Better Days Ahead


What should President Obama’s second term priorities be?  There are lots of issues to tackle:  the “vaulted” debt ceiling, climate change, energy policy, gun control, mental health, but what first?  I can see gun control being up there especially as a response to the 7 mass murders committed in 2012 ending in the Newtown, CT tragedy.  The president issued a series of executive orders to address the issue, including mechanisms for improving the system of background checks; gun safety education; establishing a national dialogue on mental health issues; nominating an ATF Director (what, there isn’t one?) and authorizing the CDC to research the causes of gun violence, which the NRA had successfully prevented it from doing in the past.  Now it’s up to Congress to take substantive action, which the House appears unlikely to do, despite wide spread public support for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips.

Given the staggering numbers of Republicans in Congress who serve to protect the NRA, there isn’t much hope for significant legislation to curtail gun violence and prevent mass murders, so what would they support?  They can’t continue to be simply the party of NO, standing only for rejecting any proposal supported by the President.  If the GOP continues to stonewall, filibuster and obstruct for the next 4 years, they will forever be known as the party of no support from the people they desperately need to attract – women, Blacks, Hispanics, and moderates.

But Congress, with its pitiful 18% approval rating, has to do something to restore the confidence of the American public.  What can it do?  For starters, Congress can vote to raise the debt ceiling so as not to risk downgrading the nation’s credit rating. This alone won’t be enough to win the hearts of Americans.  No, they have to go bigger, and why not go big with immigration reform?  This could be a win win for all. But when I say big, I mean big, real big.  First, employ the unemployed to tear down the fence along the US southern border.  Don’t bother with the Northern border – first, to my knowledge, there is no fence there and second, the only Canadians who have any interest in living in the states are rockers and comedians.  With all that concrete along the Southern border, we could build  hundreds of new schools, employ tens of thousands of teachers and construction workers for all the new schools needed after opening up the border.  Yes, I mean it.  Open the borders to any and all law abiding citizens of the world provided they can work, have no criminal background and can show some means of support or sponsorship, (unless they have refugee status). For those upstanding citizens of the world without employable skills, adult education programs would be funded to teach English literacy and general vocational skills to serve local sectors of the U.S. with the greatest demand for workers.  All new entrants and the previously undocumented living in this country would be issued a Social Security number.  Consider this:  the best way to ensure the solvency of social security is to have more people paying in, not simply to raise the retirement age to 96.

Republicans should champion these ideas as a means of competing for the loyalties of a changing USA demographic that will soon be a non-white majority.  But the thing is, they won’t because the radical fringe that seems to be calling the shots would rather secede from the Union than come to grips with a loss of power in a democratic process that they despise and have tried desperately to rig in their favor through gerrymandering, and voter suppression tactics.

Let’s get it done – gun control, immigration reform and the greening of the planet in the next two years.  And let’s not let the GOP say “frack that”.

Gov. Patrick’s DNC Address Best To Date…but

There were a lot of good speeches on Day 1 of the DNC.  Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio and First Lady Michelle Obama were two outstanding examples.  But the best of the lot by far in my opinion was the one delivered by the real Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick.  I’ve heard Patrick speak before and he is a fantastic orator.  His 2008 DNC Speech was little heard but one of the best of that convention.  It was probably a good idea that the DNC operatives put him on one day before the President to reduce the prospect of an overshadowing situation.  With former President Clinton introducing President Obama tonight, there is the risk that Bill will thrill the crowd too much and take away some of the excitement that might otherwise be reserved for our current President.  Whatever the case, Governor Deval Patrick set the mark high and both men have their work cut out for them.

He spoke of the American Dream and how it must be kept alive by investing in education, giving an example of a turnaround school in Boston.  He critiqued Romney’s record in MA as only he can – 47th in job creation, cuts in education, a man who says it’s ok to have 30 kids or more in a classroom.  Hey, Mr. Romney, the classroom is not a shop floor!  By the way, Romney tried to gut adult education programs in MA and he supported a ballot initiative that passed and effectively ended bilingual education in the Bay State.  Not exactly a immigrant friendly thing to do.  I keep hearing people say that Romney is a nice guy, but I don’t know – he’s cordial and all, but his actions tell another story.

