Immigration issue overwhelms

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Immigration advocates called President Barack Obama the “Deporter in Chief.” His administration deported record numbers of immigrants while Republican critics insist he was soft on illegals. Now comes Trump, with his vastly expanded list of immigrants who could be subject to deportation and his proposed cut-off of federal funds to sanctuary cities refusing to help ICE officials deport immigrants accused of low-level crimes. The impact of Trump’s ham-handed approach is all around us. He says he wants to focus on gangbangers and bad hombres, but his executive order covers not only terrorists and violent criminals but those “present in violation of immigration laws.” Trump also referred to the deportation process as a “military action.”

My own hometown, Newton, MA, a city of 88,000, where 22 percent are foreign born, just passed an ordinance declaring itself a “welcoming city.”  The ordinance formalizes Newton’s longstanding, informal policy wherein police and other officials would help the feds enforce civil immigration in only limited circumstances. These, logically, are where an individual has a prior conviction for a violent felony, is suspected of terrorism, or has an outstanding criminal warrant.  Newton now stands shoulder to shoulder with other cities in Massachusetts and elsewhere that have  similar policies but label themselves sanctuary cities.  The new Trump executive order on immigration threatens to withhold federal dollars from such communities. If his authority to do so withstands court challenge, could cost Newton a not insignificant $12 million.

According to the Newton TAB, local police have, over the last six years,  detained three people  in cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The new ordinance is a rational one, designed, as are other sanctuary policies, to foster good community relations and not scare undocumented immigrants from cooperating with law enforcement investigations or calling in reports of domestic abuse and other crimes.

Public debate has tended to be binary: either pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, without differentiating nuances  or distinguishing legal immigrants (including students, doctors, high tech workers and more) and the various categories of illegal immigrants. Many restaurants across the country observed a Day without Immigrants, leading to some restaurants unable to serve the public, including the U.S. Senate coffee shop.  The Davis Museum, on the campus of my alma mater Wellesley College, removed or covered 120 works of art either created by or donated by immigrants.  The empty walls told a compelling story of how immigrants have contributed to our culture.

Even if a policy attempts to focus on illegals, it’s complicated.  For now, Trump is not deporting the so-called “dreamers,” minors bought here illegally by their parents. But these young people don’t know if their status under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) will be renewed when it expires in two years. There’s no sign that Congress is prepared to make to make it permanent, and this could all be part of a Trump/Bannon strategy to slowlykill off the program.

Two thirds of undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for a decade or more, most functioning as productive members of the work force. All this argues for a comprehensive immigration reform, not unlike the Simpson-Mazzoli law of 1986. This doesn’t seem likely to happen in 2017.

The Trump policy is sweeping and ambiguous, justifiably concerning the foreign-born among us, including those with incontrovertible legal status. Even the revised iteration of Trump’s immigration proposal reinforces the sense that our Chief Executive is a thoughtless authoritarian.

He’s probably happy that a new Quinnipiac poll says that by a two-to-one margin, the American people see him as a strong person. But the same percentages say he’s not level headed and doesn’t share their values.  His overall approval rating has slipped to 38 percent, but, while 91 percent of Democrats disapprove, 83 percent of Republicans do approve. And we know which party is in the driver’s seat in Congress. Things won’t turn around, on immigration or any other issue, until Congressional Republicans  recognize what a danger Trump is to this country and see it in their self-interest to find ways to blunt his most toxic actions.

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News media a bulwark nationally and locally

trump-in-red-tieThe news media aren’t perfect, to be sure, but now, as never before, they’re the living embodiment of Thomas Jefferson’s opinion that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”  If it weren’t for pressure from coverage in newspapers, TV, cable and social media, Donald Trump would still have duplicitous National Security Director Michael Flynn overseeing our national security concerns. This, at a time when North Korea is firing off nuclear missiles, Russian is tampering with our elections, bombing insurgent forces and civilians in Syria, and turning up the heat on the Ukraine, and terrorism threatens the home front. Writer Nick Kristof reminds us of how, in 1974, Richard Nixon said Watergate “would have been a blip” if it weren’t for journalists “who hate my guts.”

If it weren’t for media coverage, repulsive billionaire restaurateur and serial labor law violator Andrew Puzder would be Labor Secretary and Congress might not get pushed, however reluctantly, into examining potential wrongdoing by an autocratic, ignorant, and chaotic Trump administration, which, without push-back, would be running even more roughshod over our democracy. The Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times deserve credit for taking the lead.

