Posts Tagged ‘Immigration policy’

GAS PUMPS AND IMMIGRATION

Gridlock in Washington reflects Republicans and Democrats—and many Americans—refusing to listen to each other. It takes active listening to bridge gaps. Many years ago, an old friend revealed a great example.

Sam Smidt was a brilliant graphic designer in Palo Alto with whom I worked early in my freelance career. He told me a story that always stuck with me and should be the subject of a mandatory class for anyone holding political office.

Sam once was designing the gas pumps for Chevron. A major oil company’s gas pumps represent a corporation’s brand. The client, not satisfied, asked Sam to make the logo bigger. Sam complied. The client wanted the logo even bigger. Sam did that. The client remained unhappy. Then the answer occurred to Sam. “You want the logo to be more prominent,” he said. “Yes!” the client answered, realizing that size and prominence don’t necessarily equate. Sam shifted some design elements without supersizing the logo, and the client was delighted.

Often, people get bogged down in specifics without communicating what they really want. This leads to wasted time and energy, and often to antagonism. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a New York Times interview on Wednesday, columnist Frank Bruni interviewed two Democrats—former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and strategist Joe Trippi. Both agreed that Democrats’ chances in the 2018 Congressional elections hinge on standing for something rather than Trump bashing. Patrick hit it on the nose: “What matters most is that we agree on and fight for the ends, not so much the means. For example, we want every man, woman and child to have access to quality, affordable health care. There’s more than one way to skin that cat, and we should be open to debating all those ways.”

I imagine that Gov. Patrick is willing to listen to Republicans. Would they return the favor?

As with all major issues, politicians—and many voters—too often demand specific solutions rather than define outcomes. This parallels the Chevron executive, who ultimately realized that increasing the size of his logo wasn’t the key to meeting his objective.

Immigration poses this same challenge. Donald Trump wants a wall. It’s “wall or nothing.” But does a wall represent a “bigger logo?” Ultimately, several key questions concern the nation. Should we take in immigrants? Most people would say yes. Should we control immigration? Again, most people would say yes; the numbers and sources appropriate to a separate discussion. What are our immigration needs? What do we expect immigrants to contribute to the nation? And if we make new laws, are we willing to uphold them while finding humane solutions to tricky problems?

Start there, and Americans could find a measure of common ground.

There’s lots to discuss, and no black-and-white approach—pun intended—will serve us well. But rather than demanding the means—a wall or blanket amnesty—let’s discuss the ends. How can immigration strengthen the United States in the next quarter-century and beyond?

If Americans start expressing their vision and listening to each other, we may find our views far closer than we imagined. Then we can forego pumping up the volume and discuss, rather than argue, the practical means to achieve our objectives.

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SWEDEN CLARIFIED

Two weeks ago, President Trump cited a terrorist attack in Sweden. No such attack took place. Mr. Trump backtracked, saying he’d referred to a report on Fox News. Trump opponents leaped on the issue. But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Sweden has undergone major changes since admitting large numbers of refugees. That includes growing anti-Semitism, partly from right-wing ethnic Swedes but mostly from Muslim immigrants. In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue, “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I asked my Swedish-Jewish friend for an update. He emailed this (slightly edited for length):

“It’s not that Sweden is a more dangerous country to live in than any other country (Sweden is probably more safe). However, I do think Sweden is becoming more similar to other countries (like the US) with segregation, “bad neighborhoods,” gang violence, etc. When I grew up in the 80s there were very few neighborhoods like that, now there’s a lot. I think our country is moving in the wrong direction in many respects.

“The welfare state (which we are all very proud of) is only sustainable if there is a low unemployment rate and if the majority of the people feel like they are a part of society. That’s not the case right now in several neighborhoods and cities throughout the country. One reason is that we have had a large influx of immigrants over a short period of time (largest number of immigrants per capita in the EU), many of whom have very low education, don’t speak the language, etc. We have relatively few “easy jobs” to offer, partly due to the fact that we have very strong unions and high thresholds to the labor market. This creates parallel societies which is not good for a country. I think the anti-Semitism is the same as before, although there haven’t been any new attacks lately (thank God).”

