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Archive for July, 2010

The champion of modern conservatism and hero of the Republican Party, President Ronald Reagan, who, nevertheless, on the issue of immigration had liberal views, once said,  “America is really many Americas,” composed of virtually every race and religion.  He said, “All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas.  And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in.  In fact, what they brought to America became American.  And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.”

And so it has, but with immigration, as with war or combating drugs and disease, there is someone somewhere who is exploiting a human being to enhance their profit, or exploited by politicians for political gain.  Employers become more profitable by employing low-wage immigrant workers without providing them benefits, nor are they afforded legal rights.  While Americans benefit from lower prices at the supermarket because of the low-wage labor of illegal immigrants, on the other hand, many Americans want to deport them.  And, the fear of illegal immigration has made enforcement, detention, and deportation booming industries, each unto itself, which only takes more out of the American worker’s paycheck.

The inferences coming out of the immigration debate has influenced many Americans into thinking the United States perhaps does not need low-wage immigrant workers.  However, Reagan, who is admired by many Americans,  a conservative’s conservative, implicitly acknowledged a need for low-wage immigrant workers, he said, “One thing is certain in this hungry world, no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters.”

An American majority support some form of immigration reform.  And, very disappointingly, they support Arizona’s new immigration law, increasing Border Patrols and other law enforcement on the Mexican border, while supporting a plan that allows illegal immigrants to remain legally in the United States if they have a job and pay taxes.

Additionally, contrary to Reagan’s view, those Americans are asking immigrants who brought their music, literature, customs, language, and ideas “to relinquish these things in order to fit in.” 

So what would President Reagan’s view be in the current immigration debate?  Reagan’s speechwriter Peter Robinson expressed his opinion by saying “Where he would have differed is his welcoming attitude toward immigrants.”

Robinson said, “In a private meeting with then-President Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico in 1979, Reagan wrote that he hoped to discuss how the United States and Mexico could make the border “something other than the location for a fence.”
 
Also, Robinson described what “Reagan’s attitude toward the growing Hispanic influence in American life” would be.  He said, “When announcing his bid for the White House in 1979 he asserted plainly, ‘I favor statehood for Puerto Rico.’  And Reagan again and again declared that a basic, even radical, openness to immigration represents a defining aspect of our national identity.  Describing America as ‘a shining city’ in his 1989 farewell address, for example, he said, ‘and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.’”

It seems apparent that Reagan would be livid over a militantly staffed border.  Moreover, one thing also is certain; he would be vehemently opposed to any exploitation of illegal immigrants. 

Immigration reform, as it has been presented so far, rejects American values by not upholding human rights and by denying others an opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  Reform coupled with militantly staffed border enforcement not only obstructs freedom but is an impediment to a free market operating in accordance with the laws of supply and demand as it relates to jobs, wages, and opportunity. 

So, I believe the only satisfactory and prudent way to “fix the borders” and to make the border “something other than the location for a fence,” would be to make our border with Mexico, as well as with Canada, an open border allowing unrestricted entry and exit, which would be “open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.’”

Moreover, open border legislation would eliminate the need for risky clandestine border crossings in a “no man’s land” that results in injury and death for so many.  Immigrants would no longer be required to separate from their families. 
Open borders would eliminate the wasteful, extremely costly, and ultimately ineffective expense of intense policing of our borders, or the procurement, installation and maintenance of fences and other security devices, and there staffing.  It would allow border patrols to concentrate on drug trafficking and real security threats as opposed to illegal immigrant border crossings.  Human trafficking would be eliminated as it is related to illegal immigration — “coyotes” would essentially be out of business.  And it just might reduce racism and ethnic tension.

It would uphold those American values we so endear: human rights and providing other human beings an opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

Of course, as I said, we would still need border security, but reducing homeland security cost would help to reduce our much-criticized deficit

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As was clearly in evidence with Tea Party’s spokespersons Mark Williams and Andrew Breitbart, as well as with others, racism is apparently central to Tea Party politics and our American mores.  And, apparently, the election of an African-American President has not allayed racial or ethnic prejudice.  It seems, in many ways it has only heightened racial tensions and has not made, as many had hoped, racism a relic of the past.

