Wednesday, November 26, 2014


November 26, 2014

It looks today as if the only people with a reason to feel good this Thanksgiving are the approximately five million undocumented immigrants who will not be deported by the Obama administration. I can't remember a year that we have had more reasons to be dissatisfied with the way America is governed or, —more precisely—not governed. And where is our rebellion? It seems that we have already tacitly accepted that our grandchildren may represent the first generation to be worse off than their parents and grandparents. Where is our fighting spirit that says "Don't tread on me"? I find it more than a little depressing that the people show no sign of holding their elected representatives to account. Only one in every three of them turned out for the midterm election earlier this month. Former Senator Olympia Snow is right when she said "We are a great country and we should be governed as a great country." But good governance starts with the people being willing and able to govern themselves. How far have we strayed away from being the people who were so apt in governing and regulating themselves that Alexis de Tocqueville termed the American governance system "exceptional"?

What, I guess, we can be thankful for is that we have a strong and resilient economy with great human and natural resources, a favorable geography and an energetic and imaginative private sector so that our public sector failures have not put us—as of yet—at a global disadvantage. But let's heed Will Rodgers' warning that: "Even if you are on the right track, you still get run over if you just sit there."

I crave for a small but effective government that is not handcuffed by money interests nor held back by extreme polarization and purely partisan considerations. I crave for a government that sees its role more as an enabler than the perpetrator and the ultimate authority. And I crave for courageous leadership in the White House and Congress, guided by what needs to be done rather than by what assures re-election. 

I give thanks regardless this Thursday. Because life and America have been good to me and I'm grateful for the blessings bestowed upon my children and grandchildren. It would feel better though if the blessings of America were more evenly bestowed upon all of its deserving people so that, as a nation, regardless of creed, color, social status or political conviction we could treat Thanksgiving not just as another day off, but as a moment to pause and reflect on how exceptionally privileged it is to live in America.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


November 22, 2014

At the risk of sounding self-serving (because I am a first generation immigrant) I have to add my voice to the immigration debate that surfaces every now and then and jumped to the top of the headlines this week with the executive action taken by President Obama. Clearly, regardless of the constitutionality and political savvy of the President’s action, Congress is remiss by not addressing the immigration challenges in a comprehensive and statutory way. Not having a growth-oriented, comprehensive, immigration policy hurts the American economy, its social cohesion, and its image and reputation abroad. So, why is Congress not acting? Only because this was an election year? I hope not, because in this democracy every other year is a (national) election year.

The way I see it, immigration is good for America—even indispensable for its long term prosperity—and not overly complicated to channel properly:
·        Immigration has served this nation well and there is nothing to suggest that, going forward, that will be no longer the case;
·        Population growth is essential to economic prosperity and current birth rates are not sufficient to sustain the population of the USA in the long term;
·        American citizens are no longer prepared to do many menial jobs that still need to be done;
·        In a global economy we need to attract the best talent available to stay competitive as a nation;
·        Modern information technology makes it possible to control immigration and keep undesirables out.
A problem with the current immigration policy in the USA is that we have made illegal immigration too easy and legal immigration too hard!

The United States is often and rightly referred to as a “Nation of Immigrants”. There is not another country in the world where immigration has as much contributed to population growth and economic success as it has in the USA. According to the U.S. Census Bureau about sixty million Americans—or one in every five people—are immigrants or the children of immigrants. These are the people that have propelled the USA to its superpower status. What is there to suggest that continuing immigration would suddenly become a negative rather than the positive it has been ever since the arrival on our shores of the Halve Maen and the Mayflower?

A fertility rate of 2.1 (2.1 births/woman) is required to sustain a population. The fertility rate in the USA is well below that number, which means that without immigration the country would regress in population, and the fertility rate would be substantially lower if it was not for a relatively high fertility rate of recent immigrants. In his book, “The Next Hundred Million”, subtitled “America in 2050”, Joel Kotkin gives us a glimpse of the competitive advantage America is expected to have over other developed countries—including China and Japan—as a result of a much higher population growth. The next 100 Million Americans Joel Kotkin is writing about will not be there in 2050 without stepped up organized legal immigration.

Immigration by children and working age people will have to offset a graying indigenous population and provide a much needed improvement of the current growing imbalance between the working population and the army of retirees. Migrant labor has become (whether we like it or not) the backbone of the farm economy, which is in turn one of the most globally competitive sectors of business in the USA.

Unfortunately, America has no monopoly on the best and the brightest students in the world, but we are still blessed with a highly competitive elite university education system that is the envy of the world and attracts exceptional talent from other countries. We educate and stimulate these foreign students—in many instances at public expense—and then we practically force them to go back to where they came from because of our antiquated immigration laws and regulations. How smart is that? We train the best and the brightest in the world to compete with us!