Governor Patrick spoke convincingly in great oratorical flourishes of President Obama’s accomplishments despite a persistent GOP strategy of obstructionism.  But he left out one accomplishment that should have been key to his American Dream theme and that was the Dream Act, a version of which the President enacted by executive order granting undocumented youth who meet certain criteria legal status so that they can stay in the country, work and continue their education.  I know that Governor Patrick supports the Dream Act.  Perhaps he had a mention in his speech that the DNC operatives excised, maybe thinking that immigration reform ought to fall to a Latino speaker – Julian Castro, for example, who did mention it.

Notwithstanding the Dream Act omission, Governor Patrick’s speech was outstanding and one that ought to sway a few independents who might have been watching.

Rep. Joe Barton, Immigration and Movie Tix.

Congressmen Becerra of California and Barton of Texas spoke with CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux about immigration reform on The Situation Room.  Barton favors strong border enforcement.  His notion of the issue is black and white – that there’s legal and illegal immigration.  He said that the positions between the two parties are “almost irreconcilable”.   And yet Barton seems to be in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.  He’d like to see an expanded guest worker program for the undocumented who are in the country.  He recognizes that the problem of 11 million undocumented people in the country requires a political solution.  But in a moment of doubt, he seemed to back off the idea of working toward a bipartisan solution when he made what I thought was a bizarre analogy:

“…I took my family to the movies yesterday.  We paid $6 or $7 a piece to go into the movie.  We didn’t just walk up to the ticket window and say we’re here, we’re good people, let us into the movie for free.”

(By the way, $6 for a movie ticket is a heck of a bargain – must be the special congressional discount).

First of all, people are not risking their lives to cross the border to get a shot at a free movie.  Folks are coming here to work to support their families.  If they are lucky, they’ll find work at $6 or $7 an hour.  They come because there is a demand for their labor and as Congressman Becerra points out, they can make in an hour what they can make in a day back in their countries.

Malveaux asked whether the Republicans even need the Latino vote to which Barton replied that they did – that Latinos are the “cornerstone of our base”.  He said that Latinos are conservative, family-oriented and have a strong work ethic.  Latinos, the cornerstone of the conservative Republican base? Really? Were Latinos in Texas against the Dream Act? Apparently so because Representative Barton voted against it, and I can’t imagine that he would go against his Latino base.   Now I could understand if he were a politician from Miami where the conservative Cuban-American base has some influence.  But Barton lives in a border state.  I’d rather imagine his base to be those who believe immigrants are a drain on the economy and should all be deported. If Latinos are the cornerstone of his base, he must be referring to a tiny stone.

What a minute, Joe Barton.  Wasn’t he the guy who apologized to BP for being asked by the Obama administration to establish a 20 billion fund to compensate the victims of the BP oil spill disaster?  As a recipient of over 1 million from the oil and gas industry, it wouldn’t surprise me if big oil formed the bedrock of Barton’s base.

The Doomed Dream Act

I’m disappointed in the 5 Dems who voted against the Dream Act, which would give children of undocumented immigrants who were born in this country, or had arrived at a young age, who had been educated here, the opportunity to get a temporary green card if they join the military, or complete 2 years of college.  As is, there are many bright high school graduates who can neither serve in the military nor go to college through no fault of their own.  Had these Democrats (can they even be called Democrats?) voted in favor, the bill would have had the 60 votes needed to defeat the Republican filibuster and would have come to the floor for a final vote, where it most likely would have passed, like it did a few weeks ago in the House.

So who are these disappointing Dems? Pryor from Arkansas, Nelson from Nebraska, Baucus and Tester of Montana and Hagan from North Carolina.

Why would these senators vote against it?  Do the folks of Montana fear that droves of undocumented immigrants would relocate to the “Gold and Silver” state and plunder its natural resources?  Do they fear diversity?  Do Arkansans really feel threatened by immigrants who might become more educated and contribute to a vibrant Arkansas economy as managers, planners and engineers were the Dream Act passed?  Do the folks of North Carolina fear that immigrants might rise and demand that their needs be addressed, that they might vote some of their own into office?

Do people fear an educated immigrant class?  This would be at odds with higher education systems at the state level throughout the nation that have made diversity a priority, and I would think would welcome a talented pool of non-white candidates the Dream Act would certainly deliver.  The University of Nebraska has a diversity statement on its website that reads:  “Nebraska is committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse student body.”  It’s state motto is “equality before the law”. Both the flagship campuses of the University of Arkansas and the University of North Carolina continue to embrace diversity.

