Being Hispanic and Immigration Reform

12 Jul
by John, posted in immigration, Life, Policy, Poverty   |  No Comments



In my early forties I discovered that under US law I was Hispanic.  Even though my father was white and my mother a white immigrant from the UK I could self-identify as Hispanic on the US Census.  How?  Because Dad and Mom spent almost five years in Venezuela in the early 1960s working in the oil fields.  Since I was born there and lived there longer than two years, US law allowed me to claim I was Hispanic.

And for over a decade I have checked that box on every form.  I joined the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association and try and follow issues relevant to the community.  Why?  Because growing up in Dallas, vacationing throughout Latin America, working with Hispanics in the oil fields while in college, working in a Latin American law firm in graduate school,  and working with Hispanic colleagues throughout my corporate career, it was a group I was proud to claim as my own.   The Hispanics in my life are great friends and colleagues – culturally fascinating, hard working, family oriented, and anxious to become American.

And being Hispanic is actually an interesting way for me to have a conversation with the immigrant community.  When I tell immigrants that I am originally from Venezuela it actually opens up the conversation.  It is not so much this light skinned six foot four guy is one of us, as much as here is someone who I can talk to with some chance he will understand my perspective.

Because unlike the current political discourse, which claims Hispanics will all vote Democratic because of immigration reform my experience is Hispanics vary widely in political, economic, and social views. A fairly recent Pew Study on The 10 Largest Hispanic Origin Groups: Characteristics, Rankings, Top Counties  backs up this experience.  The Hispanic community in the United States is as rich and diverse as the United States.

Although Mexico remains the overwhelming single source of Hispanics in America, the Pew Study traces nine other countries as significant contributors:  Puerto Rico, Cuba, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, Ecuador, and Peru.  This is an incredibly diverse set of countries that too many Americans tend to view as a block.

Even Mexico, which accounts for 65% of US Hispanic origin is as diverse as our own country. Thinking about Hispanics from Monterey, Mexico City, Leon, Merida, and Cozumel (all cities I have visited) as the same is the equivalent of thinking about US native born from New York City, Birmingham,  Minneapolis, Denver, and Los Angeles as the same.  When our country is so strongly divided trying to think about Hispanics and their attitudes toward immigration reform in one way is in itself discriminatory.

I spoke with one of my friends who came into the US in the early 1980s from Nicaragua.  He clearly wants the US government to treat migrants respectfully.  But he also wants to send them back as quickly as possible unless they qualify for refugee status.  He views holding out a false promise of citizenship or residency as cruel.  The best way to prevent that outcome is to separate genuine victims of trafficking from those fleeing the endemic poverty and violence of many parts of Latin America.

One of our other friends from El Salvador wants to take in all the children.  As a mother she sees in the kids in the detention center, her children.  But she also returned to El Salvador this weekend for a vacation.  Although El Salvador is riven with poverty, not all of it is overrun with gangs and human traffickers.

Hispanics are neither a group to take for granted nor one to pander to for political purposes.

What we need to do on the border in South Texas is treat every migrant as an individual. Get them a good immigration lawyer, a very quick hearing and ruling, then process them into the US or send them back.  That will require not just appropriations, but changes to existing law.  It will require compromise.

Ultimately, dignity is the only thing I have learned unites Hispanics.  Treat me with dignity.  Treat me as an individual, not a voting bloc.

“Yes, Sir” And Moved Out Toward The Enemy

05 Jul
by John, posted in leadership, Liberty, Life, Policy, Public Service Volunteerism, Veterans   |  No Comments

As I wrote about on Facebook on July 4th, I had a very tough conversation with a combat veteran earlier in the week.  He had served in Bosnia, in the initial invasion in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.  For him the fall of the Sunni areas of Iraq to the ISIS group raised all sorts of complex emotions.

What did his service mean in Iraq and increasingly in Afghanistan?  If these two countries fall back into chaos, why did his friends die?  Was their sacrifice a waste?

