On immigration, who’s the turkey this Thanksgiving?

turkeyWe don’t need a Rockwell painting to remind us that Thanksgiving is all about those who came to this nation as immigrants.  Everyone,  of course, except the Native Americans.  The Pilgrims came to escape religious persecution. My great grandparents did it in the 1800’s. At some point, your forebears did it as well. Wave after wave throughout our history left their homes, endured challenging voyages and , with little to their names, worked hard and helped to build this nation. So what’s the matter with the Republican Congressional leadership?

The answer is basically Obama.  The President has called their bluff.  A year and a half after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill House Speaker John Boehner has yet to take it up.  The simplest answer to the President’s executive order is for the orange man to bring the Senate bill to the floor or pass a House bill and let the differences be worked out in conference committee. The Republican response, however, is to sue the President for overreaching.

Let’s be clear.  Every President except William Henry Harrison has issued executive orders, and he didn’t because he died a month after taking office.  The most ever issued was 3721, by our longest serving President Franklin Roosevelt.  Jimmy Carter issued 371; Ronald Reagan, 381; Bill Clinton, 364; George W., 291 .  Barack Obama has issued 193. Obviously, there’s a wide range of substance among these orders.

Obama’s most recent would put a hold on deportation for three years for the parents of children who are citizens or legal residents.  Those adults would have to have been here for five years and face criminal background checks. This would not be a path to citizenship.  About 5 million of the 11 million undocumented individuals would be able to come out of the shadows and pay taxes. And there would be more flexibility in the H-1B visa program for high-skilled foreign-born workers. More resources would be deployed to deporting criminals.

A majority of the public favors these changes and more reforms of our immigration program. (Even many Republicans acknowledge we can’t deport all 11 million people who came or remained here illegally.) But a majority also disapproves making changes by executive order.

What is particularly disconcerting is the number of times (including March, April and September of 2011 and February and September of 2013) that the President said he can’t reform immigration by executive order, that “The path is through Congress,”  “I am not the emperor,”   and “My job is to execute laws that are passed.”  Perhaps he was talking  about comprehensive reform and not about his recent decision. Clearly he had the authority to do what he is doing now but chose not to do so for a variety of reasons, especially the obvious political ones having to do with the election.  He outsmarted himself by holding back before the election to help red and purple state Democrats, who went down to defeat.

Now he’ll have to demonstrate that what he has done by executive order is not an overreach, that it is, as he put it, “a commonplace middle ground approach.” I believe he can make that case. The better path would be for John Boehner, seeking to mitigate the anti-immigrant stench of the GOP before the 2016 election,  to play statesman and get the House to pass a bill by the end of the year.  In the holiday spirit, I’d like to believe that, too, would be possible, but I fear that, when it comes to immigration, there’s a greater chance he’ll prove to be the Thanksgiving turkey once again.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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Cosby revelations disgusting

photo AP

photo AP

It’s as if we learned that Mr. Rogers was a pedophile, or Marcus Welby had sexually assaulted patients in his exam room. This week we learned that Bill Cosby, the apogee of middle class respectability both in character (as Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show) and in person (universally honored, including locally a few years ago by the esteemed Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston), stands accused of being a serial rapist.

As widely reported this week,  comedian Andrea Constand sued him for drugging and groping her genitals ten years ago. The evidence did not lead to criminal charges, but in 2006, he settled with her out of court.  Another dozen  women echoed her charges.  This week, an op ed by another victim, Barbara Bowman, appeared in The Washington Post, detailing that 30 years ago Cosby had repeatedly exploited and raped her, a then beautiful blond teenage actress.  Bowman also wondered on CNN three days ago why it took 30 years for the world to take her charges seriously. Back then, even her agent wouldn’t believe her story about “America’s dad.” Other victims have recently come out of the woodwork.

Are the charges true? Or are women piling on, hoping to get their own financial settlements?  A Cosby spokesperson says that just because something is repeated doesn’t make it true. When Cosby went on highly respected NPR reporter Scott Simon’s Weekend Edition Saturday morning to talk about his and his wife Camille’s loan to the Smithsonian Institution of  62 African and African-American paintings, Simon concluded the interview by saying that he wouldn’t be a good reporter if he didn’t ask about the charges.  Cosby twice shook his head no and said nothing, rejecting an invitation to comment on the charges.

