Some Thoughts About Immigration

midtownsign

The morning of February 16, 2017 I had a breakfast meeting at a restaurant in Winston-Salem. When I arrived I found a sign on the door (pictured above) announcing that the restaurant was offering a limited menu and open for limited hours due to the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest. While I’d seen something about the protest on the morning news, I hadn’t really paid attention, and to be honest I was a little surprised to discover that the protest had made it’s way to our small North Carolina city.

midtownmenu

When I got to our table I looked at the menu that the restaurant had printed for the day and on the back I found a letter to customers (pictured above, and sorry for the poor quality). After reading it I asked our server about the protest she said that the kitchen staff had talked to management the day before to let them know they were going to participate, and management had hustled to put together the limited operation so they could open their doors. After the meeting was over I headed to my car, and before leaving the parking lot I decided to post these pics and the following post to Facebook:

Had a breakfast meeting at Mid Town. They are working with a limited menu and shorter hours to support their staff who are taking part in the “Day Without Immigrants Protest.” Our server said it was just about their entire kitchen staff. Have to say I admire the folks at Mid Town for taking this route. As far as protests go I think this is a very effective approach – makes crystal clear the impact that our immigrant neighbors have on our community and economy.

Well, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I got some feedback on the post. Some agreed, some disagreed, and as always I enjoyed the back and forth. The best feedback I received, however, was in a series of private messages from a friend who works for a company that processes chickens. He didn’t want to post his comments on my Facebook post because he didn’t want to “start a big war of words” on my post, but he did give me permission to share his perspective and so I’ve pasted some below. Please take a moment to read it, because I think his experiences and viewpoints are important to keep in mind when we discuss immigration. Here’s the first message he wrote:

Saw your post. And this might get long. Sorry.

We have been planning for this day all week. Honestly about all we have done this week.

We have 1500 workers across 10 states and are directly responsible for supplying about 20% of all the chicken consumed in the US. Our workforce is about 90% Hispanic. We (along with Tyson, Perdue, etc) have been working hard to minimize the impact on the nation’s food supply. There are several plants running at 75% and less capacity today. Some plants not operating at all.

Trust me, without the immigrant workforce, this country does not eat. It is not a matter of just a limited menu, or prices being higher. We do not eat! We have been working on utilizing the EB3 visa program to bring in workers. Long story, but basically it allows someone to come in to the country and bring their immediate family. They must work for us for 1 year. After the year is up, they are free to stay and work anywhere they want. They can stay with us if they want. Or they can go work for you.

Well, we have to prove to US Govt that we cannot get good ol’ red blooded ‘Mericans to work. So we ran a few ads on Monster, etc. We received 250+ responses for Monroe NC. We asked all of them to complete an application.

  • Of the 250, we received 15 applications. We tried to schedule interviews with all 15.
  • Of the 15, 6 replied to scheduling something.
  • Of the 6, 3 actually scheduled an interview.
  • Of the 3 scheduled interviews, 1 showed up.
  • The 1 that showed up brought in a document for us to sign that stated he had an interview so he could get his unemployment benefits. He did not want a job. All he wanted was his form signed so he can keep collecting his benefits.
  • All done we had 0 out of 250. Meanwhile we hire about 40 workers per week. But nobody named Bob, Mike, John, Brian are showing up.

This is unskilled labor. It is hard work, but unskilled. We pay about $17-$20/hour. We are not looking for the cheapest labor we can find. We are not looking to pay under the table. We need workers. These immigrants are NOT taking people’s job. They just want to work and make money and the citizens are too lazy to do these jobs.

I wish we had a pretty open worker visa program. Do a decent background check. Give them a real SSN. Allow them to work. Then we do a mandatory backup withholding of 20% for federal tax and 5% for state. Get it all above board. Tax revenue increases. From a humanitarian side, people are not being taken advantage of.