Jefferson believed that power resides in the people, who, though they might go astray, would eventually self-correct, especially if they were given full and accurate information. The responsibility to provide that plays out even in local weeklies. Take, for example, the case of the Newton TAB, dropped every Wednesday for free at the end of driveways in this suburb of 82,000 people.

But for an anonymous letter a year ago, two disturbing anti-Semitic incidents at Day Junior High School four months earlier would  never have come to light. School administrators failed to respond appropriately. Finally, an  outside investigation was held, and a highly redacted report was released. The TAB repeatedly called for more public access to the report’s contents, repeatedly pressing its case with the Public Records Division of the Secretary of State’s office. It took nearly a year for what should have been made public to be exposed to the light of day. The public had a right to know, and the press played its role in fulfilling that right.

The Mayor has just called for a review of how the School Committee responds to civil rights laws and handles such requests for information.  Setti Warren, considering a run for governor, readily criticizes Governor Charlie Baker and (less readily) the legislature for lack of transparency.  He clearly understands that transparency begins at home. Thank you to the local paper for keeping the need for transparency on the front burner.

Jefferson was not without doubts about whether all citizens had the intellectual capacity to make the right decision, even with the right information provided by the press and by our educational institutions. And he never anticipated an era of social media and false news about the American election created by Macedonian teenagers getting money from stories they made up as “clickbait.”  Or, forget Macedonia. Jefferson could not have anticipated the viral thrust of fake news on Facebook.

It was so powerful that even today our Putin sock puppet President can stand up at a press conference and lament the treatment of Michael Flynn as illegal leaks and fake news perpetuated by the hated intelligence community and lying media.  But more and more, especially as the traditional print and electronic media have reasserted themselves, the American people are getting onto him.  Our national nightmare won’t soon be over, but at least people are waking up to who Donald Trump is and the threat he represents.  Now the media must meet the challenge of simultaneously exposing what Congress and federal agencies, in the midst of the daily Trump distractions, is systematically doing to reverse the economic and environmental protections put into effect over decades.

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Elizabeth Warren speaks truth to power

elizabeth-warren-silenced-in-senateSo, let me get this straight.  It’s okay if Senator Ted Cruz calls Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the floor of the Senate. But it’s not okay if Senator Elizabeth Warren reads letters critical of Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions from the late Senator Edward Kennedy and Coretta Scott King (describing him at a time when Sessions was not in the Senate)?  The King letter said that Sessions, under consideration for a federal judgeship in Alabama in 1986, had, as Alabama Attorney General,  used “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”  The Kennedy statement called Sessions a “throwback to a shameful era.” Both Democrats and Republicans voted to defeat the Sessions judgeship.

Both Cruz and Warren may have violated Senate rule 19, barring anyone from “impugning” or speaking ill of a fellow Senator, but it is total hypocrisy that McConnell should have invoked that obscure rule and Senate Republicans supported silencing her. Warren was barred from participating in any Senate discussion of the Sessions nomination.  As Bernie Sanders said afterward,  the American people have a right to and expect a vigorous discussion of any issue. The GOP’s shutting Warren down, Sanders said, is “incomprehensible.”  Sanders and three other Democrats followed up reading the King letter without comparable punishment, and other Democrats stood by her.

Apparently, truth is no defense. McConnell, who tolerated Cruz’ personal insult, deemed the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s widow to be so inappropriate they couldn’t be read on the floor of the Senate. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch remembers the old days and deplores the current tone of the upper branch. He said that, while he sometimes disagrees with Sessions,  he has known him for 20 years and always found him to be a gentleman. Veteran Hatch said that Warren’s prolonged attack may not have risen to a violation of Rule 19, but “it came pretty close.”   Decorum in the once deliberative body has long since left the building. Its norms are flouted regularly.

Rule 19 was promulgated in 1902 when a dispute between two Democratic Senators from South Carolina erupted in a fist fight. In 1979, name calling erupted between Connecticut Democrat Lowell Weicker and Republican John Heinz of Pennsylvania. Heinz cited Rule 19, but Majority Leader Robert Byrd got them to shake hands. And that was that.

The bottom line is that Sessions’ entire record should be scrutinized before he is confirmed, as he inevitably will be, to be Attorney General of the United States. We look to leaders like Warren to stand tall and evaluate Trump’s nominees, warts and all.  She shouldn’t have been subjected to humiliation and silenced for fulfilling her responsibility to do just that.

