Math Study Results

Many studies and exams have demonstrated that American students are at best second-rate.  Here’s another one.  The crux of it:

Forty percent of U.S. eighth-grade students believe they do well in math, far higher than the 4 percent of Japanese students and 6 percent of Korean students.However, U.S. students scored much worse than their counterparts in the two countries.

Tom Loveless – and the name says it all, doesn’t it? – is the study’s author.

One reason the United States does not score as high, Loveless suggested, is that American textbooks are not as challenging as their overseas counterparts. Loveless pointed to some textbooks that have twice as many pages as Singaporean books and are filled with stories, games, colorful pictures, and “not as much math.”

Math is the easiest subject in the world to learn.  There is a right answer to every math problem.  This fact, if handled deftly, creates a feedback loop that allows students to earn their self-confidence rather than having it gifted to them by a failing system.

Loveless hasn’t got things completely figured out, though.

Showing students that math is relevant to their daily lives, a common teaching tactic, may be futile, Loveless said.  Instead, he said, teachers need to stick to the basics.

Teachers?  Are teachers writing the fluff-filled textbooks our kids use?  Are they creating the state-mandated curriculms?  Are they the ones basing the definition of learning on a set of multiple choice questions?

Loveless has got the numbers, presumedly – this article is light on that aspect – but he’s got a bit of learning to do himself, evidently.

Illegal Immigration, Conclusion

In recent posts I’ve talked a lot about our country’s immigration laws and possible (dis)incentives for breaking them. Illegal immigrants, regardless of how we try to stereotype them, aren’t stupid – they know that they can get away with what they’re doing because they have help from right here in River City, U.S.A.

Enablers

Gasp! American citizens breaking their own laws? Why would they do such a thing? Beyond the fact that people just don’t think, there are powerful reasons that, depending on who you are, may be hard to deny. Who among us are the enablers? How should we deal with them?

Racial/Ethnic Sympathizers

People like to be around people like them. Affirmative Action or not, racial and ethnic affinity is a fact of life that no span of fence or caravan of buses heading south can erase. It’s hardly surprising that recent immigrants to the U.S. want to bring over relatives, friends, and others who “look like them”. We’d probably want to do the same thing if we moved up to Canada and had to live with those pale, funny-talking folks.

Some Americans try to rationalize their beliefs by believing in the myth that illegal immigration is an economic imperative for the U.S. Referring back to Jay Johnson-Castro again, “I’d like for the United States to get out of denial,” he said. “Our country would collapse without Latin American labor. We complain about these folks, but they’re here to work. The Mexican people are maintaining our country.”

They are here to work, Johnson is correct about that. But if their presence is a business necessity then we’ve structured our means of production and patterns of consumption incorrectly. Coming to depend on an illegal source of cheap labor is foolish and adjusting to its absence could be painful in the short term. However, the outcome would be a crisper, more accurate picture of the costs that must be paid to maintain the American way of life. That might be a reasonable price to pay for self-sufficiency.

Referring to the recent initiative to build new border fencing in the southwestern U.S, Johnson says that the fence is a “political football” and that politicians in Washington aren’t listening to voters on the Texas-Mexico border. “We’ve been ignored,” Johnson said. “We feel we have a right to be heard.”

Actually, the voices of sympathetic Americans have been heard far too often already – that’s how we got to this point. People who traffic in and shelter illegal immigrants are breaking the law and should be punished for their crimes. It’s only a complex matter if one thinks too much.

The only other logical thing to do is to strike the immigration laws from the books and open up the border again. I don’t see that happening.

Derived Legal Status

The idea that children born in the U.S. to parents of illegal immigrants deserve to stay here is a dubious one at best. If this mechanism of enablement were removed from the books we’d have a more consistent policy overall.

That would be perhaps the hardest thing of all to do. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to be raised in this country for 10-12 years and then be deported to a foreign country. Devastating is the first word that comes to mind. The fault is not with the child, but neither is it with America. The illegals must take responsibility for their actions. Perhaps they hoped that they wouldn’t have children here and were unlucky. Or perhaps they deliberately planned to play the system.