So there, in a nutshell, is the scope of the issue we’re dealing with when we talk immigration. The current administration likes to focus on building a wall to keep bad, dangerous, illegal immigrants out of our country and by doing so they are scratching the itch of many Americans who feel disenfranchised, but the reality is that we need the immigrants or we don’t eat, plain and simple. But what about the idea that these illegal immigrants are stealing Americans’ jobs? Well, my friend addressed that with the job-posting experience and after a couple of messages back and forth he expanded a bit on why many business owners might not want an effective legal immigration system:

I am adamant about getting things above board. Most of our competitors want the undocumented worker. It means that even if they pay the same net wage we do, they can operate 25% cheaper than we do.

The Hispanic community says you are “baptized” each time you get a new fake ID. Our competitors will make them new identities each year so they can evade the tax system. They will file 1099’s using a SSN for 2015. Give the guy a new name and SSN (baptize) for 2016 and file 1099. Baptize them again for 2017 and file 1099. Rinse repeat. Year after year. Nothing gets in to tax system.

If you are legal, our competitor will “baptize” you anyway because they do not want anyone legal.

Talk about making your blood boil, how does that make you feel? Pissed off, right? Now here’s something he shared that my downright scare you:

One of the things we are worried about is they do this in the late summer/fall and do it for 10+ days. Whole year of harvests of fruits/vegetables are left in fields to rot. That will prove a huge point. Or, they do not show up to harvest turkeys in late October/early November and 1/3 of all US homes do not have turkey on Thanksgiving. That will not go unnoticed. These folks know they have the US by the balls because of the food supply. They will use it in a big way at some point. Today is minor I am sure.

So here’s the deal as I see it. Building a wall and going on a massive immigrant round up might make some of us feel good, perhaps a little safer, but the reality on the ground is that it will solve nothing. In fact it would create a massive problem for our economy and when the roundups are done we’ll be sitting around wondering why we can’t have fresh produce turkeys for Thanksgiving. And if the economic realities dont’ sway you, maybe humanitarian concerns will. Again from my friend:

Women get raped trying to make it here. People are left for dead after a mule steals all their money. They are treated like shit when they get here.

We have competitors that do not pay them. This guy has a compound in eastern NC. Lots of mobile homes. They all live there for free. He feeds them for free. He provides clothes. He transports them everywhere. They are all trapped like slaves.

So what’s the answer? My buddy provided some pretty simple action steps earlier:

  • Establish an effective, open worker visa program.
  • Do a decent background check.
  • Give them a real SSN.
  • Allow them to work.
  • Do a mandatory backup withholding of 20% for federal tax and 5% for state.

The result would be the decriminalization of our immigrant labor (black) market, an increase in tax revenues, a decrease in incentives for illegal border crossings which would eliminate any need for a boondoggle of a wall that wouldn’t work anyway.

Of course this all makes a lot of sense so it doesn’t stand a chance in DC.

POTUS’ Dissembler-de-Campe

If, like me, you’ve spent months yelling at your TV or shaking your head in begrudging admiration as Kellyanne Conway is being interviewed, you will very much enjoy this analysis of how she’s so good at being so bad.

When the inevitable happens and she’s run out of Washington she could make a pile of money in training folks how to befuddle the media. It’s truly stunning to behold.

The Village Idiot

Lewisville, NC doesn’t get a lot of newsworthy action. Occasionally a house will burn down, a serious accident will happen on Highway 421 or some other noteworthy-for-an-hour event will occur. My family lived there for almost 12 years, from July, 2004 to February, 2016, and in that time there were a few actual newsworthy events, like the discovery of bodies or even a couple of murders, but you rarely heard of armed robberies or things of that sort happening.

That’s why it caught my attention when I saw on the news that the Wells Fargo bank in Lewisville had been robbed. There are only a couple of banks in Lewisville, and the Wells Fargo branch is literally next door to the library and one door down from Town Hall, which is where the sheriff has a couple of officers stationed. In other words, it’s in the heart of downtown and not what I’d call the most inviting target for a robbery due to the high likelihood that you could be seen and/or caught in pretty short order.

