Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Angry Voters

Ordinary Americans are infuriated. Between 12 and 20 million illegal aliens live in the United States with more sneaking in every day. The federal government virtually ignores them. State governments ignore them. Local governments ignore them. No. It’s worse than that. All three levels of government don’t just look the other way; they implement policies to make the problem worse. They provide benefits to illegals like free schooling, free medical care, free food, subsidized housing, heating assistance, etc. When taxpaying citizens object through referendum votes to cut off funding, federal courts declare the cutoffs unconstitutional. Our federal government has sole authority to stop illegal immigration, but refuses to. Then it has the gall to use its courts to force states, cities and towns to pay for its malfeasance. Governors in states like Maine order welfare officials not to ask if an applicant is here illegally, and they face penalties if they do. Mainers already shoulder the highest tax burden in the whole country and our governor is telling freeloaders from around the world to come on over. Anybody from anywhere can force the rest of us Mainers to pay for them to live here free just by showing up. How long will this go on?

It used to be just a border state issue, but now the whole country is mad. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are dealing with it, but suddenly it’s a major issue for the November elections. It’s been big in border states for a while now, but as illegal aliens spread all over the country, so does the anger. Both parties avoid it but for different reasons. Democrats see illegals becoming citizens eventually and voting Democrat as so many ethnic-minority-victim-groups traditionally have. Republicans have two reasons: Businesses comprising a big part of the Republican base profit by hiring illegal low-wage workers and not paying benefits and passing those costs to taxpayers. Businesses also profit when wages for blue-collar Americans are kept low because millions of illegals work cheap nearly everywhere in the country. America’s working poor suffer the most.

Legitimate small businessmen suffer too when illegitimate competition with an illegal workforce is able to continually underbid them. Illegals cost about a third of what legitimate workers cost when you add in Workers’ Compensation, Social Security taxes, and all the rest. When illegals get sick or injured and are treated at emergency rooms without health insurance, those costs are passed on as higher taxes and higher health insurance premiums. Legitimate businesses pay for this along with the rest of us, but, with competition getting stiffer all the time, the temptation to go under the table increases.

Competition from illegal aliens is the worst problem, but legal aliens are displacing low-wage Americans as well. A woman from Sweden, Maine emailed me recently because her seventeen-year-old son lost his job to a foreign student. He worked at a local summer camp the past two summers and wanted to return this year. Though he worked at the camp, his employer was a large foodservice firm called Sodexho - a multibillion dollar, multinational food service company based in France. The boy had a good work record, but Sodexho informed him they were employing international students this year and he had to look elsewhere. This would seem to be in violation of Maine State Law, which states that employers may bring in foreigners only “. . . in cases where it can be demonstrated that there are insufficient qualified U.S. workers available and willing to perform the work . . .” Clearly that was not the case here. But, after September 11th, the new federal Department of Homeland Security assumed authority for granting and policing temporary work visas for international students and states don’t police it anymore. Nearby North Conway, New Hampshire brings in hundreds of foreign students to work in retail and tourist industries there during summer. The federal government can’t possibly assess the impact of legions of foreign workers on wages scales locally. Fighting terrorism is one thing, but feds should leave it to the states to regulate local economic impact of temporary foreign labor. Students working summer jobs to avoid huge student loan payments later must be able to negotiate a decent wage. The Maine woman who contacted me about her son is complaining to Senator Olympia Snowe even though she and Senator Susan Collins recently voted to grant amnesty to illegal aliens across the United States. Somehow, I don’t think she’ll be getting any satisfaction from our congressional delegation on immigrant labor issues.

Though President Bush - along with both Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate - want amnesty for illegal aliens, there is some hope from House Republicans. When they passed a strong bill calling for deportation of illegals and strong penalties for businesses who hire them, hundreds of thousands of illegals marched in the streets of Los Angeles, Houston, and other cities carrying Mexican flags and demanding “civil rights.” They thought they were flexing their muscles, but they only made it worse for themselves in the eyes of taxpaying citizens who will be going to the polls this fall.

