Immigration and Ockham’s Razor

July 4, 2010

Fourth of July Note: Before posting this item, I passed it by some friends, both conservative and liberal and somewhere in between. None has unfriended me on FaceBook and they still take my phone calls, so it’s just possible there’s some truth in common sense. And isn’t this great country all about common sense, common people and the commonwealth? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.”

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I am continually amazed at the people who think immigration reform is a controversial topic of some sort. When you approach it like a true American, it’s so simple that even a child couldn’t screw it up.

Thank God we have Congress to handle it for us. Or not handle it, as the case may be.

ABOUT THIS COUNTRY

The United States is a really special country and part of what makes us special is our history of accepting all kinds of people from all kinds of places and turning them into AMERICANS. We’re all hyphenated Americans of a sort, but most of us end up with the second half (xyz-AMERICAN) in all caps.

The ability to take in boatloads of people and transform them in a generation or two is such a quiet and consistent process in this land that we sometimes forget it exists. Like the cleanup teams at Disneyland, the work is so silent and efficient that you can forget it’s going on.

ABOUT IMMIGRATION (THE LEGAL KIND)

We all take pride in saying this is a nation of immigrants and, in fact, most of us are no more than two or three generations removed from the people who grabbed a batch of clothes and a fry pan and hopped on some ship—in steerage. Most of us, I suspect, have actually met the person who was the first of our family to set foot on these shores, even if that person is no longer with us today.

We believe in the American Dream, the ability of strangers who know nothing of this country or its culture to become a part of us and to succeed. Many (most) of us recognize that the American Dream has been at work in our own families.

People come here to pursue the American Dream and you don’t see a whole lot of people begging for a chance to leave. The exit door is open, but there’s a lot of cobwebs on the hinges. The American Dream involves work and most people come to work. You can see it in the fast food joints, the donut shops, dry cleaners, landscaping companies, factories—pretty much anywhere that the wages are low and the work is difficult. It’s the first step on the ladder and they’re ready to jump on it.

Immigration is good for many reasons. It brings in new workers—people with drive and ideas—enriches our overall culture and builds our economy. Everyone in this country needs to eat, to sleep, to have a roof overhead, to attend school and buy clothes and pay for texts. Strip away all the political spinning and lies and you find that population growth builds the economy and immigration is a good way to build population.

By the way, population growth is one reason the United States might fare better than many European countries that are aging faster and have few younger workers to pay taxes. Whatever we might think about Social Security and Health Care Reform and other government programs, it’s an absolute fact that each of us pays less taxes than we would if there were fewer people to support the system. If anything, immigration is a good way to reduce the burdens per capita from unaffordable programs.

ABOUT IMMIGRATION (THE ILLEGAL KIND)

First, let’s stop saying politically correct things like “undocumented.” Using euphemisms makes people sound fearful, unable to address topics head-on.

The challenge in discussing illegal immigration is that the distinction is legality, not immigration. Lots of people who don’t like immigrants, other than their own grannies, will talk about immigrants as if all are illegal. Lots of people who see legality as a mere technicality talk about illegals as if they don’t represent a problem at all.

So we come to the question: Why does legality matter? If a person comes to work, as most do, why do we care if they come with papers or not?

There are two simple answers here:

First, if we cannot know whether Jose or Piotr or Winston has entered the country legally, we cannot know if Osama bin Laden is here, either. Knowing who is in the country is a national security issue. It’s not particularly dangerous when Pedro comes to harvest fruit or Mani overstays his visa to keep writing code, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore their presence. In the world of security, you can’t inspect only the bad guys, because they tend to hide among the good ones.

Second, illegal immigration creates a number of distortions in our country. Illegal immigrants are more likely to be abused in the workplace and less likely to report a crime. Illegal immigrants with native-born children run the risk of being deported, leaving their citizen offspring behind. Illegal immigrants are more likely to work for cash, and be off the tax rolls, although lots of American shrimp boat operators in the Gulf are suddenly discovering the downside of that gambit as they need to show BP how much income they’re losing.

The cost of illegal immigrants to the nation is really hard to calculate, although you can find very specific numbers trumpeted on both ends of the political noise machine. If an employer pays illegal immigrants in cash and provides no benefits, that employer’s income rises and he pays more taxes as a result. Assuming our law-abiding employer is actually paying the full amount of his taxes owed, the government might see a net gain in its income—because the employer is paying at a higher marginal tax rate than his worker. As money circulates through the economy, the total impact of Illegal/legal immigrants might not vary much, but there could be large displacements as local school boards get less, for example, and the state government or feds get more.

