Can Kansas City Become the New Colossus?

In print and on broadcast news and talk shows nationwide, countless among us grumble that US immigration policy and its lack of enforcement are hurting domestic employment and holding back our economy. This is simply not so.

The White House “Task Force on New Americans” reports that the United States annually welcomes some 1 million lawful permanent residents and more than 700,000 newly naturalized citizens. “These new Americans contribute significantly to our economy. In fact, while foreign-born residents make up 13 percent of the population, they represent over 16 percent of the labor force and start 28 percent of all new businesses, creating jobs for millions of Americans.”

As for the undocumented, it will come as a surprise to many that employers are required to withhold payroll tax from all employees regardless of immigration status. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of IRS data shows 6 million undocumented workers dutifully file individual tax returns each year without hope of any refund they might otherwise be due.

Undocumented workers also pay $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes with no prospect of retirement benefits, and pay sales taxes on their purchases and the property taxes embedded in their rent. Meanwhile, there are some US employers who have broken the law and paid cash wages below minimum wage to day laborers without papers. These employees’ contributions to our economy can only be estimated.

State by state, data are showing that immigrants both documented and without papers are making significant contributions to the economy at all levels. So while we’re all entitled to our own beliefs, it would be valuable for both voters and their elected representatives to make their decisions based on facts not faithful adherence to political dogma.

For example, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, economic activity produced by undocumented workers results in employment of 5% of the total US workforce. Those without papers occupy more than 3 million residences—almost 4% of the total number of homes in the US.

UCLA researchers report undocumented immigrants produce $150 billion in economic activity annually. Since most of their earnings are spent on living costs, this becomes a powerful private sector stimulus benefitting all. UCLA calculates some 8 million US jobs result from undocumented workers living in the US.

In Charlotte NC, 10 percent are foreign-born workers and one third of the area’s “Main Street” businesses—retail, accommodation, food and neighborhood services—are owned by people born elsewhere. Just last month, the Journal of Cultural Geography carried a study of Charlotte’s experience that concluded, “Immigrant businesses have transformed deteriorating and abandoned street fronts into vibrant and well-frequented urban environments conducive for further development.”

From these data it’s hard to conclude that the undocumented are a drag on our economy. On the contrary, they bring economic power, promote job creation and help drive up gross domestic product (GDP).

What a golden opportunity for Kansas City—and other cities across America—to shift gears and establish a welcoming culture for new immigrants. Enable those who seek nothing more than the same freedoms to which we feel entitled by helping them to start on a new and hopeful path, to grow and to thrive.

Why can’t Kansas City become the “golden door” represented so powerfully by our Status of Liberty? Why can’t we be the new Colossus?

Why can’t we, the people, recognize that save for Native Americans and African slaves, we all emigrated to these shores to escape injustices and brutality, and to pursue opportunity free of abuse.

To these ancestors, many of whom have died for our Constitutional values, we owe a debt that we can repay in part by paying forward the opportunities that were made possible for us to enjoy. To do less is to debase our own freedom.

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Don’t Swallow the Lie

Our culture is falling prey to the notion that pronouncing something right or wrong, true or false is sufficient for belief or disbelief. Facts, where they may exist, are too often selected only to prove our pre-existing convictions, rarely to evaluate their validity.

Journalism’s role is to gather news and present it woven together in a narrative tapestry about the principle experiences we face together. We expect these stories to be factual. But our Founding Fathers left us, the people, free to draw our own conclusions from among many accounts and viewpoints.

This right to free speech and freedom of information depends on our responsibility to think for ourselves. In seeking objectivity, most reporters look for the “other” side, even when that other side is flimsy or non-existent. Yet pronouncing news as complete and accurate doesn’t make it so; that determination remains with us.

It’s human nature to seek affirmation, and we prefer news that ratifies our views. After all, if we’re wrong, we’d have to change our thinking and behavior. We abhor this.

Our responsibility is to seek the facts and continually adjust our beliefs to accommodate them—not to limit our facts to those compatible with what we already believe. As Samuel Johnson famously noted, to fail in this task is to expect “the triumph of hope over experience.”

When we fail at this, we enable success for those who would manipulate us for power. Respecting differences and listening civilly is often the source of innovation. So when we suspend curiosity in favor of dogma, we deny ourselves creative freedom. And we make it difficult to condemn those who deny education in order to subjugate a gender or race or religion.