But the physical equivalent of “no comment” never works. He did settle with Constand, and, while accused individuals sometimes do “settle” to make a story go away and deny that settlement is an admission of guilt, Cosby’s unwillingness to say anything about the multiple women who have subsequently come forth is, I think, the wrong public relations strategy (unless, of course, he is guilty).

The problems for both sides are manifold. In Bowman’s case, decades after the alleged assaults and exploitation, there’s no forensic evidence that she was raped.  It’s hard enough today to make charges stick; 30 years ago it was next to impossible.  Plus, discussions of the sexual assault of a beautiful young white woman by a powerful black man, no matter his huge success or positive image, taps longstanding emotions around black-on-white rape.  If we’ve learned nothing else in this “post-racial” era, it’s that racial prejudice is never far from the surface, even today.

Finally, however, unless Cosby does at least put out a statement, his refusal to do so feeds  a “where there’s smoke” mindset. Cosby has cancelled planned interviews on David Letterman and other media outlets where he had been scheduled to talk about his current work projects. That makes sense. But he’s left with a major, probably life altering, reputation management problem. He may never be held to account in a court of law, but he most surely is paying the price in the court of public opinion.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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Ideological purity no help to the body politic

richie NealMost of us probably find ourselves somewhere around the center of contemporary political thought, whether it’s to the right of center or left of center. Our movement in elections often determine outcomes, and we’re usually out of touch with outliers in both parties.  We are unsettled by a Congress now with an increasingly hollowed out center, bereft of moderates.

Maybe that’s why it’s comfortable listening to MA First District Congressman Richard Neal. The dean of the New England delegation, and doubtless one of its smartest members,  sized up the intensification of the national red/blue divide for New England Council members Wednesday and pointed to areas where Congress could actually do something positive.

While negative ads work in campaigns, neither party did the electorate a service by seeking votes just “because the other side is worse.” The lesson for both sides, as they try actually to govern, is that, as Neal puts it, “ideological purity gets in the way of good decision making.”

To Neal, the Democrats lost big because they failed to emphasize the issue of greatest concern, the economy. They got diverted by other issues (the war on women, for one) and failed to drive the message of how things have improved: the unemployment rate and gas prices have come down, energy production is up, economic growth has been a steady two percent.

Clearly, gross indicators are better than they were six years ago, but many people have deep concerns for their futures and that of their children. Downward pressure on wages remain a real issue for Republicans as well as Democrats; so too is worker participation. There are still 8 to 9 million people who have given up looking for work. The Democrats, he said, need to speak to people’s aspirations and not continue to split along grievance lines. Colorado Senator Mark Udall’s loss was a surprise to Neal, but not to critics who dubbed him “Senator Uterus” for pandering on so-called women’s issues, failing to articulate an inclusive economic message.

The Republicans succeeded last week by, among other things, attacking Obamacare, despite the ten million more people who have now health insurance thanks to the 
Affordable Care Act.  It’s a time for introspection in the Democratic Party, said Neal, if they don’t want to be continually defined by their opposition. “Those who identify themselves as Democrats can’t be for every spending program. You have to show some restraint. The best social program is a job,” he said. In other words, it’s time for both parties to get real.

A deal on immigration today might not necessarily provide an immediate path to citizenship, said Neal. But, when the President says the following three things -“register, get in line and learn English,” – “these should be things we can all agree on.” Speaker John Boehner’s “natural inclination is to find a deal,” Neal said, and the new House may give him more flexibility.  But, an Obama attempt to push the issue by executive order, it “will set off a fire.”  Barely a day later, the New York Times reported the President’s intention to change the deployment of immigration officials,  easing restrictions on the undocumented parents of citizens or legal residents and revamping the Secure Communities Act.  Let the conflagration begin?

From his vantage point on the Ways and Means Committee, Neal also anticipates possible movement on tax reform (killing the AMT, or alternative minimum tax), trade deals and budget negotiations (including easing the cap on sequestration).  He also thinks Congress will take up Obama’s policy on ISIS.

I asked him to comment about the President’s apparent inability to socialize and establish relationships with those with whom he does not agree, and who are publicly and implacably opposed to him. The telling indirect answer was to reflect on President Clinton’s skills, energy, engagement, and persistence in persuading members of all stripes to support his positions.  “The whole idea of taking politics out of governance is ridiculous,” he said. But it’s hard work.

