I spent the last week away from home, and since internet access was very limited, I decided to take a short break from publishing anything. But as I was driving over 2,000 miles in a week, I had some time to think about some subjects. Writing down thoughts as you are driving is a bad idea.

While I was away, I was happy to know that my friend Podkayne was stopping by to get some rest on her own long journey. I knew no one else would be at the house, so I made sure she had a key to the place. She was a welcome guest in my home, and I could trust her not to run off with the good silver. Better than that, she even did some dishes for me! Thanks, Podkayne!

I hope you have family and friends whom you trust enough to use your guest bed if they need it, whether you are there to watch over them or not. But how would you feel if a non-invited person were to enter your home, sleep in your bed, and eat up your food? Whether this unwanted person used a key to unlock the front door, entered through an open window, or used a brick to smash open a lock, there is a name for someone who enters your home uninvited: intruder!

Our nation is our home, and we should be just as concerned about people crossing our borders as we would be about people entering our home at will during the day or night. This is why I’m upset to see how President Bush is failing to fix the issue of illegal aliens in the United States. President Vincente Fox of Mexico made a statement recently that Mexicans (read that as illegal aliens) do work that not even Blacks would do. While this is an offensive statement to Blacks, it also shows Fox’s belief that it is both just and right for his countrymen to break laws to cross illegally into the U.S. And it’s no wonder — the wages that move from the U.S. to Mexico are the second largest money-making industry for Mexico. Fox isn’t going to cut off his national gravy train by stopping Mexicans from crossing into the U.S. Yet it is interesting that the Mexican government is not so lax on its own southern border.

Mexico is not a country starved of resources or filled with lazy people. In the two years I lived in Mexico, I saw hard-working people, but they were prevented from doing as much as they could because of government corruption. When a country offers freedom and protection of people’s rights and property, economic success will follow. Can you point out any country where this is not the case?

Don’t expect to see much from the U.S. government to stem the flood of illegal aliens crossing into the U.S. There is a perception that doing anything against illegal aliens will be seen as an attack on Hispanics who already live in the U.S., but if I were someone from Mexico who had entered legally into the States, I’d be both ashamed of how other Mexicans are illegally crossing into the country and angry that their illegal actions are reflecting negatively on myself. Why is it that the legal immigrants are not policing out the illegals who are crossing into the States?

Could it be that this isn’t happening because the legal immigrants are not identifying themselves as Americans first? There is a very simple reason why Mexicans — or any other group, for that matter — don’t feel like they fit into the larger society, and it isn’t because of skin color. It is language.

English is the common language here in the United States, but it is possible to enter enclaves where Spanish is the only language spoken. In a situation like that, you could spend your whole life never needing to learn English, but there is a limitation to living that way — you are stuck in that enclave. Leaving the enclave requires learning a new language, and choosing not to learn English means you are limited to certain jobs, certain places to live and shop, and certain opportunities you can provide your children. Do you really want to place limitations on your children? You will, if you never learn to speak English.

Before I visited Singapore for the second time, I spent several months studying spoken and written Chinese. I never got very good at it, and I realized that it didn’t help me all that much since I was practicing Mandarin, and all the friends I met in Singapore spoke either Cantonese or Hokkien at home. Also, the traditional characters I learned to read and write were different from the simplified Chinese used in Singapore. This island nation has four official languages: Chinese, Malay, English, and Tamil. It was fun watching the same commercial on TV done in four different languages. Because Singapore is as polyglot as it is, I didn’t feel as bad that I didn’t learn the right version of spoken Chinese, but at least I made the attempt.

I lived in Germany for three years. We could have lived on the military base with the rest of the Americans, but we preferred to live in a small town away from the base. Frau Roch spoke excellent English, having lived in the States for several years. Our landlord had a working English vocabulary of about 400-500 words, and it is amazing how much information you can communicate with that many words. Frau Fuchs didn’t speak a word of English, but over time we were able to talk with her in halting sentences. Frau Roch confessed that even she had a hard time talking to Frau Fuchs because of her old-fashioned accent. While I never became perfectly fluent in German, I got good enough to travel about, and I didn’t have problems buying items in the stores. People even stopped me to ask for directions, and assuming I knew where the place was, I was happy to direct them. My main limitation to learning better German came from spending most of my time in my own English-speaking enclave. High school was all in English, my family and friends all spoke English with each other, and my job was in English. But notwithstanding all that, I made a good attempt at learning the language of the land.

