These days when I talk about politics I have to admit to feeling a bit self-conscious. This is because lately the word ‘politics’ has become a dirty word, and perhaps rightfully so. When I begin to talk about my love for American politics and policymaking the discussion immediately evokes images of partisan vitriol and intransigence in the minds of my audience. There aren’t words to express how frustrating that is. It’s frustrating because I know that the American Democracy is the greatest deliberative system ever imagined on Earth. The problem is that we have forgotten how it works.
If you doubt this premise you need only look as far as the 2012 Presidential Campaign for evidence that it’s true. In a year when the economy is struggling to recover, millions of Americans are still unable to find a job, health care costs are rising, and nations like Iran and North Korea are threatening nuclear war it would seem that the debate over who should be president of the United States would have ample substantive material to discuss. But we’re not talking about these things. At least the Republicans aren’t talking about these things. Instead, the race for the GOP presidential nomination has been dominated by social issues. The same kind of wedge issues that Republicans have used to strike fear in the hearts and minds of Americans for decades are once again taking center stage in our national political dialogue. While Democrats are trying to talk about creating jobs and strengthening this fledgling economy Republicans are instead talking about making abortion illegal and restricting a woman’s access to contraception. While Democrats are talking about continuing to work toward a smarter, leaner, and more efficient government the Republicans are talking about creating a government big enough to force a woman to submit to a mandatory internal vaginal ultrasound, without her consent or the consent of her doctor, before she would be allowed to get an abortion. While Democrats are talking about increasing access to education and making reforms to ensure that our children will be able to complete in the job market of the future, Republicans are calling President Obama a “snob” for suggesting that all children should have the opportunity to go to college. While Democrats are talking about ways to move America forward, Republicans want to repeal and roll back America to a century ago. This is the campaign of 2012, but they’re behaving as if it’s the campaign of 1912. Enough is enough.
I’m not sure what the Republican Party stands for anymore, but I sure do know what they’re against. The Republican Party is against the middle class, they are against protecting the environment, they are against preventing unwanted pregnancies through family planning, they are against education, they are against science, and they are against protecting consumers from corporate greed and excess. The Republican Party has for a century claimed to be the party who wants limited government, but the truth is that they are the party who wants a government big enough to limit your choices and limit your opportunities, all in the name of freedom.
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Now, more than ever, elections matter. Here is a video with my thoughts on why it is critically important for everyone to vote this year.
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October 19th is no ordinary day. It’s the day when both my wife and my son celebrate their birthdays.
It took us by surprise. Zachary was actually born two weeks early in order to share a birthday with his Mommy. We were so surprised by his early arrival, as a matter of fact, that we had to stop at Target on the way home from the hospital to buy diapers. Initially, I was skeptical of how this shared birthday would work out for them but over the past two years I’ve watched these two bond over their shared birth date in a way nothing else could have done. They are inseparable.
So today I get to wish a Happy Birthday to the woman who completes my soul, and to the little boy who completed my life, all on the same day. This really is a remarkable life.
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If you want to solve the unemployment problem in America, educate Americans. If that seems overly simplistic, keep reading and I’ll explain.
This past Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly report on the unemployment situation in the United States. If you listen to the news or pay any attention at all to the commentary you might assume that the take-home point of the report is that unemployment is still 9.1% which means that the economic situation in our country right now is somewhere between bad and awful. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong either because that statistic certainly does jump off the page when you read the report, but there’s something else there also. Check out this chart from the September jobs report.
Did you notice it? I circled it for you. Unemployment among Americans with a Bachelor’s degree is only 4.2%. 4.2%!! That’s less than half the unemployment rate overall. If our average unemployment rate was that low people would be singing and dancing in the streets right now. Why this particular fact is buried in a 38 page report without so much as a highlight or underline to accent its importance puzzles me because I think that this is the most important statistic in the entire report.