Imagine if you will that I earn a six-figure income – if only! – and decide to defraud the IRS by not paying my taxes. When I get thrown in jail, can I expect that my children have the right to continue living in the style to which they’ve become accustomed? Clearly not. In this case, my kids would bear part of my punishment by having to live a much less lavish lifestyle. It’s sad, but I cannot expect the public to bear the costs of my misdeeds. Neither can illegals expect American taxpayers to bear their burdens.

American Business

I could write long, flowery paragraphs about businesses and their need to compete, the natural laws of supply and demand, and the inevitable filling of a low-end labor vacuum, but why do that? Just be out with it! The fact is that the core of the problem is not with individual Americans or even with illegals themselves – it’s with American business.

Capitalism is by definition a creative way of life. It compels the participants in the system to invent new things and new ways to make them – like sharks we must constantly stay in motion lest we drown in deep waters. Capitalism pushes businesses to find ways to aggressively cut labor costs whenever and wherever possible. Labor is a huge expense and that’s just the way the system works. And it does work, so long as the legalities involved are observed and enforced.

Unfortunately, enforcement of immigration laws has been lax for the last couple of decades. In this vacuum, businesses have taken advantage of the situation and built new business models that utilize illegals as an important source of low-cost labor. Many of these models would prove untenable if the supply of cheap labor dries up, as Johnson implies.

The effect of these new business models is an enormous draught of demand that pulls illegals into this country like animals to the only water hole in a desert. It’s natural that they come, just as it’s natural that we seek to regulate their arrival. To do so we must recognize the source of the problem and address it directly.

How? Simple: by punishing the businesses that use illegal labor. The purpose of this is to create uncertainty about and actually add to the cost of using illegal labor. In other words, implement laws that would fine businesses caught using illegal labor and enforce them.

Further, businesses must be required to verify the immigration and naturalization status of its prospective employees. Immigrants processed through the legal system would be easily approved; others would be sitting ducks for the INS.

Democrats

Implementing any of these measures will not be easy. The political party that controls approximately 48% of the American vote (possibly more now that Mark Foley has single-handedly tarnished the Republican’s moral image) has been and will continue to fight tooth and nail against immigration reforms.

Why? Because Democrats win an overwhelming percentage of minority votes, including those ethnic minorities whose background is closely aligned with the illegals. Recall the beginnings of this discussion in which I said that illegal immigrants have substantial political clout in this country even though they can’t vote. This is how.

Don’t believe any of this? Consider a recent Houston Chronicle article that calls for more bi-lingual poll workers to be installed at area voting precincts. Is it politically incorrect or offensive to wonder how informed a voter can be if he/she can’t read the ballot in their country of residence? This is not a question of access as in the case of handicapped person’s physical needs. One’s participation in and understanding of society is largely governed by comprehension of the language that is used in its everyday information exchanges. Without that knowledge a voter is an automaton scanning the ballot for the candidate with a “D” by his/her name and punching the card there because the “D” party gives you free stuff.

For my part, I see no imminent solution to this aspect of the problem. So long as Democrats continue to place their political needs above those of the nation as a whole illegal immigration will continue to be an issue on which little real progress can be made.

Mexico

In the case of Mexico, the central government in that country is a large part of the problem. Vincente Fox tacitly encouraged this latest wave of “migration” during his reign as president and the new candidate shows no signs of changing that policy.

Speaking about his opposition by the recent bill passed in the Congress that would build substantial stretches of fence along our border with Mexico, President-elect Felipe Calderon vowed to renew lobbying for immigration reform:

“Migration … can’t be reduced by decree or by physical obstacles,” Calderon said. “That only creates migrants willing to take ever-greater risks and in consequence, probably, will produce more unjust deaths along the border.”

“I think it is a deplorable decision that has been made by the United States Congress for the construction of this wall, and it does not solve our common problem, which is emigration.”

