An Issue That Captures And Frames The Worst

Immigration is a hugely important, multi-faceted issue.  In a world of many terrorist threats, border security is of paramount importance.  The influx of immigrants who don’t enter the country in an authorized way puts pressure on education, health care, and social benefits systems.  Immigrants are happy to perform physically challenging, low-paying jobs that are essential to our economy.  And what should we do with immigrants who crossed the border illegally but have worked here for years and whose children were born here?

So it is perhaps not surprising — in fact, it’s entirely predictable — that the incredibly important immigration issue manages to encompass much of what is appalling about the current sorry state of American government:  completely politicized yet frozen in place, featuring a legislative branch that is seemingly incapable of acting despite the obvious need for action and a President who can’t lead or forge a compromise and so acts unilaterally, and infused with finger-pointing, cringing political correctness and demagoguery that seems to preclude both rational discussion and reasonable compromise.

President Obama’s decision yesterday to issue sweeping executive orders on immigration issues — orders that will establish new programs that will change the legal status of millions of immigrants, change deportation practices, and end other programs — don’t help matters because they just highlight the politicization of this important issue.  President Obama has previously said, correctly I think, that changing immigration laws and policies through unilateral executive orders would be “very difficult to defend legally.”  The President also earlier had made the decision to defer any action on immigration until after the election, an approach that obviously was calculated to help Senate Democrats up for reelection.  In view of that decision, arguments that unilateral action is urgently needed now ring awfully hollow.

I’m sure that President Obama’s supporters will argue that issuing executive orders of dubious constitutionality is justified here because it will goad Congress into taking action that should have been taken long ago.  That argument is like saying that the behavior of the bully in A Christmas Story was justified because it ultimately provoked Ralphie into standing up for himself.  I’m not buying that, either.  America is supposed to be a constitutional form of government where the executive branch and legislative branch both respect and honor the limitations on their powers.  The fact that Congress has dropped the ball doesn’t excuse the President’s overstepping of his constitutional authority.

I’m not trying to excuse Congress’ leaden inactivity on developing a comprehensive set of immigration reforms or side with the anti-immigration fear-mongers, but I think President Obama’s decision to issue these executive orders is a mistake that will only make it much more difficult to address a crucial issue in the correct, constitutional way.  Brace yourself, because the shrill demagoguery on all sides is about to increase in pitch and volume.

On The Trail Of The Lonesome Cactus

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This Midwestern boy can’t help but goggle at the desert plants and scenery — and of course the cactus plants are the most alien to the Midwest, and therefore the most interesting.

For most of my hike up North Mountain the sky was overcast. I appreciated that more and more as I huffed and puffed up the trail, and wondered what it would be like to do so with the sun beating down relentlessly. As I descended with the aid of gravity and passed this solitary cactus sentinel, however, a patch of blue sky appeared on the western horizon.

On Top Of North Mountain

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One of the trails near our hotel leads you to the top of North Mountain — which must be tall,, because at the very peak you will find a cellular tower.

All around is the vastness of Phoenix, which stretches out into infinity until its contours are lost in a kind of smudgy haze. North Mountain is a welcome respite from the urban and suburban sprawl.

On The Jacksonville Beat

Richard moved to Jacksonville this past Friday and started his new job at the Florida Times-Union on Monday.  Yesterday he got (I think) his first article published, about job cuts by CSX at its Jacksonville headquarters.

Richard will be on the business desk and also will be doing some investigative reporting.  He lives in an apartment in the Riverside Avondale neighborhood, which Kish says is a charming and historic area.  It must be, because it has its own Riverside Avondale Preservation society and website.  It’s close to the St. Johns River and has pretty areas on the waterfront, many jogging options, and some good restaurants.  And today, when a cold snap means that Columbus will be lucky to hit a high of 43 degrees, Jacksonville’s high temperature is forecast to be 79 degrees and sunny.

It’s always interesting to move to a new place and learn about what is has to offer.  We’ll be eagerly following Richard’s reporting and learning about this new place as he does, too.

888,246 Poppies

It’s an idea that is cool yet devastating — plant one handcrafted, red, ceramic poppy for each live lost by a British or Colonial soldier during  World War I, the War to End All Wars that gave rise to America’s Veterans Day and Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.  It’s simple, and yet as the poppies flood out of the Tower of London and cover the green grass of its moat it gives you a shock at the enormity of the losses that were sustained, without even counting the soldiers who returned from the terrible conflict shell-shocked, with lungs burned by poison gas, or missing arms and legs.

