May 21, 2006

Column of the Day: Steyn on What the “Immigration” Debate Is All About

As the title says, Not just immigration: It’s societal transformation

From the Washington Times: “The Senate voted yesterday to allow illegal aliens to collect Social Security benefits based on past illegal employment.”

Well, I think that’s the kind of moderate compromise “comprehensive immigration reform” package all Americans can support, don’t you?

….. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, in a quintessentially McCainiac contribution to the debate, angrily denied that the Senate legislation was an “amnesty.” “Call it a banana if you want to,” he told his fellow world’s greatest deliberators. “To call the process that we require under this legislation amnesty frankly distorts the debate and it’s an unfair interpretation of it.”

He has a point. Technically, an “amnesty” only involves pardoning a person for a crime rather than, as this moderate compromise legislation does, pardoning him for a crime and also giving him a cash bonus for committing it. In fact, having skimmed my Webster’s, I can’t seem to find a word that does cover what the Senate is proposing, it having never previously occurred to any other society in the course of human history. Whether or not, as McCain says, we should call it a singular banana, it’s certainly plural bananas.

This is not an “immigration” issue. “Immigration” is when you go into a U.S. government office and there’s a hundred people filling in paperwork to live in America, and there are a couple of Slovaks, couple of Bangladeshis, couple of New Zealanders, couple of Botswanans, couple of this, couple of that. Assimilation is not in doubt because, if you’re a lonely Slovak in Des Moines, it’s extremely difficult to stay unassimilated.

This is not an “illegal immigration” issue. That’s when one of the Slovaks or Botswanans gets tired of waiting in line for 12 years and comes in anyway, and lives and works here and doesn’t pay any taxes, so the money he earns gets sluiced around the neighborhood supermarket and gas station and topless bar and the rest of the local economy, instead of being given to Trent and Arlen and Co. to toss into the great sucking maw of the federal budget.

But a “worker class” drawn overwhelmingly from a neighboring jurisdiction with another language and ancient claims on your territory and whose people now send so much money back home in the form of “remittances” that it’s Mexico’s largest source of foreign income (bigger than oil or tourism) is not “immigration” at all, but a vast experiment in societal transformation. Indeed, given the international track record of bilingual societies and neighboring jurisdictions with territorial claims, it’s not much of an experiment so much as a safe bet on political instability.

I don’t recall Ohio Senators DeWine, Voinovich, or any other senator anywhere else in the country running on a platform of “societal transformation at a substantial risk of political instability,” do you?

This is one of those times when I think the Founding Fathers made a mistake in not allowing voters to recall elected federal officials. Senators subject to the possibility of a recall wouldn’t dare contemplate the sellout legislation they have been voting on, and in some cases voting for, during the past week. (Of course, our Founding Fathers didn’t contemplate direct election of US Senators; that was what many constitutional scholars believe was a critical blunder we made on our own in 1913 with the ratification of the 17th Amendment.)

Conservative Culture Suddenly Sunday trackback participant.

Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

News Flash: Company Execs Aren’t All Crooks

This WILL be news to commenter “darrian nayz,” who wrote this in reaction to my post on the indictment of law firm Milberg Weiss and two of its partners:

Listen up blowhard! These are ALLEGATIONS! It appears that this is truly “a partisan attack by a Republican U.S. administration trying to do in court what it could not accomplish in Congress with class action reform proposals.” The reason why most (sane) people think that business is largely bad is because IT IS!!!!

Oooo-kay. My post makes it crystal-clear that the indictments are allegations, and that I’m not assuming guilt. It also notes, as does the article excerpted, that the investigation began in 1999, when the Department of Justice was being run by noted non-Republican Janet Reno.

But let’s get to “darrian’s” final claim, that business is (and one must assume the people that run businesses are) “largely bad.”

Since this is Sunday, maybe everyone could be a bit more charitable and open to the truth. How about it?

So let’s see what the stellar editorialists at had to say on this topic yesterday (bolds are mine):

“Enron” has become a totemic word, a stand-in for corporate greed, deception and malfeasance. The verdicts now being considered by a jury against the company’s two former CEOs, Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, won’t change that.

WorldCom’s $11 billion fraud was bigger. The self-dealing at Adelphia was more brazen. But Enron was first, and its name will forever associated both with corporate crime and the wave of new law and regulations that followed in its wake. So the eve of the Enron CEO verdicts is as good a moment as any to consider the legacy of those corporate scandals four years later, and how well our institutions have responded. Our sense is that business has done better than its government critics.

One conclusion is how exceptional those scandals have turned out to be. Far from revealing some larger cultural rot, the corruption was serious but limited to a handful of companies. Prosecutors and regulators used the political opening created by the Enron collapse to hunt for malfeasance far and wide, but the news is how little they found. Every economic boom produces scoundrels who are exposed when the tide recedes, but the vast majority of American capitalists are honest and honorable.

The public sector deserves a more mixed grade. Congress, as usual, ran off in panic and whooped through Sarbanes-Oxley, the intrusive accounting law that has cost the U.S. economy far more than predicted by its backers. Sarbox has added hundreds of billions of dollars in compliance costs, and for no clear public gain. Deloitte has estimated that the average large company has lost 70,000 man-hours to Sarbox compliance, often by its most senior managers.

