Friday, April 7, 2006

Diner with Duke and DuctapeFatwa: Part III

What follows is our third installment of "Diner with Duke and DuctapeFatwa: A liberal discussion of immigration".
Part I : Here
Part II: Here


First of all, I do not think that your two or three generations is accurate. People who have been in the US for ten years, working at the jobs you refer to, low paid, etc., their children have grown up bilingual, and in a few years will be able to assume their own role in the political process, thus relieving those who struggle with what they perceive to be a problem of that burden. And almost any plan, yours or anybody's, that involved any substantial change, would, in the absence of tens of millions of Minute Men supporters storming the capital, take at least that many years to "adjust" in order to provide a corporate incentive for endorsement.

I agree with you that it would be wonderful if employers would provide on-site English classes, adult literacy (both reading and writing and computer) literacy classes, paid time off to take them, etc. so that their employees would be able to mobilize upwardly. However, this would hardly be in the employer's interest. In fact, leaving immigrants out of the picture entirely, you cannot have failed to notice that the entire education of the underclass is focused on training individuals to sit quietly until an appointed hour, and follow instructions.

Employers whose profits depend on cheap labor are not likely to be inclined to sacrifice the contents of their own pockets in order to expedite that cheap labor becoming more expensive.

Add to that the fact that tomorrow's cheap labor construction worker, regardless of where he purchased his papers, if he can learn bricklaying, can earn more money per hour than he would if he went to college and became a teacher. And considerably more than if he merely gets a liberal arts degree where if he is lucky, he may get a job in a posh department store selling footwear. This is one of the challenges faced by teachers, when they try to convince the older children of immigrants to remain in school.

Fostering language skills would, in an ideal world, take precedence over fostering per hour earnings, but this is a cultural issue that cannot be addressed by having immigrants fill out forms. And the money that is paid into the social security system going into the cost of the forms and their processing, while I think many would support just about anything that would keep it out of the pocket of the immigrant, I'm not sure that would be the best selling point for the target audience themselves.

I don't mean to suggest that you would not have any takers, I just don't think the chances are good that you would have enough to make a difference to either the anti-immigration people or the politicians, who of course serve the corporations, and I just do not see any extra money for the corporations in your plan.

The status quo basically sucks, however it does provide certain benefits, and certain trade-offs, for both worker and employer. The main objection to this status quo, at least to the more intelligent of the anti-immigrant sector, is that they realize that it is the employer who has the short term advantage, as mentioned previously, the children of the people who come to US to work will not be limited to low paying jobs, nor taxation without representation, and every time a white lady has a baby, 5 indias have babies, who will grow up bilingual, and with as much chance for upward mobilization as the children of native born parents in all but the most affluent classes have, which I will grant you is next to none, but if you talk to the Minute Men and friends, they are not unaware of the changing demographic, and the changes in other things that will surely come with that, barring explosion of course, which is far from certain.

There is also the fact that a man who has had only 3 or 6 years of formal education, unless someone is going to pay all his family's expenses and put him through a 4 year degree program, even if he learns English, is not going to be able to come out of his English class, put on a Brooks Brothers suit and get a white collar job on the fast management track. The increased hourly wage he will get for learning English, once it is taxed, is not going to mean that much to his family's lifestyle, but multiplied several hundred times it will mean something to his employer's profit, so the employer would be better off firing him, and hiring someone who does not speak English for fifty cents or a dollar less an hour.

I think your plan would be most appealing to more "elite" immigrants, usually from South America, who for reasons best known to them find it expedient to depart their homelands as changes occur in the region, individuals who have advanced degrees and could probably get visas, but prefer not to remain in the home country for what can be a somewhat lengthy process. There are many individuals of this sector, who have been arriving with regluarity in the US since the early nineties, many have relatives already here, with ample resources to help them get on their feet (some have been so patriotic as to arrive in the United States bringing their homeland's national treasure with them, even going so far as to make the sacrifice of holding these assets in their own personal bank accounts for safekeeping). These folks are indeed an English class or two away from, if not the boardroom, at least a corner office, and they love to fill out forms.

