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Generational Theft

7:26 pm in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

UNICEF Child Poverty Report, Table 1b (click to enlarge)

Before I get to a recent report issued by UNICEF on childhood poverty around the globe (PDF), I’d like to provide a little perspective.

On Face the Nation back in February 2009 Senator and 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain described the legislation that would become the successful American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 “generational theft” and could not support the bill because of the debt it would create for future generations of Americans. The term has since been thrown around by many self-described fiscal conservatives, claiming that the stimulus bill and other fiscal policies set forth by the Obama Administration that lavishly shower undeserving moochers with unnecessary pork will saddle the next generation with the credit card bill.

Despite the $288 billion in tax incentives for individuals and corporations, $105.3 billion in infrastructure investments and other economic perks for the anemic economy in the Act, the convenient charge of larceny has stuck. It’s worth noting that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the stimulus bill has created up to 1.9 million jobs during the first quarter of 2012 alone. I dare say the net benefits will prove the Act to be self-amortizing, especially for shorter term tranches.

Real generational theft has real and tangible effects, not imaginary ones that will affect straw boys and straw girls. Those of the tangible variety have been identified by a new report put out by UNICEF Measuring Child Poverty. To the extent that we can quantify suffering, the indicators are absolutely painful.

The first table shows the percentage of children within a given country that lack basic necessities like “three meals a day, fresh fruit and vegetables, two pairs of properly fitting shoes.” This is the one that really grabbed me: “the opportunity from time to time to invite friends home to play and eat”.

The next table in the report shows the percentage of children who are living in relative poverty, defined as living in a household in which disposable income, when adjusted for family size and composition, is less than 50% of the national median income. The United States is ranked second to the bottom, at 23.1 percent.

Overall, 30 million children in 35 countries are found to be living in poverty and the United States is ranked second highest as measured in th preceding table at 23.1 percent.

Further in the report, the term “real” poverty is discussed. Real poverty, it is said, means lacking basics – enough food to eat, adequate clothing, a dry home, an indoor toilet, hot water, and a bed to sleep in. Once you leave such basics behind and start drawing poverty lines based on statistical notions like median income, it is argued, you end up with results that fail to make intuitive sense and so fail to convince either politicians or public.

The skeptics argue that “relative” poverty becomes an abstract moving target, subject to the whims of the stock market, consumer confidence, the last generation and the Jones next door. In the spirit of no child left behind, there’s an element of truth in that. But that’s the only way we can measure poverty. It’s always in relation to a frame of reference that gives us perspective. I would add that measuring against the Jones next door in terms of a given “perk” like having an occasional friend over to play with and have dinner with is certainly relative but also a very tangible experience in wellbeing.

Enter the FY2013 House budget proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. Ryan claims that his proposed blue print of generational deprivation will “preempt austerity.” Apparently in Mr. Ryan’s world down is up and black is white. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described it by saying, “It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history)”.

Adding insult to injury, the House Ways and Means Committee recently voted on April 18 to eliminate the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). This funding helps states meet the specialized needs of their most vulnerable populations, primarily low- and moderate-income children and people who are elderly or disabled.

In the meantime, the next generation, yes, the one that we’re being accused of stealing from through economic stimuli like ARRA and TARP that prevented another Great Depression is being deprived of 3 meals a day, fruits, vegetables and an internet connection for lack of “relative” wealth. Certain members of Congress propose to increase that deprivation. Is this not generational theft from the next cohort of Americans that will need every amount of human capital to contribute meaningfully to our country and the world?

Do we ever consider data like these when proposing budgets for programs that are supposed to address the social challenges that meet Americans, especially our current and next generation of children? I think we know the answer.

Star Spangled Banter

7:22 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

March 3rd marks the 81st year since the United States adopted The Star-Spangled Banner as its national anthem in 1931. The lyrics are from a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the bombing of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships during the War of 1812. One of the points of contention in that conflict was British support of our indigenous Native Americans against the American westward aggression.  Yes, we have a long history of bloody imperialism.  This is especially striking, considering our own history as a group of 13 colonies once ruled under imperialism ourselves.

 

Turning rhyme into melodic reason, Key’s poem was set to a British score written by the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. It was named after the Greek poet Anacreon, “the convivial bard of Greece”. His songs celebrated women, wine, and entertainment.  I’m guessing the women required escorts in this pre-civil rights men’s club.

 

The lyrics come from “Defense of Fort McHenry” and the original song title was “To Anacreon Heaven”. Set to Key’s poem and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it was finally crowned as the national anthem on March 3, 1931.  Apparently with its range of one and a half octaves, it’s known for being difficult to sing.

