Saturday, June 17, 2006

Getting to the root of the problem

Today there is much discussion about what many are terming an "immigration crisis" in America. Undocumented immigrants flood over the borders daily risking their lives, and sometimes losing them, in order to find work and security in the United States. Perhaps upwards to a million undocumented people each year find a way, whether it be by overstaying a visa, or crossing hundreds of miles deadly desert, to enter this country in hopes of making a better life.

Americans of all political stripes are concerned about this situation and there is great division on exactly how to solve the problem. Some have advocated a tightening of security and closing of the porous border as a solution. Others have promoted a method to regulate and legitimize the flow of the undocumented. But there is one thing missing in both of these strategies. Neither contains any analysis of why this problem exists, and more importantly, why at this time in our history this influx of new immigrants is causing such great concern for the American people. Neither group seems concerned with root causes.

The number of immigrants has not really changed
Throughout our history we have encountered many waves of immigration. In fact all of us can trace our roots back to foreign shores. The number of new immigrants who come today, both entering through proper channels and the undocumented, is no greater as a percentage of population than at many other times during our history. From the mid-nineteenth century, through the first thirty years of the last, immigrants represented about13% of the total population; today that number is 11%. Certainly our earlier immigrants were not rich, and most had limited education, but they like our current crop of immigrants, had the drive and determination to seek out a better life. This influx of new vitality and ambition has been a cornerstone on which the nation was build. So why today do we find ourselves in the middle of what some would term a crisis?

What is different today then during past immigration waves?
Historically there have always been a small minorities of the closed minded who've oppose immigration for xenophobic or racists reason, but generally we as a people have accepted new immigrants with open arms and absorbed them into society. Yet, today we find this harder and harder to do. Many believe the new immigrants are putting undo pressures on our economy, creating stresses on a tight job market, and stretching already taxed social services and education systems. Why today do we find it so hard to absorb these new immigrants? Why at a time in our history, when we have never been richer as a nation and more educated as a population, do we find these new immigrants putting such great stresses on our society? Perhaps we need to look at some of the changes that have taken place over the last twenty-five or so years to find the answer.

(There's more)

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The systematic assault on working and middle class Americans
Over the past twenty five years it appears that there's been a systematic assault upon the working and middle classes of this nation which now leaves many vulnerable and in a position where they must compete for an ever decreasing pool of resources. At one time, a family could live comfortably on the income of one earner, but today it takes two just to make ends meet. A guaranteed pension for retirement is no longer the norm. A union card no longer guarantees a lifetime of job security. Health insurance costs have become an overwhelming concern for both workers and employers and forty five million Americans in fact go without any. A job with one of the nation's largest companies no longer means yearly raises and increased benefits; in fact it doesn’t even guarantee job security. An advanced degree no longer means a career in your chosen field. Today working and middle class Americans can expect plant closings and layoffs, pay cuts and increased hours, loss of benefits and outsourcing. They can expect economists to talk about "jobless recoveries" and increased productivity. It is no wonder that many working class Americans are feeling the added stresses of our new modern global economy. It is also no wonder that they are ready to lash out against those they feel they must now compete against. Our nation is sick, and current "immigration crisis" is not the cause of this national illness, but just another symptom of it.

Who is responsible for this situation?
Who or what could have caused our national illness? The answer is simple … the economic and social policies of those who claim to be Conservatives. Of course, many working class Americans might scoff at this idea. Certainly a philosophy of smaller government, personal responsibility and free market economics sounds appealing to many, and on face value alone is quite in line with the principles on which our nation was founded. But in practice, what these so called Conservatives have done with this philosophy has been the antithesis of what the founders had in mind. These Conservatives have used this philosophy to consolidate economic and political power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. They have turned the ideals of fair play and Christian charity upside down and transformed them into grotesque parodies. They have taken two hundred years of struggle to raise the standard of living for the average American and thrown it to the winds in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and "smaller government." All along being neither fiscally responsible nor providing smaller government.

How did they do this?
How did these self-proclaimed Conservatives wage this war on the working and middle class? It started in the eighties with two policies; deregulation and union busting. Then continued with more failed and flawed policies right up until our present day.

Union Busting
Starting with the firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981, Conservatives have set forth an agenda through legislation and judicial decisions to slowly disassemble the American labor movement. At the time many Americans supported the idea, feeling that unions had become too powerful, corrupt and greedy, but the results of this policy have had devastating effects on American workers. Ever since then the number of union households has been steadily declining. At the beckoning of corporate interests, Conservatives have managed to take what was once the bulwark of working class America, the very entity that allowed millions of American workers to move themselves or their children into the middle class and render it powerless.

Under the guise of increased competition and lower prices through free market forces, Conservatives began a campaign of deregulation. They would no longer allow the government to regulate business, but rather leave it up to the free market. Again, on paper this practice looked reasonable, but under their control we have ended up with the reverse. Instead of government controlling business, we now have business controlling government. We have allowed business combinations that rival any of those of the Robber Barons of the late nineteenth century. We have seen regulated monopolies in the energy, telecom, airline and other industries destroyed, only to recombine into unregulated monsters like Enron. We have seen the merger of mega oil companies that are larger than those of Rockefeller's Standard Oil, who make profits that would make King Midis blush, while the average American can't afford to fill up his gas tank.

