Who is to blame?

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

The immigration issue is hard to boil down into a polling question because of its many nuances. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll this week posed an interesting, if simplistic, question about “who do you blame” — immigrants or employers — for our perceived problem. It showed that Iowans by a 4-to-1 margin blame employers but the blame on immigrants is rising. Our problem is with the premise.

There is nobody to blame for immigration. That connotes that immigration is a bad thing. It has been mainly a good thing for Storm Lake. We do not blame Tyson Fresh Meats or a roofing company for employing Latinos. These young men and women are working hard, buying homes, getting college degrees and making The City Beautiful a better place to live. We are grateful for the livestock industry that provides jobs paying above the living wage in Northwest Iowa. Were it not for Latinos, those livestock would be processed someplace else under worse labor and environmental conditions. Meat processing is the foundation of our regional economy.

If there is blame to be placed for the confusion that undocumented immigrants create, it is on a system that fails to recognize basic supply and demand for labor in unskilled jobs. For generations we had no immigration problem until we decided that immigrants were a problem. The problem is that someone has to pick vegetables in California and cut pork in Iowa and lay sod in suburban Chicago. The food processing industry sets the wage based on the markets. Tyson of Arkansas competes with JBS of Brazil and Smithfield of China. That’s the way the system is set up. Steve King and Donald Trump aren’t changing that system. They’re shooting at it but not aiming because they really don’t want to kill the chicken that lays Iowa’s golden eggs.

Immigrants are exploited. They are dehumanized because we need someone to fear to justify the guns and bureaucracy. They are poor and desperate to feed their families. Violence and political corruption in Latin America are rooted in current US drug demand and our colonial treatment of the region dating back to banana republics. It’s not the immigrant’s fault that she flees a death squad for the relative safety of Texas.

If there is blame to be laid, it is on a Congress that cannot come up with a realistic and rational approach to labor demands in Storm Lake and in Mexico. Posing the question as employer versus worker does not reflect the many forces that create a problem where it often does not exist. We view immigrants as thousands of individual opportunities for Storm Lake and Iowa.

More funny numbers

The Reynolds Administration announced that it closed the fiscal year with a surplus of more than $100 million. That sounds like sound management heading into a tight election. Until you consider that the governor and her Republican colleagues in the legislature teamed up to deliver more than $140 million in budget cuts over the past two years, not to mention diverting $144 million from reserve accounts to cover deficits.

And, with all due respect to the number crunchers, we are skeptical that a surplus actually exists.

That’s because the state does not fully comprehend its Medicaid finances. The director of the Medicaid program, recently imported from the Kansas budget disaster, told a public panel that he did not understand all the numbers in front of him and that he would have to study them more. This while claiming that the privatization of Medicaid has saved money, while increasing payments 7.5% this year alone to the out-of-state insurance companies managing the program for the state. The public has little idea how Medicaid finances are working, but we think that it is actually costing the our treasury $100 million more per year than if it had remained under state management. Plus, services have been greatly reduced, as Fred Hubbell has been pointing out.

Reynolds needs to say that she is offering sound management.

That includes eliminating the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, closing North Lake Manor, zeroing out the animal feeding coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and holding K-12 schools to appropriations less than the rate of inflation. The superintendent at Sioux Central is suggesting a four-day week just to get people’s attention to the state of education.

And, we still don’t know how much money this Medicaid boondoggle is costing us because all the talks are behind closed doors.

A surplus is good if it is actually in the bank, and if you have fixed that hole in the roof and fed the children. If they’re hungry and wet, that surplus isn’t doing you much good in the bank.