Wednesday
Dec092015

This Is Either the Best Idea or the Worst Plan Ever

So I’ve been following the advice of the Freakonomics guys, who advise us to think like a child and ask seemingly naive questions in the pursuit of higher truths.

At first, my childlike wonder led to such inquiries as “Why do men have nipples?” and “Can you hit a baseball thrown at the speed of light?” and of course, “If zombies aren’t alive, why do they need to devour the brains of the living?”
 
But let’s face it, some questions are just unanswerable.

So I turned my attention to one of America’s big issues, and a subject that I have written about at length: immigration.

I asked myself, “Would something like the Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants be a good idea?”

For those of you who skipped U.S. history class to go smoke in the parking lot, here is a quick refresher: The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. It encouraged Western migration by giving settlers 160 acres of land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a filing fee and completed five years of residence before receiving ownership of the land.

So how does that relate to undocumented immigrants?

Well, right now, undocumented immigrants are either caught in an expensive, inefficient loop of deportation/return/deportation, or they live in constant fear of la migra. The system doesn't work very well, which is something that both conservatives and liberals can agree upon.

And don’t fall for the classic mistake of saying undocumented immigrants should just wait in line to get their papers. It is well-established that for many people, there is no line and never will be.

So here’s my proposal: We say to undocumented immigrants, “Well, we can’t just hand you citizenship. But you can stay in the country if you agree to move someplace where your insane work ethic and tireless pursuit of the American Dream can benefit the nation.”

And then we give them the option of claiming an abandoned house in Detroit’s inner city, or moving to a small town that’s dying, or going to some other location where they can help reestablish a troubled community and work off their debt. If they live in the location for a certain number of years without getting into legal trouble, and pay a filing fee, they get citizenship.

Yes, that’s crazy. Because we can’t solve a societal issue by giving away vacant homes… except that we can. And an influx of newcomers won’t revive rural America or fading cities… except that it can. And the cultural clashes that would erupt over such a policy are insurmountable… except that they’re not.

In essence, there is a precedent for each element of this idea. It would be a massive undertaking loaded with political landmines, but hey, what isn’t these days?

Also, this would not be the only way for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. It would be one of several potential pathways available to them.

Now, I’m not saying this a great idea. I’m just asking the question and looking for feedback. So what do you say? Is a new Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants worth pursuing?

Tuesday
Dec012015

Not Exactly a Golden Age

So here’s a question: Are you among the half of Americans (49 percent, to be precise) who say racism is "a big problem" in society today?

I know I am.

And I also know that I would prefer to be among the 7 percent of Americans who say racism is “not a problem at all.” When referring to those people, I speak for the rest of us when I say, “I’ll have what they’re having,” because they clearly possess some serious alcohol.

The recent survey revealed that prejudice and bigotry remain societal ills, and “in every demographic group surveyed, there are increasing percentages of people who say racism is a big problem — and majorities say that racial tensions are on the rise.”

The percentage of Americans who feel this way is higher than it was 20 years ago, when 41 percent said racism was a big problem. As recently as 2011, that percentage was down to 28 percent, suggesting a rebound effect, or perhaps racial good feelings simply plateaued a few years back.

Of course, Americans may agree that racism is worse, but as the report states, they often “disagree profoundly on who the targets and victims are."

Ethnic minorities have historically been the objects of racial prejudice. However, white Americans often feel that they are being discriminated against, a perplexing development that, according to the report, can be traced to “simmering rage fueled by the backlash of Obama's election, the economic struggles of lower- and middle-income whites, and demographic shifts across the country.”

Because of this, the report says, “latent racism is becoming more open, because a lot of people are feeling threatened.”

Now to be clear, most white Americans do not feel that they are the targets of racial scorn. In fact, just 43 percent of white people say racism is a huge concern.

But 64 percent of my fellow Latinos say racism is a big problem, slightly less than the 66 percent of blacks who say the same thing.

Those numbers should tell you all you need to know about how race is perceived in America.

So is there hope for the future? Well, supposedly, the Millennials were going to eliminate racism once and for all because they’re all, you know, ethnically mixed and down with diversity and come from multiracial families, and are in general far hipper than Gen X or the Baby Boomers could ever dream of being.