As the title of the article suggests, the Mexican government wanted a gateway into the U.S. but got a wall instead, presumedly because our Congress recognized that the Mexican government is in part behind the immigration, just as they are powerless to stop it using their current economic polices. Oh, and it is an election year. That helped, too.

Conclusion

Ultimately the problem of illegal immigration can be boiled down to the supply of available jobs in the U.S. and the demand for them that teems south of the border.

If businesses can be made to toe the legal line and use only authorized workers, the supply problem will automatically reduce illegal immigration. Why would anyone come here to be unemployed, particularly if the free goodies like medical care and education are also taken off the table.

At the same time, Mexico needs to create a more effective economy of her own. Taxes and bureaucracy stifle economic innovation in that country. If Calderon’s government would remove barriers that stop businesses from being created there, an increase in the number and quality of jobs available in that country would directly affect the number of illegal immigrants who come to the U.S.

Illegal immigration is a difficult problem to get a handle on from many perspectives. Hard choices must be made if this is a fight that we intend to undertake. As unpleasant as it will be, and it will be a mess, politically and otherwise, I don’t see any alternative if we intend to maintain a reasonable facsimile of national integrity. This is a notion to which we’ve recently been paying only lip service – it’s time to decide if the “United” in the United States means something or if it’s every subculture for itself.

Smoking Bans, a Hesitant Thumbs Up

On the surface of it, I love the new rage of banning of smoking in public restaurants and bars.  As a matter of principle, however, I hate the idea of the government coming in and telling people what to do.  What’s a guy to do?

I’m going to go with immediate gratification on this one, meaning I’ll favor the absence of the fetid stench of burning weeds over the implications to personal liberty.  It’s very similar to noise pollution laws, from one perspective.

Smoking is a disgusting habit that debases its practitioners.  Look around the nooks and crannies outside a large office building when it’s cold and raining sometime to see exactly how pathetic they can be.

Space Cowboy

Dubya evidently doesn’t think being a black-clad gunslinger here on Earth is enough, judging by a couple of juicy quotes lifted from the administration’s still partially-classified space policy docment.

Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.

That’s fine as a declaration of defensive intent, but how about trying to play nice with the other kids, Georgie?

Time has a way of changing situations and the U.S.A. is not going to be the predominant power in the world forever.  Not even very much longer, IMHO, unless some things change drastically in this country.  It would be a good idea to start thinking about the big picture, I think.

Dave Winer, Geek Equivalent of Babs Streisand?

I’ve been reading Scripting News for a good while now because Dave Winer, best known as an evangelist for RSS, is a techno-dilletante extraordinaire and seems to be leading the life every geek (like me) longs for.

But that’s not what’s interesting at the moment; DW’s recent political coming out is. Witness this piece, this one, this one, this one, and this one. “I’m also trying to do what I can to make “Republican” a dirty word,” Winer states.

Obviously I don’t have a problem with using one’s blog as a political soap box. What I’m thinking about is the fact that DW’s soap box is a regular bully pulpit compared with the ragged crate of the Moore Dynasty. He’s out of the Technorati 100 for the moment, but that’s the kind of readership we’re talking about.

Is that influence justified in the context of politics? No. In sharp contrast with his status in the world of technology, Winer’s grasp of global affairs is that of a mere mortal. He’s the tech equivalent of the movie stars who use fame to create unearned influence for their agendas. Hopefully people realize he’s just one voice.

On the other hand, at least someone’s saying some things that need to be said out loud. Re the recent torture bill debacle brought to us by Washington D.C., DW says:

I seriously think my country has lost its mind. We’re getting the best wakeup call possible with the torture bill. We’re getting the warning, if we re-elect the Republican Congress, we deserve what we get.

However, it’s not up to me, it’s up to the Republicans. That’s the basic truth. If you love the Constitution, if you love this country, how can you support what Congress just did.