I spent only two years in Mexico, but my Spanish became much better than my German ever did, even with the extra year living in Germany. Since I didn’t live in a little English-speaking enclave, I had to learn Spanish as fast as I could just to be understood. It took much study and practice, but I became very fluent in Spanish. I remember visiting a cement tile factory and talking with the head craftsman there. He thought that I, with my blond hair, was a native-speaking albino rather than an American gringo. I knew I was really speaking Spanish well when the people stopped noting how good my Spanish was and just talked with me. At one point I was so immersed in Spanish that speaking English became very difficult. I had to really think hard to speak in English with the occasional Americans I encountered, or I would just lapse back into Spanish.

If I had to depend on people speaking English to me while I lived in Mexico, I couldn’t have traveled through the northern states as I did. I would have been stuck at home with books and whatever English TV or radio I could find. My opportunities would have been very limited, and I probably would have been frustrated to tears being stuck in my little area. It was very hard work for me to learn Spanish, but the effort was well worth the time and the struggle. And since I was the minority in the country, it was up to me to learn the people’s language.

I don’t care where you emigrated from; now that you are here in the United States, the first thing you should do is learn English. It’s the best thing you can do for your own future and for the future of your children.

Let me set the scene at the southern border:

Freight trains leave each day heading north. At the border “undocumented workers” swarm over the tracks, trying to catch a free ride into the promised land, and it isn’t uncommon for a train to have hundreds of people clinging to it, hitching a ride up north. But not everyone makes it — Hector fell under the moving train and lost both of his legs. Dangerous gangs roam along the border, and violence and prostitution run amok. Immigration officials catch some of the people crossing the river, but many make it past them. The officials and police will send the migrants back, but there are mixed signals being sent here: people from other government agencies patrol the border to advise people about their human rights, often giving them food and clothes. Commissioner Felipe Preciado laments over the Sisyphean nature of the illegal immigrant problem: “It took longer for our buses to turn around at the border than it did for undocumented migrants to re-enter [the country] somewhere else.”

Just north of the border, farmers and ranchers take advantage of the “temporary migrant workers,” paying them less than the minimum wage, and most often ignoring taxes like social security. Paying them in cash means not having to report the money to the government. These workers are often worked hard for a week or two, right up to payday, and then the immigration officers are called in to deport them before the money has to be paid out.

Edwin Morales has been an exile from his native land for almost twenty years now. He fled his home after the abduction and murder of one of his wife’s relatives by security forces. He went north because of the nation’s reputation for tolerance and democracy, but after three weeks in the capital city, he was arrested and detained by security forces. He was later deported to Cuba and told not to return for 10 years. Months later, Morales met up with his family in Nicaragua, and they now live in Costa Rica.

Not everyone is equally distressed over illegal immigration. Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, recently referred to “our wonderful neighbor country that has been so dedicated and interested, that has made such great efforts in respect to the negotiations that are being conducted to achieve peace, [and] that has received and admitted so many refugees and exile[s]…” She said she was willing with “satisfaction and gratitude” not to keep her Nobel Prize medal, but instead to place it in a museum in the “wonderful neighbor country” to the north.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I once stood on a bridge spanning the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. As I stood there, feet straddling the center line of the bridge, I spotted eight people wading across the river and running past the Immigration office. But none of the stories mentioned above took place on the southern border of the United States. They all took place on the southern border of Mexico. Just as the U.S. lures Mexicans who want to work and make money here, Mexico is likewise a shining lure to people living in Guatemala and places further south.

