Repost: Hug an illegal immigrant today! (August 2007)

The Thinker by Rodin

What’s old is new! What’s old in this case is the following post, first posted nearly ten years ago in August 2007. Given Trump’s desire to deport pretty much anyone, it’s as topical now as it was then. And it’s one of my better posts. So time for a repeat. Enjoy!

Here is a basic truth about American history that you are unlikely to find revealed in our history books: our success as a country is due to immigration. Most likely, our country’s decline will start when immigrants decide to go elsewhere.

Immigrants have always been crucial to our country’s success. When we could not get enough immigrants, we captured slaves and brought them over here instead. Yet through much of our history, whether here legally or illegally, immigrants have been scorned. In truth, immigrants are the gasoline that fuels our economy. We say we do not want them in our country, at least the ones who are not here legally. Yet if they were to go, our standard of living would decline precipitously. Inflation would go through the roof. Immigrants make it possible for the rest of us to live the American Dream. My vaunted six-figure salary is directly due to the guy making $15,000 working for Goodwill who doesn’t seem to speak English and who hauls away the trash from my office everyday.

Thankfully, there is little chance that people will stop coming into our country, no matter how impressively we build our barriers. It does not matter how low on the totem pole immigrants will be when they get into this country. Invariably they will be better off than where they came from. Cleaning out toilets in airports may not be your idea of a great job. It is probably not their idea of a great job either, but it beats starvation, or regular dysentery drinking the polluted water back home, or raising an uneducated child in a tarpaper shack.

Thank goodness, we have people willing to clean toilets at any price. How long do you think your local airport would be able to stay in business if they had no one willing to do this disagreeable task? How many restaurants would be in business at all if all the illegal dishwashers and potato peelers in this country suddenly disappeared?

The argument I hear is that, “Well, if they all went tomorrow, businesses would have to raise salaries. Good Americans would fill those jobs. And what’s wrong with that?” As a liberal Democrat, I like the idea of our citizens making more money. I just hope it will actually improve their standard of living. I do suspect though that if there are 200 jobs needing to be filled and only 100 people willing to work for wages businesses can afford to pay, there are going to be some economic adjustments and they will not be for the better. Of course, businesses would do their best to cope. They would try to become more efficient and resourceful. At some point, we would end up with an effective unemployment rate of zero. Then the excrement would hit the fan. I am not sure which businesses would be the first to go under, but I bet people who are asked to do the most disagreeable jobs would be the first to bolt. Dishwashers would become very hot commodities. Those restaurants profitable enough to employ them at higher wages would thrive. Those which cannot, and restaurants tend to survive on tiny profit margins, would close shop. I can even see a new version of the draft, not to fight our wars overseas, but to make sure restaurants have enough people to serve meals, sweep floors and do the dishes.

Perhaps with higher wages more of us who are already employed would be willing to work a second job (if we are not already, trying to keep pace with the cost of living). At some point, that market would exhaust itself too. The likely result would be a phenomenon we remember from the 1970s: stagflation. Stagflation is rapid inflation during a period of recession. We would be lucky though if this were the worst of it. The short-term result would be that as unemployment up the food chain increased from the fallout, more and more people would be willing to work in these relatively low wage jobs. The effect though would be to push down standards of living for all of us. These jobs, while necessary, are simply not as productive as those that generally pay more money. Decreased productivity is one of the major drivers of stagflation.

A workforce of course is the fuel of any economy. We may think we can automate everything using computers, but even if that were possible, someone has to keep those computers going. Goods do not magically get from points A to B. It is our willingness to be employed, and in effect be the lubricant that keeps our complex society functioning, that makes our advanced society possible.

In effect, our economy, much like our social security system, is a great Ponzi scheme. Growth, as is always the case, comes from the bottom up. If we cannot convince lots of poor people to start at the bottom and engage in economic Darwinism to try to ascend the economic ladder, the system eventually collapses. I see signs of it already. My daughter, though she has never held a full time job and just recently graduated high school, refuses to work just anywhere. She has her standards. She has decided that she can work at a Barnes and Noble or a Vie de France, but not at a Bloom supermarket, nor at a McDonalds, nor at a Subway … in fact, her list of places she is not willing to work is much larger than her list of places she would work. Fortunately for her the labor market is pretty tight here in Fairfax County, Virginia so she has the luxury of being somewhat choosy.

Of course, she has to survive. If her choice were between starving and working at a McDonalds, I am sure she would choose working at McDonalds. However, why should she do what she considers demeaning work in a business that she does not like? For example, why work at a Wendy’s when she would likely be the only Caucasian woman working there and she cannot speak more than a dozen words of Spanish? Why get hot and sweaty trying to keep up with jangling timers continually going off on the French fries machines when she can work behind the counter in a nice, cool and air-conditioned Vie de France restaurant instead? Others, who came from a harder school of knocks, are supposed to work at Wendy’s. For them a Wendy’s job probably really is opportunity. She perceives it as a low-grade horror.

