Saturday, April 27, 2013

For Better Days

Bill Kristol attacks the complacency of the "new normal":

By the way, the new normal is bipartisan. It’s of course true that the administration in power during this period of national decline has a particular interest in selling the concept of a new normal. It’s true that the idea fits uncommonly well with the fatalism that, beneath the airy talk of hope and change, lies at the heart of modern liberalism. But Republican elites aren’t immune to the charms of the new normal, which excuses subpar performance in so many areas.
So it’s apparently the new normal for GOP leaders in Congress to be more interested in exempting themselves from Obamacare than in laying the groundwork for repealing it, and thereby exempting all Americans. It’s apparently the new normal for GOP elites to spend all their time, money, and effort trying to quickly muscle through a poorly crafted immigration bill—which once passed will have irreversible effects—than trying to do anything significant for American workers or against crony capitalism. It’s apparently the new normal for GOP leaders, at once terrified and contemptuous of their own base, equally intimidated by donors and voters but uninterested in treating either group as grownups, to think they too can simply shelter in place, under the awning of the new normal. (One might add that, when it comes to the leaders of both parties colluding to preserve power and perquisites, the new normal bears a striking resemblance to the old normal.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Still a City upon a Hill

In National Review, I have an essay up looking at the meaning of the Boston Marathon as a terrorist target:
Boylston is empty.
It is Sunday, and Boylston Street — the avenue of the Boston Public Library, Copley Square, the Prudential Tower, and the Old South Church — is, nearly a week after the terrorist attack of Patriots’ Day, empty. One of the central arteries of the great New England metropolis — usually crowded with vitality and ambition and the hectic beat of urban life — is bare, with the exception of a few police officers and FBI agents. In a grim reminder of the toll of terror, a few signs celebrating the Boston Marathon remain in that empty space. A crime scene, that stretch of Boylston has also become a time capsule.
There is a hole in the city. There is a hole in too many families and too many hearts.
John Winthrop, a leader of those Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, proclaimed in 1630 that the new commonwealth would be a “City upon a Hill” to serve as an exemplar of success or failure to people around the world. Well, nearly 400 years after Winthrop’s sermon, the city of Boston serves yet again as an example: of what terror would destroy and of the means of resisting terror.  

Read the rest here.

It's the Workers

Ramesh Ponnuru turns his attention to the dangers that a "guest-worker" program could pose to the United States's civil fabric:
The guest-worker program is where they go wrong. For the Republican politicians who have in the past been its main supporters, this provision is like a dessert with no calories: Businesses get the benefit of the temporary workers’ labor and they get to make some money, but the rest of us don’t have to make room for immigrants in our society, and Republicans don’t have to worry how they will vote.
That’s exactly what’s wrong with the idea. One of the worst things about illegal immigration is that it creates a class of people who contribute their labor to this country but aren’t full participants in it and lack the rights and responsibilities of everyone else. A guest-worker program doesn’t solve this problem. It formalizes it. 
The guest-worker component is a key and under-discussed aspect of the Gang of 8 bill.  If the GOP is going to restore itself as a party of upward mobility and middle-class uplift, a guest-worker program could pose a significant political problem.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Coordination Between CATO, ATR, and Others

Breitbart unearths some emails showing some coordination between CATO, Americans for Tax Reform, and others to counter skepticism about the Gang of Eight immigration bill after last week's events in Boston.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Obamacare and Immigration

Jed Graham raises an interesting point about the immigration bill, arguing that it may incentivize the employment of recently legalized immigrants:
Under the immigration reform bill, some employers would have an incentive of up to $3,000 per year to hire a newly legalized immigrant over a U.S. citizen.
In avoiding one controversy — the cost of providing millions of newly legalized immigrants with ObamaCare subsidies — the Senate "Gang of Eight" may have risked walking into another.
The bipartisan legislation released Wednesday dictates that those granted provisional legal immigrant status would be treated the same as those "not lawfully present" are treated under the 2010 health law.
That means they would neither be eligible for ObamaCare tax credits nor required to pay an individual tax penalty for failing to obtain qualifying health coverage. It also means some employers would face no penalty for failing to provide such workers affordable health coverage.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gang of 8 Immigration Bill: Bigger Government?

Over at NRO, I explore two aspects of the Gang of 8 immigration bill: how it could affect far more than 11 illegal immigrants, and how it could open the door to a massive new government agency.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Amnesty Incentives?