Freedom is a concept logically and inevitably linked to responsibility. When freedom becomes license, we’re no longer free. When talk shows pronounce a young college student a whore for suggesting that birth control be covered by her insurance plan, it’s neither a policy discourse nor a discussion of principles. It’s pejorative name-calling that simply derails the dialogue.

By slurring the source, we swallow the lie.

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An Exceptional Week for U.S. Diplomacy

With regard to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments in today’s New York Times, a friend just grumbled that for Putin “to think he can play us like a fiddle for his own gain” requires significant hubris. I suggest that for us to object requires even more.

What makes us think Putin’s behavior is any brassier than our own? We claim the right to unilaterally decide who and who does not deserve punishment among the world’s dictators and evil regimes. We threaten to rain missiles on sovereign territory where we have no legal right to intervene alone. And we claim moral superiority to be the world’s policeman and to step on the slippery slope towards regime change–while claiming disinterest in both.

Instead of feeling outrage at Putin, we ought to feel shame that it was he, not we, who has pursued a potentially successful diplomatic solution–even if it may yet devolve into disaster.

Putin’s closing comment evokes Senator Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention: “We’re not red states. We’re not blue states. We’re the United States”

Putin’s version is that it’s “extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

We need to knock off this “exceptional” nonsense. Human reactions to pride and humility are universal. As well thought out as President’s remarks were Tuesday, the braggadocio is counterproductive and suggests more about our insecurity than our security.

Meanwhile, we now have Russian support for containing Syrian chemical weapons and have postponed U.S. threats of punitive military action. Since many Americans believed the threat of U.N. Security Council veto by Russia and China rendered attempts at a multilateral action useless, it’s overall been a good week for the U.S.

Some might even say it’s been an exceptional one.

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Resorting to Power Reflects Failure of Leadership

As Dana Milbank pointed out in Wednesday’s Post, the administration needs to come clean with the facts on which it is basing a decision to intervene unilaterally in Syria. This momentous decision should not be made in sealed rooms by political interests that currently can’t function in the nation’s interest. Sufficiency of information, says Milbank, is achieved when we the people are satisfied with the evidence. Not before.

Our current threats of military intervention are symptomatic of insecurity, not of strength. Humility would suit us better.

Britain thought it knew what was best for the countries so very fortunate to have been included in its Empire. How lucky people were to benefit from the British introducing them to shoes, the English language, and cricket. Even with these blessings, the astute observer can’t help but notice certain resentments today.

The USA’s dogmatic faith that its is the correct way to live, the true way to be free, is a fatal conceit. Why are we unable to listen to, consider and sometimes even embrace ideas different from our own? It seems we have a juvenile view that to do so would show weakness.

Yet everyone already knows of our military might. Our need to teach other nations a lesson in the face of their bad behavior is an archaic form of discipline.

Physical strength is less commanding than ideas—and always will be. Restraint and good judgment last longer (and are cheaper) than wreaking mass destruction—especially when we position it as retribution for horrific and remote killing.

Instead, we should use the UN to deal with Syria. While many see it as a flawed forum, is it any more complex and convoluted than the U. S. Senate, House or Executive branch?
Why go it alone when there exists a worldwide consortium of nations dedicated to “peacekeeping, peace building, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance”?

Will it really be harder to bring leadership to the UN than deal with the consequences of invading Syria alone?

Our military might is feared. And in freedom lies our power.

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Let Loose the Dogs of Accord

The current turmoil in Syria, where tens of thousands of innocent citizens endure vicious and criminal cruelty from a rogue dictatorship, must stop. But how?

If we’ve learned nothing from the last century it must be that to stand silent in the face of evil makes all complicit. We cannot say, “We did not know.” Because we do.

The United States wields fear-inspiring military power, from drones, to stealth bombers, to nuclear terror. But that is insufficient for unilateral intervention in Syria. We should not intrude because we can, nor because we must.

We, too, were forged in revolution and hammered by civil war. We’ve refused to be denied education, be enslaved by dogma or obliged to conform. And while striving for the civil rights and liberty of all citizens, we’ve produced the world’s strongest economy.

Employing these freedoms, we have learned trust in the power of democracy and freedom of the marketplace. We’ve decried rule by kings, queens or dictators, instead embracing the wisdom of the crowd.

