Tilak Rishi's weblog

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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

We're All Immigrants!

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Though there are several quotes associated with the Statue of Liberty, the most popular one is the above, from the sonnet written by the poet Emma Lazarus. A nation can never progress successfully without acknowledging its history. So, the Americans should delve into history and use lessons from the past to create the future. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty will always remind the nation of its past. This nation was founded by immigrants, all undocumented immigrants, who entered this land declaring they discovered the continent, even though it was already inhabited by the native Indians. Millions more came after them to discover this wonderful land, ships load of them from across the oceans, to join their earlier generations to taste the fruits of this discovered land. They all were welcomed to make it their home where they had the freedom to dream and to fulfill that dream, the American Dream. That is what this nation is all about – the Melting Pot for the varied worldwide cultures, assembled in this beautiful country from all over the globe, with one and only one goal, to make their lives richer than ever before, and thereby make it the richest country in the world.

The flow of illegal immigration continues to be almost entirely from countries of lower socioeconomic levels, and particularly from developing countries. While there are other causes associated with poorer countries, the most common motivation for illegal immigrants, as always, is the pursuit of greater economic opportunities and quality of life in America. They look only at the probability of success in immigrating and finding employment, and the increase in real income an immigrant can expect. Some illegal immigrants seek to live with loved ones, such as a spouse or other family members, who had immigrated earlier. Illegal immigration may also be prompted by the desire to escape civil war or repression in the country of origin. Non-economic push factors include persecution (religious and otherwise), frequent abuse, bullying, oppression, and genocide, and risks to civilians during war. Political motives traditionally motivate refugee flows - to escape dictatorship for instance. There are numerous cases of mass emigration from poor or war-stricken states. Some illegal immigrants entered the U.S. legally and then overstay or violate their visa to make it big here, as their brothren before. The bottom line is, all immigrants in America, legal or illegal, are here to add to the richness of this great nation, and not to harm it in any way.

The fact that illegal immigrants pay taxes at all will come as news to many Americans. A stunning two-thirds of illegal immigrants pay Medicare, Social Security and personal income taxes. According to a study by the Urban Institute, the 1996 welfare reform effort dramatically reduced the use of welfare by undocumented immigrant households, exactly as intended. And another vital thing happened in 1996: the Internal Revenue Service began issuing identification numbers to enable illegal immigrants who don't have Social Security numbers to file taxes. What's more, aliens, who are not self-employed, have Social Security and Medicare taxes automatically withheld from their paychecks. Last year, the revenues from them added up to 10 percent of the Social Security surplus. The file is growing, on average, by more than $50 billion a year. Beyond federal taxes, all illegals automatically pay state sales taxes that contribute toward the upkeep of public facilities such as roads that they use, and property taxes through their rent that contribute toward the schooling of their children. The non-partisan National Research Council found that they contribute on average $80,000 more to federal coffers than they consume. With anti-immigrant resentment running hot, many accuse immigrants of stealing American jobs. How can immigrants steal jobs nobody else wants? It is hard to imagine the native-born work force itching to return en masse to housekeeping, landscaping, car washing, meatpacking, poultry plucking and street-corner day labor.

Immigration is a bitterly fought issue in the United States today, where some 10.8 million illegal immigrants live and work. Arizona lawmakers passed the toughest anti-illegal-immigrant measure in a generation, a controversial immigration bill requiring police in the state that borders Mexico to determine if people are in the United States illegally, a measure critics say is open to racial profiling. The law requires state and local police to determine the status of people if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are illegal immigrants and to arrest people who are unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally. It also makes it a crime to transport someone who is an illegal immigrant and to hire day laborers off the street. Passions about illegal immigration run high in Arizona, both proponents and opponents of the law are vociferous. "This criminalizes undocumented status and turns dishwashers, janitors, landscapers and our neighbors into criminals," say the opponents of the bill, prominent provisions of which have been blocked by a federal judge for now.

