North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, November 22, 2014

US illegal immigration challenges mirror those faced in many countries

This week's U.S. Presidential executive action on illegal immigration has highlighted the similarities between the U.S. and many countries around the world wrestling with borders, refugees (from not only military conflicts, but from economic and political crises), and appropriate responses.

Also similar to any effort among individual countries to develop and implement border and immigration policies, the controversy among political factions is often intense and filled with factions.

In the case of the U.S., the issue is often cast as another Democrat/Republican conflict, but President Obama's actions this week underscores the intent of the most recent Presidential effort by G.W. Bush, who championed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. The fact that the comprehensive bill failed to be enacted by Congress highlights why President Obama seven years later felt it worthwhile to push the issue via executive action.

Individuals attempting to leave their own countries and enter others by any means, are overwhelmingly seeking refuge from conflict, oppression, or to better their lives. Many instances of attempts to cross seas are risky and often fatal. Here an overloaded boat from North Africa is intercepted by Maltese and Italian officers. Photo from

U.S. President Obama took actions that shield approximately 4 million illegal (to lower the word choice temperature, let's use "unauthorized") immigrants from the looming possibility of deportation - specifically offering the possibility of a three year reprieve from deportation if one qualifies. At the same time, the border patrol (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)) search for unauthorized individuals would concentrate on felons, not those having arrived in childhood, or who have US born children (hence the soundbite "felons, not families"). As a result of this decision to not deport certain segments, there would be more flexibility for obtaining better paying jobs and many other positives, or so the narrative goes.

The southern border between the U.S. and Mexico is often a stark contrast between a relative dispersed and orderly US side (to the left in this picture, near San Diego, CA) while the Mexican side is teeming, and often full of conflict (to the right, Tijuana, Mexico). Photo from

The anger and resistance to the President's actions stem from a variety of concerns. There seems to be little denial that the U.S. legal immigration system (work visas, green cards, guest worker programs, citizenship requirements, quotas per country) is in need of reform, not to mention illegal immigration, but the complete package to reform immigration (both legal and illegal) is elusive to put it mildly, mainly due to the nearly infinite set of factors and possibilities.

Much of the political resistance to unauthorized immigration focuses on the U.S.-Mexican border, with Mexicans being the largest national immigrant group in the past years. Interestingly, the peak in 2007 coincides with the beginning of the U.S. recession that has subsequently depressed the possibility for unauthorized individuals to find work upon arrival. Graphic from

Legitimate concerns over President Obama's actions are several - does he have legal authority to offer social security numbers or work permits - though he does have the authority to practice discretion in what border agents should prosecute. But perhaps the biggest issue is whether his go it alone approach (without Congressional approval or involvement) represents a pyrrhic victory that sows seeds for court action and possible reversal, or even contradictory legislation from a Republican Congress.

Interestingly, actual border security across the U.S. Southern border is less of a factor in this latest initiative than previously. Many experts believe significant progress on border security has been made. In fact, the U.S. President is also calling for increased security efforts in conjunction with his shielding millions from deportation. The unauthorized immigrant debate has become more focused on economic costs and benefits linked to the sizable underclass already here in the shadows. The ongoing debate over citizenship, rights, and a desire to diminish the festering consequences of millions living in the U.S. without legal status has been given a jolt. Photo from

Points to consider

Unauthorized immigrants may be enjoying better economic lives in the U.S. than in their home countries, but Teatree leans towards this being an unfair permanent underclass - a formidable sized population that businesses can take advantage of and have. All the more reason to reduce the unauthorized pool of individuals living in the U.S. while strengthening the legal immigrant program.

Farm workers come to mind as representing a permanent underclass that businesses rely on. So what should a guest worker program look like? One that maintains workers specific safeguards as to health and safety without fear of deportation, while perhaps diminishing in numbers over time .... Employee verification programs are currently available that would greatly reduce unauthorized immigrant employment, but businesses are against their use, as are many Democrats. Roughly 1.4 million farmworkers are employed on U.S. crop farms annually. Illegal immigrants account for as many as 60 percent or more of them, according to Ronald Knutson, a Texas A&M University emeritus professor in an article found here. Photo from

With a weak U.S. job market, will the increase of over three million individuals more able to look for better work conflict with new legal immigrants or low skill workers already seeking those often low wage jobs?