Arguably, if all the Wendy’s in America went out of business we would probably be a lot healthier. Still, Wendy’s alone pumps a huge amount of money into the economy. The parent company Wendy’s International had sales of $2.45 billion dollars in 2006, owned 12.7% of the burger market and employed 57,000 people. If it closed because it could not profitably stay in business, more than 57,000 people would be affected. Its suppliers would be laying off people. Cattle ranchers would reduce herds. Grain prices would fall. Perhaps other businesses would pick up its market. However, if we did not have enough people willing to work at the bottom of the labor scale the effect on the labor market would quickly spread across the economy, likely causing a chain reaction.

If there were no more immigrants I would end up mowing my lawn again, which might not be a bad thing either. It would cost me more to get my roof replaced, if I could find anyone willing to do it at all. Either my six-figure income would feel a lot more like a five figure income, or I would be a lot busier incompetently trying to do the things I pay people to do for me. I would have to hope that I would die in my bed. It is unlikely I could afford a nursing home at any price. It would be a luxury only for the richest among us. Perhaps the poor house would make a comeback.

While I do not particularly like the idea of immigrants streaming across our borders illegally, I also understand why it has been in our economic interest to look the other way for so long. That our standard of living is rising at all is largely due to our glorious cognitive dissonance on this issue. If we could actually fully enforce our immigration laws then within a year we would be protesting en-masse on the Mall in Washington demanding the immediate repeal of these laws. The last thing we will give up is our slice of the American dream. Immigrants serve us that slice.

The good news is the immigrants who come to our country choose to come here, often at the cost of enormous peril. They understand the tradeoff. They will do our scut work for us, gambling that in time given their perseverance, luck and circumstance they will be in our shoes someday. They might aspire to be Bill Gates, but even if they only get up half the ladder, they are better off than they were. So are the rest of us.

Therefore, instead of railing against immigrants and protesting at local day laborer sites, as some want to do here in Herndon, Virginia, perhaps, if you speak their language, you should be thanking them for coming instead.

Donald Trump and the art of carnival barking

The Thinker by Rodin

Sorry about delays in postings, Razor fans. I’ve been occupied this week by a family reunion. Aside from deaths and weddings, reunions don’t happen very often in my family. The last scheduled one was in 2000. This one probably would not have happened either if I had not taken the initiative last year to find a location and to prod my siblings. Our reunion at Chenango Valley State Park was good while it lasted, but it didn’t last long. The weather at the park near Binghamton, New York (where most of us grew up) over the weekend was oppressively hot and humid, uncharacteristic of the region. It meant sleep was difficult, particularly during many extreme thunderstorms and torrential rains.

While we arrived last Saturday, siblings quickly started peeling away beginning on Tuesday. I ended up leaving early too. My wife developed an ear infection on a trip of her own, came home and started throwing up. She was weak and worried she might be developing pneumonia. So I drove back on Wednesday. My wife is improving but not without a lot of requisite suffering.

So I’m back and catching up on the news that I missed at the park while I sweated and tried to keep mosquitoes from biting me. There were no lack of interesting current events, but the media for some reason could not stop highlighting the latest crazy nonsense coming out of the mouth of Republican presidential “candidate” Donald Trump. Trump has developed a knack for sucking the oxygen out of the room, much to the consternation of his fellow Republican candidates that wanted the privilege instead. Unfortunately, their idea of doing this is to bash liberals, the poor, environmentalists and the Iranian government, which is hardly novel. Trump’s approach is to be more outrageous than any of the other candidates, and by an order of magnitude.

Trump has figured out a way to outdo them all by saying outrageous things not just about Mexican immigrants (suggesting most are rapists and criminals) but also his fellow Republicans. Most recently he suggested that Senator John McCain was not a war hero because all he did was spend five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison. It’s all pretty crazy stuff, but it seems to be working in getting cameras and microphones to follow him. Republicans seem to like people that are outspoken to the point of being insane and foaming at the mouth. They also like candidates that make unrealistic promises, like Trump’s promise to build a wall along our entire border with Mexico, which he says wouldn’t be hard or expensive to do. At the moment Trump holds what is likely to be an ephemeral lead in the polls among self-identified Republicans.

I’m still puzzling over what Trump is really up to but I doubt it’s the presidency. It’s clear that he likes attention. He made his fortune in part by being brazen and outspoken. His crazy remarks are par for his course. This is a man after all, who at least says he believes that President Obama was not born in the United States. Wind Trump back twenty years when even then he was making motions of running for president and his policy solutions were very mainstream. Today he is wild and outrageous, which makes me suspect he is not being sincere. Perhaps he is impossible to accurately psychoanalyze, but in my mind there are two distinct explanations for what is spewing out of his mouth: he’s either running a parody campaign realizing in advance he won’t win and is just out for some kicks, or he is a secret Democratic party mole.