Winer’s celebrity gives him a prominence that is deserved in the technology field and completely unearned in that of politics. The truth is that I resent his influence in that arena because it’s undeserved and because I disagree with him most of the time.

But in this case I have to say, “Thanks Dave, for doing something, even if you’re usually wrong.”

Gay Republicans: To Purge or Not to Purge

The answer clearly is the former.  Republicans have, at incredible volume, trumpeted themselves as the defenders of American family values and the champions of the Christian plurality for so long that their betrayal absolutely reeks of the worst kind of hypocracy.

Six months ago the idea of voting for a Democrat wouldn’t have entered my mind (unless Pat Robertson somehow got on the ballot; maybe, in that case).  For myself it’s now a toss-up and I’m pretty sure that quite a few solid Red voters are questioning their allegiance as well.

Take, for a case in point, a Baptist Sunday school meeting in Texas.  I was prepared to have to bite my tongue as the prayer request came up for “Iraq and our leaders in Washington”.  But rather than the usual foolishness about submitting to the righteousness of Republican authority, the prayer was for wisdom and guidance to help them do the right thing.  That may sound like a small thing but I think it means that the Republican voter base is shaking beneath the pachyderm party.  This base has always been an uneasy alliance between fiscal and social conservatives and it could split along those lines.  Somehow Hastert and his ilk have to do something to solidify it.

But what?  This may seem like a novel suggestion, but how about remembering and returning to the platforms, beliefs, and actions that caused us to elect a Republican government in the first place?

The specific instance of Mark Foley’s perversions is a political chimera.  It’s a waste of time to pursue it as an issue when it’s so much more interesting to think about how and why the Pubs failed to live up to their promises to implement a more moral, less intrusive, fiscally-restrained government.

(What there is to the Foley issue is being correctly investigated as “who knew what and when“, nothing more.  This ought to be 10 times the scandal that Monica-Gate was.  Let the heads roll…)

The Pubs failed on all three counts and it’s wishful thinking to blame it on a gay conspiracy or a determined, coherent opposition.  Purging the party of gays won’t help; that horse is out of the barn.  No, Republicans failed by becoming exactly what the Dems were before them – corpulent, hypocritical, self-entitled pigs rooting at the trough.  It’s disgusting, really, how the Bush years have changed the party.  Only by acknowledging that can they recover.

What’s even more disgusting is that they might still be the best alternative.  If nothing else, the Foley scandal and its fallout will do Republican voters the favor of showing us a little bit more about who we’ve cast our lot with over the last decade.  Hopefully they will stand up to the scrutiny.  If not, we have the right to purge them with our votes.

Congress and Its Dirty Tricks

Declan McCullagh agrees with me that Congress is screwing us by lumping unrelated spending measures and regulations together with other bills.

Specifically, McCullah lists the following tech-related measures that may come home to roost soon if Congress isn’t stopped:

  • The Real ID Act, which creates a national ID card starting in 2008, was glommed on to an $82 billion “emergency” military spending bill (HR1268) last year. Unless Americans are outfitted with these federalized ID cards, they won’t be able to do things like board airplanes or enter national parks and some government buildings.
  • Slapping a $15 tax on .com, .net and .org domain names in 1998 was part of an “emergency supplemental appropriations” bill (HR3579) to fund the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The cash went to politically-savvy Network Solutions, now part of VeriSign.
  • Enacting a controversial proposal to punish Web masters with six months in prison if they publicly post anything that’s “harmful to minors.” Instead of holding an honest, up-or-down vote on the Child Online Protection Act, politicians slipped it into an “omnibus” bill (HR4328) to fund the bulk of the federal government, including the Treasury Department. COPA is being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Coercing libraries and schools into filtering Internet connections was done through the simple expedient of attaching it to an unrelated spending bill (HR4577 to fund the Treasury Department, Labor Department and Congress itself. A divided Supreme Court upheld the restrictions as constitutional.

