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Archives for Immigration

Jobs Week for Mexico


It’s “Jobs Week” in the John McCain for President campaign, focusing on policies that will help create jobs in the American economy. Keep taxes low, balance the Federal budget, making health care more affordable and establishing energy independence will help create jobs, according to the GOP Presidential contender.

But the bad feelings between McCain campaign and the Republican party’s more conservative supporters over the nominees outspoken moderation on immigration is clouding the discussion. At the heart of the jobs debate, is the question of immigration. Unlike during past recessions, when immigrants were blamed for coming here and stealing American jobs few people are making that argument. Instead, the consensus seems to be that the immigrants who are here are working jobs in America, but they aren’t necessarily taking American jobs.

In fact, the first question any uninterested observer should ask about the American economy is, why create jobs if we are importing labor? Because we are doing just that. America is importing labor when we outsource jobs to India or China. We import labor when we hire illegal immigrants to cook our food and clean our toilets. These are all jobs Americans could do, but even with unemployment increasing by the tens-of-thousands, we’re not.

Before my brother and his family stayed in my apartment a couple weeks ago, I tried hiring some help to clean the place up. I asked many of my friends for referrals, and they extolled the virtues of Google Language Tools when dealing with their maids. But when one question came up – does he or she have the right to legally work in the United States? – the silence was deafening.

I went the safe route and hired a service, so they would have all the employer liability, but even then, only one of the three team members spoke English. Clearly the 6.8% of California workers on the unemployment list have not been looking for work cleaning toilets in West Hollywood.

But as John McCain revises his position on immigration as quickly as Barack Obama decides to look at the facts on the ground into consideration when he decides what to do in Iraq, one angle to the immigration debate gets left out. More than securing our borders and offering amnesty to undocumented immigrants, the best way to solve the problems at America’s southern border is to create jobs…Mexican jobs.

While it is unadvisable to make sweeping statements about millions of people at once, it seems clear that the reason for the large numbers of undocumented workers in America is for better economic opportunities. And when “economic opportunity” means being a dishwasher or line cook, you know that things must be bad back home. And if they hated their families enough to get away from them by heading north, then why keep sending money back?

Unfortunately, on the campaign trail, the position of creating jobs in Mexico is not much of a winner if you’re running for President of the United States. Instead, it is being danced around, referred to as part of more general discussions of trade issues and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Senator McCain is an ardent supporter of NAFTA and all free trade. Conversely, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama caused a stir back in February when he said that NAFTA, “ships jobs overseas and force parents to compete with teenagers for minimum wage at Wal-Mart,” and that he wanted to renegotiate the 1993 deal. .

Closing America’s border to free trade, however, would probably create a giant sucking sound of immigrants coming north as lost jobs in maquiladoras make the perceived economic opportunity of minimum wage jobs in America even greater, especially if President Obama increases the minimum wage, to boot!

On the other hand, Republican John McCain has gone out on a limb and embraced free trade with the same fervor that he has embraced the equally popular Iraq War. It’s dangerous politically, but smart as a policy. Keeping free trade with Mexico creates jobs south of the border producing everything from tomatoes to Volkswagens.

Only if the opportunity gap between Mexico and the United States can be closed will illegal immigration cease to be an issue. We can close that gap by tearing down America’s economy, or by helping build Mexico’s economy and creating Mexican jobs. I’d hope we can all agree on the latter.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:28 AM | Permalink

Out of Your Cars, Off of the Oil


Over the last week, Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have engaged in a serious policy debate over energy policy. With oil pushing $140 a barrel, and gasoline breaking $5 a gallon in some parts of California, the debate shows the contrasts between the two candidates and, unfortunately, the shortsightedness of American politics in general.

John McCain’s proposals to bring down energy costs are based primarily on the economic theories of supply and demand. McCain wants to increase supplies by allowing offshore drilling and domestic exploration, and constrain demand by challenging the private sector to develop new, gas-sipping technologies. What else would you expect from a Republican?

Barack Obama’s idea for bringing down oil and gas prices, however, should offend anyone who got a passing grade in their freshman economics class in college. Obama’s plan to bring down gas prices would be to tax oil companies’ profits. Of course, after those profits are taxed the cost of the tax would have to be passed on to the revenue-generating side of the equation, to the consumer. Obama would then redistribute these taxes to help poorer Americans pay at the pump. What else would you expect from a Democrat?

But what we need in America are not partisan “solutions” like those but real alternatives for Americans to stop using gasoline altogether. The best way to end America’s dependence on foreign oil is to get Americans to stop using oil. And the fastest way to accomplish this in a long-term way is to adopt new transportation and planning policies which allow Americans to abandon their automobiles altogether.

Out of the blue this weekend, my parents commented that they really liked my story about the cobwebs growing on my car eight weeks ago then struck the fear of God asking me if I thought they could live in my neighborhood without a car. After catching my breath, I found the polite response: “I am sure you could live without a car in Texas, too.”

But, really, such a lifestyle is impossible in a subdivision outside San Antonio’s Loop 1604, but there are plenty of parts of the city where such a lifestyle would be possible as long as two elements are present: density and mass transit.

Detroit won’t like it and neither will our “friends” the Saudis, but if enough Americans abandon the idea that they must have a half-acre estate with the white picket fence, a haven best accessed by car, not subway, bus or train, we really could use less oil. Instead of suburban sprawl, we should pursue a model of Jeffersonian Urbanism, where we live in dense, but walkable and livable, neighborhoods. Only when we can get out of our cars will we forget about the price of gas.

With transportation infrastructure – highways and subways – the axiom is and has always been, “build it and they will come.” Expand the freeway and, over time, people will just move further away from their jobs and the freeway will be congested. Build a subway and jobs and housing density will increase near the subway stops until a natural built-in ridership exists. One clearly reduces car and oil dependency, the other doesn’t.

So let’s take those royalties from John McCain’s offshore drilling, or the receipts from Barack Obama’s windfall profits tax, and invest them in mass transit. Let’s also ease environmental rules not on oil companies, but on towns and cities, so that they can use their planning process to create livable, dense, walkable, urban neighborhoods. Do that, and only those who choose to live a car-oriented lifestyle would complain about gas prices. But it would be their choice, and American’s don’t look kindly on poor lifestyle choices.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:00 AM | Permalink

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Propose


The motto of the United States Marine Corps is simple and profound: “Semper Fidelis“, Latin for “always faithful.” And, as any Marine can tell you, there is no such thing as being a “former” member of the corp. “Once a Marine,” goes the saying, “always a Marine.”

But the government these men and women serve does not always live up to the promise of loyalty it asks its members to make. That’s a sleeping problem for the thousands of gay and lesbians who have served our nation honorably in the Marines, or any branch of the Armed Services. At any time, a recent veteran could risk losing his or her health, education or other benefits, even after years of service and their spouses will never be treated equally under the law.

Even after the California Supreme Court’s historic decision granting marriage equality, not all Californians have the right to marry – and those who don’t are the ones who deserve the right most. With a nervy nonchalance, in it’s Q&A on Gay Marriage, the Los Angeles Times states that, “Marrying or attempting to marry a person of the same sex is grounds for dismissal from the service.”

That just seems just plain wrong particularly since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies let many gays in the military serve with honor and distinction. But the awkward compromise of the Clinton era doesn’t just apply to those on active duty. According to the Service Members Legal Defense Network, an organization that fights for equal rights for gays in the military, the injustice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell extends far beyond one’s enlistment. It covers veterans of all wars and of all ages.

Regardless of when they served, gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses are denied equal treatment in life and death. Although my grandfather violated military laws by joining the Army before he was eighteen, the enthusiastic soldier lays buried in the cemetery at Fort Sam Houston. Next to him lay my grandmother, who never served a day in her life but was entitled to be buried next to her husband as a dutiful – and legally recognized – spouse. Such a privilege would not be afforded to a gay draftee from World War II or Vietnam.

It is even worse for the men and women who are just now returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. While nearly three thousand service members have been dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, tens of thousands more have left the service after their first enlistment. Although they survived in the closet for years and finished their active duty honorably, as they return to civilian life, they must still keep the closet door shut, or risk being discharged and imperiling their veterans’ benefits. Soldiers, sailors or marines who are no longer on active duty are subject to the provisions of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. So are veteran members of the National Guard, Reserves or Individual Ready Reserves even after they have left active duty and are allegedly living civilian lifestyles. For all these men and women, that means no statements regarding their sexual orientation, nor sodomy, nor hugging, nor hand-holding…and most certainly no marriage!

The burden on these veteran reservists is already great enough. After putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom in combat, they are returned to civilian life with a years-long noose around their neck: the threat that, one day, they may very likely get called back to duty.

For some, this burden can result in a near paralysis, where the uncertainty of their future keeps them from making any commitments beyond the time that they know they have for certain in civilian life. And for our gay and lesbian veterans, the military is telling them that they must go it alone. Anyone who says they support the troops should find this contradiction morally repugnant.

According to SLDN, not only is gay marriage out of the question, but so are accepting domestic partnership health care benefits, joining a group like the Log Cabin Republicans, or being added to a partner’s USAA policy (or vice versa), if the law is strictly followed. And these are rules governing civilians in strictly civilian settings.

For gay and lesbian veterans, the unfortunate reality is that, until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, they must hope that the ones they love, and those that love them, are more abiding by the spirit of Semper Fi than the government they’ve so loyally served.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:43 AM | Permalink

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