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Political lessons from the New England Patriots

tom-brady-on-fieldSet aside the friendships between Donald Trump and New England Patriots MVP quarterback Tom Brady, or coach Bill Belichick or owner Bob Kraft (who, as a young man, stood with his late wife as leading progressive Democrats), there’s still plenty of inspiration to be found in last night’s epic comeback by the Pats in defeating the tough, aggressive, skilled and energetic Atlanta Falcons. And never mind the comments on CNN this morning by Florida Republican Congressman Tom Yoho, who drew an analogy between Brady’s first half deficit and Trump’s historic low approval rating for a new President.  Sorry, Congressman Yoho, you can’t appropriate Brady to predict Trump’s ultimate excellence. Even if Number 12 is Trump’s golfing partner, he is ours.

What we in New England must take from the Super Bowl is that, no matter how beaten down Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans might be at this moment, aghast and afraid of the Divider-in-Chief in the White House, a comeback is possible. It will take courage, intense focus and very hard work, not just by yeomen on the team but by those in leadership as well.  Commitment, study, practice, strategy and tactics, collaborative teamwork and skilled execution are some of the major elements to beat the opposing team.

If we’re serious about halting attacks on economic justice, educational opportunity, civil liberties, religious and reproductive rights, health care, environmental and consumer safeguards, not to mention thoughtful global engagement, we need to reach beyond the bubble of blue state, bicoastal, urban America.  We need to share resources and get to work. Feel-good marches will only go so far.

Just as the Tea Party learned from community organizer Saul Alinsky’s handbooks, left-leaning folks should selectively learn from the Tea Party’s organizational abilities. A group of former Congressional staffers has put together a 23-page document to influence Congress under the title of Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.    Town Hall Project 2018 is a guide to town halls scheduled by members of Congress.    A college friend provided some useful information for people whose elected officials are already enlightened and want to extend their influence.  Flippable.org is focusing on state races where there’s an opportunity to flip state politics from red to blue. This year, they’ll work on gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia (where blue margins are slim) and on redistricting in North Carolina. In 2018, there will be congressional mid-terms, 36 governor’s races and 6000 legislative seats opening up.  Another site is swingleft.org, which matches activists with the nearest swing district. Progressive politics must be rebuilt brick by brick.

On a more philosophical level, a website under the auspices of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, also named “Indivisible,”  uses the work of photographers and interviewers to tell the many personal stories of individuals in the communities that make up the fabric of our nation. Having empathy for others is essential to enhancing comity.

Like the Patriots, we are down  28 to 3, and the game clock is ticking. But the lesson of the Patriots, for kids and adults alike, is don’t give up. The task we face is enormous. The work starts at the foundational level. Rigorous preparation daily is a springboard to victory. And it starts immediately.

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Walsh positions Boston in the vanguard

marty-walsh-for-nec“We face a new reality in our relationship with the federal government,” and mayors, city councilors, state legislators, the public and the business community have to tackle the challenges together, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told the business community Thursday at a meeting of he New England Council.  In a focused and forcefully delivered speech, the Mayor stressed the need for bi-partisan, public-private teamwork in fighting to protect our immigrant community and preserve the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

Walsh, who not long ago was getting on-the-job training,  has developed a solid track record, a clearly articulated set of values, and enough confidence to put Boston at the forefront of cities across the country fighting the negative effects of Trump policies.  Boston’s economy is booming, including 60,000 new jobs since he took office and an unemployment rate cut to 2.4 percent.  He has data to back up his assertion that Boston is a global leader in education, life sciences, quality of life, environmental protection, innovation, equity and inclusion.   Boston, he says, can offer “leadership by example.” Our success, he says, is “the result of teamwork.”

While positioning Boston to be a national player in efforts to counter the cataclysmic changes we’re experiencing in Washington, Walsh is just 10 months away from having to run for reelection. The 2017 mayoral race, still in its infancy, seems quaint, even charming, in comparison to national politics. Walsh’s only announced opponent, City Councilor Tito Jackson, seems a well–intentioned fellow who may be itching to move up but has yet to make a case for ousting Walsh.  In his announcement, Jackson tried to portray Walsh as the candidate of corporate interests, insensitive to the needs of the middle class.

Class divisions helped drive Donald Trump’s national campaign (and that of Bernie Sanders), and municipal candidates have tried for years to work that angle. I don’t think that Jackson can make the strategy work for him.  It’s pretty difficult to portray Marty Walsh as the mayor of the haves, not the have not’s.  Among other accomplishments, the mayor can point to success in reducing chronic homelessness, creating an Office of Recovery Services, building new affordable housing, and improving education. This includes a 10-year capital plan for new schools, the provision of free community college for Boston high school graduates who maintain a 2.0 gpa, and a proposal to expand pre-school kindergarten paid for with proceeds from hotel taxes.

