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No Longer Invisible, No Longer Alone, No Longer Hopeless

After watching President Obama’s farewell address last night, I found myself thinking back on his presidency, and where I was in my life when...

Trade: An Important Democratic Legacy for America

The trade bill spectacle in the House of Representatives Friday saw a strong majority of Democrats not only reject the entreaty of their own President Obama but also repudiate a legacy of Democrats from FDR and Truman through Carter and Clinton.

Fortunately, they will have an opportunity to correct what I consider to be an unfortunate, although understandable, vote in the coming week and grant the president the same kind of trade negotiating authority that was given every previous president in the modern age.

The global trading system was a liberal vision launched at the end of World War II and expanded with U.S. leadership in subsequent decades. Working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I was privileged to play a bit part securing congressional approval of the Tokyo Round agreement in 1979. As a journalist since 1981, I have studied in depth the politics and substance of the Uruguay Round agreement that created the World Trade Organization, the North American Free Trade Agreement and several other bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

At a glance, it might appear that this proliferation of trade agreements is connected with the loss of manufacturing jobs and stagnation of middle class wages over the last 40-some years. But on more thorough analysis, I am convinced that job losses are due more to technology and other factors unrelated to trade agreements and the inequality in wealth and income is a product of unwise, Republican-driven tax policies that encourage wealth to trickle upwards.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, now being negotiated with some dozen Pacific Rim nations likewise does not threaten American jobs. The United States has few barriers now to imports from those nations. By contrast, many of the negotiating parties erect obstacles to buying American goods and services. It is those countries' tariffs and their barriers - especially those sanitary rules without a scientific basis - to American exports that would come down under TPP.

Responses to the Surge of Unaccompanied Children

Bob Goodlatte photo BobGoodlatte_zps8cbda6f5.jpg So now that Bob Goodlatte has visited the border and determined that all blame for the immigration crisis du jour rests squarely on President Obama's shoulders, maybe we can get to some substantive discussion. Dismissing Goodlatte's and Darrell Issa's grandstanding on its face, a well-considered, rational strategy is essential.

"Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama's lax immigration enforcement policies, and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally, many of whom are children from Central America." - Bob Goodlatte, R-VA 6th

This is a ridiculous and simple-minded assertion designed to play on prejudice and fear. The law that codified current policy toward unaccompanied minors, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) was enacted in 2008 and signed by President Bush. Reagan administration policies in and subsequent neglect of countries in the Central American Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have directly led to the highest homicide rate per capita in the world. These governments cannot contend with rising levels of violence. Internally displaced persons constitute the bulk of those displaced but increasing numbers of people are crossing state boundaries in search of safety. However, criminal gangs are transnational, meaning there is no sanctuary obtained by crossing an adjacent border.

The TVPRA requires the establishment of standards for custody, creation of more child-friendly asylum procedures, and relaxation of eligibility for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ) visa status. These are simple internationally recognized expectations of humanitarian treatment. Do the critics believe that inhumane treatment of children for their first 72 hours or so in America will somehow discourage migration?  

Just a Few Words About Bowe

 photo 05e01add-f00c-40ad-af59-1fda3c3d84e9_zps148837aa.jpgI am not going to pretend that I have enough information to pass judgment on the swap for Bowe. No one I've read is working with the information and in the moment the President acted. I am perplexed he did not consult Congress, IF he didn't. Credible deniability baby.

Here are some takeaways I haven't seen discussed. Bowe Bergdahl is an intelligence coup. The process of negotiation even through an intermediary in Qatar must have yielded all sorts of high value information. The jerks we sent back are no more high value (right in the head) as combatants than Bowe will be (that this isn't appreciated makes it obvious that PTSD just isn't generally understood); their value to the "cause" will be zilch point nada (we treated them very poorly and that will last forever). We are supposedly in a war, though Congress never had the cojones to declare it. In war there are always trades and releases of captives. The angry reaction that has followed this swap negates any concern that we have established a precedent for "negotiating with terrorists."

Bowe is a walking encyclopedia of information about language, customs, mores, tactics, and other information about the Taliban. Unlike the five guys we released, we won't have to torture him to harvest that information. As in we might actually be able to rely on what he hands us. Even Bowe doesn't know what he knows.

The Tea Party of old versus the Tea Party of today


Whatever infantile world some so-called libertarians are living in, it's clearly not the world that the rest of us are breathing in. According to one author, the furloughing of 800,000 federal government employees hasn't caused a tangible disruption within our society. Another chestnut is the old Tea Party fallback quote, "Obama's...just pure distilled Marxism." Not only can a man not be a system of thought, President Obama's policies have come nowhere near socialism, let alone Marxism.

These common beliefs among the Tea Party base (i.e., government employees, on the whole, serve no critical function in our society and President Obama is a shady Marxist/socialist/communist (?)) have continued to be a distorted but nonetheless real set of beliefs that only increases in severity with each political move that President Obama makes. That is, President Obama can do no right in the eyes of some within the Tea Party movement.

As such, it's no longer acceptable for President Obama to negotiate with a group of individuals who would no sooner trust our nation's elected president than they would Joseph Stalin, a group of individuals who would no sooner honor their commitments to a deal(s) reached with President Obama than they would with the Devil.

Perhaps a big reason why we are even in an unnecessary situation of government shutting down is President Obama has handed this tiny group victories in the past, emboldening them to take ever more drastic steps. We'll never know if this situation would have played out differently had President Obama held firm in the past.

The point is not to place blame at President Obama's doorstep, however. It is to argue that the Democratic Party's bending position to the crazies of America has left the door open for the kinds of drastic political moves that the Republican Party in the House is taking. If the Tea Party wants their voice to be heard, they better mediate through the saner elements in their party and let them filter what is and isn't appropriate.

President Obama On the Second Goal of the March on...

I was hoping that President Obama would speak to the other goal of the original "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." He didn't disappoint me. After all, "jobs" is the greatest unfinished business for us of that day in August 1963. The obvious evil caused by segregation and exclusion was so blatant back then that it obscured the parallel fight for economic justice for America's underclass, both black and white.  Dr. King never forgot. His very presence in Memphis in April 1968 was to support a strike by sanitation workers for decent wages. King gave his life there for the cause of worker dignity and human freedom, yet the injustices in our economy remain as stark today for millions of our fellow citizens as they were then. Today, President Obama reminded us of that fact.  

"The position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive. For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate. Even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes, inequality has steadily risen over the decades."

"The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class, reduced the bargaining power of American workers. And our politics has suffered...For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can't afford the meal?"

President Obama issued a call to action today for all of us, a call to demand that Washington address the plight of the working class and the middle class in this nation. I would say that needs to be the chief purpose of the remainder of his term in office, as well. Nothing else is as important for the long-term health of our democracy.

NRA to Congress: Make the Mentally Ill Take a Chill Pill,...


Largely without a voice in the corridors of power across the nation's legislative institutions, America's 'mentally ill' have become a focal point in an attempt to make sense of some of the violent acts that have been perpetrated over the last few years. Most recently, the letters believed to be covered with ricin sent to the White House, a judge in Tupelo, Miss., and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss), are believed the be the actions of a "mentally ill" man who's "paranoid and thinks people are out to get him" when not on his medication.

But studies ranging back decades clearly show that mental illness is no more an indicator of conducting a violent act than not having a mental illness. For a host of reasons, however, the media and the public's attention is all too often focused on this group of individuals as the scourge that has wrested away the relative peace that had heretofore been perceptibly known. That is, the mentally ill have become a scapegoat, the easy target, for some of our society's deeper problems.

For me, this issue is personal. A number of individuals in my family as well as a number of friends have 'mental illnesses' and I suspect a number of Blue Virginia readers also know someone with a mental illness too (who doesn't these days!?). These individuals are, on the whole, some of the kindest, most virtuous, and big-hearted individuals I have ever known. They are, in other words, great people, and not one medical relapse away from acting out in a manner harmful to others or themselves.  

The State Department Plays Early April Fool’s Gag on Environmental Movement:...