The senators no doubt have argued that the Dream Act amounts to a blanket amnesty, referring to a provision that allows children of undocumented parents to eventually legalize if they meet certain qualifications, and take a place at the back of the line for a path to citizenship.  Blanket, means unconditional, and the Dream Act is anything but.  There are very strict requirements.  Only children who entered the country under the age of 16 and have lived here for 5 consecutive years or more of good moral character with a clean criminal record who have been admitted to an institution of higher education, or have a GED or high school diploma from a U.S. school would qualify.  Furthermore, they must eventually complete at least 2 years of college in good standing and or serve in the U.S. military for 2 years to even qualify for permanent residence.   THIS IS NOT A BLANKET AMNESTY!

To Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions who has led the charge against the Dream Act because it encourages the breaking of the law, I would say that our country was founded on the principles of justice and the idea that all men (and women) are endowed with unalienable rights that among them are the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.  One of the main justifications for the Revolutionary War was the injustice of taxation without representation.  This is exactly the injustice that many undocumented immigrants face.  Contrary to popular notions, they do pay taxes – sales, property, excise and many actually pay income taxes, not with a social security number, but with a tax identification number issued them by the IRS.

The Dream Act won’t go away, nor will immigration reform.  One day in the not so distant future as the country continues to become more diverse, children of undocumented immigrants will have the opportunity to realize their potential and make significant contributions to society.

Scott Brown’s Favorite Word: NO

One thing I know about Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is that he knows how to say NO.  NO to immigrants.   NO to immigration reform.  NO to the DREAM Act, that would allow high school graduates of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship provided they attend college or serve two years in the military.  NO to a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which passed the House with bipartisan support (and bipartisan opposition) 234-194.  NO to tax cuts for the middle class.  NO to the extension of unemployment benefits.   NO to comprehensive health care reform.

Ok, I have to give him credit for crossing party lines to vote YES on a jobs billed that killed a Republican filibuster and for his support of a financial reform bill.   But….

He voted NO to confirm Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.  NO to allow states to set limits on credit card interest rates.  NO to campaign finance disclosure requirements.

Unfortunately, I have to wait 5 more years to vote Scott Brown out of office, unless he runs for president in 2012.  Hey, if he runs, maybe he’ll chose Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell as his running mate, both of whom are very good at just saying NO to everything including science.

Immigration Reform Now

President Obama gave another great speech, this time at American University , in D.C. on comprehensive immigration reform.  The question I have is this, can he lead?  Under his stewardship, comprehensive health care reform passed, with no republican support, even though there were many concessions made, to the point that the bill is fairly tame and really cannot be called comprehensive, but it’s something, right?  Now the Republicans are calling for its repeal. This is what they’ll be running on in the Fall, despite the fact that about 50% of Americans favor it, or think it has enough good in it that it beats starting over from scratch.  Poor Obama has had a difficult time getting any cooperation from the Grand Old Party of NO.  Not very patriotic in my view, when the opposition party doesn’t even try to work in a spirit of cooperation, and find common ground where it exists, and it does exist and the GOP knows it. It’s all about politics; politics ahead of country.  The Rebubs with a kick in the butt from the Tee-Party are going for the big power grab in the midterms. They’ve fought him on everything: energy policy, Wall Street reform, the BP spill, the jobs bill which has stalled in the wake of Robert Bird’s death, and now immigration reform.

With respect to Arizona, border patrol has been a problem for years, but they way the Republicans make it sound, the undocumented began crossing the border illegally in 2008.  Obama has responded by sending reinforcements to Arizona, where there are more border patrol than ever before, and he is calling for immigration reform to get to the root of the problem.  We have a problem with a leak in the area, but it’s not at the border, it’s out in the Gulf, courtesy of BP.

I’m glad immigration reform is taking center stage.  We have 11 million or so undocumented living here.  Many who are of working age are doing just that, working…and paying taxes by the way, yes taxes, sales tax, property tax, even income tax with an IRS tax id. Oh, and don’t forget the tolls, fees, and that they send money home to their families, a lot of it going to ailing latin american economies, that might otherwise collapse without this support. And immigrants are raising families, going to college, those who can afford it, and some can and some lest we forget are quite gifted, even valedictorians – all in some way or another trying to live the American dream.  Why are people so up in arms about the undocumented?  It makes no sense to me.  It really doesn’t.  I hear they are a strain or drain on services.  But could you imagine what would happen if they were all deported?  There would be an immediate shortage of migrant labor, of building cleaners and restaurant workers.  Talking about a strain on services – try no services.