If we want to put Americans back to work we have to educate them. If our government is serious about creating jobs than any legislation that intends to boost employment must include a plan to subsidize, at least in part, the education of our unemployed so that they can learn the skills necessary to work in the 21st Century. My Conservative friends would shudder at the thought of more spending but history has proven time and again that investments in education are one of the pillars of American success. If we’re going to spend money at all we should spend it on education.
We have to face the facts. Many millions of jobs that existed before the Recession are gone and they’re not coming back. Our society is, in many ways, reinventing itself to adapt to the realities of a global high-tech economy and we need to re-tool our workforce to allow them to find success in this new environment. This kind of investment is not a new idea, mind you. In 1944 Congress passed the GI Bill to address a similar reality. Our soldiers were returning home to a changed society and needed to readjust to the realities of employment in post-war America. The official name of the bill was actually, “The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act”. America has always found success in its ability to adapt to new realities and that need has never been more critical to our survival than it is today.
We are living in one of the most consequential times our nation has ever experienced. Ten years into this new century it seems as if we have forgotten the things that helped us succeed in the last one. If we are going to solve the staggering problems that face America today we need to invest in the things that have always been the foundation of our success. Education is at the top of this list followed closely by the kinds of investment in infrastructure, as well as research and development that the president included in the American Jobs Act. The modern economy is an innovation based economy and education is no longer optional. Education is the key to our success.
I want to make one final point. Americans need to accept that our recovery isn’t going to happen overnight. We are struggling with problems that developed slowly over a span of decades. It’s irrational to believe that we can reverse the trend overnight, or in one year, or even in the term of one American president. Education is the key to our success, but education also takes time. If we are patient, and we keep our eye on the prize, we will emerge from these troubled times stronger than ever before, and empowered by education to achieve great things once again.
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Ten years ago everything changed. We lost our innocence, and realized that everything we thought we knew about the world was wrong. Our sense of security was shattered, and our faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity was called into question. But something else happened also. In the face of overwhelming tragedy we came together as Americans. Bound together by unspeakable loss we found our collective voice and stood side by side and hand in hand. We were united. That is the lesson of September 11, 2001. As we remember that day we have an obligation to live our lives in a way that honors those who were lost. With every challenge comes an opportunity. This somber anniversary represents an opportunity to recapture the unity of purpose and commonality that we all felt in the days and weeks following the attacks.
As we pause to remember the horrific attacks a decade ago it is hard to believe that so much time has passed. The world has been irrevocably changed, and those fundamental changes have revealed a very different future from the one we had imagined for our children.
Children born on September 11, 2001 are today entering the fifth grade. For them, there has always been a gaping hole in the Manhattan skyline, and an equal one in the soul of America. International Terrorism and war are a business-as-usual part of their daily lives. They don’t question, nor even seem to notice, this elephant in the room. Our babies were never privileged to the kind of innocence that defined their parents’ childhoods. It’s true that we who were born in the years between the end of the Vietnam War and the violent birth of the War on Terror came of age in a time of peace and prosperity in our nation. We did not witness evil in the magnitude that now exists in our children’s world until we were old enough to vote and buy alcohol. That kind of innocence has been robbed of our youngest generation who will come of age during one of the most challenging eras in our nation’s history.
As parents, our cardinal responsibility is to somehow raise our children with both a heightened awareness of human capability and a strong faith in the fundamental goodness of the majority. We need to somehow teach them to be discriminating in their observations but not in their hearts. They will live in a time that requires great vigilance but also an unwavering allegiance to the fundamental principles of humanity. Ours will be a monumental undertaking as we seek to raise our children in a world that requires a duality of seemingly incompatible perspectives. While this mission seems daunting in its complexity it is the calling of our time. What we do as parents over these next decades will determine the climate of our children’s perceptions about life and so that of our society’s future.
Take a moment today to pause and remember the event which was the catalyst of our social metamorphosis. Mourn for a moment those whose futures were robbed from them, and whose eventual contribution was robbed from all of us. Cry if you will, be angry if you must, but then take a deep breath and move forward. Remember that every moment we live in defiance of evil is a tribute to those who gave their lives ten years ago. Our resilience in defining of our children’s future in a manner incompatible with the ideals of those who attacked us is a tribute to our character and to the character of the United States of America.
