Archive for December, 2012

An inauguration and a Forrest Gump moment

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 30, 2012 by Jim Rosenberg

Catalonia InaugurationLast Monday, while walking through the Barri Gotic neighborhood in Barcelona, we stumbled upon what was obviously a big event; tons of people, media, security, ceremonial guards — and this red carpet. A car pulled up, a great cheer arose from the waiting crowd and a well-dressed fellow acknowledged the people as he headed into the building, which was the Generalitat de Catalunya.  Asking a nearby shopkeeper, we learned we had accidentally shown up for the arrival of Artur Mas to his inauguration. Mas is the newly re-elected President of Catalonia, an autonomous region in the northeast of Spain where they don’t like bullfighting and a lot of other things.

This is a place that most of us probably haven’t thought much about, but we may be hearing more going forward.  Mas has promised to press the issue of Catalan independence with Madrid, which would be a very big deal. As Brad Plumer wrote for the Washington Post prior to the November election in Catalonia:

“Catalan nationalism isn’t exactly a new force. The region, which borders France, has its own language and has long seen itself as distinct from the rest of the country. But calls for independence have been growing louder during the euro zone debt crisis. Back in September, 1.5 million Catalans took to the streets for a pro-independence rally. Artur Mas

One big recent issue is taxes. As my colleague Edward Cody recently reported, Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions of Spain, and many Catalans feel that their taxes are being used to subsidize other, poorer states. When the Spanish economy was booming, that was an annoyance. Now that Spain is locked in a never-ending recession, with unemployment at 25 percent, Catalans want a greater say in their own finances.”

Over the years, the Basque separatist movement has simmered and occasionally boiled over in the northwest of Spain, too.  It will be interesting to see if a referendum on independence is forthcoming in Catalonia, how it might turn out — and whether the current economic problems will combine with a long-standing desire for complete autonomy to change the face of Spain. But if it does, I suppose I would be even more grateful for having accidentally walked into a little piece of history that forced me to learn something about what was going on around us.


Barcelona independence march, Sept. 11, 2012:

It’s past time to look for real solutions to U.S. gun violence

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2012 by Jim Rosenberg

Austin Shooting

I’ve been a gun owner and a shooter for almost as long as I can remember. We grew up with guns, starting with BB guns and then up through sporting arms. For several years, I wrote freelance articles on the side for dozens of regional and national sporting publications in the ‘hook & bullet’ genre and I’ve hunted from Saskatchewan to the Mexican border. I hung it up a number of years back, but I’m not part of the anti-gun lobby; not by a long shot. Occasionally, I still head out to the range.

I also don’t believe that the Second amendment is about hunting. That wasn’t the concern when it was written. The purpose was to leave arms in the hands of the people against the potential for being enslaved by an oppressive government. Anyone who reads the Constitution quickly realizes that the document is not a list of rights given to people by the government. Instead, it is a list of limitations on government from the perspective of people who saw the need to vest ultimate control in the hands of the citizenry.

Having said all of that, I think it is long past time for a frank and open discussion about gun violence in this country and what we, as a society, ought to be doing about it. And if the answer continues to be the same old National Rifle Association bullpucky about trying to say that the founders meant to anticipate all of the technological improvements in firearms that have occurred over the past 220 years, then that is going to be the wrong answer.  The founders mostly understood things like flintlock, muzzle-loading single-shot weapons as the “arms” for which they were retaining rights in the Bill of Rights. That’s what people had and that’s what they knew.

Anything that matters in this area of the law is going to be a hassle for people like me. I understand that. There are a lot of things that are a hassle. Take a flight, attend an appearance of the President, go to a major sporting event or try to do a lot of other things. Times have changed since I was a kid.  They’ve changed even more since 18 years before Abraham Lincoln was born and the Bill of Rights was being enacted. And while the founders did some pretty good work, they left some work for the people of this country in succeeding generations to clean up long after they were finished, too – (little things like women having the right to vote or dealing with slavery, as a couple of examples.)

Like many others, I read the barrage of campaign mailings from the NRA in the last election. It provided some great guidance to know who that group was supporting and opposing, (although not necessarily in the same manner that these folks were intending.) The NRA sends out candidate questionnaires filled with loaded questions and then tries to help elect and re-elect legislators who will be just as unreasonable as they are. They are successful often enough to keep them at it.

Maybe the answer is different for Wyoming than it is for Connecticut. Maybe we need to look at this provision of our Constitution and alter it, as we have done in the past when we found things that no longer reflected our needs and values.  There won’t be a silver bullet. But if we want to solve 21st Century problems, we can’t continue to rely upon the NRA and its unbending, never-ending insistence on the same old 18th Century response. And we can’t rely on legislators who pledge allegiance to the NRA in the face of the carnage we continue to experience as a result of our failure to deal with firearms violence in this country. Those who steadfastly refuse to be part of the solution are part of the problem.


A timeline of mass shootings since Columbine: 

Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough: “It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It’s time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser.”

