Thursday, May 25, 2006

Are Citizenship Tests Easier Than Voting?

George Will has an article out today which provides some interesting history and analysis of the role of the English language in political discourse:

In 1906, the year before a rabbi in a Passover sermon coined the phrase "melting pot" during torrential immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, Congress passed, and President Theodore Roosevelt signed, legislation requiring people seeking to become naturalized citizens to demonstrate oral English fluency. In 1950 the requirement was strengthened to require people to "demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language."

Hence, if someone needs a ballot written in a language other than English, that need proves the person obtained citizenship only because the law was not enforced when he or she sought citizenship. So one reason for ending ballots in languages other than English is that continuing them makes a mockery of the rule of law, including even the prospective McCain-Kennedy law that pro-immigration groups favor.

It contains several requirements that those aspiring to citizenship demonstrate "a knowledge of the English language" or "English fluency" in order "to promote the patriotic integration of prospective citizens into the American way of life" and into "American common values and traditions." How can legislators support language such as that and ballots in multiple languages?

...what public good is advanced by encouraging the participation of people who, by saying they require bilingual assistance, are saying they cannot understand the nation's political conversation? By receiving such assistance they are receiving a disincentive to become proficient in English.

The problem comes from a 1975 amendment to the Voting Rights Act "requiring bilingual ballots in jurisdictions with certain demographic characteristics." As a practical matter, the use of non-English ballots is a bit strange. Besides the fact that American political campaigns and debate are conducted in English, ballots are very simple. They require little more ability than basic name recognition, a simple task for any informed voter. Even with English-only ballots, it should require far less understanding of English to vote than to pass a citizenship test.

Mr. Will also has some interesting comments on Senator Harry Reid's recent race-bating:

It takes political bravery to propose pruning the Voting Rights Act, given the predictable charges of racism that are hurled so promiscuously nowadays. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, for example, has a liberal's reflex for discerning racism everywhere and for shouting "racist" as a substitute for argument. During Senate debate last week on a measure to declare English the national language, he said: "While the intent may not be there, I really believe this amendment is racist."

Questions crowd upon one another. Was his opaque idea -- well, perhaps it is not opaque to liberals -- of unintentional racism merely a bow to Senate rules against personal slurs? What "race" does Reid think is being victimized? Are Spanish speakers members of a single race? Evidently Reid thinks something like that, because his next sentence was: "I think it is directed basically to people who speak Spanish." Indeed, it is, but what has that to do with racism?

Perhaps someone could provide the Senator with a dictionary, and a history lesson.

There is little doubt that much of the Voting Rights Act is outdated, but will Congress admit that? Don't hold your breath.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A "Civilian" Agency?

Critics of President Bush's nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to be Director of Central Intelligence have raised a suspicious objection - whether a military officer can lead the CIA.

(WaPo) Hayden ran the super-secretive NSA from 1999 until last year, when he became the top deputy to the new national intelligence director, John Negroponte, who oversees the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies.

It could prove a contentious battle to switch to the CIA, given the reaction from lawmakers on the Sunday talk shows. They said the CIA is a civilian agency and putting Hayden atop it would concentrate too much power in the military for intelligence matters.

(UPI) Rep. Pete Hoekstra has said he respects Gen. Michael Hayden... but that a military person should not lead a civilian agency.

(AP) It will fall to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to keep order on the panel as it considers Hayden's confirmation. But even Roberts has acknowledged there is concern about someone from the military heading the CIA.

(Eugene Robinson - WaPo - the guy that forgot about internment and World War II) And given Donald Rumsfeld's ongoing power grab, we should really have a civilian, not an Air Force general, in charge of the CIA.
Quick note: Secretary Rumsfeld is a civilian and has been for decades. But beyond that, much more qualified people disagree:

Gen. Michael V. Hayden isn't the first active-duty military officer tapped to lead the CIA -- he is in fact the fifth -- but many intelligence experts and officers have bemoaned the idea of a general leading the agency at a time when the Pentagon is expanding its ability to engage in global spying and man-hunting, traditional realms of the CIA.

Despite such qualms, intelligence specialists say Hayden's appointment may turn out to be a clever move by intelligence czar John D. Negroponte to help him assert authority over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his burgeoning intelligence bureaucracy. Negroponte, who by law oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, has expressed frustration that he has not made more progress in managing the agencies under the Defense Department's jurisdiction.

In addition, a rear admiral and a general each held the position of Director of Central Intelligence before the Central Intelligence Agency replaced the Central Intelligence Group. Another general preceded them as Director of Strategic Services during World War II. At least seven other directors had military experience.

To provide the history that critics were too lazy to check up on, here are the Directors of Central Intelligence, with their highest military ranks held before taking office:

Souers1946Rear AdmiralNavy
Vandenberg1946-47Lieutenant GeneralArmy (Air Forces)
Hillenkoetter1947-50Rear AdmiralNavy
Raborn1965-66Vice AdmiralNavy
Goss2004-05Intelligence officerArmy

And here's one interesting fact:
Although he comes from the world of high-tech signals intelligence, Hayden was an early proponent of scaling back the CIA's responsibilities so it could concentrate on human intelligence. As Negroponte's deputy, he helped reshape the CIA's directorate of operations into the National Clandestine Service, an effort that many CIA officers applauded.
Hopefully the Senate will be able to look at Gen. Hayden's qualifications without descending too far into ignorance, fear-mongering, and partisan obstructionism.