Opinion

The Great Debate

American business needs immigration reform

One thing the overwhelming majority of Americans agree on, regardless of political party, is the need for immigration reform.  Not only is it one of the keys necessary to create a healthier national economy and critical to America’s security, growth, and prosperity, it is also an integral component for the success of American business.

The current employment-based immigration system is broken to the point of disarray — but not to a point of disrepair. The facts speak for themselves:

1. In the European Union, work-related visas account for 40 percent of immigration (excluding intra-EU movement). In the United States, only six percent of foreign workers are granted permanent entry on work-related visas. Outdated institutional quotas are shutting talent and expertise out, when other countries are ushering them in.

2. Overall, 36 percent of those receiving a highly-coveted, highly valuable STEM-related doctorate in a U.S. university were students holding temporary visas. The situation is further exacerbated in PhD programs for engineering, mathematics, and computer science — over half of candidates enrolled are foreign students, studying in the U.S. on temporary student visas. They’ll go home, or elsewhere, equipped with gold-mark U.S. university credentials to put their education to work.

3. Between 1993 and 2008, the proportion of scientists and engineers over 50 in the U.S. increased from 18 percent to 27 percent. We’re simply not preparing to replace those who will soon retire.

Troubled Ties: The Clintons and populism

What’s behind the sudden outburst of populism in the Democratic Party?

Partly the weak economic recovery. Most economic indicators have turned positive — economic growth is up, unemployment down, the housing market is in recovery. But ordinary Americans are not feeling it. In last month’s CNN poll, two thirds of Americans said the nation’s economy was poor. More than half expect it to remain poor a year from now.

People at the top of the income ladder have been raking in the money while wage growth for working Americans has stagnated. That’s a recipe for a populist explosion.

Remember the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that started in 2011 and spread across the country? Most pundits don’t believe it had any impact, especially compared with the Tea Party. They’re wrong. In a stroke of marketing genius, the Occupy movement introduced the phrase “1 Percent” into the nation’s political vocabulary. That’s what defeated the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney was Mr. 1 Percent.

Searching for a real populist

In the American political lexicon, few words are as prevalent — or as confusing — as “populism.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gets described as a populist because she wants to curb the power of corporations and increase Social Security benefits. So does Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who thinks small businesses are crippled by “an explosion of regulation” and has called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” that should be replaced by individual savings accounts.

Journalists, meanwhile, routinely affix the P word to liberals who want to raise taxes on the rich and to conservatives who claim higher taxes just benefit liberal special interests.

Don’t belittle Congress’s attempts to enhance mineral production

As someone deeply familiar with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s leadership on the “Critical Minerals Policy Act,” John Kemp’s recent Reuters column criticizing the bill struck me as a cynically misguided reaction to her important work. Sen. Murkowski introduced the legislation in order to, as she put it, “keep the United States competitive and begin the process of modernizing our federal mineral policies.” This is a laudable goal and an important process, particularly as our foreign reliance increases for materials needed to build semiconductors, skyscrapers, and everything in between.

In Kemp’s view, however, the bill “deserves to die” because it would authorize new federal funding that he views as a sop to “special interests.” With all due respect, he’s wrong.

Murkowski’s legislation is one of the few examples of real bipartisan cooperation amid the dysfunction of Washington, having attracted nine Republican and nine Democrat co-sponsors.

A ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa’s employment challenge

To Africa’s many challenges, add one more: unemployment.

Unemployment, independent of any other factor, threatens to derail the economic promise that Africa deserves. It’s a time bomb with no geographical boundaries: Economists expect Africa to create 54 million new jobs by 2020, but 122 million Africans will enter the labor force during that time frame. Adding to this shortfall are tens of millions currently unemployed or underemployed, making the human and economic consequences nearly too large to imagine.

Thus, even with the strong economic growth we have seen over the past decade, job creation in Africa remains much too slow. Africa needs a comprehensive, coordinated approach akin to America’s “Marshall Plan” in Europe after World War Two. That effort focused on building infrastructure, modernizing the business sector, and improving trade. By the end of the four-year program, Europe surpassed its pre-war economic output.

We can, and must, do the same for Africa. Entrepreneurs, politicians, philanthropic foundations, and development organizations — such as the World Bank, International Finance Corporation and USAID — must all work together to solve the unemployment crisis and make Africa an engine of growth. If we are outrun by the employment challenge, Africa will be a drag on global growth and resources for generations to come.