Clyburn, Norquist and a kairos moment for comprehensive immigration reform

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2012 by Jim Rosenberg
Congressman Jim Clyburn.

Congressman Jim Clyburn

The November 2012 presidential election results brought a stark, if not very surprising notice to the Republicans: it takes a much different message to win a general election than it does to win a GOP primary. Whether it is pandering to the religious right on women’s issues, to the intransigent Tea Party on taxes or to the far right on minority issues, the things that it takes to motivate a hyper-partisan conservative base are often distasteful to a majority of voters in a general election. Immigration has proven to be one of those areas and it may be even more troublesome because the sheer numbers and share of the electorate being alienated by GOP rhetoric is growing with each cycle, while the corresponding numbers for ‘angry white guys’ continues to decline.

“In key swing states, the Hispanic vote was crushing: 58 to 40 in Florida, 87 to 10 in Colorado, 80 to 17 in Nevada, and 66 to 31 in Virginia,” wrote Mona Charon in the National Review Online a couple of days after the vote. “Republicans were clobbered among Hispanics because the Republican primary electorate rewarded candidates for bellicosity regarding illegal immigration.”

I happen to think it was more than that, but it was against this backdrop that I found myself in Washington DC for meetings last week featuring speakers as disparate as Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (who met his wife while spending time in jail during the struggle for civil rights) and conservative icon Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform.  Attendees came from more than half the 50 states; from conservative think tanks to agriculture, hospitality, landscaping, retail and other industries. We were there to discuss comprehensive immigration reform and most of the attendees at the National Immigration Forum’s strategy session were right wingers, by far. That’s important because most of the heavy lifting needs to be done on the Republican side of the aisle right now and these are traditional supporters to whom they pay attention. The collection of representatives from chambers of commerce, religious organizations and law enforcement informally billed itself as “business, bibles and badges.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners talks with Grover Norquist at National Immigration Forum meeting.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners talks with Grover Norquist at National Immigration Forum meeting.

As chair of Marathon County’s Education and Economic Development Committee, I began trying to get the Marathon County Board to pass a resolution in support of comprehensive national immigration reform with my return to the board last spring and I wrote about that effort here last June.  At the time, county board members expressed the desire to have more information about the impact of immigration and current law in Marathon County before making a decision on whether to support changes. Part of that background necessarily includes understanding the direction of the national debate and — I believe — working to head off the kind of unproductive state-level measures that have come up in Arizona and Georgia. The prospects for success with comprehensive national immigration reform seem to be improving. And if Wisconsin’s citizens and local governments will assert themselves as a positive force in the discussion at the state level, we can become part of the solution instead of just another part of the problem.

“A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment,” said Prussian Prime Minister Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck back in the 1800s. It was true then and it is true now. While everyone in Washington at the National Strategy Session put on by the National Immigration Forum has been working on the issue for years, they were simply the people who heard the footsteps further off in the distance. Today, many more can hear the footsteps and they sound a lot closer.

Following passage of Arizona’s draconian “show me your papers” law in 2010, nearby Utah looked at what had been done and decided they should do something on immigration, too. Early polling showed that around 70 percent in Utah would support a law modeled after Arizona’s and Georgia followed suit with something on that order in 2011. But farther-sighted conservatives in the state whose motto is simply “Industry” had a different idea. What they came up with is the Utah Compact, a set of five principles to guide the state’s discussion of immigration. They are directed toward a much different policy response than what was foisted on Arizona and Georgia by their Republican lawmakers. You can read them here.

I sat with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Paul Muro of the Sutherland Institute, Natalie Gochnour of the Salt Lake Chamber and others last Tuesday to learn about how they turned those early polling numbers in Utah on their head with a thoughtful discussion of immigration that ultimately led to the Utah legislature passing a guest worker program and deliberately distancing itself from approaches like Arizona’s and Georgia’s. Utah conservatives see immigration as an economic issue, as well as a moral issue.

“Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society,” said a statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in support of the Utah compact.  “Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.” Likewise, there are resolutions in support of the Utah Compact from local governments, including city councils and school boards, along with corporate leaders and non-profit human service agencies across the political spectrum.

What I would say right now is that if Grover Norquist and Jim Clyburn can agree on some substantial elements for immigration reform, then it would seem like there should be plenty of room for reasonable people to come to some productive conclusions on the issue.  A thorough examination of local impacts can provide some useful guidance to our federal representatives, as well as put us into a position to advance the interests of immigrants, families, friends, employers, neighbors and our economy going forward.


Last Wednesday — the very same day that conservatives from the National Immigration Forum were visiting mostly GOP offices on Capitol Hill — an Ann Coulter column came out to illustrate what they’re up against in their own party:

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s Christian Schneider says that without Hispanics, the GOP will become a permanent minority:

January 28, 2013 — Gang of Eight Immigration Plan: Reality-Based Legislating: 

January 29 — Obama says now is the time to move on immigration reform:

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association policy statement on immigration reform:

UPDATE – June 27, 2013 – U.S. Senate passes immigration reform bill: