I have been involved in change activities for many years and find most people are moved to change for one of two reasons. Sometimes people move towards gain. There is a promise of something better that compels them to overcome the inertia of the status quo. Other times, they are moving away from pain. The thought of staying in one place is overwhelmed by the thought that something, anything, must be better than what is before them.
Recently I had the chance to tour the Chinatown Heritage Center and explore what that experience was like for tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants, and other nationalities including Hindi and Malay, in the 19th and 20th centuries. These were Coolies, a term derived from dialectic Chinese meaning hard labor. And hard labor was what they found once arriving in their promised land of Nanyang. And like most immigrants, they hoped to work hard, save some money to send to relatives and someday return to their homeland. They were fleeing oppression, lack of hope and despair. They were fleeing to move away from pain. But pain is what they found in their new land as well as all the trappings that burgeoning cities offer: organized crime, prostitution and disease, addiction to drugs and to gambling.
Nanyang is modern day Singapore. Coolies went in many directions to move away from pain. The Heritage Center tour reminded me of another similar experience I had at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There, the stories of German Jews and Italian Catholics resonated in similar tones to those of Singapore. The Pain/Gain pendulum swung yet again as tens of millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island alone. They were coming, against all odds, to seek a better life. They, like their Chinese counterparts on the other side of the world, were moving away from the pain of their past lives, ready to take on the hardships that this transition would demand. And they, like those in Nanyang, would toil in unfavorable and unthinkable hardship, be exposed to the corruptions of an unremitting society and do their best to make it in a new world.
Receptivity to hard labor-driven mass immigration has changed over generations. The Industrial Revolution demanded large numbers of people to fill the mills and factories; to build the cities; to build the railroads and dams; and to work the fields. Strong backs were valued more than strong minds. Those first generation immigrants figuratively laid their bodies in a human bridge to pave the way for their next generations to have a better life, however slightly better it might be.
The immigrant of the 19th century generally did not move towards gain; they were moving away from pain. Circumstances have changed considerably in the 21st century in the Western world. The demand for mass quantities of unskilled labor in America and the West has all but vanished.
Immigrants, especially in America, stopped moving away from pain and began moving towards gain. Since 1965, 85% of legal immigration in America has been of the unskilled variety as chain immigration offset skills-based considerations. Life immediately looked to be better in America than in their homeland and the exodus has not abated. Legal chain immigration of the unskilled is matched by the illegal masses that cross our border.
What gets squeezed in this is the legitimate need for legal immigrants, those who can contribute immediately to our economy. Many of those immigrants are already here, enrolled and graduating from the many world class educational institutions that abound in this country. This stifles the economic growth that might otherwise be created by the talented individuals who we send back to create and innovate on behalf of our international competitors instead of on our behalf.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here is a good news story on immigration. No, make that a great news story. I just attended a Hindu wedding of the first son of a colleague of mine who emigrated in the early 1980’s from Mumbai with $14 in his pocket intent upon moving towards gain. He arrived with an education and was enveloped in a warm crowd of fellow immigrants who understood that the road to the American Dream was paved with hard work, discipline, perseverance and a solid grasp of the English language. He and his wife became US citizens. They raised two fine children who have earned science degrees at fine institutions of higher education. Those boys straddle two cultures but are proud and thankful participants in The Dream. The wedding could not have been more enjoyable as 350 people celebrated not only the happiness of the couple but the arrival of the parents who raised them to succeed in America. For The Dream to be successful, it has to have proper amounts of push from society and pull from family and friends.
So how do we respect the unstoppable march of immigrants moving away from pain while opening our doors to those who are moving towards gain? And further, how does America attract the correct people to seek that gain? The answer lies with immigration reform. Not every immigrant needs to become a citizen but everyone needs to be here legally, even if it on a temporary or seasonal basis. Those who can contribute should go to the head of the line.
Revitalizing the American economy is the best way to provide opportunity for all. America’s best days must lie ahead of her, not behind her.