Either the U.S. Department of State is playing an early April fool's gag or the environmental movement has taken another huge setback in efforts to, well, save the planet (no big deal!). Environmental leaders were clearly left befuddled when the State Department concluded in its report on Friday that the Keystone XL Pipeline is not the environmental threat that concerned citizens of the planet fear. Take the knife out of my back, President Obama (no, John Kerry shouldn't take the fall if the pipeline is ultimately approved)!

Yes, I was there on that absurdly cold day in February of this year when thousands of concerned citizens of the planet assembled in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate their concern about the earth warming effects of the Keystone XL pipeline. I was there and I saw thousands of individuals of different colors, backgrounds, religions, political beliefs, and choice of footwear clearly state that the Keystone XL Pipeline is not the way forward for America. But the State Department knows best, right?

Guns, Germs, and President Obama


It looks like communists (or socialists, whichever) are once again taking up arms to defend their cause. Witness Exhibit A, the not-so-recently taken picture of President Obama using a shotgun at Camp David on August 4, 2012. Before the picture surfaced, Republican and Tea  Partiers seemed to believe that President Obama was so anti-gun that he would never even shoot one. Who needs a shotgun, after all, when you have the United Nations to subvert the Bill of Rights in the U.S.?

But that trickster, President Obama, must have something else up his sleeve, right? Indeed, it didn't take long for the smokescreen thesis to arise within fruit-cup conservative circles. That is, President Obama's picture campaign is nothing but a diabolical attempt to fool the American people in to believing that he is a "moderate" on gun safety. How diabolical, indeed!

Look, we already know that there are a lot of nutty people in this country who believe extremely distorting things about President Obama, to say the least. One of my favorites is the belief that President Obama will run and win a third term to the presidency. Thus, somehow President Obama will overturn the 22nd Amendment with a bitterly opposed Republican House to then win another presidential election in a country that is hostile to the mere thought of a president running for a third term. Of course, these are only two of the many barriers that could be named. Brilliant!

Half a Loaf Is Better Than None

Before progressive Democrats pummel President Obama too much for "caving" on the $250,000 threshold for raising taxes, we all should look carefully at the bill that passed the Senate in the last minutes of 2012. The bill, if it can make it through the House with its tea-poisoned GOP caucus, actually raises taxes on all Americans, but it does hit the wealthy the hardest. Here's how it works.

Individuals with incomes of $400,000 or more, and couples with incomes of $450,000 or more, will see their top tax rate go from 35% to 39.6%. (Remember that no one's income is taxed at the highest rate for every dollar. The 39.6% simply affects earnings OVER those amounts.)  Additionally, personal exemptions and itemized deductions will begin to phase out for people making $200,000 or couples making $250,000 or more, giving the president an "out" for his $200,000/$250,000 threshold.

Every working person will pay more under this compromise because the temporary recession stimulus of a 2% cut in FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare) will be allowed to expire. (These are the taxes that Mitt Romney conveniently "forgot" about when he wrongly said 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. FICA taxes are paid on a person's income and are regressive because everyone pays the same amount, about 7.5% of gross income, regardless of income.)

The estate tax will increase from 35% to 40%, but not on the first $5 million of estate value. That's hardly surprising, considering that most members of the Senate are multi-millionaires. Most people who get income from capital gains and/or dividends won't notice the rise in their tax from 15% to 20%, because the higher tax rate doesn't kick in until annual income goes above that $400,000/$450,000 threshold. (Sorry. Mitt, but you will pay a bit more in taxes unless your accountants can find more ways to hide your income.) Not only that, but the 3.8%  percent surcharge on investment income that was part of the Affordable Care Act means the top rate on investment income would increase to 23.8% for the richest Americans.

I've already noticed inaccuracy in reporting on this bill, even from the venerable New York Times. In the Times, Jonathan Weisman says, "The Senate,.. in a pre-dawn vote two hours after the deadline passed... overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow tax rates to rise only on affluent Americans." Wrong!  FICA taxes are collected on gross incomes. The tax rate for FICA is going up. Believe me, if I only made $200 a week, the extra $218 I'll be paying in taxes this year is definitely an increase in my "tax rate."