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Politics

New priorities for 2013 and beyond

When President Barack Obama defeated former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney Nov. 6 in a bitterly contested election, that alone sent a signal to pundits everywhere. With the Senate swinging more forcefully to the left and the House remaining in Republican hands, it confused the signal in the minds of some.

In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, Obama laid out an ambitious agenda. This agenda included increasing the minimum wage to $9 per hour and tying future increases to the cost of living.

Opponents say that proposal will hurt businesses during a still-fragile recovery. Some would like to see an increase in the earned income tax credit instead of a minimum wage increase. According to an article on NBCnews.com, such an increase as an alternative to a minimum wage hike would only benefit those of low-to-moderate incomes who are already working. It would also prevent people who are supposedly caught in the "welfare trap" of lower-income people and families from lacking incentive to find full-time employment.

One problem this argument highlights is something that some victims of the Great Recession found out the hard way: Sometimes, a job pays less than unemployment benefits did, and refusing to accept such a job can result in denial of unemployment benefits. It can leave people in the unenviable position of not making enough money to live on, but making too much to draw benefits such as food stamps, emergency cash assistance or other benefits geared toward lower income people who really need it.

Other proposals, including the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are and were derided for hurting the so-called job creators, those wealthy company owners and executives who supposedly are able to dole out jobs to those who need them. That is one of the battle cries for those against a minimum wage increase. A counterargument to that thought is that the middle class are the true job creators. By earning more money, the lower classes then pour that money back into the economy, increasing demand for goods and services, which then results in hiring more workers to satisfy that demand.

Tying an increase in the federal minimum wage to an increase in the earned income credit would benefit only those people who are working by providing them with a tax refund. Unfortunately, that benefit is only there every year when Uncle Sam comes calling for this fix of our tax incomes. An increase in the minimum wage is tangible to anyone making such an income every time a person sees a check or direct deposit from an employer.

Obama also laid out a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants which would culminate in citizenship -- at a price. Some requirements include paying back taxes and fines, learning English and getting in the back of the line behind everyone else who is trying to immigrate legally. It's a program opponents refer to as amnesty for illegals.

I understand and can empathize with people who are trying to escape horrible conditions, including those who seek asylum. I also understand the need many feel to make a better life for themselves or improve the lives of their families and children. However, as a third-generation immigrant, I find it unacceptable when someone wants to live or work in the United States and refuses to learn English. Former Major League outfielder Vladimir Guerrero spent several years with teams including the Montreal Expos, the Anaheim Angels and the Baltimore Orioles and refused to learn English.

While I would not favor Romney's proposed "self-deportation" idea, and I certainly don't oppose legal immigration, the fact remains that people still entered the country illegally. One of the most famous arguments against illegal immigration, or so-called amnesty, is that "illegals" would take jobs away from Americans. Except for the depths of the Great Recession which saw hundreds of job applications for a single janitor position, most of the jobs siphoned off to illegal immigrants are jobs no one else is willing to take. It's an argument that's as worn-out as the racism that's implied by many of the most anti-"illegals" crowd.

The Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn. massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School brought a new focus on a very old subject: Gun control. Here, the arguments for and against gun control are providing yet another emotional fissure. Those who propose gun control are arguing for mental health evaluations, background checks, and banning assault weapons. However, some argue that those bans violate the Second Amendment, while still others claim that Obama will come take their guns away.

Background checks and mental health evaluations are common sense curbs on the potential that a legally obtained gun can lead to the kind of violence too many children faced in Connecticut and too many others face in incidents since then. In several speeches, Obama made distinctions between keeping guns for protection or sport and harboring guns with a plan to commit violence. Even so, many in the extreme right still maintain that any curb on guns is unacceptable. Unfortunately, rather than hiding behind straw man and slippery slope arguments, the Republican Party ought to take heed from the National Rifle Association of the past. A former president, Karl T. Frederick, once testified before the 1938 Gun Control Act was passed, saying “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. ... I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

More recently, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who is a gun owner in his own right, announced his support for Obama's approach that includes bolstering education, mental health, curbing violent movies and video games, and restricting weapons.

In the early days following Obama's inauguration in 2009 for his first term of office, the Republican Party was decried as "The Party of 'No'" for seeming to oppose Obama at every turn. An attitude of refusing to compromise left moderates on all sides of the political spectrum furious at lawmakers who considered negotiating or compromise a weakness. Rather than simply rejecting proposals made by one side of the aisle, working together to find middle ground and even realizing that neither party will be completely happy with the result may well lead us back to the days when people who disagreed on politics weren't each other's enemy.

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