I personally lean toward the latter explanation, in part because Democratic administrations tend to be good for business. Much of his fortune is based on greasing the gears of government to look favorably on his skyscrapers and casinos. It’s hard to imagine that a man as successful as he is could be so blindingly stupid. For example, he needs those illegal Mexicans he rails against to wash the dishes in his restaurants and casinos, and doubtless employs plenty of them already. He’s probably not a progressive, but if he is sane then he’s more mainstream than he lets on. I say this based on his actions, not on his mouth. He may be worth the ten billion dollars he claims he is worth, but he has had many failures in his career. Indeed, he is hardly a self-made man. He got his start courtesy of his father’s fortunes. Many of his projects have proven disastrous for himself and his partners. I figure he simply doesn’t care what people think about him. His extreme wealth gives him that privilege.

But he can command the media’s attention, which means he can control the media playground. Most smart political observers think his popularity will quickly peter out and when it does to keep the camera on him he will launch a third party run for president. He has hinted at such. Since he is drawing Republicans to him instead of Democrats, a third party run would simply fracture the Republican base and the party’s chances of acquiring the White House in 2016. The outcome would look a lot like the 1992 election, when independent Ross Perot also fractured the Republican base, leading improbably to the election of Bill Clinton, when the overall dynamics would have favored George H.W. Bush’s reelection. In any event, his candidacy is not good for the Republican Party in general and for the many candidates vying for the nomination. If he is to represent the Republican brand through winning the nomination, he may be the death of the Republican Party, which first rose with the election of Abraham Lincoln.

If Trump actually believes the crap he is spewing then he is untethered to reality, which is just a polite way of saying he is mentally ill. He is not. He is crafty. He knows how to get attention. You can’t get attention by being conventional. The Republican Party of today is hardly conventional. Indeed, it is not even conservative. It is radical. It takes a certain skill to command attention in such an arena, but he has the advantage that with so many candidates the media cannot focus on any of them. He does know how to be a carnival barker. Trump has the skill and has used it successfully in his career. He has learned the art of showmanship, and it involves learning how to be heard. That requires being very loud in a tone and manner that is discordant because it draws attention. He is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Try not to hear that. This is how he sucks oxygen out of the room and draws attention to himself. It’s a marketing strategy. And in marketing you learn that any attention, even negative attention, is better than being ignored. At least you are talked about.

It works but it generally doesn’t work in achieving a lofty goal like being president of the United States. It might if the standards and expectations of the American voter have degraded as much as Trump might be hoping they have. If they have then we must really depend on God blessing America, because Trump would be a disaster of a president. It probably would not take both Republicans and Democrats long to impeach and convict him out of office.

Future errata on the news

The Thinker by Rodin

No special topic for today’s post, just some quick thoughts about the news of the day and what I believe the story behind the story will be. With luck my precognition will be proven by subsequent events, and these will be errata indeed:

  • On the invitation by Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress: This isn’t about the supposed threat that Iraq’s nuclear weapon program poses to Israel’s existence. Congress doesn’t need additional convincing on that. This is about Republicans, and House Republicans in particular, having a snit with President Obama because basically they loathe him and can’t figure out any other way to kick him in the balls. They don’t respect him or his administration, even before he came to office. In short, this is institutional passive aggressive behavior. It is also very unwise as it sets a new and dangerous precedence that our country will speak on foreign policy with multiple voices. (Executing foreign policy is constitutionally the responsibility of the Executive branch.) This is also about Speaker Boehner trying to gain some leverage with his mostly out of control Tea Party wing. It helps shows that he is manly and serious in ways that they can appreciate. If I were a Democrat in Congress, I’d boycott attending. However, I don’t expect a critical mass of Democrats will do this, as they proved in the 2014 election that they are quite spineless.
  • On the allegation in David Alexrod’s new book that President Obama hid his support for gay marriage in the 2008 campaign: no duh! It was clear to us Democrats that he was for gay marriage, but he felt it was too dangerous to say so publicly at the time as it would have adversely affected his campaign. What was evolving was not his opinions, but the American people’s opinions. He was waiting for us to catch up. So, yes, he was being disingenuous, but no more than most politicians. In fact, most of the Republicans who claim to be upset about gay marriage really don’t care too much about it either; they just don’t want to upset their base, or really what the think is their base, i.e. the noisy (i.e. politically active) ones.
  • On funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out at the end of February: in the end Republicans will cave, probably sooner rather than later. Even if the House bill gets out of the Senate, which won’t happen, the President will veto it. The egg won’t be on Obama’s face as it plays out, because Americans overwhelmingly support his interim steps for immigration reform. So this is a losing issue for Republicans. Republicans will probably go for a series of 30 day funding mechanisms, until enough of them realize it just makes them look stupid, and then they’ll capitulate.
  • On the Obama Administration’s hope that a reinvigorated Iraqi army — with plenty of American advisors safely out of firing range to act as coaches –will retake Mosul from ISIS: it ain’t going to happen. The Iraqi army is a joke because there is no country called Iraq and because more desertions happen monthly than recruits coming in. What there is is a marginally governable country that should be called Shi’ite Iraq. To the extent that they will retake land it will be in traditionally Shi’ite dominated areas of that former country. What’s really happening is what I predicted in 2006: Iraq is being fractured into a number of religiously orthodox and ethnically pure countries: Shi’ite Iraq, Kurdistan and the Islamic State. It won’t be external forces that kill the Islamic State. It will be resistance from within when residents get sick of the overwhelming terror and (worse) the paucity of first world services like satellite TV. Neighboring countries will try to nudge this to happen sooner rather than later by making living in the IS more undesirable. The IS will either have to adopt into something marginally politically acceptable in the Middle East or it will eventually die a natural death. A state that does not operate like a state, i.e. with some uniformity and ability to provide basic services, is not a real state. I doubt it will be around five years from now regardless of what is done or not done.
  • On the reemergence of diseases like measles because certain parents can’t or won’t get their children immunized: never underestimate the power of shame and conformity. Americans are all for freedom until someone else’s freedom hurts their kids. If just one kid dies in America because someone kid’s parent refused to get their kid immunized, the remaining states will quickly fall in line and require all children to be inoculated against preventable diseases. The only question is where the set point is these days, as most Americans have no living memory of mass diseases like the measles. Smart Republican politicians are already walking back their talking points because disease knows no political boundaries. The parents of a Republican kid who comes down with the measles will be just as pissed-off Democratic parents in this situation, once they get over their own shame. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, particularly when we are certain that immunizations are safe and effective.
  • On the inevitability of Hillary Clinton as our next president: I am not convinced. The more I study her, the more things I find to dislike about her. The more Americans focus on her and the more they study her, the more that have second thoughts as well. If Republicans were smart, they would nominate a mainstream woman to run against her, perhaps Carly Fiorina to help negate the frustration by women that we never had a female president. Fortunately for Democrats, Republicans usually go stupid when picking a nominee. Still, a convincing mainstream Republican like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or Indiana Governor Mike Pence could win in 2016. That’s what the sensible establishment Republicans are figuring, which is why they are throwing money into PACs for Jeb and trying to make him the likely nominee. If Clinton stumbles, right now the Democrats best bet is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, because he is known for crossing the aisles and for taking unpopular positions, assuming Webb does not try a third party route. That’s credibility, and it’s what Americans are desperately looking for. I don’t expect though that Democrats will be in the mood to go with a mainstream candidate.

Hug an illegal immigrant today!

The Thinker by Rodin

Here is a basic truth about American history that you are unlikely to find revealed in our history books: our success as a country is due to immigration. Most likely, our country’s decline will start when immigrants decide to go elsewhere.

Immigrants have always been crucial to our country’s success. When we could not get enough immigrants, we captured slaves and brought them over here instead. Yet through much of our history, whether here legally or illegally, immigrants have been scorned. In truth, immigrants are the gasoline that fuels our economy. We say we do not want them in our country, at least the ones who are not here legally. Yet if they were to go, our standard of living would decline precipitously. Inflation would go through the roof. Immigrants make it possible for the rest of us to live the American Dream. My vaunted six-figure salary is directly due to the guy making $15,000 working for Goodwill who doesn’t seem to speak English and who hauls away the trash from my office everyday.

Thankfully, there is little chance that people will stop coming into our country, no matter how impressively we build our barriers. It does not matter how low on the totem pole immigrants will be when they get into this country. Invariably they will be better off than where they came from. Cleaning out toilets in airports may not be your idea of a great job. It is probably not their idea of a great job either, but it beats starvation, or regular dysentery drinking the polluted water back home, or raising an uneducated child in a tarpaper shack.

Thank goodness, we have people willing to clean toilets at any price. How long do you think your local airport would be able to stay in business if they had no one willing to do this disagreeable task? How many restaurants would be in business at all if all the illegal dishwashers and potato peelers in this country suddenly disappeared?