Oh my, is there ever lots of gnashing of teeth going on over the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. There is a lot of name calling, too. After all, someone must be to blame for this horrible act.
Is it Chief Justice Roberts? He is the conservative who voted with the liberal side of the court tilting the balance to the left. He could have used his vote to end the entire matter of Obamacare once and for all. He did not. Roberts: guilty!
Then there is the grand perpetrator himself, President Obama. Wasn’t this his idea to begin with? He spent his first 14 months in office cramming this package down our throats. We did not want it and he would not listen to our clamor. Obama: guilty!
What about former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Was there ever a bigger cheerleader for this monstrosity of legislation than her? Remember how she told us that we would have to pass the bill first so that we could find out what’s in it? Well, we certainly know now. Pelosi: guilty!
How about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Remember how he would not even let the bill go through a conference process? That effectively neutered the role of newly elected Senator Scott Brown from weighing in as the 41st vote. Reed: guilty!
No conversation about blame for any unfortunate outcome of the Obama Administration would be complete without the mention of former President George W. Bush. Surely there is some sort of blood on his hands. Nonsense, you say? Let’s look at some facts.
While George Bush was eking out the 2000 elections with the thinnest of electoral margins, the House and Senate were under slight Republican control. In the painful wake of the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 midterms improved the Republican House margin by 8 seats. By 2004 we were involved in two wars. Bush carried 31 States and the Republicans expanded control of the House by 3 more seats and the Senate by 4. Bush now enjoyed some comfortable legislative margins on top of his reelection. But the years between 2004 and 2006 were not kind to Republicans. The wars lingered and casualties mounted. Deficit spending was increasing. Government expansion surpassed that of his Democratic predecessors.
The mid-term elections of 2006 swung the House decisively into Democrat hands as they picked up 31 seats. The Senate lurched into effective Democratic control by a slim majority. Bush: guilty!
The rise of hope and change took America by storm in 2008 and led to a clean Democrat sweep into power by very effective margins in both chambers of Congress. The Republicans lost 20 seats in the House and 7 seats in the Senate.
Emboldened by raw power and a perceived mandate of the people for change, the Reed-Pelosi juggernaut got moving and it did not stop until the final, cowardly vote was taken to pass the Affordable Care Act by the very slimmest of margins without a single Republican vote. Not a single Republican vote.
Where had all of the Republicans gone? They were voted out and almost into extinction. Heretofore, legislation of this magnitude always involved a bipartisan compromise. But there was no need to compromise with the minority party so long as there were enough votes to pass. The Republicans were hoisted on their own petard as our Constitutional Republic spoke.
Ironically, the dastardly doings of the Obama-Reed-Pelosi triumvirate would be their undoing come the 2010 elections when Republicans erased Democrat gains of the past decade and captured 63 seats in the House and 5 seats in the Senate to regain at least a single toehold in the Legislative Branch. Slowly but surely the Affordable Care Act worked its way through the Judicial Branch. Everyone who pined for appeal saw the Supreme Court as the cavalry raising a cloud of dust in the distance. It turned out that they were wearing a different uniform.
So who is to blame? Is it John Roberts or Harry Reed? Is it Barack Obama or George Bush?
I’ll give you my opinion: it is all of us Americans, that’s who. We either cast a ballot for every one of those officials who voted for or against a bill or for or against an appointment or we did not. We either paid attention to the issues at hand or we did not. We either got active, informed, passionate and involved or we did not. We let the reins of government slip through our fingers such that the majorities in the House and Senate got so lopsided that there was no counterbalance to the myopia that seized the Presidency and Congress. We looked to the Supreme Court to bail us out and it did not do so. Americans: guilty!
Perhaps “Pogo” cartoonist Walt Kelly summed it up best in a 1970 strip when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed he is correct. This battle is now in our hands. The Supreme Court has spoken. We did not like what we heard. The President has spoken. We did not like what he said. Congress has spoken. We did not like their arrogance.