Mickey Kaus notes an interesting tweet from Senator Marco Rubio's press secretary, Alex Conant:
Rubio press aide Alex Conant tweets that
Without temporary worker program to fill US demand for low-skill labor, people will find way to come illegally despite new fence
Really? Hasn’t Rubio been busy telling us that his plan would secure the border? Now his flack tells us people “will find a way to come illegally” despite it? Doesn’t this mean that those who can’t get into the guest worker program (maybe because it’s full, or because they don’t qualify) will be able to “find a way” in as well–so the elaborately negotiated limits on the number of guestworkers will be routinely violated and, in practice, meaningless? Doesn’t it also mean that those who are drawn by the prospect of the next amnesty (because, you know, ”we can’t deport them all!” and “Latino voters”) will “find a way”in too?
But Conant isn't the only one suggesting that future border enforcement might be less than effective.  Senator Rubio himself says it, this post from Hot Air notes:
“A lot of it is going to hinge on the viability of a guest worker program. There are elements in organized labor that don’t want one. I think, really, that’s going to become the critical issue in this debate … whether we can create a viable guest worker program that protects American workers, but also ensures that in the future [if] we need foreign labor for limited periods of time, we’re able to access that in a legal way. Because if we don’t have a program like that in place, we’re going to have 10 million illegal immigrants here in a decade again.”
This statement obviously contradicts the line taken by the New York Times and others that we needn't worry about an amnesty encouraging further illegal immigration because there are few people left abroad who would want to immigrate illegally.

Terror in Boston

As the evidence piles up, it seems increasingly clear that the explosions that interrupted the Boston Marathon today were acts of terrorism.  A large number of the specific facts regarding this tragedy remain unclear.

What should remain clear, though, is the endurance of a resolve of a free people.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Not Just Legalization

The Los Angeles Times notes that the "Gang of 8" proposal could significantly increase the rate of legal immigration:
The U.S. admits about 1 million legal immigrants per year, more than any other country. That number could jump by more than 50% over the next decade under the terms of the immigration reform bill that a bipartisan group of senators expects to unveil as early as Tuesday. The impact would be felt nationwide, but areas that already have large immigrant communities would probably see much of the increase.
The immigration package includes at least four major provisions that would increase the number of legal immigrants, according to people familiar with it. Some of the parts could generate as much controversy as the provisions dealing with those who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas, according to those with long experience of the politics of immigration....
Opponents such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who has long opposed measures to increase immigration levels, say new workers would depress wages and crowd out Americans looking for work during a time of persistently high unemployment.
"The masters of the universe in glass towers and suites, they may not be impacted by this, but millions of struggling American families will," Sessions said in an interview Friday. "We do need to be sure we aren't exacerbating unemployment and wage erosion in America."
The surge would come in several ways: The bill aims to eliminate the current backlog of roughly 4 million people waiting to be reunited with family members in the U.S. The 11 million now in the country without legal authorization would be eligible for citizenship only after that backlog was resolved. Reunification efforts would require boosting the number of visas issued each year. To keep the additional inflow under control, the bill would stop allowing adult siblings of immigrants to qualify, but children and parents would continue to be eligible.
In addition to family unification, which allows people into the country permanently, the bill also aims to increase temporary visas for both high-wage and low-wage workers. The number of visas for high-tech workers could nearly double to more than 120,000 per year. At the other end of the wage scale, a new visa system would allow businesses to bring in workers for jobs including janitors, housekeepers and meatpackers. The numbers would start small, but as the unemployment rate declined, it could reach 200,000 a year by the end of the decade. And growers could bring a total of about 330,000 new farmworkers into the country during the decade. At least some of those low-wage temporary workers eventually would be allowed to seek permanent residency.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A New Serf Class?

It seems as though big business, purported "labor" groups, and ethnic lobbyists have pulled together a compromise on the agricultural part of the Gang of 8's immigration "reform" proposal, as Reuters reports.  However, the details of this legislation could have big implications for big government.

Here's what Reuters has to say about how farm workers who are currently illegal immigrants could gain legal status under this proposal:
Farm workers in the country illegally who agree to work in agriculture for an additional five to seven years would become eligible for a "green card" allowing permanent U.S. residence, according to two officials. The workers hold legal status, dubbed a "blue card" by negotiators, during the interim.
The new guest worker program would include a system for setting pay scales and initially would have a high ceiling for the number of visas that could be granted. After five years, the cap could be adjusted by the Agriculture Department. There would be a mechanism for meeting emergency needs for workers.

This kind of farm-worker amnesty could give growers great power over workers.  After all, continued employment in agriculture would be the only way for these amnestied immigrants to secure a path to citizenship, so they will be dependent upon agricultural employers.  This proposal would in some ways lock agricultural workers into a kind of caste, where they are only permitted to work into a certain industry.  This system could lead to considerable number of abuses at the workplace.  Moreover, this agricultural proposal would be a considerable experiment in centralized government planning.  Government would set pay scales and even change worker allocations as central planners see fit.  This is government interfering in the market in a radical way.