What about immigration to the United States? We should continue taking in immigrants, including refugees. Much larger than Sweden and far more heterogeneous, we do a good job of turning immigrants into Americans. But it’s time for a rational discussion of immigration policy. The m idle ground: We can fulfill our moral obligation to take in some refugees while retaining the right to choose what kind of immigrants we want and how many.

Middle-ground positions remain unpopular in this political era of far-left battling far-right. Last Sunday, speakers at an “Empty Chair” town hall meeting in East Oakland condemned California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, as too centrist and thus unable to oppose President Trump. Nonsense. Swinging to the far left rather than seeking common ground only further polarizes the nation. Harmful Trump initiatives should be opposed without question. But common sense should prevail over ideology.

Exodus 23:3 offers the commandment to not favor the rich in legal matters, “…nor shall you show deference to the poor man in his dispute.” Every deliberation should look at the facts and lead to an objective solution. Analyzing Sweden’s challenges and our own regarding immigration obligates us to step back, take a breath and view the situation as it is, for good and ill. Only then can we arrive at policies that are both practical and humane—and that people of good will can support.

One highly partisan opinion: You’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht coming soon.

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THE PERILS OF BELIEF

A famous dictum, espoused by Aeschylus and repeated by former U.S. senator Hiram Johnson (California), states that the first casualty of war is truth. In our time, social media, faux news organizations and politicians have rendered truth a severe casualty. They’ve bombarded it—even shredded it—with belief. Even basketball stars have joined their ranks.

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers stated that the earth is flat. “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” he said, although an unknown “they” want us to believe that the earth is round. The Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gave his own take, surmising that the earth could be flat. “I don’t know,” he said, desiring to appear reasonable. “I haven’t done enough research.”

Research? Gazing out the window of an airplane at 35,000 feet on a clear day—NBA players don’t always fly at night—reveals the earth’s curvature. Or does that mean the earth is merely bent?

Don’t look just to some athletes, though. Donald Trump claimed his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Photographs and other evidence disproved that. White House press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “That’s what the president believes.” Will presidential beliefs—heedless of fact—commit the United States to domestic and international policies ranging from reckless to disastrous?

Often, truth is a click or two away. Many people refuse to go there. A widely circulating email purportedly by Warren Buffet claims that members of Congress receive their salary for life. FactCheck.org reviewed these claims two years ago. Its conclusion: false. Members of the House and Senate qualify for retirement benefits after five years and only for a portion of their salaries, which max out at 80 percent after virtually a lifetime in Washington.

Belief has a cousin called deception. Making the rounds of Facebook is a video from NumbersUSA demonstrating that U.S. immigration policy cannot solve global poverty. Roy Beck, the organization’s founder/president, uses gumballs in glass containers to colorfully demonstrate that America’s taking in one million of the poorest of the poor each year will not put a dent in the problem.

Beck is right. Poverty must be solved locally. However, the video represents a political shell game. U.S. immigration policy has never been about alleviating global poverty. We accept people who can contribute to our economy along with refugees. We limit their numbers, which is our right and obligation. But this video imitates a magician drawing attention to one hand while the other prepares to pull a coin from your ear. It can lead many Americans to want to shut off immigration entirely or support draconian measures for reasons having nothing to do with the reality of American immigration policy.

I have no problem with belief in the religious sense. I demonstrate that each Friday night in synagogue. Faith enables individuals and communities to discover and reinforce meaning in their lives and connect to something greater if not entirely knowable, even as science dramatically increases our knowledge base.

Still, faith must co-exist with reason, not replace it. In secular matters, belief offers a poor substitute for rational analysis based on facts. And facts do exist. I pray that we demonstrate the wisdom to know when each approach is appropriate, particularly when individuals explore cyberspace and Washington makes decisions involving the economy, human rights and geopolitical policy.

Want to take something on faith alone? Believe that you’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht, available soon.

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TRUMP IN 2020

Following George W. Bush’s election in 2000—I voted for Al Gore—I hoped to vote for President Bush in 2004. For the nation’s good, I wanted “W” to prove me wrong. He didn’t. Now, I want to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. That’s a long way off. So let’s look at possible scenarios for 2017.