Both Walsh and challenger Jackson have impressive life stories, overcoming tremendous odds to achieve leadership positions. Jackson’s challenges today are different. Walsh has a war chest in excess of $3.5 million, and Jackson has $60,000 – $80,000. Beyond that, Jackson seems bent on portraying Walsh as elitist, but this strains credulity based on Walsh’s achievements in office and goals for the rest of his term.

Big cities need thriving economies to undergird their middle class residents.  Being mayor always involves achieving a balance between downtown business and the neighborhoods. The late Boston Mayor John Collins was touted as the voice of the Hub’s business community, especially the secretive organization of poohbahs known as The Vault. His successor Kevin White also had tight business ties and was the first to speak of Boston in “World Class” terms. Partly in response, his successor Ray Flynn rode to office pledging to be mayor of the neighborhoods.  Longest-serving mayor Tom Menino presented himself as an urban mechanic, getting the potholes fixed and helping the little people, but over his reign he forged strong ties with corporate Boston. It’s always a balancing act, which Walsh seems to be doing well.

Walsh is not without weak spots. To what extent did he have any involvement in arm-twisting to require a certain share of jobs on Boston projects to go to union members. (Two staffers have been indicted on extortion charges.)  Jackson has called on Walsh for transparency regarding any activities in which he was engaged, though there has been no evidence against him to date.

Early in his term, Walsh  made some missteps by getting suckered into advancing the Boston 2024 Olympics bid and trying to bring an Indy Car race here with inadequate financial support though I don’t think the damage to him on either was lasting. He also needs to push harder for new disclosure rules governing municipal lobbyists.  Both those ill-fated proposals might have benefited by greater transparency and lobbyist disclosure rules.

An emerging problem for Walsh is his support for the proposed Millennium Partners’ 775-f0ot tower at Winthrop Square, which violates two state laws limiting the height of buildings that will cast shadows on the Boston Common and Public Gardens, both highly prized Boston treasures. City Hall is lobbying to change those state laws, but doing so for a single project is highly questionable and opens the doors to future unsavory deals. Vigorous public discussion earlier in the process might have spurred solutions that would have avoided the dissension that now seems inevitable.

Despite all this, the Marty Walsh who stood this week before The New England Council has grown significantly.  He makes his values clear, shapes data-driven cases to back them up, and has become an effective communicator of what he stands for. Being opposed in an election is never a bad thing if it yields healthy discussion on these and other issues.

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Charlie Baker on tightrope, moves carefully

charlie-baker-state-of-stateGovernor Charlie Baker’s life is a balancing act – a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, a reasonable and enlightened moderate while the top of his party is anything but. With an entirely blue Congressional delegation, he will be, for better or worse, this state’s interlocutor with a potentially vengeful Trump administration.

He took a rhetorical stand in his state-of-the-state address. Its high point – and the one that drew the most sustained applause – was when he decried the character assassination and misrepresentation that today passes for political dialogue.  He emphasized his obligation to put progress and results ahead of partisanship. His job, he said, is “to represent Massachusetts to Washington and not Washington to Massachusetts.”  That was as explicit as he got regarding any fealty he might have felt to the leader of his party in the White House.

Unlike Donald J. Trump, Baker extolled the value of compromise, “a sign of strength,”  yielding another enthusiastic round of applause. This was the part of his speech where he seemed most comfortable and energized.  The rest may have been substantive, but his delivery was rather flat.

Despite that, if you’d landed here from Mars, you might think that Charlie Baker was another in a long line of Democratic governors.  He made the listener feel pretty lucky to live in Massachusetts notwithstanding the cold weather.  We have among the strongest state economies in the nation, job growth that has spread even to struggling cities like New Bedford, leadership on climate change and clean energy, six straight years of our schools being #1 in math and reading.  While we’re not perfect, we’ve had success reducing homelessness, tackling opoid addiction, improving services at the Department of Children and Families (though he spoke of the need to expedite adoptions.)

He spoke of accomplishments that highlighted his skills as a middle-of-the-road technocrat: cutting red tape, closing a budget gap and stopping the tendency to borrow inappropriately from the Rainy Day Fund. He also bowed to his fiscally conservative Republican values of opposing broad-based tax increases. His proposed budget, however, includes some pretty hefty specific taxes, like the one on employers of ten or more who don’t provide their workers health insurance. Baker also wants to extend the existing hotel tax to high-volume air BnB’s.