I agree with the President that we have to crack down on employers, but employers need the workers – crack down, yes, by fining them for exploiting the workers, and then requiring them to pay minimum wages with the benefits that they should be entitled to, based on the number of hours worked. I do think workers who do not have a criminal past should be given some sort of temporary work authorization, with a path to citizenship at some point down the line – it’s not amnesty at all, not at all.  That’s just a demonizing Republican buzzword.

I’m going to stop here, because this is getting long, but stay tuned, I’ll be writing more on my thoughts on the subject in the weeks to come.

In Support of the Undocumented

Let me start by saying the Arizona law is just stupid, invites racial profiling and is probably unconstitutional.  It’s bad for Arizona and bad for the country as other states try to take matters into their own hands like vigilantes.  Building walls won’t stem the flow of the undocumented across the borders.  Deportation won’t help – people will come back.   Incarceration makes little sense.  Jails are overcrowded as it is.

The solution is comprehensive immigration reform.  But hear me out.  I’m not just throwing down talking points.  My idea of immigration reform is simple.  Tear down the walls.  Open the borders.  Let anyone who wants to work cross, for a fee of course.  Let the states get the money the border crosser would have had to pay a “coyote”.   No criminals.  No drugs.  No guns.   Think of the border like an airport.  You have to purchase a ticket to get in.  Get searched.  Have bags x-rayed.  Even random body scans.  We have the technology.  Why not put it to use?  Once here, the now documented immigrant would have to have a sponsor and be required to get a job within a certain period of time.   Families welcome as long as they have some means of support.  As documented immigrants, they’d be free to travel to whatever state they like for work.   This would take the burden off the border states.  Don’t think that all border crossers want to live in California, Arizona and Texas.  Maine is nice, Arkansas too.  Montana is big.  Florida has great weather, South Carolina nice beaches.   Massachusetts has lots of history; Idaho lots of potatoes – Jersey is a garden paradise with the Big Apple just across the way.

Now there would have to be a quota system.  A certain number per year.  It couldn’t be just a mad rush across the border.  Also, those currently living in the states without papers would have a chance to adjust their status.  They’d have to show they can support their family or have a sponsor.  They’d have to pass a criminal background check too, and pay a fee.

Legalizing takes the criminal element of smuggling out of the equation.  It keeps people from taking dangerous risks, often ending in death, to get across the border undetected.  And I’d go one step further.  Legalize pot.  Tax it like cigarettes and alcohol.   This would take a chunk of the market out of the hands of the drug cartels.  Reduce the demand in the U.S. for hard drugs like heroin and cocaine with intensive drug education campaigns and expanded treatment programs for addicts.   Lets put the drug cartels out of business.

One thing to remember.  Undocumented immigrants are here and here to stay.  It would be impossible to find and deport them all.  In fact, it would damage our country irreparably.  We are a nation of immigrants, not just of some immigrants or the right immigrants.  And don’t forget that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes.  They do buy food, pay rent, shop at local businesses, work the fields, clean buildings and hotels, bus tables, care for children, work construction.  And many who perform unskilled labor every day are doctors, engineers, architects and entrepreneurs in their native country and would thrive here and contribute tremendously to society if given the chance.   And they do pay sales taxes, property taxes, tolls, parking tickets and a great many pay income tax with a tax identification number. Immigrants also send money back to their families helping to keep their native countries economically stable.  Children of immigrants, many of whom are high school valedictorians are being denied a chance at higher education.  A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.

We are a big nation, a nation of immigrants.  There’s room for all who want to work and live the American dream.

The State of the Divided Union

President Obama’s first standing ovation during the SOU address came when he said, referring to the resiliency of our nation during hard times,  “It’s because of this spirit…that I’ve never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  Despite our hardships, our union is strong.”  But is it strong?  What union was he referring too?  He mentioned the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil war.  There was certainly a strong resolve on the part of President Lincoln to preserve the union.  Or was he talking about labor unions?  It’s hard to argue that unions are strong when they represent only 12.3% of the workforce or approximately 15 million workers.  In fact, union membership is on the decline.  In 1983, there were over 17 million union workers – over 20% of the workforce.   So what union was he talking about in his speech? Not the union of the people either.  I can’t remember a time when the people of this country were more divided.  I think his point was that the people don’t want to be divided.  That voters are fed up with partisan politics.  He tried to elevate himself above the gridlock that is Washington, but his administration is part of the problem.

