Tag Archives: The American Century

On Loss of Innocence Again: Essay for April 20, 2013

The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.

Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.

I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.

Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.

The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.

That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.

So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.

It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.

So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.

Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.

We ARE Boston Strong.

Press on.

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On Time and Tide and Immigration: Video Essay for July 28, 2012

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On Tide and Time and Immigration: Essay for July 28, 2012

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.

Press on.

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On the Blame Game: Video Essay for June 30, 2012

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On the Blame Game: Essay for June 30, 2012

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.

Press on.

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On Turning Points: Video Essay for June 10, 2012

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