Conservative activists Andrew Breitbart’s exploitation of Shirley Sherrod, whose telling parable of her life as a black woman in conflict with her most innermost personal feelings regarding race, and how she evolved to understand that not only people of color, but white people as well are discriminated against, not because of their whiteness but because they are poor, is a very repulsive example of racism

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the media’s rush to judgment without providing Shirley Sherrod, Georgia’s USDA’s rural development director, the opportunity to tell her story is deplorable.  De facto racism still exists in America; however, there is an unacceptable reluctance to have an honest conversation regarding it.  There is a dread of being accused of racism, evidenced by Vilsack asking for Ms. Sherrod’s resignation in haste because of his fear that Breitbart’s video was going to be shown on Fox’s Glenn Beck program before he could respond.

Moreover, what does it mean for America when its President and Congress do not publicly address the issue and denounce Breitbart, Fox’s Beck and O’Reilly, and those media outlets who ran with the story.  It’s an ideal teachable moment that has not been taken advantage of.  Other than saying, someone jumped the gun on the story, or that Ms. Sherrod should be given her job back, no one in the Obama administration has stood up and had the courage to condemn the racism that is so blatantly clear, and of which is so rampant in America.

And, now a new book, “Cultural Hegemony and African American Patriotism: An Analysis of the Song, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,'” by Timothy Askew, associate professor of English at Clark Atlanta University.  The song, recognized as the Black National Anthem, whose designation, Askew declares in his book, as a “national anthem” is racially divisive and implies separatism.

The song has musical and lyrical value, and a memorable and historic tradition.  “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is an uplifting spiritual, applicable to all those who have had a struggle in life.  “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, and it has been an integral part of America’s black heritage ever since.

I have always had a problem with our National Anthem.  As with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” it too was first a poem.  The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song and then renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  From that standpoint alone, it’s not uniquely American.  However, my principle objection is that our National Anthem is a celebration of war, and not of peace, harmony, unity, or even a celebration of our beautiful country, which would have made “America the Beautiful” an appropriate choice.  Even “Lift Every Voice and Sing” would be an appropriate choice for it speaks to peace, harmony, faith, and hope, and it is undeniably uniquely American.  Nevertheless, labeling “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the Black National Anthem is a mistake.  The black community should celebrate it, label it as a hymn, but refrain from using the label Black National Anthem.

Instead, with the President of the United States taking the lead, we in American unity should “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

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We have an ugly affliction in America that detracts its citizens from looking at issues compassionately, rejects diversity, and where critical thought is obstructed.  An affliction that deters our nation’s growth, and contradicts that of which America says it stands.

An affliction as un-American as it can get.  Something the U.S. Constitution addresses, in that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …,” which is attempted in law to provide justice to discrimination, but unacceptably in the daily lives of many Americans it’s blatantly ignored.  An affliction exploited in entertainment, the daily news, social behaviors, and by government and its politicians.

It’s an affliction caused by …

Stereotyping: a person is exposed to negative things about an ethnic group that eventually affects their conception of that group;

Unfamiliarity: fear of what is not known or understood;

Selfishness: caring about oneself at the expense of others;

Dominance: a certain race perceived politically, socially, or economically as superior to others;

Xenophobia: Fears of people who look, act, or behave differently.

The affliction induces animosity. 

People with this affliction view human rights protections for minority groups as giving them “special rights.” 

It manifests an ignorance of other cultures, religions, and values, and influences the enforcement and enactment of immigration laws. 

Although the affliction is recognizable, for those who are afflicted it will be disowned.  But, undeniably, the symptoms are embedded in the rhetoric:

Mark Williams, Tea Party Express representative, commenting on the Mosque at Ground Zero, referred to Allah as a “monkey-god.” 

In reference to the NAACP, Williams said they are “professional race-baiters” who make their “money off of race.”  He wrote a blog post in which he called for a return to slavery.  He referred to emancipation as meaning that “colored people” must “work for real,” and think for themselves.  Saying, “How will … colored people ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?”  And he said, “The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society.” 

Williams said that African Americans were too stupid to get out of the way of Hurricane Katrina: “They didn’t have the necessary brains and common sense to get out of the way of a Cat 5 Hurricane and then when it hit them — stood on the side of the convention Center expiring while reporters were coming and going”

The Tea Party Federation did expel Williams and a separate group, the Tea Party Express, over his NAACP remarks, but symptoms of racism were apparent in the movement and should have been repudiated long ago.