If this faith in freedom is to be validated, should we not export it through leadership not might, through collaboration not coercion? Shouldn’t we know from own political experiment that we’ll best confine the dogs of war by liberating the power of accord?

The strongest way forward is through the United Nations, employing the same principles that require Congress to declare war. By respecting the autonomy of nations and enabling the UN, we protect the innocent from murderous and unthinkable acts of violence and terror, even our own.

The UN must be the multilateral peace-keeping force that fights genocide and state-sanctioned murder. If we fail the UN or the UN fails us all, there can only be continual bloodshed, brutality and bedlam. Our future and that of the nations of the world are inextricably intertwined.

Neither we nor other nations with the power to do so hold moral authority to act alone—except to defend ourselves. If terror is unleashed within our borders or on our citizens, we must respond—alone if necessary—quickly, decisively and with all our might.

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Bait and Switch: Methods and Motives

Technology has changed, and changed us and our times with it. Do journalists have new and more powerful investigative methods? Can journalists tap anonymous sources and both remain hidden better than ever before? Yes on all counts.

Yet we remain committed to the First Amendment while under murderous attack from individuals and small groups, some of whom are our own citizens. Our wars are no longer against governments on whom we spy, but against lone individuals domestic and foreign. The First Amendment was never intended to protect those bent on armed insurrection, even while the Second Amendment assures a well-regulated militia for that purpose.

In such a world, how are we to protect ourselves? Can we keep government open to inspection to assure that we watch its behavior and our tax dollars? Yes, we must.

But can we also withhold information when that knowledge might be used to physically attack and maim us? Yes, we can. And do.

Where AP-gate is concerned, I don’t know if the President or his administration is guilty of anything. But I do know that the administration is under multiple attacks, perhaps unprecedented in number, from political opponents. This begs us to at least wonder about the motives behind these and other charges.

The current volume of political confrontations lends credence to the suspicion that they’re a deliberate shoal of red herrings released to divert us from the economy, the debt, the unemployment rate, the tax code, and the environment. Alternatively, perhaps the re-elected administration is just incompetent and corrupt, but that’s a stretch even Republican’s.

In any event, it seems information was shared that threatened national security and that news people were complicit. Initially, Republicans attacked Obama for grandstanding for political gain. Now, with the election over, their focus has shifted from why the leaks occurred to the methods used to discover their source.

Motives behind nascent Republican passions for the First Amendment indeed deserve investigation, although it’s good to know they support it. One wonders if their interests are the public’s–or their own.

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Self Destruction

The Second Amendment to the United States’ Constitution guarantees us the right to keep and bear arms. It is among the first and most fiercely guarded of many entitlements we claim as citizens today.

The Founders’ rationale for this privilege was that a well-regulated militia—citizens armed with their own weapons—would deter an overbearing government from using military force to remove our hard fought freedoms.

The only weapons available to private citizens in the late 18th century were flintlock guns. Armies and navies had canons, indigenous peoples fought with bow and arrow, but settlers had limited choices from which to equip themselves—and there was little need for regulating our “militias.”

Since then weapons technology has evolved spectacularly. We and our regulations have not.

Assault weapons fire bursts of steel-penetrating bullets; semi-automatic pistols readily shoot right through a house and anybody in it; and ammunition is designed to “stop” human beings dead.

Meanwhile, the private citizens buying these weapons are anything but “well regulated.”

Worse, attempts to regulate and curb indiscriminate access to weapons of mass murder are fought as though such restraints represent the beginning of our immediate captivity.

When Osama bin Laden brought terror to our shores, killing 3,000 in New York’s Twin Towers, we nearly bankrupted the Treasury, and sent tens and tens of thousands of our countrymen to spill their blood in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet when innocents—most recently blameless school children—are slaughtered by deranged men with legal access to brutal and ubiquitous weapons, we reiterate the response we make every time: “We must do something to stop the carnage.”

And we do nothing.

We tolerate serious erosions to our civil liberties—such as airport searches and email monitoring—in order to guard against terror. We invade sovereign nations that threaten us with weapons of mass destruction that are not even real.

Yet we won’t tolerate the slightest restraint of our free and reckless access to weapons of self-destruction.

We are, I fear, collectively quite mad.

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