The recent surge of nearly 50,000 women and children (in this case a woman and her two children from Guatemala) may have contributed to the U.S. President's decision to poke the hornet's nest. Photo from

A naturalization ceremony - these fortunate folks are full U.S. citizens, no need to live in the economic and judicial shadows, and in Teatree's opinion, represent the way to go in addressing immigration. A healthy, out-in-the-open increase in legal immigration is the process that moreover has consistently been a bright point in U.S. history. Photo from

Regardless, for those unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., often with decades and multiple generations involved, perhaps the President's provocative actions will spark some progress across the broader front of border security, citizenship, and compassion for what is in this country, a history of peoples seeking a new life and opportunity.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hungary and the new "Putinism"

Hungary is a relatively small country in Central Europe (similar to Maine in the US), with a population of nearly 10 million. Its current modest size and numbers belies its influential history as part of a major European empire from 1867-1918.

Hungary today is small, but has a unique history within Europe complete with a distinctive ethnicity and language (called Magyar). From the BBC, "Hungary traces its history back to the Magyars, an alliance of semi-nomadic tribes from southern Russia and the Black Sea coast that arrived in the region in the ninth century." Graphic from

Hungary as part of the Austria-Hungary empire reached into every neighboring state for 50 years. Graphic from

A short review of modern history.

After World War 1, the empire which had fought with Germany against Western allies, was dismembered, and after World War II, in which its leaders sided with the Axis powers (albeit fitfully and at times under great coercive pressure), was swallowed up as a Soviet satellite. All in all, a remarkably poor set of choices in the two wars, and a bitter consequence under Communist rule for another 50 plus years.

To the credit of Hungarian people, they rebelled against Communist rule in 1956, though the movement was crushed. The ripples of defiance were felt again in 1968 in neighboring Czechoslovakia with its "Prague Spring" (a term applied to the short lived "Arab Spring" seen in several Arab nations another 45 years later). But only after 1991, was Hungary able to develop a modern Western style democracy, free market economy, and become a member of both the European Union and NATO.

Budapest, Hungary's capitol, is one of the larger cities in the EU, and straddles the Danube river (Buda on one side, Pest on the other). It now thrives as a financial hub along with being one of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe. Photo from

And the story of Putinism being coined as a term linked with Hungary?

Since the worldwide recession in 2008, Europe as a whole has suffered with stagnant economies, high unemployment, and financial strife among neighbors. Hungary has been no exception, but what has emerged in the past few years, under the leadership of its 3rd term Prime Minister, Victor Orban, is a government increasingly skeptical of Western values and abilities, and increasingly sympathetic to Russian President Putin's assertiveness and nationalism.

Young Mr Orban in 1998 at the age of 35, less than a decade after Communist rule, began his first term as the Prime Minister of Hungary. Photo from

Mr Orban leads the national conservative ruling party Fidesz. At 35, in 1998, Orban became the second youngest prime minister of Hungary. In 2002, he sat in opposition in the parliament for eight years. In 2010, he again took the reins of Prime Minister for a second term, and made some controversial changes to Hungary's constitution that created conflict with the larger framework of the European Union. In April 2014, Orban's party won a new round of parliamentary elections, giving him a formal 3rd term as Prime Minister, though with increasing concerns from other European heads.

Orban now openly muses over the relative attractiveness of Russian President Putin's assertiveness and nationalism (seen in Putin's popularity over his actions with Ukraine) to what he perceives as weakness and timidity of the West. As a recent New York Times article describes it, "Vladimir V. Putin’s combative nationalism is more popular here than what many see as Western democratic sclerosis."

The NYT article continues, "In a speech this summer, Mr. Orban declared liberal democracy to be in decline and praised authoritarian “illiberal democracies” in Turkey, China, Singapore and Russia. He traced his views to what he portrayed as the failures of Western governments to anticipate and deal adequately with the financial crisis that started in 2008 and the ensuing deep recession. He called that period the fourth great shock of the past century — the others being World War I, World War II and the end of the Cold War — and the impetus for what he called today’s key struggle: “a race to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful. ... Hungary, he said, will be “breaking with the dogmas and ideologies that have been adopted by the West” and will instead build a “new Hungarian state” that will be “competitive in the great global race for decades to come.””