The most recent revelation of bigotry comes from Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart’s accusation against the NAACP and Shirley Sherrod, Georgia’s USDA’s rural development director, of racism.  Without further inquiry, news networks lead by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly presented Sherrod’s NAACP speech as evidence of her racism, and as a result, without due diligence Agriculture Secretary Vilsack asked for Sherrod’s resignation.  However, to their chagrin, facts revealed that Breitbart’s selectively edited video was a blatant out of context misrepresentation of Sherrod’s speech.  It turned out that Sherrod’s speech was a parable on her inner conflict with racism.  Breitbart’s edited video was motivated by a desire for retaliation against the NAACP’s accusation of racism against the Tea Party Federation.

In order to marginalize this very damaging affliction, denouncing bigotry in all of its manifestations must become America’s zeal.  That was the message from the NAACP when they called upon all people of good will to repudiate racism and to stand in opposition to its drive to push our country back to the pre-civil rights era. 

Shirley Sherrod is correct when she said that discrimination is not just about being black or white, but being poor.

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“The Cordoba House is a Muslim-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City.  The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.

This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture.  Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all. 

The site will contain tremendous amounts of resources that otherwise would not exist in Lower Manhattan; a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, restaurants – all these services would form a cultural nexus for a region of New York City that, as it continues to grow, requires the sort of hub that Cordoba House will provide.

Our Mission: ‘Improving Muslim-West Relations.’ Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.”

So says the Cordoba House Initiative on their website, but others are saying, “a Mosque next to Ground Zero!  OMG!”

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many others support this initiative, “OMG” is the immediate reaction from adversaries, all of whom have different reasons for their opposition.

The Cordoba House Initiative’s plan to build a one-hundred million dollar, thirteen-story mosque, just two blocks from Ground Zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks has understandably angered the families of those who lost their lives on that dreadful day.  However, some of the opponents are not survivor families and are plainly bigoted, and some, simply out of ill-begotten fear, are bathed in ignorance, who wish to paint with a wide brush all of the Islamic faith as sponsors of terrorism.

One such bigot is  Mark Williams, Tea Party Express spokesman,  who said, “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god and a “cultural center” to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult. It is a project of American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, essentially the same group of apologists (but under 2 different names) for terrorists and the animals who use it as a terrorist ideology. They cloak their evil with new age gibberish that suggests Islam is just misunderstood.”

I cannot read into the hearts and minds of those who had a loved one who was a victim on that day.  When I was asked recently, “how would I feel if you had lost a loved one?” my response was that I did not know, but I would hope that I would have understanding and compassion for those who would be indirectly blamed and who were not complicit.

However, there always will be some, as Mark Williams who is the archetypal bigot, and is representative of all those who are, that possess an underlying xenophobia towards others whose skin color and dress are different from theirs, who have different languages and cultures, who are atheist or of different religious faith that drive their criticism.

Larry Bethune, Senior Pastor at the University Baptist Church of Austin, expressed his analogy of painting terrorist with a wide brush stroke by saying, “The Islamic extremists who did do not represent all of Islam any more than abortion clinic bombers represent all Christians.”

There seems to be a phobia for everything and anything.  All of them are ill-begotten and will prevent one from living their life to the fullest.  If someone is overcome by fear, they will not leave their home, cross the street, go food shopping, or even seek employment.  And so it is with a fear of another culture.  This fear prevents one from pursuing knowledge of that culture and forsakes their life to hate and bigotry rather than enlightenment.  A 2009 Gallup poll reports that “Those who report they do not know a Muslim are twice as likely to express ‘a great deal’ of prejudice against Islam.” .

The xenophobic craze over a Mosque at Ground Zero does more to dishonor the memory of those who died on that day, and discredit our American way of life, than does building a mosque in a country founded on religious freedom.

Yes, we need to solve the problem of Terrorism. But we don’t have to give up being Americans to do that.  If we cannot work out an American solution, one that respects our laws and principles, then our nation has lost its way, and we will have done it to ourselves through our bigotry, lack of compassion, thoughtlessness and ignorance.

Yes, we have a justifiable reason to closely monitoring the activities of a mosque with a concern about ties to international terrorism in the same way we have an interest in monitoring the Catholic Church for pedophilia once it was known that there have been unacceptable levels of child abuse not addressed by the church.

Joe Clifford, Pastor and head of staff, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, said “To ban any Muslim presence from the neighborhood because of the actions of 19 terrorists is to fall into the same flawed ideology of the terrorist who label all Americans as evil.”