Mexican President Vicente Fox doesn’t like American plans to shut down easy access between the U.S. and Mexico. In a meeting with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, President Fox said, “No country that is proud of itself should build walls. It doesn’t make any sense.” He also said that the new wall going up between the U.S. and Mexico should and must be demolished. If heading north is a basic human right for Mexicans, why doesn’t Sr. Fox feel the same way about Guatemalan nationals who wish to do exactly the same thing? I have previously pointed out that as individuals we would be very distressed to have neighbors and strangers wander freely into our homes at any hour of the day or night. A sturdy fence between the U.S. and its neighbors has the same purpose and function as a fence around one’s property and locks on the doors.

I don’t have a problem with legal immigration, as I have stated before, but I have a serious complaint against illegal immigration. This is one of the few issues where I strongly disagree with President Bush and his plans. And this is why I am in favor of the Minuteman Project.

Right now, hundreds of volunteers are patrolling a stretch of the Arizona border, and they plan on maintaining this patrol throughout the month of April. They are not there to physically stop people from crossing the border. They are there to spot anyone who enters the United States illegally and call in the immigration officials. They are extra eyes for the law, and a helping hand for people who are hungry and thirsty.

But not everyone appreciates what the Minuteman Project is trying to accomplish. Some of the attitudes against the Minutemen seem very similar to sentiments voiced by the ranchers and farmers in southern Mexico, who take advantage of cheap undocumented labor coming over the border. A Reuters article from April 6th echoes this sentiment:

“I had a Salvadoran work for me for six months, and it’s not uncommon for people here to drive a migrant north in their car rather than hand them over to the U.S. Border Patrol,” said cafe owner Charles Lewis.

The fact that these people are in the U.S. illegally doesn’t seem to matter to Mr. Lewis. I wonder if he would be as sanguine if his neighbors were in the habit of escorting people into his own home. Something tells me he would be very uneasy with that idea if it were made reality. But he has no problem with “people” performing a similar act toward his nation.

The article quotes another local’s opinion of the Minuteman Project:

“I’d rather take my chances with the Mexicans than one of these U.S. military type idiots taking part in the patrols,” local truck driver John Porter told Reuters, as he took the sun on a sidewalk table outside the Daily Diner.

“Migrants pay their taxes and I don’t have a problem with them,” he added.

“Migrants pay their taxes…” Do they really? I can’t deny that illegals must pay sales taxes on the things they buy, but how much property tax do they pay? How much income tax? I’m sure Mr. Lewis filled out a W-2 form for the Salvadoran who worked for him for six months, right? And since they don’t have a Social Security number, how could illegals be paying Social Security taxes? The answers to these questions are obvious. Illegal immigrants use our infrastructure, taking advantage of programs paid for with American tax dollars, but they do not pull their own weight because, as undocumented illegals who are usually paid under the table, they are not assessed taxes the rest of us must pay.

There is a much more compelling reason to secure the U.S. border. People exist who hate us, and who want to see us dead. An open border policy does not help keep these thugs away. Just as a fence around the property and locks on the doors are common-sense ideas, so is a secure border. New passport rules are a step in the right direction, regardless of alarmist claims that they will “threaten business relations.” I only wish President Bush would be as serious about securing our own borders as he has been in the rest of the War on Terror, but the sad truth is that he’s afraid to play hardball. Hispanic voters are a growing group, and woe unto the politician who angers a large group of voters in the United States.

Even though George Washington decried political parties, envisioning the United States running just fine without any of them, parties had already begun to form as Washington left office. As political parties often form around charismatic leaders or a common idea or cause, it isn’t surprising that two parties quickly formed around the ideals of Thomas Jefferson on the one hand, and the beliefs of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams on the other. Once a party begins, it needs some recognizable name and/or symbol to make identification easier. This has led to such symbols as donkeys, elephants and eagles, and such names as Democrats, Whigs, GOP, Greens, PRI, PAN, and ungainly mouthfuls like “Workers World Party” and “We The People, American People’s Party.” (You can see a longer listing of presidential hopefuls at Politics1. My favorite longshot candidates are running on the Socialist Workers Party ticket; even if they somehow got the necessary votes to become President and Vice-President, they could not legally hold office. Roger Calero is not an American citizen, and Arrin Hawkins is younger than the Constitutionally mandated age of 35 years. Talk about a double duh for them.)