The argument I hear is that, “Well, if they all went tomorrow, businesses would have to raise salaries. Good Americans would fill those jobs. And what’s wrong with that?” As a liberal Democrat, I like the idea of our citizens making more money. I just hope it will actually improve their standard of living. I do suspect though that if there are 200 jobs needing to be filled and only 100 people willing to work for wages businesses can afford to pay, there are going to be some economic adjustments and they will not be for the better. Of course, businesses would do their best to cope. They would try to become more efficient and resourceful. At some point, we would end up with an effective unemployment rate of zero. Then the excrement would hit the fan. I am not sure which businesses would be the first to go under, but I bet people who are asked to do the most disagreeable jobs would be the first to bolt. Dishwashers would become very hot commodities. Those restaurants profitable enough to employ them at higher wages would thrive. Those which cannot, and restaurants tend to survive on tiny profit margins, would close shop. I can even see a new version of the draft, not to fight our wars overseas, but to make sure restaurants have enough people to serve meals, sweep floors and do the dishes.

Perhaps with higher wages more of us who are already employed would be willing to work a second job (if we are not already, trying to keep pace with the cost of living). At some point, that market would exhaust itself too. The likely result would be a phenomenon we remember from the 1970s: stagflation. Stagflation is rapid inflation during a period of recession. We would be lucky though if this were the worst of it. The short-term result would be that as unemployment up the food chain increased from the fallout, more and more people would be willing to work in these relatively low wage jobs. The effect though would be to push down standards of living for all of us. These jobs, while necessary, are simply not as productive as those that generally pay more money. Decreased productivity is one of the major drivers of stagflation.

A workforce of course is the fuel of any economy. We may think we can automate everything using computers, but even if that were possible, someone has to keep those computers going. Goods do not magically get from points A to B. It is our willingness to be employed, and in effect be the lubricant that keeps our complex society functioning, that makes our advanced society possible.

In effect, our economy, much like our social security system, is a great Ponzi scheme. Growth, as is always the case, comes from the bottom up. If we cannot convince lots of poor people to start at the bottom and engage in economic Darwinism to try to ascend the economic ladder, the system eventually collapses. I see signs of it already. My daughter, though she has never held a full time job and just recently graduated high school, refuses to work just anywhere. She has her standards. She has decided that she can work at a Barnes and Noble or a Vie de France, but not at a Bloom supermarket, nor at a McDonalds, nor at a Subway … in fact, her list of places she is not willing to work is much larger than her list of places she would work. Fortunately for her the labor market is pretty tight here in Fairfax County, Virginia so she has the luxury of being somewhat choosy.

Of course, she has to survive. If her choice were between starving and working at a McDonalds, I am sure she would choose working at McDonalds. However, why should she do what she considers demeaning work in a business that she does not like? For example, why work at a Wendy’s when she would likely be the only Caucasian woman working there and she cannot speak more than a dozen words of Spanish? Why get hot and sweaty trying to keep up with jangling timers continually going off on the French fries machines when she can work behind the counter in a nice, cool and air-conditioned Vie de France restaurant instead? Others, who came from a harder school of knocks, are supposed to work at Wendy’s. For them a Wendy’s job probably really is opportunity. She perceives it as a low-grade horror.

Arguably, if all the Wendy’s in America went out of business we would probably be a lot healthier. Still, Wendy’s alone pumps a huge amount of money into the economy. The parent company Wendy’s International had sales of $2.45 billion dollars in 2006, owned 12.7% of the burger market and employed 57,000 people. If it closed because it could not profitably stay in business, more than 57,000 people would be affected. Its suppliers would be laying off people. Cattle ranchers would reduce herds. Grain prices would fall. Perhaps other businesses would pick up its market. However, if we did not have enough people willing to work at the bottom of the labor scale the effect on the labor market would quickly spread across the economy, likely causing a chain reaction.

If there were no more immigrants I would end up mowing my lawn again, which might not be a bad thing either. It would cost me more to get my roof replaced, if I could find anyone willing to do it at all. Either my six-figure income would feel a lot more like a five figure income, or I would be a lot busier incompetently trying to do the things I pay people to do for me. I would have to hope that I would die in my bed. It is unlikely I could afford a nursing home at any price. It would be a luxury only for the richest among us. Perhaps the poor house would make a comeback.

While I do not particularly like the idea of immigrants streaming across our borders illegally, I also understand why it has been in our economic interest to look the other way for so long. That our standard of living is rising at all is largely due to our glorious cognitive dissonance on this issue. If we could actually fully enforce our immigration laws then within a year we would be protesting en-masse on the Mall in Washington demanding the immediate repeal of these laws. The last thing we will give up is our slice of the American dream. Immigrants serve us that slice.

The good news is the immigrants who come to our country choose to come here, often at the cost of enormous peril. They understand the tradeoff. They will do our scut work for us, gambling that in time given their perseverance, luck and circumstance they will be in our shoes someday. They might aspire to be Bill Gates, but even if they only get up half the ladder, they are better off than they were. So are the rest of us.

Therefore, instead of railing against immigrants and protesting at local day laborer sites, as some want to do here in Herndon, Virginia, perhaps, if you speak their language, you should be thanking them for coming instead.