It is a sign of hopeless dysfunction in Washington if, with all the good reasons to deal with the immigration issue in a constructive, forward looking way, we cannot get a comprehensive immigration bill through Congress. David Brooks wrote in a January 2013 column in the New York Times, titled “The Easy Problem” that, “If we can’t pass an (immigration) law this year (2013), given the overwhelming strength of evidence, then we really are a pathetic basket case of a nation.” As a result of the President’s unilateral action and the outcome of the mid-term elections, the realistic outlook for an immigration bill coming out of Congress looks now further away than ever. Unless the Republicans come to the realization that they will lose another Presidential Election and probably with it their domination of Congress if they don’t use their newly won majority in Congress to enact a constructive and comprehensive immigration reform.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


November 5, 2014: the day after.
Thank goodness, these elections are behind us and we will get a little reprieve from the relentless onslaught of political commercials on our TV screens. (By the way who produces all this garbage and how much do they get paid for their deplorable screen productions?)  Reprieve will not be for long though, because —since this election did not solve anything—it won’t be long before the candidates for the 2016 Presidential elections will come out of the woodwork and with them a new unending litany of propaganda. After all, money is no object, the money-men will only be too glad to oblige.

The results of the 2014 Mid Term elections are, this morning after, announced in all the media as a major shift in the political landscape and for partisan voters and office holders they are indeed very consequential. But will it do anything to move Washington DC off dead center and galvanize it into action for the benefit of the people? Jeffrey D. Sachs does not think so. And he puts his finger on the reason why: he commented this morning on the social media “Not a single serious issue was discussed in the US election campaign. US politics have been reduced to image, TV ads and money raising.”

Nationwide little more than half of the eligible voters turned out in this election (only 40% in my home State of Ohio) and you have to believe that the low voter turnout enhanced the Republican shift. The non-voters may have done more to change the political landscape than the voters did. And I can’t blame them. Those who kept the ballot in their pocket voted in their own way: they made a statement that in our current political constellation the voting box does not provide clarity, does not offer solutions to the problems that nag us such as inequality and lack of upward mobility; the size of our national debt; the de-funding of our entitlement programs and pensions; our education deficit; the cost of our healthcare; a failing immigration policy; a crumbling infrastructure; and a leaky safety net.

There must be a better way. What is missing, more than anything else, in the way our democracy has evolved over time (and with active steering by the U.S. Supreme Court) is transparency and accountability. How different would our confidence in a meaningful election outcome be if there would be a constitutional mandate to give us these missing ingredients? What would such mandate look like?

1.       A constitutional amendment calling for the President and the Congress to establish a binding National Strategy that becomes the blueprint for the legislative agenda.
2.       A constitutional amendment that compels elected officials to campaign on the basis of their positions on the top priorities among the challenges facing the nation.

With respect to the first mandate: How much sense would it make if there was a constitutional requirement on the president and the leadership in Congress to establish a national strategy, much like companies develop a strategic plan for their business that then becomes the compass by which investment decisions and other resource allocations are made? Such national plan should have a long time horizon, transcend the term limits imposed on politicians, and be formally reviewed from year to year to adjust for changes in the external environment.

With respect to the second mandate, I envision that in every election, candidates should be presented with a national list of the major issues the electorate is facing and candidates should be required to write and publish a position paper on each of these issues with specifics on how to address the issue, including how to pay for the proposed solutions.Who should put such issue list together? I would say a committee of wise men/women who have held high public office, but are no longer engaged in the battle and other publicly recognized thinking heads.

And TV debates, which should be mandatory in sufficient number to give the public a chance to educate themselves on the issues and on the candidates’ positions, should be limited to discussion of the issues and the respective proposed solutions only.In other words, no one should be permitted to run for a national office without providing the electorate with an unequivocal position on the major issues that the government they want to be part of will be facing.

If we do these two things right then the electorate can 1) make an informed decision and, by voting for the candidate with the best solutions, 2) provide a clear mandate for his/her term in office. It would almost certainly drive up voter participation as voters could then expect to have a real influence over the creation of a national strategy and how the nation’s problems get solved. It would drive voters away from the sideline and onto the playing field of true democracy.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Do you feel energized and empowered by tomorrow's mid term elections?

Can't blame you if you don't. The deck is stacked against you. Even if control of the Senate changes, nothing of substance will change. Much as we may dislike or mistrust them, we can't even blame our representatives in Congress for the gridlock and dysfunction. The flaws are in the political system, notably:
  • The money influence in politics
  • The two party system
  • The election system
  • The lack of a national strategy
These flaws put the nation at risk. Without solutions for the problems that beset us: inequality and lack of upward mobility; the national debt; the de-funding of our entitlement programs and pensions; our education deficit; the cost of our healthcare; a failing immigration policy; and a crumbling infrastructure, America is at risk of losing its relevance as a global leader for progress. But it is a pipe-dream to think that in the current constellation, without addressing the four flaws in the system, the executive and legislative branches of government can come together to provide the solutions the nation needs.

That is the message I convey in my book NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

Do you share my uneasiness and want to do something to contribute - if nothing else - to a national dialogue?

A good place to start is sharing (the message of) NEITHER HERE NOR THERE with your network of opinion makers and thought leaders. You can most effectively do so by your use of social media and sharing the link