Monday, November 13, 2006

The America That Could Be Again

Despite the fact that the Republicans were trailing badly in the polls in the weeks before the November 7 elections, there was always the uncertainty about the final result. Why did Karl Rove have that cheshire cat smile? What "October surprise" did he have in store for the Democrats this time?

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros, a speaker at the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention in Hawaii last Sept. 30, commented on this in a recent column: "A couple of months ago, in the gathering of Filipino-Americans in Hawaii, many Republican Filipinos were predicting confidently they would spring a surprise and crush the Democrats at the polls. The way things were in America, I wasn't so sure they wouldn't."

The "October surprise" turned out to be the Saddam Hussein guilty verdict and death sentence, timed to occur just before the elections, which was to be trumpeted as the vindication of the Bush-directed US invasion of Iraq.

Would that show be enough to turn the tide? Before the elections, the polls showed that more than 62% of the American people disapproved of the war in Iraq, with only 31% supporting it. The US government had spent more than $300-B on the war which has cost the lives of more than 2,850 US troops, with 21,000 injured. According to the Iraqi government, more than 150,000 Iraqi lives have been lost since the US invasion of Iraq.

There was another "October surprise", though, and it ironically benefitted the Democrats. It was Bush's announcement, a week before the elections, that he would keep Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense throughout his second term. This announcement galvanized the Democrats and despirited the Republicans.

It turned that Bush flat-out lied. He had already talked to Robert Gates about replacing Rumsfeld even before he made the announcement that he was keeping Rumsfeld. At a press conference conducted right after the elections, Bush admitted that he lied because, he said, he did not want the firing of Rumsfeld to be viewed as "political". Well, as long as there's a reason for it, then lying must be ok, right?

Unfortunately for Bush, the American people did not buy the lies this time. On November 7, Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate.

From the Philippines, De Quiros wrote: "The outcome was magnificent in that light. It wasn't just a rout of Bush's hordes, it was a wipeout. It had People Power written all over it, albeit one wrought through the vote. If this had been a parliamentary system, the prime minister would have promptly resigned. You can't find a more complete rejection, both houses of Congress now in the hands of the Democrats. Bush isn't just a lame duck, he's a dead duck."

"I am particularly glad that, as the commentators have pointed out, the Iraq War -or "Occupation" which it really is - was at the core of the elections. For the first time in a long time, Americans voted not on the basis of self-interest but on the basis of principle. For the first time in a long time, Americans voted not on the basis of who could provide them with jobs and security but on what America was all about and could be again."

What America could be again. Perhaps it would be an America that honors its veterans and respects its immigrants.

With the Democrats' control of both Houses of Congress, we can now move to win passage of both the Filipino Veterans Equity and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills that are presently stalled in the House.

Under Republican rule, the FilVets Equity Bill, House Resolution (HR) 1474, had been locked up in the dungeon of the Veterans Affairs Committee led by Rep. Steve Buyer (R - Ind.), who refused to hold hearings on the bill. It could not be released to the House for a floor vote until after the Veterans Affairs Committee had conducted hearings on the bill and passed it.

But in January of 2007, Rep. Bob Filner (D- CA) is slated to take over the Veterans Affairs Committee. As the most consistent champion of Filipino Veterans Equity in the House, he will most certainly set hearings on the bill and work to secure its passage.

The chairmanship of the Senate Veterans Committee will likewise pass over to a Democrat, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, who, also by coincidence, is the Senate's most consistent supporter of Filipino Veterans Equity.

The coming year will present the best opportunity for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill to pass the US Congress since the Republicans took over the House in 1994.

As to the immigration issue, the estimated 500,000 Filipino TNTs in the US, one out of every 6 or 7 Filipinos in the US, may finally be able to go out from under the shadows and win a "path to citizenship".

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, backed by the US Senate and President Bush, was stalled in the House because of opposition from the Republican leadership led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

But in January, the House Judiciary Committee chairmanship will be turned over to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi), a strong supporter of both the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill and the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill.

Passage of the Immigration Bill will offer an opportunity for most of the Filipino TNTs, the ones who entered the US more than 5 years ago, to apply for "earned legalization" that would lead to a "path to citizenship". They would finally be able to sleep well at night, no longer fearing a knock on the door in the morning from immigration agents who would separate them from their families.

This is the America that could be again.

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