 

Not to worry.

Enter the late Whitney Houston. Ms. Houston gave it a new vibrant meaning with silky smooth mastery.  She recorded “The Star Spangled Banner” as a charity single to raise funds for soldiers and their families during the Persian Gulf War. She performed this American classic at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 before 73,813 fans, 115 million viewers in the United States and a worldwide television audience of 750 million. In an admirable gesture of patriotism Whitney donated her portion of the proceeds.  (You might want to be sitting down if you follow the link.)

 

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the recording was re-released.  Again, she donated her share of the royalties to the firefighters and victims of the terrorist attacks.  The 2001 single went platinum. Incredibly, this resulted in Ms. Houston becoming the first musical performer ever to put our national anthem within the Top 10 in the US, and have it certified platinum as well. In 2001, the song reached number six on the Billboard Hot 100.   Perhaps presciently, it would be Whitney’s last Top 10 entry on the chart.

 

Over 20 years before Ms. Houston’s performance in 1991, Jimi Hendrix performed the song at Woodstock as a psychedelic improv-instrumental.  To many of us Aquarians, the Hendrix performance remains equally inspiring.   Then, early on the morning of September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix was found dead in London, the lethal result of wine and sleeping pills.

 

As we all now tragically know, Whitney Houston was also found dead. On Saturday, February 11th, she was found in the bathtub of a Beverly Hills hotel.   Her life and the inspiration she has shared with America and the world at large will not be forgotten. Her tragic death is still quite fresh in the hearts and minds of America and the world.

 

Perhaps equally tragic is another tale of a bath tub, but for its malice rather than accident.  Anti-tax activist and President of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist,  was famously quoted  a couple of years ago as saying “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

 

An anti-government attitude has been a part of the American landscape since our inception as a gangly bunch of 13 colonies sprawling along the east coast well over 200 years ago.  But for the past decade, and especially for the past 3 years, the rhetoric against taxes and government in general has intensified.

 

Not only have we witnessed a strident bashing of government, but also an all-out attack on specific government programs and their proponents, most notably against President Obama.  Many observers have claimed there is a racial component to all this rhetoric now that Barack Obama has been elected to the Oval Office.  Like Ms. Houston and Mr. Hendrix, Mr. Obama is an incredibly talented African American. The emphasis on here is on “American”.  Like them, and many other Americans, Barack Obama is also known to strike an occasional note or two at the microphone.  But unlike the two deceased performers, he has become a lightning rod for criticism, most, if not all of it, unjustified.

 

For all the patriotic fanfare when it comes to singing our National Anthem I can’t help but think of all the bashing of the President of the United States we have witnessed during the past 3 years with questions of Barack Obama’s citizenship, religion and even patriotism.

 

Last week even the American Dream as embodied in striving to make a college education universally available to all was attacked as snobbery by presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

 

Santorum is calling for a decreased federal role in education. Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry before him called for abolishing the Department of Education, while Newt Gingrich, has said he would dramatically shrink the department and remove all of the regulations it imposes.

As a further sign of social unrest, just this week we have seen two young Americans dead from an Ohio school shooting.  I argued last year for stricter gun controls.  To repeat that position, we need to close gun show loop holes and reinstate the high capacity magazine ban that Congress has let lapse.

 

At a time when our entire nation has been hit hard with the worst post-war recession, hitting minorities the hardest, Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently remarked “And so I’m prepared if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”   Why are the NAACP and food stamps even being mentioned in the same breath?  I suspect it has more to do with bias than recession economics.

 

As I mentioned, here, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Congressman Ryan’s budget proposal “Path to Prosperity” offers us the “gift” of a pathway to ruin. Is it simply intended as entertaining banter for seniors who don’t need this safety net?  Prosperity is certainly not a realistic part of the equation. The budget Paul Ryan has proposed would further destroy the social fabric of our nation. It doesn’t come close to adding up. It would also extend the Bush tax cuts which did not create any jobs and has played a big role along with the wars and the recession in putting us in our current economic situation.

While we have seen the end of at least one war, the invasion of Iraq, we have seen new wars right here on American soil.  We have seen a wave of voter suppression masquerading as voter I.D. laws.   This is in effect reinstating a poll tax and reverting back to the days of Jim Crow.

 

Since early 2011 the 30 year war on labor has intensified.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched attack on public sector employees and unions, threatening to deploy the national guard to halt the resulting protests.  This is only one of the many examples of the assault on labor.

