegal immigrants currently living in this country, generally fall into one of two camps. The most radical group simply wants to round them up and ship them home. This would lead to thousands of Elian Gonzales-style raids, with SWAT teams kicking in doors of suspected illegals. Children being hauled out of classrooms. Then what? Boxcars? Is that really what we want to be as a country?

And, what if the authorities get it wrong? What if the arrested family is not really here illegally? Will they be allowed/given legal representation? Look at the drug war and all the innocent families hurt (and some people even killed) in mistaken raids. Such a policy will lead to a network of informants and tips, many of which will be mistaken and others malicious. (Of course many of those advocating this approach are unlikely to be mistaken for an illegal immigrant.)

More thoughtful immigration opponents simply call for enforcing exist laws, especially laws against hiring illegal immigrants. By denying employment to illegals, the hope is that they will self-deport (in Mitt Romney’s inelegant phrase).

The key to this approach is some variation of E-Verify, a government data base to check the employment status of workers applying for jobs. But do we really want to give government another way to track us? E-Verify might seem harmless now, but missions always creep and bureaucracies expand. E-Verify will be an attractive way to enforce hundreds of other employment laws and regulations. In the age of big data, the government can easily E-Verify age, union membership, education, employment history, and whether you’ve paid income taxes and signed up for health insurance. And while the government screens employee applications, it can also check on employers’ compliance with all sorts of regulations by looking at the job applications they submit for verification. That scares me more than illegal immigration.

Moreover, do they really expect that the government responsible for HealthCare.gov will suddenly develop the competence to manage such a massive database? The most recent audit of E-Verify found an error rate of between 0.3 and 0.7 percent. While that might sound small, if applied to the entire national workforce of 150 million people, it would yield somewhere between 450,000 and slightly more than one million errors. That would mean as many as a million American workers wrongly denied employment.

Beyond E-Verify, do we really want to open the door to a national ID system? Or become the type of country where police stop you on the street to “see your papers?”

Why do you oppose illegal (or increased legal) immigration?

On the illegal side of the ledger, the most commonly heard – and, frankly, the most convincing argument – is the rule of law. Those immigrants who come here illegally are, by definition, breaking the law. (Though it is actually an administrative violation, not a felony). At a time when the president seems to feel free to rewrite laws at will, regard for the “rule of law” is more important than ever.

If you feel this way, do you apply it equally to all violations of the law? For example, it seems utterly hypocritical to speak of the rule of law when talking about illegal immigration, but applaud Kim Davis’s refusal to obey the law regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Besides, most immigration reform proposals do impose penalties on those who crossed the border illegally, fines, back taxes, they must go to the end of the line to apply for citizenship. If you think those penalties should be stronger, argue for that. But, unless you think that every violation of law – any law — is forever unpardonable, the rule of law doesn’t seem sufficient to oppose any reform that allows current illegals to stay.

The far weaker argument against immigration is the worry that immigrants – and here the anti-illegal immigration argument morphs into an overall anti-immigration argument – take jobs away from Americans and drive down wages.
For the most part, immigrants have different skills and job preferences than native-born workers. They typically take jobs at the high end and low end of the skill spectrum. Where there is competition, illegals are competing less with American workers than with automation. The demand by American workers to pick vegetables is, shall we say, underwhelming. The vast majority of immigrants should be considered complementary, making American workers more productive.

The CBO, projects that under comprehensive immigration reform average wages would be “0.5 percent higher in 2033” if the bill were passed. Even this undersells the positive overall effect immigration would have on wages, because a majority of new immigrants would have lower-paying jobs, bringing the average wage amount down, meaning wages for native workers would increase even more than 0.5 percent. And, a recent study looking at state legislation intended to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to work found that passage of such a bill had slightly negative effects on overall population and employment, and that this kind of legislation “not only has a negative effect on the undocumented population, but it also unintentionally harms a much broader segment of the population.”

There may indeed be some job loss or wage depression for the lowest skilled Americans, but those negative effects would be swamped by beneficial impact throughout the economy. For example, if some businesses are able to reduce labor costs, those savings can be passed on through lower prices or steered into greater investment elsewhere.

Indeed, the CBO estimates that comprehensive immigration reform would increase real gross domestic product by 3.3 percent over the next 10 years and by 5.4 percent by 2033. After all, economic growth depends on the growth and productivity of the labor force. An increase in immigration would help offset an ongoing decline in U.S. labor force participation.

Immigrants positively impact both the demand and supply sides of the economic equation. Obviously, immigrants are consumers, providing additional demand for goods and services in the areas where they reside. At the same time, immigrants are nearly twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. Immigrants now account for almost 30 percent of new entrepreneurs, more than double their share in 1996. In addition, the US is by far the most popular destination for migrant inventors. Roughly 57 percent of the world’s inventors who live outside their home country, reside in the U.S. There are 15 times as many immigrant inventors in the US as there are US inventors residing abroad.

More importantly, for my conservative and libertarian friends, why do you believe it is the government’s job to keep wages higher than they would otherwise be in a free market? What other government interventions do you favor in order to prop up wages? Minimum wage laws? Protectionist trade barriers? Public works programs? Mandatory union membership?

There is also the welfare question. Yes, increased immigration, under current laws, is likely to mean more people receiving welfare benefits. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, immigrants tend to use most social welfare programs at a slightly lower rate than native-born Americans with comparable incomes. But because they tend to be poorer than the average American, they use welfare at a higher overall rate. This is a real problem, but would seem to argue more for walling off the welfare state than for walling off America? Would my friends who oppose immigration be willing to accept a compromise where there is increased immigration, but immigrants are ineligible for welfare?