Since political parties are inevitable (and sometimes hysterically funny), just how many do we really need? Let’s look at several examples of party systems as they currently exist. In a parliamentary system, as found in most of Europe, it is easy for a small political party to gain a few seats. It is therefore extremely difficult for a single party to gather enough seats in parliament to have a majority and thus gain control of government. To attain this majority, a larger party will sometimes extend offers to smaller parties and form a coalition. You can see this in Israel as the Likud and Avoda parties form alliances with smaller religious and radical parties. Another example is nicely summarized here:

The classic historical example of this sort of multiparty system is France’s Fourth Republic (1946 – 58). In the various elections no party ever came close to obtaining a majority in the National Assembly. Therefore, governments were always the result of coalitions of many parties. These governments would last only so long as they avoided important and contentious issues. When such issues arose (as eventually they must), they would tear the coalition apart and force the resignation of the government. The net result was a government that was incapable of addressing itself to the most pressing problems facing the society. In 1958 the French, under Charles de Gaulle, ratified the Fifth Republic, which provided for a cross between a presidential and a parliamentary system and gave the president a specified term of office and extensive powers.

So if you are of the opinion “that government is best which governs least,” the parliamentary system is for you. As long as no single party gains enough control and coalitions are necessary, the government will be paralyzed, unable to make sweeping changes. Of course, such a country is also paralyzed when it comes to important problems that demand immediate action, such as war. Parliamentary coalitions, in addition to being slow to affect change, also award more influence to the smaller parties than their numbers would ordinarily allow. Since these small parties are necessary to form a coalition majority, they often engage in coalition blackmail, effectively threatening to pick up the political ball and go home; this tactic reduces the coalition below the majority numbers needed. And there seems to be no end of these parties. Check out Italy’s kajillion political parties, for example.

It is possible to go to the other extreme and have only one controlling political party. This is normally the case in repressive governments like China, the Soviet Union, North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In these countries, the act of voting is meaningless. Do you suppose Brezhnev or Saddam would have stepped down if the vote had ever gone against them? Fat chance of that!

But it is possible for a real democracy to have one controlling party. Our southern neighbor, Mexico, was led by just such a political party for almost 70 years. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) controlled federal and local offices in its centralized, authoritarian party. While other political parties existed, they did not have anywhere near the numbers that PRI had. In an attempt to deter some of the re-election concerns which plague and distract American presidents at the end of their first terms, Mexico has decreed that its president may only be elected to a single six-year term. Unfortunately, this law has had unintended consequences; namely, since there is no way they can be re-elected, Mexican presidents have rarely concerned themselves with public accountability during their term of office. The PRI party bosses would select the next PRI president, who would inevitably be elected. (This political tradition only changed in 1999, when PRI held its first-ever presidential primary.) Since Mexico was controlled by a single party, corruption ran rampant. My Mexican friends complained that each president, at the end of his term, would loot the national treasury and flee to another country. Since he knew he would be followed by another PRI president and protected by PRI people in every level of government, he never feared being brought to justice for his actions.

The PRI stranglehold on political control started to fail in the 1980s, as the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN) won its first state governorship. This was considered about as meaningful to Mexican politics as the Minnesota governorship of Jesse Ventura was to the USA, but it did indicate changes to come. In 1988, PRI managed to retain control of the presidency thanks to widely-claimed “voting irregularities” (read: voter fraud), but a year later it lost six state governorships. In 1997, PRI lost majority control of the lower house of the legislature, and the mayorship of Mexico City also slipped out of PRI control. Finally, in July 2000, the Alianza por Cambio (Alliance for Change) was successful in electing PAN candidate Vicente Fox Quesada to the presidency. This broke a cycle of PRI presidents unchallenged since 1929.

Thus far I have examined foreign governments, both those run by multiple parties and those controlled by a single party. In my next article I will discuss the American two-party system, its history and its benefits to society.