….. Meanwhile, the cost of Sarbox has also created a political backlash that is causing Congress and the SEC to reconsider some of its terms. This week, Chairman Christopher Cox announced that the Securities and Exchange Commission would take steps to make the application of Sarbox more flexible and thus less costly. (Not enough, a subject of a later post this week. — Ed.) Congress may also get into revising the act next year, after its two principal authors, Democrat Paul Sarbanes and Republican Michael Oxley, have retired.

….. WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years, a conviction he intends to appeal. Eighty-year-old John Rigas of Adelphia got 15 years, effectively a life sentence, for his self-dealing at the company he founded. His 49-year-old son Timothy Rigas got 20 years. Tyco’s two top former officials could serve 25 years in jail. These individual prosecutions are likely to be a far greater deterrent to potential offenders than anything in Sarbanes-Oxley.

….. The collapse of Enron was a debacle. Thousands of people lost their jobs and some their life savings. Regarding Messrs. Lay and Skilling, the wheels of justice have taken four years to turn. But they–and the people–have now had their day in court. It will take far longer to undo the regulatory and legal excesses that the post-Enron political panic sparked.

It would be nice if “darrian” and those who bash “evil corporations” would acknowledge the record cited here, and the thousands of public companies that have survived Sarbox’s anal exams without any evidence of rampant criminality, and consider revising their assessment.

Perhaps the business press might also move off of its “business bad” mindset, cited by John Stossel in my Monday AM-Coffee post. Nah — that’s hoping for too much.

What “darrian” and the antagonistic business media should really be doing is redirecting a large portion of their hostility towards several notable entities that either have been unable to get their books in order or have yet to comply with Sarbox:

  • The Internal Revenue Service — “IRS Stands for “Internal Reviews Stink” (and a Solution They’ll Never Accept).” The same people that expect us to save every receipt have horribly lax internal controls.
  • The entire US government — “GAO: Uncle Sam’s Financial Statements and Controls Can’t Be Relied on for 9th Straight Year; Media Not Interested.” This crosses administrations of both parties and is a national disgrace; more is here.
  • The European Union, whose books have been out of whack (or in what the BBC described as “chaos”) for 11 years.
  • Implicitly government-backed mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who, among other things, can’t tell us what’s in their mortgage portfolios. Recent Fannie Mae turbulence is covered here.

If a publicly-held company’s books were in as bad a shape as the ones just listed, you could describe that company’s situation in two words — shut down.

How many years in a row will the entities just listed have serious financial reporting and control problems before everyday people and the media consider calling them “largely bad”?

I’d also be interested in “darrian’s” reaction to this question: “What should we do about all those investment bankers and stockbrokers who pumped up the stocks of dot-com companies that they knew had barely more than a prayer of succeeding, and who helped millions of investors lose hundreds of billions of dollars when the dot-com bubble burst?” (Since it’s Sunday, I will merely point out and not dwell on the fact that the investment-banking profession, the stock-brokerage community, and dot-com company managements have [or had, in the case of the dead dot-coms] relatively high concentrations of Democrats and liberals, all of whom have apparently escaped any calls for accountability.)

Weekend Question 3: Why Do I Wish Don Luskin Was Wrong about Inflation?

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 9:16 am

Answer: Because if he were wrong, the Fed wouldn’t have to raise interest rates a couple more times.

But he’s not wrong, and the fact that he’s not wrong (he’s, r, r, r, ….. right) is why the stock market had a bad week:

I’ve been saying in this column for two years that inflation was a rising threat, and that the Fed needed to speed up its rate-hiking campaign to address that threat. Now that threat is there for all to see, and markets are beginning to believe their eyes.

….. today’s inflation is the result of the Fed keeping rates way too low for way too long. The only way to fix it is to get to a normal level of interest rates — right away. The longer you wait, the worse it gets.

….. inflation is cheating the American people of the full benefit of the economic miracles of this decade.

So I’m hoping that the Fed will stop kidding itself and get tougher on inflation. The Fed needs to be honest that it’s not “contained” and do something about it.

Stocks have gotten killed over the last week as inflation fears have come into high awareness. That’s a mistake. The inflation has been with us all along. It’s the awareness that’s new, and awareness is always a good thing. If you know you have a disease, you can treat it.

At this point inflation can still be turned back easily and effectively by relatively mild rate hikes, which will have little risk of damaging our rapidly growing economy. And while I can’t be sure, I do expect that the Fed will indeed end up doing what has to be done before it is too late.

So while stocks aren’t the bargain they were six months ago, they’re more of a bargain than they were two weeks ago. If you think the Fed under Bernanke will get it right, then this week’s scary dip in equities is a buying opportunity.

So buck up, folks. Fed Chairman Bernanke should be raising rates at least a couple more times, something I sure didn’t think was needed some months ago. But I was wr, wr, wr….. wrong.

Ah, that wasn’t so bad. Besides, so was Larry Kudlow.

Positivity: Former Leader in Polish Solidarity Ordained in Canada

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:04 am

What a journey: