Happy (Original) Illegal Immigrant Day!

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

28 November 2007
Eric Fried

It may be the tryptophan-induced stupor left in the wake of the Thanksgiving feast, but I find myself unable to resist touching the electrified third rail of American politics, the topic that promises to be the most contentious issue of 2008, just like 2007: immigration. Indeed, the question of providing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants has at least temporarily sidelined the Hillary for President juggernaut.

Thanksgiving celebrates America’s original Illegal Immigrants, the pilgrims. They had no permission to come here, no visas, no documents at all. Seeking a better life, they simply settled here. Lucky for them, the locals fed and helped them, rather than arresting and deporting them. Given how things turned out for the Native Americans, maybe they should have had better border patrol agents.

Immigration is a complex, emotional issue that divides both major parties. There are rational arguments on all sides, as well as a nasty undercurrent of racism and xenophobia. Admit it: there wouldn’t be half this much collective angst if the majority of current immigrants were fair-skinned and spoke English flawlessly. Even suggesting comprehensive, rational immigration reform – rather than building a Berlin Wall along the border and rounding up 12 million current residents – can get you run out of a town on a rail.

Obviously, every nation needs to control its borders, at least for national security. Remember, however, that our two worst terrorist incidents had nothing to do with people sneaking across the Rio Grande. Most of the September 11 hijackers came here with expedited visas from Saudi Arabia, while Timothy McVeigh and his deluded militia buddies were homegrown sociopaths. Building 2,000 miles of fence along our southern order – while completely ignoring the threat from those oh-so-polite Canadians and their socialized medicine – would not have prevented either attack.

What draws people here are jobs, jobs at the bottom of our economic ladder that still pay way more than they can make at home. We already have unenforced laws against employing undocumented immigrants, so what’s the point of passing new ones? Forget about rounding up poor laborers in the Home Depot parking lot – just throw a few CEO’s in the slammer and the entire problem would dry up overnight. Our economy has always relied on immigrant labor, and without it, our agriculture, construction and tourism industries would collapse. Americans would do those jobs for better pay and benefits, but would we pay more for those products? You say YOU would? Then why do you shop at union-busting Wal-Mart, the chief importer of slave-labor Chinese goods? When I hear some of the same people opposing immigration allegedly to protect the American worker who also virulently oppose labor unions, methinks they doth protest too much. We just need to restore the National Labor Relations Board to being a pro-labor body, and vigorously enforce labor laws for all workers, immigrant or not, and the incentive to hire people hiding in the shadows would disappear.

There is a liberal, quasi-environmental argument against immigration, that goes like this: population growth drives pollution, resource depletion, and global warming. Most of America’s population growth is caused by immigration, not birth rates. When people come here and participate in our wasteful lifestyle, they do use more energy and generate more garbage. Therefore, we protect our natural heritage by pulling up the drawbridge. True, GLOBAL overpopulation is the root cause of much of the world’s trouble, but people are people, no matter what side of an imaginary line they live on. Besides, if you think immigration is a problem now, wait until climate change swamps Bangladesh and drought ravages Mexico, sending unprecedented waves of desperate people our way.

The answer is to make our economy more sustainable, reform the current global trade policies that benefit multinational corporations at the expense of both American and foreign workers, and grapple with global warming, not throw people off the lifeboat and back into the stormy sea.

The Sky Won’t Fall if More State Employees Join Unions

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

21 November 2007
Eric Fried

Listening to the hysterical over-reaction of Colorado conservatives to Governor Ritter’s recent executive order on state employees and unions, you would think he had unlocked the gates of the Tsar’s Winter Palace to allow rampaging Bolshevik mobs to seize power. Businessmen cried foul, Republican politicos began synchronized foaming at the mouth, and the anti-labor publisher of the Denver Post ran a screaming front page editorial calling our Governor a “toady to labor bosses.”

So what exactly did the Guv do? Did he require state employees to join unions? Mandate collective bargaining? Break the bank through secret agreements with public sector unions? No, no and no. State workers already have the right to join unions, and tens of thousands are currently members. All Ritter did, as his spokesperson Evan Dreyer put it, was to “create a framework for the state to enter into partnerships to discuss a variety of workplace issues.”

Unions are the most basic form of democracy for the majority of us who work for a living. Unions allow us to talk to each other, to organize a small counterbalance to the overwhelming power of management, and to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. If you prefer democracy to authoritarianism, what could possibly be wrong with that?

Will a more unionized state work force cost taxpayers more money? Maybe yes, maybe no. Budgets have to be approved by the legislature and the governor, and tax hikes have to be approved by the voters, so unions cannot unilaterally raid the piggy bank. Besides, they are prohibited from striking, so their power is quite limited. On the other hand, employees know best where to cut fat and increase efficiency. Empowered employees are productive employees. If management had listened to employees, they might have avoided the boneheaded information technology decisions that will wind up costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace failed software in welfare, elections and other sectors of government. Most of us are workers as well as taxpayers, and when wages start rising in the public or private sector, we benefit from the overall rising economic effect. Unlike “trickle-down” economics, this actually works. It’s why you water a tree from the roots, not the crown.