May God bless those we lost and empower those who survived. May He guide our hand as parents and lift our children’s hearts. May He grant us the strength, knowledge, and will to overcome what once seemed inevitable and to give our daughters and sons the greatest gift any parent can bestow upon their child – a bright future in a peaceful world.
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I have always believed that the true measure of a life is love. From the moment we draw our very first breath we are nurtured by the love of those around us, and the pursuit of love is one that defines us until our last moments on this Earth. Love is universal. We cannot choose who we love any more than we could choose the style of music we enjoy. Love isn’t a choice.
For some time now in America we have regulated love by legislation. If you live in New York, among other places, the government says that if the love of your life is not of the opposite gender you may not marry. By law, the love of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals is invalid. In this nation founded on the principle of inalienable rights, love is for heterosexuals only. The history of this flawed premise is complex but at the heart of the matter you will find life’s greatest nemesis: Fear. We have, for far too long, empowered fear with the force of law. As a result of our fear we have created two classes of individuals: Those who may love, and those who may not. The advocates of this anachronous arrangement claim that allowing two individuals of the same gender to marry somehow threatens the entire institution of marriage. These propagandists will tell you that allowing marriage equality for all will corrupt our children by creating a society in which homosexuality is accepted. Since when has the belief that all of us are created equal been corrupt?
The time has come for us to come together against the politics of fear and demand equality for all. We must no longer empower fear with the force of law. In the United States of America we are only as free as our most oppressed citizens and the time has come for this oppression to end. In New York State we are closer than ever to passing legislation that would guarantee marriage equality for all. Doing so will correct an injustice that has been allowed to fester for far too long. We cannot choose who we love, nor should government choose who we may marry.
Love is not reserved for the privileged few. Love is as essential to our survival as oxygen or nutrition and it must not be stifled by ignorance or fear. The time for marriage equality is now. Call your State representatives and insist that they support marriage equality. Then call the Governor and tell him that he must sign this legislation into law. Do this for our future. Do this for our children. Do this for love.
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So, the government didn’t shut down. I have to admit that doesn’t make me feel much better though. The lesson that must be learned from last week’s antics in Washington is that politics matter, and elections matter. It’s more important than ever for people to be engaged in the process and to make their voices heard. The ideological battle that we’ve seen unfold in Congress in the aftermath of last year’s midterm elections illustrates the consequences that come from an ambivalent electorate and we can’t let that happen again.
The magic of the American democracy is that every citizen is granted equal power under the Constitution to influence the destiny of our society. With our votes we can choose our leaders and choose the direction we wish our nation to follow. If we fail to exercise that power we surrender our rights to others. In America today we are not governed by a simple majority, but rather by a majority of those who participate. What will the future look like? It’s up to us.
If we sit idly by while the Republican Party forces its agenda of ideological extremism down our throats than we will have to reap what we’ve sown. If we allow the Tea Party to continue to spew it’s anti-government and anti-family rhetoric freely without exposing the truth, than people will begin to believe what they hear. If we do not confront the lies, they will become truths. If we allow all of this to happen that our future will be a very dark place where our most vulnerable citizens are forced to fend for themselves and where the wealthiest among us wield limitless influence over our government, reinventing America to serve only them.
If you believe that the prosperity of the United States of America is bound to the success of big corporations and the wealthiest among us, than by all means keep doing what you’re doing. If, on the other hand, you believe that we have a collective responsibility to each other and that government has an obligation to help those who cannot help themselves, then stand up and fight for those beliefs. If you believe that the hard-working middle class is the heart of this nation, and that quality education and health care are fundamental rights of citizenship in this great nation than do not be afraid to write or call your representatives and demand they preserve those rights.
Politics matters because it is the process through which we determine the climate of our society, and of our children’s future. Get involved, and stay involved. Let the world know that you’re there, and don’t ever settle for less than you deserve.
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