As the nation's attention turns back to the fractured debate over immigration, it might be helpful to remember that in 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law. The bill made any immigrant who'd entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty. The law granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants. "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally," President Ronald Reagan said in 1984. Nearly 25 years later, the Republican Party has changed its tune. The Republicans now seem to know better than to tread the path their own Republican President thought the right thing to do, even though they often invoke the former president as a champion of the conservative agenda. President Obama's call for bipartisanship on the immigration issue was answered by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. A bipartisan effort would be possible, he said, if Obama "would take amnesty off the table and make a real commitment to border and interior security." Do the Republicans need to be reminded It was in Ronald Reagan's bones — it was part of his understanding of America — that the country was fundamentally open to those who wanted to join us here, and we have to remember our roots – we're all immigrants!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Tea Party

Back home in India I grew up very fond of tea parties, friends' and especially my own birthday tea parties. I can easily call those one of the best days of my life when, as children, we longed for the next birthday tea party and made it the most memorable time ever with innovative games we enjoyed and the goodies we ate that invariably included cake, sandwiches and a variety of snacks. That was the time when the Britishers were counting their last days of the colonial rule in the country. During over 200 years of their dominating presence in India, perhaps anywhere they went in the world, two of their most traditional identities they always left behind – the English language and addiction to tea. They both remained with us even long after they had departed. What began as birthday tea parties in my childhood days had gained favor in many forms as I grew up - an Afternoon Tea Party suitable for many celebrations. When I would like to host a party that isn't as involved as a dinner party, a tea party was the answer. It was an ideal format for a bridal or baby shower, a retirement party, a birthday celebration, or time to catch up with good friends. It could be a very formal affair at some of the more elegant hotels, or it could be as casual as a pot of tea and some cookies.

As time passed, I saw tea parties taking another interesting form, known as Kitty Party, particularly popular amongst the elite women of New Delhi, my hometown in India. You can call it a time pass for bored housewives. From gossiping to enjoying a hearty tea, kitty parties became the new benchmark of social mobility in Delhi. An all out gossip session, a great place to flaunt your new outfit, share jokes and family feuds, a venue to showcase your creativity and a much awaited opportunity to shred your ma-in-law to pieces! The most common type of kitty parties were patronized by housewives who had plenty of time at hand once they packed off hubbies to office and babies to school. However, lately Kitties are much maligned as they are often associated with idle housewives who have nothing better to do but gossip.

After our retirement in India, we moved to USA to be with our only son settled here. Interestingly, though this country is amongst the biggest coffee lovers in the world, it was born out of the historic Boston Tea Party, 1773. Victory in the French and Indian War was costly for the British. At the war's conclusion in 1763, King George III and his government looked to taxing the American colonies as a way of recouping their war costs. It was the Crown's attempt to tax tea that spurred the colonists to action and laid the groundwork for the American Revolution. In May of 1773 Parliament gave the struggling East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea to America. In Boston, the arrival of three tea ships ignited a furious reaction. The crisis came to a head on December 16, 1773 when as many as 7,000 agitated locals milled about the wharf where the ships were docked. Whopping war chants, the crowd marched two-by-two to the wharf, descended upon the three ships and dumped their offending cargos of tea into the harbor waters. Most colonists applauded the action while the reaction in London was swift and vehement. In March 1774 Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts which among other measures closed the Port of Boston. The fuse that led directly to the explosion of American independence was lit. And like the “Quit India” in the forties' India, the colonists were enthused to push for independence with the slogan, “Take your tea and shove it.”

The theme of the Boston Tea Party, an iconic event of American history, has been used in the 2009 Tea Party movement that emerged in USA through a series of locally and nationally coordinated protests. The protests are partially in response to several Federal laws: the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 ("bailout"), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("stimulus package"), and the 2009–2010 health care reform bills. Tea Party protests have invoked themes, images and slogans similar to those used during the pre-revolutionary period in American history. The 'tea' in Tea Party has been used as an acronym standing for Taxed Enough Already. But at its core, the Tea Party movement is rife with contradiction, incoherence and a willful contempt for facts or reason. Consider the Tea Party movement, whose foremost demand of a president, who in his first month passed one of the biggest tax cuts ever, is for tax cuts. On July 14, 2010, a Tea Party group in Iowa removed a billboard comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin after receiving sharp criticism from other tea party leaders. The entire tea party movement may not be racist, but there definitely are elements in the movement that have displayed racist posters of President Barack Obama, spit at black congressmen and used veiled language to warn that “our way of life” is threatened by our first black president. Some of the Tea Party followers are fanning the flames created by a group that wants to take down the president and “wants the president to fail”.

There is ample evidence that certain elements within the tea party movement have been tied to white extremist elements. Pictures from some tea party rallies show racist and anti-Semitic images. Essentially, it is a new face of the same old right-wing, reactionary forces that have long been working to turn America into a more religious, racist and militaristic country with an unregulated free enterprise system, weak government and low taxation, which they prefer to call The Tea Party.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Supreme Power Of Five!