Russia puts more pressure on Eastern Ukraine and Eastern Europe. With President Trump seeing no American interest at play, Vladimir Putin effectively splits Ukraine and brings the Baltic states back into Russia’s orbit. Disclosure: I’ve long believed that bringing Eastern Europe into NATO instead of guaranteeing its neutrality was a mistake, ignoring Moscow’s long-standing concerns about its “near abroad.”

Marine LePen, head of France’s right-wing National Front party, rides the Brexit/Trump wave to the presidency this spring. France seeks independence within NATO or abandons it. With American approval, Ms. Le Pen leads France out of the European Union and away from the Euro, reasserts France’s control of its borders and strengthens secularism in the face of Muslim public religious/cultural practices. This imposes burdens on business people and vacationers but makes transiting Europe more challenging to Islamist terrorists. Recent attempts at unifying European Union intelligence gathering unravel. President Trump doesn’t care; he doesn’t want to share intelligence.

ISIS collapses as a “caliphate”—this already underway—but Islamist terrorism increases on the Continent. In Syria, Trump lets Russia reestablish Bashar al-Assad’s nationwide rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickens the pace of settlement building in the West Bank. President Trump talks about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rumors loom of a Third Intifada. Trump amends or terminates the nuclear deal with Iran. In response, Iran backs limited hostilities against Israel emanating from Lebanon, encourages greater Shiite control of Iraq and increases tensions with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis express interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons.

A tentative trade war tests the waters with China. Beijing more boldly asserts sovereignty in the South China Sea. President Trump orders the U.S. Navy to stand down. Jitters rack Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, who move closer to China. President Trump broaches removing all U.S. troops from South Korea.

Existing walls along the Mexican border undergo symbolic lengthening—at U.S. expense. Relations chill with Mexico City. Anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. grows more fervent. Washington increases deportations but modestly.

The wealthy enjoy major tax cuts while federal programs are slashed, including environmental protections. America burns more coal. (I was in Delhi, India three weeks ago. The air was awful. Last week it became unlivable.)

Job growth in the Upper Midwest and Southeast remains meager since automation cannot be undone. Obamacare is gutted. Private insurers compete to lower premiums for healthy millennials, raise them for everyone else. Millions lose coverage.

Trump proposes a major infrastructure program. Democrats support it. Republican fiscal conservatives oppose it. Trump supporters take solace in a conservative Supreme Court pick, efforts to ban abortion and overturn LGBTQ rights, and the first draft of a new immigration policy. The stock market rises as does volatility.

I hope most of these scenarios don’t take place—infrastructure projects and an intelligent discussion of immigration being exceptions. Really, I’d love to eat crow so I can support President Trump in 2020. What are the odds?

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. Let’s give thanks to all our veterans today. And check in next week for a political suggestion whose time has come.

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GAME OF THRONES, TEL AVIV AND ORLANDO

Recently on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister (the Kingslayer) sought to capture Riverrun, a castle commanded by Brynden Tully (the Blackfish). Sir Jaime headed a large force, but Riverrun boasted a deep moat and high walls making a head-on attack foolhardy. What to do?

Sir Jaime laid siege, a tactic as old as warfare. Alas, the Blackfish had accumulated two years of food. Sir Jaime could have launched large rocks to chip away at Riverrun’s walls, but that would take time he didn’t have. Or he could have launched flaming arrows and burning objects, ultimately destroying Riverrun. He’d end up with a ruin.

I think of Riverrun’s walls in regard to the recent murders of four Israelis in Tel Aviv. Last September, a number of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs began waging the Knife Intifada augmented by shootings, as in Tel Aviv, and vehicles. Tel Aviv is an open city and thus vulnerable. But Tel Avivis refuse to bow to fear. Of course, parts of Israel are walled off from the West Bank. I’ve been there. Those walls, along with checkpoints, have reduced attacks against Israel. Still, the Knife Intifada points out their limits. Only a meaningful peace agreement will offer protection from violence. That’s not imminent. Both sides seek to dictate the terms of a two-state solution. Peace requires their coming together, not standing apart.