Stirring the melting pot

The Thinker by Rodin

They were out there in force again today. You know, they who should not be seen. The janitors. The day laborers. The dishwashers. The construction workers. Today was after all May Day, a day which most of the world celebrates as the real Labor Day. May Day commemorates the strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which began on May 1st, 1884 and culminated in the Haymarket Riot of May 4th, 1884. Eleven people died that day, and eight anarchists were later executed for allegedly throwing bombs into the crowd. It was an early but memorable skirmish in the labor movement, not just here in America, but also across the world. The strike was the catalyst for the eight-hour workday that Americans take for granted. (Perhaps I should say, “took for granted”. In our current economy, the eight-hour workday, like company pensions, is becoming obsolete.)

Today hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters, many of whom are here illegally, brazenly marched again through the streets of Los Angeles. Immigrants marched in many cities nationwide. 400,000 marched in Chicago, where May Day originated. Tens of thousands also marched in Houston, Florida and New York City. Many marched with oversized American flags and chanted “U-S-A!” You can bet the strikers at the Haymarket Riot were not acting quite so patriotic.

Today’s march follows on the heels of massive marches by immigration activists in March that attracted millions of people. It began in earnest on March 25th when over a million supporters of immigrants rights marched in Los Angeles. Tens of thousands also crowded the national Mall in Washington on April 10th to press a similar cause.

In truth, the face of America has been changing for a long time. Until recently, we could pretend it was otherwise. Illegal immigrants who live on the margins of society, who have learned the art of not being seen, are easier to put out of mind. Now this sleeping giant in our midst has woken up. It is clear as we move forward in the 21st century that the America of this century will look quite a bit different from the one most of us remember during the last century.

This is not news to me, for I am a Washingtonian. Comedian Stephen Colbert at the recent White House Correspondents Dinner called Washington a “chocolate city with a marshmallow center”. However, the greater Washington area feels more ethnically diverse than any other area of the country that I have ever been. It is fitting that the area I choose to call home is in many ways modeling how the rest of the country will be by 2050.

It is all a bit startling to my father, age 79. He is by no means a racist, but mostly he has known only the white middle class suburban life. In 2004, he and my mother moved from Midland, Michigan to Silver Spring, Maryland. They went from perhaps the most Wonder Bread city in Michigan to a retirement community that was overwhelmingly white but serviced by a people of darker hues. (How Wonder Bread is Midland? The Chinese restaurant we went to had white waiters.) Even my mother, certainly not a racist either, was never quite comfortable during her final days in the nursing home in Silver Spring, for she had a black physician and mostly a black staff taking care of her.

Her physician came from Ghana, where she had left her husband and family. She is in this country on a five-year contract. Her job is to ease very old and chronically infirm folks from old age to death. Talking with her during those dark days when my mother was languishing there, I learned that she was here because there were no American physicians willing to do her work. This is the way it is throughout much of our country. Those of us who have wealth can squeeze our dollars so well because of the cheap and often illegal immigrant labor that comes across borders.

Now the immigrant community is realizing they do not have to take it anymore. They understand that they have achieved a critical mass. They are no longer content to languish in the shadows of society. They came to this country to have a better life. While in most cases their new lives are better than those they left behind, the difference between their lives and ours is jarring. In many cases, they arrived here illegally. In many cases, they also pay employment taxes. However, the taxes rarely buy them anything. They contribute taxes into a system they cannot draw from unless they become either citizens or permanent residents. The closest they come to getting some return for their Medicare taxes is if they do not have insurance and have to visit an emergency room.

Some of us will wish that they would go back where they came from. Aside from the fact that it will not happen, our economy is intricately dependent upon their continued presence. However, even K-Marts blue light specials do not last forever. It is time, they are saying, for a more just share of the commonweal.

Ask any demographer and they will tell you the same thing. Whites will eventually be a minority in their own country. Here in the greater Washington region, in less than a decade, whites will be in the minority. In other metropolitan areas like Houston, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the day has already arrived.

Perhaps what we are experiencing now in our Republican controlled government is the last gasp of a dying era. For Republicans are overwhelmingly white. Perhaps Republicans sense that their end is near. The solid red South and West is likely to look a lot purpler in the next decade. Hispanics and many other minorities are moving from the margins into the full-fledged citizens, and they will be voting. It is not a given, of course, that they will be voting for the Democrats. Nevertheless, they are likely to carry different values and choices with them in the voting booth.

The U.S. Census Bureau has made its own estimates. Hispanic and Asian populations will triple in size over the next 50 years, while the population of white Americans will decrease by 19 percent. By 2010, 35% of America will be minority. By 2050, we will all be minorities. For a while, whites may retain the status of the largest of the minorities, but no ethnicity or race will be able to claim majority status.