Illegal immigration also creates distortions in law enforcement. Local police have fewer cooperating witnesses when the victims of crimes have the threat of deportation hanging over their heads. More federal dollars go to tracking down and deporting criminals here illegally, people who would be simply local/state targets if they were citizens or, in some cases, legally within our borders. As a result, less federal time and dollars go to anti-terrorism efforts.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

Okay, assuming everything above is true, which it is, what do we do? We benefit from immigration, but illegal immigration creates costly displacements in the economy. Is there, perhaps, a three-step solution to fix all of this?

Why, yes, there is.

1. Secure the borders. It costs much less to keep the border secure than to try to find and address issues across 50 states. By borders, I’m talking about the coasts and Canada, along with Mexico. This is a national security issue, not a Mexican immigrant issue. We do need to invest more heavily in the South, as a practical matter, but people who speak only of the southern border betray more of their beliefs than they might realize. This government, like every government, has all good reason to know who is and isn’t coming into the country. Why waste money on immigration enforcement in the States when it takes about a week for a deported person to re-enter our space? Secure borders are a necessity. In fact, nothing works without secure borders, because people who are thrown out find it far too easy to come back.
2. Open the gates. Bring in immigrants by the truckload and encourage them to become citizens. Yeah, there’s no more room here, but that’s what they said when our grandparents were getting off the boat, too. We have room and we have opportunity—that American Dream thing we like to talk about. People on the left love Zero Growth when it comes to environment, but not immigration. People on the right love Zero Growth when it comes to immigration, but not the environment. They’re both wrong. When we make it easier to come legally, we reduce the incentive to come illegally. Fewer criminals enter, including terrorists, because the border is secure, and people who are deported are likely to stay deported, for the same reason. The good, hard-working people who want to become Americans will be able to do so and we will know how to keep the others out of our fine nation.
3. Create a path to citizenship. Let’s face facts. We aren’t going to deport 12-20 million people. First, it might not be possible for us to identify and process that many people in a lifetime and we would end up with multi-trillion-dollar costs in doing so. In addition, the movement of 12-20 million people, many of them employed and, contrary to public opinion, paying taxes, would cause gigantic disruptions to our economy. Not to mention the violent battles in the streets of our nation.

If we eliminate the impossible, as Sherlock Holmes said, we’ll arrive at the truth. The truth is that we would benefit immensely from having 12-20 million additional tax-paying, voting, engaged citizens. (NB: Republican fears that all will be Democratic votes might not come to pass. Contrary to much punditry, Latino doesn’t equal Liberal.) Bringing illegals out of the shadows, to the extent they are hiding now, will also accelerate their acculturation as Americans.

The Puritanical side of me believes all the illegal immigrants should have to pay fines and back taxes and otherwise jump through flaming hoops to become citizens. The common sense part of me says we should make the path attractive—even it it isn’t free—and naturalize as many as we can as fast as we can. It will be less expensive, less time consuming and less disruptive over the long term.

Sometimes, we make situations more complicated than they need to be. In seeking or insisting on the perfect solution, we give ourselves the excuse to provide no solution at all. The problem gets worse, as has been the case with government spending, Social Security shortfall, state pension programs, personal debt and so on. We pass the problem on to our children like an heirloom that is not only priceless but also unaffordable.

Every so often, Ockham’s Razor is the scalpel we need. Every so often, we must decide whether we want to be vindicated in our beliefs or simply choose to resolve an issue. Immigration reform is simple, if we want it enough to choose common sense, decency and practicality over ideology.

And, on this Fourth of July, isn’t it nice to recall that common sense, decency and practicality are fundamental strengths of this great nation?

You betcha.

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Velodrama

June 26, 2010

“When you’re a spy,” Michael Weston informs us, the key to survival is to trust no one and look for danger everywhere. The Burn Notice character has nothing on cyclists.

Yes, it’s summer again and all us weekend warriors are pumping up our tires and confidence as we take on deadly threats unimagined by mere mortals. It’s a miracle any of us survive, but miracles do happen. All you need is a little luck and the instincts of a ninja, plus a download of The Intersect. Sorry, wrong show.

On the surface, bicycling is a pleasant way to spend a weekend afternoon. Beneath the veneer, it’s mortal combat. When you’re a spy, you only wish you had the instincts of a savvy cyclist.