It was easy for me to say  your service was “for your country and the men/women next to you, thanks for your service and don’t worry about the politicians messing it up. You didn’t.”   Easy because the men and women in the enlisted ranks at the point of the spear have no policy agenda.  Whether you believe President Bush was a disaster or President Obama abandoned a “success”, a sergeant  had nothing to do with either.

He or she just said “yes, sir,” saluted, and moved out toward the enemy.

DCF 1.0

But I also remember being in Lot 60 at Arlington National Cemetery in 2007 during the “Surge” in Iraq.  We were moving back home to Colorado and I wanted the boys to see the sacrifice.  Lot 60 is where all the recent dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest. There are not a lot of high level officers – it’s mostly enlisted and lower ranking officers.  When we were there on a typical weekend day, this area of Arlington was flooded with people.  They were all the survivors: spouses, children, friends, wounded unit members from Walter Read.

They were all there to visit their dead, our dead.

The most striking moment for us was a very young woman with her baby at the headstone of her husband – a specialist killed in Iraq at age 20.  She was having a formal picture taken.  Once it was over a reporter approached her and began to ask her questions, which she calmly answered.

What she said hurt the most was that some of her fellow citizens did not support the mission in Iraq.  That without that support an eventual victory in Iraq would not happen and her husband’s sacrifice was in vain.  After she left the boys and I were able to pray at her husband’s gravesite, not just for his soul, but for her to find peace.

But of course, she was wrong.  In a democracy we cannot allow the sacrifice of the armed forces to set policy or to justify a flawed policy.  And any politician’s use of that sacrifice for any political purpose is disgusting.

Elected politicians set policy and reap the electoral judgement of those policies.  Perhaps the highest level generals and admirals serve in a policy position and are due the praise or approbation of the politicians.  But the enlisted men and women, the mid-level officers are free of that burden.

So regardless of whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent seek out a vet or a veterans organization.  Tell them how much you appreciate their sacrifice for you and your family.  And leave the policy disagreements for the next time you vote or donate to a campaign.

Because, they saluted, said “yes, sir”, and moved out toward the enemy.



Incompetence, Crony Capitalism, & Elitism

09 Jun
by John, posted in election, leadership, Pursuit of Happiness   |  5 Comments

shutterstock_196244051 When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 I believed that he would do what he said.  That he would govern as President Clinton had governed from the middle.  That the era of big government was over.

As I have written before the reason I have been a Democrat my entire adult life was it was the party that advocated for the working and middle classes.  My assumption was the upper classes, which I aspired to join, could take care of themselves.  But I never counted on a President who believed helping the working class was telling it what was good for it, who believed big government should pick and choose what industries should survive, and who had no negotiating skills.

Incompetence How can you be a lawyer and not understand in a negotiation to get something you have to give the other side something they want?  Since 2012 what single thing precious to Republicans has he offered?  Negotiations are not you decide what is best, tell the other side what they should want, then belittle them publicly.

Crony Capitalism During the last few years I have sat on the board of directors of two energy related companies.  Without revealing any non-public information I can say unequivocally that President Obama wasted thirty-five million dollars in direct taxpayer cash on one “clean energy” company putting hundreds of working class and middle class Americans into the unemployment lines.  And now he has said to the dirty old coal burning power plant and its several hundred working and middle class employees you too join the unemployment lines.  In neither case did his programs include any job training, relocation plans, or any other path forward for those employees.  He just distorted the market, killed the businesses, and left those employees holding the bag.

If you have ever watched several hundred workers leaving a plant after you have announced a shutdown for market reasons, you know the real agony rippling across those workers, their families, and their communities.  Imagine if your elected President did that, not the market.

Elitism We Democrats are about to lose the Senate majority in November.  Unless the Republicans repeat their Todd Aiken or Richard Mourdock moments, the Senate is going Republican.  How can that be?  How can working and middle class people turn to a party who are as Mitt Romney declared about “job creators”?  In other words a party primarily concerned with the causes of the upper classes and the wealthy.