I do not think this is a bad thing. America has long claimed to be a melting pot. However, in truth a melting pot has meant that immigrants assimilate traditional white Protestant European values. By 2050, we will become a melting pot in fact.

Yes on a guest worker program

The Thinker by Rodin

The world may be ending. I agree with President Bush on an issue.

Specifically, I agree with him that America needs a workable guest worker program. It is either this, continue our current “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” policy on illegal immigration, or kiss goodbye to a large part of our domestic agricultural business. Of the three choices, a guest worker program is the least odious.

Now it would be an interesting experiment to discover just how high agricultural wages would need to be to entice ordinary Americans to spend long days engaged in backbreaking labor in the hot sun pulling crops out of the ground. What would the wage rate be? $20 an hour? $30 an hour? Considering that when the field is picked, it is “see you next year”, I am not sure even these wages would be sufficient. Nevertheless, I am confident that supply could meet demand at some point. Wal-Mart greeters would probably find that living the transient life in tarpaper shacks beats sticking happy faces on customers for $6 an hour at the local Wal-Mart. It might even have an inflationary effect on wages overall, which is not necessarily bad. Real wages have been flat or slipping for the past few years, depending on which statistics you want to believe.

So those farm fresh tomatoes, instead of being $1.29 a pound might sell for twice or three times what they cost now. Perhaps we would continue to eat the same amount of tomatoes, but more likely, we would search for less expensive alternatives. Specifically, we would start importing tomatoes, and they grow fine just south of the border. Thanks to NAFTA, they would be expeditiously trucked over the international border. As a result, American farmers would not be able to compete for long selling tomatoes. Perhaps they could try to grow more exotic crops with higher profit margins, but it is unlikely that our plentiful truck farms and orchards would remain in business for long. No, they would likely shrink, or go out of business together. More profitable uses for the land could probably be found, and it probably would not be for agriculture. The effect would be to gradually reduce our agricultural business to those crops that can be processed by machines only. While free trade seems to be considered the ideal these days, those of us interested in national security need to think hard about whether it makes sense for this nation to outsource its ability to feed itself.

Consequently, to stay in the agricultural market at all we have find workers willing to work for what Americans consider miserly wages. However, if you are living in poverty south of the border and your current home has an open sewer in the backyard and the walls of your house are made of tarpaper, you’re your kitchen floor consists of dirt, and your drinking water is unhealthy, well, $5.15 an hour or even less are pretty good wages. After all your needs are more modest than the average American’s. You may need but certainly do not expect health insurance. Owning a car is likely as fantastic an idea as scaling Mount Everest. In addition, you may have a dozen mouths to feed south of the border. Even at $5.15 an hour, these wages buy a lot of tortilla flour.

$5.15 an hour, or even less, clearly is not enough to live on if you expect a house that follows sound building codes. However, if your expectations are third world it is more than a living wage. In fact, it may be the difference between whether your children back home can even afford to go to school. Just because childhood education is compulsory in our country, does not mean this is true in much of the rest of the world. This became clear to me when I visited the Philippines in the 1980s.

Our current immigration system is a joke. Anyone who really thinks that we can beef up border security enough to even modestly reduce the flood of this traffic is living in fantasyland. These same sorts of people probably also believe we can win the drug war through interdiction. Arguably, if we got very tough with employers who hire illegal immigrants, we could change the dynamics significantly. However, if this were possible we would soon see a huge inflationary effect across our economy. If you are wondering how gas prices can be $2.50 a gallon yet inflation remains so tame, thank that illegal dishwasher in the restaurants you frequent, the poultry worker at Tysons processing plant in Arkansas, or the day laborer hired by the contractor who cuts your lawn. If you think inflation is tame solely due to the sound policies of the Federal Reserve, please send me your name and address. I have some swampland that should interest you.

Therefore, a guest worker program is not a bad idea. It is a pragmatic approach to a problem that will not go away. It gives these illegal immigrants some status and protection and does away with the duplicity of our current system. It is not the perfect solution. I cannot imagine having to leave my family for years to toil in America for long hours and paltry wages. At least this laborer’s family is likely to have a higher standard of living then they would otherwise have in their native countries. Similar reasoning brought most of our distant relatives to this country. At least an illegal immigrant’s children are more likely to acquire an education. This is not the ideal way to end the world’s incessant poverty problem, but it is one pragmatic means to an end.

We Americans need to acknowledge the truth: we depend on low cost labor to maintain our standard of living. There is no way this genie is going back in the bottle. We can deal pragmatically and realistically with the problem, or we can continue to close our eyes and let the situation worsen. We should insist though that those companies that hire guest workers fully comply with the law. We should also insist that while they are with us, guest workers have access to affordable housing, healthy food, and education for their dependent children.

