Thanksgiving

The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

With so many changes in our family in the past few months, our Thanksgiving was quiet, with just spouse B, daughter T, and my dad Paco here for dinner. B did all the cooking – turkey, two kinds of dressing, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, acorn squash wedges, baked onions, and cranberry orange relish, with apple and pumpkin pies for dessert. It was a lot of food for four people, but we all enjoy having the leftovers. We are in the process of making turkey stock with the carcass and vegetables, something I learned from Nana growing up which has recently come back into food-fashion.

We ate midday here and, at almost the same time, daughter E was eating a Thanksgiving dinner, five time zones away, in London. She had made turkey and trimmings and pies for her daughter ABC, spouse L, and his parents with whom they are making their home. It’s nice that E and L want to keep some United States traditions to pass on to ABC, along with British ones. She is a dual citizen, at least until adulthood. It will depend on the rules in place when she turns 18, whether she will have to renounce her US citizenship to remain in the UK.

Still, she will always be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and remember the Thanksgiving celebrations of her childhood.

ACA anniversary

On today’s ninth anniversary, we are remembering all those who died or were injured in the shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton NY.

Although we have made some progress at the state level, I am saddened that there has been so little at the federal level, both on gun and immigration reform.

I so appreciate the Parkland students and their student and adult allies who are bringing gun violence issues to the forefront of the national conversation and motivating lawmakers to take steps to protect students and the public.

In light of the president declaring DACA dead, I hope that Congress will finally return to bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, those under TPS, and other long-time residents.  If they pass such legislation with a veto-proof margin, we will confirm and honor our national identity as a diverse nation where everyone person’s human dignity is recognized and cherished.

Independence and the art of compromise

Today is celebrated as Independence Day in the United States. July 4, 1776 is the date on our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, written by future president Thomas Jefferson and edited by committee and by Congress.

It contains many stirring passages such as this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Then, you realize that “men” meant adult males, excluding women, and, furthermore, that ownership of people through slavery and indentured servitude was still permitted.

Two hundred forty years later, our country still grapples with the legacy of those exclusions.

Why were they made? Despite Abigail Adams’s admonition to her husband John to “remember the ladies,” the declaration was totally silent on the matter. Jefferson’s original text would have abolished slavery, but the slave-holding colonies refused to vote for the declaration until that statement was removed.

The final document was a compromise, giving up freedom from slavery to create a new nation of all thirteen of the British colonies. I leave it to historians and social scientists to argue if the compromise was appropriate.

What I do know is that the art of compromise has been severely hobbled in the present day and the consequences have been disastrous, leaving the United States with a Congress that has not been able to pass a budget and all the requisite appropriations bills in years; a judicial branch struggling with too few judges, including being down a Supreme Court justice, due to refusal of the Republican majority in the Senate to hold timely hearings and votes on nominees; a similar problem in the State Department with ambassadors waiting months or years for Senate approval; and a general refusal by the Republican majorities in both houses to bring up a vote unless nearly their entire delegation supports it, giving enormous power to their most conservative members and precluding bipartisan consensus bills. The amount of gridlock has caused damage to both the public and private spheres and has made recent Congresses the most unproductive in history, undermining the purpose of government for the common good that Jefferson outlined.

This inability to seek consensus and compromise has infected large segments of the population as well. Some people will not support a candidate unless s/he agrees with their views 100% of the time, which is an unrealistic standard. Worse, some people can no longer even engage in a reasoned debate, preferring to follow the example of those in public life who dismiss all other viewpoints than their own and resort to name-calling, character assassination, bullying, and threats.

Enough.

It is time for the governed to withhold their consent/vote from any officeseeker who is not committed to governing for the common good. This entails educating ourselves about all sides of the issues and engaging in respectful inquiry and debate. It also entails compromise so that we can move forward together.

It is our duty and honor as citizens to do so.

There is no better day than July fourth to renew our commitment to our country and its highest ideals.

Immigration in the US and the world

Immigration issues have been in the news in the United States for the last several years. The current system is outdated and cumbersome and the last several presidents and some prominent members of Congress have worked on comprehensive reform packages.  In the summer of 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan majority, but the House refused to take it up and the rhetoric against reform has escalated.

Some of the Republican presidential candidates have been trying to outdo each other in their vehemence against undocumented immigrants, even going so far as to threaten denying birthright citizenship to babies born in the United States. There are also proposals to build walls on both the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, disregarding the fact that many currently undocumented people reached the US by air or were documented at the time of their arrival or were trafficked into the country or are refugees.

The real solution lies in comprehensive immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship for those who want to remain permanently and work visas for those who want to stay only for a limited amount of time. There also needs to be a better process for applying for visas that takes human needs into account, such as family unity and protection from violence and persecution. Why should someone fleeing Cuba be admitted while someone fleeing more dangerous conditions in El Salvador is not?

Adding to the picture is the current crisis in Europe regarding refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq and other unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa. Desperate people are taking to overcrowded and dangerous boats and rafts or are traveling overland to try to reach safety in Europe. While some countries, especially Germany, are being welcoming, others, such as Hungary, are denying safe transit through their countries.

It’s horrifying.

Part of my upbringing as a Christian is that one should welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and treat every person with respect.  I live in a country where the the vast majority of the population either are immigrants or their descendants and which often touts the strengths that our diversity lends to our democracy. (I also know our history and that our country has behaved unconscionably in dealing with the First Nations, those who were trafficked or enslaved, and various ethnic groups, including the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during world War II. None of this negates our current responsibilities toward those in need of refuge.)

I believe that all the nations need to work together to relieve the suffering of those displaced by violence and economic disruption. Some may be looking for permanent re-settlement in a new country, while others may need a safe place for a few years in hope that they can return to their country of origin. The United States, as one of the richest countries in the world, needs to do its part to help, accepting many more than the 10,000 places offered if more refugees wish to live here and offering financial and logistical aid to help in caring for refugees while they are being processed to go to their final destinations.

I know that many will argue that we can’t afford it, but we can. It’s all a matter of priorities. The United States spends huge amounts of money on our military, including weaponry and equipment that the military leaders don’t want or need. Billions more dollars could be spent on human needs programs both at home and abroad if military spending is brought in line with what is truly needed rather than what is embarked upon due to fear or pork-barrel politics. The tax code also is in need of major revision, re-instituting a more progressive tax system for both individuals and corporations, closing loopholes, eliminating tax havens, lowering taxes on the lower earners and increasing rates for high earners.

There is a lot to do. Enough with the grandstanding and fear-mongering. It’s time to get to work to address immigration in a comprehensive way.