Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sean Bielat and moving the goal posts on immigration

When will increased border security be enough? For Republican Sean Bielat, that may be never. Bielat is the businessman and former Marine who wants to take over the 4th district seat held for three decades by Congressman Barney Frank. Emily Rooney asked him about immigration reform on last night's Greater Boston. You can't have immigration reform until you improve the way we seal our borders, Bielat said. 
But when will we ever have "enough" border protection to take the next step?

The United States has more border security personnel on our southwest border than at any time in U.S. history, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the National Conference of Editorial Writers meeting in Dallas last week.  The more than 20,000 agents posted there have more than doubled our coverage since 2004.  We have immigrations and customs enforcement personnel in 22 countries. Twelve hundred National Guard are deployed there. There is more technology in use, drones, thermal sensing and more.  All but five miles of the border wall has been built. Apprehension of people (deportations) is at an all-time high (including the removal of tens of thousands of convicted criminals), and drug interdictions are vigorous.
Napolitano seems informed and reassuring when she says "what needs to be up is up; what needs to be down is down."  So when do we stop moving the goal posts on what must happen before the country moves on immigration reform?

There are some 11 million here illegally. Are we going to lock them all up and sterilize them? Are we going to deport them all?  We need a firm but fair way to legalize their status.  Napolitano calls for better tools for cracking down on employers, noting that, although the government has collected $40 million in fines this year, the fines are now "too low to make a difference."  That seems clear when some fines are as low as $375! 

Legal immigration also needs to expanded. Immigration reform is also about our economy, our global competitive advantage, and the need to expand visas to meet employers needs, especially in high tech. Failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has meant that people end up going to war for the United States, and even dying,  while still awaiting their citizenship designation.

In front of Fenway's Green Monster, Napolitano recently swore in 5,189 new citizens from 150 countries. We're a nation of immigrants, and a nation of laws. Enough already with the anti-immigrant hysteria.  We need bipartisan support for an updated comprehensive immigration law, and we need it now.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The other Tea Party Perry

Dallas, TX-  Eyes in Massachusetts are on Tea Party candidate, former  police officer, Jeff Perry, who is giving Democrat Bill Keating a run for his money in the 10th Congressional district.  There's another Perry in Texas, also trying to capitalize on Tea Party discontent, who bears watching.

Out here, where the spaces are large and the egos match the space, Rick Perry, the Lone Star State's long- running governor, who replaced George Bush in 2000, is running for a third  term and is increasingly being mentioned as a possible 2012 candidate on the GOP national ticket. He has an interesting story to tell: Texas leads the nation in job creation; no current deficit; no income taxes; tort reform that has, since 2003, yielded a 60 percent increase in doctors available; a significant rainy day fund. (What he is less quick to report is that the state next year faces a deficit of $21 billion and the possible layoff of 10,000 employees.)

His Tea Party message will come out in book form later this fall: Fed Up voices frustration with the federal government.  He told the National Conference of Editorial Writers he is appalled at its overreaching, its intrusiveness into state matters, and its accumulation of debt.  "The perpetual growth of government is not an irrefutable force of nature," he said,  adding that "our citizens need a break from Washington."   If Rick Perry has his way, you're going to be hearing a lot more about the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But unlike many Tea Party activists who focus on economic issues and generally prefer the government to butt out of our lives,  Rick Perry is no libertarian. If  he had his way, he'd have his Big Government in our bedrooms and pushing a hard right Christian agenda.

Like many of his Tea Party fellow candidates he has an acute aversion to debating his opponent and refuses to meet with editorial boards or answer questions after giving speeches. Note the national news stories he provoked by refusing to answer questions from the National Conference of Editorial Writers.  Looks like he'll get away with it this November. Wonder if Massachusetts will be on his book tour?


Please share your views in the comments section below

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gubernatorial debate: time to focus debate where it counts

It may not be politically correct to support the exclusion of Jill Stein from the WTTK gubernatorial debate, as in, who are the media to determine that a candidate doesn’t cross the threshold of credibility. Remembering how soft candidate support often is and Scott Brow’s decisive late surge, it may be slightly illogical to say that she, polling at five percent or lower should be excluded. But she should be. There’s a much stronger case for leaving her out than Tim Cahill, now polling at 18 percent. Thursday’s debate with Cahill, Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker was significantly more focused than the WBZ debate that included Stein.

Margery Eagan and Jim Braude zeroed in on the most important topics, starting with cutting costs on municipal workers’ health insurance, reforming state worker pensions, cutting taxes, eliminating jobs, consolidating agencies. There was nothing new in the candidate responses. The pattern was largely Deval Patrick outlining the significant accomplishments of his administration, acknowledging that more remains to be done, with Charlie Baker scoffing at the accomplishments and promising to go much further. It had a little of the schoolyard feel of “Did so” versus “no you didn’t.” Cahill skated the surface between the two, sometimes agreeing with one, sometimes the other.

Scot Lehigh summed it up best in today’s Boston Globe. None of the candidates was reassuring about how he would deal with an anticipated budget deficit next year of $2 billion to $2 ½ billion.

On the issue of cutting health costs for municipal workers, Cahill got off the best line. Patrick touted how his administration had facilitated access of cities and towns to the state’s group insurance plan, though it requires the nearly insurmountable challenge of getting the support of 70 percent of the unions. Baker would make such participation in the Group Insurance Commission mandatory. Cahill, echoing Patrick’s support for keeping labor at the table (while perhaps lowering the required threshold of labor buy-in), quipped “we’re not electing a dictator; we’re electing a governor.” Baker can’t achieve what he wants with pixie dust. He would still have to go through a union-sensitive legislature to get the powers he needs.

Would anyone take a no new tax pledge? Baker would. Cahill wouldn’t raise taxes for the next four years. Patrick said he has no plans to raise taxes, but would not take the pledge because “I do not believe you govern by gimmick.”

Braude challenged Baker on his fiscal record as a Swampscott selectman, when, Braude said, Baker had voted to raise taxes. Baker said local communities should be the ones to decide on their own taxes. Baker claimed that, under Patrick, the state was “spending rainy day money before it started to rain.” “You’re wrong,” chided Patrick and criticized Baker’s support for early retirement for state workers in the Weld administration, which has cost the state a bundle.

And so it went, whether the issue was casinos, patronage, the “mosque” near Ground Zero.

Both Baker and Cahill are vying for the “mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-any-more” crowd. Patrick presents himself as the voice of reason, practicality and nuance. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the discussion of MCAS and the state’s shift to national “common core” standards with Baker expressing anger almost to the point of shrillness. Cahill repeatedly urged him to “calm down.” Baker said he wouldn’t calm down, that this was one of the worst decision the state has made in years, that “this is one of the most important issues we face as a state.” Patrick said calmly that “The MCAS isn’t going anywhere. We have strengthened it by adding science. The Common Core standards have bipartisan support. If at any time we felt there was a retreat from our highest standards, we would bow out.” Patrick reminded the audience he had doubled the charter school cap and tightened teacher standards. Cahill said simply he would focus on the high achievement gap between wealthy and poor communities.

Asked about the Tea Party, Baker and Cahill said it is good for America. Patrick said civic engagement is right; hate is not a good idea. When it comes to the substantial anti-incumbency sentiment in the body politic, all three gubernatorial candidates are establishment. In fact, incumbent Patrick likes to point out the businessman Baker spent more time on Beacon Hill, as part of the Weld administration, than Patrick himself.

With the two front-runners repeating the “We did this” and “but not enough” refrains, the choice may well come down to which candidate one likes better, whose values overall (not just on an issue-by-issue basis) one feels most comfortable with. But the voters deserve to hear how the candidates would go about implementing their campaign bromides, demonstrating their understanding of the realities of nuts and bolts governing.

Jill Stein has never gone beyond broad brush sloganeering or explained convincingly how she could even begin to do the job. Having been soundly rejected by voters before, she’s not a new candidate who hasn't had a fair hearing. Given the times we live in, none of the other three has a magic formula for success, but with good debates and tough follow-up questions we have a better chance to make an informed choice.

- Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or email me at aronsbarron@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making Head Start Kids Part of the Brady Bunch

Tom Brady has a head start on a wonderful life.  He has the golden touch. But why couldn’t he also give a head start to the program by that name? Monday’s Boston Herald had an interesting juxtaposition, a story about a huge Head Start backlog in Massachusetts opposite a Peter Gelzinis column noting how Tom Brady, who just signed a jaw-dropping $72 million contract, gets a free $98,000 Audi S8 luxury sedan from the manufacturer because he supports the Best Buddies program, in which Audi has been involved.


Now, it’s admirable that Brady hangs out with developmentally disabled children through Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Best Buddies Program. But, as Gelzinis said, couldn’t he take the freebie car, auction it off and use the proceeds for the charity? Track Gals Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa echoed the idea this morning, and the Globe’s Joanna Weiss weighed in as well, urging that the pampered and super rich jock refuse the car so it could be used for charitable purposes .

I’d like to go a few steps further. Let’s return to that juxtaposition I mentioned and look as well at the 1000 kids on the waiting list to get into the federal low-income Head Start program, the program that gives disadvantaged pre-schoolers an early education experience that enables them to do better in school. Advocates are looking for a $500,000 supplemental budget through the state legislature. Through the program, health and dental care also become available to these youngsters. Head Start participation can give the kids a boost – in math, in reading, in social interactions - that can mean the difference between success and failure in school. It’s a foundational experience that pays off.

So, Tom Brady, you just signed a $72 million contract to play football. You completed three touchdown passes on Sunday, and it was great fun to watch. How about kicking in some of your lavish income to help the Head Start program? More than 26 players on the Patriots earn in excess of a million dollars a year. The team’s total payroll is $96 million a year. How about taking the lead and soliciting donations from your well-heeled team mates and perhaps players on other Boston sports teams who have "made it."?  Wouldn’t the real touchdown pass be one that helps a low-income youngster advance the ball and maybe even make it into the end zone?

- Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Governor's Debate - sparring, with the fight to come

Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, I believe that Governor Deval Patrick came out of Tuesday night’s debate as the winner. Why? Because people are often guided by their impressions more than the substance of candidates’ arguments. Cahill proved likable enough to be Mr. Geniality to the Scott Brown crowd. And, if Cahill solidifies his support, he’s the Governor’s protection, a ticket back to the corner office.

Without Cahill, Patrick would be on the ropes. By contrast, Charlie Baker appeared testy, even occasionally nasty. The man never smiled. Patrick, coached to be firm, factual and smooth, sometimes seemed unctuous. Every time he stepped inadvertently on someone’s lines (usually Jill Stein’s), he deferred with “I’m sorry.” I can imagine someone editing the tape and putting together a negative campaign spot by patching together last evening’s repetitions of “I’m sorry,” “I’m sorry,” “I’m sorry.”

Cahill is not rooted in any coherent philosophy other than that he’s not the Republican or Democrat. “Charlie blames the Governor. The Governor blames Charlie. I want to move forward.” At one point, Patrick praised Cahill for his role in limiting school construction costs. (gracious or canny?)

The Green Party’s Jill Stein left an impression of terminal earnestness. She railed against the “immense insurance bureaucracy” and touted green jobs. She criticized tax inequities and repeatedly called for higher taxes on the wealthy, a tax policy that, in essence, would be a graduated income tax, which would require a Constitutional amendment and has regularly been rejected by voters. Stein’s approach seems limited to a few well-worn clich├ęs. Her candidacy would be irrelevant if she, too, didn’t represent a potential spoiler of Patrick’s support if the Baker-Patrick margin continues to narrow.

On substance, both Baker and Patrick scored points. The Governor was all about what his administration has accomplished, in managing the budget, cutting state employees, improving the pension system, creating private sector jobs, consolidating state agencies (transportation, economic development, for example.), all significant accomplishments, all things that previous administrations couldn’t get done or didn’t even try to accomplish. For his part, Baker said Patarick hadn’t gone far enough in those very areas, not enough budget cuts, staff reduction, pension reforms, job creation, agency consolidation.) And it’s true that there’s much more than can be done.