As I travel around the country I hear the same basic frustration from people – there are no good jobs for me and my family.  The President and his allies spend a lot of time talking about climate change, shutting down coal related businesses (mines, power plants, distributors, suppliers, equipment manufacturers), but what about the workers?  Is there a plan to retrain these workers?  Is there a plan to move them to Texas or North Dakota where the economy is booming?

The President and his allies spend a lot of time talking about women and girls and the need to promote their interests.  I have 5 nieces and I am glad to hear that their futures are bright.  But I also have two sons and more nephews than I can count – do they count?  Why are we not concerned for the future of all our children?  Boys are the ones that statistically are having the hardest time graduating from college.

Working men and women are not stupid.  When the party in power pursues CEO jobs for rich women, climate change, and every other pet project of the rich Left other than jobs, the working and middle classes vote Republican.  If you do not believe me, read the political campaign histories of 1980 to 1992.

In the 1930s when millions of Americans were out of work, Franklin Delano Roosevelt put men and women to work in an alphabet soup of federal agencies, including both my paternal grandparents.  This President turned to fifty dollar tax cuts, food stamps, and an alphabet soup of handouts.

Mr. President we want an exploding capitalist economy.  We want jobs for the working and middle classes.  Leave the egghead, incompetent, crony capitalism behind.  Be a Democrat.

Common Core and the Absence of Innovation

22 May
by John, posted in China, competitiveness, innovation, leadership, Policy, Poverty   |  No Comments


This is one of those topics where you have to actually open up the standards and spend time reading them.  Reading pundits or relying on your own ideology is not enough.  This link is to the English standards for eleventh and twelfth grades where you can also review the entire Common Core approach.   It will not take long into your reading to realize that the English standards avoid grammatical English.  If you have ever sat on a committee or board, you will recognize “committee speak” immediately. Almost every standard has no subject in its sentence, which generates confusion.  Here is an example:

Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Who does the introduction – the teacher or the student?  You can certainly make an intelligent guess.  But, the purpose of basic sentence structure with a subject is to avoid guessing. How many times did your teacher rap you on the knuckles (figuratively of course) for writing in passive voice?

Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

Perhaps what the author meant to say was:

The student should select the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, other information, and examples to enhance the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

But the problem with Common Core is not just the English standards contain poor English.  It really is they are not innovative.  The promulgators designed the standards to measure the progress of American kids on international tests.  They are in essence regressive to the testing regime, which precludes innovation without gaining international agreement to change the tests.

If Common Core proponents wanted to promulgate innovation, they might start with ending mandatory math after geometry.  This is particularly true of kids with a low aptitude in math. Kids with a real interest and aptitude could reach beyond the current standards.  Other kids could learn real world math related skills.

There are many examples of day to day skills the standard writers should have chosen for reform, but consider investing skills. Every American is now in charge of their own retirement.  To truly manage a 401K you need to understand a balance sheet, a profit and loss statement, a mutual fund report, why bond pricing moves inversely to yield, the danger of market timing, fees, and a variety of other financial and investing basics.  Almost all of those concepts require the average American to apply basic math skills in making real life decisions or face poverty in retirement.

Reformers often talk about colleges and businesses providing remedial training to employees.  One of the most common and superficial remedial courses for employers is why employees should invest in their 401K and how to do it.

We know every American needs to manage their retirement.  We also know a fraction of the American population needs to understand trigonometry or calculus for their career.  Why not be bold and make innovative change away from international testing standards?

Being number one is a constant competitive desire in American society.  We are indeed falling behind in test scoring on international tests.  I have written before why this is both overstated and also deeply troubling.  Since no test score out of China, Korea, and a host of other countries is reliable that worry is overstated (see the link for why).  But because Japan, Poland, Spain, Canada, the UK, France, and Germany are consistently outscoring our graduates it is deeply troubling.