The budget also includes new money for social initiatives. Much remains to be done, especially regarding the schools.  Some pundits speculate that Baker will be hurt in his 2018 reelection bid by having been on the losing side of the charter school and recreational pot legalization referenda.  I  believe that substantively he was on the right side of those issues and that his positions won’t hurt him measurably two years down the road when he’s likely to run for reelection.

If anyone wants to challenge, he or she will need a strong rationale beyond personal career advancement. Some critics lament his failure to show up at the Women’s March event last Saturday, especially given his support of the issues raised at the event.  While he had to be at the Mass. Municipal Association meeting that morning, he still could have put in an appearance or, at a minimum, sent a high-level member of his administration to represent him. But let’s face it: he has a good record on rights for women, reproductive rights, gays, pay equity.  He will be judged by how he deals with the Trump administration on substantive matters, using his GOP credentials to protect Massachusetts (including, among other  things, access to health care, the state’s Medicaid waiver, funding the Green Line extension, NIH research grants and more). His symbolic participation in what was a largely Democratic event could have cost him leverage in Washington.

Setti Warren is widely believed to be planning to challenge Baker in 2018.  The Newton Mayor certainly lacks traction at this stage in the electoral cycle, and you’d have to say he is a heavy underdog. So, too, with former Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez. Some supporters of Attorney General Maura Healy want her to get in the race, and she’s the only one now who could make it somewhat interesting.  I think she and the state would be better served if she runs for reelection.  Baker has higher favorability ratings than any other politician in Massachusetts, including Healy and even Senator Elizabeth Warren. Support for Baker is strong among Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans.

We live in challenging times, times that require leaders with backbones along with the ability to compromise and to administer. Finding the right balance is important for Baker. His fellow Republicans are still in a spineless go-along-to-get-along mode, a posture that will not work well for the highly popular Baker, now or over the long haul.

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Women’s March Boston: life in the bubble?

womens-march-bostonI hate being in large crowds but had to be at Boston Common yesterday for the local version of the Women’s March occurring in hundreds of cities around the nation and on all continents.  As with anti-Vietnam War marches in the late sixties and early seventies, this was a time to stand up and be counted, to bear witness to certain important values at a critical time in the history of our country. Will the emotional outpouring amount to anything more than a feel-good day?  Only if the energy displayed translates into action. As one speaker exhorted, “Organize around your issue. Show up with your allies for other issues.”

The purpose of the march, as Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, was to make sure that “as our country enters a new political era, the voices of the people will be heard.”  She made it clear that what’s at stake are Roe v. Wade, gay rights, tuition debt, pensions, Social Security, climate, equal pay and more.  “We can whimper, we can whine, or we can fight back,” she said. “We won’t play dead.”

womens-march-en-familleIt was gratifying to see young women and girls there, perhaps beginning to learn what the older generation had to fight for, and what  may now be in jeopardy.  Much of the day’s story was told in the handmade signs:  “Our bodies, our minds, our power;” “Us and Them;”  “Less Grope, More Hope,” “Show up, Dive in, Stay at it,” “If I incorporate my uterus, will you stop regulating my body?” “Privileged white woman seeking truth, justice and equality for all,” “I march against racism, sexism, xenophobia.”  There were speeches from African-American, white,  Muslim and Latina women, immigrants, and others maligned by Donald Trump.  All manner of activists were heard from, including unions and Native Americans from regional tribes some marchers didn’t even know lived here.

So will yesterday’s huge turnout matter? As Boston Mayor Marty Walsh noted, “It’s not what we do today that counts; it’s what we do tomorrow.”  The battle, however, will not be won in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states.  We are already in a bubble, and the crowd in the Boston Common was a bubble within a bubble.

womens-march-bahamasIn addition to buoying each other up, we need somehow to be communicating with Trump supporters here and elsewhere in the country. If we want block a dangerous agenda,  we need to provide resources and encouragement to women who marched yesterday in Trump locations like Little Rock and Phoenix. They need to be in the vanguard of activism, confronting their politicians at a grassroots level.

We need to move beyond our comfort zone bubbles and find common ground on economic issues with people who voted for Trump. Trying to understand their fears and anxieties doesn’t mean selling out our commitments on issues affecting women, gays, people of color, Muslims, the disabled.  Donald Trump, his acolytes in Congress and his soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice now have the power to reverse the course of history.  The Women’s March must be Step One in a concerted movement to stop them.

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