Monday, October 29, 2007

Driver's Licenses for Illegals

Democratic governor in New York, Eliot Spitzer, has recently been promoting a controversial plan to provide driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in his state that would be identical to licenses issued to legal residents. His justification was reportedly to bring illegals "out of the shadows" and to make New York streets safer for other drivers and pedestrians. Other supporters have claimed that his plan will enable illegals to lead more normal lives like the rest of us. High profile political commentator and CNN anchor, Lou Dobbs, has been highly critical of Spitzer, recently calling him an idiot for promoting his plan, later apologizing, saying he doesn't really consider Spitzer an idiot, but stating vociferously that his policies are idiotic.

In Sunday's Los Angeles Times it was reported that, to appease some of the critics, Spitzer had made some compromises to his plan. He reluctantly agreed that the licenses would not be identical. They will not be usable for boarding a plane or as federal identification, and, importantly, all applicants will need to provide passports and proof of state residency. These changes were apparently sufficient to get to get an OK from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, though Chertoff made it clear he still didn't think the plan was a good idea.

In my blog on Illegal Immigration, posted on 9/22/07, I noted many of my views on the subject, though I didn't specifically cover driver's licenses. There may be some benefits to the public from issuing licenses to illegals, such as the state's Department of Motor Vehicles verifying through their testing that those receiving licenses can drive competently and safely. However, I'm still not in favor of the plan, primarily on the grounds that it is yet another form of amnesty and a significant incentive for additional illegals to try to enter the country. If we want to control the inflow of more illegals, which most Americans seem to agree with, we need to make it less attractive for illegals, not more.

I still believe that a great many of the 12-15 million illegals already here will voluntarily return to Mexico and other homelands over the next 3-4 years if it's more difficult to lead a normal life here. If, on the other hand, we implement driver's license issuing and other amnesty programs, even with stronger and highly expensive border control programs, we seriously risk the number of illegals here doubling within the next 10-15 years. There's no doubt that for many fairly obvious reasons this would not be good for America.

As I said in my earlier blog, a rarely talked about key needed action step to this issue is having a candid high-level negotiation between the Administration and the Mexican government about what we expect their government to do to finally help us deal with the problem. This can be a win/win situation for both countries. It was refreshing and gratifying to read in a recent newspaper article what a Mexican firefighter said about the subject. He had commendably come across the border to help out fight the Harris fire in southern San Diego County. When asked about illegal immigration he reportedly said that Mexico should be able to solve the problem millions of poor Mexican workers have, implying that it should not primarily be up to the U. S. government. I agree with him, though it is obvious to me that the results can be much more positive for everyone involved if there is strong and effective collaboration and cooperation by the two governments. Why can't politicians in both countries figure this out? Isn't this pretty close to a no brainer?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

North Korea Nuclear Pact

In February 2007 the U. S. joined five other major nations in announcing an important diplomatic achievement under which North Korea pledged to dismantle key components of its widely feared and condemned nuclear weapons system in return for certain significant benefits. The respected Wall Street Journal cautiously labeled it at the time as "faith-based nonproliferation." There are some very positive aspects to this agreement, but there are certainly many grounds for Americans also to have significant concerns.

There were some obvious similarities between North Korea and Iraq before our invasion. Both were brutal military dictatorships ruled by despots with big egos who enjoyed spending tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars on themselves and their families when the majority of their large civilian populations were struggling to feed themselves and stay alive. Both were considered by President Bush to be part of his so-called "Axis of Evil" together with Iran. Both were alleged to be sponsoring terrorism and both were believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein is dead, and Iraq is in an uncertain transformation, but Kim Jong Il is very much still around continuing his brutality and mischief, whenever he can get away with it.

The Bush Administration could therefore have also chosen to bomb or invade North Korea to eliminate the nuclear threat, and force regime change while they were at it, and this would have probably pleased Vice President Cheney and many supporters on the right. However, fortunately, having learned some lessons from the Iraqi experience and public opinion polls, the Administration wisely decided that regionally supported diplomacy was the much more prudent course, with participation by Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea. China's inclusion was the key, given their proximity, great power, and substantial influence over North Korea. This was definitely one of the most positive aspects of the agreement, with several favorable dimensions.

Why are there many grounds for concerns from our perspective? Some are fairly obvious and others may not be. One obvious, much talked about ground is that it's not at all clear that Kim Jong Il can be trusted to live up to any material agreement. Another related ground is that verification of effective and sustained dismantling of their nuclear weapons system can be very difficult in a country like North Korea. This includes what's going to happen with their stockpile of plutonium, their clandestine uranium program, and continuing sharing of nuclear technology and related equipment with unfriendly countries like Syria and Iran.

There are several stages to this agreement and additional negotiations to come. One less obvious concern is that it will be difficult to get adequate agreement among the U. S.' partners in this pact, especially China and Russia, when it comes down to the more sensitive points on verification steps. It also concerns me that the Administration, no doubt very eager to achieve a successful final diplomatic result to support President Bush's presidential legacy, will compromise more than it should in upcoming negotiations. For a similar reason I'm concerned that the U. S. will end up providing much more than its fair share of the agreed benefits to North Korea in terms of aid in building needed infrastructure facilities, such as power plants to generate electricity, and delivery of fuel oil supplies. I'm particularly thinking of China, Japan and South Korea contributing fair shares. China, after all, has ample liquidity resources from huge trade surpluses and stands to benefit from a stable and better developed neighbor, given all the refugees who have fled across the border to China in recent decades. Japan and South Korea have more to fear from North Korea's weapons systems than the U. S., given their much closer locations.

Finally, we should all be concerned about the important precedent that this pact sets, something we can be certain that Iran and Syria, in addition to Kim Jong Il, are paying close attention to. Those concerns noted, I very much hope the upcoming negotiations and the critical follow-up and monitoring actions work out to the complete satisfaction of U. S. interests and those of our partners in the region. We'll have to be patient, since the final grade on this pact won't be determinable for many years.