I wonder (and that’s the right word – this is far outside my area of knowledge) if a lawsuit targeting the practice could get the courts involved? Can Congress or individual lawmakers be sued? Or could the particular items in a bill be challenged on the basis that the vote that passed the bill to which they were attached was not a fair vote on the rider? Probably not…

Regardless, this is a deplorable practice that ought to be stopped. Ultimately the ballot box could partially resolve the problem if we stopped re-electing the same people.

People would have to care to make that happen. But to care, they’d have to know what their government is planning to do to them. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

News from Iraq

The U.S Army is planning to maintain present troop levels for at least 3-4 more years.  To me this indicates that they have little confidence in the Iraqis being able to take care of themselves in that timeframe.

It also means that the Army is going to have to convince a new batch of recruits that getting their asses shot off in the New Vietnam is a good idea.  Good luck with that.  But the bodies have to come from somewhere, don’t they?  Not even the Army can hold its reservists overseas for 4 years.

It has not failed to occur to me that if Hillary, the once and future POTUS, is forced to re-institute the draft a few years down the road, Mitch and Jake might be targets for Uncle Sam(antha)’s Press Gangs.  I’m not sure I can allow that to happen.  In that eventuality we may all have to spend the decade of 2010 “in cooler climes”.

Among the many things I don’t believe about Iraq is the new body count estimate provided by a British medical journal.  Seems like this an attempt to spin the numbers and further invigorate the anti-war movement.  No thanks, reality is bad enough.

Illegal Immigration, V

In previous posts I’ve discussed the illegal immigration situation and offered a couple of directed suggestions that might help to reduce the problem. But it’s fair to say that cutting off access to medical facilities and schools won’t solve the problem completely; only a comprehensive strategy can do that.

However, as the folks in A.A. say, before we can solve a problem we have to admit that there is one. For every person who agrees with my analysis of the situation there’s another, like Jay Johnson-Castro, who disagrees or downplays the issue. How can we be certain what is right? It’s not as if illegal immigrants are stealing from us or anything, is it?

Actually, yes, it is. Not stealing in the common sense of burglary, grand theft auto, or armed robbery – there’s little conclusive evidence that illegal immigrants participate in traditional crime at higher rates than Americans citizens – but by redirecting governmental and charitable goods and services towards themselves, illegals place a burden on an already straining system. The effect is to add additional, unplanned for costs to the budget in areas where resources exist in plenty and remove scarce resources from areas where they do not. In both situations, the result is the same: the people who paid for the system are not getting everything they should from it. Their contributions are, in effect, stolen. And so there is a problem.

In any controlled system, there are levers that administrators control to tune the instrument and make it produce a desired result. If we assume that the desired results are lessened illegal immigration and increased documentation of legal foreign nationals, what adjustments to policy can be made to bring these effects about?

Broadly, the categories of tools that government has at its disposal can be described as incentives and punishments. Both must be used to motivate and discourage participants in the system from “gaming” it, as illegals and the businesses who employ them have done to-date. How should the carrot and the stick be wielded? Consider that the absence of a carrot is just as important as a slap with a stick.

Illegal Immigrants

Let’s start this discussion with the illegals themselves. Like the rest of us, illegals respond to their environment as they perceive it and we can understand, at a macro level, how they will react to changes in the system.

Stick – Deportation

It’s illegal to come to the U.S. without a visa and illegal to overstay one as well. The most obvious punishment is that of deportation and it’s one that should be used whenever possible.

At the moment, it is not used as often as it could be for the simple reason that local law enforcement alternately is indifferent to these crimes and/or told to ignore them. If deportation were more certain, the sheer hassle of coming here would reduce the number of illegals who do.

Doing so costs money – the Texas Department of Criminal Justice estimates that is spent $132 million to incarcerate illegal immigrants during the 2005 fiscal year. Certainly deportation is only a part of the solution, but it’s an important part.

Denial of Carrot – Essential Services

As discussed previously, illegal immigrants should not be allowed access to governmental and charitable services. These are scarce resources paid for by American citizens and should be reserved for those whose contributions made them possible.