Neal is a veteran of old school give and take. I wish more states had congressional delegations led by the likes of Richie Neal.

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Berkeley students make mockery of Free Speech Movement

U.C. Berkeley

U.C. Berkeley

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley, a pivotal moment in the history of student activism and political organizing that laid the groundwork for the antiwar movement and other social causes.  At that time, students and faculty across the entire spectrum of political views joined together to protest a politically motivated change in university policy that would restrict the tradition of free speech on campus.

The protests against the nation’s engagement in Vietnam, and indeed the war itself,  shaped the psyches of an entire generation.

The importance of the university campus as a vital marketplace of ideas, where opposing views are vigorously debated, is made a mockery by a wrong-headed move by some U.C. Berkeley students to keep social commentator and comedian Bill Maher from delivering the commencement address to its December graduation. The students’ retrograde narrow-mindedness is shocking, outrageous and PC mentality run amok.

Maher observed “I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more.” But this is no laughing matter.  What prompted the move to disinvite Maher were his comments about Islam and the argument he had with Ben Affleck on the subject.  The controversy recalls the brouhaha when Brandeis University cancelled writer and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s commencement address last spring in response to student protests about her criticism of Muslim fundamentalism.  The difference is that Brandeis caved to protest, while the current administration at U.C. Berkeley (craven 50 years ago in the face of outside political pressure) is standing by its invitation.

The coalition seeking to disinvite Maher, calling him “a blatant bigot and racist.”  But religious scholar Reza Aslan, who vehemently disagrees with Maher about Islam, defends him nonetheless, saying Maher is most assuredly not a bigot. And wisely the Berkeley administration stood up for Constitutionally protected free speech.

In our lifetime, we’ve seen all kinds of trampling on the First Amendment, from attempts to drive Huckleberry Finn off library shelves, to halting skinhead parades, to refusing to publish Danish cartoons mocking Islam, to the Metropolitan Opera’s cancelling HD broadcasts of the controversial production “The Death of Klinghoffer.”  Increasingly, as John O’Sullivan writes in the Wall St. Journal, content of speech is used as the justification to restrict speech.  His piece (No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech)also notes correctly that “the other side of free speech” is “the right to be offended.”

As a former editorialist, I would say that with the right to free speech comes the responsibility to listen to all sides of an argument. Then make up your mind. Do I find Bill Maher’s exercise of free speech to be offensive?  I often do. But I am more offended by those who would silence him or anyone whose views are repugnant, irritating or dissonant with their own.

I welcome your comments in the section below.



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Pray for Charlie Baker’s good health

AP photo Stephan Savoia

AP photo Stephan Savoia

Governor-elect Charlie Baker is off to a good start.  He was gracious to losing candidate Martha Coakley on election night and the day after.  He struck the right tone with Deval Patrick in discussing the transition.  Pushed to announce his positions on everything, he has refused to get sucked into the illusions of hosting the Olympics though he thinks we could learn things from preparing a bid. He’s starting the nuts and bolts of putting together an administration.  He’s no stranger to this activity, and that’s reassuring.

Let’s just hope Charlie’s in good health and that it stays that way.  Can you say Governor Polito? Karyn Polito, the former state rep from Shrewsbury who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2010, was added to the ticket to appeal to conservatives wary that the real Charlie Baker might be a RINO (Republican in Name Only), provide the cosmetics of a female running mate, and the electoral advantage of an experienced  politician who could bring solid votes from Central Massachusetts. The strategy worked perfectly.

Her record in the legislature was staunchly anti-gay marriage, she supports strict voter ID laws and calls public housing and welfare benefits the “dependency system.” Of greater concern, she is a darling of the Tea Party and last summer was presented the Tea Party’s “Citizen Patriot award.” The presentation was made by former Florida Congressman Alan West, a radical right-winger elected at the height of Tea Party madness.  West has said, among other things, that Obama supporters are a “threat to the gene pool.” Polito has reportedly praised West for having a “good message.”

She avoided most debates and never became an issue in the campaign as did Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle. The press largely ignored the race and how she might govern differently were she actually to become governor.

We have been without a lieutenant governor for the last two years, since Tim Murray drove off the road in the wee hours of an icy morning. And, practically speaking, no one noticed. But the last two Republican governors elected in their own right, Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, left before their terms were up. Their lieutenants succeeded them as governor.  There’s always that potential for Polito.

