Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ambivalence has its Consequences

Though slightly long, it's worth a read: an article from The Economist.

This article from the most recent Economist takes a pretty hard look at America's immigration policy. Or, should I say, lack of policy. For it seems our last major effort to legislate on this topic was in 1986.

That's 32 years ago. Three decades without any change in the laws regarding who is allowed to come here, how many are allowed to come here, and what we do with those who don't follow the normal protocol for coming here.

And in that absence we've seen policy decisions made by presidents, their advisers, and bureaucrats that have essentially created a bewildering body of practices, protocols, and institutions that define immigration law today.

The President's recent zero tolerance approach sickens me. In some ways, though, he's giving the American people what we deserve: a black eye. A set of practices that embarrasses us in its cruelty and clumsiness.

I assign more blame on this to Rs than the Ds. After all, it is a Republican president who has brought to light a particularly cruel and thoughtless response to the fates of those who come to our borders. The last major attempt to legislate this occurred in 2006-07, when George W. Bush pushed the Congress to do something before it was too late. The Republican leadership rebuffed the Republican president. And I doubt this Republican Congress will act now, for a festering un-resolved issue on this sensitive topic is better for the polls. Law and Order when it comes to immigration is red meat.

Democrats don't escape blameless here. There have been sixteen years of a Democratic White House since 1986. And, most recently, there was a two-year stretch (2009-2011) in which a Democratic White House and Congress could have put something on the agenda. I know I know . . . there was an economic crisis to handle.

But there's no crisis now. And there's no foresight on the part of Congress to deal with this now.

Besides, it's an election year.

We (the citizens) are paying a price for being ambivalent on immigration for more than three decades. Democrats and Republicans have not acted for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that there is no one policy on immigration that the bulk of Americans will support. We're fractured in our thinking on this. And in the indefinite political environment created by our ambivalence, we've allowed this issues to be defined by Executive department fiat, which, since 9/11, has increasingly stemmed from a mental model accentuating national security rather than kindness or economic opportunity.

Shame on us.

In some ways, we have forfeited chances to confront the problems that pushes the desperate to our borders. Where is the political will to meaningfully intervene in Syria (whose flood of refugees haunts Europe, a continent just as fractured as us on this issue) or Honduras or Guatemala or any other country where instability, crime, and evil motivate people to come to a place where there can be a better life? That political will isn't there. And that is a reality both Democrats and Republicans need to own.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Pretty Rough Day for Liberals

This will probably have to go down as Black Wednesday. Geeesh.

This smattering of headlines pretty much says it all. 
That bump one heard in the middle of the night was a primary result that shook the Democratic leadership to its core, illustrating the thin bench that exists for team blue. Then the day started with digesting the news that the Supreme Court upheld the President's authority on immigrant bans (bad policy, but I think the Court was right). After the breakfast dishes were cleaned up we see public sector unions dealt a nasty blow (mortal? maybe . . . we'll see) by the Court. Oh, and then the news breaks that Kennedy is retiring and the Republicans promise to red ball his replacement.

Shame the Republicans can't find the energy to tackle immigration with such diligence.

To those on the left (from one who is center-left): I'll simply urge ya'll to take heart and remember that payback is a b*tch. That payback will just have to wait until about 2022.

In many ways, the liberal portion of our political spectrum and the party that comes closest to representing it (the Democrats) aren't quite ready for prime time. And the next few years will offer the chance to find definition and leadership. In the long run, the Republicans' policies (which aren't really policies . . . aside from a tax cut their policy is to prevent legislation from going through so that resentment continues to simmer, motivating their base to come on out and vote against Nobama and Crooked Hillary in 2018 . . . will degrade workers' pay, build resentment among communities of color, and will balloon the national debt to levels we can't ignore. Then will begin the Republicans' forty years in the wilderness. The Democrats may as well have a leadership that can act on that opportunity when it arrives.

Monday, June 25, 2018

This June is Different

Hey, look! I planted a rhododendron! 
As a colleague likes to say, the summer months are like a weekend. June is Friday. July is Saturday. August is filled with the dread of eventual return on the school year's Monday.

June is also like Friday in that some years, one has to work late. Other years one gets out early. This was a late year. June 25 marks my first day of summer vacation. It came late, but it came as a greater sense of relief than any other first day of break I've had. And though the end of the school year is the reason why I feel so unburdened today, it wasn't the school year that burdened me.

No. My 2017-18 campaign was marred by the must humbling, in-over-my-head experience in my adult life: a stint in a leadership role on my church's council. I'm glad I was able to exit with my faith in tact. Few other experiences have made me feel as much like a failure as did the last five months of my one year as an executive officer.

Was it me and my inabilities, or was it just the bad luck of serving at a difficult time? I really don't know. But I know my leadership instincts didn't work well. I paused when I should have raced. I reacted when I should have waited. I asked questions about things that didn't matter, and never asked questions about things that did. Support didn't materialize at critical times. What little good will and political capital I had was squandered before I even knew I had it. An awful, miserable experience.

