Tag Archive | "American Dream"

So You Want to Be an American?

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Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

 

*****

 

These words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty hearken back to a time when the United States government meant them.   From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, throngs of humanity forsook their homelands to make a long and sometimes perilous journey by sea across the Atlantic Ocean.  Landing on Ellis Island, these people gazed up in wonder at the proud and majestic Lady Liberty.  The torch she held aloft was a metaphor for the travelers’ hopes and dreams: they had finally reached America, the land whose streets were said to be paved with gold.

 

Some came from Ireland; the lucky ones, that is.  Too many Irish men, women, and children died of starvation at sea, the victims of their country’s two potato famines.  Others came from Europe simply to make better lives for themselves and their children.  Irish, Italian, or Eastern European, each group arrived with their own language and culture.  Before they would come to create America’s “melting pot,” their one commonality was their belief in the promises carved onto the Statue of Liberty.

 

As the saying goes, “That was then. This is now.”  Now, those promises are so empty that perhaps we should consider scrapping them as we did the Berlin Wall.  The truth is that the golden door is closed for the huddled masses and wretched refuse named in the inscription on Lady Liberty.  The Land of the Free is no longer free of charge.  Today, it costs money to apply for U.S. citizenship.

 

According to the USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service), that cost is $680.00 American dollars, $595.00 of which is required to process a single application from a single foreigner.  The remaining $85.00 is for biometric fees.  A full 90% of the USCIS’ budget comes from these fees.  The fees are adjusted every two years and guess what?  They are never adjusted downward.  The USCIS claims that the process of naturalization – the final step before attaining citizenship — is expensive.  Indeed, it is.  As a requirement for attaining citizenship, immigrants must be permanent, legal residents of the United States for at least five years.  This time span is shorter if applicants’ parents or spouses are U.S, citizens.

 

Some immigrants, however, don’t achieve citizenship so, ahem, quickly.  For some living and working under reduced circumstances, it’s difficult to save up the necessary fees.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that the fees are non-refundable; neither does their payment guarantee citizenship.  Even Green Cards carry fees.  But hey, the USCIS doesn’t care about these petty matters.  With 90% of the agency’s budget dependent upon the fees it charges, one can only assume just how hefty the salaries of the agency’s top management must be.

 

As Popeye would say, “I can read written an’ write wrotten, but this writin’ is wrotten rotten.”  I guess the USCIS wants to acquaint would-be citizens with the American banking system before they even arrive on our shores.

 

However, all is not rotten in Denmark … I mean, the U.S. of A.  The Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to encouraging increased citizenship because it is good for America.  Ali Noonani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, stated, “We applaud the Administration for not increasing [fees] and putting a halt to increased fees for immigrants who are eager to become American citizens.”   But even if the fees remain where they are, would-be citizens still have to come up with 680 bucks.  This truly is good for America because our government has discovered a new source of revenue that does not involve taxing the rich.  All we need are immigrants willing and able to pay into the system.

 

It is any wonder that hordes of aliens are streaming illegally across our southern borders in hot pursuit of the American Dream?  For those who slip like butter past the border guards, life is but a dream.  But for those trying to enter this country legally, that dream has become a nightmare.

 

Restoring Confidence in Our Economy: A Simple Solution

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A polling statistic widely reported this week indicated that 53% of Americans were very concerned about their ability to make their mortgage or rent payments.  Think about the gravity of that statement:  more than half of all Americans are worried about their ability to make the most fundamental of payments, one that supersedes payments on utility bills, credit cards, and other revolving debt.  Stated another way, the majority of citizens are finding their American Dreams turning into nightmares.


The American economy is driven by consumers, encompassing you, me, and everyone else in the U.S.  If 53% of us are concerned about simply making our mortgage or rent payments, how likely is it that any of this group is going to purchase items that they consider non-essential?  What will that mean for retailers this holiday shopping season?  Most significantly, what does that tell us about the nature of our alleged economic recovery?


Real estate is fundamental to our American economy for both tangible and intangible reasons.  Americans, perhaps more than citizens of other free societies, like to feel a sense of control over their lives and fortunes (and, I’m not speaking of wealth).  And, at the root of that sense of confidence is the perception of security provided the average American by home ownership.  When secure in their own homes, Americans feel unencumbered in making purchases to enhance their lifestyles and in bestowing their generosity on those less fortunate.


For that reason, I believe that the vitality of the American economy and our very way of life are rooted in the stability and growth of home property values.  Absent the stabilization of real estate values, our economy can never fully recover for the average American.


With the staggering numbers of properties either in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure, the outlook for property value stabilization in the next several years is dim – even in states and locales that have not experienced the steep value declines that have been realized in states like Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and California.  With ballooning inventories of available properties, I believe that values will certainly decline into the foreseeable future.


In my estimation, only property value stabilization in the near future can save our economy from double-dipping into another recession or worse.  How, then, can we extricate ourselves from this dire situation?  The answer, I believe, is surprisingly simple: stop the foreclosures!


If I were the President or a member of Congress, I would work to initiate action halting all foreclosures immediately and compel the lenders to negotiate affordable terms with each and every borrower who wants to remain in his or her home.  Some homeowners or investors whose values are far below their mortgage balance will, no doubt, choose to walk away from their properties.  The vast majority of individuals and families will, I believe, opt to remain in their homes if given the opportunity.


Now, before you label my solution as lunacy, consider that I am not advocating reducing the principal of any loan or its respective interest rate.  Under my plan, lenders will ultimately receive every penny they are owed and then some – eliminating the force of arguments that restructuring of these loans will somehow create a fundamental unfairness for those who have paid their mortgages according to their initial terms and conditions.


My suggestion is simply to extend the terms of the mortgages of these troubled borrowers to 40, 50, 60, 100, or more years – whatever it takes to create affordable payments.  By reducing their payments to levels that they can afford, this action will keep these people in their homes, expand their levels of discretionary spending, reduce prospective inventories of properties to be sold, stabilize property values, and lay a solid foundation for an economic recovery unfettered by the prospect of another wave of foreclosures as rates adjust on ARM products with longer adjustment horizons.  Nor is it likely that these extended loans will come to term.  As our economy strengthens and property values again begin to rise, the vast majority of these homeowners will likely refinance or sell their homes.


I am certain that there will be those who will scoff at this idea, who will label it as naïve or overly simplistic.  I suggest it not so much as a finished solution, but as a concept whose details and prospective issues need to be addressed.  Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best. 

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