Obama supporters expected him to deliver on some of his 2008 campaign promises on domestic issues in his first year, promises on  health care and immigration reform and job creation.   Ambitious as the promises were, the fact that health care reform did not come, that he came close but could not close the deal speaks to a failed approach, one in which he tried to placate the blue dogs and republicans by giving up on the public option.  As to jobs, the stimulus package hasn’t created as many as expected, partly because the stimulus wasn’t big enough.  And without Ted Kennedy, immigration reform may be nothing more than a hollow promise.

So what is Obama to do to right the ship? First, he wants bipartisan governance, but the republicans don’t want the democrats to get credit for anything.  They seem determined to say no to everything, even their own ideas.   So he should continue to expose this hypocrisy as he did at the meeting with republicans a day after the SOU.  I hope more candid meetings like this continue, but I have a feeling that the republican leadership will put a stop to it.   Second, he needs to stop sounding like a republican or he is going to lose his base of support.  How many times did Obama reference tax cuts in the SOU?  Tax cuts for businesses, for the middle class, for students, for homebuyers, for parents, and even more corporate welfare to encourage investment.  Tax breaks for everyone except the wealthiest, who don’t need them and could, if they chose, game the system by hiding assets or hiring  effective lawyers and accountants to find loopholes.  And then a spending freeze.  Republicans might like the sound of that, but of course will criticize him for not doing it soon enough.  Reducing the deficit should be a national priority, but it should be noted time and time again that Obama inherited the huge deficit.

The State of the Union is this:  We are a divided nation.   We don’t have to always agree on the issues, but there is such a thing as compromise.  Without it, we will continue to be a dysfunctional nation.  Let’s bring back the United in United States of America.

Thoughts on the Inaugural Address

oiaPresident Obama’s inaugural address was not one for all time, but one for our times. While critics have said it wasn’t his best, comparing it to his speeches on the campaign trail, or to the inaugural addresses of former Presidents serves no purpose. His global address was not intended to inspire – he’s already accomplished that mission. Nor was the speech designed to spread goodwill. I believe he saw the need to capitalize on the feeling of hope, inspiration, energy, and the spirit of goodwill that has been in such abundant display here and abroad since the election. Rather than inspire with another lofty public address, Obama’s goal was to lay out his assessment of the challenges ahead and to provide a set of instructions, a prescription for all to follow. It is no accident that he used the word we 46 times. We the people. Shared responsibility.

Despite the “gathering clouds and raging storms” around us, we know what to do – “We the People” have been there before and we must and can carry on.

Interestingly, he and his speech writer decided against a frontal attack on enemies, never naming them – no direct reference to rogue leaders, or unfriendly nations. No Axis of Evil. No specific mention of any terrorist group. However, a new reference surfaced to replace the War on Terrorism – now we are at war with the Network of Violence and Hatred“. I like this euphemistic phrasing better because it suggests a clear alternative – peace and love.

Nor did he choose to assign specific blame for other ills that plague our nation. No mention of Wall Street, corporate greed and corruption, deregulation, dependence on foreign oil and other policies that favor the business class, over the middle class. He carefully described our crisis using passive verb constructions – “our economy is badly weakened….homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered”, saying only that our problems are the result of “greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” and “our collective failure to make hard choices”. On this point, though, I disagree. I don’t think that most of you reading this feel responsible for the recession or feel like if only you had not been so greedy and had made a hard choice your retirement plan might not have lost half its value.

But I do agree that collectively we can meet the challenges ahead – to restore our image and credibility abroad so that we can be an agent of peace, not war; “to restore science to its rightful place”; “to harness the sun and the winds”; to bring relief to people of impoverished nations “to make farms flourish and “clean waters flow… to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds”. Perhaps this means a renewed financial commitment to the Peace Corps to embrace and expand the “spirit of service”?

And to those “nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders.” And here, I am in complete agreement. Down with the fences. Let’s create a humane immigration policy to allow our brothers and sisters “in search of a new life” the right to safely cross our southern border to live, work and prosper in this great nation of ours; this nation of immigrants. “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness”.

There are many challenges ahead which require thoughtful debate, shared responsibility and decisive action. Together we can, we must and we will. That is what he said. That is what President Barack Obama said.