When you’re a cyclist, you watch out for mom. Not every mom and probably not your own mom, but the one coming out of the shopping center. Two kids in the back, Blue Tooth engaged, focused on her next errand, she’s MULTITASKING as she rolls across the sidewalk and noses into your slice of road. If you don’t move fast enough, she gets a new hood ornament.

When you’re a cyclist, you avoid killer sewers. Lots of towns use sewer grates with slats that are exactly the width of a bicycle tire, positioned lengthwise to catch tires and send cyclists headfirst over the handlebars. Try to avoid these deathtraps and you come dangerously close to the giant mirrors of that tricked-out mini-van driven by a Killer Mom. Do the guys in the Streets Department have a betting pool going each summer for that year’s head count? You gotta wonder.

When you’re a cyclist, road crews are your mortal enemy. When road work needs doing, the bike lane or sidewalk becomes a trash pit. Asphalt boulders and holes the size of canyons can blow a car tire, but they present an existential threat to pedal pushers. Hmm, do I want to drop into that hole in the ground and flip over or swerve left in front of that dump truck that’s closing in? Do the guys in the Streets Department have a betting pool…..?

When you’re a cyclist, you must yield to cars, trucks, boats, cars hauling boats, boats hauling mopeds and anything else that burns dinosaur poop instead of carbs. That’s on the street. On the bike path, we also have to yield to pedestrians, horses, deer and badgers. If it moves, or it doesn’t, we have to yield to it. We’re second-class citizens, but nobody protests on our behalf. We’re on our own, friendless, like John Rambo or Tony Hayward.

When you’re a cyclist, you survive by reading the signs and knowing they aren’t written for you. All signs are like that old game in which you end each fortune cookie message with the words, “in bed.” For us, the magic words are, “for cars.” No Outlet means No Outlet for Cars, which can be a lifesaver as a small sidewalk or footpath frees us from traveling on a 50 mph road.

When you’re a cyclist, you use cars as your protection. That guy who’s about to make a left turn across your path isn’t going to worry about you, but he won’t challenge oncoming traffic. If there are cars coming in the same direction as you, it’s safe to keep moving. If your side of the street is empty, it’s Defcon 1.

When you’re a cyclist, you know eye contact isn’t just for dating. It’s impossible for the driver on your left to miss you in your bright yellow Spandex and matching helmet. And yet, he’s achieving the impossible. He’s looking to the left, because he’s about to make a right turn and he wants to be sure nobody is going to hit him. He hasn’t bothered looking to the right—you can tell because he’s not giggling at how silly you look in yellow Spandex. To him, you are only an unlikely possibility, like the Loch Ness monster or cable guys who show up on time. Until you make eye contact, consider yourself a statistic.

There’s much more, of course, but you get the picture. That paunchy old guy who’s already having an asthma attack as he coasts down the driveway this morning? He’s a hero. Not just a hero, but a hero on par with Navy Seals, demolition squads and whoever it is that cleans up Grant Park after Taste of Chicago.

Summer cycling is a dance with

the Reaper. We only wish we had it as easy as burned spies.

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Chicken Butts are Forever

June 24, 2010

We’re sitting on the tarmac in St Louis. It was supposed to be Chicago, but one of those summer storms that sweeps across the Midwest sent us into a holding pattern and then we ran out of fuel and, well, American doesn’t fly ultralights, so we stopped at the nearest filling station.

I scored an upgrade to first class, sitting across from a dad and his daughter who were up front while mom and the other daughter were in back. I think the girl back in steerage with her mom was unaware of how cheated she was by all of this; she probably doesn’t even resent her sister for this abuse. Yet.

But the plane is on the ground now, so the second daughter comes up for a visit with her sister and it took me back in time, because they sounded just like my girls.

Do you know what?

Chicken butt.

Stop saying that.

It’s funny.

No it’s not. I don’t want you to do that anymore.

Okay.

You know what?

Chicken butt.

I told you ‘no.’

I know but it’s in my head.

How did chicken butt survive 20 years? Like Dracula or I Love Lucy reruns, it never sleeps, never disappears. Like that joke that goes, “So the policeman said, ‘Are you looking for trouble,” and Shut Up said. ‘How did you know?'”

Do these things go dormant for 37 years like the swine flu, only to rise up again with a vengeance to irritate moms and dads everywhere? Or maybe it’s the aunt who has all those cats in her house, the one who thinks she’s still hip and wants the kids to know she knows all the humor that kids know. Only the kids didn’t know it until she re-infected them.