So, what am I? Am I a leader? I think I am. I'm a father, a big brother. A department chair. In all those capacities I lead, and I lead well.

But I'm not a director. Not a president. Nor a captain. Not a principal. Definitely not a governor.

At my heart, I guess, I'm a first trombone. I'm a first among equals, not "in charge." I lead a section. I can walk the line between leadership and teamwork.

There were some awkward conversations as I disentangled myself from formal leadership at my church. It's not often that an incumbent president with an eligible term remaining leaves. It's pretty rare, in fact, to work one's way out of that bear trap. But when those conversations got awkward, my line was "This church is best served with someone other than me in this seat."

And I meant it.

And it's proven true.

So I nurse my ego a little bit going forward. When council stuff comes down, I wince a little bit that I'm not at the table. But then I realize how miserable I was when I was saying no to something with Sherry, or something with Caroline, or something with Sam because of something having to do with council.

And then I get to this summer. My first day was preoccupied with gardening, serving as an unpaid Lyft driver for Sam and Caroline, buying a violin . . . You know, being first trombone for my family.

This is a much better fit. 

Alex F. Johnson

Readers may remember a rather somber post I wrote in October following the death of our cat, Ernie. Ernie remains my favorite pet I've ever had and I'm thankful for the years we had with him.

Only a month went by after his passing when I felt a yearning for a new pet. Our household felt empty without a pet. Most of that first month after his death featured a pet, though. We had a loaner: my father-in-law's dog Blackberry. Wonderful dog. As his time at our house wound to a conclusion, though, I started to dread what it would be like when he left.

Blackberry in our backyard.

Blackberry awaits a treat that will never come (Sherry was peeling grapefruit, which the dog mistook for meat). 
Alex on his first evening at our house. 
So I combed the web to find a cat, and I found one, named Patrick, who looked particularly smart. He arrived the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and immediately treated the house like it was his own. 

Alex on his second morning at our house, pretending to be cuddly. This was his last time on our lap in months. 
Playful, spry, and curious, he sometimes makes me wonder if he's the same species as our previous pet, who was lethargic, lazy, and needy to a fault. 

Oh, and he makes for good memes.

So far he's a far better cat than Ernie. A better pet than him? Time will tell.

O|I Twitter for Summer 2018

I see now that politics in 2018 has descended to another previous-unplumbed depth: denial of service in restaurants to members of the administration. Please don't get me wrong: I find myself against nearly everything this administration does. America will be better off the moment Donald Trump is no longer president, and every day he serves in that role makes greater the damage that will have to be accounted for when this sorry episode in our nation's history is over. 

But I don't like the idea of refusing service to an individual based on their employment in a given official's administration. I don't think it's very effective . . . one doesn't get into a p****ing contest with a skunk . . . but philosophically it just seems so un-American. 

Had I been at that restaurant, I wish I would've had the presence of mind to offer great service, then write the following letter to said public official, and publicize it via social media: 

Dear __________: Thank you for your patronage at our restaurant. I hope you found your meal and service to be exceptional. We also thank you for the generosity you showed in tipping your server $______. We have chosen to donate that gratuity, as well as the proceeds from the night you dined with us to ___________________, an agency that is providing aid to families who have found themselves separated as a result of the administration's policies. Those policies concern us greatly, and we hope you, your colleagues, and your leaders can arrive at practices that are more humane and more effective responses to the plight of refugees seeking a home in this great country. 

A friend and I exchanged a few texts over this restaurant kerfuffle, and we disagreed as to whether or not this was the time to leave social media, lest we see the nation's debate descend even further into point-scoring and jersey-waving. He thought it was just getting good. I thought it was time to leave. 

In previous summers I've maintained a news blackout for a week to get back to normal. I won't do that this summer. The pressing issues in the news are too pressing to ignore. But Twitter? That I might just need to turn off for the summer. And maybe I can avoid starting the day with news, but instead with a good book, and turn to the op-eds after I've had a chance to see other good ways to start a day. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Current Administration

Simply put , the actions of this White House are . . .





Saturday, March 31, 2018


News item: Colleges are rejecting kids in record numbers!

I dread the week-and-a-half pocket of time in which my students get their "Dear John" letters. I work with a lot of neat individuals. Intelligent. Talented. Humorous. They're not perfect, but I know I'm fortunate to work with kids the caliber that I see in my school.

And nearly all of them will get rejected by at least one college.

Perhaps the most perverse of perverse incentives: It's in the selective colleges' interests to get many student to apply. Then, they accept the number they were going to accept anyway, which means the percent of applicants to whom they say "yes" falls and they become even more "selective." Gheesh.

One student who I hold in high regard told me of how she had been a victim of "yield protection." Revolting. These are children, not bonds.

I've often counseled my students to not let this system turn them into a number, which is what the college admissions process does. I guess that number isn't necessarily the kids' GPA (modified, weighted, or not), class rank, or SAT score. It's the number they become when they become one of the 90-some percent who get told no.

Surely the madness will be done in 2024 when it's Sam's turn to go through this process, right?