The presence of a mosque at Ground Zero could promote healing and interfaith tolerance. It also is a clear statement that America is what it claims to be.  Critical thinking on the issue should inform anyone that, yes, the terrorists were Muslim, but that their actions were not consistent with the teachings of Islam no more than pedophilia is consistent with the teachings of Catholicism.

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In a recent Fortune Magazine article, “What if there’s no fix for high unemployment?”  Martin Ford puts forth the well-founded proposition that unemployment may remain high into the unforeseeable future.  He forecast it might never rebound to acceptable levels.

Technological advancements in computerized automation and robotics are increasingly replacing jobs in every sector of our economy.  Following World War II, changes in the global economy and advancing technology gradually transitioned American workers from manufacturing to service related work.  Now, advances in automation, too, are replacing service sector jobs.

From robotic chefs and waitstaff in restaurants to robotic automobile production to automated banking and very sophisticated robotic surgical procedures, computerization and robotics have taken over many middle class jobs and will continue to replace many others as we gain greater knowledge, and as innovative and improved technologies are created.  Specialized artificial intelligence applications will also make high-ended and highly skilled professional jobs scarce.

McDonald’s even has a new system that they have been testing so that their customers can order and pay for food from self-service kiosks.  So as this trend continues even lower paid jobs will eventually be eliminated.

You will find at sometime in the future that routine doctor office visits, such as to receive a physical, will be automated, including the utilization of copay and appointment making services delivered from self-service kiosks, and the physical exam itself will be robotic-aided, or perhaps performed completely by robots.

Commercial pilots will not fly aircraft nor will captains pilot vessels.

Computerized automation and robotics are customer-friendly, they are fast, less prone to errors, safe, will lower cost, lead to lower prices, and unfortunately eliminate jobs.

Automation will also tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.  Those who are at the top of the corporate ladder will benefit from lower cost and greater profit, while those whose jobs are being replaced will end up with nothing.  The latter will increasingly be in dire straits, and as a result, so will America.

America, as well as other nations, must find a way to manage high levels of unemployment, because with the plague of higher unemployment there will be fewer tax dollars, increased deficit spending, and drops in consumer spending.  It will also mean people will increasingly rely on government for financial assistance.

There seemingly is a common cause for every problem in our world.  The problem is either not solved or debilitated by the lack of money or the need for profit.  It’s not because of evil intent, not usually because of a lack of knowledge, or that folks don’t have an earnest desire to solve the problem, nor is it because of a lack of natural resources, but exclusively because of the lack of financial resources – money!

The quest for money or profit corrupts government, destroys our environment, controls life, inhibits liberty, and exploits the world’s peoples.

Corporations, in order to sustain profit and shareholder value, must keep resources and products scarce and manipulate them to keep demand high.  Our economic system is inherently wasteful and we are faced with the problem of unsustainable consumption.

Whether we like it or not there will be no choice, sooner or later we must transform to a social system that does not depend on the almighty dollar.

The reality is that America and the world needs fundamentally to change the way they think about money.

And, so, what it all boils down to is that America needs to lead the world in putting in place a system that provides liberty and security for all citizens equally.  That system is a moneyless system, one that does not require any means of exchange for goods and services; a resource-based system.

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At the end of June, just before their Fourth of July recess, Republican Senators and one Democrat revealed an unwillingness to help America’s jobless by ending any further debate on a bill that would extend unemployment benefits.

I am not surprised!  Republicans infrequently support legislation that would provide assistance to the indigent or to families who live on Main Street, but frequently will support Wall Street.  Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that this will make the third time that Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has joined Republicans in blocking a vote on unemployment extensions.

Senate Republicans and a Democrat have denied 1.3 million unemployed Americans, many with families who have children or elders who need assistance, a financial resource that help to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their head, to maintain, pay, and put gas in their car in order to look for and report for that first day of work, or even to provide for medical care.

The Boston Globe reports, “If Congress fails to act by the end of July, an additional 2 million will lose their unemployment checks.”

As of July 1st, according to the Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development, around 30,000 residents will have lost unemployment benefits.  Without another extension, another 10,000 per week will continue to see their payments end.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in order to keep the unemployment bill viable, has put forth a new version of H.R. 4213 for a cloture vote that will take place sometime after July 12.  The price tag on the new bill also has been slimmed down to $33.9 billion.