Like I said, ordinary Americans are fed up. They’re infuriated and most of our representatives in Washington don’t even have a clue. It’s going to be an interesting election.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hippie Pizza

After years of nagging from by wife about eating healthier, I’ve begun to tolerate hippie pizza - you know, the kind with little or no meat on top and no tomato sauce at all. Instead, there’s some goat cheese and vegetables of various types, some of which you’ve never heard of before. She promises they’re good for me, which usually means they won’t taste good. If you’re really, really hungry though and there’s nothing else to eat, they’re edible.

My first hippie pizza experience was at a restaurant with a lot of ferns in ceramic pots hanging from the ceiling on macramé straps and with fat candles around. I was very hungry and chowing down my little mini-pizza - an old-fashioned one with pepperoni, tomato sauce and lots of cheese. While I was eating it, my wife offered me a taste of hers several times, but I declined. “It’s very good,” she’d insist, “you should try it.” I’d say no and continue chewing my retro pizza. It wasn’t big enough though and I was still hungry when she stopped eating hers and there were a couple of pieces left. She saw me looking at them and asked, “Now do you want to try it?” I took a few bites and they weren’t bad if I sipped a little wine with them.

My wife and daughters love Flatbread Pizza, a chain of hippie pizza restaurants spreading around New England lately. So far, I’ve only been to North Conway and Portland but I notice patterns. Some customers have matted dreadlocks tucked up inside bulging Grateful-Dead-type knit hats. Others wear Phish-type bandanas tied in the back. Aging hippies prefer the old-style pony tails and few if any hats. They may be bald on top, but enough graying hair still grows on the sides to put an elastic on. Waitresses are skinny vegan women or smiling, Mama-Cass types. Dress is yard sale chick with nothing tucked in. One important difference between my generation of aging baby-boomers and the next group coming up: we tuck in our shirts and they don’t. Younger people want to project the image that they don’t care as much about appearances, taking great pains to select clothing which reflects that.

Most of the waitresses had little tattoos on them. I think there are more tattooed women in their twenties and thirties than men, a reversal from previous generations. I don’t know for sure what the tattoos portrayed because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I didn’t want to put on my reading glasses and stare closely at their arms while they were writing down orders. They might consider that rude. One thing I didn’t see was facial jewelry - no lip studs or rings in nostrils, tongues or eyebrows and that was a blessing. Such ornamentation would be an appetite-suppressant for me and perhaps for some other patrons as well. Shaving legs or armpits is optional but that doesn’t bother me.

Around the Portland restaurant there are children’s drawings hanging on clotheslines resembling Tibetan prayer flags. Tibetans are hip because they’re more in tune with nature and the cosmos than heterosexual Republicans like me. The chairs and benches in Portland are yard-sale-chick too, painted over with different colors in their lifetime with newer layers worn away to reveal older, contrasting layers beneath. I think the message is that it’s better to use recycled wood than cut down trees to make new ones.

The menu proclaims organic vegetables, phosphate-free meats and free-range chicken toppings. The salads are organic, of course, and contain seaweed. It’s an old fisherman joke that when you reel in some seaweed instead of a fish for the dinner plate, someone will say you caught the salad. Well, there it was at Flatbread in Portland. The Pizza arrives on a typical round pizza pan, but the crust is oval-shaped and overlaps on each end. I think they could make it round if they want to but don’t in order to appear nonconformist. They don’t cut it up in the usual way either with the trusty roller blade making diametric cuts into wedges. No, they make one cut lengthwise through the oval and then perpendicular cuts across that, creating little rectangles instead. When the check arrives, it’s clipped on a cedar shingle with an old clothespin. Pretentiously unpretentious.