The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, has walls. They can keep out heat and cold, rain and wind but not hatred. The ISIS-inspired gunman who murdered 49 innocent people and wounded 53 last Saturday night might have been kept out of the United States if higher walls were built around our immigration policy as well as our borders. But the murderer was born in New York City long predating the Islamic State and even 9/11. The battle against Islamist extremism (President Obama won’t say it; I will) will be long, difficult and bloody. Nonetheless, we will not protect America by destroying its cherished values.

What then of Sir Jaime and Riverrun? Faced with those high, thick walls, he developed a brilliant, if cruel, solution. He held prisoner Riverrun’s legitimate lord Edmuir Tully and Edmuir’s young son. Sir Jaime offered Edmuir his freedom if Edmuir would order the troops in Riverrun to stand down and open the gate. Otherwise, he’d catapult Edmuir’s son over the walls. Fire a single shot as it were. Edmuir relented.

A walled fortress, Fort Point, sits under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge not far from my home. The first cannon was mounted there in 1861 to protect San Francisco Bay. Attacks by Confederate ships never came. Walled fortresses soon became obsolete thanks to powerful artillery and larger ship-based guns even before the advent of air power. There’s a lesson here.

Donald Trump wants to build walls to limit what people and goods can enter the United States. Some Americans respond enthusiastically. A changing society frightens them. In truth, our post-industrial economy has left many behind. But fear and frustration offer no solutions. They only drive people to vilify other religions, races and nationalities. Moreover, the walls that keep others out would imprison us. Still, they cling to the mantra, “Things were better in the past.”

Interestingly, that’s the mantra of ISIS.

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THE “C” WORD

Words can offend. One starts with “C.” But we need to talk more about it because given the nature of the world we live in it’s more relevant than ever.

Compromise gets some people riled up. The word suggests a lack of integrity and morality. These folks believe they’re always right and opposing views are by definition flat-out wrong. No quarter ever can be given. A small step towards an opposing view only launches the righteous down a slippery slope.

The refusal to find a middle ground is nothing new. In the novel As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg, published in 1939, the Sanhedrin in Judea debates allowing the study of Greek culture. For some Jews, only Torah is legitimate. Others have drifted towards Greek philosophy, art and science leaving Torah behind. Still others strive for balance. Their faith need not crumble before Greek reason; other cultures offer something of value. When the zealots, who wish to obliterate Greek culture in Israel’s midst, rebel against Roman occupation, disaster follows. Unfortunately this is history not just literature.

Yes, the Sages teach that compromise is not always allowed. One may not commit murder or incest or bow down to idols even on pain of death. Beyond that, the real world requires acceptance of the “C” word. Those who bear direct responsibility for a nation’s wellbeing—presidents, prime ministers and even kings—often understand this. Those who sit on the sidelines—another “C” word, Congress, comes to mind—can promote ideological or selfish positions. The buck does not stop with them.

Jordan’s King Abdullah offers an insight worthy of attention. In an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in this April’s Atlantic, Abdullah notes that his efforts to establish a modern democracy face opposition from the royal family. “The further away you’re removed from this chair [the throne—DP], the more of a prince or a princess you are.”

Fortunately, several new attempts at compromise may pay great dividends.

In Jerusalem, women and men may finally get to pray together at the Kotel—the Western Wall. Natan Sharansky, Israel’s head of the Jewish Agency, presented a plan that may not give liberal Jews everything they seek in an Orthodox-controlled religious environment but nonetheless allows for major progress. The plaza in front of the Kotel would be divided into Orthodox and non-Orthodox areas. To each his—and her—own.

In Washington, Senators Joe Manchin III (D-West Virginia) and Patrick Toomey (R- Pennsylvania) have fashioned a compromise on gun control to include background checks at gun shows. The National Rifle Association, which adheres to the slippery slope theory, will try to kill the legislation in the Senate. But the spirit of compromise just might be too great. In the same vein, reasonable immigration legislation may well be fashioned in the coming weeks. It won’t be perfect, but it will help our immigration policy make more sense.

So let’s get a grip on all our “C” words. Because some should be part of any polite company’s conversation. Oops, here we go again.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.