Nothing will change until we re-engage in the political process and drum out of Washington those career politicians who are corrupted by their own avarice and intoxicated by their own saliva. Walt Kelly also said this, “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.” Neither is Obamacare.
“Optimism is a force multiplier.” So said General Colin Powell long before he was involved in politics. It was the mantra he used to lead those under his command. From The Little Engine That Could to the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, optimism bores through an obstacle like a candle burns through the darkness.
The converse of that statement is equally true. Pessimism is a force diminisher. The real problem with pessimism is that it is virally contagious. It spreads like a pandemic without antidote. Its’ effects are deleterious. Pessimism convinces us that darkness is okay because our eyes will adjust over time especially if the daylight is first overcome by dusk.
It reminds me of the instructions of how to boil a frog: start with cool water and turn up the heat until the deed is done. No intelligent frog would long stay in boiling water but lull them into a false sense of security and they will stew in their own juices and thank you for the effort.
A recently released Rasmussen poll said that only 37 percent of Americans think that the best days for America lie ahead. Some 45 percent think that our best days are indeed behind us. I don’t know when those numbers were reversed. As far back as 2006 with America deeply involved in a bloody war in Iraq and a holding action in Afghanistan and with political partisanship at full throttle, the numbers were fairly similar. Pessimism abounds.
Winning streaks are hard to maintain. They are noble and enduring. Losing streaks take little effort at all to maintain. They are ignoble and best forgotten except in trivia contests. Longest batting streak in baseball? Fifty six games by Lou Gehrig. Longest losing streak for a pitcher? Twenty seven games by Anthony Young. They made movies about Hall-of-Famer Lou Gehrig. What about Anthony Young? He coaches youth baseball.
Is this to be the way of America? Are we destined to become the youth coach of the burgeoning democracies of the world? Or are we metaphorically poised to begin our fifty seven game hitting streak? I think it is a mental choice. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
The world is an unstable and unpredictable place. It demands a steady hand on the tiller and America is the only country that can provide the leadership that the stability of the world demands. We must be willing to offer that leadership. Allowing warlords and Lesser Developed Countries to dictate the terms of their participation in the family of nations to the largest single force for good in the history of this planet is ludicrous. The outcome will be as certain as it was in Lord of the Flies.
The world needs adult supervision and that supervision must come from the United States. That leaves us with a very real problem. Who among us in this great country is up to the task of leadership? And I mean bold leadership.
The world is full of follower countries waiting for the resurgence of a renewed and focused United States. And Americans are waiting for the same leadership in our own country. We’ve heard the platitudes and we reject them not so much out of incredulity as out of desperation. The words are threadbare and shopworn.
The United States has the largest and most resilient economy in the world but who is filling the pipeline of talent to take over the seats of the aging demographic that is poised to retire? Who seriously thinks that US businesses can successfully repatriate their manufacturing if the workforce is barren of the skills necessary to complete? Our next President must do, not talk.
The United States has the largest and most competent military force in the world but does anyone think we can continue to put our forces in harm’s way to support illegitimate and unjust countries with values incompatible with our own world view? Who thinks we can continue to rotate our best and most precious human assets into combat stalemates without sacrificing the core of our collective soul? Our next President must do, not talk.
The United States has provided a safety net to the neediest among us but how long can this net endure if it becomes a hammock for those who put personal gain at odds against the collective good? Who among us thinks we can pass along the decisions we are too cowardly to make to our children and grandchildren? Our next President must do, not talk.
Certainly our President has not had enough time to bring about change that this nation so desperately needs. That is because he is lost in the wilderness and a worn footpath looks like a superhighway. He is presiding over a losing streak of epic proportions because he has no vision of what American can be and must become.
This is not the fault of the previous administration. It is the fault of President Barack Obama. This President has talked, not done. We are ready for the leader who will light the candle in the darkness.
Yogi said it was 90 percent mental and 50 percent physical. It is hard to argue with that.