Doing so can be seen as cruel by the short-sighted and certainly will be by the deliberately obtuse. But in fact denying illegals access to services is a necessity if we want to improve the quality of service that we, the taxpayers, receive.

In the long term, Mexico and other immigration departure points would be better served by developing their own resources. Some eminent Mexican politicians, like Guillermo Ortiz, governor of the country’s central bank, agree. He told a Texas newspaper keeping more Mexicans at home would force Mexico’s government to create jobs there, rather than relying on the demand for laborers in the United States. Ortiz is correct: this is exactly the end-game we need to get to.

Carrot – Increased Access to Legal Status

The truth is that illegal immigrants provide a service, namely labor, for which there is a demand. That means they are or can be useful, positive contributors to American society so long as their participation is under our government’s control and direction.

What is needed is a legal means for foreign workers to legally enter the country and a regulatory mechanism for verifying their legality and tracking their compliance during the period of their stay in the U.S. President Bush has proposed a plan that included a guest worker program, but that legislation stalled in Congress.

Whatever plan is eventually enacted – one will be, sooner or later – explicit language regarding the disposition of illegals already here must be included in the act. Those people must participate in the new system, but the fact of the matter is that they’re not going to do so if there are negative repercussions that are not offset by something, either positive or even more negative. That’s simply human nature. So what can we do?

A clearly delineated path to legality is essential to bring the current crop of illegals into the system. Given that they are already here and presumedly have “sponsors”, a large percentage of today’s illegals ought to be candidates for obtaining legal status. For the best of them, it should be clear that they’ll come out of the new process with an improved legal position and that this new status will help them lead a better life.

Stick – Denial of Legal Status

A new immigration act cannot be all kindness and amnesty, however. Enforcement and consequences must be part of the plan as well.

Given that the U.S. would be providing a legal means for a large number of migrant workers to work in America, to obtain essential services, and to more fully participate in American life, this legal standing seems like a carrot of significant worth.

In that light, it makes sense to use that the possibility of not obtaining that valuable carrot as a stick. In short, current illegals who don’t come forward and participate in the plan or those who are later caught breaking immigration laws should be denied, permanently, the possibility of obtaining legal status.

Summary re Illegals

Given a clear, fair chance at obtaining legal worker status, I think that many illegal immigrants would put aside their fears of deportation and come forward to participate in such a plan. Not all, not by a long shot, but a significant number would, particularly if there were real negative consequences for continuing to flaunt the law.

These negatives must include seemingly harsh measures such as denial of health care, access to education, and other governmental services. It must also be stressed that breaking the law will necessarily result in a permanent denial of the enhanced legal status granted to foreign workers who apply, live, and work legally in this country.

When taken separately, none of these things will work. Only when all of these facets are combined together in a single integrated plan do we have a chance at success.

So how do we get there? Not by building walls in the desert, although this is worth doing as well. Instead, the problem must be analyzed, logical, effective solutions implemented, even when they are unpopular.

The contributions of all participants in the current, broken system must be considered and accounted for. This analysis has not yet done that.

England’s Veil Debate

There’s an interesting row going on in England about Muslim women’s head scarves and their effect on cross-cultural relations.

I don’t know beans about Mr. Straw, but I think it’s great for a pol to actually say something bold that he believes in.  Can you imagine a U.S. congressman with a voter base that’s 30% Hispanic saying he thinks that illegal immigration should be stopped?  Hah!

It’s not a clear-cut case of right and wrong but I happen to agree with Straw’s request.  Three reasons:

  1. In our societies, a veiled or masked face is a symbol of deceit much more than it is one of modesty
  2. When foreigners visit and/or emigrate to our countries they should do so with the intent of respecting our customs, even at the expense of their own, just as they would expect us to do in their lands
  3. His request was just that, a request, not a demand

Attempts to spin this issue into one of religious discrimination are off base.  Good job, Jack, for opening a dialogue.