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Paradoxes of the Present Age, Profound and Trivial

November 28th, 2010 - 10:49 am

Corruption and Crimes — or Misunderstanding?

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) made the argument that none of his transgressions were criminal in nature or ipsis factis proof of corruption. If so, can less illustrious Americans emulate his behavior with impunity? Can they chose not to report thousands of dollars in income without worries of IRS audit or worse, or use as an office four rent-controlled apartments, or abuse the postal system, or use public positions and employment to raise money for particular private projects? Surely if we, mere citizens, were to try all that, we would either be fired or in jail, or both. I know allusion to the Magna Carta and involvement in the Civil Rights movement would fall on the deaf ears of a federal prosecutor.

The Age of Want?

Are the usual Black Friday stories of near mayhem and stampedes into discount stores to buy elective electronic goods compatible with Great Depression narratives of endemic poverty and near starvation? What exactly is happening in matter of disposable income — are vast numbers of Americans in need of food to survive one more day or in need of more DVD players and flat-screen TVs, or both or neither?

Drug Cartels Made Us Do It?

A frequent argument is that the endemic American desire to snort cocaine or smoke marijuana or inject heroin — our collective urge for illicit drugs — has ruined Mexico, turning it into a failed state that exports its poor to us, even as cash-rich, exporting cartels try to take over the country.

I agree that any American who uses illegal drugs must accept the moral consequences that his purchases fuel killing and mayhem in Mexico. But that said, Mexico and its society bear the burden for the narco society that threatens to destroy the state. After all, Canada shares a longer border with the U.S. than does Mexico. In this age of easy transport, drugs grown in the tropics can easily ship to the U.S. via Canada. Canada could have a thriving meth or heroin export industry with zillionaire gangs running entire provinces.

So something is different in Mexico, and that something for a variety of reasons is not articulated — e.g., the lack of a truly consensual government, an independent judiciary, a middle class, protections of private property, freedom of expression, a free market, and a transparent tax system conspires to turn Mexico into a drug exporter to its neighbor in a way Canada is not.

More or Less Money

Why did the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget increase last year nearly 7% to $2.7 billion, when Native American gaming is now almost a $30 billion industry? Did the vast new wealth of the last two to three decades have no effect whatsoever on the Native American community, or rather did it decrease the standard of living, necessitating added federal revenue? Had there not been such a multibillion-dollar private industry on Indian lands would the federal Indian Affairs budget have been smaller or larger?

Illegal Immigration — Again

My puzzlement with Hispanic community elites’ constant demand for “comprehensive immigration reform” (a.k.a., some sort of blanket amnesty) is that I fear the urge is in part tribal. Let me explain. If there were 5 million Greeks in California fleeing the Athenian meltdown, all residing illegally here in California, would the Hispanic community object, and, if so, on what particular grounds (e.g., legality, practicality, fiscal reality, morality?)

Ditto 7 million theoretical Sudanese illegal aliens, 4 million Koreans, or 3 million Italians. Or is the demand for amnesty based not so much on the theory of illegal immigrants as de facto citizens, given their residency status, but more on ethnic solidarity? And would other ethnic groups in turn act as they do? I would hope that should 1 million Swedes decide to come into California en masse, overstay their visas, or have no visas, and then demand amnesty, I would demand that they would comply with the law and face the consequences of their violations. And I think, in fact, I would write just that. The fact that a foreigner happens to look more like myself, or embody traditions which I grew up with, or invoke a noble past immigrant tradition, I confess cuts no ice, none at all. As an American, I feel far more affinity with a fellow Mexican-American citizen than with a citizen of Sweden. I hope it is so with others as well, and trust that in time it is so.

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