Um…but another recent study showed that “despite the Millennial reputation for inclusiveness, young white Americans don't have especially multicultural friend groups.” In fact, two-thirds (68 percent) of whites age 18-34 say, “they overwhelmingly associate with other whites.”

By the way, the same is true of just 37 percent of Millennial Hispanics and 36 percent of Millennial blacks.

So this might take a while.

Tuesday
Nov242015

Freaky

I’m a big fan of ideas that are supported by hard data. In fact, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve seen that I don’t just assert that climate change is real, vaccines are safe and effective, and that immigration is down. I back up these claims with facts.

So it’s no surprise that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast, where a couple of academics analyze and verify and quantify all kinds of concepts that are supposedly unquantifiable.

That’s where I found out that free parking is a scourge, tipping is racially motivated, and learning Spanish is a waste of time.  

Wait, what was that last one? 

Well, the researchers at Freakonomics discovered that learning Spanish increases your income by less than 2 percent. They concluded that the effort you put into learning how to conjugate “decir” doesn’t justify a measly 2 percent income boost. It constitutes poor ROI (that’s “return on investment” for you non-economist types).

Now, it’s depressing to think that nativists have a fact-based argument for dissing Spanish. So you’ll be relieved to hear that there is more to the story.

Additional research has shown that learning a second language (it doesn’t have to be Spanish) has advantages that go beyond income.

For example, bilingual people have more nimble brains and seem to ward off Alzheimer’s more effectively. And Americans who speak another language appear to display greater awareness and empathy for other cultures.

So it just might be worth it to learn Spanish, after all. But the key is to learn is while you are young, so that the process is quicker and less labor-intensive, thereby leading to greater ROI.

OK, that last sentence has convinced that maybe I have been listening to far too many economists lately.

Thursday
Nov192015

Perception or Reality?

In the wake of last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, many U.S. presidential candidates are lining up to say how uber-tough, how mega-manly they are and how they would wipe out Isis in a weekend (three days tops) if given the role of commander in chief. It’s quite a display of fortitude.

Forgive me if I’m a bit incredulous.

But let’s leave questions about homicidal religious nuts and complex military strategies aside for now.

Instead, let me bring up a related topic, which is the GOP’s continuing image problem. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans’ struggles to connect with Latino voters.

You see, many Republicans come across as hostile to the poor, fearful of immigrants, and paranoid about the world. In addition, many liberals criticize Republicans for being hypocrites about their ardent pro-life stance, in that conservatives seem obsessed with fetuses but indifferent to children once they are actually born.

Fortunately, GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie has the solution to the Republican Party’s branding crisis. Christie doesn’t buy that he and his fellow conservatives are irrational, cold-hearted xenophobes who hate kids.

And that’s why he wants to prevent five-year-old Syrian war orphans from getting into this country and blowing us all up.

Hey, thanks for the perspective, Governor Christie.

Tuesday
Nov102015

Well That Was Fun

So this past weekend, some blowhard megalomaniac hosted Saturday Night Live. Depending on your perspective, this event was a harmless pop culture happenstance, a dangerous promotion of xenophobia, or a tired comedy show jumping the shark into irrelevance once and for all.

In any case, everyone seemed to agree that it was 90 painfully unfunny minutes.

As you may have heard, many Latinos were aghast at SNL for asking this lunatic to host, and demonstrations broke out against the show’s tone-deaf decision. And of course, many Hispanic groups urged viewers to boycott SNL, the NBC network, and its advertisers.

While I find the sentiment understandable, even commendable, I also find it to be futile.

You see, the protests only gave more publicity to this fiasco. In fact, this installment of SNL was the show’s highest-rated episode in years. So much for the power of demonstrations.

And I’m no economist, but it seems to me that boycotts in the modern world rarely if ever work. Weren’t right-wing Christians boycotting Disney for years over the company’s gay-friendly policies? And how did that turn out for the homophobes?

No, I prefer to refrain from giving the bigots and the nutjobs more attention. It only encourages them.

And to be honest, I haven’t watched SNL in years, so they wouldn’t even notice me boycotting them.

So it’s on to the next freakshow or outbreak of smug prejudice. And this time, maybe we should all just look away and not even talk about it.