Flatbread’s website declares that it supports the community and the North Conway restaurant has a reputation for doing that. However, if it’s true that we are what we eat, I fear that if I continue eating there I may start wearing Birkenstocks and signing on with the Green Party. I going to have to load up on phosphates and nitrates when I eat at home just to preserve my way of life.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's The Jihadists, Stupid

My fourteen-year-old students understand better who our enemies are than most elite journalists in our mainstream media. They know we’re not just fighting Osama Bin Laden and al Qaida, but a radical brand of Islam being spread around the world. It’s not a “War on Terror” as our president calls it; it’s a war on jihadists whose prime tactic is terror.

Televised reminiscences of September 11th proliferate as the school year begins so I go with the theme in class. Together, we watch planes hit the twin towers and Americans jumping to their deaths to avoid being burned alive. We watch buildings collapse and panicked civilians running for their lives through the streets. I tell my students that others who sat at their desks a few years ago are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq now to defend America and western civilization itself and that they may choose to don a uniform themselves in a few years. Therefore, they should know why our enemies want to kill us. I can think of no greater responsibility as their US History teacher.

After the TV specials we do some background. We examine the 1979 US embassy takeover in Iran and the numerous attacks against Americans since - in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia. We study hijackings of ships and planes before 9-11. We study a map of the Middle East to locate relevant countries and cities. We study the Holocaust, the re-creation of Israel as a country, our alliance with Israel, and numerous Arab-Muslim attempts to destroy Israel. We compare and contrast Judaism, Christianity and Islam historically and in the present. We examine the economics and politics of oil in the region. We study the rise and fall of Islam over fourteen centuries and Muslim desire to reclaim past glories. Last fall, we examined Muslim immigration to Europe in light of French riots and the orchestrated Muslim riots protesting Danish publication of Mohammed cartoons.

On its web site, the National Association of School Psychologists warns teachers like me that: “watching replays of the [September 11th] attacks, predictions of future attacks, assessment of Homeland Security, or even stories about the history and whereabouts of the terrorists can raise anxiety levels.” Hmm. Radical Muslims are trying to kill us because we’re Americans. Relatives and friends of my students are fighting them in the Middle East. Former students are fighting over there too, and I should worry that teaching the causes of these things might raise students’ anxiety levels? Obviously, I don’t follow the advice of the NASP. What would they have me do in the face of all this? Teach complacency?

After Christmas break, a former student who had just finished a tour in Iraq as an Army intelligence officer visited and spoke to all five of my classes about what we’re fighting. When seventeen terrorist wannabes were arrested last week in Toronto, I used the occasion to review what we’d been learning all year. Three or four hundred miles away, students their age were learning jihad, purchasing tons of ammonium nitrate to blow up the Toronto stock exchange and Parliament, then cut off the prime minister’s head.

Nearly five years after September 11th, we should realize we’re fighting a radical offshoot of Islam - “holy” warriors who call themselves jihadists. Our enemies think their “purified” Islam will bring back the glory days of Islamic civilization in decline for centuries. We are their biggest obstacle. We didn’t declare this war on them; they declared it on us. In class, we watch a PBS Frontline video of Bin Laden declaring war in 1996. He instructs his jihadists to kill Americans wherever they can, whenever they can.

If all this should raise student anxiety levels as the National Association of School Psychologists warns, then I assure my students that our country has the finest military the world has ever seen or even imagined - as the Taliban discovered. The British empire, the most powerful on earth in the 19th century, tried twice to take over Afghanistan and couldn’t. The Russian Army tried for ten years and failed. It took the United States a few weeks and we did it from halfway around the world. Saddam twice discovered what the United States could do once we made up our minds. Zarqawi discovered it last week. But unlike the British or the Soviets, the United States goes in to take out the bad guys, rebuild the country, turn it back over to its citizens, and then encourage them to avoid dictators and run their government democratically. During World War II we did this in Germany, in Italy and in Japan and we’re doing it again today in the Middle East.

Though it’s out of fashion in academia these days, I teach my students that they live in the greatest country in history - one well worth fighting for. Elite, mainstream media journalists don’t seem to have learned this wherever they went to school, so they’re welcome to visit my class in September if they wish.

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