Let’s make candidates pledge not to use bots

Bots — chunks of computer code that generate messages and replicate themselves — have been infecting political discourse around the world. They have been spotted try to influence elections in the United Kingdom, Mexico and just recently, South Korea. Politicians there have been using bots to torment their opponents, muddle political conversations, and misdirect debate. We need political leaders to pledge not to use them.

In Canada’s last election, one-fifth of the Twitter followers of the country’s leading political figures were bots. Even Mitt Romney had a bot problem, though it’s not clear whether exaggerating the number of Twitter followers he had was a deliberate strategy or an attempt by outsiders to make him look bad. We know that authoritarian governments in Azerbaijan, Russia, and Venezuela use bots. The governments of Bahrain, Syria and Iran have used bots as part of their counter-insurgency strategies. The Chinese government uses bots to shape public opinion around the world and at home, especially on sensitive topics like the status of Tibet.

Bots are becoming more and more prevalent. And social media is becoming a more and more important source of political news and information, especially for young people, and especially for people living in countries where the main journalistic outlets are deficient. Sophisticated technology users can sometimes spot a bot, but the best bots can be quite successful at poisoning a political conversation. Would political campaign managers in a democracy like the United States actually use them?

Will Snowden’s disclosures finally rein in the NSA?

The National Security Agency, most secretive of the government’s 16 intelligence arms, is unaccustomed to the glare of publicity. But fierce public attention has been focused on the eavesdropping agency since the startling revelations from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now granted temporary asylum in Moscow.

These disclosures are not the first time the NSA, often known as “No Such Agency,” has been caught surreptitiously reading Americans’ private communications. The agency, however, has largely been able to  evade serious consequences or restrictions after the earlier revelations. In fact, the NSA’s surveillance of Americans has increased exponentially.

During the mid-1970s, a special Senate committee headed by Senator Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, focused a spotlight on NSA abuses. But those disclosures were overshadowed by the panel’s investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency, which revealed decades of assassination attempts, illegal activities and misadventures.

from Stories I’d like to see:

The Oracle Oregon fiasco, crying wolf on an Obamacare tax, and anointing the ‘Politico 50′

1. The Oracle Oregon fiasco:

We all know by now that the dominant story line of the Obamacare website’s failed launch is that the federal government is terrible at doing high-tech projects -- let alone one that involves the e-commerce wizardry that has made Silicon Valley the envy of the world.

But it turns out that one state exchange to sell Obamacare insurance plans has had an even more disastrous launch than the 36-state HealthCare.gov. It’s CoverOregon.com -- the website for the Oregon exchange.

In fact, as this Associated Press story notes, last week state officials cancelled an advertising campaign to get people to sign up at CoverOregon.com because the website still isn’t up and running.

Putin’s (un)happy new year

Russian President Vladimir Putin has bid farewell to 2013 with his state of the nation address, followed closely by his annual 4-plus-hour marathon news conference. He even managed to appear magnanimous, notably in his decision to pardon the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovksy.

He is setting the stage for the main event: the Sochi Olympics.

But as Putin subtly warned in his final 2013 appearances — and as the Volgograd bombings so graphically confirmed — major changes must come in the new year. Putin virtually admitted in his December speeches that the current path is not sustainable, while the Volgograd bombings have increased the urgency to face up to Russia’s problems.

The president particularly vented a growing frustration with Russia’s status quo. In his address, for example, Putin returned to the issue of Russia’s crippling capital flight and prevalent use of offshore structures to avoid Russian taxes. He emphasized that he raised this matter a year ago, but “since nothing significant has been achieved,” he proposed new measures to ensure that Russian-owned offshore companies pay their fair share in taxes for the privilege of conducting business in Russia.

Punitive politics: Blame the Puritans

‘Tis the season of giving, charity and good will — unless you happen to be a Republican, and then ‘tis the season of pusillanimity, churlishness and bad will.

Congressional Republicans seem hell-bent on denying the most disadvantaged among us healthcare, unemployment benefits and, perhaps worst of all, food stamps, from which the House of Representatives slashed $40 billion last month. Elizabeth Drew, writing in Rolling Stone, calls it “The Republicans’ War on the Poor.”

You can attribute these benefit cuts to plain meanness with a dose of political calculation thrown in, as Drew does. But there may be another explanation than congenital cruelty: Republicans believe they are adhering to a principle that they place above every other value, including compassion. That principle is the need to punish individuals whom they view as undeserving.

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