The insularity of lifetime tenure of the Supreme Court justices in the U.S. offers a rare opportunity to the incumbent president to nominate one during his presidency. Therefore, whenever the occasion arises, the confirmation process attracted considerable attention from the press, and from advocacy groups, which lobby senators to confirm or to reject a nominee, depending on whether the nominee's track record aligns with the group's views. This is because Congress sees justices as playing an important political role in curtailing the power of the elected presidents. No judge is now neutral or a mere umpire. Ideology has the expected effect on judicial decisions. Some Court decisions have been severely criticized for injecting the Court into the political arena, and deciding questions based purely on political bias of the judges.

When Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified fellow Republican George W. Bush the winner by 537 votes over Democrat Al Gore in Florida's 2000 presidential election, at least 175,000 ballots remained uncounted. These had been excluded from the state's official machine tabulation. Based on both applicable law and historical precedent, plenty of time remained to manually examine and tally these 175,000 ballots, the majority of which contained easily decipherable votes. Accordingly, on December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of a substantial portion of these uncounted ballots. On December 9, 2000, five members of the U.S. Supreme Court stunned the nation by halting the Florida manual recount, claiming they wished to review its constitutional validity.
With two rounds of Florida election litigation behind them and the presidency hanging in the balance, Americans of all political stripes trusted the U.S. Supreme Court to provide for a satisfactory means of assessing the will of Florida's voters. When night fell on December 12, that faith was betrayed. In a brazen act of deceit, the five-justice majority reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering a recount to proceed. If the Five's willful, premature conclusion of a presidential election vote count for partisan purposes is not wrongdoing beyond the pale, then nothing is left of this "good behavior" clause. And yet no one in a position of countervailing power has seen fit to call them on it.
This was a dangerous mistake. Not only because it holds the Five harmless at the bar of history, but because it can happen again. Future justices may feel similar license if the Five remain unchallenged.

More recently, The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to expressly support political candidates for Congress and the White House. The 5-4 ruling strikes down restrictions that had barred corporations from spending money from their general treasuries on campaign ads in the days before an election. The New York Times calls the decision "a doctrinal earthquake." The dissenters said that allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy. The ruling represented a sharp doctrinal shift, and it will have major political and practical consequences. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision to reshape the way elections were conducted. President Obama found the ruling -- and its obvious implications -- so foul that he condemned it in January's State of the Union address. "The Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities," the president said. "They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong." President Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

And now another decision of far reaching consequences by a 5-4 vote, The Supreme Court has held that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live, expanding the conservative court's embrace of gun rights. The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and four liberals opposed. The ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights. In Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley said he was disappointed by the ruling because it made the city’s handgun ban “unenforceable.” “Across the country, cities are struggling with how to address this issue,” Mr. Daley said. “Common sense tells you we need fewer guns on the street, not more guns.” In a dissent joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, Justice Breyer said that history did not provide clear answers and that the empirical evidence about the consequences of gun control laws are mixed. But there was evidence, he said, that firearms caused 60,000 deaths and injuries in the United States each year and that Chicago’s handgun ban had saved many hundreds of lives since it was enacted in 1983.

The Supreme Court wrapped up its term last week after landmark decisions protecting the right to have a gun and the right of corporations to spend freely on elections. But the country's most important moment may come when the President's ambitious drive to regulate corporations, banks, health insurers and the energy industry will have the final word on those regulatory laws. Many legal experts foresee a clash between President Obama's progressive agenda and the conservative court. Their recent decisions came as a real shock to the administration and to the Democrats in Congress. It's also caused a sea change in their thinking about the court. Before, it was all about the 'culture wars' issues, like abortion, prayer and gay rights. Afterward, they saw this new activist thrust among the conservatives as a direct threat to their legislative agenda.

President Obama chose Kagan for the court believing she could bridge the gap with some of its conservatives. Her mission is to help uphold the laws that Obama and Democrats are pushing through Congress. But this does not provide a permanent solution to the basic problem, the power of five supreme court judges to subdue the power of the people enshrined in the Constitution. The people's elected representatives in the Congress, of any party or political pursuations, must come together to fight this menace and finish it for ever to save democracy. If it needs to amend the constitutional clauses on selection of the Supreme Court judges, to make them independent of political pressures, it must be done before the democratic principles are pushed further down the drain by the supreme power of the five.