 

On nearly a party line vote, the House passed a bill intended to stop a preceding National Labor Relations Board decision that would allow workers to cast a timely vote on unionization once they’ve petitioned for it. By ruling that employers’ legal challenges can be entertained only after a vote, the labor board effectively denied employers the ability to hold up a vote for weeks, months or even years. With these important elections delayed, the NLRB recently said, elections may be denied.  The House bill would allow the delay by stopping the labor board decision.

 

Most recently we’ve been seeing an escalating war on women’s reproductive rights.  Both Virginia and Alabama legislatures have proposed an egregious assault on women with vaginal ultrasound bills requiring new invasive procedures that would effectively violate the privacy, dignity and civil rights of women.

 

The preceding points are by far only a small sample of the retreat we have taken into the Dark Ages, admittedly long after the age of Anacreon but long before the long night aboard that ship in the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key spilled the ink that eventually articulated the collective words of the American people.

 

Our national anthem is a very colorful reminder that we have but one American flag. It might have 13 stripes, but it has 50 stars.   Our official flag is not the yellow Gadsden flag, the Confederate Flag with 13 stars and two crossed bars, or the circular Colonial Flag, all symbols that have experienced a rebellious revival during the last few years.

 

Unless we address this dereliction of duty in our protection of liberty and equity for all Americans, Key’s inspiring words put to music that riveted the crowds during the 1991 Super Bowl in 1991 and Woodstock in 1969 and that open sporting and all major events will be reduced to mere hollow banter like a Fourth of July sparkler that fizzles our after a few glorious sprays of light.

 

With the passing of Whitney Houston and Jimi Hendrix, and President Obama’s need for our support in this difficult time, our National Anthem needs a renewed voice of inflection that projects a unified passion from all Americans.

 

So, the question becomes:

 

O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Understanding by Design

6:30 pm in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

On January 30, the Pew Research Center in partnership with The Washington Post, found that far more voters say Barack Obama understands the problems of average Americans than those who say the same about either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

 

Fifty-five percent of all registered voters say that Barack Obama understands the problems of average Americans very or fairly well. The spread between Democrats and Republicans was one typical of what we have been seeing for the past few months with wide polarization. Twenty-three percent of Republicans reported that he understands them Very/fairly well with 84 percent of Democrats making that same claim.

 

Three questions were asked: “How well does ____________ understand problems of average Americans?” Each question inserted the name of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich respectively. Three categories were then given: Very/fairly well; Not too/at all well; Don’t know.

Thirty-nine percent say that Romney understands average Americans and 36% make that claim for Gingrich.

 

It’s interesting that for the Very/fairly well category 84 percent of Democrats think President Obama is in tune with their problems. This compares with 61% of Republicans for Romney and 60% for Gingrich. At first glance, it’s tempting to say that President Obama’s base is more loyal than can be said of the Republican base for either Romney or Gingrich. That may well be true. But to be fair, it should be mentioned that Romney and Gingrich are splitting the Republican base. Still, 84 percent is well over 20 points above and beyond either GOP candidate when it comes to instilling confidence. If this were a general election based on the greatest plurality, guess who would win the prize? That’s right, term number two on its way.

 

Perhaps most important here is the fact that this poll was conducted among registered voters. If anyone will be voting in November, it will be these respondents.

 

Say what you will about Newt’s ability to win the confidence of 60 % of the base, but I think the near draw of 60 percent of the base for both Gingrich and Romney speak to the current GOP “ambivalence of the Republican electorate in choosing between ideology and pragmatism — an intraparty struggle dating back to the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964,” as Thomas Edsall points out. This ambivalence seems to be exaggerated during this campaign. Which candidate best represents ideology and which shows pragmatism, I’ll leave for you to decide.

 

Could it have been President Obama’s recent singing the first line of Al Green’s legendary song “Let’s Stay Together”? Maybe, but I’m willing to guess it has far more to do with the hope and change that has become a work in progress. It’s the hope and change that has taken root among Americans longing for more than simply a politician who, at best, claims to offer a shot at defeating an incumbent who has awakened the top one percent of our society to their indifference to the rest of us.

 

Empathy and the perception of it in others is something that develops over the long run and is worth more than just a song.

 

 

 

Source: Pew Research Center

 

Frontier Justice

7:20 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Lost in the dust of the national debt this week was a Texas execution.  While every execution is an egregious violation of human rights, this was distinguished in its blatant disregard for not only human life but for the rule of law.