But at this time, by far the largest group of people coming to the US to work are people from Mexico and Central America, who enjoy resources neither monetary nor educational, at least in the sense of education recognized in the personnel offices of the sparkling office parks, where they are more likely to find themselves replenishing wilted beds of pansies than arranging the schedule of the Sixth Vice President for Project Implementation.

These are stalwart, courageous young men (and some women) who come from little blink and you'll miss it towns in Guerrero and Oaxaca, from even smaller mountain villages in Michoacan, from the countryside of Nayarit and Chiapas, who may introduce themselves in the old style, Juan Lopez, para servirle a usted y la Virgencita de Guadalupe, men, and soon-to-be men with little brown felt scapularios around their necks, made by their grandmothers, put over their heads when she blessed them for the journey north, as also blessed them their mothers, their fathers, men and soon-to-be men who can work faster and better and harder than any native born Estadosunidense, and yes, they will do it for 90 hours a week for next to nothing, and live 12 in an apartment, sleeping on the floor and eating nothing but beans and tortillas, because in this way they can send money back home to their viejos, and if they scrimp even more, in a year, maybe less, they can buy paisage for la verdadera, and once she is there, and their child is born, your son's boss, maybe his Senator, his President is born. (Not that you will mind by then, as you learn Spanish from your grandchildren who call you Lito, even though not a single one has their mother's blue eyes) And back in the pueblito, where once leaned a stick and leaf house now stands a sturdy house of concrete blocks, two whole rooms, and outside are goats. Their parents and little sister will be OK. She is even going to school now, since 3 of the brothers have come. She will be able to work in Mexico, and care for the aging parents, meet an educated man, and her children will also go to school.

The process of reclaiming the continent is well underway.

No special card, no set of initials, not even 50 cents more an hour, can compare with that.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

All Signs Point to the Top

President Truman had a famous sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said: "The Buck Stops Here." He recognized that real leadership involves accountability for the good and bad in decision-making.

Fast-forward a half century and we have to deal with this:
A former White House aide under indictment for obstructing a leak probe, I. Lewis Libby, testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded "National Intelligence Estimate" on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case.

The court papers from the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, do not suggest that Mr. Bush violated any law or rule. However, the new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter.

Bloggers such as BooMan, the ladies of firedoglake, and Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo have been doing yeoman's work at sifting through the details of this twisted tale of revenge and treason that is still casting a wide net over government officials who put political opportunism over their duties as stewards of the U.S. Constitution.

This entire investigation is toppling the dominoes one-by-one and hopefully by the end of it we will the learn the truth of how the nation and world were coerced into preemptive war.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Diner with Duke and DuctapeFatwa:Part II

What follows is our second installment of "Diner with Duke and DuctapeFatwa: A liberal discussion of immigration".
To read part I see: Here


Thanks for taking the time to plow through the proposal. As I said in the opening, I am trying to deal with realities of immigration reform as they are and not as I wish they would be, so with that in light I will try to address your concerns.

You are not the first one to question the "assimilation" aspects of the plan, so I will explain my thinking on that first:

First off when I use the term assimilation it refers solely to fostering a climate by which emigrants are given the opportunities and resources necessary to enable them compete on an equal basis with those fortunate enough by birth to be "entitled" to the "American dream".
We must face the fact that until the time comes when this nation actually begins to seriously look at bilingual education for ALL it's children, we are at least two to three generations away from nation where the inability to speak English is not one of the greatest limiters of economic success for emigrants.
At the present time there are two major factors that determine whether an emigrant toils away at a low paying, exploitive and often dangerous job or has the ability to escape the cycle of exploitation: attaining legal status/citizenship and speaking English. Studies show that when an emigrant has the opportunity to do one or both of these things their economic security is increased exponentially.(see DMI report on immigration reform, CSUP report on day labor)

As to your point about immigrants working 18 hour days and having little time to study, that is one of the main reasons I tried to tie the success of the emigrant directly to monetary incentives to employers. Hopefully having an equity stake in their employees and their ability to attain language skills and "move through" the system would foster a "culture of learning" in the workplace. As I pointed out, we would hopefully start to see employers setting up mentoring, learning and "language transition" programs in the workplace if only for pure monetary reason. It would save them money and eventually make their workplaces more productive.
Given these current realities, I see fostering language skills, not as a limiter or destroyer of emigrant culture and cultural diversity, but rather as providing emigrants with the tools to thrive in the current environment. Would I like to see a truly bi-lingual nation more in tuned with rest of the world where it is the norm for people to speak numerous languages?… of course … but at that present time I don't see that happening in the near future. I certainly do not see change coming soon enough for the millions of emigrants already here, stuck in a cycle of exploitation and economic insecurity.

Under the present system, the powers that be have created a perpetual underclass of illegal workers who can be exploited at will
and have no way to escape the cycle of abuse. The only way to break this cycle is to provide emigrants with a guaranteed path to legalization/citizenship. At the present time that path requires a certain level of English language skills, and this is why I believe it is important to foster those skills. The only way for emigrants to protect their rights right now is to make sure they have the same rights as "native born" residents, and the only way to do that is to give them legal status that cannot be revoked at whim by the changing political climes. Anything short of that leaves millions of current and future emigrants in jeopardy.

I will try to address some of your other concerns:

As to the "bulkiness" of the plan, form filling and fee paying.

The plan actually plays out much simpler than it appears on paper. It simply takes the money already paid into social security by employers and employees and re-directs it to incentives, immigrant services and processing. Currently most emigrants pay into SS and the tax system an never receive any benefits (your Barbara Bush analogy is quite correct)
All I propose is that instead of allowing this money to be dispersed into the general SS fund, we take it and use it for the direct benefit emigrants.

Unlike other plans this one does not call for punitive or exploitive fees to be paid in order to enter the system. The emigrant simply uses his/her "green card" number as a replacement for the fake Social Security numbers that he/she is already using.

The only "hard part" I see in the plan is the background check process … but that responsibility would fall upon both the US government and the government of the country of origin… no different really from the current visa/ green card/ citizenship system all ready in place… except in scope. But that is the price paid by governments in our current climate of hysteria…If you want to whip the people up into a frenzy of fear, you must deal with the consequences… if that means having to actually check the records of emigrants for criminal and/or "terrist" ties so be it. At least under this plan with all well-meaning emigrants having the ability to enter the country "legally" through authorized points of entry, they could take all the resources currently used to chase and capture hard working people trying to make a better life, and use them to actually prevent those who should not be coming into this country from doing so.

Diner with Duke and DuctapeFatwa: A liberal discussion of immigration

While James is away taking care of some "real world" business, he's been kind enough to lend us his blog for a while to allow us to ramble on in hopes that you, his regular readers, will find it entertaining and hopefully informative. What follows is a week-long series of articles recounting a debate we recently had about the hot issue du jour: immigration reform. It focuses on a diner party where we discuss a proposal to reform immigration offered up Here ( it's quite long and detailed, so be warned). So sit back, enjoy the meal, the company and the discussion. Bon Appetit.


You have been spirited away to an undisclosed location. The blindfold made you a little nervous at first, but the smooth hum of the limo, the strains of Verdi, the fragrance of sandalwood, soothe your other senses, and after a while you find it quite pleasant.

Your vision restored, you slowly take in your surroundings. Quite elegant. Having left your shoes outside the door at the polite prompt of your guide, your feet sink into soft silk carpets, inches deep, centuries old. A delicious and indefinable fragrance assails your nostrils. And there they are. Reclining comfortably on embroidered cushions, rug piled upon rug, you lower yourself rather awkwardly, you think, onto even softer carpets, plump, resilient pillows welcome you. Are you here to sleep, or eat? Before you can ponder this, the dishes begin to arrive. And arrive.