However, no one should expect quick action.  On their first day back, the Senate is set to consider a motion to “proceed to” H.R. 5297, the Small Business Lending Act of 2010.

And, don’t forget, we still have the Republicans who say it’s not being fiscally responsible to legislate an unemployment benefit extension without providing the means for funding it, despite the fact that passing this legislation under emergency funding has been the precedent for 30 years.

This Republican requirement is inexplicable, I am sure you will remember that with the 2008 TARP legislation, banks received billions in emergency funds. 

Senator Brown said he would vote for extended unemployment assistance if money for it came from unused stimulus funds.  However, the unused stimulus funds were earmarked for stimulus projects as they came on line, as, for example, the Pembroke, Massachusetts, Center Shopping Plaza Project that just came on line as a result of recently awarded federal stimulus money.

It’s also interesting to note that House Minority Leader John Boehner has essentially said that reforming the country’s entitlement system will be necessary to ensure there’s enough money to pay for the war.  Evidently, Republicans believe that spending on spent bullets and bombs that have killed millions of innocent human beings is more important than assisting unemployed American workers.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if “compassionate conservatism” really existed?

To avert layoffs, many businesses cut work hours, shorten workweeks, curtail pay increases, and reduce benefits in order to marginalize the need for layoffs.  They have employed every conceivable way to keep their workers on the job throughout this fiscal crisis.

The employers and employees who have participated in those actions have shown that they are willing to do what they can to lessen the unemployment threat in their workplaces.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Congress sacrificed as so many American workers have, perhaps take a pay cut in order to pay for unemployment and help fund those wars?

“How would that work for ya?”

Do I hear “You Betcha?”

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At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, most people of the thirteen colonies lived in the countryside making their living from farming.  For the most part, they lived on bread and butter, potatoes, and tea.  In order to include meat in meals they depended on hunting game.  Policing was limited, so they were responsible for their personal and family’s self-protection.  Because there was not a standing professionally trained armed force, in order to protect their communities, colonial statutes required all white men to both keep and bear arms for mustering a militia on short notice.  Hence, it should be understood, weapons were an existential need.

It is therefore not surprising that the framers wrote into the Second Amendment of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  In their zeitgeist, it was a pragmatic and reasonable act.

Today, the Supreme Court’s task is to interpret the Constitution’s meaning from what was originally written.  Of course, determining the framers’ intent is the only valid way for its interpretation.  In light of the zeitgeist of the framers, the Constitution’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is very clear.  Its intent is not confusing or open to any other interpretation other than what was clearly written: the right of the people to keep and bear arms is necessary to the security of a Free State.

Accordingly, its not surprising either that recently the Supreme Court ruled that a citizen’s right to gun ownership could not be impinged upon, not only federally, but by local or state government as well. 

That being said, however, the decision to strike down Chicago’s gun-control ordinance is not reasonable and is extremely shortsighted.  Many press sources have predicted that the decision has the potential of limiting State and local government from enforcing restrictions on gun ownership.  A New York Times editorial predicts that it “spells trouble for the country as a whole.”  During the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, U.S. Senator Feinstein, (D-CA.), cited, “the plague of gang violence in her state, ‘metropolitan states’ have different problems than rural states and suggested the court’s decision is challengeable.”

In many U.S. cities and along the border with Mexico there is an existential need for gun-control regulation or even prohibition.  Guns fuel the violence that has exploded along the southern border and in Chicago, California and in many other gang-infested communities.  Along Mexico’s northern border, there have been more deaths as a result of drug-wars than U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.  It’s the result of America’s unquenchable desire for drugs.  It’s guns they acquire from the United States that facilitate the violence.  The availability to acquire guns must be regulated and even eliminated.  America’s penchant for violence must end.

Moreover, the framers wrote the Constitution in such a way as to make it open to change through amendments by legislative process and ratification by the States.  The Constitution, therefore, was intended to be a living document evolving over time as a result of greater gains in knowledge, and in consideration of advancements in technology and science, of cultural changes and greater diversity, of ever increasing political and economic complexities, of new and different international and national security threats, and in view of our evolving need for greater global participation.

What is needed is a Constitutional amendment that repeals and replaces the Second Amendment to one that recognizes the real world differences between 1776 and 2010, and that, too, must be updated as America evolves.

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