Category Archives: Immigration

Missing the Big Picture

I am lucky to be blessed with a full head of hair that should last me my entire life. This is especially useful this week, as I have been pulling it out reading commentary and suggestions of how to prevent another Orlando.

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Too lazy to make an animated GIF so you can see me shaking my head as well.

Like I said in my original post, the arguments fall into two groups:

  1. Those, generally on the left, screaming for more gun control.
  2. Those, generally on the right, screaming for restrictions on Muslims.

Both of these are far too simplistic, because you can’t change one thing without having an effect on others.

And, yes, I know that the shooting was in a gay dance club. I do not want to minimize the importance of that, but most of the suggestions I am seeing are more generally addressing mass shootings and domestic terrorism. I am completely–COMPLETELY!–in favor of legislation that would turn sexual preference and gender identity into a protected class under civil rights law, but that isn’t the focus of this post.

Gun Control

I am not really on either side of the gun control debate. I believe that Americans should be able to own pretty much any weapon they want, but I do also believe that “well regulated” should mean something.

  1. I think that all American students should have a gun safety course as early as third grade. I want to make sure kids know how to behave properly around firearms.
  2. I think that all people should have to pass a gun safety course before purchasing a firearm or ammunition. Ideally, this would be marked on the buyer’s driver’s license or ID card.
  3. I think that, perhaps, gun licenses could be like driver’s licenses, with different classifications. Just as I need a different license with different testing requirements to operate a motorcycle or drive a semi, maybe we should have more in depth tests for people wishing to purchase semi-automatic military-grade rifles. (I freely admit that I am not as informed as I should be on this issue.)
  4. I think that that all transfers of firearms should require a background check, which should include running the identity against the Terrorist Watch List and No-Fly List. If the person does find out that they are on either of these lists, there should be a clear and expedient appeal process, where the government needs to justify their inclusion on the list in the legal system.
  5. Under current federal law the CDC is prohibited from research on gun violence, due to a ban put in place by members of Congress who are supported by the National Rifle Association. This ban needs to be removed. If the NRA doesn’t feel that guns are the problem, then they should let the CDC do the research. We don’t know what the research will show, and without this knowledge we cannot intelligently address the problem.

I also understand that none of these would have prevented Orlando. The killer underwent background checks and wasn’t on any watch list.

Radical Islam

The world is full of radicals. Most of them don’t blow themselves up to make a point. However, even “mainstream” Muslims around the world often have intolerant views, such as advocating for the death penalty for apostates.

The issue we have is that we cannot legally, without amending the Constitution, restrict people of a particular religion, whether it’s people already in the U.S. or people wanting to migrate here. Obviously, we can get around that by placing restrictions on people from specific countries, but that was loathsome when we did it to Chinese and Japanese people last century and it isn’t any less loathsome now.

We do also need to be realistic. We need to effectively screen people entering the country, especially those of military age. A grandfather bringing his daughter and her four children here aren’t likely to be a threat, but three brothers in their twenties should be screened very thoroughly.

Of course, this doesn’t stop an American Muslim from becoming radicalized.

 

So, what can we do? First, we can stop treating them like pariahs and start treating them like neighbors. Say hi and smile instead of glaring angrily. Be polite and respectful. Make them feel welcome and at home instead of making them feel like outsiders.

The Big Picture

I’m a free range parent. Too many people live their lives in fear and I refuse to raise my daughter that way. One of the reasons I am a free range parent is because serious violent crime is as low as it was in 1963. The world is a safer place than it was when I was growing up, when I was free to wander my neighborhood without parental supervision–and my neighborhood extended about two miles from home.

The funny thing is that the reasons for the drop in crime are not obvious. There are three main reasons, only one of which really seems connected.

  1. An increase in the incarceration rate. This one is obvious. The more people you have in jail, the fewer who can commit crimes. One estimate I saw, but, unfortunately, can’t locate at the moment, estimated that this resulted in a 12% drop in violent crime.
  2. The legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. One study suggests that a decline in unwanted births resulted in a significant drop in crime. (The study in #3 suggests that it is about 29%.)
  3. The removal of lead from gasoline. The least obvious reason may be the most significant. One study suggests that 56% of the crime decrease in the 1990s was due to the removal of lead.

There are, of course, problems with all of these. Increasing the number of people in prisons to the point where we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (with the possible exception of North Korea) is effectively discarding much of our population for relatively minor offenses. Abortion has its own problems. Removing lead from paint and gasoline did cause some growing pains, but, fortunately, we are past those.

My point is that any solution to mass shootings will have to be a multifaceted approach. Gun control, immigration restrictions, and increased surveillance each have a role, but none can completely solve the problem. Income inequality, prejudice, a lack of a good mental healthcare system, and the Syrian Civil War all create mass killers, along with, probably, several other factors that we don’t even know. Under current federal law, only domestic abusers who abuse a spouse or child are prohibited from firearm ownership, so this is one area where a loophole could be closed easily with legislation (In 57% of mass shootings the killer targeted a spouse, partner, or other family member).