Globalization and outsourcing
The next logical step after deregulation for Conservatives was globalization and the taking of their idea of the free market economy, without any government regulation, to a global scale. Conservatives passed legislation and trade agreements that allowed their huge multinational masters to operate with impunity throughout the world. They have allowed companies like Halliburton to set up shadow entities on foreign soil to avoid paying taxes. They’ve allowed American businesses to sell American jobs to the lowest bidder on the global market all on the name of free market economics.

Rewriting the tax codes and starving the beast
Conservatives often say that the only thing wrong with government is government, and promise to lower taxes, reduce the size of government, and be fiscally responsible. Yet, after years of Conservative leadership we have the largest government in US history, a record federal deficit and a record national debt reaching 9 trillion dollars. The only part of their philosophy they seem to be able to stick too is tax cuts. They have systematically worked over the last twenty-five years to shift the tax burden from both big business and the top 1% of the nation's wealthiest people and place it on the middle and working class. They have consistently rewarded corporations and the rich with larger and larger tax breaks. Through cuts in funding to education, health and human services and many other state and local programs they have managed to shift the tax burden down to the local level so that the now average Americans pay more in real estate, state and local, use and sales taxes than ever before. They have not given the American people "back their money" as they claim, but rather forced them to just pay more to other government agencies.

The other aspect of the Conservative tax cutting agenda has been to use cuts as a means to, as they term it; "starve the beast". It's been conservative policy to try to assure that social programs for education, childcare, healthcare and the poor are "starved to death" due to the lack of available federal funds. Their philosophy has resulted in huge benefits for the rich while programs that working and middle class Americans rely on are cut. The best example of this is public education, where Conservatives have consistently cut funding while placing ever more increasing demands upon the system.

Another big concern for average Americans is healthcare and its skyrocketing costs. Conservative deregulation and free market philosophies have influenced this also. While fighting vehemently against any form of a national healthcare program, they have through legislation and governmental agencies, allowed large pharmaceutical manufactures and healthcare conglomerates to set the agenda. National health policy has been allowed to be written by insurance companies and other corporate interests rather than physicians and medical professionals.

But what does all this have to do with immigration?
These Conservative policies have had devastating effects on the working and middle classes, yet in order to remain in power Conservatives have tried to shift the blame. Every problem that is claimed to be a result of the "immigration crisis" can be seen to have its roots in Conservative economic and social policies. Conservatives have been trying to convince the American people that it is the immigrants who put all the stresses on education, social services and healthcare institutions and that they take jobs from American workers and drive down wages. But it must be understood that while immigrants do highlight the problems of working class Americans, they haven’t caused them. All these problems can be seen as direct results of twenty-five years of Conservative policy. This is obvious when you look at the ROOT CAUSES. The Republican controlled Congress for the last ten years has exacerbated the situation by rubber-stamping every Conservative policy that has come down the pike. With each passing year they have taken more and more from working Americans and given it to their corrupt corporate masters. Now there is nothing left, and the American working man and woman knows it. They just need to stop buying into the Conservatives "blame game" and look at the ROOT CAUSES of their problems.

What can we do?
We, as a nation need to stop letting those who don't have our best interests at heart to control the agenda. We must not allow them to divide us along lines of class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender. We must not allow then to misdirect us or mislead us with appeals to our patriotism or national pride. We must not let them blame the symptoms rather than the disease. The "immigration crisis" is just another symptom of a far greater disease … the disease of a Conservative agenda that favors the rich and big business over average Americans. Immigrants certainly put added stresses on society and highlight the problems of the now decimated social programs, education and health care systems, but they did not cause the national illness.

How do we "fix" immigration?
Fixing our broken immigration system will not be easy, and it will be a long hard process. Again just as in the case of working Americans, one key must be to look for the ROOT CAUSES OF THE PROBLEM. We must look at the reasons why millions of people every year risk their lives to come here? What is it about their countries of origin that make them so desperate to leave? Particularly in the case of Mexico, it’s a nation that has the 13th largest economy in the world, ahead of 167 other nations. They also are the second largest recipients of direct investment by US companies in the hemisphere. On top of this Mexico has vast amounts of untapped natural resources and oil reserves that rival those of any Middle Eastern power. So why do their people live in poverty? Why must they come here simply to survive? Could it be precisely because they are the second largest recipients of direct investment by US big business? Could it be because Conservative trade and economic policies have been crafted to favor the business elite and the rich of Mexico, just as they favor them here? Could it be because Conservative policies help perpetuate a system that leaves 55% of the countries wealth in the hands of 20% of its people? These are all things that need to be addressed when looking at the “immigration crisis”.

A new plan
In order to fix our nations problems we need to stop treating symptoms and start treating the disease. No “immigration plan”, be it a wall, arrests or amnesty is going to ever solve the “immigration crisis”. Only when the American people begin to demand a change in the paradigm will solutions be found. Only when government is returned to its rightful role as protector of the rights and interests of ALL Americans, not just the privileged few, can we begin to fix the problems that face us. It is only then that we can do something about the root causes both here and abroad that have brought on this “immigration crisis
Veiw more from Manning the Barricades


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