Ritter’s critics claim he must be anti-business because he is pro-union. Why? Can’t you be both pro-union and pro-business? Are the interests of working people and businesspeople fundamentally irreconcilable? Who’s playing the class war card now?

Moderate businesspeople were part of the coalition that gave Ritter his electoral landslide, but union workers were more important when it came time to make phone calls, knock on doors, and get voters to the polls. Ritter has given business plenty of goodies, and he owes something to his labor supporters as well.

Are unions obsolete, as some ideologues claim? Have employers stopped shutting factories and shipping jobs overseas? Have they stopped shifting health care costs to employees, lowering wages, and reneging on pension obligations? Are the regulatory agencies steadfastly protecting consumers and the environment from unsafe products and industrial pollution? When we can answer yes to all those questions, THEN unions will be obsolete. Of course, pigs will fly before then. Indeed, the declining power of unions corresponds to the decline of the American middle class, and the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the top one percent. Not only are unions not obsolete, they are essential to restoring the American dream.

If Ritter really were in the pocket of government unions, “we would have seen legislation granting full collective bargaining rights,” as Jo Romero, president of the Colorado Federation of Public Employee, told the Colorado Statesman newspaper.

Governor Ritter, kudos for your executive order. Only next time, announce pro-labor policies proudly at a Monday-morning press conference, rather than sneaking them in late on a Friday afternoon. Unions are nothing to be ashamed of. They are something to be thankful for.

City’s Holiday Task Force Gets It Right – Government Must be Neutral on Religion

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

14 November 2007
Eric Fried

Here’s something you don’t hear much right now: the Fort Collins Holiday Display Task Force got it basically right. A diverse group of thoughtful volunteers labored countless hours to come up with an inclusive solution to the city’s dilemma of what to display on government property around the winter holidays, and they delivered a reasonable answer. What they also delivered, of course, was more ammunition to those who hype their phony “War on Christmas” for partisan political purposes.

For years, Fort Collins displayed only Christian symbols, until a local Jewish group asked to have a menorah included. Had city leaders simply said “Sure, why not?” the controversy would have been stillborn. For reasons unknown, our city fathers balked at including the Chanukkah candelabra, and instead did what smart politicians the world over do: they tossed it to a task force to take the heat. Mission accomplished!

The basic problem for the city – for all government – is the US Constitution, especially the First Amendment, which guarantees us both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I know some of you are deeply committed to the fairy tale that America was established as a Christian nation, but it just ain’t so. To believe that, you have to believe the Founding Fathers amazingly forgot to write that theological preference into our bedrock law; indeed they neglected to mention God, Jesus, the Bible or Christianity at all. They did specify that no religious test would ever be required for public office, and that Congress could pass no law regarding an establishment of religion. (Later amendments extended this guarantee to all the states as well.) Maybe you have made up your mind and don’t want to be confused by facts, but if you read history at all you discover most of the Founders were Deists, not Christians, and some were actively hostile to the Dobsons, Robertsons and Falwells of their day. This nation has ALWAYS been multi-cultural and multi-religious, with the early population split among European settlers, African slaves, and Native Americans. America has always been officially secular, not Christian. It’s part of what makes us great.

Besides, American Christmas has virtually nothing to do with Jesus. For one thing, we don’t know for sure when he was born, but the gospels indicate spring, not winter. Being brilliant marketers, the early churchmen moved Jesus’ official birthday bash to correspond to an existing Roman Winter Solstice holiday, when the days begin to get longer and light returns to our world. When you hear that “Christmas is the reason for the season,” that’s another myth. Drinking and dancing to cheer us up on the darkest, coldest days of the year – THAT’S the original reason for the season! Also, Jesus was not big on maxxing out credit cards at the mall. As I recall, he threw the moneychangers out of the temple, lived communally and told people to give away all their stuff, not acquire more. Finally, most of our revered Christmas symbols – decorated evergreen trees, wreaths, and yule logs – are adapted from pre-Christian northern European traditions.

If folks in Fort Collins want to celebrate the (non)birthday of Jesus through an orgy of materialism that directly contradicts his message, and to sanctify their commercialism through the use of pagan symbols, it doesn’t offend me, personally. What does offend me are members of the 90 percent majority playing the victim card, claiming discrimination if the government does not officially endorse their chosen faith. Separation of church and state is NOT hostility to religion, it’s neutrality, and it’s what has allowed both church and state to thrive in America. Every home, store and church in Fort Collins is free to decorate their property with all the trees and lights and crosses they can handle.

Let’s hope our city council listens to its own task force, and doesn’t cave in to pressure. That’s all I’m asking Santa for this Christmas.