Or maybe there’s some kind of passing of the torch within a secret society of children. Is the last kid to turn five instructed to turn to the newest four-year-old and pass on the humor of a thousand generations?

And it might be more than 1,000 generations. Biblical scholars report that Cain asked Abel, “Knowest ye whateth?” and Abel said, “Chicken butteth,” and it all went downhill from there.

Clearly, bad childhood humor has the survival skills of cockroaches and will outlive us all. As the girls were jabbering about chicken butts, I noticed the six-month-old boy in the first row. His mom was holding him, but he was paying just a bit too much attention to the conversation two rows back.

(Originally posted at 5minutesforparenting.com)

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Your Idiot Boss

June 21, 2010

Being the font of wisdom that I am, younger folks will sometimes ask me important questions, such as, “Do you want paper or plastic?” “Is that for here or to go?” and “Did you dress that way intentionally?”

Young people are learning new things every day, of course, and their education doesn’t end with graduation. Just like childhood (I bet I can climb all the way! How many of these can I fit in my nose?) the metamorphosis from teen to adult is a time of constant wonder that the newly independent are anxious to share.

Mom, you just don’t realize how hard it is to have a job and do your own laundry.
Dad, can you believe my landlord expects me to take out my own garbage instead of getting it from me?
Mom, you just don’t understand how much groceries cost.
Dad, you won’t believe how much money the government takes out of my paycheck. MY paycheck.

Forget it, Wonder Bread. The formative years aren’t ages 1-12. They’re 18-23. It’s a time of immense discovery for young adults and for immense smirking and giggling among parents everywhere.

Many of the greatest sources of wonder and bewilderment originate in the workplace, where the newest employees on the payroll discover all the failings of their employers and ask one of my favorite questions of all time: How did this idiot get to be my boss?

Alas, it is true. Like Mork from Ork and Benjamin Button, we regress as we advance in our careers. The person who can run the company after 40 hours of indoctrination must abide the foolish prattle of a clueless manager while waiting to show everyone how it should be done.

It is the ultimate irony. The same guy who was smart enough, insightful enough and farsighted enough to hire my young friends turns out, in the end, to be an idiot.

“Hiring me was the smartest thing he ever did,” they might say. “Other than that, it’s hard to believe he’s allowed to operate a cell phone. I’ve been here all of two weeks and I already understand the company better than he does.”

I have great sympathy for my young friends, as I also discovered the shocking ineptitude and idiocy of many bosses on the way to becoming an inept and idiotic boss myself. I know the temptation that comes from seeing things more clearly than the people at the top of the organization.

“I bring a fresh perspective and great analytical skills that are strangely absent anywhere in the company until now,” I would say. “In fact, my new boss hired me for exactly that reason, hoping I would tell her how she is screwing up and how she can do her job better.”

All of this is true, of course, but the really savvy novice will focus on something deeper than the incompetence that dwells on the surface. Perhaps the boss has a hidden talent, much like the X-Men or porn stars. Somewhere, behind the memos and the policies and the mind-numbing incoherence of their strategies, somewhere beneath the contradictory goals and illogical incentives and undeserved self-esteem, a genius could reside. After all, if a person so untalented could rise in the organization, they must know something. Right?

Right. If their skill set is not found in actually running the company, perhaps they are savants at getting promoted by their own bosses. If a new hire could have all the answers to running the company AND learn how to get promoted more quickly, there’s no end to the opportunity.

And so, young people, I suggest that you hold back from saving the company for just a few days and take the time to really study your boss. What did she do to get where she is now? How does she hide her incompetence from her own bosses? And how did THOSE doofuses get to the top? The answers to these questions are the keys to success.

Study them. Admire them. Mirror their behavior. If they can do it, you can do it faster and better. All you need is a good sense of humor and a whole lot of patience.

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$600 for Binoculars? YAKM!!!

June 9, 2010

My Sunday magazine supplement had a great article over the weekend about the best gift ideas for “dads and grads.” Notice how dads rank so high that we don’t even get our own gift list. Even worse, note how graduating females are assumed to want the same gifts as both 18-year-old high school seniors and 85-year-old men.

But I digress.

In the first paragraph, a gift expert assured us that “you don’t have to spend a ton of money to make sure your loved one feels special, whether it’s Father’s Day or graduation.” Or Arbor Day, Halloween or Festivus, or any other unrelated events that arrive at about the same time.

And then we have a list of four products which, combined, would cost $1,620. The cheapest is a handheld vacuum (Hint: don’t buy this for Mother’s Day, either.) and the most expensive are night vision binoculars. Because every graduate wants two things right out of school: binoculars and a job.