On Thursday, July 7, Texas executed Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national, for the rape and slaying of a teenager. Crime aside, its retribution has only multiplied the wrongdoing.  Both Garcia argued and the White House advocated for a Supreme Court stay on the grounds that he was denied help from his home country under international law.  This application of due process could have potentially helped him to avoid the death penalty.

At issue was the fact that Mr. Garcia was a Mexican citizen and Texas law enforcement officials failed to tell Garcia that the Vienna Convention gave him the right to notify Mexican consular authorities about his arrest and to seek their help with legal representation.

In its amicus brief filed last week, the White House argued that “The imminent execution of petitioner would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international-law obligation to afford petitioner review and reconsideration of his claim that his conviction and sentence were prejudiced by Texas authorities’ failure to provide consular notification and assistance under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. “    In the brief Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. further contended that compliance with international treaties helps the U.S. protect its citizens abroad and advance its foreign policy interests. After all, constructive international diplomacy has always been premised on reciprocity.

The majority opinion of the Supreme Court did not agree.  In its 5 to 4 ruling along ideological lines, the majority denied the stay, arguing that the court was tasked with ruling on current law, “not what it might eventually be.”  While the majority did acknowledge that in 2008 the international court’s ruling was binding, they required action from Congress and not just the President in order to recognize it. 

On behalf of the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer  stated  “In reaching its contrary conclusion, the court ignores the appeal of the president in a matter related to foreign affairs, it substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of executive branch officials who have consulted with members of Congress, and it denies the request by four members of the court to delay the execution until the court can discuss the matter at conference in September.”  Breyer went on to say, “In my view, the court is wrong in each respect.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry authorized the execution to proceed, defying a request from the White House as well as from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The latter office asked that Perry commute the sentence to life in prison.  A request for a reprieve by the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, was dismissed by both the US high court and the state of Texas.

“Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling,” Katherine Cesinger, press secretary for Texas Governor Rick Perry, said about the Vienna Convention.   We understand that your Governor would like to secede from the Union, but must we remind you Ms. Cesinger, Texas is not empowered with unilateral jurisdiction over foreign nationals? 

American history of the western frontier has documented various accounts of “frontier justice” that occurred in Texas in the 1870s.  Someone needs to remind Perry and his supporters that it’s no longer 1870.  His rogue sense of justice is driving Texas backward in time.   Texas has executed more than 4 times the number of people as any other state, and yet murders and violent crimes continue.   In fact, nearly every year Texas tops the list as the state with the most executions, with 17 in 2010.

Internationally, the United States stands alone on the issue of capital punishment.   According to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, The US stands virtually alone among nations in the industrialized world in carrying out state executions. Sending foreign nationals to their death in violation of international law simply aggravates an already barbaric practice.

According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, capital punishment goes against almost every religion.   Yet, Governor Perry has declared August 6 as a day of prayer: “I invite my fellow Texans to join me on August 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, as we pray for unity and righteousness – for this great state, this great nation and all mankind. I urge Americans of faith to pray on that day for the healing of our country, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of enduring values as our guiding force.” This of course begs the question of exactly what that “guiding force” might be. 

Last week marked the 35th anniversary of the death penalty which some claim is racist and arbitrary in its application .  This dubious anniversary has been “celebrated” by Texas’ blatant disregard for life, due process and international law.

With potential Presidential hopeful Perry at its helm, the rogue disregard of humanitarian principles of Texas public policy has now earned it the dubious distinction of the highest uninsured in the nation, Texas has by far the largest number of employees working at or below the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour in 2010) compared to any state, shortchanged school districts by $ million, and has doubled its debt.

For those so inclined, I recommend that on August 6 we pray for Mr. Perry, the State of Texas, the soul of Mr. Garcia, and that Mr. Perry will eventually come to discover justice.

The American Dream Grows Up

8:33 pm in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Not only are immigrants continuing to come to the United States to pursue the American Dream, but they are contributing to it economically according to a new study issued by the Brookings Institution. It seems the contribution to the American economy of recent immigrants has been increasing over the past few years.  We now have additional reliable data to guide future policy.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution has issued a report this week on the skills and degrees held by immigrants in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas and how those attributes contribute to the economy.    The report finds a significant increase in those traits as well as varying geographic distribution.  According to the findings the contribution to the American economy of immigration seems to be increasing.   

The findings vary with skills, education and geography.  However, several are noteworthy and buck some of the prevailing wisdom that immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, create a drag on the economy.   