But the issue is not just how you score on tests, but how well your education prepares you. The tests are one measure and not overly effective if they are testing the wrong thing – is every American competent in calculus and trigonometry?  The real question for measuring education is whether every American is learning what they as an individual need to succeed in their lives.

The shame of Common Core is it is committee speak without the innovation that is the hallmark of American success.

Western Grievances Beyond Cliven Bundy

04 May
by John, posted in Colorado Politics, election, energy, environment, leadership, West   |  No Comments


It is a mistake to believe that the interest in Cliven Bundy’s resistance to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) enforcement action is as bizarre and racist as Mr. Bundy. There is in fact a long simmering resentment to the federal land ownership and its stewardship of those lands in the West.

Last year I attended Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s appearance at the University of Colorado to discuss women in law. The most interesting aspect of the talk was Justice O’Connor’s repeated statements that the absence of even a single westerner on the Supreme Court meant there was no voice of experience from the West on water and land issues.

In preparation for the talk I read Justice O’Connor’s book written with her brother of the history of her family’s cattle ranch in Arizona, Lazy B. While the book is most famous for the hard life that prepared Justice O’Connor for the rigors of a talented woman banging open the doors of the court and legislative system, it is also the story of Mr. Bundy’s alternative.

The BLM’s reforms destroyed the economic basis for the Lazy B and caused Justice O’Connor’s brother to sell the ranch. Nothing can excuse Cliven Bundy’s behavior. But the failure to acknowledge that BLM reforms are killing family ranches is one aspect of western resentment.

We see the political implications of this resentment most strikingly in Colorado’s Senate campaign. Senator Mark Udall should be cruising to re-election, but instead a very conservative Congressman, Cory Gardner, is tied in every major poll with the Senator. Gardner is so conservative on abortion that he had to publicly renounce his prior support for a personhood amendment to the Colorado constitution. But he has skillfully constructed a narrative that Udall and the Democratic Party are conducting a “War on Rural Colorado” pursuing national Democratic goals that do not belong in Colorado.

Much of this is unfair to Udall and instead the result of a terribly overreaching state legislative session in 2013. A Democratic majority pushed through major gun control reforms that backfired politically resulting in three state senators losing their seats due to recall campaigns. It then pushed through a renewable energy standard for rural Colorado that has very little chance of success without rate increases in the poorest communities in the state. These steps plus the Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare and Udall’s negative campaign almost exclusively focused on abortion rights have made the Colorado Senate race a toss up.

And the western resentment is not just a Republican tactic. The chronically delayed maintenance and care of federal lands in Colorado are a disgrace, particularly for Western Democrats. I often leave Rocky Mountain National Park with a mixture of joy at the beauty, rage at Congress for the state of the park, and sorrow for the chronically cash strapped National Park Service employees doing their best. Rather than deal with the growing entitlement burden from Medicare and Medicaid, Congress has chosen to squeeze the federal discretionary budget that supports all the federal conservation agencies.

At the same time Colorado’s conservation agencies under Governor Hickenlooper have pursued an aggressive reform agenda designed to make them more cost effective and responsive to the public. From tackling air pollution related to the energy revolution, to combining the Division of Wildlife and State Parks into a single agency reducing costs, and encouraging economic growth without top down mandates, Colorado has produced the funds to pursue a wide ranging conservation agenda. In contrast to eastern politicians mired in scandal over recovery efforts, Colorado’s state government has quietly dealt with a devastating flood.

At some point if you are a western Democrat you have to ask the question. Why should the federal government rule huge chunks of land, but improperly care for them while charging fees to state residents for using them?

Who is better positioned to make conservation decisions in Colorado? Is it a paralyzed Federal government that almost repeated a Waco/Ruby Ridge event with Cliven Bundy, that drove Justice O’Connor’s family from their ranch, or westerners themselves who live and work on the land?

Those who dismiss this sentiment as merely the ranting of a racist in Nevada are opening the door to a Republican Senate in 2014.