The Bottom Line

If your first reaction after Orlando was to be concerned about your guns, to want Muslims extensively monitored and restricted, or to want other people’s guns taken away, you are being too simplistic. This is a complex problem without simple answers. We will have to chip away at the causes of mass shootings as we learn more about them.

Think, then speak, not the other way around. We have enough of that already.

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Filed under Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

Musings on a Sad Day

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

I lived in Orlando from 1995-1996 and again from 2000-2003. I still have many friends there, all of whom were, fortunately, not at Pulse last night. I have been to two other gay clubs in Orlando, Parliament House and Southern Nights. Clubs in general aren’t really my thing, but I’m not generally one to decline invitations, even if, sometimes, I felt like the only straight person in the room. I am uncomfortable in pretty much any crowded place, so I wasn’t more uncomfortable there than in any other club. The bottom line is that I have LGBT friends, so I get invited to LGBT places.

What happened last night is horrible. Early on in the news reporting, some news outlets were hesitant to call it terrorism. By my definition, someone killing unarmed civilians is terrorism. We may not know what flavor of terrorism it is, but it is terrorism.

Now we have progressed to the “We have to do something now!” stage. People are pretty much divided into two camps:

  1. Gun control
  2. Muslim control
  3. (There’s a disgusting third group who believes gays brought this upon themselves. I’m not sure we can do anything about them, so to avoid infuriating myself, I will ignore them.)

Typically it’s the Democrats/liberals pushing gun control and the Republicans/conservatives wanting to do something about Muslims. Frankly, I think they are both right…and wrong. The big picture is that neither of these addresses the root cause of tragic events like this.

Yes, with more restrictions on guns we can possibly reduce the magnitude of tragedies. We can force killers to reload more often. We can make it more difficult to get guns in general. In this case, as far as I can tell, the killer was a security guard with a concealed carry permit, meaning that, at the minimum, he passed two background checks. There are conflicting reports of whether he was on a watch list, but federal legislation to keep guns from people on the watch list was defeated (correctly, in my opinion, because we shouldn’t take away rights without due process, and there’s no due process for the watch list). If we ban guns, then terrorists will resort to suicide bombings like in much of the rest of the world. I’m not sure how that would have affected the body count in Orlando. I personally do not own a gun because I don’t think it makes me safer. If other people want them, I am fine with that, provided they know how to operate them safely and can store them securely.

Trump famously wants to keep Muslims from entering the country. In December he even suggested–then retracted–the idea of internment camps for Muslims. We already have the USA PATRIOT Act giving the government the ability to monitor communications with people outside the US. Amendment I keeps the government from favoring one religion over another, so instead, legislators are targeting countries. I try to stick to a bottom line: If someone asks me for help and I am capable of helping, I help. Yes, some of the time the person really doesn’t need the help and is taking advantage of my generosity, but I’m not willing to forsake those who really need it. Syrian and Afghan refugees need help. We are capable of giving it, so we should.

Neither of these really addresses the root causes. People are afraid. People feel abandoned. People are mistreated. Even worse, people are ignored. Most people want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to live in a community where they feel like a valued member. They don’t want to be shunned because they are the nerd in a room full of jocks. If you’re a nerd, you’re going to gravitate toward other nerds, because they, theoretically, understand you better.

Except that they don’t.

We all live in this world. We all feel loneliness. We all crave acceptance by someone. We all want to feel wanted and needed. We want to be important to someone.

Too often, we’re rejected. We decide that we can’t befriend someone because they are too unlike ourselves. So we look elsewhere. Sometimes we find acceptance in books that relate to our experiences. Sometimes we connect with people online. Sometimes we don’t connect at all.

Between second and third grade, my family moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin. I entered a class of kids who had all been together since kindergarten. Worse, I had the horrible combination of a Southern accent and a speech impediment. The perfunctory entrance screening I was given mistakenly placed me at the bottom of my class.

I was pissed.

I was also relentless and focused. I worked as fast as the teacher would allow, and sometimes faster than she would allow. I taught myself to read and write upside-down so I could do both halves of the workbook simultaneously. But I also got into fights–usually on the losing end. Slowly, I made friends, or at least frenemies, as I would play baseball and get hit by pitches more often than anyone else or get stepped on or kicked when I fell during a game. I made friends, but even years later I felt isolated. I was popular enough, or, at least, got good enough grades, to get voted Most Likely To Succeed, but that didn’t make me want to stay. I resented the people in my town, and I wanted nothing more than to get away. So I did.

It took me a long time to understand what really happened, and that most people were good, even if we couldn’t relate to each other. I know now that my rejection was nothing compared to what many others have experienced. I wasn’t particularly adaptive, and they weren’t terribly inclusive. And therein lies the problem.