So, Charlie, eat your fruits and veggies, get plenty of sleep and regular exercise, and bundle up well when that Polar Vortex descends this weekend.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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Election 2014 – is consensus as remote as ever?

ballot boxTip O’Neill famously said all politics is local.  Yesterday, Republicans won big by turning that adage on its head. They nationalized state races and turned President Obama’s unpopularity and his administration’s failures into anvils around the necks of Democratic candidates.  Even states that Obama carried turned against him. A happy exception to that trend was New Hampshire’s returning Jeanne Shaheen to the Senate rather than Scott Brown. (Watch out, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Maine.  Scott Brown may be taking his Senate aspirations to a vacation home near you!)

New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom making Obama a one-term President was the top GOP priority, said last night he’d look for action on issues where there could be agreement. Can we believe he understands the electorate’s anger at partisan gridlock. A pre-election Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed half of all voters preferred a candidate who will “make compromises to gain consensus on legislation.”  This is up from 34 percent in the 2010 mid-term.

Politico suggests 11 issues where consensus action is possible.  But I’m a doubter. There’s a hollowness to McConnell’s rhetoric. Unlike Newt Gingrich’s 1994 revolution, the Republicans (the party of No) are without a positive agenda of their own, except for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which still seems to be a non-starter.  It’s a given that there will be a move to repeal the Affordable Care Act and also Dodd-Frank financial reforms.  There are probably other pet bills that the Republican-controlled Congress will push to the President’s desk, for likely veto.  Look as well for a plethora of investigations into what some claim are Obama Administration’s serial executive and regulatory abuses of power.  Might the GOP also move to impeach?

The Ted Cruz wing of the Republican Party will probably read yesterday’s results as a reason for no compromise.  Cruz himself could challenge McConnell for Majority Leader! On the left, the Elizabeth Warren wing will highlight differences within the Democratic Party.  For many, compromise is an unnatural act.

And let’s not forget that, notwithstanding the bipartisan leadership meeting the President has scheduled for Friday morning, he has a miserable track record dealing with Congressional leaders (Dems and Reps alike).  In building his legacy, it’s unclear how much the lame duck chief executive will prefer  executive orders and vetoes to adopting   more  right-of-center positions.

Both parties may want to play to their bases in the build-up to the 2016 Presidential election. Democrats may not want to negotiate, lest it be thought that a Republican-controlled Congress is capable of leading the country.  Republicans may be reluctant to give Obama any victories, even small ones, lest it weaken their rationale for electing a Republican President two years from now.

So the real fight over the next few years will be between the purists and the pragmatists, the partisans and the problem solvers. I wouldn’t go to the bank on promises of cooperation or productivity.

I welcome your comments in the section below.



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An open letter to Angela Menino

Dear Angela,

Boston Globe photo

Boston Globe photo

Reams have been written and will continue to be written about your beloved husband, Tom; hours have been spent broadcasting his myriad accomplishments as Boston’s longest running mayor. History will reflect on the many things he did to leave his imprint on the city and, indeed, the region. Future generations will marvel at the still wondrous fact that, after all those years, those new skyscrapers erected, the Innovation District created, the summer jobs generated for young people, the arts institutions resurrected, his authentic support for gay marriage and human rights – after all that and more, he still left the office with an 80 percent approval rating.  (As one Boston Magazine writer noted, he was “more popular than kittens.”)

I want to offer you – and his children and grandchildren – my deepest condolences. If the city is grieving, one can only begin to imagine the void you are feeling.  I want to thank you for the loving support you gave him, during good times and bad.  He couldn’t have accomplished what he did without your underpinning. You were always with him, at events large and small.  You watched over him, especially during his health challenges, like a hawk.  You were always engaged in his civic activities but projected friendliness along with quiet dignity, there to be his helpmate and boon companion, never seeking the spotlight for yourself.

Most of all, I want to thank you for sharing him with the city, with its hundreds of thousands of residents, a majority of whom had actually met him, most of whom felt they knew him. He was always on call, and so, like a doctor’s or plumber’s wife knows, you had to accept  that your own life was never your own. You never made Bostonians feel that this was mere forbearance on your part.  You accepted the role. You embraced it.

And so, I hope you now feel the embrace of all those, big people and small (from a political power perspective) who want to put their arms around you and say, well done, Angela. May the happy memories lessen the pain for you and your family during these difficult days.


Margie Arons-Barron

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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