Well, to confirm that this wasn’t the work of a criminal mastermind, we learned today that a suspect has been arrested and the sheriff didn’t have to look far to find him. From the Winston-Salem Journal:

Jason Brant Henderson of the 6000 block of LaGrande Place Drive in Lewisville faces charges of robbing the bank as well as the robbery of the E-stop convenience store at 130 Lewisville-Clemmons Road and the Four Brothers store at 6351 Shallowford Road in Lewisville.

As you can see from the map below, the guy basically decided to rob the bank closest to his apartment. Maybe he just wanted a day he could walk to work?

lewisvillerobber

Eugeology #5 – Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe

 

This week’s selection from Eugene, Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe, was a lot of fun. Unlike last week’s selection I had actually heard a couple of the tracks before, but much of the album was new to me and listening to it as a body of work really reveals how thematic it is. To help explain what I mean by that let’s start with the first paragraph from the Wikipedia page about the the album:

Hellbilly Deluxe (released with the subtitle 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International) is the solo debut studio album by American musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie. The album serves as his first release outside out the band White Zombie, with whom he released two multi-platinum studio albums. Hellbilly Deluxe was released on August 25, 1998 through Geffen Records.[5] Musically, the project portrays Zombie’s love for classic horror films with heavy metal and electronic music. The album’s lyrics speak of murder, chaos, and supernatural forces. The majority of Hellbilly Deluxe was recorded in California, and was produced by both Zombie and Scott Humphrey; Zombie is credited as the sole writer on all of the songs.

 

Listen to any of the thirteen tracks individually and you’ll get a taste of the “horror films with heavy metal” thing, but you really have to listen to the whole album to appreciate his true love of the horror genre.  For instance the eleventh track, What Lurks on Channel X?, starts with a very 60’s TV horror show sound to it, and the twelfth track, Return of the Phantom Stranger, opens with the haunting, low sound of church bells. The album truly is an ode to the horror genre, so if you embrace that you can truly enjoy it for what it is.

Of the 13 tracks the two that are surely the most widely known – they have to be if I’ve heard them before – are Dragula and Living Dead Girl. Both are representative of the rest of the album’s tone, and I’d say there’s a good reason those are the best known tracks. To me they do the best job of highlighting Zombie’s unique style and have the strongest musicianship (is that a word?) on the album. I also liked Spookshow Baby because it has this funky sitar sound, and Meet the Creeper, which reminded me a bit of Living Dead Girl.

I’ll end with this: of Eugene’s five selections so far I’d say this is the one that really demands to be listened to as a full album. It’s truly thematic, and the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Links & Notes

Hellbilly Deluxe Wikipedia Page

Wheeler’s Dog (Eugene’s Blog)

Useless Things Need Love Too (Tim’s Blog)

Eugeology #4 – Kick Axe’s Vices

 

Eugene’s fourth choice offers me the first opportunity to say this: I’m 99.9% positive that I’d never heard any of these songs before he sent us the link to this album. I knew I’d never heard of the band, but after listening to the album I realized I’d also never heard any of the tunes. Go figure.

So, here’s my take on these guys:

Their sound is what I’d consider prototypical 80’s hard rock. Heavy focus on the lead vocals (lots of what I think of as soaring, “let me show off my range” kind of singing), a bunch of guitar solos and strong bass and drums without a real focus on them.

What sets these guys apart is their backing vocals. Every member of the band sings so the backing vocals definitely come through more strongly than most bands – the harmony is what I’d consider their greatest strength.

Lead singer George Criston truly does have a strong voice, and what seems like a pretty good range to me. He’s kind of “screamy” sometimes, but I think that’s what was expected of singers in that era so it’s as it should be.

Guitarists Larry Gillstrom and Raymond Harvey, who are both credited with lead and rhythm guitar, offer some very strong solos and their interplay is tight – at least to my amateur ears. And as I mentioned before, I think bass (Victor Langen) and drums (Brian Gillstrom) were good but they really aren’t featured much.

All told I enjoyed the album, but of the four so far it’s probably #3 and I suspect it will end up in the middle of the pack of Eugene’s 50 for me.

Links & Notes

Vices Wikipedia Page

Wheeler’s Dog (Eugene’s Blog)

Useless Things Need Love Too (Tim’s Blog)

A Glimmer

One test of a leader is her willingness to do something that may displease her fans/followers if she thinks it’s the right thing to do. Sen. Elizabeth Warren did just that when she voted in favor of Ben Carson for HUD Secretary. Even better, she utilized her Facebook page to explain why. Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, I have serious, deep, profound concerns about Dr. Carson’s inexperience to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yes, I adamantly disagree with many of the outrageous things that Dr. Carson said during his presidential campaign. Yes, he is not the nominee I wanted.

But “the nominee I wanted” is not the test.

Millions of American families depend on HUD programs, including tens of thousands of families in Massachusetts. For many of them, HUD assistance is the difference between a safe, stable home and life on the street. As someone who has spent a lot of time working on housing policy in this country, my focus is on helping these families – and the countless others who could benefit from a stronger agency.

During the nomination process, I sent Dr. Carson a nine-page letter with detailed questions on a whole range of issues: Section 8 housing assistance; lead exposure in public housing; programs to prevent and end homelessness; programs to help victims of domestic violence; fighting housing discrimination; HUD’s role in preparing for and recovering from natural disasters; and, more broadly, the standards he will use for managing the department, including the steps he will take to protect the rights of LGBT Americans.

Dr. Carson’s answers weren’t perfect. But at his hearing, he committed to track and report on conflicts of interest at the agency. In his written responses to me, he made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws. Promises that – if they’re honored – would help a lot of working families…

If Dr. Carson doesn’t follow through on his commitments, I will be the very first person he hears from – loudly and clearly and frequently. I didn’t hesitate to criticize past HUD Secretaries when they fell short, and I won’t hesitate with Dr. Carson – not for one minute.

That, my friends, is the first glimmer of light I’ve seen during a very dark period in Washington. I’m not saying I agree with her vote, but I am saying I’m glad to see someone finally showing some guts and exhibiting a little leadership.

Eugeology #3 – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Nuthin’ Fancy

For week three Eugene picked an album I’m much more familiar with than his choices for the first two installments. Lynyrd Skynyrd got some heavy play in my circle of friends, especially during middle school. In fact one of my buddies had a big ol’ boom box – I think that thing took 10 D cell batteries – that he would bring to the basketball court in our neighborhood and we’d listen to a steady rotation of Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Kiss and plenty of others I’m forgetting. So I have a soft spot for Skynyrd and for southern rock in general. (I’m looking forward to Tim’s comments because I’m pretty sure he feels the exact opposite about the genre).

To be clear, what was played was a mix of Skynyrd’s greatest hits that contained all the songs you’d expect: Freebird, Simple Man, Sweet Home Alabama, That Smell, Don’t Ask Me No Questions and Saturday Night Special. Of those staples the only one on this album is Saturday Night Special, so going back and listening to the full album was a fun experience because I doubt I listened to all these tracks more than a few times even back in my not-misspent-nearly-enough youth.

Now I can’t say I liked all of these tracks back then. I didn’t really enjoy the long, bluesy riffs that were staples of the southern rock scene. I much preferred the harder, fast style of songs like Saturday Night Special, which actually were bluesy when compared to the hard non-southern rock of that era, just not too bluesy. My 50-year old ears DO enjoy the deeper blues sound, so I’m really glad Eugene picked this one.

Something that needs to be said about this exercise is that it’s reminding me of the pleasure inherent to listening to a full album. In my younger days I don’t think I had a full appreciation for the artistry involved in producing an album. The choices made in song order, the progression of the “story,” is something I never paid attention to but now in the era of endless DIY playlists and streaming “stations” based on artists I’m gaining a newfound appreciation for listening to an album that as a whole is greater than its parts.

Nuthin’ Fancy is a great listen, and one that works well with a leisurely drive or while working around the house. Hell, I even had it playing at the office one day when I was working a little late. Yep, this one’s getting added to my collection – a collection that’s growing for the first time in a while thanks to this exercise.

Links & Notes

Nuthin’ Fancy Wikipedia Page
Wheeler’s Dog (Eugene’s Blog)
Useless Things Need Love Too (Tim’s Blog)