The high-skilled U.S. immigrant population now outnumbers the low-skilled population.  According to Brookings, forty-four of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas are high-skill immigrant destinations.  These are areas where college educated immigrants now outnumber immigrants without high school diplomas by at least 25 percent.

One of the findings shows that the number of working-age immigrants in the United States who have a bachelor’s degree has risen to the point that they outnumber those without a high school diploma.  By 2010, 30 percent of working age immigrant had at least a college degree compared to 19 percent in 1980. 

Of particular significance was the finding that low-skilled immigrants have higher rates of employment and lower rates of household poverty than their U.S. born counterparts.  However, they have lower individual earnings.  Almost half of immigrants who hold a degree appear to be over-qualified for their jobs.   

As we continue to emerge from the Great Recession, debate regarding the economic value of immigration is as strong as it ever was.  Brookings argues that pragmatism must prevail over ideology if we are to strengthen the economy by leveraging our inherent strengths. 

While some debate continues over whether low-skilled immigrant workers compete directly with native-born Americans for low-wage jobs, a much more compelling argument is now emerging in favor of tapping new immigrants in a way that maximizes their skills and education as well as their contribution to the economy.

In view of this report and others, comprehensive immigration reform is necessary to craft an approach that judiciously matches these new Americans with our needs in modeling the American Dream in 21st Century terms.  A pragmatic approach requires that policymakers take a flexible admissions system that responds to the needs of our current and projected labor market.

Immigration has not been uniform geographically or by skill and education levels. These two factors may be interacting to produce a new pattern of immigration gateways.  Former gateways like Pittsburgh and St. Louis, for example, are transitioning into concentrated sectors of science, health care and education for new immigrants. Here is an example where immigration is having a positive impact in that it compensates for the out migration of natives with skill sets matching those needs.  New immigration policy will need to include measures that address this phenomenon.

The Brookings study confirms that skills and education of our recent immigrants vary by geography.  For example, “Some re-emerging gateways such as Baltimore, the Twin Cities, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle have had considerable refugee resettlement in the past few decades. Depending on origin country conditions, some refugees arrive with little in the way of formal education, while oth­ers possess a wide range of skills, experience, and education. The net effect on metro areas that have a high proportion of a diverse set of refugees among their foreign-born populations is a likely boost to both ends of the skills spectrum.”   This requires a carefully tweaked approach that meets immigrants as they initially are and coordinated in a manner that does not jeopardize one region over another to the extent possible.   A fragmented state based reactionary approach won’t do it.

In the very least, the current “enforcement-only” and decentralized states-based approach to illegal immigration will need to be abandoned if we are to breathe new life into our economy and ultimately our nation.  The 2009 budget for the U.S. Border Patrol was $2.7 billion.   The current trend of a fragmented and reactionary state by state approach will likely prove to be even far more expensive.   This is a gross waste of taxpayer money.

On June 9, 2011 Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed an immigration bill promoted as a “tough illegal immigration law”.  It has been described as one of the toughest in the nation, even stricter than the ones recently signed in Arizona and Georgia.  Under the new Alabama law, public schools will be required to determine the citizenship and immigration status of enrolling students through sworn affidavits or birth certificates.  In the long run, this approach will do nothing to boost our economy or enhance the rich and diverse American Society.  This is neither pragmatic nor forward looking.  It reacts to a perceived threat to the American Dream based on another society from another time.

 “Pre-emerging gateways” that have little if any history of receiving immigrants are now experiencing unprecedented growth in the study.  In places like Nashville and Greensboro are experiencing an inflow of immigration at least three times the national average.  A Tennessee immigration policy of enforcement only that ends at the state border will not likely provide adequate programming to meet the challenge that Brookings and other studies describes.

Because of recent demographic and economic shifts in the United States we have witnessed profound social, cultural and educational challenges that must be met.   In addition, the changes have not been geographically uniform.   Fear based anti-immigrant rhetoric will not solve the problem.    This new focus on the geographic dispersion of new immigration should be matched to the extent possible with the geography of emerging industry in the United States.  Although immigration has slowed somewhat due to the recession, once the recovery picks up steam, and increase in immigration will likely follow.  Public policy must get ahead of this curve and take a pragmatic look at what may be our greatest hope for sustaining economic health in the coming decades.  

A comprehensive new immigration policy based in Washington that begins a gradual process of legalization, education and social adoption needs to be implemented.  Various studies show that a comprehensive approach like the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act can actually raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs, and generate additional tax revenue.   The Dream Act could build on that.