It’s always been the problem with immigrants. People who are already here want newcomers to abandon their old ways and embrace their new community. Very often, the immigrants moved because they had to move, not because they wanted to move, so they had no interest in adapting any more than necessary. So the immigrants keep to themselves and make no effort to integrate themselves, and the long-time residents shun them and feel taken advantage of when the immigrants use government services. Both sides could help each other, but neither does, and resentment grows. Both sides feel that they are treated unfairly, and they are both right.

We are all human beings. We should be treated with respect. We should help each other. We should teach each other and learn from each other. We should try to understand each other, even though that understanding will never be perfect.

Guns aren’t the whole problem.

Muslims aren’t the whole problem.

We are the problem.

Be kind. Make a new friend. Help a stranger. Smile, even when it hurts. We are all in this together. Act like it.

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Filed under Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

So, I’m running for Congress…

In Tennessee it is ridiculously easy to get on the ballot for federal offices. Essentially, I need twenty-five signatures from registered voters within Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District.

So, why exactly should you vote for me? Simple: I have ideas. Some of these ideas are good, some probably aren’t, but my ideas are ones that aren’t getting widespread attention. (Note: When I say “my” ideas, I’m not claiming that they are true original thoughts–although some may be. I’ll try to give credit where credit is due.) I’ll give details in future posts, but here are a few highlights.

Taxation

I don’t like the income tax, because I believe it does things completely backward. Income tax punishes people for earning money, when I believe people should be “punished” for spending money wastefully. This may sound similar to the Flat Tax various Tea Party and other groups support, but it really isn’t, because, while I propose a national sales tax, there is nothing “flat” about it.  I would like to have three levels of sales tax:

  1. For necessities like food staples, those items that are currently WIC-eligible; a reasonable housing and utilities allowance; work and school clothing; reasonable transportation costs; and similar items; the tax rate should be low or none.
  2. For items that aren’t necessities but which have some societal value, we would have a moderate tax rate. I would put things like books, computers, moderately-priced clothing, and non-luxury automobiles in this category. This tax rate would be around 10%.
  3. For luxury items, I would have a high tax rate, probably in the range of 35% to 50%. Now, by luxury items I don’t just mean yachts, sports cars, Jimmy Choo shoes, and first-class airfare. I include things like DVDs, video games, candy, soft drinks, movie tickets, and fast food meals. This level is not designed to punish the rich: It’s designed to punish those who spend their money on garbage instead of investing in themselves and their families.

This is just a brief summary–I want input from many others with expertise before trying to introduce it–but you get the general idea.

Immigration

First, note that the above tax plan works perfectly well for illegal immigrants, as they will be taxed on the products and services they buy, instead of dodging income tax. They will pay their fair share for the government services they use.

The current immigration system is broken in almost every way imaginable. Motivated individuals in impoverished areas or who live under oppressive regimes move to give themselves and their families a chance at better lives. Everyone living in the United States has ancestors who left their homeland in search of something better–yes, even the Indians crossed the Bering Strait to leave Asia. I don’t want to punish people for wanting a better life. Having said that, I do want to encourage people to follow simple rules to gain timely permission to immigrate to the United States. Right now, if a Mexican wants to legally move to the U.S., he cannot enter the lottery to obtain a green card. If he doesn’t have a family member already living here legally, his only choice is to sneak across the border and hope he doesn’t get caught. Furthermore, the same people screaming loudest about illegal immigrants “taking American jobs” are the same people complaining when a company opens a factory outside the U.S.–which would help encourage people to stay in their home countries.

What should we do?

  1. Simplify the immigration process to let more people of all national and educational backgrounds legally enter the country. Ideally, we would start this under better economic conditions, and throttle the admission process upward and downward depending on the current economic conditions. Theoretically, we could admit people to work in low unemployment areas while heavily restricting immigration to areas of high unemployment.
  2. Encourage microloans so women can start businesses in countries with strong pressures toward emigration. Some of this might be done with federal aid seed money, but much can be done through private means.
  3. Target foreign aid toward the education of girls. Uneducated women have far more children than those who are educated, so if we want to solve the immigration problem in the future, we need to do our best to make sure that women aren’t having more children than they can afford.

The current proposals, such as stronger immigration enforcement and building border fences, are only bandages. They don’t address the real problem of income inequality. By encouraging the most motivated individuals to come to the U.S. while providing economic opportunities for them at home, we can fix the long-term problem.

Gay Marriage

My solution to the problem of gay marriage is simple: Take government out of the marriage business. Marriage is mostly a religious institution, so if your church doesn’t want to allow same-sex marriages, it shouldn’t have to perform them. If someone else’s church feels that they should sanction such relationships, they should be allowed to do so. If marriage is no longer a factor in income taxes, then most government functions involving marriage can be handled through other legal documents, such as powers-of-attorney and wills.

Tomorrow I will address some other hot button issues, but if you have any suggested topics, please feel free to make comments.

Topher

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Filed under Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Immigration, Taxation