The piece is called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, and it shows how powerful public art can be.  It also reminds us of the sacrifices that our veterans have made, and the ultimate sacrifice of those who served willingly and did not return home.

On this Veterans’ Day, thanks to all of our veterans!

The Impoverished Millennials

For years, Americans have always been fervently optimistic about the financial course of their families.  Parents and grandparents were confident that the generations to come would be wealthier and better educated than they were — and for much of American history their optimism was justified by the reality.

Is that true any longer, with the so-called Millennial Generations, which consists of adults under age 35?  A troubling article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that there are disturbing signs that the Millennials are instead on track for lives of financial difficulty.

The article looks at the savings rates of Americans by generation through an analysis of consumer finances and financial accounts.  It finds that, after a brief blip of increased savings during the Great Recession, Millennials now aren’t saving much of anything.  In fact, their generational savings rate is a negative 2% — which means many of them are burning through the savings they accumulated previously, or spending their inheritances.  They are less likely to have any investments or investment accounts, which means they have no cushion to fall back on if they lose their jobs or hit another financial bump in the road.

In short, forget about saving to make a down payment on a house — these young people are hanging on by their fingernails, hoping to make their credit card and student loan payments, and eating into their seed corn savings in order to do so.

Some of this predicament clearly is the product of bad planning and poor personal financial management.  If you’re barely making your credit card payments, maybe you should skip that expensive “destination” bachelorette party with your college pals.  But some of it is larger forces — like a weak job market, student loan debt that is far greater than that carried by prior generations, and flat wage and salary growth.  The fear is that the Millennials will become trapped and never be able to break out of a cycle of debt that leaves them living hand to mouth for most of their adult lives and limits their abilities to buy homes, start families, and ultimately to retire.

It’s not a pretty picture, and we can only begin to perceive what the ripple effects of an impoverished Millennial generation might be for our country and its economy.  Perhaps we should stop worrying so much about senior citizens and start thinking about how to create more opportunities for the younger people who must carry the country forward.

The N-Word

Today’s Washington Post has a long, thoughtful piece on the “n-word” — the most hateful, racially charged word in the English language.  It’s worth reading in full.  And here is the uncomfortable issue that the article explores:  can the n-word, which in its a-ending form has become increasingly prevalent in youth culture, be redefined and eventually stripped of its racist connotations, or should the use of the word, in any variation, just be stopped?

This year the National Football League has empowered referees to penalize teams whose players use the n-word.  It’s the NFL’s response to several recent incidents with racial overtones — but the decision to penalize the use of the word has been criticized by many players as out of touch with the common use of the word among younger people of different races.  Indeed, internet search engines indicate that, in its a-ending form, the n-word is used 500,000 times a day on Twitter.  The resurgence of the n-word among young people is often attributed to hip-hop culture, where the word is commonly used in the lyrics, and even the titles, of popular songs.  The Post article recounts a story about a recent Kanye West concert where the performer gave white concertgoers permission to say the word as they sang along with his songs, and they did so.

I don’t listen to hip-hop music, and I was unaware of the extent to which the n-word has been reintroduced in the vernacular of the younger generation.  I think that development is very troubling and unfortunate.  I don’t think American culture should follow the lead of rappers in the use of the n-word any more than it should in adopting the misogynistic, twerking, gunfire-at-every-party elements of hip-hop culture, either.

There is a generational element to this issue; for those of us who grew up during the days of the Civil Rights marches and police dogs being unleashed to attack peaceful protesters, the n-word is unforgivable.  I don’t care if a hip-hop artist gives me permission to say it.  I won’t use the word because I don’t want to be linked in any way to the brutal racists of the past, and I do not believe that — changed ending or not — the word can ever be sanitized and divorced from its violent, terrible roots.

So put me in the NFL’s camp on this one.  It may prove to be impossible to stop the use of the n-word, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Young people should be educated about why the word is so hurtful and discouraged from using it.  I agree with Denyce Graves, the terrific opera singer, who is quoted in the Post article as saying:  “I know we will never be rid of this word, [but] I would love to see it just vanish.”  I say, let it die.