The Hill notes a further interesting detail: these legalized farm workers would potentially be able to bring their family members over soon (emphasis added).

“Under the proposed new immigration process, farm workers would be able to work in the fields without fear of getting deported immediately and will be able to reunite with their families in a relatively short period of time. The bill would give professional farm workers presently in the U.S., who have been contributing to our country, temporary legal status and the right to earn a green card in the future by continuing to work in agriculture,” said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.
So would these amnestied farm workers be able to bring their families over with them before they become citizens?  What counts as family members for the purpose of this act?  A spouse and minor children?  Or siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so forth?  So this legislative component might not only affect illegal farm workers (and Reuters estimates there could be as many as 900,000 of them), but numerous family members for each worker.  This part of the immigration "reform" proposal alone could set a few million on the path to citizenship, and it could further penalize would-be immigrants who have waited in their home countries for permission to immigrate to the US legally.

Obviously, the legislative language is still in process, but these details will need to be further explained.  The American people deserve to know whether government will be taking over the agricultural sector and how many people will be granted legal status through the Gang of 8's attempt at "comprehensive immigration reform."

Who Knew What When

As USA Today reports, the release of a heretofore confidential memo raises new questions about how much the educational administration of former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee knew about an epidemic of cheating on standardized tests within the school system:
DCPS officials have said they take all cheating allegations seriously, but it's not immediately clear how they responded to Sanford's warnings. Only one educator lost his job because of cheating, according to DCPS. Meanwhile, Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores — 241 of them in one day in 2010.
The cheating issue first came to light in 2011, after USA TODAY reported that, between 2008 and 2010, 103 schools had test-erasure rates that surpassed districtwide erasure-rate averages at least once.
Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners used to score tests. When a teacher or student erases a bubble sheet, this leaves behind a light smudge. Computers tally the smudges as well as the new answers.
The USA TODAY investigation found that, as far back as 2008, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), D.C.'s equivalent of a state education department, asked for an erasure analysis. Among the 96 schools flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards "to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff." In all, Rhee bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses based on increases in 2007 and 2008 test scores.
 These numbers suggest far more teachers were punished for low test scores than were punished for cheating.

Investigative journalist John Merrow has more details about the limits of Rhee's administration.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Financial Federalism

Over at National Review, I outline a case for "financial federalism," an approach to financial reform prioritizing market competition and a diffusion of interests:
Conservatives have an opportunity here to argue on behalf of a financial federalism that would attempt to ward off the dangers of asset concentration, revise limits on leverage for a variety of institutions, and draw clearer lines between various banking activities. Just as the political doctrine of federalism entails a broad distribution of government power (in federal, state, and local entities), financial federalism would put in place a financial system in which systemic risk is lessened through a broad distribution of capital and a variety of capital flows. Financial federalism would undo the distortions of Too Big to Fail. There are various economic, policy, and political reasons for Republicans to move toward market-oriented financial reform.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Is the AFL-CIO Still about Labor?

National Journal reminds us that "business" and "labor" have supposedly agreed to some kind of guest-worker plan that would be part of the Gang of 8 immigration proposal.  The AFL-CIO, now headed by Richard Trumka, has endorsed a guest-worker programNJ also reminds us that the employment picture isn't looking very good.  At 7.8%, the unemployment rate is higher than it had been at any point in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  And millions have left the work-force.  And wages are stagnating.  So a guest-worker program would be implemented under less than auspicious economic conditions.

One might be forgiven for wondering what Big Labor would exactly get out of a guest-worker program.  The AFL-CIO might want to give the White House a win on a major issue, but would such a program be in the interests of actual workers?

Let's look at what John Sweeney, the former head of the AFL-CIO, had to say about guest workers:
"Guest worker programs are a bad idea and harm all workers....They cast workers into a perennial second-class status, and unfairly put their fates into their employers' hands."

"The compromise legislation has two fatal flaws: a guest worker program that would institutionalize and expand a second-class workforce easily exploited by employers and an unjust, inhumane and unworkable three-tier system of treatment for immigrants who are in this country.
"The original guest worker operation--the post-war Bracero program--was shamed out of existence in 1964 because of egregious employer abuse, cheating, racial oppression and more."

"[A guest-worker program] will assure a steady flow of cheap labor from essentially indentured workers too afraid of being deported to protest substandard wages, chiseled benefits and unsafe working conditions. Such a system will create a disenfranchised underclass of workers. That is not only morally indefensible, it is economically nonsensical. We've had plenty of bad experiences with such shortsighted answers to a complicated problem."
 Mickey Kaus notes that labor activist Cesar Chavez was not exactly a big fan of "guest workers" or illegal labor, either.

So whose side is Big Labor actually on, here?  The workers' or the White House's?