But I digress.

So what’s the best gift for grads and dads? The same thing that’s the best gift for everyone: Time.

As I’m overly fond of saying, you can’t make it, store it, replace it or experience it the same way twice. It’s the greatest gift in the world and, both free and priceless at the same time.

Of course, I could also use one of those long shoe horns that let you put on your shoes without having to bend over too much. And some light bulbs for the upstairs track light. Both are gifts I know I can use and they’re both in my size.

But I digress. Again.

I asked a bunch of dads what they wanted for Father’s Day and nobody asked for some high-tech gizmo or overpriced novelty item. They don’t want to be carted off to some new place they never went to before or receive an introduction to a new pastime like crochet or collectible plates.

All they wanted was some time with their families, an opportunity to relax and someone to share it with.

Take advantage of this sentiment. It’s about as close as we ever get to cuddling.

(Originally posted at 5minutesforparenting.com)

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WGN TV Interview

June 8, 2010

Watch Allison Payne interview Michael Rosenbaum, author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life, on superstation WGN TV.

http://www.wgntv.com/news/middaynews/middayfix/wgntv-author-michael-rosenbaum-your-life-here,0,3140200.story


The War of Perceptions

June 6, 2010

Considering how many Jews are involved in public relations and marketing, you’d think Israel would be getting better advice on how to present itself to the world. Time and again, the Israelis play into the hands of any provocateur or terrorist or rogue nation that tosses a live or verbal grenade their way.

Whether it’s their withdrawal from Gaza, counterattack against missile launching Palestinians, erection of a security fence that has been remarkably effective in preventing terror attacks…Israel never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity for favorable world opinion.

I understand their problem. They believe they are right. Because they believe they are right, they don’t worry about the PR.

That’s why they’re invariably a day or two or ten behind the opposition, scrambling to explain with words or overdue video the charges leveled by the other side. The latest example was the Israeli intercession with the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza, in which I read all kinds of reports about Israeli aggression long before I saw the video of so-called passengers beating the boarding IDF troops with clubs, chairs, poles…pretty much everything…and throwing at least one overboard.

Leon Klinghoffer, part two.

Aid comes in to Gaza every day, so the flotilla of ships could have delivered their supplies easily and legally through Israel. The point, though, was not to deliver aid, but to create a publicity event that would cast Israel in a bad light.

Ever the accommodating hosts, the Israelis complied.

IDF troops rappelled from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara with limited arms—actually a good thing, as they were quickly overpowered in many cases—and scant backup support. Troops were dropped into the middle of the crowd on the deck, which seems to this non-military strategist to be a slight miscalculation.

Worse, they didn’t stream it live from multiple angles. Instead of showing the organized enforcement of a blockade, the Israelis allowed the story to be rewritten by their opponents.

This is always the challenge when a democratic country is in conflict with less open neighbors. Arabs in Israel can voice their dissent, serve in the Knesset and broadcast their views. Journalists in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be tough on the Israeli government without fear of retribution by the government or armed militias.

When IDF troops act inappropriately, the Israelis investigate and punish them. It’s never enough punishment, or fast enough, for some critics, but it’s difficult to find an example of, say, Hamas investigating and punishing….oh, sorry, they’re all freedom fighters and deserving of honor on that side of the conflict.

But for Jews in Gaza…wait, are there any Jews in Gaza?

Never mind. The point is that this isn’t a war of right and wrong, of good and evil. And it’s only a war of weaponry in a very small respect.

In truth, it’s a battle for support and sympathy, a battle in which the stronger party is always presumed to be at fault and suffering, even if self-inflicted and self-perpetuated, draws sympathy.

Isarel is behind in this battle and it’s all too easy to concede, but this is the war Israel must be fighting. Frankly, the government is far, far behind on almost every front. Here’s one bit of simple advice to help them catch up: assume there is going to be video of anything you do, so bring your own camera crew and broadcast live to the world.

Be the first with the story, including a web stream, instead of showing up hours or days later with evidence that refutes earlier accusations. This isn’t a legal proceeding, where each side takes its turn. In the world of opinion, the first person to speak sets the agenda.

Mark Twain said a rumor can get half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on, and we see the accuracy of this insight in Israel’s attention to its own reputation.

It’s time Israel’s government recognized the simple truth about this battle for hearts and minds and lives. It’s not enough to believe you are in the right. It’s far more important to be recognized as right.

PR 101. It’s not an elective for Israel.

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