Each scored in the blame game. Baker blamed Patrick for the increase in health costs. (Others, of course, praise the Governor for implementing the state’s first-in-the-nation health care law.) Patrick blames Baker, citing the 150% increase in premiums for insurance under Harvard-Pilgrim, of which Baker was CEO. Stein called for a single-payer system, and Cahill opposed the costs of the Connector Authority.

Patrick blames Baker for the cost of the Big Dig, but, at the time, the Weld administration needed to come up with a plan to pay for it, and Patrick has not said what the alternative would have been. Or, if the Weld administration had decided on higher toll increases or hiking the gas tax, how would that have gone through. Baker was in a tough spot at the time, and he got the job done.


The format was vigorous and avoided the formulaic approach that usually drags down such debates. WBZ analyst Jon Keller’s moderating was skillful, focused and generally successful. Still, we are left still needing to know the candidates’ concrete plans for an anticipated deficit that may exceed $2 billion.

Patrick has taken $4 billion out of this past year’s budget alone, on top of significant cuts in previous years’ budgets. Yes, he raised some taxes and yes, he had promised to cut property taxes four years ago. But the context is the worst financial situation since the Great Depression. He has been willing to do unpopular things (raising taxes, permitting civilian flaggers, eliminating the excesses of the Quinn bill, and it has clearly cost him union support. Baker continues to talk about cutting another 5000 jobs but doesn’t specify where they’d come from. Baker insists he would make, not just permit, municipal employees to join the Group Insurance Commission if city and town governments wish to do so. A good idea, but how exactly would he get that through the legislature?

Baker and Patrick are both smart, decent men, reflecting as much as anything else a partisan difference in priorities. Baker values tax cuts and hard-nosed application of the scalpel in the name of streamlining government. Patrick has tackled both but is more sensitive to the education, energy, and other programs that, as he puts it, hold together communities. Cahill, as I indicated, is so committed to be non-partisan that he’s all over the place.

This is going to be a very long six weeks. Mark your calendars for the next debates, September 21, October 26, with others possibly to come. And hold on to your seats; it’s going to be a white-knuckle trip.
- Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama Oval Office Speech: Mission Not Accomplished

President Obama’s Oval Office address, just the second he has made in his half term, was dramatically underwhelming. There was nothing new and little, if anything, that was emotionally stirring. We knew that our combat troops had been removed from Iraq, as he had pledged as a candidate. But we also know that Iraq’s democracy is fragile, it has yet to form a representative government, and the capacity of Iraq’s security forces to defend the unstable peace is tenuous at best. What will happen to the 50,000 “non-combat” troops we left there if sporadic episodes of violence flare into widespread conflagration?
In advance of the speech, the White House had smartly said this was not a “victory lap.” No version of Bush era “Mission Accomplished” banner here. Last night on CNN, David Gergen likened the theme of the Iraq announcement as “getting the monkey off our back.”

The President praised former President George W. Bush for being a “patriot” and supporting our troops but didn’t concede the surge might have helped strategically. Mostly, Obama talked about it’s being “time to turn the page.” He spoke about our partnership with Iraq in moving ahead, but we’re hardly “outta there.” He also spoke about partnering in Afghanistan and restated his commitment to begin withdrawing from that country, starting next summer, based on conditions “on the ground.” No cause for optimism there either.

He also threw in a few lines about how our influence abroad must be anchored at home, by dealing with education, our dependence on foreign oil, the need for nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship. But these seemed to be throw-away lines, sprinkling them in the speech like raisins in a rice pudding.

As The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen pointed out, the theme lacked punch. Said Cohen of the address, “The best that can be said for it is that it suited the Iraq war itself. Like the war, it should not have been undertaken.”

The President’s body language was tight; he had no energy, no passion, and no unified driving message. We expect more from Oval Office speeches to the nation. We certainly expect more from Barack Obama.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.