There is yebeg wot from sunny Ethiopia, moles, both red and green, from Mexico, coq au vin for those with a taste for a taste of France, kashmiri lamb, that fragrance you smelled on the way in? No, that must be the Bi Bim Bop. Or that mound of rice, something. Maybe more lamb? A huge platter of everything tandoori appears, steaming tureens of ground nut stew, crawfish etoufee, cochinitas piviles wienershcnitzel?

Trays of every kind of bread, injera, tortillas, naan, paper thin pancakes for the moo shoo, you thought, but Duke is rolling yebeg wot into one, making a taco. He adds kim chi from the fantastic array of relishes and condiments, creamy raita, salsas of every variety, hot mango chutney, little dishes of things you have no idea what they are, but Ductape Fatwa is piling them onto his chicken tikka burrito. Hands fill your plate, urge you to make tacos from the world’s finest foods.

A familiar gurgle, your glass is filled with a 72 Clos de Vougeout. You gulp, then sip, taste, savor. Finally you understand that the delightful aroma you smelled upon entering is all these things, all these things together. Maybe this is heaven. What did you do todeserve this? All you thought you did was read Duke’s immigration plan, on his blog, and now here you are, indescribably delicious flavors fill your mouth, a friendly hand refills your wine glass. In between bites of global tacos, they talk. You listen, quite busy with your own world bonding of tastes and textures. You put a dab of coq au vin on a naan. And just a soupcon of those preserved onions.

I read this when he posted it on another blog. I do appreciate the time and effort he has put into it.

Before commenting further I will confess my bias. I do not consider that the US has any authority to tell the sons and daughters of the indigenous people of the Americas that they cannot move from one part of their continent to the other.

I'm not sure how anxious most people coming to the US from Mexico and Central America would be to fill out forms. I do not think that, due to history, there is a great level of trust in US officialdom, and if you remember, during the Amnesty, those who bought letters to arreglar were in the minority. While Amnesty turned out not to be a trick, in my opinion, that single event, especially again, considering the history, both before and since, has not elevated that level of trust sufficiently to make some aspects of his plan practical.

Another bias I will confess. I am not an "assimilation" fanatic. In fact, I can't even claim to consider it particularly desirable, aside from things like driving on the right side of the road, and if one has papers purchased from Washington, waiting for the police in the case of auto accidents, or matters of convenience, like practicing "hora de aqui" when going for job interviews, and calling in sick when one is sick, as opposed to showing up once one is well.

I see a lot of areas for improvement in his idea of forcing everyone who fills out these forms and pays the fees to learn English.

First, as a practical matter, it is not necessary any more to speak English in the US if you speak Spanish. One or the other will make life much easier. I am reminded of a guy I saw a couple of years ago on CNN who made the very good point that if your children do not speak Spanish, and they are not learning it in school, you should demand to know why. If you have hopes that they will one day be employable.

Being bilingual is a distinct advantage in the workplace, though Duke does not mention anything about requiring employers to learn Spanish.

Nor does he address what is, in my experience, the major obstacle faced by people who actually want to learn English: They tend to work 18 hours a day, and as anyone knows, learning a second language is not something that happens in a classroom anyway. A class can be a great help, but the determining factor in whether one learns a second language or not is how much one hears it outside the classroom.

So a program designed to obligate people to learn a second language is essentially a non-starter. One, it's not something that can be done unless there is a sincere and strong desire for the language for its own sake. Two, anything that requires people to forfeit hours of work in order to attend a class will simply reduce even further the number of people who fill out the forms, and three, it will make little difference even if someone attends a class if the class is the only place the person hears English, Which brings us back

to my original point that it is not necessary to speak English to live and work in the US.