This leaves the question of culture. There seems to be a fear that increased immigration will change our culture. Of course it will. But why is that a bad thing? America’s culture has been changed by immigration at least since Benjamin Franklin complained about all those Germans living in Pennsylvania. And we are wonderfully better for it, richer, more diverse, more interesting. Like the Brad Paisley country & western song puts it:

Shes got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car
Listen to the Beatles singing back in the USSR
Yeah shes goin around the world tonight
But she ain’t leavin here
Shes just going to meet her boyfriend down at the street fair
It’s a french kiss, italian ice
Spanish moss in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday night
There’s a big toga party tonight down at Delta Chi
They’ve got Canadian bacon on their pizza pie
They’ve got a cooler full of cold Coronas and Amstel light
It’s like were all livin’ in a big ol’ cup
Just fire up the blender, mix it all up
You know everywhere has somethin’ they’re known for
Although usually it washes up on our shores
Little Italy, Chinatown, sittin’ there side by side…

Frankly, the only thing that seems different about these immigrants is that they are brown skinned. While I know my friends have more substantive, policy-oriented reasons for their immigration concerns, many of those commenting on message boards after my columns, and many of those applauding Trump, seem to flirt with racism and xenophobia.

As I said, I have many friends and people I respect on the other side of this debate. Perhaps I’m missing something. If so, I hope you will enlighten me. On the other hand, maybe more facts and less emotion might make you reconsider, what I think is a wrong-headed and even dangerous policy turn.

Some Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

For anyone who believes in a smaller, less costly, and less intrusive government, last night’s GOP debate was truly dispiriting. For anyone who believes in a serious discussion of the important issues, it was even worse. But at least it was grand political theater.

My thoughts on how the candidates did (roughly in order of performance grade):

Carly Fiorina. Carly was the hands down winner on debate points. There is no doubt that she is smart, prepared, and thinks quickly on her feet. She sounds, well, presidential. I can imagine her in the Oval Office, and we probably could do worse. That said, she seemed anxious to inherit Lindsey Graham’s “Dr Strangelove” mantle of strident militarism. And, while her personal tragedy makes it understandable, her stand in the drug war is lamentable. On abortion, I’m pro-choice, so I clearly disagree with her, but I thought her answer on planned parenthood was formidable. Expect to see a big rise in the polls next week.

Marco Rubio: Rubio often seems to be campaigning for last non-Trump standing, low-key, acceptable to nearly all conservative factions. He debates well, even if he seldom scores any real “moments.” Most viewers will come away with a good impression. Alas, he is another uber-hawk, but he appears more sober and stable than some of the others. I think he helped himself long-term, though it might not show yet.

Chris Christie. Debates fit Christie’s style, and he performed last night. He was the only candidate to talk sense about entitlements, but spent way too much time on his law and order shtick. You get the feeling he would rather be running for sheriff. And his 9-11 talk was emotional but over the top. Probably helped himself, but that’s a pretty low bar.

Ben Carson. Carson was Carson, low key, not terribly well informed, but extraordinarily likable. I honestly can’t recall what he said about any issue, other than schooling Trump on autism and vaccines. He didn’t have a big moment like his brain surgery line in the last debate, and I doubt he helped himself much – but he didn’t hurt himself either. Besides, his strength comes from meeting him, especially with evangelicals. Unless he blows up in one of these debates, they won’t have big impact.

Rand Paul. There were glimpses last night of what a Rand Paul candidacy could have been. His answers on war in Middle East and the drug war were terrific. But he showed little spark most of the night and wandered off into vaccine La-La Land with Trump. Good Rand/Bad Rand

Ted Cruz. I thought Cruz had an off night. Normally, I find him a compelling speaker, even if I disagree with him on substance. Last night, I found him canned. He delivered mini campaign speeches rather than answered questions – and in an odd, overly dramatic voice. He probably didn’t hurt himself with his fans, and is positioning himself to pick up Trump supporters, but his rush to the right is disconcerting. Earlier in his Senate career, he flashed occasional libertarian streaks. Those are long gone now.

Jen Bush. Well, he showed more energy, and pretty much anything would have been an improvement over his last debate performance. But he still provides absolutely no rationale for his candidacy. Why, exactly, does he want to be president, other than that it is the family business. And, he did nothing to distance himself from his brother. His performance wasn’t terrible, but certainly won’t rescue his flailing campaign.

John Kasich. Kasich started strong, playing the adult in the room, but then all but disappeared. A solid conservative in Congress, he insists on running to the Left, as if the GOP is desperate for the return of Jon Huntsman. That might be good enough for second or third in New Hampshire. But, after that, what?

Donald Trump. I’m sure his fans loved his performance. But I would hope the combination of juvenile insults and lack of policy specifics will run thin eventually. And his answer on autism and vaccines wasn’t just ignorant, it was dangerous. Trump is pretty much impossible to critique – he is what he is. Sadly. His performance won’t hurt him (his fans don’t care), but it may help cement his ceiling in place.

Mike Huckabee. Huckabee gave an impassioned plea to become chief theologian in the emerging sharia regime (echoing Jindal and Santorum from the first debate), and delivered an over the top call to defend Western Civilization, but otherwise had little visibility.

Scott Walker. Walker really needed a home run to revive his fading campaign. At best, he delivered a bunt single. Aside from his “taking on the unions” schtick, which is a bit stale, does anyone remember what he said? Does anyone remember that he was there?

This was supposed to be the best GOP field in decades. So far, it’s been a tremendous disappointment.