Building a wall around the welfare state, instead of the country

Supporters of immigration reform continue to hold their breath as they wait to see what, if any, action the U.S. House will take. If the political pundits are right, the prospects are dim. One reason for that is concern that an influx of immigrants will overburden the welfare state.


The president’s opportunity

On July 24, President Obama delivered a speech in Galesburg, IL, to lay out his vision for an economy that works for everyone and what he hopes to do to get us there. During his speech, he acknowledged that gridlock in Washington will likely prevent Congress from providing sensible solutions, but he said, “Whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it." I hope the President keeps his word because he has the power to lift two million working Americans out of poverty.  He just has to choose to use it.


Regulations conflict

An important question before Congress this week: Should the regulatory process for projects that have major impacts on the environment be speeded up or slowed down?

Yes, according to House Republicans.


Limbo Is a town in Palestine

Seventy years ago, during World War II, victory gardens were a necessity for the average American family. But we have prospered now and often favor Whole Foods over weeding a plot to raise tomatoes or radishes. 

Gazan families do not have that luxury.  In large numbers, they urgently seek the assistance of agronomists from American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) to construct greenhouses implementing drip irrigation and composting. Eight out of ten families in Gaza find it difficult to feed themselves, let alone with fresh foods. Our household gardens program trains them and mentors them for up to a year. The results in terms of child nutrition, family finances and self-reliance are readily visible.


Politicians' outdated strategies crush civic engagement

When it comes to civic engagement, Americans are becoming apathetic. They’re avoiding the voting booth and skipping efforts to organize, saying their “vote doesn’t matter” and “all politicians are the same and corrupt.” But it may not be Americans who are at fault for the lack of enthusiasm -- it could be that politicians’ outdated strategies for connecting with citizens are crushing political idealism.


Inventors deserve equal protection, not double standards

Patent reform was in the air once more this month when the president and Randall Rader, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, added their voices to the chorus of legislators calling for new measures to address abuses of the patent system.  Many of their proposals are well taken, for the consensus is growing that something must be done to protect American businesses from meritless lawsuits designed to extract nuisance-value settlements from them.  What all current proposals have missed, however, is that abuse runs both ways in the patent system: just as a company may find itself the target of a frivolous patent lawsuit in court, so an inventor may find his valid patents embroiled in baseless litigation at the Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”).  Yet Congress, by devising protections for some actors in the system but leaving others defenseless, is subjecting inventors to a double standard and inviting more wrongdoing thereby.


Take a thorough look at human rights abuses in Egypt

Tomorrow, the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa should ask questions to clarify what exactly the Obama Administration strategy on Egypt should be as President Morsi cracks down on civil society and the U.S. continues to transfer $1.2 billion in aid.

The hearing, titled American NGOs Under Attack in Morsi's Egypt, will examine last week’s shocking Egyptian court verdicts convicting 43 representatives of foreign non-governmental organizations, all of whom were charged with “operating local offices of international organizations without the requisite license and illegally receiving foreign funds.”

The sentences handed down last week range from between one and five years in prison, with some sentences suspended. Nineteen of the 43 convicted in the case are Americans from the U.S.-based NGOs Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Each of these groups will provide testimony during tomorrow’s hearing. As they do, subcommittee members should explore Egypt’s crackdown beyond this outrageous case.


Revive the Election Assistance Commission

The president has named the members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and tasked them with reporting back within six months of their first meeting, scheduled for June.
The unfortunate fact is that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is already tasked to do what the commission is being asked to do, and we would do better to focus our limited resources and attention to such matters on making the EAC a serious professional body that focuses on the many and evolving challenges of election administration in 21st-century America.
The other fact that seems to elude most is the sheer complexity of election administration. As a former member of Brazil’s electoral tribunal has put it, “There is no function of the modern state, short of going to war, that is as complex as election administration.”


Democracy’s masquerade ball

The IRS gave itself two black eyes by admitting that it has bungled processing the flood tide of applications for 501(c)(4) status in the 2010-2012 period. The bungling involved failing to treat all applications with the same rigor and apparently giving Tea Party affiliates a harder time than any other class of applicants.
This is tragic, in part, because we need the IRS to police the abuse of the tax code for secretive political purposes. And now the IRS is likely to be gun shy just when we need them to be rigorous. The result is likely to be a democratic process where more political actors are hidden — where democracy itself has turned into a masquerade.