This aspect of the program also appears to make the assumption that everyone who arrives in the US seeking to work is literate in Spanish. I have seen too many English as Another Language classes that quickly evolved into adult literacy classes to express much optimism that Duke's program participants will fit so readily into the slots he desires.

On the whole, the program looks complicated to me, and I cannot imagine that it would seem any less so to someone from a small village in Guerrero who may or may not be able to read and write in Spanish or have a positive prior history of exposure to electric light, though he may, and probably does have many other very valuable skills.

It appears to be a rather bulky process whose main purpose is to weed out criminals, which, while admirable, is just not applicable commensurate with the sheer volume of requisitos and tramites he would inflict on his indigenous brothers when weighed against the incidence of dangerous career criminals who have crossed masquerading as just another worker.

People who come to the US to work, who cross deserts without water, who endure beatings, sexual assault, robbery, and risk their lives and the possibility of never seeing again those loved ones back home for whom they do all this, are not interested in committing crimes. If they were, they would be more likely to go to Cancun or Acapulco, where the white folks are more likely to be carrying cash and/or valuables, and/or be careless with them.

The last thing someone whose family back home is food insecure, and has undertaken such a dangerous process in order to feed them wants is problems. Filling out forms, paying fees, all that rigamarole are problems not too far down the scale from problems with the law or with the migra. Nobody wants to get caught by the migra, get deported and have to do the whole process over again. Which they do, another factor that I wonder if Duke is aware of. When people are caught by the migra and returned to Mexico, they simply come back, often the same day.

I do agree that some sort of accountablility is needed. The majority of people who come to work are young men between the ages of 16 and 25, most away from home for the first time. They drive cars. Thus it is better for road safety if people are issued drivers licenses, complete with fingerprints, without regard to immigration status. The prints can then be checked against the famous US databank of fingerprints of dangerous criminals, and no matter whether the individual is using his real name or not (most don't) he will be using his real fingerprints.

I am also opposed to the practice of witholding from peoples' pay, social security taxes when they will never receive any social security, and the overtaxing of these very low income workers, most of whom do not know how to manipulate their W-4 forms, therefore making the government a gift of the money, as they cannot apply for a refund, because they are using Barbara Bush's social security number. While this is not a problem for the majority, who work as independent contractors, or informally and in cash, it is still an injustice that needs to be corrected for the benefit of the ones who are exploited in this way.

Especially since the future of the social security program is now somewhat shaky, to say the least, it would make more sense in my opinion, to make participation in this program optional, and make this known to the immigrant community using every means possible, from signs in Spanish posted in several locations in the workplace, radio and TV ads, etc., as well as information on how to complete the W-4 form so that only one's actual tax is withheld.

I am also in favor of requiring employers to pay people in accordance with the minimum wage laws, which God knows are minimal enough, and require strict adherence to rules of breaks and overtime, and encourage reporting of any violation, which will be taken, investigated, and prosecuted without regard to the immigration status of the worker who made the complaint, which can be anonymous.

With all the money that Duke's program would cost, these simple measures that would actually benefit the workers could be employed, and there would be plenty left over to outfit US borders as they should be, with free coke machines, rest rooms, including changing tables for moms, and big signs saying "Bien Venido! Toma Coca-Cola bien fria en botella"

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Heading out of town for a few days

Not that I've had much time to post blogging material with more responsibilities than I would care to count, and one can imagine that the last few days have been a zoo.

Anyhoo, several people have agreed to blogsit while I tend to matters elsewhere - Man Eegee, Duke1676, and Ductape Fatwa. They will be posting some material that you probably will find at their fine blogs (you can learn more by reading their profiles). The first two cats offer a wealth of knowledge on matters such as immigration and Latino-American politics. The last cat is in a class by himself - his work both at his own blog and over at the Booman Tribune can be a mixture of insightful, entertaining, infuriating, and just plain provocative (in other words, precisely the qualities I like in a human being).

I know my blog will be in good hands. As time permits, I might head to one of the internet cafes and see how it's going.

Viva Las Vegas!