Anger on Herndon response to day labor problem is misplaced

The Thinker by Rodin

My little town of Herndon, Virginia has been in the news lately. Okay, technically I do not live in Herndon. I am a couple miles outside its corporate limits. However, most of my mail is addressed to a Herndon, Virginia post office. I do not pay taxes to the Town of Herndon. Nevertheless, like it or not I get its newspaper delivered in my mailbox. In addition, since it is only a few miles away I do a fair amount of shopping inside the town. Since I have lived here 12 years, I feel something of a Herndonite.

I was sitting in our hotel room in Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago and turned on CNN. I was surprised to find that the day laborer controversy in the town had escalated to national news. The Town of Herndon has a problem. Day laborers congregate around a 7-Eleven store at the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street in Herndon. Employers drive by every day and hire some of them. Most of the day laborers are Hispanic. Likely many of them are in this country illegally. You would think then that the Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (formally INS) might target the site. However, you would be wrong. ICE apparently has bigger fish to fry, or simply does not give a damn.

So every day for more than a decade 60-70 day laborers, the majority of whom are likely here illegally, congregate around the 7-Eleven and the nearby McDonalds and the Amoco gas station across the street hoping for day work. Many of them get work and others are disappointed. Some who get work are subsequently angry when the employers who hire them do not pay them agreed upon wages, or refused to pay them at all. Knowing that many are illegal, some employers figure they can get away with it.

For day laborers are considered independent contractors, not employees. They agree to do a day’s work for a given amount of money, and federal wage and hour laws do not necessarily apply. Just as I do not have to worry whether the firm that cuts my grass hires illegal workers, these employers do not have to burden themselves with checking for green cards. After all, at the end of the day these workers are history. In general, there is no paperwork to fill out. Day laborers jump into the employer’s truck or van and are off to a site for the day. Generally, they are returned to the same place in the evening. Wages are paid in cash at the end of the day. For workers here illegally, it is a great system. Moreover, if you are an employer who needs a few guys to pull weeds or to dig a trench you can get them locally for a song and at your convenience.

You would think that the Herndon police department would be rounding up these scofflaws and turning them over to ICE. You would be wrong. The Herndon police department has no such authority. The ICE will not give the town the authority, because their rules specify special training with ICE that involves at least twenty police officers. I doubt the Town of Herndon has that may police. In any event, apparently only two states, Alabama and Florida, are authorized to arrest illegal aliens on behalf of the ICE. So that’s out.

The presence of these people and particularly those wanting to hire them tends to slow the traffic on Elden Street, the town’s major thoroughfare. A police officer is stationed there during business hours to try to keep the traffic moving. Local charities also provide people to monitor the situation. The town never decided to set up this as a place for day laborers to congregate. It evolved over time because it was a convenient location. However, after more than ten years of dealing with the situation the town decided it had endured enough hassle and proposed an offsite day laborer center.

That was when the controversy started. A local conservative radio talk show host urged his listeners to call the Town of Herndon to complain about the idea. The town was subsequently inundated with calls, so much so that they had to disable their switchboard. Their web site also came careening to its knees. No less than the Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore railed against the idea of using public money to facilitate connecting some illegal immigrants with day jobs.

Amazingly, despite all this publicity, public officials in Herndon went ahead and voted for the day labor site anyhow. On August 17th, the Herndon Town Council by a 5-2 vote decided to go ahead with funding a new day laborer site behind an old police station. They will use $175,000 in town money to fund the site.

This has not sat well with those with an axe to grind. I get the feeling that most of the citizens of Herndon are for the site. The existing site has been a public nuisance for years. With local police’s hands tied, a new site away from traffic seemed to be a far better solution than allowing the problem to continue to fester. However, conservative commentators and politicians have pilloried Town of Herndon officials for their decision, saying they should be rounding up these illegal aliens instead. Even a lawsuit is now pending to stop construction.

The town is not authorized to be in the immigration enforcement business. Nor are any trespassing or loitering laws being violated. The town has documented clearly why its hands were tied. However, these commentators and politicians are more in favor of scoring political points than actually solving the problem. After all, this is not something occurring in their back yard.

If there is a problem in Herndon, it is not with town officials. It is with the ICE that cannot be bothered to arrest these people. In addition, the problem is exacerbated by regulations that tie the hands of local police departments. The problem also lies with the Congress and state officials, which allow employers to hire day laborers without requiring them to ensure they are hiring people legally. Instead, opponents would rather rail against elected leaders in Herndon, who are simply trying to solve a local problem. Their anger is misplaced.

The leaders of Herndon are to be commended for their pragmatic decision. It is not that I am in favor of day laborer sites in general, but they competently addressed a real problem to the community with the means they had available. Soon the traffic will flow more freely on Elden Streets and Alabama Drive. Should the ICE ever decide to crack down on illegal immigrants in Herndon, they should be easy to find at the new center. Meanwhile the people of Herndon get part of their community back again.