Orban today, shaking hands with apparent new enthusiasm for Russian President Putin. Photo from www.huffingtonpost.

It is a former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who refers to Orban as “the only Putinist governing in the European Union ...”

While the NY Times predictably leans hostile towards nationalistic views, even the conservative magazine, The Economist writes, "Mr Orban’s centralisation of power has drawn protests from the European Union, America’s State Department and human-rights groups. Corruption has worsened, says Transparency International, a watchdog. More than a third of the population live at or below the poverty line. The situation of the Roma, the largest minority in the country, remains as parlous as ever. In Miskolc a slum-clearance programme has made many homeless.

Mr Orban outlined his longer-term vision in a much-noted speech on July 26th in Baile Tusnade, in neighbouring Romania. Hungary, he explained, would become an “illiberal state”. Speaking admiringly of Russia, China and Turkey, he said Hungary would remain a democracy, and not reject liberal principles such as freedom of speech, but would be based on “a different, special, national approach”. The approach, say critics, was evident earlier this month when police raided the Budapest office of Okotars, an NGO that manages funds from Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, and confiscated computers and documents for alleged financial mismanagement. Okotars strongly denies the charge. The police raid was “completely unacceptable”, thundered Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister for Europe."

Cartoon in The Economist article of September 27, 2014, titled "Orban the Unstoppable."

A voice from the past, Mikhail Gorbachev himself said at a recent 25 year commemoration of the fall of the Berlin wall, that a new cold war may be emerging, in part due to Western triumphalism against Russia when it was at its weakest in the 1990s, coupled with an inability to cope via vigorous and meaningful dialogue to solve conflicts ranging from Syria in the Middle East to Ukraine in eastern Europe.

Mikhail Gorbachev, now 83, being interviewed while marking the fall of the Berlin Wall (Brandenburg Gate in the background). Photo from The Guardian UK

So, not all is well in Europe, a muscular nationalism is re-emerging in a number of countries. This new perspective brings with it rising ethnic tensions and a distrust or skepticism regarding, perhaps not the ideals of the European Union, but the willingness of said EU to effectively implement those ideals, or even defend and promote them.

Apparently Putin's unilateral land grabs in this post Cold War age have sparked admiration not only condemnation. Not exactly what most people expected after the collapse of Communism 25 years ago as the Berlin Wall came down.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Insecure Iran

This post is not earth-shaking, portending some trend or movement of some sort.

Just another mystifying act by the Iranian theocracy which apparently views its women who watch volleyball as a threat. At least that's how some view the story.

Iran, a major Middle East power with a population 77.5 million people has nuclear aspirations, funds terror groups across the region, but is apparently very insecure (tolerant?) at home. Graphic from

From Lebanon's Daily Star, "An Iranian-British woman detained while trying to attend a men’s volleyball game in Iran has been found guilty of spreading propaganda against the ruling system and sentenced to a year in prison, her lawyer said Sunday.

Britain immediately raised concerns about Ghoncheh Ghavami’s trial. The case highlighted the limits to free expression inside Iran and efforts by authorities to enforce strict interpretations of Islamic norms despite a policy of greater openness pursued by moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Ghavami was detained in June at Tehran’s Freedom Stadium after trying to attend a men’s volleyball match between Iran and Italy. Women are banned from attending male-only matches in Iran. Ghavami was held along with the other protesters for a few hours before being released. She was detained again a few days later.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, has criticized reports linking Ghavami’s arrest to volleyball, saying last month: “Her case has nothing to do with sports.”

Say what?

Ghoncheh Ghavami, British-Iranian, gets a year in prison. Photo from

Iran of course, has at least one other prisoner in question that has become a minor case of notoriety in the US. Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor was detained in Iran in the summer of 2012, and is currently serving an eight year term in prison, "reportedly on charges of undermining national security through his Christian evangelistic activities in Iran in the early 2000s."

Saeed Abedini, with wife Naghmeh, and children Rebekka and Jacob. Photo from

Just a couple more sad instances that can be researched at your leisure.